This is a familiar conversation starter as I traversed around New Zealand exploring the South last November. Held on Saturday, 18 November 2017, that weekend saw a flurry of activities in what would have been a quiet November for Queenstown.
In their fourth year now, the Air New Zealand Queenstown International Marathon just keeps getting bigger and better. This festival, incorporating 42km, 21km, 10km and 2.2km kids run options, is set between the backdrop of the spectacular Crown and Remarkable mountain ranges, with race routes that overlook the Queenstown Lakes region including Millbrook resort, Arrowtown, Lakes Hayes, Shotover River, Lake Wakatipu, and Queenstown Gardens.
While I’ve competed in various half marathon races in Singapore, this has got to be my first overseas race. As the first overseas race I’ve competed in, there are some stark comparisons I can draw between the local scene and New Zealand’s.
Race Pack Collection
For one, to ease congestion when collecting race packs and to accommodate overseas participants, the organisers mail out the race packs to local participants, while international participants can collect their race packs on the penultimate day of the race at the Queenstown Memorial Centre. Held in a community hall, the race pack collection had virtually no queue when we went to collect them.
In it were some energy bars and my race tag. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my race tag had my country flag on it – that is how much they embrace the international scene and diversity! It was nice having a familiar identity in a foreign land.
Merchandise like shoes, tees and sporting accessories were also available on sale on site at the Sports Expo.
Special mention must be made of the Queenstown Marathon app that they had created. Not only could you check all the latest information about the race, it also includes an interactive map, and sends out push notifications about collecting your race packs and your event schedule.
The best part about it? It lets you be up-to-date about the progress of every single participant you choose! Friends and family, whether present or supporting from your home country, can follow real-time updates of your mileage and pace. Push notifications are sent for every milestone the participants crosses. The app is so comprehensive that it even details instructions about aid stations and bag drop.
While Singapore races recruit a single or group of runners to act as pacers, running with a balloon or some indicator to show that they are pacers, Air New Zealand Queenstown International Marathon offers you your very own personalised pacer tags. You simply input your goal time or goal pace, and your personal pace and timings are electronically calculated and printed out.
You can then wear the pacer tag on your wrist and refer to it as you run. This, I thought, was an innovative move and extremely helpful for someone like me who has a set end goal time in mind.
While starting at 7:45am is late by Singapore’s standards, in hindsight, I wouldn’t want it any earlier. With the sun still hidden away at 7am, breaths of warm smoke came out of my mouth in the 7-degree icy morning air, as I jumped around to warm my body up. Credit to the organisers for putting in a warm up session for all the runners to warm up. The reason that some racers were in tank tops and shorts eluded me.
As we were ushered to the start point of my 10km race, the sun rays started streaming in. Finally! There’s nothing like the warmth of the sun’s rays on one’s skin. There were markers to indicate 40-50min runners, 50-60min runners and so on so as to reduce human congestion. As we hit 7:35am, the buzzer sounded and off we went!
The running terrain is a mix of concrete road and gravel. Instead of road blocks like you’d see in Singapore races, New Zealand has amassed enough hiking and park trails for them to be included in the race, without hindering car traffic. The 10km route saw me running beside the picturesque Wakatipu Lake, passing by private homes and through Queenstown Gardens.
The community is a supportive one, to say the least. Families, large and small, 4-legged or 2, stand on the borders all across the running route to show their support. Some hold boards, others with clappers. A particular puppy simply barked away enthusiastically.
My First Overseas Race Achievement!
Crossing the finish line was akin to descending down a flight path. You would think the finishing line is a benchmark to mark your race accomplishment as a member of the Air New Zealand cabin crew presents the medal to you, but as I stood in the Air New Zealand VIP tent, I bore witness to more than just the mere completion of a race.
A newlywed couple wearing “Just Married” couple tees embrace in a passionate kiss at the finish line. A bunch of humorous ladies in funky pom pom skirts, curly purple wigs and high rainbow socks. Third generation toddlers holding tight to the hands of granny, dashing to finish the last 200 metres with her. Other couples with their fingers interlocked with each other, with a single aim in mind – to complete every hurdle, hand in hand together. Hell, there was even a dinosaur who took part in the marathon.
In case you were wondering if he made it…
Posted by Queenstown Marathon on Sunday, 19 November 2017
What touched me the most was seeing the familiar face of the Queenstown crowd – the 93-year-old Colin Thorne – cross the finish line of his half marathon. There’s something about marathons that keeps him coming back, he says. That’s one hell of a role model to emulate.
Full marathoners are another sight on its own. Seeing them push through with grit and determination, clenching their fists in their sweat-drenched tees, a standing ovation can’t be helped.
Featured Photo Credit: Queenstown Marathon