Thursday, July 19, 2007

TR - Christchurch Marathon

New Zealand and Fiji
5/23 – 6/8/07

Race Results
SBS Christchurch Marathon
Christchurch, NZ
Sun, Jun 3/07
Marathon # 288 – Country # 84
3:40:25 – 5AG

Where were we at the end of the Fiji report – chapter 1 of this long trip? Oh yes – on a plane heading to Christchurch, NZ via Auckland. Let’s continue the story.

Recall that this trip was incubated in the Himalayas during the Everest Marathon (2005) when I met two Kiwi brothers (Robert and Dave) from Christchurch. They invited me to visit. I had been in contact with Robert – a very good ‘fell’ runner (finished 2nd at Everest). He invited us to stay with him. The plan was to arrive in CHC, stay 1 night with Robert and then head off for a 9-day self-drive tour of the South Island. We had toured the North Island with our kids about 20 years ago and were looking forward to touring the South Island. A slight kink occurred in the plan when I lost email contact with Robert about 1 month before the trip. Turned out that he had activated a Spam filter to get rid of Spam but it blocked all his email until he realized the problem. We re-established contact a few days before we left FL but I had already booked a hotel in CHC for our first night and couldn’t cancel the booking.

We had a 4-hour layover in Auckland and had to switch terminals. It was a wee shock when we went outside – the temps were in the low 50s and it was raining! We had to dig into our bags for a jacket! A big change from the weather in Fiji! Late May/early June is the start of the Kiwi winter. But we were lucky – after that brief rain in Auckland we enjoyed sunshine and above- normal warm temps for our whole trip. When we arrived in CHC at 7 pm Robert met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel. We discussed our plans for the tour and agreed to stay with him when we returned in about 9 days. He informed me that he was not going to run the CHC Marathon as planned because he had fallen recently during a training run in the mountains and cracked some ribs. His priority was to heal so that he could train for a 250 Km race across the Atacama Desert in Chile in Aug! But he had family and friends running in the CHC races and would provide support and cheers for us.

The next morning (Thu) I woke early and ran a hard/fast 10 miles around Hagley Park in the center of CHC. It was very nippy with temps in the mid 30s at 6 am. I realized that I had forgotten to pack cold-weather gear! After our rental car was delivered to the hotel we stopped on the way out of CHC at an ‘Outdoor Store’ to purchase some polypro tights and gloves! The Sports Manager did not feel well when she woke up – she thought she was experiencing the same symptoms she suffered many years ago when she had a minor stroke. By the time we reached the outskirts of CHC she had worked herself into a tizzy and was suffering anxiety attacks because she was worried that if she really were on the verge of a stroke there would not be proper medical care available in the remote areas of the South Island. I agreed it would be a problem and it would be safer to turn around and drive back into the city and visit the ER of the CHC Hospital. Thus we spent our 1st day in CHC in the ER where they did every possible test – a Cat scan, EKG, blood tests, etc. Happily all the tests were normal and the doctors assured us that there was no serious problem and we could continue our journey. We had to stay in CHC for the night and I enjoyed another hard/fast run in Hagley Park – but with gloves this time. We finally started our tour on Fri morning even though Nicole was still not feeling well. The symptoms seemed to come and go and after a few days I noticed that she was not eating well. After I convinced her to eat more the symptoms seemed to ease? She later found out when she visited her neurosurgeon in FL that these symptoms can be caused by long flights and jet lag. She announced that her duties of ‘Sports Manager’ were finished for long international trips!

Our first drive and stop was along the Banks Peninsula to the fishing village of Akaroa. It was such a lovely and quaint village that we would have stayed there for 1 night if it had not been so close to CHC (only 82 Km east). We had to move on and drove south on Hwy 1 to Oamaru an old Victorian town with many buildings built out of the local sandstone. We stayed the night in Oamaru and I had a very difficult run in the morning through the hills east of town. We continued our drive along the Otago Coast with a brief stop to view the Moeraki Boulders – giant spherical rocks on the beach that look like alien eggs? We continued on through Dunedin and turned inland through the Southern Alps to Gore and reached our destination – Fiordland or the Southwest Coast. We stayed in a beautiful little village called Te Anau located on Lake Te Anau. This setting was so beautiful that we immediately knew that we wanted to spend a few nights there. We found a lovely new motel on Lake Te Anau and then looked for the tourist center to book a cruise on Millford Sound. By that time we had learned some important facts:
a) Nothing is cheap in NZ
b) Hotels were the only reasonable expense. Since it was off-season we were able to negotiate rates around $100 NZ/night
c) Motels did have TVs and phones – some even had Internet access. However the TV was useless unless you wanted to watch reruns of ‘Get Smart’ (remember that show) in prime time. There is no cable TV in NZ – but they do have satellite TV. The government restricts Satellite TV to 3 stations: Sky News (either CNN or BBC), Sky Sports that shows rugby or cricket 24 X 7, and Sky Movies (like HBO). Most hotels offered Sky News (for a premium charge).
d) Meals were expensive! Breakfast ranged from $10 to $20 NZ so we usually bought a muffin ($3) at a bakery and a small orange juice ($3) for breakfast in our room. The hotels provided ‘free’ coffee/tea in the room. Dinner entrees ranged from $20 to $30 in a restaurant so we ate in Pubs (like the UK) that offered specials for about $10 to $15 NZ. A bowl of soup was $10 to $18 NZ! There were no ‘free’ side dishes. If you wanted bread you paid for it! (at least $4).
e) Beer/wine in a pub or restaurant was about $5 to $10 so we bought 6-packs of beer at the supermarket for about $10 and enjoyed a beer each day at the end of the drive and limited ourselves to one drink with dinner!
f) Gas was about $6/gal and as high as $8/gal in remote areas.

A friend had asked me to check out NZ as a potential retirement spot. I believe it would be cheaper to retire in San Francisco!

Back to Te Anau. A lovely town in a beautiful setting! I would love to go back there for a few weeks to hike on the many trails around Te Anau and Millford Sound. We booked a cruise on Millford Sound for the following day. It is a long but scenic drive into Millford Sound so I had to rise early and do a hard/fast run through the dark streets of Te Anau at 5 am. It was friggin cold! Temps near freezing! But I needed to do some speed work. I knew I probably couldn’t be competitive with the fast Kiwis but I didn’t want to embarrass myself with another 4-hr marathon! We enjoyed the scenic drive in to Millford Sound and the cruise was spectacular. The 18 Km-long Sound is hemmed in by sheer walls of rock that rise 4,000 ft. As you leave the dock the first sights you enjoy are the 5560 ft Mitre Peak and Brown Falls tumbling 520 ft into the sea. What amazed me was the vegetation including trees growing on the sheer cliffs of rock! Millford Sound is definitely a sight that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. The Sports Manager and I agreed that Te Anau and Millford Sound were the highlight of the NZ tour!

The following day was a short drive (172 Km) to Queenstown – the adventure capitol of NZ! It is located on the edge of the glacial Lake Wakatipu with stunning views of the Remarkables Mountain range. We expected Queenstown to be much larger – it reminded us of a small ski resort town in CO. We lucked in when the tourist center guided us into a new, boutique hotel situated in the hills just off the center of the town with fantastic views of the lake and town – only $125 NZ including a full NZ breakfast! And it was close to a bike path so I was able to do another speed work out along the lake. We visited most of the tourist sites including the famous AJ Hackett Bungy jump off the Kawarau Bridge (No – I didn’t jump!) and concluded the first day with a scenic through the gold mining town of Arrowtown and along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. That evening we found a nice Pub in town that offered delicious lamb shanks as a special.

The next day we set off over the scenic but scary Crown Range Road past the Cardrona Ski Resort to Wanaka as we headed to the Westland National Park and the glaciers on the West Coast. We stopped at Thunder Creek Falls before we reached Haast Pass. The roads became a bit treacherous as we came around a blind curve or over a hill at 70 Km/hr to find a single-lane bridge? Thankfully there was not much traffic and we only had to stop once for oncoming traffic! We reached an entrance into Fox Glacier in the afternoon and hiked about 2 miles into a forest before we saw a paved road going directly into the glacier! Back to the car and drive to the damn glacier! We stayed in Franz Josef that evening and the following morning were disappointed to see rain and clouds. We couldn’t even see the tops of the mountains so decided there was no point in driving and hiking into the Franz Josef Glacier?

As we continued our tour north along the West Coast the weather cleared as we drove through Hokitika and Greymouth. We decided to turn back inland and head to Hanmer Springs. Hanmer Springs is called Waitapu (Sacred Waters) by the Maori for the thermal springs. It is a small Alpine village located 120 Km north of CHC. We explored the area and found a hotel close to the springs so that I could walk over to the springs and enjoy a hot soak. The hottest spring was 41 C – about the same temperature that I keep my hot tub at! The legs felt great the next morning when I did my final speed work out in preparation for the CHC Marathon.

Instead of driving back to CHC we decided to take a detour to Kaikoura on the East Coast. It is known for its whale watching and crayfish. We explored the town and decided to stay for the night to taste the crayfish. Crayfish is the Kiwi version of Maine lobster – and they are proud of it! $100 NZ for a crayfish dinner! We visited a local winery and bought an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that we took to dinner. I refused to pay $100 for a whole crayfish but did allow myself $50 for a Half that I enjoyed with the excellent wine. It was good but not any better than a $19.95 Maine lobster!

The next day (Fri) we drove back to CHC. We parked downtown, called Robert to let him know we had arrived and spent the afternoon touring downtown CHC. CHC is known as the ‘garden city’ for its many parks and gardens. Founded in 1856 it is the oldest city in NZ. There are many beautiful and historical Victorian buildings in downtown Christchurch. The CHC Tramway allows tourists to get on and off at 11 stops in downtown CHC. We visited Cathedral Square, Victoria Square, Christ’s College, Hagley Park and finished the day by picking up my race packet at City Hall. Then we followed Robert’s directions to his home in Halswell, a suburb on the south side of CHC. He had a beautiful new home – a surprise for a bachelor that spends all his time working and running? After we settled in his brother Dave joined us and we went drove downtown for a Thai dinner – lots of carbs!

On Sat morning the Sports Manager and I made a final drive tour up into the hills of Banks Peninsula overlooking CHC and Lyttelton Harbour. The hills are steep and covered with bike/hiking trails that the CHC runners use for training. The views are spectacular! CHC on one side and Lyttelton and Sumner on the ocean side. We returned the car to the rental agency on Sat afternoon since Robert volunteered to drive us to the race on Sun. Sat night I treated my support team to a pasta dinner.

Sum was M-day. There were 2500 runners in 3 races - Marathon/Half/10K – that started together at 9 am in front of City Hall. The weather was sunny and cool (high 30s F). The course was a Half Marathon loop that started at City Hall and followed the Avon River east for about 8 Km before returning downtown and through Hagley Park in the center of the city. We lucky marathoners got to run the course twice! Robert and Dave had a sister and other family members running the various races and told me that they would be cheering us along the course. Their Mom & Dad even cheered me on at one point along the course. I had some good training runs during our tour and felt that I could run a 3:40. Based on past times in my Age Group that would not be competitive but I told Robert that my goal was to start out at a 3:40 pace and assess the situation at 30 Km. If I still had energy in the tank I might try to push the last 12 Km?
I passed 5 Km in 24:49 – ahead of pace. 10 Km in 50:45 – still ahead of pace! I slowed my pace to reach 15 Km in 1:16:58 and the Half in 1:49:31. I was right on pace but not sure I could hold that same pace for the 2nd Half? When I reached 30 Km in 2:35:24 I felt OK and knew I could hold that pace for the final 12 Km – but I wasn’t sure that if I pushed the pace I wouldn’t ‘hit the wall’? And I saw Robert at that point taking photos and asked him if there were any old farts in front of me? He replied, “yes there were but they were too far ahead to catch”! So I wisely decided to hold the pace and re-evaluate at 35 Km. I passed 35 Km in 3:01:49. I had 32 minutes to run the final 7 Km. I decided to push the pace through Hagley Park since it felt familiar to me. I passed 40 km in 3:28:53 but suddenly my back started to tighten on me? I had never experienced that problem and I had to slow down to let the back loosen up. I was able to push the final 1 Km but it wasn’t enough and I crossed the finish line in 3:40:25! But I was happy with both my time and performance and I had not suffered any problems with leg cramps!

We returned to Robert’s for a quick but wonderful hot soak and shower and then Robert and I decided to go to the awards ceremony or ‘prize giving’ as the Kiwis call it. We couldn’t find the results posted anywhere so we went into the ceremony inside City Hall. I couldn’t believe it? There were 2500 runners in the races and half of them were at the ceremony. You would never see that kind of attendance at a US race! Unfortunately it dragged on too long including the Emcee asking Maddog to stand while he announced his accolades and accomplishments! As suspected I was soundly beat in my AG – finished in 5th place. 1st place ran a 3:15! A 52-year old Kiwi ran a 2:32! Those Kiwis are FAST!
As we were leaving the ceremony a sports announcer for a local radio station asked Maddog for an interview and that delayed us more.

We finally returned home in the afternoon so that Robert and Dave could cook a roast of lamb. Their Mom & Dad and sister joined us for dinner. Dave raises sheep on his Dad’s farm for a hobby and he supplied the lamb. It was so tender and scrumptious! I don’t understand why we can’t get lamb like that in the US?

On Mon we had a very early flight and Robert graciously drove us to the airport. We were on our way back to Fiji. We arrived in Nadi at 5 pm and were met by the staff of the Beachcomber Resort. I had learned that the best beaches in Fiji were on the out islands so I had booked a 4-day stay at the Beachcomber Resort. They didn’t seem to be affected by the coup and drop in tourism. Most of the island resorts were full and the prices were high – ridiculously high! Beachcomber Island is a small private island in the Mamanuca Islands – only a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland. I didn’t think I would like that sort of vacation or R&R but the Sports Manager said she would love it – and it would provide much-needed rest after a hectic 3 weeks of traveling!

I was correct – I hated it! The island was very small – took 10 minutes to walk around the entire island. There were some ’free’ activities like snorkeling and beach volleyball but everything else was expensive. I snorkeled one day and dove another but was still bored. We had a private bure (thatched hut) on the beach but there was no A/C, no TV, no phone and no Internet! Meals were included but they were all buffet and about as tasty as school cafeteria food! They assured us the water was safe to drink and since I didn’t have any marathons to worry about we drank it instead of buying bottled water. No store in the resort – had to buy everything at the bar! We didn’t have any problems (other than boredom) until the last night. The Sports Manager came down with an intestinal bug and was very sick. The final day was pure Hell for her. We had to check out at 10 am but our boat to the mainland left at 5 pm. I rented a lounge chair so she could lay in the shade and suffer all day! Our flight to the US departed at 10 pm. It was a long flight to LA. Fortunately we had to overnight in LA and that gave her a chance to go to bed and sleep. I felt great – did a long run along the beach near LAX and then enjoyed a great steak dinner. Thirty minutes later it all came back up! I had caught the bug. It was not a pleasant journey back home to FL the following day for either of us!

We have since recovered and I have already booked my next international marathon and flights – in Oct. The Sports Manager is not going!

This trip was perhaps a bit too long but we enjoyed both Fiji and NZ. We would go back to NZ in a heartbeat but have no desire to return to Fiji!

I am looking forward to the next trip/adventure.

Stay tuned for the trip report!

Footnote: I ended up taking a 3-month sabbatical to rest and try to resolve the nagging leg cramps that had plagued me for the past 6 months.

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