By Hayden Shearman.
Back in 2007 I ran my first ever half marathon on this course. Seven years on, and with the added incentive of it hosting the national half marathon champs this year (hence, a stronger field and more company), I felt it was time to return home and see if I could give my two-year-old PB of 1:13:47 a nudge.
On race morning we were greeted by a squally southerly chopping up the harbour—which was a much better option than the 100kph northerly gusts that had ripped through the capital less than 24 hours earlier. And by race start, the showers had ceased and conditions were near ideal: crisp with a good tail wind.
My plan from the start was to find some cover out of the wind at least until 8k (where the course turns eastward and side on to the southerly). Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea.
With the front pack exiting Fran Wilde Walk at no faster than 3:30min/km I decided to head to the front and found myself leading the entire race. Oops.
I was targeting 1:12:59 (3:27 per km) and I knew the winner would come through around 1:07 (3:12 per km), so I definitely didn’t want to go with the leading pack. But I had made a plan of running even splits, so if that meant leading, so be it.
We went through 2k in 6:46 (pretty much bang on for me).
At Te Papa, the pack suddenly woke up and dropped a 3:05 kilometre. 15 guys went with the surge, but only three of us hung back to run a much more comfortable 3:20 to go through 3k in 10:06. I figured some more guys would drop off that front pack soon, but it was going to be another 7k before I picked up any stragglers from their fast change of gears.
Oriental Bay is nice and sheltered from the southerly, but around Point Jerningham, a stiff southerly awaited us, so I mentioned to the other two runners with me that maybe we could put together a pace train, taking turns breaking the wind for the others. I volunteered to go up front first, then I tucked in for a few hundred metres out of the wind at Balaena Bay, and then went to the front again only to look over my shoulder having dropped my pace team buddies. Rats. I knew the race would be solo from there—not a good feeling 6k into a windy race when you thought you’d have plenty of company.
Reading my watch made the situation even worse.
Battling the headwind I was struggling to keep the pace in the 3:20s (even the 3:30s) and was slipping well off my goal. The tightly knit pack ahead was disappearing into the distance every step and probably had two minutes on me at 8k.
Nevertheless, I just focused on not burning my matches too early (it’s easy to do this when pushing hard into the wind) and also conserving energy by using the full width of the road to run tangents between the many twists and turns of the flat coastal road.
I went through 10k in about 34:48 (18 seconds off my goal) and had caught the first of the front pack stragglers. Gladly he responded and ran with me for a kilometre or so.
The return journey didn’t have distance markers but had “distance to go” markers, which meant doing maths on the fly. With 10k to go I was at 38:36. My muddled brain took about 1 kilometre to work out I needed to run 34:23 for the final 10k to go sub 73mins. 34:23 at the back of a half marathon. I had never done anything like that before and I had no idea if I was in that sort of shape now.
To build up for this race I spent May doing non-measured speed sessions. These once-per-week workouts were fartlek intervals over undulating terrain with no gauge of distance or pace. Then in June, I had jumped in some parkrun events: 5k over undulating terrain with, again, no exact idea how fast I was going.
Before the half marathon I had done just two measured speed sessions: one was horrible as a result of a nasty cold and the other was just a 4k race pace practice the Wednesday before the race (hardly long enough to get a gauge for my fitness). So with no other races in the past six months, I really had no idea how fit I was.
I was feeling okay at 10k to go so I decided I’d push on and see what I could do with the wind at my back from 8k-to-go.
The trouble was … at each kilometre marker my brain would be that much more cloudy than the previous kilometre, meaning my maths to calculate my splits (I left the GPS at home so I could run more by feel) was now taking longer than one kilometre to work things out—either I was running faster or maths was worsening. It turns out both were true.
I picked up another front pack runner and got myself going through 6k-to-go in a tick under 52mins. This meant I had been running about 3:20min/km for the last 4k and the sub-73 was back on!
Three runners ahead were the main carrots propelling me forward. But then with 5k to go we joined the masses of runners and walkers in the 10k event. This is the worst part of the Wellington Marathon by far. Just at the point where you’d love a nice clear road in front of you, you have 2000 10k runners to dodge. Most are courteous to the half and full marathon runners, but there is the inevitable mishap and close call, particular on the zigzagging sections around Queens Wharf and the aid stations. If I were the race organisers I’d start the 10k, 15mins after the marathon start to get them off the course by the time both the full and half competitors are back in the CBD.
Anyway, with these three front-pack runners ahead, I had a rough idea that I was in twelfth place. So if I could pass two of them I’d get my top 10 finish, and get dragged to a sub-73 in the process.
But when you start passing people, something happens to your adrenalin levels that makes you just push harder. So with the 3k to go I picked up one place (I was now in 11th, I thought), at 2k to go I moved into 10th (job done, so I thought), but the legs just kept accelerating and I moved up to grab 9th … and just kept going.
The end of the Wellington Marathon is really at the top of the on-ramp up to the Fran Wilde Walkway, from their it’s just 300m of blurred pain and small quantities of ecstasy (that come as a result of the finish line finally being in sight). I hurled my weak frame up the ramp as fast as my weary legs could take me and spent the final 300 metres working out what finishing chute I was supposed to run down (brain was shot from all the earlier maths). I did a final check of the finish line clock and was so happy to see it at 1:11:xx just 50 metres out.
I crossed the line in 1:12:04. Meaning my last 10k was run in 33:28—a huge negative split of over a minute. And later found out I had counted wrong and was actually only in 10th place, so was super grateful that the adrenalin had kicked in to pick up that extra place.
I’m really happy with the result. It’s a great testimony to the benefits of stringing several months of consistent, and gradually increasing, base mileage together. The #50DaysofWinterRunning challenge I’ve taken up has certainly helped with that over the last three weeks, motivating me to take rest days (or cross training days) and to actively do the last 1% tasks of core and conditioning and foam rolling. For the first time in three years I’m largely injury and illness free and finally starting to see the results.
Up the front of the race, Matt Harris, after not leading the entire race, stormed to the lead in the final 300 metres to claim his maiden New Zealand Champs title (his time was 1:08:32). And in the women’s race, the incredible Sally Gibbs not only won the W50 division but cleaned up the Open Women’s race as well in 1:18:49—at age 51! Phe-no-me-nal!!
How did your day at the Wellington Marathon, Half or 10k go? Share your story or blog link below.
Huge thanks to Sharon Wray, Ange Penberthy, Miranda Grange and Tauranga Ramblers for the awesome photos!