Race recap: Wellington Marathon

2 07 2018

“I’m really glad we didn’t have to race yesterday” said nobody at the Wellington Marathon in 2018.

While Saturday 30th June was lovely, with sun, high cloud and little wind – a fresh winters day that can be quite common in the capital – Wellington treated us to the worst of her winter weather on Sunday 1st July.

We all knew the forecast was pants, but we remained ever hopeful that the Met Service modellers had made a small error – as they are occasionally known to do.

The forecast did have me fretting about my outfit though. I knew I needed a jacket but whether to go with long sleeves or a vest? t-shirt with arm warmers or a long sleeved top? Full length tights or capris?

Decisions, decisions.

When my alarm went off at 5.30am and I strained to hear for the wind. I couldn’t hear any. Unusual when it’s a northerly as we’re right in the firing line. But as I got up and started getting ready, the familiar sound of something more than a stiff breeze started to build.

The expected fierce winds and rain turned up bang on time, rather than fashionably late.

I got to the start at the Westpac Stadium in plenty of time to drop my bag off and caught up with other walkers and runners crazy enough to be heading out into the elements with me.

As we walked out to the race briefing at the start line, it appeared the weather might have given us a bit of respite – at least for the early part. As the briefing started the organisers joked about our wait for the starting siren to be “the longest 12 minutes of your life”.

If only he knew.

Start line

With about 10 minutes to go the heavens opened again. Those of us not bothered about maintaining our starting position at the front of the pack ducked under the stadium entrance hoarding for some cover until we were called forward for the start.

It was here I was wondering if I’d end up regretting my wardrobe choice of t-shirt, vest and arm warmers.

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I think the starter took pity on us as his countdown from 10 speeded up towards the end. And that was it. We were off.

With more than a gentle helping hand from the Northerly that had set in for the morning.

The rain was quite heavy at times and I wondered if my sodden gloves would ever dry out, or whether my hands would be reduced to prunes inside them.

The course is generally pancake flat, heading south around the bays before heading west towards Miramar peninsula. Whilst the Northerly continued to build, the meandering coves helped shelter us at times for a little bit of respite.

In one such moment I struck up some chat with a guy who was jogging along at the same pace. He’d worked out that we would be in the worst of it for approximately 4.5kms and have the best of the wind behind us for 4kms. I don’t know how he calculated that but it didn’t seem quite right so I left him to his musings.

Heading up the Eastern side of the peninsula the headwind had its moments but nothing was too brisk. Upon rounding Point Halswell we got a feeling for what faced us on the way back, as the tailwind almost lifted you off your feet.

While it was welcome, those of us who know Wellington figured the way back would not be as fun.

We carried on to Scorching Bay (the scene of many a triathlon I’ve done in the past) where some hardy supporters and volunteers greeted us, gifting us a red wristband to prove we’d been there.

Then started a mini ‘out and back’ to the start of the peninsula and back to Scorching Bay for the final turn.

The expected headwind on approach to a couple of corners on the western side did not disappoint. It wasn’t enough to bring you to a walk, but certainly enough to slow you right down.

Luckily these were relatively short-lived and we were heading back down the eastern edge with the wind behind us again – although you wouldn’t have guessed it. It felt like there was nothing.

A cheeky high five with my buddy who was walking it was a real mood lifter. Anyone committed to being out there for that long and in those conditions was either mentally strong or insane. But it was such a boost to see her with a smile on her face.

After the aid station at Shelly Bay I decided a pit stop was in order. All was fine until I tried restoring my soaking wet running tights to their ‘on’ position. Have you ever tried to put wet lycra on when you’re wet as well? It doesn’t go well.

Especially in a portaloo.

Anyway, back to the game. I hadn’t prepped any particular nutrition plan so had to make sure I had either a gel or Shot Blok at least every 40 mins. I don’t even know if I managed that.

I mostly managed to stick to my usual 9 min run/1 min walk ratio. Apart from leading up to our second turn on the out and back.

Just prior to our turn is the half marathon turn. It was in full swing when we got there. I got swallowed up by a large group who were hanging on to the 1h 45min pacer, when I suddenly heard a familiar voice ask me something (it was along the lines of was I having fun or going well? something like that – but my post-race brain can’t compute exactly).

One of my old squad buddies ran past with ease and I only just had enough time to answer something vaguely positive before he was already out of earshot.

At some point between the half marathon turn and the marathon one, my walk reminder sounded but I didn’t even notice. Consumed by all the other bodies around me I was merely concentrating on reaching the second turn and not taking out any other runner in the turning process.

Second armband acquired. One more to go.

The start of the third leg was still busy, as more half runners swarmed by. But after passing their turn again, it was back to the fairly isolated run back up the western side.

Rain came and went. I think I stopped noticing after a while.

But the wind didn’t stop. In fact it was just increasing – seems those pesky weathermen got it right for once.

Another Mary Poppins-like moment came as we once again rounded Point Halswell and got a little assistance back towards Scorching Bay. Here we picked up our third and final wristband – white this time – at about the 25km mark. It was now time to head for home.

Having had only 7 weeks to properly train, I was a little undercooked going into the race. I’d run no further than 25kms so I knew that I was getting into new territory. It’s also about this point in Ironman that I suffer from major stomach issues, so I’m not normally running as much after this point!

My hamstrings, glutes and, occasionally, my hip flexors, all complained at various times once I’d gone past 26kms. It was like they were telling me off for not doing enough training.

And this was also the point where the crazy wind was blowing either rain or sea spray – I daren’t look up to even check – into your face like a thousand pins per second. I knew that rounding Point Halswell again would only mean temporary respite. We’d have that wind on the way back to the finish line.

Maintaining my 9/1 run/walk meant there was a lot of ‘leap frogging’ as I overtook people on my runs and occasionally they’d overtake me while I walked. I’m sure most people don’t realise that it’s a deliberate strategy but there’s a ton of research that shows how much benefit it has in endurance runs. I live by it now on all my long runs, even in training.

This leap frogging happened with several different groups, and while it was tempting to try and stay with them – like my former, highly competitive self would have tried – I tried to focus on my own race and executing my own plan. I wasn’t racing them after all.

Just me. That’s the only person I was racing.

I let a couple of women go – I’d stayed with them a while but after one walk break they’d just left me so I didn’t try to catch up. It would have probably done more damage than good.

I saw Nikki again after she’d made the second turn and she cheered me on to the finish.

As I neared the end of the peninsula, a couple of brave and hardy supporters were sitting by the roadside and they said some really encouraging things. I love that about doing epic endurance events. Complete strangers get right behind you, knowing that you’re doing something pretty damn hard.

Thank you to all the supporters and volunteers out in the stink weather yesterday.

As I reached the supporters, my walk alarm sounded so I thanked them and then said “break time” to explain my walking. The response was “get ready for that wind round the corner”.

Thanks.

Like I needed reminding.

I turned into Cobham Drive and there it was. A massive crosswind. I dreaded to think what that would feel like when we turned into it. It was bad enough being blown sideways. And I’d only just passed a sign saying 9kms to go. It was going to be a long haul.

I hated those signs counting down the kms to go. With a passion.

As I turned into Evans Bay Parade I faced the wind head on.

The brutal 40+kph winds on that final stretch dampened a few spirits but it also gave those of us left out there something in common. A desire to make sure we won. The weather wasn’t going to stop us.

At various points the wind was so strong I did have to walk, out of necessity rather than planned. I knew that trying to maintain a run would probably soak up more energy than was really necessary.

While I hadn’t tried to set a time goal, I had some wishes. I expected to finish in 4h 20 – 4h 30. I’d been right on target to best this time, but the combo of wind, rain and a little fatigue, especially in those last 9kms, made sure I wasn’t going to.

I didn’t want to dwell on the time too much though. Whatever happened, it was going to be a marathon PB. But then I didn’t bike 180kms beforehand. So I had no excuses.

Not even the weather.

Onwards I plodded. Ticking off each of those damn countdown signs as I went. After Point Jerningham, the wind eased a little. But navigating the twists and turns of the return path around the waterfront, I was more scared of tripping than anything else.

Finally, back out onto the road, the rain set in for the last 1.5kms.

One of the women I’d been leap frogging earlier, but who’d got away from me, now loomed ahead of me again. This time I was determined she wouldn’t get away.

As we neared the ramp that took us up to the finish line (yes that’s right. You have to run UP A RAMP. After 42kms!) I caught her and passed her.

I knew my walk break alarm was about to sound but I also knew the ramp was ahead, so I decided to use that as my break. As I did, another marathoner overtook me. We’d been leap frogging the last 8kms. He decided to walk the second half of the ramp, so I jogged it.

Heading towards the finish I was directed down the middle chute. I heard footsteps gaining and normally I can find a little extra at the finish. I’d found all I had though and the runner I’d just overtaken on the ramp surged home ahead of me. Meh. I didn’t really care.

Soaked to the skin I crossed the line, got my medal and then staggered into the stadium.

I can legit call myself a marathoner now. While I’ve done the distance in Ironman, I didn’t feel it counted until I’d done one on its own. So there we go. Another one ticked off.

Would I do another marathon? Maybe. But I’d aim to do one where the weather was more guaranteed. Like the Gold Coast maybe?!

But I think I’d rather do Ironman

Medal

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Countdown to Ironman: 5 weeks to go

30 01 2017

Ironman is all about training the brain as well as the body.

You’ll often hear people refer to the mental battles on the day, so having a few of those in training is always good practice.

Take the bike ride when we were at training camp. When the wind picked up for lap two, creating a headwind on the way out to the turn at Reporoa, one of my squad mates said she had to give herself a good talking to. And boy did we all relate to that.

This week saw us needing another talking to with the NZ Ocean Swim Series event arriving in Wellington. Most of us were down to do the long course that takes you out to the lighthouse and back to Oriental Bay in a neat 3.3km triangle.

Only the weather Gods had other ideas.

A big northerly was forecast which meant the harbour was going to be choppy. Even by Wellington standards. So the organisers swiftly arranged a move to the south side of the city, hoping for more sheltered waters at Lyall Bay.

I wandered down for a recce on Saturday afternoon – ironically a magic Wellington day with no wind and a gorgeous flat calm harbour. Sod’s law right there.

The buoys were already up and one of the event team gave us a quick brief of the makeshift 2km ‘M’-shaped course. It was different but they figured it was the best they could do in the space they had.

Race morning dawned and the forecast wind didn’t disappoint. But the predicted chop was worse than expected. So the furthest points of the ‘M’ course were a bit too dangerous for more inexperienced swimmers.

So they decided to go to a two-lap loop. They lengthened the course and brought the far buoys in. But they didn’t really know how long it was and were estimating 2.6-2.8kms.

The shallower waters didn’t look so bad, so after swallowing “a cup of hard” (a kiwi phrase for “harden up”), we hit the waters.

The initial swim out to the first buoy wasn’t so bad. The wind was behind us and the buoy was close, meaning sighting wasn’t an issue. Then we made a 90 degree turn and headed parallel to the beach to head towards the airport.

With the wind hitting us side on, and with the tide going out, it was easy to predict that we were going to get pounded from the left a little bit in this direction. The start wasn’t so bad and I was able to get into my rhythm quite quickly – it normally takes me at least a km to get going properly. But the closer we got to the airport end, the worse it seemed to get.

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Even if I breathed away from the direction of the waves, the would frequently break on the back of my head, still giving me a mouthful of saltwater. So breathing was sometimes an issue.

And with the buoys being quite some distance away, and reasonably close together when looking at them from a distance, sighting was tricky. It was too easy to aim for the wrong buoy, sending you off course. I often just followed the crowd of swimmers in front of me in the vain hope that they were vaguely on track!

We’d been promised an “easier” ride back towards the start, and second turnaround. But that was a lie. It got harder as we were further out from shore in bigger chop. The waves were bigger and harder and there was no “tail wind” to speak of.

It took forever.

Or at least it felt like it.

Unlike the regular Splash and Dash series, there were no shorter options. If we pulled out early, that was it. It was a DNF. So that was the choice. Continue battling, or get no result.

But when the turn came, I had no intention of finishing early. While it might not have been the prettiest swim, I certainly wasn’t done. I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I’m way tougher than that.

Despite not being the strongest swimmer in the world, I don’t lack confidence in the water and have a steely determination to succeed. So out for a second lap I went. The second trip down towards the airport seemed even worse. I’m sure the surf lifesaving volunteers had their work cut out for them.

Back out in the chop for the final leg back down towards the start/finish area, I probably took on the most water of any of the legs. And not only that, the current was pushing you further with the tide. So sighting had to be more regular to stay on course – if you could see the buoys in the chop! I felt I’d been pushed out a couple of times so tried to correct my course, only to over-correct and start swimming further in. A quick sight check soon sorted that.

Even though the conditions were far from ideal, I can honestly say I never once felt like jacking it in. I felt strong and like I could keep going, even at the very end. Although swimming into the headwind for the final 75m (or so) stretch was pure hell. No matter how hard you swam, you didn’t feel like you were making any progress. But slowly and surely, the beach got closer.

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I’d made it. And when I stopped my watch to see the time, I was really happy, given the conditions. But in reality, the time didn’t matter. I’d swum just under 3.1kms in 1h 8 minutes. And then the official word came back that they estimated the course was 3kms long, so I’d done pretty well, even in that chop and current.

What mattered was proving I could tough it out in those conditions. After all, you never know what it’s going to be like on race day.

So you need your mind, as well as your body, to be ready.

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