After the Manawatu Half Marathon, Gerry and I worked out a serious training plan to get us (or should I rather say me!) over the Auckland marathon finish line at the end of October. I don’t suppose you can really call it a serious training plan, but for a typical knit-one-slip-one-type runner like myself, rarely covering more than 30km per week, the program looked like serious commitment. We basically planned to run at least 5 days a week and never to dip under 40km for our total weekly mileage. Ideally we’d like to do roughly 50km or more per week. It’s only been three weeks, but so far so good.
Part of this plan is also to fit in at least one 28km to 32km long-run before the marathon. For the rest, our weekend long-runs all consists of 21kms and the occasional 15km, on cut-back weeks. So far we haven’t come across any 32km road races within striking distance. In general NZ doesn’t seem to have as many 32km races as we used to have in SA – a distance that is a very nice stepping stone to a marathon. We’ve already checked all the running calendar websites and couldn’t fine anything suitable. And then I read about this one, by accident, in the Runner’s World.
It is a 66.37km relay event comprising of 10 legs/laps, between two towns on the backroads out in the country. Each of us would be running 30+km and we are basically free to swop and change-over as we please. We could support each other, so while the one is running, the other would be driving the car with all our sustenance: water, coke, jelly babies, bananas, pears and boiled salty potatoes, to be handed out every three kilometres or so. Given the layout of the course, each of us would end up having 2x easy, 2x moderate and 1x hard sessions.
Having done a 12 hour circuit relay event in the past where we swopped every 3kms, we decided to switch over on every leg (with the shortest being 2.8km and the longest 8.9km). I would start and therefore be doing all the odd number legs, while Gerry would be running all the even numbered legs. As one supporter pointed out after a number of change-overs “we’ll be leap-frogging the whole route to the end”. We seemed to be the only two person team following this strategy as most of the others ran half and half – one person running the first half while the other ran the second.
At 5:30 the alarm went off, but I was so far lost in dreamland that I didn’t hear a thing. Fortunately Gerry was aware of his surroundings and only when he started talking to me, did I realise what was going on.
We got up, had tea and breakfast and were off to Marton. Collected our race packs, got briefed and then we were off. The starting times were negotiable meaning that the walkers started at 7:00, most of us runners at 8:00 and other faster teams started later. The result was a very sociable run with lots of other people and supporters en route. In my mind eye I just imagined us all alone right at the back with no other runners in sight! But thanks to this clever move by the organisers, this wasn’t the case at all.
Leg 1 – 7.8km (by Wouna)
Course description by the organisers: Easy. Start at Marton Park, Follet St, Marton. Across Park to Maunder St. Right into Signal St. Left into Tutaenui Road to continue on until change at corner of Galpin Road.
It was a chilly overcast morning and as we lined up for briefing, I found myself right at the back (of about 15 runners). Bill, the organiser, gave some pointers and things to look out for and at 8:00 we were off. I was trotting along at the back, as the field started to thin out way up ahead of me. It was a lovely morning, only a slight breeze and no rain. The biggest part of this section is flat with slight undulations. Running in the country amongst farms looking at cattle, sheep and horses grazing on the rolling green hills, is so relaxing and calming. You get caught up easily in your own thoughts, forgetting all about what you’ve set yourself up for for the day. Not long before I could spot the line of cars and supporters at the change-over. All was going well so far, the weather was perfect, and although the breeze was a bit chilly, I could feel that some hot and humid temperatures might still catch us later on with the sun starting to peak through the diminishing clouds.
[Lap time – 00:48]
Leg 2 – 8.9km (by Gerry)
Course description by the organisers: Moderate. Follow Makohau Road uphill for 1km then gradually down to change at junction of Makohau Rd and Turakina Valley Rd.
At the first change-over, we were a bit confused about the logistics of the process, but we soon realised that everyone was more or less left to their own devices – no formal baton-passing, time-keeping or anything like that. After Wouna finished her run, I was off, with one goal in mind – to catch up and pass as many runners as possible. Since I run on my own very seldom, I don’t have much of an idea what a realistic pace for me would be, so I decided to just ran and see what happens. After negotiating a nippy 1km uphill, I was left with almost 8km of mostly downhill – the ideal terrain for a fast catch-up. It was a great, social run, and I had an opportunity to chat to a number of the other runners in passing, including some of the brave solo runners who were in it for the long haul.
Having Wouna by the side of the road every couple of kilometres made things even more enjoyable, and before I knew it, the leg was over, and it was time for me to take up the support role again.
[Lap time – 00:43]
Leg 3 – 7.08km (by Wouna)
Course description by the organisers: Moderate. Downhill for 500m then undulating for 4km to end of seal. Undulating on gravel road for a further 3km to finish at the bridge over the Mangara Stream.
I guess undulating would be the right term, but to my unfit legs it felt almost hilly! 🙂 I though it would be difficult to start running again after a 45 min break, but hardly! It felt just like the first time. We were still fresh and I was taking it fairly easy, unlike Gerry who is trying to make up some time and testing his speedy legs. He already passed a couple of participants on his leg, and I could manage to pass about three walkers on this stretch of the road. The gravel road stretch turned out to be only about 300 metres and not 3km. The surroundings became even more remote than it was on my first leg, and the scenery is really beautiful. What a joy to be out and running.
[Lap time – 00:46]
Leg 4 – 6.93km (by Gerry)
Course description by the organisers: Hard. On gravel road, flat for 800m then climb gently for 1.5km then downhill for 1km to reach sealed road after 3km. Turn left into Mangatipona Rd and head towards Wanganui. A solid climb for 2km followed by 500m of flat to finish at the top of a hill.
After the enjoyable previous leg, I was keen to get going again. I still felt fine, so I was quite positive about our run/rest/run strategy. However, I didn’t realize how different my second leg would be.
I started off on a very rocky gravel road that was difficult to negotiate on foot. The situation was made worse by the severe camber of the road – I had to really concentrate to keep my footing and keep from having my feet slip out sideways from under me. All the support vehicles on the dirt road also made for some dusty running – some supporters clearly weren’t too bothered with the runners and charged past, kicking up huge billowing dust-clouds.
But never mind the gravel – what really made this section memorable, even after we were back on the tar, was the continuous uphill that felt like it was simply never going to stop. Various other runners and supporters commented on “drawing the short straw” on this leg, and no-one looked too sprightly. Still, it actually wasn’t all bad. I still felt OK and managed to keep to a sub-5:45 pace, again passing a few of the runners I met on my first leg. By now things were getting quite social, as is often the case when you share some time on the road.
Approaching the change-over point, I could see the long-drop mentioned by the organisers, some distance to our left in a paddock. A couple of runners were making the trek to this facility, but remembering past experiences with long-drops toilets, I decided to rather follow the organisers’ alternative recommendation of making use of “God’s acre” along the route.
[Lap time – 00:39]
Leg 5 – 4.9km (by Wouna)
Course description by the organisers: Easy. Downhill for 2.5km to corner of Ohaumoku Road, then flat and gently down to finish at the junction with Okirae Rd.
This would mark the leg where my wheels came off (or should I rather say the lap where my legs came off?), despite carbo-loading on some boiled salty spuds. What a welcome change from jelly babies and coke.
For some strange reason, halfway through this “easy” run, I thought I was never going to make it to the end. With two difficult stretches still to come for me, one being more or less uphill all the way, I was starting to doubt myself a bit, hoping that my turn “off” would bring a miracle. And as my next leg approached and the reality of having to run up a mountain, my only thought was walking (or crawling – whichever way I can get over the mountain ahead). I figured the only way to deal with the monster would be to walk it, hoping to cover the distance in about 30min, not defeating all Gerry’s efforts of making up time.
[Lap time – 00:30]
Leg 6 – 8.10km (by Gerry)
Course description by the organisers: Easy. Flat all the way through Kauangaroa and onto the finish by an old brick chimney.
Passing the car-keys back to Wouna at the change-over (this was like a reverse baton, marking your switch from runner to support crew), I set off on my third running section. By now we were starting to settle into a routine, both in terms of running and support. Unfortunately by now my body also started to feel the effect of the harder than normal running I did on my previous two legs. I tried to stretch my quads during the support stretch of the previous leg, but this didn’t seem to have much effect. So what was supposed to be an easy, flat section started to feel really far. The terrain remained lovely, though, and it was a real joy running out in the countryside, with regular support stops from Wouna, and chats to other runners. By now we were also passing many walkers, so it was becoming quite social.
It was also becoming really hot – I could hardly believe the amazing sunny weather, having expected some morning drizzles and an overcast day.
I never saw the old chimney at the finish of the leg – must admit I didn’t spend too much time looking for it either, because by this time I felt quite knackered and just wanted to finish my run.
[Lap time – 00:44]
Leg 7 – 2.8km (by Wouna)
Course description by the organisers: Hard. Flat for 500m then up “Reid’s Hill”, a solid climb of 2.5km to the finish opposite No 240 Kauangaroa Rd. NB Safety requirement. Run/walk on the left-hand side of the road.
The change-over at this section could potentially become a problem if the race grows too much, I guess. With not a lot of room next to the road, the cars all had to que on the road itself and basically occupying the whole road, making it difficult for other traffic to go on their usual way. While I was waiting for Gerry to cover the last few kms of his leg, the fast and serious runners started coming past like the devil was behind them, with team mates warming up in the road. Gerry arrived and my monstrous challenge started.
The first bit is flat and I thought I could try a little shuffle until I reach the hill where I would be taking a nice long stroll. As it turns out, the little shuffle carried me past a walker, at which point I thought to myself “he might catch me if I start to walk now!”. So, I shuffled a bit more until I had gained quite a bit of distance between us. By then, I must have covered about half of my leg. Realising that it is not half as bad as I thought, I started applying the “run bits, walk bits, you’ll get there” strategy. I could see the support vehicles way down below behind me at the change-over, but for some reason the hill wasn’t as bad as it looked and I could slowly shuffle up the mountain to reach Gerry at the top for the change-over.
[Lap time – 00:22]
Leg 8 – 5.32km (by Gerry)
Course description by the organisers: Moderate. Gently downhill for 1km, then up again for 1km, and then undulating to reach Fordell. Turn right, at hotel, into Station Road for 200m to finish at Fordell Hall.
As I started my run, I could feel my legs were becoming really stiff, and especially my quads were hurting badly. Luckily it was a shortish running stretch (I did most of my longer running legs earlier in the event), and the terrain was nicely undulating, so despite the wobbly legs things still went reasonably OK, and I could maintain a sub 5:45 pace. The 5+ kilometres did feel incredibly far, though, and I was very happy to finally reach the road sign for the little town of Fordell. We turned off at the hotel, right at the entrance to the town, where Wouna and all the other support crews were parked, waiting for runners and walkers to finish the leg.
[Lap time – 00:30]
Leg 9 – 8.74km (by Wouna)
Course description by the organisers: Moderate. Start in Station Road, on gravel. Flat for 600m then downhill for 1km to valley floor. Route turns left at railway and becomes Matarawa Valley Road. Follow alongside railway, undulating, on gravel, for 5km to reach junction with Matarawa Hill Road. Continue on, the now sealed, Matarawa Valley Road for 2.2km to reach T-junction with Okoia Hill Road. Turn right and it is 200m to finish in Okoia village, just before rail crossing.
At this point it was really hot and I just succumbed to the task at hand. I would still have to do my longest leg which would also not be the easiest, but I didn’t gave it a second thought – I just got on with it. The biggest part was on a gravel road and while the big teams’ support vehicles are not allowed on this section, the pairs and solo runners could have their support with them. It helped a lot to reduce the dust and it turned out to be one of the nicest sections. Maybe because I knew it was my last one for the day? More fast runners came screaming past, while we were still passing some walkers.
[Lap time – 00:59]
Leg 10 – 5.8km (by Gerry)
Course description by the organisers: Easy. Follow Okoia Rd, cross railway and turn left into No 3 Line. Flat for 5.5km to reach slight rise 400m from finish. At top of rise veer left, across rail bridge, then 100m to finish, at Wanganui East Club, in Wakefield Street.
And so, after Wouna’s grueling last leg, it was time for me to set off for one last time in the race, with the finish less than 6km away. By now, I have to admit, I lost my sense of humour a bit – my legs were hurting badly, and over the last few kilometres I felt the initial symptoms of cramp starting to set in. Thankfully Wouna remained cheerful and supportive, driving alongside me for extra moral support much of the way.
The last 3 kilometres went on forever, and I had to fall into a run/walk routine on the uphill bits of the final stretch towards Wanganui.
The terrain eventually changed from countryside to town, and suddenly the finish was in site. Crossing the last bridge I shuffled towards the finish line – no doubt a fairly sorry sight, but relieved and happy that we made it.
[Lap time – 00:35]
At the finish things were going quite jolly, and we bought some sausage sizzles which tasted better than a restaurant meal at that moment. Our total time was 06:36. A very nice run. Well organised, most enjoyable. A must on anyone’s calendar for next year! Gerry covered 35.05km and I did 31.30km. This is really not the same as running 30+km in one go, so we still need to do a 28km long-run in the next month.
At the prize-giving Gerry was lucky to win a small coffee plunger, and by five o’clock we were on our way back to Palmy.