Sunday, March 7, 2010

A little late perhaps, but I figured this race needed a recap for future reference.

A very close girlfriend of mine called me one morning with desperate plans to go to New Zealand. Knowing how to play my cards right, I woke Bryan up and in his half-sleep state he said I could go. The trip was only 3 weeks out, so I had some planning to do…stat! The very first thing I did after we spoke on the phone about me accompanying her (she already had her ticket booked) was to go online to see what kind of races they had going on. As only fitting for an awesome vacation, I found a marathon on the North Island that started Mt. Taranaki and wound its way down to the water’s edge (quite literally). I signed up for the race after a bit of confusion about currency and whether I’d made the cutoff, but sure enough when I showed up to the packet pickup they had my bib ready to go.

I didn't do much running the week before the race, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to run along the water (and perhaps skinny dip in the Pacific...). I think I ran a total of 3 times while we were traveling, though the times I did run were quite memorable. 

The night before the race my friend (Erin) and I stayed at a hostel, which was guarded by an evil old lady who seemed to have a strong disliking for young American gals who wanted to use the internet and washing machine (not at the same time, mind you). Our interactions with this woman were so weird and ridiculous we found it quite comical. 
Chef Erin, with deliciously fresh tomatoes & basil
That night, Erin cooked me a fabulous pasta dinner to get the carbo-loading under way. Erin is a fabulous cook, so dinner was no doubt fabulous. I spent a few minutes getting my things together, and made sure my Gu's were pinned on tight (my B.O.A. shorts have pockets that don't seem to understand they are meant to hold stuff). They survived the shaky-test, which involves me flailing around with Gu's in the pockets to make sure they won't fall out. Success. 

(yes, I'm wearing my shorts over my pajamas)

The morning of the race I had an early wake up to check the clothes in the dryer and pray they had dried over night (phew, they did), so I was able to show up to the race with my clothes on. Close call. I had a toasted bagel in the kitchen, where 3 other weary travelers who came in late the night before were also gearing up for the race.

I dragged poor Erin’s butt out of bed so she could shuttle me to the buses. Seriously, this girl was a trooper. She knew how much I enjoyed marathons and seemed genuinely excited for me that I was able to run one in New Zealand.

The buses were at a hotel, where all of the runners huddled around in the cool morning wind. As I loaded the bus and sat down, I was amused to find myself sitting next to an American woman who is a marathon maniac and working on her 50 states. In a very serious, concerned voice I told her that New Zealand will not count towards her goal. We pretty much killed the entire ride in the dark on the way to the start talking about all of the races we’ve done, comparing notes on favorites. The buses slowed to a crawl as we headed up a steep climb on Mt. Taranaki.

Side note: Mt. Taranaki is the scene in the Tom Cruise movie “The Last Samurai”. I was later informed that Tomkat owns a farm of some sort out where we were going to be running.

We finally reached the gates to the entrance of the National Park, which was to be our starting point for the marathon. The sun was barely starting to come out as we waited patiently for turns in the porta-potty. It wasn’t really a porta-potty though, there were portable bathrooms inside of trailers that were towed by truck. It was really weird. To make matter worse, they had all overflowed but people were still using them. Apparently the confusion of actually having to pump a handle to “flush” the toilet was lost on most. At any rate, I managed to sneak in there pre-overflow, and was capable of flushing. (Go America!)

It was finally time to line up at the start, so I reluctantly shed my layers to put back in my gear bag. It was pretty chilly…something degrees Celsius. Erin and I had a good long brainstorming session about the conversion of Fahrenheit to Celsius, but never quite came to a conclusion. At any rate, it was cold and windy on top of the mountain. I noticed a few people sporting their Boston marathon jackets, and thought about my visit to Bean town in just 6 short weeks. Or was it 5? Hmm.

I huddled near the front of the race, still not sure if I was racing it or taking it easy. I obviously hadn’t planned on running a marathon that weekend, but I knew I was in marathon shape. I decided to just run how I felt, and I really didn’t care what my time was. I figured I could squeak out a 3:30 without much effort, so maybe I should run that pace. Wait, what is a 3:30 pace? No clue.

I hear people chatting excitedly and look to see what the commotion is about. There’s a giant working his way up to the front of the crowd. No really, I think he’s 8’ tall. When he finally stands DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF ME, I realize he’s wearing these God-awful kangaroo type shoes. I’ll have to post a picture, there’s no better way to describe them.

The concept is that you “bound” while you run, which is easier on your joints and supposedly a better workout. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen at the start of a marathon, hands down. He’s bragging to the people around him about how fast he can run in them, and all I can think is that I have a frigging kangaroo retard in front of me.
Sunrise while waiting for the start

The gun goes off and the small crowd starts down the mountain. I realized immediately I should have thought more about the course profile, because the serious downhill for the first couple of miles is begging for sub7 splits. I hold back, then think what the heck? Why not. I cruise down the hill, but definitely try to keep the pace in check. Unfrtunately I saw 6:45 way too often for the first stretch. As we came out and away from the mountain we were consumed by all kinds of livestock land. There were pastures of sheep, and the undeniable stench of a pig sty. I thought how different this race is from my last two (Philly, Rnr Phoenix). I appreciated the stillness of the scenery in the early morning hours, and was completely happy to be trekking along in an unfamiliar country.

Finally around mile 5 the hills started coming. Nothing too serious, but there were so many hills that it was just annoying. You were running up, then down, then up, then down. At one point I recall looking at some cows eating grass, thinking they had the right idea. Not that grass is my thing. I saw a field with some horses and a couple of ponies in it, and I was really tempted to go say hello. Only in a marathon would I run past horses without stopping for a visit (later at Big Sur I prove this theory to be false).  I’m struggling with the hills by mile 8, and I’m not happy with how difficult it feels. My pace is slowing drastically on the uphills, between 8:00-8:30. Downhill still seems fine, I wasn’t yet feeling the effects of all the downhill pounding. Around this time I also started feeling very warm. The temperature was fine, probably high 60s or low 70s (Fahrenheit), but the sun was unforgiving. The hole in the ozone thing is really a problem if you don’t want to be burned to a crisp. I had put sunscreen on before the race (which I never do), but my skin still felt like it was about to catch on fire.

The course leads us away from the farmland and in to a town, where the relay teams were waiting anxiously for their partners to come rolling through. Here I noticed the difference between the New Zealand marathon and every other marathon I’ve ever run…the crowds were silent. No one cheered, they only cheered for their friend/family. It was really awkward running through the streets with small clumps of people standing on the side of the road just staring at me as I ran by.  Since I’m not a fan of people screaming in my face while I’m running, I was somewhat thankful that their cheering culture did not support the use of cowbells or obsessive screaming.

After making it through the town we dumped on to the side of a highway where the speed limit was 100km/hr (66 mph). There was a shoulder, but it still didn’t feel very safe with semi trucks flying around the corner. To further complicate safety matters, there were walkers who started the race 2 hours before the marathon start, and the runners were finally catching up to them. I have nothing against people who choose to walk a marathon, good for them for getting out there…but, please don’t walk 2 abreast when there’s limited running space and people are trying to pass you!! I was so annoyed that I kept getting stuck behind people walking because they refused to walk single file along the side of the highway, and I had to jump around them in between bursts of traffic while avoiding getting hit. I decided to calm down a little and just run it easy…dialing things back to an 8:00 pace. I was feeling really hot, and the walkers were really starting to piss me off.

I finally started calling ahead to the walkers to stand by, some of them seemed surprised that I was announcing myself. Screw this, I’m not getting hit by a car while trying to pass the walkers. I thought things would get better once I passed the last of the walkers, but then I just ended up passing the runners who had started off to fast and were now barely jogging. They were much more in tune with the traffic situation though and let the faster runners pass. A girl game running up behind me and seemed hell bent on being my personal cheerleader. She was running the 2nd leg of the relay, and thought she was being helpful by telling me how great I’m doing. I explained to her that I’m just fine, and I have no intention of trying harder. She seemed perplexed by this, but I didn’t feel like explaining that I’m running Boston in a month and this is just for fun.

The last 10k of the race is somewhat of a blur. We ran on the road, nothing spectacular to comment about. I did notice in the last mile there was a serious traffic jam for cars trying to head towards the race finish line, and I thought to myself that Erin is probably going to be backed up in that mess somewhere. We finally made the turn in to a park where the finish line was staged, and I could see it off in the distance. I thought about running the last mile hard, but didn’t care enough to pick it up. I was having fun, and for today fun was not fast. I had a good first half (1:35) at my Boston pace, the rest was a long cool down. As I headed in to the finish chute, an older woman tore past me in the final steps. I never heard her coming, so I didn’t havea  chance to react before we crossed the finish line. Later when I saw the results, she was actually 10 seconds slower than me because she started earlier (ha ha). I finished in 3:25 (which some how earned me 2nd in my AG), and felt surprisingly fine. A good effort, but not enough to drain me.

I was a little sad that they didn’t have any metals for the finishers, as this would’ve been a cool addition to my moto wall. I hobbled over to the gear tent, found my bag, and laid down for a nap. I didn’t know where Erin was, but she wasn’t at the finish. Since we didn’t have any cell phones, I just had to pray that she would be able to find me. I dozed for a minute and just reflected on how beautiful the country is, and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to run a race in such an amazing place.

Maybe a half an hour later a toe nudges me awake, and Erin’s at my side all smiles and happy to see me in one piece. She helps me to my feet and I finally start to notice how spectacular the finish area really is. There’s a beautiful view of Plymouth Bay with dark black sand on the shoreline.
The duck-walk

There are a few fisherman who seem somewhat annoyed by the runners taking their post-race dip in the water. Since we have a good 6 hour drive ahead of us before I’ll have a chance to shower, I strip off my shirt and shoes and head for the water. It’s cccccold! It reminded me of when I swam in the water in Monterey, California and its 55 degree refrigerator water. I splashed around for a few minutes and quickly got out of there. We headed back to Erin’s car, me dripping pools of water, and I manage a funky change of clothes without too many people seeing my white butt.

With that, we hit the road and headed off to our next great adventure.