Sunday, October 29, 2017

The day

This day has been only one thing. And it was the most challenging thing I've ever done. In the comparison of expectations and reality, it was a bit of a let down but reality is all that counts. The marathon, I say stating the obvious, is a very long race. A lot can happen.

I woke at 3am, got ready and headed to the city. I was kitted up in race gear with nothing else on top, and the first surprise, which shouldn't have been a surprise, Auckland CBD was a wild Saturday night, which I was greeting with Sunday morning eyes. I felt quite self-conscious walking among revellers with my race bib on my front. I left on the 4:20am ferry to Devonport. The area was still getting reading but I like to take all the time in the world warming up, getting my head there. It was a warm humid morning, apparently 16 degrees. The hour and a half to start breezed by and before I knew it I was in my pace group. I was going to follow the 3:30 pace group which the pace calculators suggested would be a good, but slightly conservative pace. The horn blew and we were off.

I restrained my speed with only marginal success in the first 5km, keeping just below 5min/km pace and trailing the pace group. This annoyed me a little because the pace group should have been further back. After early hills, I decided to get in front of the pack and probably went to fast at this juncture. I slowed a touch before the harbour bridge and that's when I heard the pace group a few metres behind me. Pacers, by their function, attract groups and that group was about 30 strong. I didn't want to particularly be right in front of them, nor right behind them so I went a little faster to get some space. I'd been distantly tracking a friend Ian and eventually caught up with him at this stage. I felt pretty good so after a brief chat, I floated down the other side of the harbour bridge. And after a loop-de-loop I was at the viaduct, clicking the half-way mark at 1:43:15. A slow half marathon pace, and 4:54km/min pace. It was in the pace range I'd aimed for but it wasn't long after half-way that I realised the goal wasn't realistic.

The course is an interesting one to think about. First half: diverse hills, a motorway section, the bridge; second half: flat, to St Helliers and back. It was when I was passing Britomart that my feet started to feel heavy. I kept going a pretty good clip but by the time I was getting to Kohimarama I felt like I wasn't going to be able to continue at the pace. I had a toilet break and when I resumed I still felt pretty slow. After the turn at St Helliers I walked sections, especially those with drinks, and ran at a slow dawdle in between. It was agony. It took a lot of effort to get the will to resume running. Fortunately, my usually slower friends were all coming either the other way and then eventually from behind to overtake me and they all pushed me onwards.

Also fortunately the IT bands, though occasionally threatening, never eventuated. My biggest problem was garden-variety fatigue. I had other nuisances like my ears popping and my stomach was in some distress. With the walk/run rhythm, my pace dropped for the last 10km to between 5:45 and 6:30 mins per kilometre. Fortunately, again, and to state the obvious, that was still moving at a reasonable pace even though all dreams of 3:30 were long since impossible. By the time I'd gotten to the intersection to Grafton I only stopped once for a drink. All the running felt on the knife-edged of stopping. The track weaved through the back streets of the viaduct and then finally to Victoria Park. They'd made the decision this year to have the final stretch in the centre of the park. The effect was good! It was a lift to have a grand finish. I ran in at 3:46:35. And could barely walk for at least another hour.

So, I'm a marathoner! My time, though not heroically amazing, is on the board. I have an experience to understand the race for the future, too. Though I still feel a little embarrassment in undercutting my target and suffering so much, it'll be what drives me in my next big run. Importantly I wasn't injured besides some friction-related bother. Now's a time to rest and let my body get over it and then I can plan my next exploit!

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