The Battle of the Bridge: Hills of the Auckland Marathon

By Hayden Shearman // One of the many frustrating things about running is the incredibly vague and contradicting uses of the terms “hilly”, “undulating”, “rolling”, and “flat”. Every runner has a different take on what these terms mean and even with a course elevation profile it’s difficult to make out the real magnitude of the hills on a particular course. And it’s often not until you’re bent over, hauling your lactic-ridden limbs up another “minor undulation” that you realise what the hills on the course are actually like. So after racing the course once and running it dozens of times I’ve put together the complete guide to every hill (longer than 200m and higher than 5m) that you’ll encounter in the Auckland Marathon.

This profile just covers the half marathon (with the full largely being flat along Tamaki Drive). The hills I have documented are all numbered and I have added the rough elevation profile of the bridge as Mapmyrun didn't pick it up.

This profile just covers the half marathon (with the second half of the full marathon largely flat along Tamaki Drive). The hills I have documented are all numbered and I have added the rough elevation profile of the bridge as Mapmyrun didn’t pick it up.

I have to preface this by noting that all the distances and elevations are just approximate, but they should give you a good gauge of what’s coming your way. Also here’s a detailed map of the course.

Hill #1: Church St

Being right at the start of the race, these first three hills are barely noticeable when racing, but that’s part of their danger. In the first 1.5k you’re climbing about 35m, so you need to accept that this first mile is going to be a little slower than planned. So you should definitely aim to avoid being anywhere near ahead of schedule at the second KM marker. Auckland Marathon Hill 1

Hill #2: Vauxhall Rd

Another short speed bump, but be sure to still keep that effort level down. Auckland Marathon Hill 2

Hill #3: Vauxhall Rd

This is a little longer but slightly less steep than the first two. Auckland Marathon Hill 3

Hill #4: Old Lake Rd & Hamana St

Forget about the Harbour Bridge, if you are going to go wrong, you’re most likely to go wrong on this long grinding hill. And although 35m may not seem like a massive gradient over 1.2k, the trick with this one is how it kicks up sharply from the beach and then ever so gradually levels out over the following 1k. So if you push hard over that first 200m, you’ll be running on heavy legs for at least another 1k uphill, as they won’t get a chance to recover. My approach last year was to take this first section conservatively and then gradually build into your rhythm so that when the gradient is only slight on the back half of the hill you’re running basically at target race pace (rather than still being in recovery mode). Auckland Marathon Hill 4

Hill #5: Lake Rd

This comes straight after a fast downhill section (where you’ll want to float and make use of the free speed gravity gives you), but, with the lack of flat in-between, it makes for a tough transition straight back into another climb. It’s not particularly steep but is a good grind, especially so soon after Hill #4. Auckland Marathon Hill 5

Hill #6: Lake Rd

Just when you think the climbing on Lake Rd is done, you get around the corner and the road kicks up another time. It’s not much, but it’s the icing on the cake of an accumulating series of rises. This is the point that you’ll start to see the first explosions of those who have gone out too hard on the early hills and are suddenly realising they’re not even a quarter of the way through the half marathon. Auckland Marathon Hill 6

Hill #7: Burns Ave & Auburn St

If you were driving, or even just jogging, you wouldn’t  even notice this pimple of a hill. But again, it’s the accumulation factor of these bumps that take their toll. Good thing it’s one of the last surprise speed bumps. Auckland Marathon Hill 7

Hill #8: Taharoto Rd

Slightly longer this time and a reasonable gradient of about 3.5%. Accept a slight loss in speed here, knowing that you’re about to hit the long expressway of the beautifully tarmac surfaced bus lane. Auckland Marathon Hill 8

Hill #9: Harbour Bridge

This is the one that everyone fears, but if you’ve paced it right and kept the governor on your effort levels over those first 5k you should still be looking nice and springy for your top-of-the-bridge photo opportunity. Aim to accelerate over the top of the hill and glide down the other side (it’s actually an ideal gradient for controlled fast downhill running). Auckland Marathon Hill 9

Hill #10: Shelly Beach Rd

This is the nasty little surprise waiting for you at the base of the bridge, but once you’re over it, you’re home free. This is the spot I would be making my move in the half marathon. It’s 5k to go and the rest of the course is flat (and most likely with a tail wind). You still want to save enough in the tank to get you around the lonely loop of Silo Park though. Auckland Marathon Hill 10 Happy running.

TempoFit_Christmas Cracker

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24 responses to “The Battle of the Bridge: Hills of the Auckland Marathon

  1. This is both brilliant and scary! Even having completed the Auckland Half three times and training on the course this really shows how a bit of planning and being smart on the day is needed. Thanks Hayden!

    • Yeah it does make for scary reading when all the hills are put together. But after 5k the race isn’t actually all that hilly. So it’s this first 5k where people go wrong.

  2. so good to read this and a timely reminder that when everyone passes me at the beginning of the race I am doing myself a favour in the long run!

  3. What a great guide to the hills!

    I frequently run the last half (the flat half) of the marathon but I’d never seen the North Shore hills until last weekend. They’re not as bad as everyone made out though, but I’m used to running the streets around Mt Eden which I’d say are about the same steepness. I’m glad they’re at the start of the run and not at the end.

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  6. Hi this will be my wife and i first half marathon this is a fantastic read and gives us some really good training tips thanks so much Jeff and sandra

  7. Just picked this up in advance of running my first half marathon in Auckland later this year. I’m aiming to do it in under 90 minutes (did a 10-km at Onehunga in 38:24 yesterday) so this is incredibly valuable.

    I run around Albany / Greenhithe / Mairangi Bay a lot which gives me some good practice hills – the hill up Greville Rd to Albany Mall for example is VERY similar to the Harbour Bridge and funnily enough the same hill from the Albany village side is a lot like the Lake Rd beast, albeit easier at the start. The Rangitoto College hill is always a good one too.

    • Thanks Mark. And cheers for pointing out those other hills that match Auckland Harbour bridge. It’s obviously impossible to train on the bridge so a couple of hill rep sessions up Greville Rd would be perfect training for Auckland!

      Well done on your great run on Sunday. I’m sure you’ll be able to nail the sub 90 half. Let me know how you go!

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  9. Thanks Hayden, do you know how this course compares to Rotorua which has 2 biggish hills ? Ive run Auckland once ( 2.59 ) my first full in 2013 and looking at Rotorua next year as its an iconic NZ marathon.

    • Good question Andrew, and I’m afraid I don’t know. I’ve never run the full marathon there!

      What I see from the guys running sub 3 for both marathons is that Auckland tends to be 1-2mins faster . But this could just be a result of greater depth and more support on the course, not just the hills.

      Regardless, I have coached many runners to PBs on the Rotorua Marathon course. So as long as you prepare for the hills and do some specific marathon paced hill efforts late in some of your long runs, you should be fine.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

      • thanks very much. 2 mins is how I see it too looking at runners who do both in the same year.

    • Rotorua was my first marathon ever (2014). I have to say it’s much harder than Auckland. The harbour bridge is nothing compared to Rotorua’s two big hills. I think the elevation change of the bridge is 30 metres, compared to Rotorua’s first big hill which is 60 metres. I can’t remember the elevation change of Rotorua’s second hill but it’s much steeper, I remember that much.

      • That’s helpful to know darnkitty. Akld Harbour Bridge is 40m gain but great to know the difference between that and Rotorua’s heart breakers. It’s also important to note that Rotorua’s climbs come between 20 and 30k when you are starting to see an ominous wall in the distance, but Auckland’s hills are done by 17k so you feel a lot fresher still. 🙂

  10. Ive done the half there 3 times. First time was on the old route where you run the 2nd half of the marathon course so I got to experience the 2nd hill and the road back to the finish. The road is still open to vehicles so you get a few big trucks screaming past and the shoulder of the road is a bit rough and cambered. I guess the 2 big hills are like 2 Auckland Harbour bridges planted on the course.
    I see you ran 2.39 in Auckland nice job.

    • That’s good to know. The first half of Rotorua Marathon is actually really flat and only a couple of rollers, but like you say this section is open to traffic so you have to deal with the camber and/or gravel and grass. Hope to see you there next year!

  11. Thank you Hayden for this break up of the hills I am running the marathon this year and coming from Oz have no idea of the course or the area. I will definitely take all your tips into consideration and not take any notice of those powering past me at the start. And I thought the hardest part was the bridge!! Have compared elavation to our City to Surf so atleast I can gauge some parts of it.

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