I ran the Wellington Harbour Coast Marathon yesterday, finishing 32nd overall, 24th in my category with a time of 3:12:39 – results here. I’m thrilled with the result, and thought a race write-up was in order.

Some beaten up runners, my medal and a source of encouragement

It was a very early start – with the gun going off at 07:30, I was up at about 05:40 in order to get some breakfast in and give it a bit of a chance to get digested. I was in bed early the night before, and the night before that, but didn’t sleep much on Saturday. Still, I’d watched the best pre-marathon advice video I’ve seen, here and was as prepared as I could be. The weather for the day, was a 10°C high, 7°C low, a 37kph southerly and 87% humidity, according to the race website and it felt pretty bleak as the missus gave me a lift to starting area.

We made it to the Westpac Stadium for about 06:40, checked in my bag of clothes for after the race, donned my bin liner and started some gentle stretches & warm-ups.

After the pre-race briefing, we headed out into the pouring rain to the stadium concourse, and lined up at the start. It was a much smaller field than Dublin last year, with 387 people taking part. The half marathon and 10k races, held on the same course that day, had 1,600 and 1,162 finishers respectively and the walks added a few more numbers to those taking part: about 4,000 people in total.

The course itself was an out-and-back route, around the Wellington harbour and bays as far as Breaker Bay and back again. It was cold, dark and windy to begin with, and while the rain eased off a little after a few kilometers, the wind was pretty constant. Thankfully, this was a blessing & a curse, as there was a good chance the wind you fought in one direction would give you a gentle push on the return journey. I drafted as much as I could, and was happy to reciprocate.

My aim for the run was to beat my previous marathon time of 3:30, with a stretch goal of running a 3:15 – during training, I was racking up long runs at 4m 30s/km so felt I might be able to pull it off.

I ran the first 10k in 47:12 a little slower than my ideal pace, but had reached halfway point at 1h37m – bang on target. Then, I picked up the pace a little, with a bit of a mental boost coming from running back past the rest of the field who were still on the first half.

At the end of Shelley Bay Road, we hit the half-marathon turn-around point (the half-marathon run was also an out-and-back route), and a lot of human traffic as a result – the road had been ours so far, and we now had to share it with a much bigger field of runners. Going into the race, I’d thought that the half marathon entrants would be running at a much faster pace (and indeed, the winner of that race did it in 1:08:02 so some of them definitely were!) but further back in the field, they were running slower than I was and I overtook a lot of runners with green race numbers (marathon runners had black race numbers). Again I think that might have given me another subconscious boost, but the best boost of all was seeing the missus and the kids at that point, cheering me on!

During the course of the run, I had exchanged a few words with a fellow runner, who it turned out, was running his 13th marathon, and was running at my pace more or less. So, at this point I decided I’d keep him in view for the remainder of the race, and we overtook each other at a few points during the run back, with general words of encouragement, egging each other on.

At about 38k I was getting pretty tired, but hung on for another few kilometers and then gave it everything I had over the final 2k, really picking up the pace and finally sprinting for the line over the last few hundred meters. I was elated to see a sub-3:15 on the clock as I ran over the line, and have a feeling that most of Wellington heard me whooping with delight! The guy I was chasing probably had a good 30 seconds on me at that point, but he was nice enough to wait around for me at the finish line and exchange congratulations.

As for my splits over the course of the race, I’m not entirely sure: I had been trying to record these every 2 kilometers, but with the drinks station positioning and my missing the occasional marker, what I ended up with is below. They seem a bit suspicious to me in places, but they’re reasonably consistent I think.

time kilometer
9:25 1, 2
8:52 3, 4
8:49 5, 6
21:06 7, 8, 9, 10
5:48 11 (this seems too slow)
8:40 12, 13
17:52 14, 15, 16, 17
16:18 18, 19, 20 (also seems too slow)
10:14 21, 22
8:53 23, 24
8:45 25, 26
9:00 27, 28
9:17 29, 30
9:27 31, 32
17:56 33, 34, 35, 36
9:13 37, 38
8:36 39, 40
12:25 41, 42 (I stopped my watch as I crossed the line, but
found that while stretching afterwards, I had started the stopwatch again,
so this last split is definitely wrong

This was my 2nd marathon, but it went a lot better than the last time. I was following exactly the same training plan from Hal Higdon’s website, with the only major gaps being the two weeks at the beginning when I had a cold, and the week or so in the middle when we were moving the family down to New Zealand.

I kept a physical training log this time around, pinned to the fridge so I’d always see it, as well as a version on Google Wave for a bit of self-induced peer-pressure. The yellow entries were runs I completed and orange being ones I missed, and my aim was to make the page turn from white to yellow with as few orange bits as possible (inspired by unit-testing – I think I should have picked green & red highlighters :-) Towards the end of the program, I wasn’t too worried about missing runs during the taper.

Tim's Training Log

I did a few things differently this time around, and I think they helped me a great deal during the race:

  • The Ngaio Gorge and its hill! When we moved to Wellington, my running routes changed to include a lot of hills (Wellington isn’t a flat city) and despite my complaining about them and the really crappy weather we’ve been having here, in retrospect, I think the hill running during the 2nd half of my training was the key thing that made me faster and tougher over the distance.
  • I tried as much as possible to stick to a constant pace – not to panic when things were a little slow at the start of the race, but to just keep an eye on my time credit/debit at the kilometer markers and make gentle adjustments to my pace.
  • I ate jelly babies fairly constantly during the race, as opposed to just when I felt I needed them (or deserved them!) Last time around I alternated between fig rolls and jelly babies, but I found the jelly babies on their own much easier to eat on the run.
  • I only drank water from the drinks stations during the race, and avoided the Powerade that was supplied, with the only exception being the 250ml of fresh orange juice (with a fair bit of salt added) that I was carrying, which I drank at about 37k. If I do another marathon, I might try to find out what energy drink the race provides, and add that to my training to see if it makes a difference.
  • I ran farther during training: I know this is up for debate, but felt that during the last marathon, the 20 mile (32k) long runs I was doing didn’t prepare me for those final 10k. This time, my longest training run was 37k, with an additional 4.1k of a gentle jog/walk back up the Ngaio Gorge – practically a marathon during training, and while I only did that once, I do think it helped.

Today, I feel a lot better than I remember the day after my first marathon – stairs today aren’t as scary as they were last October, and my John Wayne impression isn’t nearly as good as it was last year. That said, there’s an element of this in the way I’m moving about today (except the bit with the nipples, elastoplast FTW :-).

Will I do another marathon? Yes, probably – though I somehow doubt I’ll be able to make as much of an improvement in my PB next time around, we’ll see how things go. For now, recovery beckons.