Motatapu Off-road Marathon


After the New Plymouth half-marathon in October, our friend/boss/second mother in Taranaki, Jo, somehow managed to convince us that we needed a new challenge to focus our minds and encourage us to keep fit. We allowed ourselves to be signed up for the Motatapu Off-road Marathon, a remarkably scenic, and correspondingly hilly, event run between Wanaka and Queenstown in the South Island.

We left Taranaki in November with great plans to train hard and make a really good go of it. We both bought new and expensive trainers (specialist trail shoes for me, in fact, so keen was I).

Of course, we have our excuses. Gillian had knee troubles; we were never in one place for long enough to get to know good running routes; and while living in a car I, especially, for the good of UK-NZ relations, had to think carefully about shower access before running any great distance.

We managed some longer runs (including a very pleasant one in Abel Tasman National Park, and a murderously difficult one on the Routeburn Track), but for the most part we managed to convince ourselves that all the hiking we were doing was just as good as running. So we were not feeling overly prepared when we stood alongside our fellow athletes at the start line on 4th March.

Running the Routeburn

We started slowly, walking up the steeper hills to conserve energy, and, of course, taking time to enjoy our surroundings. For the most part the route follows a four-wheel-drive track through the private land of the enormous Motatapu sheep station, and one could not help but envy the sheep who spend their days grazing in such majestic surroundings. We climbed steadily (very steadily in our case) up the Motatapu River valley. Around 14km in I decided to go for broke (i.e., break myself), and ran on ahead, at the same time giving up on dry feet and ploughing straight through the river and its tributary streams on the numerous occasions when our paths crossed. At this point, somewhat too late, I realised the down-side to expensive waterproof trail shoes, as I tried to guess the distance to the next river crossing in order to decide whether to stop and empty my shoes out or run on with pails of water on my feet.


From the high point of the course, around 800m, we picked up the Arrow River valley for the descent, with my legs’ protest taking the form of passive non-cooperation as I tried to pick out rocks that wouldn’t twist my ankles. As we entered the final stages of the race, the friendly marshals telling us how close we were all conspicuously failed to mention the nine times we had to cross the Arrow River in the final 2km of the course. My determination to get a good pace going for a final dash into Arrowtown proved no match for fast-flowing cold water around my upper-thighs, so it was a stagger rather than a sprint that took me across the line after five hours and 20 minutes.



Gillian meanwhile fell in with a band of injured athletes and coaxed and cajoled her knee into getting her round in a highly respectable six hours and 20 minutes.


We lay quietly moaning on the grass, politely applauding the efforts of unknown New Zealand television personalities and sports-men and -women, until Jo and her friend Nic, sensibly entered in the walking category, joined us after seven hours’ solid striding. After a free beer courtesy of Speights (“Good on ye, mate!”), we retired to the luxury of Jo and Nic’s rented apartment in Queenstown for a takeaway, a film, and as little movement as possible.

Would we do it again? Of course.

Photo credit:

Race website:



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