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Dramatic scenery is what the Motatapu is all about and makes the race one of a kind Photo by Nathan Secker




Motatapu terra Triathlon story vicki watson (with a little bit of help from tom)


hy do we do it? I mean – honestly! Here I was cruising through life, working out, keeping reasonably fit, sipping coffee and red wine. What was wrong with that? Until one day in October last year. My birthday. And there it was – 45 – staring me right in the face. I don’t see 45 as particularly old but for some reason this whole new thinking came to mind. Firstly, I was definitely over halfway and everything from now on was going to be harder than it had been for the first 45, and secondly, I probably only had five years to get as much ticked off as possible before, I don’t know, I was confined to a rocking chair with a crocheted blanket. I poured over past issues of Adventure looking for inspiration for my “bucket list”. I went on the internet and surfed anything and everything with the key word being ‘adventure’. And then - bang - there it was: Motatapu. A full menu of five races from mountain biking and adventure runs to a marathon and triathlon – all located in the magnificent setting of Central Otago. Brilliant. This was it. I chose the triathlon for a couple of reasons – it was only in its second year and it kind of appealed being one of the pioneering entrants, and secondly, because there’s nothing like dragging someone else into your midlife crisis and forming a team to compete. Enter: Tom. Now it’s interesting psychology here as Tom has completed Ironman, run marathons, biked around Lake Taupo, swum from Rangitoto to St Heliers in Auckland, and is clearly a good team member to have on board. But I was adamant that it had to be a challenge for him too. So he took on the 47km mountain bike section, which he has never competed in before, and I decided to take on the 2km swim and 15km mountain run. The website has all the information you need from how to enter and gear lists, to trail maps and suggested fitness regime. Once registered the team behind the event, Iconic Adventures, became our new best mates keeping us up to date on news, latest developments, closing dates and competitions. Gemma Boyle, Race Director, is a truly dedicated professional and makes all that happen. Competitors have grown from 1300 when it all started in 2005 to over 3,500 today. Whenever you start to question yourself, magically an email seems to appear and you get nervously excited again about the whole challenge. I downloaded the fitness regime for the miners’ trail and kept to it pretty much. You should note I’ve never seen myself as a runner so this was a huge step for me and would prefer, hand on heart, to swim 5km than run it. As I started training properly back in December, I can remember when I was running 5-8km and wondering how on earth I would advance, but then I cracked the hour and I can tell you, there was much leaping about. That was one of the best things in taking on the challenge - making progress and

ABOVE: The washing machine start of the triathlon | Image by Camilla Stoddart already seeing there was more in me. Tom’s training went well – he adapted to his new sport and kept up running and swimming to cross train. Like a seasoned competitor he was very excited in the weeks leading up and couldn’t wait to just get going. Arriving in Queenstown, we picked up our Britz campervan. We scored one of the great All Black vans especially made for the Rugby World Cup. I couldn’t believe how many people stared at us as we drove past them. We’d just give everyone a wave and smile. Given we had to start the triathlon in Glenhu Bay, Wanaka but tag for my run in Arrowtown (over 70km away), we realised we had to have a moving-motel. Our Navigator model was perfect. Two double beds, plenty of space for all of our kit and Britz can even include a bike rental and bike rack for you if you don’t want to take your own. They picked us up from the airport, took us around the corner to their shiny new offices and made a quick and seamless registration. We knew it had been the best decision when we woke up the morning of the race right beside Lake Wanaka where I would be swimming, with no stress of finding parking. Arriving the night before meant we could



relax next to this beautiful lake with the Southern Alps as the backdrop reflected in the crystal water. “How’s the serenity!” I’d been warned for months how cold Lake Wanaka would be but I’d done a few harbour and ocean swims and felt I’d be okay. The locals said the water was “warmish” but at 17.2 degrees I realised that I wouldn’t have liked it any colder. A lot of competitors had invested in proper wetsuit caps to sit under their official race cap. I just had to suck it in and hope I didn’t get cramp. The usual washing machine start occurred but then it was a really nice rectangular course and as usual all competitors spread out pretty quickly. It is SO nice to swim in fresh water rather than the salty sea with waves crashing. I felt relaxed and enjoyed it. I tagged Tom who took off to cross the three stations on the bike leg and I had the best hot shower at Glendhu Bay Motor Camp to warm up, plenty of food and drink and then set off on the road to cross the Crown Range to Transition Two at Arrowtown. As mentioned there are other races going on. The craziest, in my mind, is the 47km R&R Sport Adventure Run which climbs three peaks.

Motatapu terra Triathlon


ABOVE: The scenery was simply breathtaking | Image by Nathan Secker

“I’d been warned for months how cold Lake Wanaka would be but I’d done a few harbour and ocean swims and felt I’d be okay. The locals said the water was “warmish” but at 17.2 degrees I realised that I wouldn’t have liked it any colder.” Only experienced runners can take it on and they are the first to set off, in the dark, at 6am. Next to go are the 540 Icebreaker Marathon runners who head off at 8am; then the 106 UDC Finance Triathletes at 9.45. From 11am the 1900 Speight’s Summit Mountain Bikers head off in waves – a sight to be seen, whilst over the Crown Range, the 500 Miners Trail runners depart. You can start to see how massive the event is and something is always happening to watch. When we left Queenstown the day before we’d decided to make a quick visit to Arrowtown so we knew where the transition was, and to consider parking. We stopped in at the Lake District Museum on the main street and picked up a free map. This was a lifesaver. Firstly, it gave us all the information we needed as to where everything was, and secondly, when I came into Arrowtown the next day alone, I could simply mark with an ‘x’ where I’d parked so as I took off for the run, Tom knew exactly where to find the campervan. Whilst Tom was the most experienced of us, it’s amazing how nerves kick in and simple things get forgotten. When we left in the morning to walk down to the start line at the end of the camping ground, we were

talking about not forgetting to hand over the transponder before he took off for the bike. “Oh, we won’t forget that,” he said. However a few seconds later Tom turned his bike around as he realised he’d left his backpack, full of compulsory safety gear, in the van! Tom was grateful to get a head start on the 1900 bikers mentioned above but it was slow going with most of the big climbs in the first hour of the race. The lead bunch of riders from the elite race passed him like an express train. Whilst his confidence was knocked, the scenery more than made up for it. If the climb was steep, the descent was sheer madness. Tom admits he was out of control for most of it and felt he was flying but elite racers again passed him like dive bombers. As the website says, get this descent wrong and you’ll die! The last three kilometres followed the Arrow River into town with scores of bikers and runners splashing along together. There are eight river crossings in this section alone. At one point Tom heard a rhythmic splash-splash-splash and looking down saw his feet and pedals hitting the water. It was less a river crossing and more just cycling downstream. 75

“ At one point Tom heard a rhythmic splashsplash-splash and looking down saw his feet and pedals hitting the water. It was less a river crossing and more just cycling downstream. Another competitor in the Team Triathlon said he fell off his bike and had to chase it as it floated downstream.�

Linking the

North & South Islands

LEFT: During a fuel intake of banana, Tom rounds the corner straight into a river crossing. | ABOVE: Cycling downstream was difficult for some (Images courtesy of MMPro) | BELOW: The Britz Navigator All Black campervan. Perfect accommodation for the Motatapu Race.

Motatapu terra Triathlon


Another competitor in the Team Triathlon said he fell off his bike and had to chase it as it floated downstream. The hardest part for me in some respects was the waiting around in Arrowtown. The whole reason I had entered this was to test myself running, and so not being able to track Tom’s progress and see how long I had to go before I could start, did make my butterflies and stomach worse. Soon Tom came flying in, transponder exchanged and the 15km Miners’ Trail began. Sarah Ulmer competed in the off-road marathon in 2011 but this year entered the Miners’ Trail as a standalone. She found it just as challenging as the marathon. “It was an amazing experience and the downhill down to the Arrow River was just so hard.” She finished 19th in the women’s section in 1hr: 53:08 which shows how different it is to 15km on the road. Of the first 9km, about three are flat so competitors spread out quickly and I spent a lot of this section on my own. The other six kilometres take you up to the summit at 1049m so it’s as much a mental challenge as well as a physical one. I loved the only aid station at the half way point when a ten year old boy hooted his horn and cheered me on like I was Ulmer winning the gold medal. Soon over the peak, Sarah was right: the descent was by no means easy. It took only two kilometres to get back to starting altitude and on three occasions, it was so steep I sat on my bum and slid down the tussock grass for 30-40m at a time. I was laughing out loud at the madness. Up in the middle of nowhere, on my own, bum-skiing. Hilarious. Just like Tom’s bike-ride, my last three kilometres joined everyone else. This is a fantastic way to finish a race with bikers passing me urging me on, telling me how strong I’m looking, when clearly I looked otherwise. I passed marathon walkers and would do the same and a huge camaraderie developed. The eight river crossings were brilliant. I loved racing bikers across and splashing around. The crowds started at the last 500m and my smiles grew wider as high-fiving toddlers cheered for me and complete strangers congratulated me. As the final leg in the triathlon I had the honour of crossing the finish line along with other first timers and seasoned professionals like Ulmer, Hamish Carter and Steve Gurney. I was beaming like a Cheshire cat. I know lots of people who have done races like this and they take a while to come around. I can tell you honestly that both Tom and I on greeting each other immediately following the finish line said, “what shall we do next year?!” 77

ABOVE: Vicki enjoying the descent | BELOW: Her smile says it all, Vicki crosses the finish line |Images courtesy of MMPro

Motatapu terra Triathlon


So why do we do it? *Because that sensation of crossing the line knowing you’ve done something so bloody hard makes you feel like a Greek God. *Because the peace and serenity of the Otago outback, and the fact they only open access to these private stations once a year, is so incredibly memorable you realise you’re a part of something very special. *And because I realised that I didn’t need to worry about being 45 at all. The eldest female biker was 70. She completed the course in 3:11, just five minutes longer than Tom. Motatapu is too good to be just a line on your bucket list. It deserves its own chapter and a return time and time again to try the different options, to see some of the best athletes that New Zealand has to offer and scenery we are world-renowned for. Thanks to Iconic Adventures and Britz for making the experience so good. We’ll be back. Visit and get ready for March 9th 2012 Visit for further information on campervans

“Motatapu is too good to be just a line on your bucket list. It deserves its own chapter ” 78//WHERE


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