Queen Charlotte Ultra Marathon Race Report

Duncan Darroch lined up in his first ultra marathon this past weekend- below is his report of his “big day out”.

Saturday 2nd November 2013 saw the running of the unofficial Queen Charlotte Ultra Marathon. This event, with no entry fee or timing, traverses the entire length of the Queen Charlotte track. It follows 71kms of stunning single track through the Marlborough Sounds with over 3000 metres of vertical ascent.

The day began with an early 4am wakeup call and a 5.15am check in at Picton. Twenty one nervous and bleary-eyed runners milled around in the relative warmth of the Beachcomber Cruises office. The following hour long trip gave us all time to make nervous small talk about preparation (or lack thereof) and what we were expecting. After a group photo on the wharf the first runners took off at a sprint up the first hill, the majority stood around chatting and prepping before starting in a leisurely fashion. Three packs emerged, the guys who had sped off, the mid-pack, and the wizard-stick-wielding veterans.

At 45km, the Black Rock Campsite.

At 45km, the Black Rock Campsite.

The track was stunning and surpassed everything I had imagined. After the initial 200m climb it drops into Schoolhouse Bay, then up again and down into Endeavour Inlet. The conventional advice has been to start slow, and finish slower, so that’s exactly what I did. Or thought I did, until I looked at my Strava data afterwards and saw a couple of sub 5 min kms in the first section. Through this time I passed a few slower runners, and ran a few metres in front of the eventual female winner. Once in Endeavour Inlet the sun was starting to make its presence felt and the pace started to even out. The climb up to Kenepuru saddle was a reminder that this was indeed a tough track, with a lot of exposed, steep climbing. An unexpected road appeared, complete with support crews offering encouragement and water!

The next 24.5km was the real meat of the race, with undulating and open ridge running. I fell in step with a very lively runner/fireman from Christchurch who was using the race as a chance to run 100km, finishing the track and then going back in 15km and back out again to make the distance. He was a welcome companion, making the hills manageable and pacing me through the fatigue. He eventually dropped me just prior to the Cowshed Bay Road junction and unofficial aid station at 50km. This was where most runners (me included) hit the wall. With a brutally hot sun, there was a steep, open clay track climbing 300 vertical metres. Walking and staggering was all I could manage, and even that was a challenge. The downhill was a welcome relief as it provided both shelter and small murky trickles of water which appeared like an oasis in the desert. Mistletoe junction finally emerged and the last 11km of the track, which ordinarily would take an hour, dragged on for near 2. The last 8km was a delight and, despite fatigue, I enjoyed it immensely, descending gently through mature beech forest with views of Grove Arm. A 1km marker brought on a burst of speed as I counted down the meters until the end. I managed a sprint finish down the gravel driveway to the applause of competitors and supporters 10 hours since I had started.

This was my first ever ultra, with my longest trail race to date being the Cranleigh Kauri Run exactly one year ago. I’d definitely recommend it as a race, and considering its challenging nature, combined with its stunning scenery, I can imagine it will grow in popularity and eventually become a fully sanctioned event.

Thanks to Martyn Crossley, the unofficial race director for pulling it all together and to all the other runners who got out there and gave it a go. With 71km under the belt, hopefully the Kepler Challenge will be a breeze next month, although somehow I suspect not.

 Queen Charlotte Ultra Race Website

Duncan’s Strava Data

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