How to Run a PB at the Auckland Marathon

By Hayden Shearman // Despite its hills and infamous bridge, the Auckland Marathon (and half) are actually great courses for nailing a personal best time. But you do need to have a good race plan to avoid many of the traps that this race can deliver.

My marathon PB is from the Auckland course and I achieved it off the least mileage build up of all my marathons (some of which were purely flat courses like Chicago) and I’ve coached dozens of runners to half marathon or full marathon PBs on this course as well. So I’ve collated what I think are the top seven things you should know before catching the ferry over to Devonport to battle your way back to Vic Park in the city in your personal record time.

The crowd along the final straight was awesome!

The crowd along the final straight was awesome!

1. Know the Course Start

I can say categorically that the biggest single mistake that runners will make in this year’s Auckland Marathon (both half and full) is pacing.

Runners will rush out of the starting pen in a fit of adrenalin, almost run a 5k PB and then … explode. To avoid this common mistake, I find familiarising yourself with a race course is a great way of mentally visualising what those first few kilometres will feel like, so you don’t sprint off like a greyhound at a cat fair.

The old adage “If you’re not thinking you’re running too slow, then you’re running too fast” is so true in a marathon (less so in a half, but still important). The first 10k (or even first 21k of the full marathon) should feel like a warm up. You shouldn’t need any will power to maintain your speed. If anything you should be holding back.

By running the first stages of the marathon course a week out (or so) from race day you’ll be able to imagine what this easy-effort-running will feel like and how you won’t get distracted by the many others tearing off into the distance … don’t worry, you will see them again when they hit an invisible wall somewhere round St Helliers.

Note: Join our social group run on Sunday 25 October (2015) at 8am from Hauraki Corner (Takapuna) to get to know the start of the course. 

2. Know Your Pace

GPS watches are very helpful tools. But they are notoriously inaccurate at the start of major races for some reason. They often take a couple of kilometres before reading accurate paces (within 5-10secs of your actual pace). And even then, if you are running 10 seconds faster than your goal pace because of a watch inaccuracy that is actually enough to throw you into your lactate threshold when running a half marathon, meaning your race plan will almost certainly implode.

To avoid this, teach your muscles and your mind the pace you want to run. Head out on the Tuesday before race day and run 4-5k at your goal half or full marathon pace. Aim to hit your splits exactly and lock into your muscle memory what that pace feels like. Picture yourself running at that pace when the starter’s gun goes on Sunday.

3. Know the Hills

The best way to run a PB is to hold a consistent pace throughout the race. This means that at the start of the run it will feel a whole lot easier than at the end (perceived effort will begin at about 30-40% and finish at 100% but the pace will remain the same). However, Auckland Marathon (and particularly the half which doesn’t benefit from the flat out-and-back section along Tamaki Drive) has hills. So, do you still aim for that consistent pace?

Yes and no.

First of all, school yourself on the nature of the hills so that you know what to expect. Read this blog I wrote last year (and remember that the hills in the first 6k are deceptively tiring, so take these easy).

Second, you WILL lose time on the hills. There is nothing you can do about that. But you can avoid overly exerting yourself and loosing more time than you need to if you are careful. When I ran my PB in 2013 I hit the Harbour Bridge and a runner in front of me was just inching his way up the one-kilometre-long climb, having already toasted his reserves on the many undulations around Devonport and Takapuna. Avoid this at all costs.

Instead, just focus on maintaining your flat effort levels on the uphills (think quick cadence, powerful arms and tall hips), meaning that you will slow down in actual pace. Then use the downhills to give you some free speed by floating down the other side (next time I see you in person ask me about the time I demonstrated this “floating” downhill run technique!).

You can never make up the time on the downhills that you lost on the uphills so expect to loose around 30-120secs (depending how accustomed to hills you are) in the Devonport/Takapuna rollers and then maybe another 30-120secs on the Bridge (and Shelly Beach Rd). But when allocated over a 42.2km (or 21.1km) race, this isn’t that much to make up to meet your target time, being just 4-8secs per kilometre (or to readjust your target time with).

The key is to not let these hills put you into energy debt.

4. Run the Tangents

The shortest route between two points is not a curve, but a straight line. With the many corners that this course encounters (whether in Devonport, around Wynard Quarter or on Tamaki Drive) there are plenty of opportunities to run a longer distance than you are supposed to—by running in the middle of the road, following the while line, instead of running the tangents, from corner to corner, the way the official race measurer would have measured the course.

Official race measurers assume that you will run all the tangents and even assume you will run on the pavement, providing there are no cones or barriers blocking the way. So use the whole width of the road like a rally driver, knowing that that is how the course has been designed.

Watch this video for a clearer explanation on the importance of running tangents.

5. Know the Weather

In 2014 we were hit with the warmest day of the spring so far. And along Tamaki Drive, as the sun rises in your face (for 8km) and reflecting off the harbour and road, the ambient temperatures can sky rocket.

But on the other hand, we might get a typically windy spring day where we’ll come to near stand stills on some of the corners around Tamaki Drive.

And then again, it might be pouring with rain, meaning that keeping warm and avoiding chaffing and bleeding nipples become the main sources of concern.

So, the name of the game is to pay attention to the weather forecast and if it is:

  • Rainy: Wear a poncho to the start line that you can drop once you get going, apply loads of vaseline and plasters on the nipples, wear a cap to keep the rain off your face, double knot your laces (wet laces untie easily), and wear a moisture wicking thermal or arm covers (that can be more easily removed if you get hot).
  • Hot: Wear breathable clothing and focus on staying regularly hydrated (using your thirst as a gauge and aiming to keep just ahead of the thirst—also opting for electrolytes over water if your tummy can handle it). Then on Tamaki Drive take the extra time to chuck water down the back of your neck and pants in order to cool your core body temps.
  • Windy: Expect your goal time to be hurt by a few minutes, so automatically adjust your goal time. When running with a tail wind, position yourself to catch someone running at your pace who is looking strong. When you hit the headwind, jump in directly behind them and use them just like a cyclist in a draughting position (even take turns with them battling the wind).

6. Know the Markers

Aside from knowing the start of the race and the hills, it’s a great idea to know the final 10k (or 5k of the half marathon) so you can give accurate messages to your tiring legs on how close you are truly to home. This is so mentally you can be saying to yourself things like:

  • “Okay, the toilet block at Kohi Beach = 10k to go, game on!”
  • “Kelly Tarlton’s = 7k to go, just a couple of laps of the block!”
  • “Parnell Baths = 4k to go, that is barely a warm up—those early morning runs and winter rainy training sessions were all for this moment!”
  • “Queen Street = just one mile to go, this is the celebration mile, I will have my mitts around a cool Powerade, a banana and a shiny finishers medal before I know it! Run like I’ve never run before! Go legs go!

If you’ve paced yourself well, over this journey for home (and also from the bottom of the bridge for the half marathon runners) you will be pacing A LOT of people who went out too fast and clearly didn’t read this blog. Use them as added motivation to pull you towards home. Spot them in the distance and gradually reel them in, one by one. Let your inner tiger roar!

7. Arrive EARLY

Last year, in the half marathon, I was all a bit casual getting to the start line. I jogged to the ferry from home and was greeted by an horrendously long queue for the boat ride over to Devonport!

Our ferry made it to the other side of the harbour about 3 minutes before the race started. I had to sprint to the start line and jumped the fence just 10seconds before the gun was fired. Not ideal prep for a PB! (Luckily it was just a training run in prep for Queenstown Marathon three weeks later.)

But the take home point is … arrive early at the start line (and the ferry).

You probably won’t sleep much anyway, so why not get up early, be sure to get a good seat on the ferry (and a port-a-loo for that matter) and avoid any stress. The start of a marathon is the exact opposite to how you might hype yourself for a 100m sprint or a rugby game; you want to be chilled out, yawning and lying around—not wasting any more energy than you need to. You have 42.2km to run and the race doesn’t start till at least 30km. Save the face slaps and the motivational speeches for that moment.

Have a wonderful race everyone. I hope it is PB filled for you and please stop by to let me know how you get on!

Hayden Shearman is the head coach of TempoFit: Auckland’s running training programme for runners of all abilities. Check out TempoFit for nailing your next goal race

5 responses to “How to Run a PB at the Auckland Marathon

  1. I’m not sure I could ever forget the “floating” hill demonstration! Thanks for the tips Hayden, after the rain this morning I’m a little nervous we may see a repeat next weekend!!

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