While paging through the Runner’s World one day, I stumbled upon an advertisement for this event. Realising that it boast fields of 3000+ participants, including a huge walking contingent, this seemed like a perfect first 21.1km event for a novice. You could easily disappear in the crowds without running the risk of being dead last or drawing a lot of unwanted attention to yourself. I therefore proposed this to the Downhill Demons (we dubbed a group of lady friends who live in a hilly town, and who sometimes run from the upper parts of town mainly downhill towards the sea, the Downhill Demons) and am glad to say that they decided to join us.
I immediately drew up a training plan for the seven weeks prior to the event to try and keep Gerry and me on track to at least aim to be ready on race day. Not that a “training program” usually intimidates me to the point of commitment! So, as with most programs, we often derail, missing a day here, another there and before you know it, only about half of the training was done. Inevitably I often find myself at the start of events, not being really ready. But having done numerous 21s (32s, marathons, ultra’s, etc) one tends to get a little blazé about the distance, so there we were – not a care in the world. Just happy to be there.
As I’ve often mentioned in the past, a half marathon is a wonderful distance and by far my favourite. Long enough to make you feel that you’ve worked a bit and achieved something, while still short enough not to push you over the edge and off the road with injuries for extended periods, as is sometimes the case with longer distances.
So, on the Saturday morning prior to the race, we collected all our stuff and were off to Taupo, leaving at around 12:00. It was fairly cold and rainy, and as we passed the snow-capped Raupehu ranges it just got worse! We reached the Rainbow Backpackers in a wet Taupo at 15:30. After unloading we took a brief walk to the registration area to collect our registration packs. The goodie-bags contained your race number, timing chip, some discount vouchers, Effergize multi-vitamins, banana, and strange (but lovely) pomegranate and aloe juice, amongst others. Sweet as!
We met up with our friends (who were also booked for the night at the same backpackers) to whip up a pre-race dinner: chicken pasta with sun-dried tomato, feta, olives, basil pesto and pine nuts. Yum!! Post diner it was time for the Australia/All Black game in the TV room/lounge. Taking our running buddy, James’ advice, Gerry and I carbo-loaded on a couple of beers. You can’t watch a game like that without a couple of handles!
We all retreated to our separate rooms, dodging the rain and hoping the weather would not be too bad during the race. I awoke a number of times to gusty winds and pouring rain, just hoping it will all be gone by morning.
As the morning arrived there was no rain and neither was it too cold (the calm before the storm?) and although some serious clouds were looming on the horizon, patches of blue skies were visible overhead and we all decided against rain jackets. The four of us (Gerry, myself, Henriette and Des) walked to the start at the Tongariro Domain, some 400 metres from the backpackers.
The start was in a narrow road and runners were backed up quite far. This resulted in a series of wave starts, letting through batches of runners every 30 or so seconds. Very clever from the organisers as this helped tremendously to avoid a complete stampede in the first kilometre and the field of runners – some 2500 at this years event – were spread out nicely from the beginning, leaving room for the faster runners to pass without elbowing their way through. Since you wear a timing chip, your individual time will still be recorded.
We started on a nice short downhill section, but soon thereafter reached the first little uphill. We had to negotiate a number of these including some slow poisons during the course of the event. The race, in general is rated as fast and flat, so nothing too serious in terms of hills. We stayed with Henriette and Des for the first kilometer or so, before heading off. The course is described as a out and back loop. I was a bit confused with the description until I realized it looks something like a lollipop with a stick on both ends.
The first 3 kms (the first lollipop stick) is run next to the lake after which you turn off to run approximately 7 kilometres on State Highway 1/Lake Terrace Road – the first half of the loop. Nearing the end of this section the front runners can be spotted some 100 metres to your right, next to the lake. You then reach the other short out and back section (about 2km in total, the second of the lollipop sticks) which brings you to the turn-around point and halfway mark before heading back, doing the other half of the loop. Our halfway split was 1:04:42. And after the loop you’re back on the first 3km out and back section.
Up until the turn-around point the weather was holding up nicely and at times I was actually cursing for being dressed too warmly. The sun partially came through making two layers of clothing too many. I was seriously overheating.
Watering stations were spaced about 5km apart, supplying only water. For a big event such as this, one would expect an energy drink of sorts, as is often the case at the bigger races. Fortunately we were armed with jelly babies to keep our sugar levels intact. The water table shortly before the turn-around point was such a welcome jollification with friendly helpers, cracking jokes and lifting spirits all round. Good on them – I’m sure a lot of runners appreciated their effort.
The return half of the loop included a little off-road section (parallel to the SH1 section, but next to the lake) where the weather really turned nasty. It started to rain lightly while a cold wind was picking up. And suddenly all thoughts of too much clothes were gone. I was seriously cooling down, cursing again for not bringing gloves and a beanie with!
Never a dull moment with New Zealand weather. I tried to go as fast as I could but having a bit of an issue with wind (where does this come from?), I found myself quickly very stressed, hyper-ventilated and out of breath. I’ve realized that it is the wind blowing in my face that effects my the worst – it feels like it literally “takes my breath away”.
After what felt like miles and miles, we reached the walkway (Lions Walk?) with some bushes and overgrowth on both sides of the road providing some much appreciated shelter for bits. It was unfortunately short lived and we were exposed again to more wind and rain, and temperatures dropped considerably.
From around the 15km mark, we knew that we had to rely on “leg memory”, not having done our homework. It was cold and wet and I could feel my ITB starting to act up again, which had me very worried at times. But the end was in sight and the promise of soup and a roll at the finish kept me going!
The wind was still quite strong, but more from the side, while the rain was also picking up. It was uncomfortably cold being wet to the bone. Lots of supporters were on the route with kids that held up banners reading “Go Mum!” etc. At some point we passed a water table with a sign saying “Linda’s water table” and on the little camping table were two bottles of wine and two glasses. You can’t help but smiling, forgetting all about your own pain.
At last we reached the “one kilometer to go” sign and with a nasty little uphill shortly before the finish, we still managed a 2:12:59 for the course. Giant choc-marshmallow fish (and this is no tall story!) were handed out at the finish, while we also received an energy drink.
Being soaking wet by now, the continued rain became less of an issue. The wind and cold was another story though. We headed to the Great Lake Centre for a choice of mushroom or pumpkin soup with a roll, and we both opted for the pumpkin. Absolute heaven!
A huge event, well organized, and we learned during the awards (which happened outside in the cold and rain! with hundreds of people attending), that the oldest finisher was 82, while the youngest was 8. Another impressive stat was that a 75 year old lady completed her very first half marathon event ever! Imagine that.
Congratulations to Henriette on her first half marathon! And thanks to both her and Des for making the outing. It was great having some friends joining us for a run.
The only question that remains: will I be able to manage another 21km in a week’s time?