The 5 Most Valuable Lessons I Learned From Running Up a Mountain to See a Glacier

by Jason Fitzgerald

I don’t want to run today… maybe I’ll just skip it…

I was on the west side of New Zealand’s south island, completing my three month trip through Maui, Australia, and New Zealand. Earlier that day I was tubing through frigid waters to see glow worms. After that experience and a three hour drive, I wasn’t looking forward to a run.

But running that day was one of the  best decisions I’ve ever made.

Fox Glacier Sign

Nearly 80 minutes after I started running – or 11 miles – I  staggered back to my hotel room with dead legs and a big grin plastered on my face.

I’d just run up a mountain and been rewarded with picturesque views of Fox Glacier. But not before I discovered a trail through a lush rainforest that led to a freezing, crystal clear stream of glacier runoff water.

Now that’s a helluva run! And I almost skipped it?!

Running among the natural wonders of New Zealand made me realize that running is truly a gift. I shared on Twitter:

Rave Run: Exploring Fox Glacier

It’s rare that running through a rainforest and up a mountain to see a glacier is my reality, so I want to share what happened and how it can help your running.

Rainforest Trail

Fox Glacier is an oddball: while it happens to be one of the most accessible glaciers in the world, it is one of the very few that ends in a rainforest.  The contrast of ice and lush forest is spectacular.

When I left my hotel, I was a mere 6km from the face of the glacier but had no idea it was so close. I took off down the road and saw a hidden trail disappearing into the forest. “Why not?” I asked myself.

For the next two miles, a crushed cinder trail wound up a gradual incline through temperate rainforest. Finally, I burst through the trees and saw a raging river of steely blue water and ice.

Glacier Stream

Not one to abide by rules, I ran past the warning signs and down a makeshift access road to explore. Deep pools with seemingly no bottom marked my journey to the river, which to my surprise was coming straight from underneath the glacier itself. The temperature was too cold even for an ice bath (I tried the next day).

Turning around, I thought this run was a success. If I went straight back to the hotel I’d get in about seven miles for the day.

But about a mile later, I discovered another trail that I had missed. And next to it was a sign that claimed there was a “Glacier Lookout.”

Well, screw the seven miles. A glacier!!

After a short staircase, I skidded to a stop in front of a suspension bridge that I’m sure was taken straight from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The only thing that was missing was the horde of crocodiles beneath my feet.

Suspension Bridge

Forced to walk across the rickety and swaying bridge, I restarted my watch on the other side and started the steep ascent up the mountain.

After two minutes of climbing, a Kea nearly took my head off. No wonder this alpine parrot is called the “clown of the mountains.”

After five minutes, I crossed the third bridge on the trail. There would be four more before I reached the summit.

Bridge in the Rainforest

After nine minutes, I crossed Mills Creek – a rocky trail across an unbridged stream. At this point, my legs were like lead after over a mile of running uphill.

Boulders and Stream

The trail wound through more rainforest and soon came to an end at an elevated lookout platform on a ridge of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

The reward for trekking nearly two miles up a mountain was a stunning view of Fox Glacier as it slowly advanced through the valley below.

Fox Glacier

Lessons from the “Glacier Run”

That fateful run reinforced a slew of valuable lessons about running. The more I run, the more I realize it’s a perfect analogy for life.

Always go running when you’re on vacation! Exploring new places on foot is a rewarding way to experience a new location. You can go further than walking so you’ll see more.

I’ve written before about how to structure your running on vacation, so instead just remember that you’ll miss out on the hidden trails, lakes, and epic views if you skip your running entirely. My run to the glacier showed me the layout of the trail system around Fox Glacier and helped plan our hikes the following day.

The harder you work, the bigger the reward. Running up that mountain was damn hard – a steep, continuously uphill trail leeched the energy from my legs during the 12 minute ascent to the summit.

But the view was worth the climb.

Three months of grueling long runs, high mileage weeks, and brutal tempo runs left me exhausted.

But the 2:39 marathon PR was worth the suffering.

Nearly 300 running articles, almost a hundred guest posts, and 500+ training plans on this site make me wonder if running is worth all this work.

But the results speak for themselves.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. I should have done a workout instead of tramping around in the rainforest and stopping so many times to admire the visually stunning environment.

But you know what? Screw that. I ran through a rainforest to see a glacier from a lookout on a mountain ridge! Sometimes, you have to throw your plans out the window and have some fun.

Maybe I should strictly focus on training articles instead of creating fun running infographics. But all fun and no play makes Jack a dull boy…

Nature is therapeutic. This run is just a glimpse of the incredible runs I was fortunate enough to experience in Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand.

Not once did I run on a treadmill.

I didn’t set foot on a track for over three months.

At every opportunity, I avoided the roads and sidewalks to run through muddy trails, forests, sugarcane fields, and along beaches and lakes. Immersing yourself in the beauty of our natural world has a unique way of quieting the mind and nourishing the soul.

The more you can run, the more you can explore. Logging 10 miles a day – and sometimes a lot more – allowed me to get lost in the Redwood Forests of New Zealand’s North Island and listen to the screeching cries of the cockatoos in the Australian bush.

Get in better shape and run more mileage so the next time you’re in a new place, you can go a little deeper in your exploration.

What’s Your Dream Running Vacation?

Traveling for three months initially scared the crap out of me. I had so many fears…

Would I be able to work enough?

Are there places to run on Maui?

Can I even afford this?

What if I get homesick?

Luckily, everything worked out – as things usually do. The trip wasn’t perfect and there were a fair share of mishaps (like getting a flat tire during a cyclone) but I’m still here!

Sometimes, you just have to go for it. If you ever have the chance to take a risk and travel, do it. Things have a tendency to work out and the only real disasters are usually in your mind.

When I first announced this trip in my holiday post last December, my goal was to develop new perspectives on running, work, and life to help the Strength Running vision. And I think I succeeded.

My mind is clearer and my enthusiasm for working with passionate runners is at an all-time high. I absolutely can’t wait to share that with you. I’m as excited as ever about making this site rival Runner’s World.

I hope this article gave you a new perspective on your running and a boost of motivation to explore our beautiful world.

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{ 3 comments }

Chris

Great article and experience Jason! Thanks for sharing.

Mark McKnight

that was one long trail! It sure does motivates me.

Ken Lonon

WOW! That was nice! I can’t run or really walk for that matter.. ( wheel chair bound ) BUT!
I LOVE vicarious experiences such as your running in/up the mountain video. The point
at which you stopped and looked around took my breath away… The sounds of the forest..
The birds etc.
Do you ever see beautiful deep running streams? Where the water is crystal clear and you
can see all the way to the bottom? I could lay on the banks all day and listen to the water
and crickets sing
Keep up the great work Jason!

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