Manawatu Striders Half Marathon

I think it’s fair to say that I’m not a very competitive animal. Or am I?

I run for fun. I would never be able to win an event, or be amongst the first 10, or 100 finishers (unless there’s only ten participants), so I don’t do fartleks, or hill repeats or speed work. I just run, for myself and the sense of achievement when completing the odd serious challenge. And for my health. When your doctor and your cardiologist plus your dietician all agree that you should run, you run boy. No questions asked. Every now and again, for whatever reason (wintery weather? laziness?), we take ‘breaks’, where we would completely stop running for a couple of months. But usually we get into again, not without lots of swearing and complaining for allowing ourselves to lose all our fitness and having to start right at the bottom again – what a pain! One great way to break out of an “off” streak, is to enter for an event that would border on the “crazy” side for most non-runners. I firmly believe one should do things that scares you a little. Life begins the moment you step out of your comfort zone, right? And that’s more or less the gist of our running regime for the past 14 years.

When we joined the Manawatu Striders Club at the beginning of the year, they had a social event to welcome all the newcomers. As part of the eats and drinks, a little lucky draw was held and I won an entry to the half marathon. A lovely welcoming gift. It was a great incentive to keep going through winter and not succumb to bad weather and another ‘break’ in our routine. To cement our commitment, we also entered for the Tarawera 100km a couple of months later. No stopping and starting, or taking breaks until February 2015 now!

Back in South Africa, club members usually could not participate in the club’s own races. It was sort of an unspoken rule, gentleman’s agreement if you like, that everybody jump in and help with the organisational side of things; setting up, marshaling, water stations, taking everything down again, etc, etc. A special free helpers run was usually held the week after the event. This was also very much official which meant the distance contributed towards the 1000km challenge if you entered for that. Needless to say, I felt very guilty for not helping at the Striders event. But in all fairness, the fact that new club member are encouraged and allowed to run and the fact that we had other commitments, made me feel a wee bit better.

Since Gerry and I always train and run together – it’s much more fun that way – he basically underperforms at all events. Since the Striders Half is a fairly big event and very social, Gerry decided to give his speedy legs a go to see what he can do. So we decided to run separately. I can honestly not remember the last time we didn’t run 21.1km together.

Then an email circular from the club arrived, reminding club members about the Handicap Cup. To participate you have to supply your times of the all the events (10, 21.1 and 42.2km) you participated in over the last year. I’m not sure exactly how it works and how it’s calculated, but we did as asked and put forward all our times of all the races we did over the last year. This included two road marathons, a 44km off road, two 15km events and seven half marathons, some on-road and some off-road. Average times were calculated from this and the award goes to the club member who’s time at this years half marathon, compared with their average, showed the biggest improvement. We thought there might be a real chance that Gerry could win this, but neither of us knew what he could do over 21kms. He never has to pace, always running well within himself and as we all know, anything can go wrong on race day. I figured that I would just run comfortably and treat the event as my weekly long run. I don’t have a watch and had no idea of the time or how long I’ve been going for at any given point during the race. Rather unusual to lose track of time like that.

The previous time we did the Striders half marathon (in 2011), the course still took you around the Awapuni race course and past Mt Cleese which meant that the race was partially run in the streets of Palmy. It was raining of course. But the route has changed over the past couple of years and apart from a very short section, the complete course is now run on walkways and the Bridle track, with no traffic issues. It is much safer and runners can concentrate on their run and not worry about dodging cars. The helpers event was held the week before and we briefly considered joining, until we woke up to pouring rain. Poor helpers – having to work at the event and getting a raw deal with bad weather at the helpers run! Great was my relieve when we had a gorgeous day for this years half marathon. Sunny with just a light wind.

With the course basically being an out-and-back route in the form of a T, I got to see Gerry twice coming from the front. He seemed comfortable and going great guns. Maybe I just got caught up in the excitement, but shortly after the start, on the downhill section towards Massey’s gate, I decided to just go comfortably fast without killing myself, aiming to finish in under two hours. Without any idea of time, and taking small walk breaks when needed, I tried to gauge my time at the 18km mark. When I made all the sums and realised that I must have covered the first 18km in around 1:40 to be able to break two hours, I figured that was highly improbable (I didn’t think I was going that fast), so I gave up, slowed down and hoped to get in at about 2:07, which is a 6min/km pace. It could just as well have been 2:20, as I had no clue how long I’d been going for. Why did I not ask the first person who passed me?

When reaching the Massey hill at the 20km mark, I took another walk break and realised that quite a few runners have passed me since the 19km mark. Should have known that something was up … When I turned for the final stretch back to the finish, I heard Al’s voice announcing a finish time just a couple of second shy of two hours. That’s when it hit me that all the runners that came screaming past in the last couple of kilometres, probably tried to break the two hour mark. If only I’d known … Oh well, better luck next time. 🙂 Thanks June, for the welcoming hug at the finish!

Still my fastest time in a few years, I finished in 2:00.35. Gerry outdid himself with a great time of 1:42.51!  At the prize-giving I was still making fun of Gerry, teasing him, and telling him it wasn’t fair that he was allowed to participate in the Handicap Cup, when next my name was read out as the female runner winner of the Cup! I nearly fell over from shock. It was the biggest surprise ever. And keeping it in the family, Gerry received the Handicap Cup for the most improved male runner. It was the funniest thing and I still get a giggle when I think about it. 🙂 We both were also lucky draw winners of a 30 minute message, a hair-appointment, a box of chocolates and a couple of discount vouchers. Happy days!

If you haven’t done a Manawatu Striders event, do yourself a favour and enter when next one comes around! The organisation is impeccable and the races are always most enjoyable with lovely eats and drinks and great spot prizes. At no point during the half marathon could anyone get lost, with signage and friendly marshals encouraging participants all along the route. A wonderful event, a lovely day out and certainly a must on the calendar every year. I think I speak for every participant when I say many thanks to our local club – the Manawatu Striders – for staging such a great event. All the time and effort that went into organising such a smooth and well executed event, are much appreciated.

Thanks also to the Rob Weir from the Manawatu Striders for some of the pics and Johann for taking the others of us. Since this was not a social run, neither of us bother to take a camera along.

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