It feels like it was an age ago now, and it was a fair few weeks to be honest, but as I’m about to head into Ironman Australia, I thought I should finally capture some thoughts about my Motatapu adventures.
Motatapu is a fun filled weekend of adventures and activities down in the South Island of New Zealand. The event over the weekend involves an Off-Road Triathlon, Mountain Bike event, Ultra marathon, off road marathon, Sawpit 16km and Miners Trail 8km runs. The Motatapu track is across private land, and so only opened up to the public for this one event a year. It heads across the Crown Range. Most events start on the Wanaka side of the Crown Range at Glendhu Bay, and then head up the Motatapu track finishing on the Queenstown side, in Arrowtown.
It was always on my radar as something to do after Ironman New Zealand.
In 2018 after Ironman New Zealand I’d returned back down to Wanaka, and volunteered at the Motatapu Off Road Triathlon. It was awesome to be on the other side of the fence and to be able to volunteer and support the athletes racing in another way. I loved it and was incredibly happy to have been able to be a volunteer. At that stage I don’t think I had any thoughts about taking part. I loved being a volunteer, and was happy with that. However a year later and my thoughts were a little different.
Leading in to Ironman New Zealand in 2019, I knew that Motatapu was again the following weekend and that I’d be back in Wanaka at that time. I initially thought about volunteering again, perhaps this time somewhere on the track, in the middle, so I could see that part of the world. Or then the idea started to form that perhaps I could take part in the Mountain bike event one day and then volunteer the following day. Coming off the back of Ironman New Zealand, I felt the Mountain bike event would be something more achievable (even though I’d never been on a mountain bike), and a good way to keep the body moving, active and recovering, but without too much impact, particularly post IM event. However, without the use of a helicopter to fly me into the track, it was going to be a little hard to get to the aid station. Most volunteers at those middle points head in the day before and camp for the whole weekend. Whilst I did consider this briefly, it probably wasn’t totally feasible. So the other idea came about to then do both events, the mountain bike on one day and the off road marathon the next, made feasible now with the Motatapu festival taking place over two days this year.
However, I parked the idea till after I’d raced Ironman New Zealand, as wasn’t really sure what I’d feel like doing, if anything. If you missed my IMNZ thoughts… https://laurasiddall.com/2019/03/21/kicking-off-2019/ here you go…
So I headed back to Wanaka, feeling well… pretty frustrated, tired, pissed off… and a load more emotions mixed in there. It was time to throw myself into something else. I needed to and wanted to keep active, but of course knew I needed to give my body time to recover as well, as well as the head. The Motatapu Mountain Bike event seemed like a perfect chance to do something completely different for me, but still feeding my need to be active and outdoors.I was also excited by the prospect of getting into this part of the country that is normally not accessible to the public.
I decided what the hell, let’s just enter the mountain bike on the Saturday and then the off road marathon on the Sunday, just in case as back up.
So mountain biking…. I’ve never ridden a mountain bike, in my life, and I guess this was part of the excitement. My first ever bike that I remember as a kid was a blue BMX, but I can safely say I only road it up and down the drive and more like a road bike. I had a bike a University, but a road / hybrid bike and again very much for commuting to and from lectures. Then when I started triathlon I had again a road / hybrid bike, then a road bike and the TT. All my riding has always been on roads, or the odd gravel track when my GPS took me the wrong way a few times in Girona!
A special shout out to the awesome team at Racers Edge Wanaka, for lending me an awesome bike and for Luke lending me all the compulsory kit I needed to take part. Luke also took me out on the bike for the first time, and was great at explaining some of the basics around mountain biking. This was much appreciated.
That first ride… well I just couldn’t stop smiling. I love Wanaka to ride and run as it is, but now my world was opening up to a whole new side of Wanaka I’d never seen before as we headed out on the Newcastle track along the banks of The Clutha River. Also perhaps the novelty of being on a bike with a seat that went up and down like an office chair at the flick of a lever! It’s the little things right! The next day I took myself off round the Millennium Track from Wanaka around to Glendhu Bay. Slightly more technical than the day before definitely had me pushing the bike up some of the climbs, and gingerly navigating the descents, but I was still loving it and learning every minute. I’m not a naturally high cadence cyclists so one of the factors was getting used to spinning a high cadence up steep descents and having the confidence that you were making forward and upward progress and not going to fall off! New cycling skills were being developed that would only support my normal triathlon pursuits.
With a leisurely start, on race day, I had time to grab a coffee at my favourite Wanaka café before cycling out to Glendhu bay and the start. I’m pretty sure I was getting odd looks from all the athletes driving out in their cars, with bikes stacked on roofs and bike racks, but hey ho this was about having a fun day out regardless of kilometres covered or time it took.
It was a cool buzz at the start. The Off Road Triathlon had just started so I was able to watch the athletes swim in the lake on a beautiful morning, and jump onto their bikes heading off up the track to Arrow Town.
With no idea on what was ahead, or how long it would take me I parked myself up at the back of the 3-3.5hour group. Mainly because by now I just wanted to get on with things and get going. It was turning into a gorgeous day. I nearly didn’t make it out of the start area as within only 20m there was a very short but steep little climb up onto the road, that nearly had me scuppered before we even started!! Ha ha!
If there’s such a thing as a mountain bikers high, then I certainly experienced it from the start to the very finish and beyond! It was cool to just be on the bike, with hundreds of other people, no race, no expectation, no pressure, just riding through this amazing part of the world. It was cool to think that this track is only open for this one weekend a year, and this was it, and I was here. It was an amazing release. I was armed with my GoPro and tried to take as many pictures as possible as I went to try and capture the experience, but whilst GoPro and photos capture images, they don’t capture the feelings, the experience and the buzz. The good thing too about Motatapu is that it’s not a hugely technical mountain bike ride… I mean I’m day 3 on a mountain bike, so if I can survive it, so can most people. There are a few steeper rocky sections that I’m sure the Elites at the front would ride up no issue, but most of these I decided to push the bike up like everyone else. Well, I actually ran the bike up which kept the momentum going and would move me up the field a little each time (even though I wasn’t racing right!?).
The weather was perfect too, clear skies, but cooler, although a bit of a head wind across the middle section of the ride, which also involved riding on grass! That I had not been expecting. I just naively thought it was all fire track type surface/road. I think that’s where my cycling strength came through as I didn’t really get phased by this grassy section, but heard a lot of the cyclists talking about it after. I was also told that there were one or two river crossings! Ha ha! One or two DOZEN river crossings I think was more like it! But what fun! They were definitely a learning experience and I was trying to watch other cyclist around me, to see what they did and how they attacked them. The main goal just not to fall in!
I found that I moved my way through the field pretty well, and was getting some good space. I was happy about this, as didn’t really want to be around lots of riders when we came to the descent into Arrow Town. I wanted to be able to take this at my own pace (again remember day 3 on a mountain bike), and didn’t want to feel the pressure of riders lining up behind me or screaming past me. So it was great that when I got to this section there weren’t many other riders around. A few whizzed past me on the descent as speeds I could only dream off and frankly scared the sh*t out of me, but I kept having to tell myself, I wasn’t racing and there was no need for me to risk getting injured, and that this was just about the experience and having fun.
As we dropped down towards Arrow Town, it was like we were actually cycling down the middle of the river bed. I think there was more time in those last 5km we were going through a river than we were cycling our bikes! But it was so much fun. The river was pretty deep in places, definitely above knee in a few spots, and it was a cool refreshing temperature, but also so clear and stunning.
It was such a buzz cycling into the park in Arrow Town and crossing the finish line. I hadn’t stopped smiling all day and there was certainly no wiping the smile off my face now either. The atmosphere at the end was also brilliant. Unlike most races and events I’ve been too, all the bikers once they finished, just parked up their bikes on the ground in the park and sat around chatting, eating and drinking. There were so many great food trucks, and a beer tent (that probably helped) and just a great atmosphere to be part of at the end of a great day!
I was a classic event groupie, and event organisers dream! So proud of that finishers medal! And yes I bought the t.shirt!
My day wasn’t quite over as I now needed to work out how to get myself and bike back to Wanaka. Grateful for a lift from Bec’s who I was staying with in Wanaka, she’d kindly agreed if I couldn’t find a lift, to drive part way over the Crown Range to meet me. So off I headed back on the bike again and up Tobins Track. I was chuckling as after the straight 5km of climbing up this track I joined up with the main Queenstown to Wanaka road and waited (only a few minutes) for Becs to arrive, but in that time had plenty of cars drive past with mountain bikers piled in and again bikes on roof and racks!
What a day! What a buzz! That was just awesome!
Off Road Marathon
There wasn’t really any decision to be made about whether I was doing the run or not. Who am I trying to kid. I knew I’d do it regardless of everything else. I justified it by saying that during the bike, I couldn’t take any GoPro images on the descents, and so wanted to fully appreciate that part of the track, which would be easier to do whilst running. Ha!
I had no idea how long it would take me. I had no idea what my legs would feel like running, off the back of Ironman New Zealand and then the mountain bike the day before. I had some friends who were walking, so if I ended up walking, then I’d walk with them, and frankly there are worse places to walk in the world. I also had some friends who were there running it, so thought maybe I could try to keep up with them. But to be honest I was just excited about getting out into the middle of no where again, and doing something just so different. Something again that had no expectation attached, no pressure, no pacing or timings to think about. I was literally just going out for a Sunday morning jog, was how I saw it.
I have to be honest, I was a little more nervous for the run than the mountain bike. The mountain bike was completely different and new for me, whereas the run still had connotations back to my triathlon life. At times in the morning before the race… little feelings did start to creep in about expectations etc. and what other people would think etc. But I had to switch all of that off, and get out of my head and just look around as the sun rose above the mountains and take a big deep breath.
We were dropped a little way up the track, to ensure it was 42km (compared to the 47km on the bike), and in this field in the dark. We then had to walk 200-300m up a hill to the start, which as we crested over to see the Motatapu starting arch, as well as the valley splayed out in front of us, the sun coming up it was a pretty awesome moment.
Again, I started probably mid way back through the crowds, and set off pretty steadily. The first bit was a little congested anyway, with everyone moving through and immediately down a sharp descent. But once we joined back up with the main Motatapu track, things started to settle out.
I was just running, GoPro in hand again, no idea on pace, just going on feel. As we got into the first few kilometres, I found I was moving through the field, and was feeling comfortable, but also conscious that this was a marathon, there was a long way to go, and at any moment the legs could fall off. But we’d go with the flow and deal with that if and when it came. As the kilometres ticked over the field was spreading out, and becoming more sparse. There would be a couple of athletes, then nothing, then I’d see another then nothing again. It was just awesome though. I was just out for a Sunday run, on this amazing track. I did start to think, that there couldn’t be many other women up ahead, and that it would be quite cool to finish perhaps top 5 women or top 3, but that was about it.
After another kilometre or so of not really seeing anyone, I caught up with another woman, and I think mentioned something along the lines off… “It’s a bit quiet out here now, isn’t it, but how awesome”, she smiled and kindly replied telling me that Lucy Bartholomew* was just up ahead. I was a little taken aback if I’m honest, not really expecting to hear that. I knew Lucy’s name as a pretty incredible ultra runner, and I’d heard her plan was to run the Ultra Marathon on Saturday and then back up with the Off Road Marathon on Sunday. I’d also heard that unfortunately Lucy had taken a fall just 10-15km into the Ultra the day before and had not been able to finish. To be honest because of my mindset pre race, I’d not given Lucy a thought and had no idea who was on the start list. But then hearing Lucy’s name was a bit of a surprise. I guess partly because of hearing she’d not been able to finish the Ultra the day before.
However I brushed the thought aside and just carried on my merry way. Just a few more hundred meters up the track there was a sharp climb, and on cresting, the lovely volunteers parked up at the side of the track in the middle of no where. mentioned that the front woman was again just ahead in orange. At this point I guess the competitive juices did start bubbling a little, as I scanned down the valley to see where this orange runner was. All I could see was someone in pink just up ahead. Knowing from triathlon how ‘loose’ information from the side of the course can be, I assumed they had meant, a little further up the road. So again didn’t really think too much off it and just carried on running.
The next section of the track was a longer slight down hill section, heading through the plateau. It was awesome. You could see so far head, but with the hills still raising up either side. It was as I “bounded” (lose description) down the track, I suddenly realised that the pink in front was actually a female and must have been the orange that the volunteer was meaning, and I assumed (having never met Lucy) that it was Lucy. I can’t even remember if we spoke as I moved up along side and passed her. I think I was in a bit of shock and disbelief. It was at about the half way mark, and as just as we were approaching one of the awesome aid stations so I think I was more focused on picking up some Jet Planes!
“Oh heck!” I thought. This wasn’t quite in the plan. Would Lucy now start racing me? Had she just been cruising? Was she injured? As mentioned, I didn’t know Lucy, just knew of her name through my interest in sport. I didn’t really want to get into a race, but then at the same time, I’m not sure why I was concerned about this. I wasn’t racing, so effectively it would be ok if she did re over take me. Ha ha! Who am I trying to kid! I did push all of those thoughts out of my mind, and just told myself, I’d obviously been doing something right over the first 21km, so just keep doing the same, relax, breath, look up smile and enjoy the running.
Over the next 5km or so I caught up with a few of the male runners up ahead. I did another check in case there were any other females up the road, still a bit in disbelief at the position I was in. “I’d better not fuck this up” was the thought that came into my head, when they confirmed I was the first female.
There was still a long way to go and I still had no idea if at any moment the body would stop functioning or I’d start to seize up. My nutrition plan wasn’t exactly, well… well thought out. I was fuelling mainly off Jet Planes I’d grabbed from the aid stations. I did have some gels and bars with me but didn’t really touch them. I think I maybe had a Shotz gel towards the end. However I was starting to think I should probably be a bit more planned about what I was eating and more importantly to remember to drink. It wasn’t super hot, but that perhaps made it worse as I wasn’t as conscious about keeping hydrated. I’d shoved my small running flasks down the back of my Hoka running vest, so not exactly easily accessible, so had to make a conscious effort to ensure I did actually reach back to grab them every now and again for a drink. I think we were really lucky with the conditions. It was perfect running temperature. Not too hot, but not cold either. A little cloud cover and now a tail wind, which on the mountain bike the day before had been a head wind.
I’ve never experienced such a feeling like I did during that run. It was another step up from the mountain bike high the day before. I looked up the track ahead of me and couldn’t see anyone. I looked over my shoulder behind me and couldn’t see anyone. I was here, in the middle of what felt like nowhere, or something out of Middle Earth, that amazing New Zealand landscape. I was here, running. Running in a “race” but there was no one around me. No lead bike, no other runners. There actually weren’t even any sheep! It was just me, the mountains and the track! It was awesome! I just started laughing. I think I may have yelled out hearing my voice echo off the hills, I may have even started singing to myself! I had no idea if the team at the finish knew where I was, or if I was in the lead, or had been tracking me catching the other women, and what they were thinking about the whole ridiculousness of the situation. I was still feeling relatively ok, which was also surprising me and so just kept moving forward, looking up at the amazing scenery and just well, enjoying the most incredible experience in running I’ve ever had.
I had also tricked myself into thinking that the last 10km was all down hill, so effectively I just needed to get to that 30/32km mark and it was all ‘easy’ from there! Ha ha! Again who am I to kid. The last 10km is predominantly down hill but certainly not ‘all’ downhill and there were a fair few little climbs again that I’d forgotten about. But on this section the scenery changes and you are in dramatic rocky cliffs, in contrast to the grassy fields we’d just been through. But I was looking forward to this section, not just because it was the final stretch but because on the previous day on the bike I’d had my hands firmly gripped to the handle bars and wasn’t really taking it all in, focusing intensely on the track ahead of my bike. On two feet, running, I could take the chance to look around at the scenery a bit more. For the last 10km or so I’d not seen anyone, and then all of a sudden I rounded a corner and caught up with one of the guys. I think he thought I was a complete nutter as I suddenly got so excited and talked furiously at him. I can’t even remember what I said. I was just excited to see another person! Ha ha!
Whilst thinking the race was pretty finished at the 30km, with it all being ‘downhill’ I soon remembered that 10km is still a fairly long way to run (effectively 40-50min), and still a quarter of the race! But I was definitely getting close. The river crossings started coming thick and fast again now, a sure sign I was nearing the finish. It was such a buzz running through the river and I was glad to have navigated the course yesterday and so had a better idea about where to head and exit the water. Although there were plenty of smiling volunteers and good signage to help. It was also, funnily enough, much easier running through the river in trainers rather than bike shoes and cleats, whilst pushing a bike that was getting swept away with the current!
Probably with just a couple of kilometres to go, we joined up with the Sawpit Trail 16km runners, and again the buzz that arrived with being around other athletes, but also that the finish was even closer.
I couldn’t stop smiling, half still in disbelief that I was about to win, having no expectations, or thoughts pre race about winning or even racing, and half because I was on such a high from just an incredible experience and run.
Those finish chutes are always so very special, and turning the corner, seeing the finish line and hearing the announcers call me over, high fiving all the way down was just an amazing way to finish off the day. What an absolutely blast! One thing I noticed afterwards is that triathletes and runners cross the line very differently. In a running event, the tape is thinner and runners actually just run through the tape to break the tape as they cross the line. In triathlon it’s much thicker and we grab it. So there was me (I realised afterwards) grabbing this thin tape I was probably just meant to run through! Rookie!
Now I know I’ve given a blow by blow, pretty much kilometre by kilometre account of the run (and bike), and much like my pre race goals, that wasn’t the initial intention, but it was such an amazing experience, I guess I just got carried away writing.
However whilst the win at the Off Road marathon was awesome, and a fabulous surprise to cap off my weekend, it wasn’t about the win at all. It was all about doing something different. Doing something with no pressure or expectations. Doing something for the hell of it, without over thinking it, actually without really thinking about it at all. Being able to do something to fuel my love of being active, and outside, and to keep moving after my triathlon races, but just doing something with a huge smile on my face. This race, these races, this weekend ticked all the boxes. It was a buzz that’s infectious and definitely feeds your desire to want more. To want to capture that pure simple joy of running or biking in an amazing place.
Many people post event, suggested that perhaps I should take that feeling and approach, into my Triathlon races. Whilst I understand that basically, and believe me if I could find a way to bottle it and tap into it each race than I certainly would, however it is also very different. I know the next time I step up to Motatapu, I’ll have expectations on myself, and I’ll have splits and paces that whilst I’ll tell myself they don’t matter, and will try to run with the same freedom, they will be at the back of my mind. Also, I know that that complete relaxed attitude wouldn’t cut it to be competitive in one of my triathlon events. I have expectations about what paces, and powers and HR to perform to, and I’ve tried various forms of switching these off in races, and it just doesn’t work. So it may be that I’m not quite channeling the right inner passion yet, I don’t know, but I do know it’s different. Maybe because one is, for me my job, rather than just something I jumped into at the last minute. Again I can hear people arguing that perhaps there shouldn’t be a difference. But I do think the two situations were very different. Anyway, I know I’m not very good at explaining what I mean here so I’ll just stop.
What I can explain though is that I can definitely recommend this event! Why not plan it in when you sign up for Ironman New Zealand or Challenge Wanaka and make a holiday off it. Or just sign up anyway. There’s so much to keep you occupied in New Zealand for a couple of weeks anyway and it’s just an incredible place to explore. There’s a good reason why I return each year to spend the summer here.
I’ll just finish by saying, that it’s cool to mix things up and do things differently. It doesn’t’ all just need to be traditional swim, bike and run. Endless laps looking at the black line, continuous pedal strokes staring at a computer screen of a virtual world, or counting the kilometres away on the treadmill. Get outside and really look around at what we have about us. Take in the fresh air. There are some amazing places to explore, and the high you will get is amazing. Enter something different, feed your adventurous side. Go off the plan and away from expectations and the pressure you put on yourself. Find something that fuels that pure love and passion, that excites you for the simplicity off it. Turn off the numbers, the data. Run off pure energy and passion. Start looking up and smiling around you, and even let out a shout or scream as you run through the hills or mountains, or even just your local park! What we do is pretty dam cool. We get to swim, ride and run in some pretty awesome places, so why not milk it for all It’s worth!
Kit that go me through – Hoka One One Carbon Rocket (Prototypes) – I chose these trainers for the race, because whilst they are more racing flat shoes, the terrain wasn’t super technical, and I also wanted a light shoe that would dry out quickly with all the river crossings. The Carbon Rockets (albeit prototypes) were perfect for the job! I also used the Hoka One One running vest / jacket. This has so many pockets it’s great for those longer runs where you need to carry a bit of kit.