Northburn Station 50k Race Report – Kathleen B

Race: Northburn Station 50k

Runner: Kathleen B

Race Date: 03/23/2019

Location: Otago, New Zealand


3rd Female, 8th Overall

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The Vibe. This is a small, friendly, family event. We camped at the start/finish area and were almost instantly greeted by other runners who welcomed us and made us feel like locals! Our kids quickly made friends and romped around in wild packs for hours. The camaraderie continued throughout the race – everyone was lighthearted, chatty and having the time of their lives.
  2. The Terrain. The loop course begins and ends on dirt ranch roads reminiscent of southern California fire road, but the terrain in between is unlike anything I’ve run before. There are no trails other than the occasional sheep track, the ground is very rough and the course unrelenting. There are sections of dry grass, minefields of stabbing plants called Prickly Spaniards, a beautiful soft grass creek, a moon-like rocky plateau and bouncy wet moss. Nothing is easy at Northburn. If it’s a hill, it’s super steep; and if it’s flat it will be uneven, wobbly and challenging. Sometimes you even get super steep, wobbly, challenging, stinging-stabbing plants all at the same time!
  3. Self Sufficiency. This race perfects giving you everything you need and nothing that you don’t. The course marking was phenomenal – very necessary considering there was no trail! There was one Aid Station with water, electrolyte and a bag of chips at the halfway mark and 3 other water drops as well as a natural stream with cold, clean drinkable water (a must-do!) You must carry everything you plan to eat for the entire race as well as the very extensive mandatory gear list for all the races (marathon and longer.)

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

While a long, tough race with a heavy pack may not be for everyone, Northburn Station offers races of all different distances/ability levels! On Saturday the Marathon, 50k, 100k, and 100 Miler early in the morning. The super fun/ adventurous kids events are run that afternoon. These are followed by 5k and 10k night races. And Sunday there is the super speedy Half Marathon. This schedule allowed my whole family to compete in different events so we all got to experience Northburn!

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

I usually run in places were filtering water is necessary so to drink unfiltered water from the streams was a little weird. I will say that it was delicious and cold and all part of the experience of Northburn! PS – no one has ever gotten sick and I’m happy to report that I am 100% fine so far!

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I really committed to improving my fast-hiking with the heavy pack in training and it really paid off. Being somewhat used to the weight allowed me to keep pushing despite feeling like a toddler learning to walk over the gnarly terrain. I had so much fun and I was able to laugh at my many blunders (lots of flailing arms, falling over into the Prickly Spaniards, getting off track…) I think I gave the locals a good laugh too!

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

  1. Train to carry the pack weight.
  2. For races longer than 50k I would consider using trekking poles.
  3. Be prepared to be self-sufficient with your nutrition.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Keeping the pack weight as light as possible, while still carrying everything you need is tough. Some of the mandatory gear that I have is pretty outdated and on the bulky side. At a steep section around mile 7 I was cursing the weight and decided to borrow/invest in some newer, lighter weight layers should I ever have to carry this stuff in a race again! I also overpacked food but I recorded how much I used so I won’t do that again.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

As the race director says “Northburn Station: Where suffering is the prize, and everyone’s a winner!” It’s true for all distances. Plan to work hard.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Northburn Station is a private, fully operational livestock ranch and vineyard. The landowner opens his property up just once a year for the race. It is very beautiful and you will likely get to see the sheep where your Icebreaker wool clothing comes from! There is also a wine tasting room not far from the start/finish line area if you would like to taste the wines that are produced on the ranch.

northburn station race report
Photo: Allan Ure

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Definitely difficult but enjoyable and there are lenient cutoffs. I would say that the races get more challenging as they increase in distance (not just because of the added miles but the terrain in those later sections is very tough.) The 100 Miler is a Hardrock qualifier and has a 48-hour cutoff.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Extremely well organized but in no way uptight. The race directors and landowner work their tails off all weekend but you can tell they truly love what they are doing. There were tons of folks volunteering as course marshals (even runners volunteered after running or dropping) and the Race Director creatively put the older kids to work giving them special course marshaling jobs – which the runners and kids equally loved!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

There are runners of all levels at this race.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Our family tacked this event on to the end of a 10 day camper van trip around the South Island of New Zealand – must do if you have the time! Registration is easy and doesn’t involve a lottery – you can even jump into the shorter distances on the spot! There is free tent and camper van camping right at the start/finish. The local town of Cromwell has lodging, restaurants, orchards, wine tasting and the most amazing fresh fruit ice cream! The Race Director goes out of his way to accommodate travelers. There is a registration option that includes transportation from the airport, a ride to the grocery store to purchase supplies for the race, coordination of your lodging and rides to/from the race!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

For the 50k and lower distances, you must carry all your nutrition. The 100k and 100 milers have some food later in the races but very minimal. All races are loops/cloverleaf courses so you can access your own supplies at mile 31 and 62. There is plenty of water available on the courses.

Weather and typical race conditions

The race begins in the dark and you will run by the light of your headlamp for about an hour and a half. The weather is very unpredictable, can change quickly and is known to vary dramatically throughout the course (hence all the mandatory gear.) As a rule of thumb, the weather will be to an extreme. If it’s windy, it’s really windy. There can be snow or rain. And like this year, it can be extremely hot and dry. The entire course is exposed so runners must embrace whatever the weather happens to be on race day!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

There is an extensive mandatory gear list, a required gear check at the runner registration, and a mandatory pre-race briefing.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

This is not a race where you can see your runner frequently but my family was able to surprise me on the course once!

How’s the Swag?

This is definitely a low-key race so don’t expect a big bag of useless stuff. The awards were terrific and if you are interested in 100-mile buckles this is one of the best I’ve seen! All runners, regardless of distance, get to partake in a great BBQ!

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

Northburn Station gets all the stars!

northburn station race report