Armstrong Wellington Marathon

For the past four years since moving to Palmy, we’ve been keen on running the Wellington marathon as a birthday present to myself. I know, that might sound a bit odd to most people, but to treat yourself to something that’s healthy and good for your soul seems to me like a wonderful gift. Especially if you could make sure that you’re fit enough to enjoy the distance rather than it being torture.

Wellington is the second largest (and the capital) city in NZ, and without reading up on the event, I assumed it would be a big city race of at least a few thousand runners. I’m sure I saw somewhere that around 4000 runners partake every year? Surely it wouldn’t be a London or New York size event, but a biggish field was to be expected. Big was my surprise therefore when we arrived at the event to find only about 400 other participants in the marathon distance. It turned out the bulk of runners entered the half and quarter marathon events.

But let me backtrack a little. We planned a nice relaxing weekend away, and Gerry found a flatlet in Wainuiomata, about 30 minute’s drive from Wellington CBD, on a rural lifestyle section called the Moore’s Valley Farm Stay. It is a lovely big place with absolutely everything you might need and more! Really. Everything, including milk and fruit. Wanna do your laundry? You can!

We left Palmy the day before to collect our race packs and spent some time in the beautiful countryside. The trip down was rainy, windy and generally miserable. We caught up with Johann and Nettie who walked us to the registration venue which was at the Armstrong Motor Group showroom not far from where they live. A few stalls were selling all sorts of running gear and we picked up a couple of bargains at the Thermatech stand.

With this, that and the next, we only arrived late in the afternoon at the farmstay where we finally could have a relaxing evening, watching a movie and getting dinner sorted. Fried rice with corn, onion, green pepper, tuna and chilli. My new pre-race favourite.

Unfortunately I was stuck with a buggered neck again. Muscles that were so tight on the one side it felt as if it was going to pull my eyeball right out of its socket!, and causing a terrible headache. Gerry massaged the area for hours to no avail. I tried icing it, alternating with a warm water bottle, but nothing helped. In the end I took tablets and went to bed trying to get some sleep before the race. If only I know about any self help techniques to deal with the effects of an S-curve spine, that is generally speaking literally a pain in the neck!

We had an early morning as the race started at 7:30. It was still dark, dreary and fairly cold as we crawled out of bed, had breakfast and drove into town.

With 3 layers, long bottoms, a Buff around my neck, a beany and a bag of jelly babies, I was as ready as I could be for this event. Not easy to try and stay fit in winter. Johann was doing his first marathon and as we were standing in the cold dark morning waiting for the gun to fire, I couldn’t help thinking back to my first marathon.

It was in January of 2003 and we had only been running for a couple of years. We chose a new event in a small town as our first marathon and were joined by some good running mates. We were all trying to get a decent seeding for the Two Oceans ultra marathon that was due to take place a few months later, around Easter. In South Africa you had to qualify, running a marathon in less than 5 hours, to be allowed to do the Two Oceans (or Comrades) events. And depending on your marathon time, you were seeded accordingly in a block closer to the front on race day. All I remember was that it was tough as! But we had a good run and I was on a high for weeks afterwards.

The Wellington marathon started on the top level in the parking lot of Westpac Stadium, from where you run down a walkway ramp to street level. I knew then already that our biggest hill would be to get back up that ramp at the end of a 42km event for the finish. For the rest you run on the coastline which is rather flat. We stepped out of the building into the cold, wet, darkish morning. Luckily the drizzle cleared as we were off and with just a light wind I guess we couldn’t complain about the weather. Around some of the bays at the far end, it was still way too chilly for me, but it could have been worse. And I’m sure the locals appreciated the cool breeze. Will I ever adapt to a colder climate?

The course is an out and back (with a twist) and follows the waterfront around the bays up to Scorching Bay. In fact, apart from the starting point that is a wee bit further down the road, the course is exactly the same as the Round the Bays Half Marathon we did earlier this year, including the turnaround point.

After about 10/11kms, you run the next approximately 5kms out and back, and out and back again. Therefore covering a half marathon on the same patch of road by doing it four times. The final 10/11kms are then back the same way as the first to Westpac Stadium, with the exception of running the final two or so kms next to the waterfront instead of on the road. The 21.1km course follows the same route out and back, but the turnaround point is shortly before Shelly Bay.

Johann and us ran together for 36kms, after which we decided to split up and make it a “each to his own” for the last 6km. But I was also less strong than I thought and could not go as fast as I hoped. However, we did still manage to jog up the ramp to get to the finish on the top level. Our final time was 4:31.54, and we both felt good. I could still almost walk normal and wasn’t nearly as sore or tired as I was at the Rotorua marathon. The extra seven weeks of training seemed to have worked wonders.

I am hesitant about doing this marathon again, but who knows. Wellington weather is dicey at best and we were extremely lucky to get a good day (in local terms). But the course to me, is a bit disappointing. I realise the amount of effort and organisation that goes into these events and especially city races, so if you can double and triple up on water stations etc, it is a bonus from an organisational point of view. Less marshals, less road closures, safer for the runners etc etc. But to do the same course we’ve done already many times on training runs and in a race, plus having to do the same section four times, was less than ideal from a running point of view. I love circuit races, but that’s what it is then. And this is a city race that almost starts to feel like a circuit race. In an ideal world I would have loved to trail the inner city streets and suburbs around town, experiencing this beautiful city on foot, instead of just running back and forth next to the sea. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a circular route through and around town might attract more participants, making it the big city race Wellington deserves.


3 thoughts on “Armstrong Wellington Marathon

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