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Routeburn...it's a classic!

Sarah Douglas Running Blog - Routeburn Classic

The event started with what I can only describe as the most entertaining race briefing I think I have ever attended. While walking to the briefing, my husband said he would stay for the start but might pop to the pub when it started to get boring. To my surprise he was still there at the end, giving as much applause and laughter as the others around him. That means it was one hell of a briefing to keep him from going to the pub...he is british afterall! If you were there for the briefing you will understand what I have to admit to next. I did get 8 hours of sleep. And I did drink a coffee before the race (ok ok ok, you twisted my arm, one mug of coffee with three shots in it!). According to Evan (race director) these two things (along with popping ibuprofen) will give you an advantage over the other athletes and constitute an “unfair advantage” in the Routeburn Classic. I still owe Evan a urine sample, I really think he needs to give us bigger containers...and maybe a funnel!

The day begins at crazy o’clock with a bus ride in the dark for over an hour on a winding (very winding) road. I hadn’t really thought about it beforehand, but if you are prone to road sickness, perhaps make some plans for this (I don’t know, brown bag or a big purse maybe!?) Luckily no-one was sick on our bus (or they were quiet with a big purse) but I had a few nausous moments. A few minutes in the very very fresh air at the start line will sort you out though...you could see your breath! (or maybe all of us were sneaking the pre-race cig!) This also brought my first dilemna....one that all women, runner or not, can relate to....what on earth to wear??? Really it was what layers to race in. It had been very chilly with a bit of fresh snow on the mountains in Te Anau the night before and knowing it was meant to be about 17 degrees and sunny in Glenorchy...it was a tough decision. Warming up in all my required gear, I made a spur of the moment decision right before the start to strip to just a drifit tshirt, arm-warmers and shorts...I felt a bit naked lining up with many others in their icebreakers, longsleeves and tights. Luckily, it was the right decision for me, I was never too hot or too cold. I didn’t have to waste time to stopping to take off layers...every...second...counts.

The race started as expected and I found myself in a good position to start the single track. I got into a rhythm on first uphills and passed a group of guys and Jess Simson early on. But it wasn’t long before some of the guys passed me back on the technical downhill. I knew that this was something of a weak point in my Routeburn Classic plans, and they showed me how the Pros do it!! Wow! They made it look easy...which it most definitely was not. This continued for a while...I would pass them on the ups, they passed me on the downs. It wasn’t long before Jess Simson passed me on the downhills too, it wasn’t much before the Mackenzie Hut she effortlessly flew by me. I was stopping and starting, looking up and down, left and right over the rocks...picking my foot placing...maybe I should be “Little Miss Clumbsy!”

Sarah running down technical rocks

I was looking forward to the uphill to Harris Saddle. My race plan was to attack this section...but unfortunately I started to go through a bad patch. I just wasn’t feeling good, my legs were missing their usual drive and I wasn’t making up any time on Jess. It took a while for me to get myself together, my thoughts were hectic. And then I focused on things other than the race. How was my breathing? How was my form? I think I might of even...(shush)...started singing to myself! I would never admit to that in public...except for this diary...(which is just between us isn’t it?) I managed to find a second wind (It was in my pack the whole time!!!) and I started to make inroads into Jess’s lead. By the Harris Saddle I had caught back up to her, I could almost touch her pack (I didn’t...that would of been weird!)

What goes up, must come down, and that is exactly what happens after the Harris Saddle. A very very technical descent to the Routeburn Hut. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop Jess from running away from me. She made me feel like I was standing still. I could see her jumping from rock to rock, not even breaking her stride, as I was using all four of my limbs (and various rocks, branches and utter utter luck) to keep myself upright. 

At the Routeburn Flats it was here that I learnt Jess had put 90 seconds on me. I couldn’t help but think how my inability to run on technical terrain had really let me down. I am blown away...stunned and seriously in awe at the ease of which the runners who finished ahead of me...and probably many of the runners behind me, were able to cascade so smoothly on. How do you do it?! This may warrant a “WTF”. Seriously....I need to know! If you know of this dark little secret that can help me to be a better technical runner, please, please let me know! It is an area I know I need to work on. But enough of my cries for help, back to the race. The math was simple, I had 7km to run down 90 seconds. No matter how I calculated it, the only answer I came to was = “you better hurry!” So I lengthened my stride and all thoughts centered on running the best final 7kms of a mountain race I have ever run! Engage Afterburners.Sarah on her way to winning the Routeburn Classic 2014

To my suprise, I managed to catch Jess with about 4km to go. (Quick side note: I really have to hand it to Jess, she ran an amazing race. She is the type of runner who is just born to run well over the Routeburn Track and I am really glad she went under the record...simply an amazing competitor). Before now it had been all about focusing (I mean really focusing...like driving a brand new car) on the downhills, pushing the uphills and catching Jess. Now it was about me vs. clock (and not falling over!) At this point I had no idea of how I was doing for time, I knew I had another gear stowed away for the last few kms so I started to really push the pace. It wasn’t until I saw the sign for the carpark that I knew my time was going to be a good one. It really was a great feeling running up to the finish! Up to the finish??...yes...you did read it right, after running up over mountains it finishes with a short uphill! Nothing in comparison to what you have run up already but after running on the flats, your body has forgotten what it feels like! I did savour and enjoy that moment...thank you to all the supporters who came out and cheered me on. And a big thank you to the volunteers and marshalls who make the event possible.

A big thank you to Evan for a fantastic event! Not just a race...it was an “Event”. A special event for all who participated. Some races lack a sense “togetherness”, “compassion” and “soul” but the Routeburn Classic has it all in spades. It was great to see you...on the finish line...not looking the best...a bit of sweat here...and lot of mud there...(ME...not Evan!) You shook my hand and congratulated me, as you did with every other finisher, it is those little personal touches that make this event so special and meaningful. Another big thank you to all the special someone’s out there who dedicate themselves to achieving our dreams...mine is to my husband for driving myself and two of my friends to Te Anau on Friday, getting up early to drive back to Queenstown, walk our dog, getting straight back into the car to make it to the finish before I did. Legend. To Outside Sports and New Balance, thank you for believing in me. To Ultimate Direction, your pack really is better than the rest (and I’m not getting paid to say that!) If your not happy with the one on your back, give Ultimate Direction a go, you probably won’t even realise your wearing one (and that’s a good thing!) Last but not least, thank you to Gareth at Southern Sports Podiatry for going out of your way to get me to the start line and over the finish line!

I look forward to seeing you all at the Routeburn Classic in 2015.

Sarah Douglas xxx

About Sarah Douglas - Mountain Runner

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Sarah Douglas Running Blog

New Zealand Mountain Running Champion. WOW...pinch me please...OUCH!...okay...it’s real! Seems like a dream and hard to believe that the sentence refers to yours truely. A sentence that was years in the making. 4 years truth be told. It was 4 years ago when I made that goal, dropped that pin, drew that line. 4 years ago that I moved to Queenstown and inspired by the mountains, rediscovered my love of running. I then set myself the rather lofty goal of becoming (drum roll please) New Zealand Mountain Running Champion. 




My first attempt was in Wellington a year later. In 2011, on an undulating course (each year the course alternates between being undulating and straight uphill), I had my eyes opened! Bugger. Looking back I did not know the extent of what would be required, I was not properly prepared, my training had lacked focus, and I did not have enough hill strength in my legs. I know what your thinking....I lacked hill strength? While surrounded by mountains in a runners paradise? Shame on me. I vowed to never stand on a start line so underprepared again. I had a goal...a dream.




On hearing that 2014 was a straight uphill course on Mt. Campbell in Motueka, Nelson, I added the lofty goal to my race schedule this year. I hoped my training for the Motatapu and Routeburn was not too different to the strengths I needed for this race. Aside from the distance, everything else is pretty much the same, hills hills, hillls, a touch of speed, hills, hills and more hills (did I mention hills?) I figured the extra endurance I had built up couldn’t hurt either. My training started in October and I can honestly say I have put myself through hell to get to a point where hills, or should I say mountains, feel like home! My recovery runs of 60 mins include at least 800m of ascent and my long runs of 3.5+ hours include 3000m+ of ascent. I know many people might disagree that I should do hills every single day...but this training works for me. For those of you that run for fun these numbers may scare you!! I’ve made my training my routine, I enjoy it (most of the time)! A special thanks must go to someone I have gotten to know well on my runs...Eminem! (great on the Ipod!)




Did you know that Queenstown is isolated? Great for training...paradise remember! But Motueka??!! Not easy to get to. It reminded me how much others sacrifice for me to achieve my goals. I flew to Christchurch where my Dad took the day off work to drive me to Motueka for the race the next day. My wee sister Helen gave up her weekend to join us as official team cheer leader, photographer and course analyser (and kareoke companion while on the road). Dad and Helen actually hiked the course a couple of hours before the race started to make sure they were at the top to see me finish!!! Enroute they were able to suss out the course and I found Helen’s snapchats along the way very beneficial (she took her course analyser position very seriously!) I apologise now for the other snapchats friends and family received on the way...the ones that included video...and audio...of us singing...to ABBA...seriously though...I owe my win to my family, my Mum, my Dad, my sister Helen and my husband. All of them have given up so many hours of their time and money to support me, without ever questioning or doubting me. Only ever offering encouragement, even when things are going wrong! Pulling me up when I felt down. It felt really good to know all my hard work had paid off and I had not started the race underprepared...with bed hair...and knickers outside my tights. Thanks guys!!

 Sarah's support crew - father and sister



Unfortunately an underlying issue has been getting progressively worse over the last few months. That dreaded word...(dramatic pause)...injury. It is not any injury that prevents me from running, but it is not pleasant, and ironically gets worse the more uphill I run. Lets be honest...its downright bloomin horrible and brings me to tears. As I prepare to race the Routeburn this weekend, again I find myself relying on others to make sacrifices for me to achieve my goals. I have to give a big thank you to Gareth at Southern Sports Podiatry for getting me back on my feet (quite literally). There are not many people who will offer to work on a public holiday to make sure a patient can get the treatment they need!! 

 Southern Sports Podiatry



My words of wisdom for this blog are that good things really do take time. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t reach your goals the first time around. Figure out what you did wrong and what you can improve upon...then just work on those. Just take baby steps with your training, small increments! Slowly step it up and before you know it...



Please...DON’T...GIVE...UP... Those goals that you work the hardest for and wait the longest to achieve, really are the sweetest thing. I promise! xxx

Winner Sarah and 2nd Place runner sally Gibbs

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