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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

In Wakana, South Island, New Zealand. Not really any anecdotes to report but I'm having a rather splendid time in this country, the scenery is extraordinary. A day hasn't passed where I haven't seen something to take my breath away.

I flew from Auckland to Wellington to join the Naylor training camp for a couple of days where I was generously accommodated by Donald and Louise. They have a flat that is no more than a hammer throw from the local track where Donald has been bashing out the sessions that will (hopefully) make an Olympian of him. Most bizarre experience was our trip to a local eatery that boldly claims to be the only Welsh themed restaurant in the Southern Hemispere. A pianist was playing in the corner, inevitably turning to Tom Jones numbers, and one of the other guests was a good friend of Donald's mum. On the basis of these connections Donald was promptly offered a job, though he wisely chose to remain well clear of gainful employment.

Now halfway through a three week tour of the South Island. In sharp contrast to clattering along dusty tracks in Guatemalan chicken buses I'm now crusing the highways in a rented Toyota. This freedom of movement has allowed me to organise my itinary around marathon training, with the added bonus of separating me from the hoards of gap year students and Lord of the Rings fans, at least until I reach the night's hostel. In addition to running 90 miles a week, mostly within the excellent set of national parks, I've been sea kayaking on the Abel Tasman and ice climbing on Fox Glacier, the latter being a particular highlight.

Right, it's not raining, a condition that rarely lasts long on the West Coast, so it's about time I made use of the fine weather.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

In Dunedin, a city that boasts the world's steepest street, as recognized by the Guinness book of records. Today I participated in the 'Gutbuster', the annual race that they hold up it. After hearing advance publicity of the event on local radio, having previously read about it in my guidebook, I turned up in good time expecting a large crowd. Perhaps it was the rain but the field was a frankly rather paltry and the atmosphere somewhat low key, despite the best efforts of the radio station outside broadcast. Despite a 400 meters vertical sprint being something I am clearly in no way suited to, and the fact I had continued my marathon preparations with an hour and half's running in the morning, the small scale of the event allowed me to dream of an unexpected triumph. Predictably, this was misguided. I was left for dead of the start line by over a dozen others, including a ten year old boy. In the middle third of the race I pulled back a few places, largely as people started walking, but the final twenty seconds were agony as my legs seized up with lactic. I was probably about tenth, though mercifully no results were taken.

No other incidents to report, unless you count catching something as it bounced down the steps I was walking up, only to find it was a prosthetic leg (the owner was greatfully reunited with it). I arrived here via Queenstown and Milford Sound, both of which continued the extraordinary display of scenery that this country offers, and have been out spotting Penguins and Albertroses on the Otago peninsula. Now I head back up north, reaching Wellington by Monday so long as the flooding that the North Island has suffered doesn't stop me.

Friday, February 27, 2004

In Auckland preparing for the first leg of my flight home tomorrow which will take me as far as Singapore. A typhoon has hit the region so I'm slightly concerned about whether the flight will leave, certainly made driving here fairly interesting.

I stayed a couple of nights with Donald and Louise in Wellington before dashing through the North Island. Had one of the strangest experiences of the trip while there. Their flat backs onto the local running track, and in the morning Donald and I heard chanting from that direction. Athletics matches don't have chanting, in fact they very rarely have spectators. On investigating we found that a match was on between two local boys schools, and the main stand was packed with two segregated sections of uniformed supporting students. For hours the chanting continued, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes reacting to events on the track and sometimes following the lead from their respective team mascots. I never thought I would hear a crowd sing with one voice 'check out the discus', but now I have.

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