Frontrunner 21.1km (13 February 2011)

After our 10km trot with friends the day before, Gerry and I had a lovely breakfast with Deon and Henriette in town, while the organisers were getting ready for the big events the next day: the inaugural Wells Half Ironman and the Frontrunner 21.1km run (always very exciting and special to do the first edition of what will hopefully become a regular event for many many years to come). The half marathon was a great addition to the triathlon for us runners. Also starting at Port Taranaki, which would be the registration and transition area for the Half Ironman, the run takes you all the way along the Coastal Walkway up to Bell Block and back.

By lunchtime on Saturday we could pick up our entries at the registration area. As this would be our first road half marathon race in more than 18 months (as well as the first staging of the event), we rounded it off by buying ourselves some very nice technical event T’s.

Staying with Henriette and Deon for the weekend, Henriette prepared a nice carbo-loading pasta for us the night before. We decided that a glass of wine with good company shouldn’t upset the apple cart and ended up chatting ’til very late before going to bed.

The race was supposed to start shortly after 7:00 and we were warned that the roads would be congested and that we should arrive early, since Bayly Rd would be the only access point for vehicles. We got up, after what felt like little more than four hours of sleep, to have some breakfast and make our way through the early morning sleepy town.

We were hoping to be able to see most of the swimming leg of the triathlon, and to watch the leading group into transition onto the bike leg before the start of our event, but unfortunately everything was running late.

The half marathon walkers took off at 7:10, after which we could just quickly watch the swimmers taking off at 7:30, before we had to make our way to the runners’ start at 7:40 – 30 minutes behind the walkers.

Nearly 90 runners lined up for the Frontrunner “21.1km” run (turns out the run was a fair bit shorter). It was a lovely morning, overcast with just a cool breeze, and apart from thousands of sandflies eating me alive, we had no complaints.

We started off, trotting along the Ocean View Parade Road until we linked up with the Coastal Walkway. Not long and the field had spread out considerably, with us hovering among the back markers. We ran along happily, trying to keep a steady pace while passing all the landmarks en route: Bach on Breakwater cafe & restaurant, Len Lye’s Wind Wand, City Centre, Te Henui stream, Big Wave Cafe, until we reached the car park near the Fitzroy camping ground.

Nearing the camping ground, the front race walker was coming back towards us, accompanied by the customary “Race Leader” cyclist. In my awe-struck admiration for his speed, and knowing how difficult it is to sidestep someone when you’re race-walking (having done a wee bit myself once), I dared to take a step onto the pavement to make way for them. My feet had hardly hit the pavement when I suddenly heard a shrill yell from the marshal aunty behind me: “ON THE ROAD!! PLEASE!!!”. Arrrgh – it was so uncalled for to spoil the happy moment. I was by no means trying to “disobey orders” or running a short-cut or anything – it was merely a gesture of consideration.

And so I ran on adrenaline for the next kilometre. 🙂

Through the Fitzroy holiday park and further on through nature reserve areas, you run through patches where little gnats are a real nuisance, and it becomes quite a mission to keep them out of your mouth and eyes and everywhere they can find some liquid. Crossing the Te Rewa Rewa bridge we knew that it could only be a couple of kilometers still to go to the halfway mark. Being an out-and-back event, some of the top runners had started passing us on their way back to the finish. It’s always great to get an opportunity to see the front runners in action in out-and back events – in the normal circular format races you never get to even catch a glimpse of the elite athletes.

Carrying on through nature reserves, dodging by now quite a number of walkers coming from the front, we saw the turnaround point up on a little hill. The whole course was a little less flat than I anticipated.

Not having a watch, I though we hadn’t even been running for an hour, and not knowing the area, it also seemed to me that we hadn’t reached Bell Block yet! The race also didn’t have any kilometre markers, which made it difficult to know exactly what distance you’ve covered and what remained.

But we followed the course, turned around the cone at the marshal, grabbed some water and started making our way back. We passed many walkers and it turned into a nice little game to see how many of the walkers we had seen coming from the front, we could catch up with.

We had sustenance at five kilometer intervals. Time and kilometers flew by and before we knew it, we were done. According to our timing chips, we finished in 1:58! Too good to be true and as it turned out, rumors have it that the course was indeed too short … What a led-down. I suspected as much, having done many 21.1km races in the past. My guess would be that it wasn’t more than 19km in total. Admittedly, I haven’t run 21.1km in quite some time and might have forgotten what the distance felt like, but our finishing time still seemed impossible.

Henriette and Deon awaited us at the finish with nice tuna sarmies and an ice cold bubbly. We watched some of the triathletes making their transition from the bike leg to the running leg. Fortunately they were doing a different course for their 21.1km run – a three times lapper of a 7.33km loop.

Al the prize giving we saw the lady who was the overall winner. For the first time ever we’ve attended a race where the overall winner was female! She is obviously not a social Jog around the Blog type of runner! Some nice spot prizes were also handed out, amongst others a trip for two to Fiji. But no luck for us this time.

All in all a very nice outing. Pity about the distance problem though.

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