I ran the 2011 Wellington Marathon on the 19th of June – that was my 3rd marathon, and without doubt, the toughest one I’ve done to date. As with the other races that I’ve
run, here’s a writeup of my experiences.

There’s also an official race report, if you’re interested.

Going into the build-up for the race this year, my goal was to try to beat last year’s time, but really I wanted to see if I had a sub-3hr marathon in me, I knew it’d be a stretch, but I was going to give it a try.

With that in mind, I stepped up to the next level of training, getting serious about it. As with earlier years, I thought I’d stick with Hal Higdon’s training program, but this time going for the Advanced – I plan. Over and above the “Intermediate – 2” plan that I followed last year, this one added speed-work, hill repeats, tempo runs, and an extra day of running.

So, for 18 weeks during the lead up to the marathon, I was running 6 days a week, which was extremely grueling – not just for me, but also for my long-suffering family. They were incredibly supportive during the training, thanks Bob, Ella & Calum!

As before, I took a unit-test-inspired approach, printing out the training plan and sticking it to our fridge, with an aim of turning it green. Days when I just couldn’t be bothered running would get a red mark, days when I was unable to run, either because I was sick or because of work-pressure would be highlighted in yellow. Otherwise, I got on with the training, and slowly coloured each square green when I could. Ella was happy to help colouring too, she did a great job!

Overall, I was happy with the training progress – here’s the completed chart. I was sick for about 10 days in total, and if you match up pkg(5) integration dates for the projects I was working on, you can probably spot where work got in the way of running :-)

During training, I was getting my Yasso repeats up to the point where I was definitely in the right ballpark for a sub-3hr finish.

As I got closer to race day though, I became uncertain whether I’d be able to run the pace I was aiming for over the full distance. The longest I’d run at full race-pace was 16k. Still, I reasoned that those 16k were very hilly during training, so perhaps on the flat, I’d be alright. There was only one way to find out.

Race day, like last year, was cold and wet – a marathon at the end of June is in the depths of winter here. We lined up on the concourse of the Westpac stadium at 7:30am ready for the off.

My first few kilometers were slow as I moved through the pack, and I only looked at my watch as we approached Te Papa seeing that I was a little behind. I picked up the pace a bit, before settling into my race-pace.

The wind around the Wellington bays was strong and gusty, and like last year, I drafted when I could and took my turn. Getting out towards Shelly Bay, my 10k time was looking good – there was another runner doing about the same pace as me so we hung on and kept each other going. At this point, I was running a pace of between 4:01 and 4:12/km (depending on wind and water stations, I guess) which should have had me finishing around 2:52:00 – bang on the pace I was hoping for.

Thinking about pacing before the race, I had eventually decided that I’d go out with a really aggressive pace, aiming for well under a 3hr finish, rather then being more conservative and potentially making it over the line in 3:01 or thereabouts. While just scraping over the line sub-3hr would have been great,
I’d hate to have put in all that effort, and only miss my goal by a few seconds.

The question I faced was, was I willing to potentially blow my chances of beating last year’s time at all or risking the dreaded “DNF” (Did Not Finish), just to avoid the anguish of barely missing a sub-3hr finish? Yes, I was.

At the half-way turn-around, things were still going well. I was keeping to my pace, and feeling quite good about progress so far, but they say the first half of a marathon is just about transport – the race really begins at the halfway mark.

My pace slowed slightly leading up to the 30km mark and then I hit the wall – or rather, my legs did.

With only 10k to go, I started feeling slight twinges in my calves, which made me extremely worried. I tried easing up on my pace a little, to give my legs a chance. Apart from my legs though, I still felt good at this point – I wasn’t tired or out of breath, and definitely had fight left in me.

Unfortunately, things only got worse from here. As I made it back along the route we’d taken earlier, now joined by the half-marathon runners, the cramps in my legs became worse. At water stations, I’d drop to walking pace, trying to struggle back up to at least a 5:00/km pace when I started running again, but the cramps persisted and continued to get worse, as did the pain.

Partly it was pain in my legs, which was getting really intense at this point, but also it was from seeing my goal-time slipping away from me: there was nothing I could do about it.

The last 5k were gruesome – I just wanted to finish the race at this point, and didn’t care what sort of time I’d finish in. Finally limping over line, I was happy it was over, but depressed at the same time.

As it turned out, I did beat last year’s time of 3:12:39, with a 3:11:37 finish. So, was all the training leading up to the race worth a finish time of only 62 seconds faster than last year?

Well, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t hugely disappointed with my result, but at the same time, I keep telling myself that a 3:11 marathon finish isn’t shabby by any measure. I know I’m faster than that, but I’m still weighing up whether I want to try to prove it or not next year.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break from running – give it a few months and perhaps I’ll be back on the roads again, but for now, I’m enjoying the extra free time I suddenly seem to have!

Race results, and splits from my watch during the race are below:

Tim Foster – bib number 224
Division M18-39
Net time 3:11:37
Net place 25th of 370 total finishers
24th of 259 male finishers
16th of 136 M18-39 finishers
Average pace 04:32/km
Km split cumulative time
1,2 8:48
3-5 15:39 24:27
6,7 7:51 32:19
8,9 8:10 40:29
10,11 8:25 48:55
12,13 8:28 57:24
14,15 8:04 1:05:28
16,17 8:03 1:13:31
18,19 8:16 1:21:48
21.2 4:34 1:26.22 ( half way marker )
22 3:40 1:30:02
23,24 8:20 1:38:22
34,25 8:31 1:46:54
26,27 8:27 1:55:22
28,29 8:43 2:04:05
30,31 9:45 2:13:51
32,33 9:13 2:23:05
34,35 10:58 2:34:03
36,37 11:21 2:45:25
38,39,40,41,42.2 49:17 – that’s wrong, I forgot to stop my watch