Date: 14 July
Distance: 21.1 (we measured 21.4)
When training and running trail ultras, one tends to run yourself unfit with regards to normal road running. Unless, of course, you do all the homework for both disciplines and can still manage to run a decent, consistent pace whether it be on or off road. They are for the most part two very different types of sport and specificity is key when training for the one or the other. As someone who certainly enjoys both (running is running to me) I try to enter a variety of events, both on and off road.
Our previous significant goal was the UTA for which we did a lot of trails and off road training. Two of the three ultra events we used as training and build up were trail runs and we ended up spending most of our available time on the trails or at least on gravel roads in preparation for UTA.
Earlier in the year, long before UTA, we also entered for the Tauranga marathon. At the time the event was months away and I was certain I could start in earnest to train more specific, and on-road for it after UTA. With about seventeen weeks between the two events there should theoretically be more than enough time to get ready for the road marathon. While running, or shall I rather say covering a 100km should give you some form of base fitness, the reality proved different. I’ve realised that “covering” ultras only serve to give you endurance, stamina, perhaps some leg strength and time on your feet. In terms of running at a six minute per kilometre clip for an extended period of time you also need your heart and lungs to play ball. And that is the part of the equation that I neglected in training for the most part this year. I can keep on moving forward for days on end, but don’t ask me to run continuously at an average running pace.
Being sick after UTA with forced time off, a frustrating month followed where I tried to gradually build up distance. Unfortunately, I did not feel like I made any progress. In fact, I was going backwards. The more I implemented my run-walk strategy (as you do with ultras if you’re an average runner) the less I could will my mind into running continuously for five or eight or ten kilometres at a time. Long runs were just something I dreaded because I knew I was going to fall back into ultra mode by walking as much as running. I could not make the shift to running continually for extended periods.
A couple of weeks ago by hook or crook I managed a 10km training run at a six minute per kilometre pace and thought that there was finally some progress. But the week following that I was back to square one. Admittedly I am somewhat unorganised and not much of a rigid training programme follower, so when the weather turns nasty I adapt by running shorter or skip a run altogether. This haphazard training regime is not something you can get away with on road running. It might not be frowned upon to take seven or eight hours to do a trail marathon, but on-road the marshals will be long gone and everything packed up.
To put it into perspective, the well known Comrades marathon has a marathon qualifying time of five hours. Anything slower and you’re not even allowed to enter. Thousands of average runners do Comrades. So personally I have always felt that to run a road marathon in under five hours (that’s approximately a 7min/km pace) is not great (when you’re a 4min/km kind of runner), but it is also not shameful. It has always been my benchmark. If I can manage that, I’m still okay. Obviously one always hopes and aims to be a bit quicker.
Searching for some half marathon events to use as long training runs and to gauge our progress for the marathon in September, we could only find a handful of events, most of which we’ve already done before multiple times (Wellington, Norsewood to Takapau). And since this year we aim to do mostly events we haven’t done before, we opted to try the Cape Egmont Half which saw its first running last year. The course follows quiet country roads between farms and small towns on the western side of Mt Taranaki.
The event was created by Nicky Smith to honour a good mate (also a runner), as well as her dad, who lost their respective battles against cancer. All proceeds go to the Cancer Society. At $55 late entry fee we figured it won’t break the bank and it is for a good cause. Don’t we all know someone, or a few, friends and family who have lost their battle to cancer.
The days leading up to the event, Gerry was following the weather forecasts feverishly. The winter weather has been rather unpleasant with a lot of rain (which we are grateful for), but also wind and mostly grey, cloudy days which just makes everybody depressed and miserable. The lack of Vit D (short days, too many layers, spending too much time inside, etc) has an impact on the hardiest of souls and we all end up feeling a little blue and sorry for ourselves.
We left Saturday morning and looking at the weather yet again, I feared that the event might be cancelled. Heavy rain, squally thunderstorms, hail and gale force winds were in the forecast, and I questioned our sanity for even making the three hour trip. Luckily, run or no run, it was also an opportunity to catch up with good friends living in New Plymouth. We arrived early and in the afternoon we went to the Cancer Society’s buildings next to the hospital to register. We met Nicky and some of the other volunteers before heading back to our friends for a lovely dinner, desert and too much wine which also resulted in a late night. I don’t take this running-thing very seriously, do I?
During the evening it started to rain, at times quite heavy. We got up before 6am in order to leave before 7am for the 30+minute drive to Okato. Race briefing was scheduled for 7:30 and the race started at 8am. Needless to say, we were late to arrive at the Coastal Taranaki School for race briefing as we also had to park quite far away. The hall was packed and a lot of us ended up having to prick up our ears in the lobby to hear what was going on. The course changed from the previous year, as it apparently was over 22km then.
After briefing we were walked to the start (800 metres away) by the volunteer who also set us off. It was raining as promised and we all looked a bit nervous at what more the weather would throw at us over the next few hours. About 280 runners, walkers and team participants lined up for the 2019 event, and it was good to see a few Manawatu Striders out there. Two of them subsequently took first and third place in the half marathon walking category.
We were counted down and headed off on a quiet farm road in the country with the wind from the side. With the persistent rain and wet road, it didn’t take long before my shoes and socks were also wet. I wore a Thermatech base layer, followed by a polyprop vest, and a decent rain jacket, and also long leggings and two headbands. Although on the cool side, the temperature wasn’t too bad and I quickly became toasty and quite sweaty.
Shortly after the first water point (at 4.5km) the heavens opened up with truckloads of rain and hail pissing down. Even though we were very wet right through by then already, it got even worse and my black pants looked like I just came out of the water with a wetsuit after the swim leg of a tri. We were utterly drenched to the bone. Since it wasn’t all that cold, I wondered if less clothes might not have been better, but when I saw the two girls in singlets ahead of us cringing from the hail hitting their bare shoulders, I was thankful again for all the layers.
Not long after the second water point (at 9.5km) I started getting cold. The wind picked up even more and by then we’ve had wind from both sides, a tail wind (which was great) as well as a head wind for a short bit. We were heading towards the sea and the wind either got colder, or being wet for so long started to take its toll. My fingers were getting numb and it became harder to open the ziploc bag for sustenance (I went for dates this time, after reading what ill effects corn syrup fructose (which is the base of almost all sweets) can have on your tummy). Not that I’ve ever had much issues with an upset tummy on a run, but I figure it might not be such a bad idea to try and minimise the amount of refined sugar I take anyway.
After we had been going for about 14km without walking, I realised that I was almost back into “unknown territory”, being one of the longer continuous road runs I’ve done in quite a while. Our last road half marathon event was in October of last year. Also in the Naki, no less.
The third and final water point was at about 15km, and crossing SH45 to head towards the Cape Egmont lighthouse, we had about three kilometres to go. I was somewhat over the rain by then and was looking forward to a warm cup of coffee. At the finish we were made welcome by Nicky, handed a medal before heading to the drop-bag tent to sign back in, get a banana and water, and collect our dry clothes. We only took dry tops for afterwards and walking around with still soaking wet pants, socks and shoes was cold to say the least. Unfortunately we missed the bus by a couple of minutes and then had to wait in the cold wind for another hour before we could catch the next bus. Since the event is a point-to-point, we needed a lift back to our car and luckily the organisers provided for that at a small donation.
Back at the school, we had to walk the 500 metre to our car which was the final straw to chill me to the bone. With the heater on full blast and another cup of coffee from a local cafe, my hands started to get some life back into them, but the tips of my fingers were needles and pins. First time that happened to me which I found odd.
Back at our friends we had a warm shower, and were treated to lovely lunch. On the way back to Palmy, the sun came out for a brief moment and it appeared as if the worst of the weather were behind us. What lucky fish we were to experience the worst of the weekend’s weather on a 21km run!
Overall a good run, well organised, and great volunteers. While the course is on quiet country roads, the supporter vehicles makes it quite busy. The first 9.5km is mainly uphill while the second half is basically downhill all the way. Was it not for the fact that I saw that on Strava, I would never have thought that to be the case. It felt like we were going uphill most of the way. Nonetheless, a good event, well worth making the trip for, and all for a good cause to boot.