IT’S NOT QUEENSTOWN, BUT IT’S OKAY

FEBRUARY 25TH 2013

Nine weeks to go. When it’s nine weeks to count down until a holiday, things seem pretty far away – when it’s only nine weeks until a mountain race, somehow that number seems a little more pitiful. Not sure of the psychology of that.

This was absolutely a week of stepping up the preparation on my end. For the first time in my training I shifted to five running days a week. To anyone with more experience, it may sound like I left that dreadfully late. But the truth is, running isn’t the easiest thing to fit into my schedule. A lot of people hold the same thing up as an excuse, but the simple fact is that it isn’t. I run in the mornings, and sometimes there’s just a lot else on before work – chiropractor visits, breakfast meetings – and five somehow seems tougher than four. Not when you’re on your feet; five seemed like the most natural transition in the world, even breaking the cardinal 10% rule of training progression. But simple scheduling.

For some reason I thought this week was about time to book my flights to and from Queenstown, and if there’s anyone out there still procrastinating on this one – you better get onto it. I have a vague grasp of New Zealand public holidays at the best of times, and it had definitely escaped my attention that the Routeburn was taking place just after Anzac Day. Apparently I’m not the only Auckland resident taking interest in spending that weekend in Queenstown, because the only flights available without having to sell an organ on the black market were first thing Thursday and Monday.

Another step this week was actually getting a check in on my training by my father. For people who haven’t made the connection from my clone-esque looks, my dad’s one of the Routeburn local legends – Mark Douglas. He’s done every Routeburn Race so far and along with the race itself, will be celebrating his tenth this year, quite possibly while helping a half-dead and regretting-many-life-decisions daughter over the finish line. He’s been running for longer than I’ve been alive, and there’s absolutely nobody else in the world I’d take running advice on before I ask him. Living at opposite ends of the country means we’ve gone running together a sum total of twice, but he was up this weekend and we took the opportunity to go for a nice couple of hour run around the tracks on Saturday morning.

I’m accustomed to running alone – a fact my father said was made obvious by the fact I merrily went off at my own pace, waiting for him (in what he seemed to consider a very condescending manner) whenever we switched tracks or came to a crossroads. While I know the rule that you should pace yourself at a rate you can uphold a conversation, I’d much rather have the time to myself – running, I find, is absolutely invaluable (and very rare) time to have your thoughts all empty. But that being said, I absolutely loved the chance to go running with my dad – and I’m very happy to have the chance again when I’m in Queenstown this weekend.

It’s good to catch up with someone training for the same race as you, and particularly someone with, oh, at least twenty-five years experience on you. (On that note, though, since there was a blog last year referring to my father as an “inspirational pensioner” and he hasn’t stopped complaining about it since he found out, I feel honour-bound to point out that only half that description actually fits him.) He has the advantage over me that most of his training can be on tracks; I’m road-bound for my four short and medium training runs each week and hitting the trails only for my long run. He also has the advantage of having done the Routeburn nine times and the Kepler eighteen, while I stand by lamely holding my Chicago 10K medal up as if it gives me some sort of imaginary runners’ cred.

Lately, the worries of being a North Island runner for a rugged South Island race have been catching up with me a little. It’s hard to not feel envious of people who have amazing natural terrain at their doorstep and can train on trails remarkably similar to the one for the race – after all, isn’t that a cardinal rule of training? But the thing is, so many of the skills can be mimicked even without exact replicas. I have a routine in the gym for strengthening my legs and particularly my ankles, and anyone who says runs around Ponsonby don’t incorporate hills isn’t straying far enough from the shopfronts. But most of all, I was incredibly relieved after running my usual route with my dad, to hear him say that the terrain was absolutely perfect for what I should be running to prepare.

So Aucklanders – don’t despair. (Do book your flight, though.) If you’re worried about your lack of hill preparation, park your car at Western Springs and do a few hill repeats on the Bullock Track. (Try not to punch anyone coming down it who advises you that you’re nearly at the top – believe me, you’ll be tempted.) And for a long run, park at the Visitor Centre on Scenic Drive and take on the first part of the Hillary Trail. You’ll encounter rocks, roots, river crossings and a whole lot of up and down. We may not have a perfect playground, but the Waitakeres are one of the most underutilised resources for runners in the whole district – and they’re a hell of a lot of fun, to boot.