Organised in honour of legendary Auckland coach, Arthur Lydiard, the Legend Marathon is becoming a bit of a legend in its own right turning 10 years old on this year. So I thought it was high time I gave it a whirl.
In running terms, Lydiard and his boys (Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee, Bill Baillie, John Davies) are some of my greatest running heroes, so running this race—which follows much of the 34k training run they would do every Sunday—has been on my bucket list for awhile.
In New Zealand we can easily forget that what Lydiard did with his athletes around the West Auckland hills in the 50s and 60s redefined endurance sports worldwide. Lydiard was the Isaac Newton of running and it’s only right that there is a race on his training famous training circuit.
So, race morning for me started off with my usual bowl of muesli 90mins before start time, hence a 5am wake up … always ouch. But the great thing about early starts for marathons is that you’re kinda in sleep mode for the first stages of the race, which is key when it comes to pacing (more on that shortly).
The thunderous rain overnight had cleared leaving an eerie mist over the course. The race briefing was huddled inside a small rugby clubrooms, out of the early morning gloom. And the warm atmosphere and friendly faces made it feel more like a long social pack run rather than a race. Very cool.
I was treating this race primarily as a weekend long run, looking to hit 4min/km till about 30k and then use the downhills to run around about marathon pace for the final 12k. So I did zero warm up except for a little power nap in the car and some leg swings.
The gun went and 21-year-old Josh Maisey shot to the front and basically disappeared for the rest of the race. Being his debut at the distance I thought he may have gone out too fast, but he’s a second generation Lydiard disciple (coached by Barry Magee) so he knew exactly what he was in for with the hills and the distance. He went on to win in a blazing time of 2:29 (he’s racing Auckland Marathon and assuming he recover’s from this in time, he will definitely be a contender).
Meanwhile, I was back in the pack chatting to a small group of early runners running around my goal pace.
The first 7k is a small loop that returns to near the start area. It’s got one hill in it and serves as a good little warm up for the following 35k.
As with basically every marathon on the planet, there were a bunch of runners who were either waiting for their Garmin’s to find a satellite or had just gone out way faster than planned. By 5k they start dropping away and look like they’re paying for it later on). I’m going to write another blog shortly about the importance of pacing early in a race, watch this space.
Time at 10k = 40:14.
Auckland is a city of constant rolling hills, but these hills get serious once you leave the suburbs out west for the Waitakere Ranges. The 3.9k hill (300m-ish) that stood before me at the 16k is the main reason this race has remained a boutique race. It’s probably the hardest road marathon in New Zealand and it scares away both types of runners: those hunting PBs and those just hoping to complete.
I was sitting in a comfy third place at this stage. I could see second up the road and had a hunch that fourth and fifth were a couple of hundred metres behind me. But my focus was not on racing, it was still very much on holding 4min/km effort levels, which meant the next 4k were run at 5min/km (being all up hill).
At the top of the climb (and about halfway) I was stoked to have Barry Magee and Gary Lydiard (Arthur’s son) cheering near the stream they used to re-fuel at on their runs. And just to silence any ideas I had of maybe pushing for the win with a big final half, I asked them how far in front the leader was. Barry said “Oh about 10 minutes”. Okay, yeah, third is all good then.
Time at 20k = 1:24:35 (44:21)
The beauty of Lydiard’s running route is that, after the grueling 4k climb, you hit these speed bumps where you drop for a kilometre or two and then run uphill for 500m to 1k. So it’s a constant repetition of nail quads, nail calves, nail quads, nail calves. Arthur chose this route based on these unique characteristics and it certainly adds an interesting twist to the marathon.
After Barry’s rather deflating news, I eased off the gas, just waiting to hit 30k where my tempo run would start. Trouble was at about 26k as we turned off Scenic Drive into the gravel surface of Exhibition Drive (where you run an 8k out and back) I heard footsteps thundering behind me. It was like a flashback to the Xterra race a few weeks ago when I had Sam Manson with a jet engine strapped to his back descending at me like lightening in the Hunua Ranges.
The footsteps of a quickly closing fourth place woke me up to the fact that I was still in a race. So I started my tempo run a little earlier than planned and eased into marathon pace (about 3:40s). It felt good getting up more on my toes, attacking the ground.
This Exhibition Drive section of the race is my favourite. You finally get rid of the steep camber of Scenic Drive (which, combined with a strict rule to keep to the left hand curb, drove my left hip flexor crazy) and you have shade from bush all around, plus very few cars. It’s how the majority of the course must have been like in the 50s and 60s.
Time at 30k = 2:04:16 (39:41)
You exit Exhibition Drive at 34k, arriving back to that nasty combo of downhill-followed-by-uphill running. It’s like that until you hit 5k-to-go at Titirangi. The locals in the cafes here were a huge help cheering us on while they sipped their lattes. After Titirangi you dive down a ramp, dropping 100m in 3k. It’s perfect for getting rolling and a great way to end a marathon, provided you’ve paced yourself well.
And for this reason I think this is actually a brilliant debut marathon course. Here’s why: when it’s your first, goal number one is to complete, you’re not so concerned about times. And the greatest danger to any debut marathoner is going out too fast and exploding. The threat of the big hill at halfway should help to keep many runners controlled in the first half, and then they’re rewarded with this beautifully fast finish (once past the speed bumps from 21-37k).
I managed to close the race at about 2:30-marathon pace for the final 5k and it felt good (well, as good as it can feel running this speed at the end of a marathon). I didn’t hear those fast approaching feet of fourth place again, so was pleased to hang on for third.
Finish time = 2:46:29 (42:13 for the final 12.2k, which is 3:28min/km*)
* I think either my GPS was out (reading 41.5k at the end) or the course was a little short, I felt more like I was running 3:40-3:45min/km for the final 12k.
The prize giving was really special with key members of the Auckland running community being honoured. I was humbled to be given a trophy for my third place (seriously, trophies are few and far between in running these days—even if you win a major New Zealand—so to have one for each place getter was incredible). They also had prize money for the top five in the marathon (male and female) which is hugely generous of the organisers (again, this is almost unheard of those days).
I’d totally recommend doing this race at least once (there were two yesterday who had completed all 10 events). It’s a great celebration of NZ’s running heritage but it’s also a brilliant course in its own right. I ran 7mins slower than my marathon time from Auckland last year. I’m fitter now than I was then and this was only a training run, but I reckon the hills on the course only cost me about 5mins.
Five minutes is not a hang of a lot to loose in a marathon, and is definitely a small price to pay for having the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of legends (several of which are cheering from the sidelines).
Book your place on the start line for next year!