The Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon – 3 May 2014

For 42km I could not find my rhythm or my mojo and therefore also never got into any kind of zone or that happy feeling of “I’m so comfortable I can do this all day long”. Due to various reasons, some quite private (let’s say I had a migraine and an upset stomach), I counted myself lucky to be able to toe the line at the start of the 50th Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon. I had no injuries or great illness to keep me away and marathons like these don’t come along everyday so there we were.

We drove through on the Friday after a hectic week at the office, happy to get away from it all for a while. Gerry booked us into a lovely campsite – Waiteti Trout Stream Holiday Park & Backpackers. After registration and a stroll through the expo (where I was the winner of a lucky spot prize – an Asics waist poach) at the Rotorua Energy Event Centre, we arrived after dark at the cabin. With its own kitchenette we wasted no time to get tea sorted: fried rice with onion, green pepper, tuna and corn, washed down with a cuppa.

As I was physically not at my best, we got to bed early. But all that amounted to was a very long sleepless night. Grumpy and feeling like a train wreck I briefly considered bailing. Needless to say, I didn’t have my best run. But my troubles aside.

As this was the 50th birthday of the Rotorua marathon, the organisers went to great lengths to make this a very special event. About 9000 runners and walkers entered, making this one of the biggest events in the country. Not only does it boast a huge field, but the scenery for the most part is also quite spectacular.

The start and finish is at the Rotorua Energy Event Centre and because of the huge field of participants we ended up way towards the back. It took us about 6 minutes to reach the start. Before the gun went off, 50 golden balloons were released into the sky. Dave Heine, who was the winner of the very first Rotorua marathon 50 years ago, had the honours of firing the cannon indicating the start of the marathon. As reported in the Rotorua Daily Post:

When he won the inaugural race in 1965 the field included 16 runners and was called the Fletcher Rotorua Marathon, organised by the Rotorua Athletic and Harrier Club. It has come a long way, with more than 9000 participants expected to take part this Saturday for the 50th anniversary event. Heine was living in Rotorua when he won the first event and said he had entered simply to do a training run. “I fancied myself as a middle-distance runner,” Heine said. “I entered the marathon as part of a training run for my middle-distance stuff.” About two-thirds of the way through he realised he had a chance of winning. “I thought I could pick up a few of the guys in front. I don’t know if it was me coming through or them dropping off, but I won.” Heine won the first marathon in 2hr 35min 3sec.

The 21 km event were set of at 8:00, and 20 minutes later the marathon runners, followed shortly after by the marathon walkers. The 10.5km and 5.5km events were underway at 8:50.

As the cannon fired, a Maori troupe performed a haka to send us off. A rather memorable start to a great event. In true big race fashion the start and finish shoot were also lined with supporters. Although misty and fairly cold to start off with, the weather could not have been more perfect. A minimum of 4 degrees went up to 17 maximum, with just a slight breeze and a few clouds.

The first few kilometres is run though town until you reach SH5. The course loops the lake in a clockwise direction and after the fork that takes you to Hamilton, you take the right turn and follow the Ngongotaha Road. Although the course can be rated as flat to undulating, there are a couple of hills to negotiate. At about the halfway mark the biggest hill and probably the highest point is enough to reduce quite a few runners to a walk.

Being a relatively “small town” event probably helps to make this the most social run on the calendar. Community involvement makes being out on the road really special. Just about the whole course was lined with supporters and spectators urging runners on. We also found that a lot of the locals jumped in with snacks of all kinds that were offered to runners. From Vegemite sandwiches, a variety of jelly sweets, and pineapple juice to free hugs. 🙂

As everything was a battle for me the halfway mark could not come quick enough. A timing vehicle was parked next to the road and it didn’t help my mood to see that the first half took me about 2:20. The only thing I remember about that special occasion is that I had no idea how I would make it to the end.

Small settlements are dotted all around the lake and the spectacular views made a huge difference to the otherwise very difficult task at hand. Lots of motivational posters specific to runners made by their family and friends were all along the route. And Massey University as one of the sponsors also put up encouraging posters every few kilometres. Bands were playing, bells were ringing and with no shortage of entertainment next to the road, one can’t help but persevere and just keep on keeping on.

Aid stations were all loaded with water and every second one with Powerade, and were about every 4 kilometres – 12 in total. Porta-loo’s were also at all the aid stations, so if you miss one, no worries, there will be another one in 4km.

For me the kilometres came slower and slower, especially after the 30km mark, and every kilometre or so I was reduced to a walk. I desperately wanted to get to the end, especially on very sore legs and feet (on top of other health issues), but could barely get myself to move forward, let alone at a faster pace. After what felt like an eternity we finally reached the town again with only a few more kilometres to go. And at the 40km mark it dawned on me that I could walk to the end and might still make it in at least 5hours.

By then the streets were lined with spectators and supporters cheering, cars hooting and high-fives from kids until you reach the finish shoot for more cheering and clapping for the final couple of hundred metres. What a spectacular finish to a wonderful event.

I am ashamed to admit that I was really happy and relieved to be done with it – which is really not why we do these things. We finished in 4:48 and I could barely believe my luck to be the winner of one of the major spot prizes – a Timex Health Tracker watch!

Back at the cabin, we had a nice warm shower before strolling the 300 metre to the lake for the left over rice meal and some celebratory bubbly, while the setting sun created beautiful colours over the calm lake and surrounding hills.

This event should definitely be on every runner/walker’s bucket list. We might just be back next year.