ASB Auckland Marathon

Since the Chester Marathon the plan was to have a rest and I had booked a trip to New Zealand for some R&R.  Me being me I couldn't help to see whether there was any races and I stumbled across the Auckland Marathon which coincidentally is the largest marathon in New Zealand.  Upon contacting the organisers I was duly offered a free entry and that was that.  In my mind I knew it was a mad idea, but I could just trot round and enjoy it all for a change.

Since Chester the legs initially recovered well but a combination of jet lag, walking around 10 miles a day plus some runs in Queenstown that included around 6km of hills resulted in them feeling pretty dead.  In fact I was even thinking of pulling out; it felt like trying to hit a moving target at times by attempting to juggle recovery whilst keeping the legs moving.  As the days got closer I was contacted by the organisers who wanted to profile me as a 'contender' for the race.  Ok, so no backing out now as I was in the NZ Herald and any idea of taking it easy was also out of the window!

NZ Herald - Pre-race review.

The day before the race I collected my pack and was given a ferry ticket to get to the start which was across the harbour.  Realistically I knew 2.26 that I did in Chester was not on - how could it be with just three weeks of recovery, legs feeling in poor shape and eating lots of junk food?!

No pressure!

Somewhat bizarrely the race started at 6am.  Yes 6am!!  I have never blogged about my pre-race routine, but the early start brought some challenges.  I got up at 3am (remember this is my holiday) to have breakfast which consisted of 4 NZ equivalent of Weetabix which I pinched from the previous hotel's breakfast buffet, then half an hour later some yogurt with 4 sachets of honey (also pinched) and a cup of tea.  This is my standard fare for all marathons and in any shorter races then I just delete the yogurt.  Needless to say getting up at such an hour was not the most pleasurable experience I've had on holiday.  I then left the hotel at 4.15am to get the ferry to the start.  On the way I passed some drunken revelers, one of which was puking his guts out.  It did cross my mind who was the more stupid; the guy drinking to excess or me getting up at a stupid hour on my holiday to do a marathon that starts at 6am.  I somewhat suspect I was the bigger idiot.

Auckland from same ferry used to take me to the start of the race.

I got to the start around an hour before in the pitch black and just sat on a park bench for as long as possible.  At 6am we started and it was still pitch black.  Quite early on the other 6 elites ran together in a bunch and quite quickly I was dropping back.  Frankly it was more of a case that their pace was rather hot than me being slow.  After a couple of km like this I looked back and could see there was no one within 30 seconds of me.  It was either a case of run by myself or make the effort to stick with the lead group who were only 5 seconds or so ahead.  As I caught the group, two of them started to pull away and were beginning to establish a substantial lead.  There was a lot of chatter from within my group who felt that they were going for the $500 bonus for being the first person to lead over Auckland Harbour Bridge.  The group were confident that as they didn't know who the leaders were that they would eventually fall back to us later on in the race.

The KM's came and went and the pace was still hot and we were on for about 2.24 overall which was particularly impressive considering the up and down nature of the course.  Over the next few km's one of the two leaders fell back into our group whilst the leader pulled further ahead at what seemed like a suicidal pace.  At about 8km in I was tempted to take the $500 (about £250) by leading over the bridge and then  just fall back to a jog.  I could easily have done this, but my wife talked me out of this pre-race as she thought it was a stupid idea.  However, I was now starting to feel that my legs were not all that great and whilst overall prizes were NZ$5,000, $2,500, $1,500, $1,000, $500, I thought there was a good chance I'd end up with nothing the way the race was panning out.  I agreed to stick with the original plan i.e. to race for as long as I was in a 'position' and then ease off the gas and enjoy the race when the time came.  Time would tell how wise my decision would be to not go for the Harbour Bridge prize.

Between 8-13km it was more of the same.  The leader was even further ahead, but our group was now down to 5 including myself.  Between 13-15km was the ascent of Auckland Harbour Bridge which was a fairly substantial climb.  Whilst I had missed the cash bonus I knew there were prizes for 'fastest ascent of the day'.  I therefore cheekily slipped to the back of our group as we passed the first timing mat and then made sure I was at the front of the group at the top of the bridge.  I knew our group would be going at a fast enough pace to be in contention so was just a case of whether someone else further back had saved their energy for this one climb.  It was a bit cheeky of me but it didn't cost any extra energy as I'm such a good climber.

Coming back down the bridge it all fell apart a bit.  Whilst I'm not ashamed to say I'm pretty good at ascending I'm equally terrible at descending and soon lost touch with the group who by this stage were down to 4 (including me), as we lost one person on the climb up.  I was also now starting to puff - things were not looking good.

The bridge - climb was far longer and steeper that the picture gives credit to.

Between 15-17km I got back in touch with the group but I knew it was going to be a case of me falling back as my legs were too tired for this stage of the race.  Eventually at 20km I took the decision to ease back as if I carried on at the same pace I would certainly hit the wall,  In fact I was pretty certain that the damage may already have been done.

At just gone half way my wife was waiting to cheer me on and it would be the first time she would see me in action rather than just the start or finish.  Unfortunately I was now about 20 seconds adrift and as she gave me encouragement I just said 'feel terrible' and made a slash signal against my throat.  To be honest I even felt like dropping out altogether, more so that an early niggle in my quad was developing into a pretty major pull.  It was not so bad to stop racing but it was still pretty bloomin painful.  In the end I stayed good to my word and continued to plug away for as long as I was in the top 5.  Whilst I went through half way in 73.11 (about 4 seconds faster than Chester) the chance of a negative split was nil.  Over the next couple of km I was even praying for a couple of runners to overtake me so I could end the pain and misery.  Enjoyment this certainly was not.  Gone were the 3.27m/km splits and I was now hovering around the 3.40m/km mark and as each km passed I was sure I was going to get even slower.

Just after half way having recently fallen away from the group I was with.  About 2 seconds before saying how terrible I felt!

Before continuing with the race I wanted to give a special mention with the drinks stations as they were a right royal pain in the neck.  They were paper cups filled with about 150ml of Powerade.  About a quarter of that was lost whilst grabbing the cup, about 40% went on my vest whilst trying to drink the stuff, 15% went into my mouth to choke on with the remainder left in the cup.  By contrast the other elites had 'personal drink bottles'.  A pretty bid disadvantage and I'm sure it contributed to my deteriorating performance.  Some of this effect was negated as I decided to take 5 energy gels with me, but I became pretty dehydrated.

Between 25-30km my splits stabilised and 4th place was starting to fall back to me.  To be honest I was pretty amazed by this, so I thought that as 4th was now the best outcome I could achieve I won't actually pass him but hang back by a few yards, take a breather then race for the position later on in the race.  As I got within 20 metres of him he just stopped.  Oh, bloody marvelous - so that plan was quickly chucked out of the window and the agony will just have to continue for a bit longer!

As about 32km we made the turn back to the city centre so I could at least see what was going on behind me.  I was miles behind the first 3, but 5th was at least a couple of minutes back and 6th was perhaps a further minute behind.  OK, so this might just be defendable.

It gave me a bit of a spur and I was now ticking off the km's at a fairly consistent 3.38ish and whilst the wall always felt like it was nearby it never came.  With just a couple of km to go I had a quick look back and no one was in sight.  I therefore eased off the gas a little and with 500 metres left I just started to jog and with 10 metres left I walked over the line in a time of 2.31.11.  A pretty dismal second half of the race and the first time I've not done a negative split.  That said, the wall never came and I stuck with it despite the demons in my head screaming all sorts of negative thoughts.

Jogging to the finish

Now walking...

In the end my decision not to go for the cash bonus proved wise as I banked NZ$1,000 (about £400 after tax) for fourth place.  As it turned out I also did the fastest ascent of the bridge so also won a Fitbit Ionic which is worth about £300.  Overall, quite a few negatives but to be realistic about it all it was a non key race on my holiday with a not ideal build up.  To achieve 2.31 is perhaps not so bad a time after all and positives to draw out include:

- Didn't drop out despite everything in my body telling me otherwise.
- A respectable 2.31 when in reality my legs had not properly recovered and then doing 10 miles of walking most days.
- According to Strava the course had over 600m of ascents compared to 240m at Chester and 40m at Manchester.
- My pace to halfway was the same as Chester despite the additional climb.
- Although my splits dropped back around half way it didn't really degrade much after this.

NZ Splits - Eased back between 20-25k and then fairly consistent thereafter.

Was I wrong to go with the lead group even though their pace was too fast early on?  I don't regret the decision at all; sometimes you just have to roll the dice a little and the alternative to run by myself for the whole race was not something I relished.  If anything I'm glad that I didn't force the pace beyond 20km - whilst I was probably just inside the red zone at this point, had I not eased back when I did I would almost have hit the wall later on.  It shows that I recognised the danger signs before it was too late.

Post Race - NZ Herald

The priority now is to recover, do a few shorter races between now and New Year and then build up to a Spring Marathon.  I feel like with the right build up a 2.22 is in me as long as my body doesn't break down.  Lets see what happens!


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