I tried to enter the Kepler 60km race a week after the registration opened, only to find myself at number 200-something on the waitlist. I figured I had a 0.0001% of getting to run this race so I was simply running for fitness rather than training to run an ultra. I still kept an eye on the wait list from time to time, but it never looked promising.
Two days before Saturday’s run I noticed that I had managed to sit at #17 on the list. I was shocked I had come so close to an entry and just a few short hours later I would learn that there was a spot for me. That evening received a call from a woman who told me that there was one spot left and since the 16 people sitting above me hadn’t answered their phone the entry was mine, if I wanted it. I just had to make it down to Te Anau, a small town in the southwest corner of Te Wai Pounamu South Island by 5pm the next day to pick up my packet. We quickly booked flights, a rental car, and accommodation. Yes…I was doing this! It didn’t take long for the fear to set in. I was up all night figuring out scenarios to make the 12 hour cutoff. How was I ever going to manage 27 more miles longer than my longest run?
Eventually my excitement would squash this doubt and I was off to run the Kepler Track, one Aotearoa New Zealand’s Great Walks in Fiordland National Park. The track begins near town at the edge of Lake Te Anau and climbs to tussock-covered ridgelines with dramatic views of the fiords and steeply rising mountains before descending through beech forest to Lake Manapouri and back to Lake Te Anau. People usually spend 3-4 days exploring this track, staying in huts along the way. Since I was running and had to move much quicker and I didn’t want to get in the way of other runners, I don’t have a lot of pictures. Most were taken in the most dramatic sections above treeline. So consider this a mini tour of the route.
The track climbs steeply for nearly 12km through beech forest, before leaving treeline to immediately be greeted with sweeping views of alpine tussock covered mountains and fiords below. The mountains rise so steeply and symmetrically from the sounds in Fiordland, but without pointy summits, they remind me more of gum drops rather than pyramids. Its another 2km to the Luxmore Hut, a large hut with 54 bunks.
Small rain and snow showers rolled through the park between bursts of sunshine, filling the valleys with rainbows. Rain is pretty typical here, Fiordland sees 200 days of rain each year.
After reaching the first emergency shelter we were running on snowy, exposed ridgelines. While the rain was expected, the snowfall during the first week of summer was a bit of surprise. Most of the runners grumbled about but. I however, LOVED it and posed with the race official snowmen.
Just as we started to descend these ridges we were greeted by several keas, the only alpine parrot in the world. These olive green birds soured above us for nearly 20 minutes, flying so close to sometimes people ducked for cover. If you look closely, you can find the kea blending in with the surrounding landscape.
I was bummed to leave this magical alpine landscape to return to the forest. The descent is somewhat steep to the Iris Burn Hut. From here it is a generally flat return through beech forest and wetlands specially decorated near race checkpoints to Lake Te Anau.
In the end, I finished the race in 9 hours and 1 minute, somewhere midpack with 3 hours to spare until the cutoff. It is amazing how easy it was to move an untrained body when motivated to explore such a beautiful landscape. The next morning was a different story, I had never felt so sore.