Young Australian runner Blake Hose gives us his account of this past Saturday’s Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon, where Blake finished a solid 2nd.
I was lucky to be lining up for this incredible event, really, really, super lucky. Only 2 weeks prior I’d given away the idea of it being a possibility, but fortune came my way and I was the beneficiary of some humbling generosity on behalf of the Race Director Adrian Bailey, the friendly folk from The Baw Baw Trail Festival and my good mate Chris Ord (Trail Run Mag Aus/Adventure types). This meant my dream of playing in the rugged NZ wilderness of the Ben Lomond station had been resurrected! Any Mountain/trail runner who casts their eyes over the promo video for this race is pretty well instantaneously hooked. It’s truly unique in that it’s held on Private property and isn’t able to be ran at any other time of year – not to mention the captivating beautiful contrasting features that this course possesses.
Having raced the Bogong to Hotham a little over a month prior, this wasn’t a target race for me and my training beforehand reflected that. It was just an opportunity for me to experience somewhere new – to learn more about running in true mountains and to spread my wings a little, using it more so as a longer, hard training run for things to come.
Upon arrival, the sheer enormity and wild nature of Queenstown and the surrounding ranges exceeded my expectations. It effortlessly tucked away the 33,000acre property we’d be exploring throughout the race – for any Trailite it’s a playground of epic proportions, allowing endless opportunities to run until you can run no more. Staying in the Moonlight Lodge it was a short-lived but Luxurious time had by all. Further amplifying the experience was the fact NZ trail icons Anna Frost and Grant Guise were also bunking there for the night – I was euphoric to meet them both and fortunate enough to pick their brains and learn what wonderful people they are in the short time I had. I even snagged myself a BCR cap too, cheers Grant!
Race morning excitement was divided between the race itself and the chopper ride to the start line. Yep, that’s right, a helicopter ride! Told you I was Lucky! The Start line atmosphere was electric and the excitement of everyone glaringly obvious – Adrian had even organized an inspiring Haka performance before we set off, this was a special occasion for us all and noted by many as a stand-out part of the day.
Historically a mining area, Ben Lomond station is littered with enchanting and technical little trails referred to as “Water races” – a hefty portion of the first 10-15km was run (I use the term run loosely) on these which required you to be on the ball and focussed completely! It was an absolute bucket load of fun though! Slipping and sliding, tripping and tumbling, it was all a bit embarrassing trying to hold a steady footing – within an hour Grant, Ben and I had all inflicted damage to ourselves of some kind. Regardless of how many times I fell though, I had the absolute time of my life as it was a whole new experience and enabled me to learn a lot on different terrain.
The 3 of us remained quite close for the opening 15kms, chatting away and having a laugh I was having the time of my life as we scrambled over tussock riddled peaks, along awe-inspiring ridges and weaved in and out of beautiful little pine forest. One point even required us to climb a ladder beside a waterfall – It was awesome! By the time we’d come through the half way point at the Ben Lomond Lodge, Grant and I had pulled out a couple of minutes ahead of Ben, though I know the calibre of runner that he is and that it wouldn’t be the last I’d seen of him for the day. As we ascended to the longest and most picture perfect insanely spectacular ridge line of the day, I was feeling like I had a pretty good rhythm and this put me into the lead of the race coming into the last 15km.
It was a bit of a mental tug of war all day – one part of me wanted to run fast and the other wanted to just stop everywhere and look at the incredible scenery that was all around me, these trails demanded a lot of resect though and a lack of attention saw you on the ground pretty damn quickly, as I’d already discovered earlier on! Having traversed most of the ridge I’d begun to feel a bit sluggish and very hot, so I tried to take it a bit easier on the descent towards the river and really just focus on continuing to hydrate, fuel and stay upright. Beginning the climb out of the river, I knew I wasn’t right as my ability to run had left me and Ben came flying on by looking like he’d just begun! He was full of encouragement and tried to get me running again, a true testament to the great guy he is – but my body was having none of it and I think some of the stomach bug I’d began the morning with had come back to bite me.
Much flatter and runnable in nature, the last 6-7km of the race weaves along a stunning little trail that follows what was an extremely refreshing river – each time I crossed it I’d scoop up some water with my hat to cool myself down as dehydration was hitting me pretty hard by this point. Amidst the tough times though – the course always remained eye-catching and continued to be an absolute gem to observe as I trotted along to the finish.
Approaching the finish I was pretty well knackered! It’d been a tough way to end the day, but any misfortune was quickly put aside and I was just truly grateful for the opportunity I’d had to run this incredible course. I’d made some great new friends, ran over some of the world’s most amazing and breathtaking terrain and was absolutely euphoric with the time I’d spent on the trails. Ben had stormed home for the win in 4hrs42mins with myself in 4hrs50mins for 2nd and local legend Grant 3rd in 5hrs04mins.
The Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon was a race I know I won’t forget in a hurry – well probably never, barring any serious head injury, and I definitely intend on going back as soon as possible to indulge in the trail bliss that this part of the world has offer! Just adventuring or racing, it’s somewhere EVERYBODY needs to experience first hand to truly grasp its unique and unforgettable nature. Thanks again to everybody who made this dream of mine a reality – I hope to see you all on the start line in 2015!