On Saturday, I had my first run ever in Aotearoa, and it was worth writing up a race report. Note that it might be of only minor interest to midpack or backpack runners.
After a flight delay from Melbourne to Auckland and with work matters out of the way, I found myself on the start line of the Rotorua Marathon with over a thousand other marathoners. The city sent us on our way off the back of a soul stirring soundscape and flurry of motions. With the crowd cheers quietening down and the start line receding behind us, I started to settle into a rhythm. I focused in silence to assess where my body was at, taking into account the hilly 50kms on the Maroondah Dam trail with my friend Julie the previous week. Following the 4:15 pacesetters with the orange balloons, about 3kms in, I could feel the heart rate stabilising. The body wanted to move faster, so I let it slide, with sufficient caution not to burn itself out too early. At times, I could spot the 4:00 pacesetters far ahead of me. Close to the half way mark, the legs were getting a bit stiff. Knowing my body too well, if I kept pushing on at this pace, the cramps would come in waves within half an hour. I reminded myself to ease down. After all, despite running a few marathons or further every month, I had remained a lifestyle weekend runner in essence, as I never managed to secure proper training time during the week. Practically speaking, I’d never had enough mileage in my legs for a good strong marathon run.
The hills came as we got closer to the lake. Not big hills compared to those on trails, there was enough undulation to slow me down further. Only half an hour earlier, I had smelled a new PB. But with the realisation that this course was nothing like the flat pancake that was Brisbane 3 years ago – where I’d earned my last marathon PB, the dream was looking out of reach. I was now running at a 4:15 finish pace. In the final 6kms, the orange balloons passed me as I resorted to walk/run to finish the race in under 4:20. Considering this type of course, it was a stronger run than in Brisbane. Three weeks earlier, I had run to within a minute of my half marathon PB in Geelong, as a final tune-up to the North Pole race. So I was now back to the freshness level of three years ago, but this time, with a lot more hard trail miles in my legs. I felt conditioned for some more improvement over the upcoming months.
I often reflect on the curious distance that is the marathon. I have sometimes fluked a strong run – by my standard – over 30kms with my lifestyle weekend running routine. But over the marathon distance, I‘ve gotten found out again and again. Perhaps that is why the marathon distance appeals to many runners. A strongly run marathon, up to one’s own limits, is never a fluke.
Rotorua was the northern island leg of my ANZAC Sweep series. And this city was such a nice place to complete it. The organisation was immaculate. The crowd got into it in a big way. One could observe a fair share of inspiring figures on the road – blind runners, handicapped runners, in wheel chairs, runners who were coming back from cancer or other life threatening conditions, or runners so gifted with athletic abilities to make me feel inadequate and pumped up. Runners were treated to an abundance of Kiwi hospitality and no-frills sense of humour. It felt like running a major, without needing to queue for a long time to get to the starting line.
9 runs down, 1 more to go to complete the ANZAC Sweep.