Lochmara 1/2 Marathon in Queen Charlotte Sounds, Marlborough

I’m always looking for the next challenge to keep me motivated to get outdoors and exercise (especially given the Wellington wind can often make that less appealing!). Over the past winter I have felt the most upbeat I’ve been in years (given that my three daughters now sleep through the night, and my eleven years of, near continuous, breastfeeding are behind me, it’s not surprising I feel like a new woman). So, in the midst of winter, when the days were at their shortest, I started looking for a spring challenge that would keep me motivated – and that’s when I came across the Queen Charlotte Classic web-page and read about the inaugural ‘Lochmara 1/2 Marathon‘.

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There were two things that attracted me to this event – the first was its location. I adore the Marlborough Sounds region. Ever since I first landed on New Zealand soil, way back in 1997, and walked the Queen Charlotte Track, it’s been a favourite place for me to visit. There is something about the region that makes me feel instantly relaxed and a visit always leaves me feeling revived (even a 24 hour whirlwind one, as this one was to be).

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The magical Marlborough Sounds

The second attraction was the terrain. This event was over trails, through native bush, and overlooking the spectacular turquoise waters of the Marlborough Sounds. I’d previously ran mostly on road and quite flat terrain, completing three half marathons, along with hundreds of other people. This event was a small one, with under 100 participants.

Also, I’d been taking to trail running with increasing enthusiasm over the winter months (as they provided more shelter from Wellington’s gale force winds and my dog appreciated the softer terrain underfoot). I enjoyed being closer to nature and amongst the native bush and birdlife. So, when I saw this event it was meant to be!

I mentioned the event to my neighbour – an amazing single Mum who pretty much single-handedly raises her wonderful daughter and son. She frequently jogs and walks the hills of Wellington too and I thought a break away would be a lovely treat for her and a nice early Birthday present before the crazy pre-Christmas season (her Birthday is actually on Christmas Eve!). When she agreed and I booked our places for the event, as well as flights on Sounds Air to Picton and a night’s accommodation, I hadn’t anticipated the level of elevation the course of the 1/2 marathon would entail! This was to be my friend’s first ever 1/2 marathon experience.

So on Friday 6th November, we boarded a little ‘Sounds Air’ flight (all of twenty minutes in duration) from Wellington to Picton. We were thankful for perfect weather and the views were incredible.

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Crystal clear view over Wellington city as we departed on our 24 hour whirl-wind adventure!

The plane only held about ten passengers (one of which sat next to the pilot).

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There were no security checks and our boarding passes were laminated pieces of coloured paper – wonderfully #oldschool – just the way we like it.

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There was no need to turn off our mobile phones, as the pilot was flying visually, and we chatted away to our fellow passengers with open ease. Everyone on-board had a story to tell. One passenger was travelling to see her Mum and made the flight quite frequently. Another was travelling on from Melbourne, along with his wife, to visit his youngest child, of four, who had made her home in Blenheim, as a viticulturist.

We landed at Picton Airport, basically a tarmac strip in a big field, surrounded by countryside.

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The passenger who was off to see her Mum took a cake tin from the luggage under-belly of the plane, another lady retrieved her dog, which had flown over in a pet-carrier. The gentleman from Melbourne was met by his daughter and grandson and was quick to bundle up the smiling babe in his arms.

My friend and I hopped on the little shuttle bus to Picton feeling incredibly free and excited.

We checked in at our overnight accommodation, the Picton Yacht Club Hotel, and before we got carried away with our temporary, no child, freedom, we got organised with essentials – breakfast for before our run (we had to be ready to board the Beachcomber boat cruise at 7.15am the next morning) and some energy snacks for the run.

Having done with our organising we quickly found a bar, ate dinner and enjoyed a few drinks, whilst admiring the bikers and wondering what it would feel like to run away and tour the south island on the back of a Harley….! Vrrrooooom!

Then I spotted a couple of Lochmara wine barrels and grabbed a moment to do some yoga for the #liquidspine and #coreofgratitude yoga challenges on Instagram.

Finally we got to bed Рbefore 11pm (I think), having downed a couple of glasses of water.

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Friday evening on Picton foreshore.

I didn’t sleep much – kept rolling over every couple of hours – and woke before my alarm (which I’d set for 6am). My friend had threatened to throw me in the hotel pool if I didn’t wake up in time – perhaps that was the reason I didn’t sleep well ūüėČ hee, hee!

We were down at the Picton foreshore for 7am and eyed up the ‘competition’ (particularly those carrying proper cups of coffee… as we’d made do with instant in our hotel room and the caffeine hit just hadn’t made it through the veins with sufficient oomph!). The event wasn’t really one packed with serious contenders (though there were a few amazing athletes in the mix). The majority of people were there to participate¬†for a good cause (Bread of Life Trust) and enjoy the gorgeous setting of a 1/2 marathon through a part of the Queen Charlotte Sounds, finishing at the spectacular Lochmara Lodge (with a scrumptious array of food and a fully licensed bar to look forward to). There were a mixture of runners (the category I entered) and walker/runners (which my friend entered) and a great mix of all ages (from a couple of juniors – aged 15-18 – to ‘Vintage’ men and women over the age of 60).

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Departing Picton on Saturday morning.

The atmosphere on the boat was really jovial and well spirited. I grazed slowly on a banana whilst my friend got tips on how to get the air out of her camel pack from a seasoned expert (I wish I’d taken the time to sort mine out too – as I had an embarrassing slosh sound going on for my entire run – apologies to fellow runners and walkers for ruining the peace).

After a beautifully calm cruise along the Marlborough Sounds we docked at Anakiwa. Captain Cook (he’s aged well and obviously isn’t keen to share the secret of his longevity, graced us with his presence… before returning to The Endeavour – or the ghost version of it!).

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Captain Cook! Of course it is!

We disembarked and walked to the start line, a mere 1.6 kms away, at Tirimoana – but add on to that the¬†near half marathon distance our feet took us, over some gnarly elevation and terrain, for lunch at Lochmara Lodge, and my friend and I feel it’s essential to add on that 1.6 kms! We have never felt more worthy of a good feed and a drink than after this event (though in actual fact our stomachs took a while to recover and we only managed a Powerade – thanks race organisers – we were as glad to see that bottle of rehydrating drink as much as the medal), a Latte (we finally got our decent coffee) and a carrot cake (there was a runner’s BBQ on offer, but the sugar fix was more appealing!).

Anyway, the run itself… ¬†it’s only taken me ‘1,216’ words to get to this point! A half marathon is deserving of a half marathon style blog post after all… (I’m sure my friend will agree – after all, she developed blisters an hour into it and persevered to finish in 3 hours 17 minutes).

Chantel at the finish line!

Chantel at the finish line!

We set off along a track from Tirimoana toward Davies Bay. My friend set off half an hour before me, with the walking/running group. I caught up with her about an hour in, when the continuous ascent, though gradual, started to tire my legs (I’ve walked many hills in my time, but running up them is something I’ve only recently started). She was doing really well and didn’t let on that she was suffering blisters at that point.

I was in awe of the local women, many older than me, that had such strength and stamina on the hills (but then if I lived in such a beautiful place I’d be wanting to run those trails as much as possible!). After about the 4 mile mark I started to take some walking breaks between the running (to take photographs of course, ahem… any excuse!). But seriously, that scenery is far too good to run past in haste!

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Simply splendid.

I was relieved to reach the downhill section after the long, gradual ascent. I am quite used to dodging tree roots and jumping over muddy puddles at a pace downhill (as my dog – Cocoa – loves to put his four legs into serious four-wheel drive motion and leg it down the Wellington trails). There was a delightful head-on, cool, breeze to wick the sweat away (just realised how gross that sounds!).

As I neared the end of the downhill section (not that I knew it was the end… I hadn’t studied the trail map before – which was just as well, as I may have had second thoughts – and my friend would have probably tried to drown me in the hotel pool!) I nearly went arse over tit (not that I have much of the latter to talk about) when a fella dressed in a shark outfit shouted out at me! I quickly recovered and asked him to give me his best grin for a selfie. He then told me, in shark speak, to proceed up hill… I asked him more than twice if he was sure… unfortunately, he was!

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The Makos Mascot

What started as a mere inclination and a water stop, with entertainment from Elvis (I tell you, the air in Marlborough keeps everyone young!), proceeded to be a hill of some magnitude.

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Needs no caption – it’s Elvis, of course!

One of the strong fellas in front of me turned to ask if we were going the right way. He asked me three times!

I walked up most of the way¬†– but thanks to all my downward dog yoga posing managed to stride out long and strong, keeping quite a good pace. Half way up the sound of bagpipes started to tease my ears and I wondered if I was taking in enough oxygen. Thankfully some downhill walkers reassured me that I wasn’t imagining things and there was in fact a bag-piper at the top of the hill – question was, ‘How far away was the top of the hill, EXACTLY?!’.

When I finally reached the top my hands self-propelled themselves in the air with rapturous applaud at the Ringo the Bagpiper (who managed a wink in response). I felt the presence of my Scottish Grandfather patting me on the back and willing me onwards (there was alcohol at the end after all!). I would have stopped for a selfie with the Ringo, but I didn’t dare stop moving for fear of my legs refusing to go any further!

The rest of the run was mostly downhill – well, pretty much, all downhill (but any tiny ascent was perceived by mind and body as something altogether tougher!).

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The view as we made the final descent to Lochmara Lodge.

By the 10 mile mark my Garmin watch, and it’s on the mile beep, started to fill me with simultaneous relief and dread – eleven miles down, two more to go… wait, what’s that, that sign up ahead, it reads ‘Lochmara Lodge’, but my watch hasn’t beeped at the 12 mile mark yet!

It turned out the half marathon wasn’t quite a half, but with the elevation I’d just ran I was quite content to realise the end was near.

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Me at the end of the run / climb / walk / tumble down hill!

My Garmin Forerunner 220 watch read 11.6 miles [18.7 km] at the finish point (but another runner’s Strava feed read 11.9 miles [19.2 km], so I’ll trust his distance more than mine – because it felt like longer than what my watch read!). Regardless of the finer points of distance and time, the event was amazing. The organisation incredible. The welcome at the finish warm and wonderful. The Beachcomber Cruise boat was moored up with our bags (containing the all important change of clothes, sweat rag and deodorant!), there was a band playing, cold drinks on offer and a beautiful bay to dip the tired legs in. My finish time was 2 hours 10 minutes and I was chuffed with that (given I’d taken time to enjoy the scenery and take selfies with a shark and Elvis en-route!).

And the medal… I’m at 2050 words and haven’t even mentioned the medal?! Here it is…

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Bling for our efforts!

Not just any bit of bling, it’s also a torch (and rechargeable too!). Win! Win!

After chilling at Lochmara Lodge for a couple of hours it was time to board the Beachcomber once more, for a gorgeous cruise back to Picton.

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Beautiful Lochmara Lodge.

The sun was beaming down on us and it was a lot warmer than the crisp start to the day we’d experienced (where removing my jacket to put on the race bib was quite an effort, especially having not consumed a real, hard-core, coffee!).

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Before the event and feeling the chill on the top deck.

We lapped up some rays on top deck, arriving back in Picton around 2pm, leaving us a few hours before our return flight to Wellington.

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Coming into land at Wellington Airport

The lovely lady at the Picton Yacht Club Hotel said we could take a dip in the hotel pool, even though we’d checked out at 6.45am that morning. We could have kissed her!

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Picton Yacht Club Hotel

We spent the afternoon soaking our limbs, rehydrating (still on soft drinks… I know, I surprised myself even!) and had a feed at a local cafe – salty chips all the way.

The flight back was a beautiful one. Flying over the Marlborough Sounds, the Cook Strait and Wellington on a fine day is something well worth doing.

Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds

The scenery was breathtaking.

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South Coast of Wellington

We landed early and walked to the pick-up area to be met by my hubby, two of my children and my friend’s daughter. Back to reality, but with a satisfied smile – and a few blisters for my friend (can’t believe she’s still my friend… that was a pretty hard-core first half marathon! I’m so proud of her. Cheers Chantel!).

Lochmara 1/2 Marathon Course

Lochmara 1/2 Marathon Course

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