Keep calm and run a marathon.

Murphy has a lot to answer to. His law seemed to prevail this past week. If it could go wrong, then it would.

There was the last minute accommodation kerfuffle, which finally got sorted to everyone’s satisfaction. There was the realisation that I had neglected to book a flight with bag and my suitcase was slightly too big for cabin baggage. I bluffed my way through that one. There was Signor Grumpy who refused to allow me to order a full sized meal of pumpkin risotto even though it was offered as a side. Consequently I was a little hungry going to bed the night before a marathon.

There was losing everyone in the crowds 10 minutes before the start and still carrying my gear bag. I finally found Rodger in the starting chute and he ran forward with my bag to give to his wife.

It was now less than five minutes to the start. Time to take some deep breaths. Focus. Five months of training was about to tested.

Someone began to sing the waiata, and then the rest if the kapa haka group joined in. Straight into the haka. The countdown. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. BOOM!!! The cannon blasts. We were off.

The running of the 50th Rotorua marathon. A marathon chosen because this is my 50th birthday month(ish).

My goal was to head out at 5:05 pace, hold it steady through the hills which were fairly steady from 5k with a big saddled climb between 20 and 25k, and then one last long climb at 30k.

I checked my Garmin. It just didn’t look right. Shit. The last time I had worn it I had been on my bike and it was still set in bike mode. I couldn’t remember how to change it. Dammit. Damn that bloody Murphy. I would have to run with it registering average speed in kilometres rather than pace. Oh well.

First k done, I felt really comfortable but the pace (which flashes with every k in tiny little writing) was 4:52. Too fast. I tried to slow down, but literally couldn’t. The next 10k were pretty much all bang bang bang around the 4:50 mark. I felt really easy.

It was tough running though, through the suburbs and then alongside the main highway out of Rotorua to Hamilton and Auckland. There was a lot of traffic, and noise.

We had driven the route yesterday so I knew vaguely what lay ahead. A lot of hills barely noticeable in the Holden but big climbs on foot. I am strong on hills and have the experience now to keep a steady pace on both sides. First 5k done in 24 minutes. Seems slow for a 5k but not in a marathon.

I first ran Rotorua in 2008. It was only my second marathon and I was pushing for 3:50 which would have been a Boston qualifier in those days. I went out too fast, burned on the hills, and suffered through the final 18 kilometres into a headwind, for a time of 3:55. No Boston for me that time.

So I knew Rotorua was a tough taskmaster. As we had discussed the previous night, it used to be called the Rotorua Challenge!

With all the snafu over my gear bag I had not managed a final pit stop. My gut had been iffy for the previous 36 hours and you’d think would have had nothing left. With all my blood going to the muscles, luckily it seemed to forget it had wanted a final visit to the poop deck. (I have been reading about Captn James Cook who mapped NZ in the Endeavour). My bladder was on temporary hold.

This race had big numbers for a NZ marathon. I was not running alone. In fact I was tripping over people, especially at drink stations. At one stage I flung my arm out to give a thumbs up to a bagpiper and nearly took someone’s eye out. He was trying to pass on my inside. Whoops.

My running club had six people running in our distinctive royal blue singlet with bright orange horizontal stripe. It clearly states Christchurch Avon Athletic Club, front and back. It was great. So many people cheered me on, “Go Christchurch”. A lot of NZ feel sorry for what we are living with, and many if them have not actually spoken to someone who has lived through the earthquakes and flooding. It was very warming.

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My bib also had my name on it. So I got a lot of “Go Robyns.” That really helps. Everyone got a thumbs up. The volunteers on the drinks station all got thanked.

We are leaving suburbia, and running closer to the lake. Rotorua is the centre of the geothermal region. There is an ever present smell of rotten eggs. And little pockets of steam just vent out of the ground, anywhere and everywhere. Boiling mud. Spouting geysers. It is surrounded by volcanoes, long since extinct, but not so far south there are still Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngarahoe. I was going to be mightily pissed if volcanic activity ruined this weekend!

10k done in 48 minutes.

A couple of dudes caught me. They had bunches of blue helium balloons. They were the 3:30pacers. I was still worried about my pacing, feeling it was too fast, so I planned to stick with them. My AA goal was sub3:30 but I really thought that was a fantasy considering the hilliness and my PB is 3:27. So my more realistic A goal was 3:32 but I expected to run 3:36, and would be happy with under 3:40.

I hadn’t set split times to meet. This was was going to be run by feel/effort. Because it was also the NZ marathon champs I knew there were some big names. And because it is located centrally to the biggest population bases, more people would attend. Not so many North Islanders bother to travel when the champs are in the South Island.

These pacing guys were running steadily, but I felt they were running a little fast for a 3:30 finish. Still I kept up with them through the big hills. They were big hills. Climbing for about 2k, traversing a saddle for just under a k, up again and then a long steep descent. I knew this is where you could trash your legs for the long run home. The balloons got ahead of me a bit. But I thought if they got home in 3:30 and I could still see them, then I would hit my 3:32.

Through the half way mark at 1:44. My Garmin was running between 200 and 300m ahead of the k markers, but there was a clock at halfway.

We hit the turn for home just short of 25k. Six years ago this is where some bastard tied a parachute filled with bricks onto my waist and I struggled to tow them home. This time I was tired but focussed. My average speed was 12.5k. That used to be my top interval speed on the treadmill! Oh how I have learned so much.

Other people seemed to have attracted the load of bricks. There were a lot of people walking now. We started another big long climb. I thought I could see another blue and orange singlet ahead of me. I pushed a bit harder and closed the gap. Sure enough it was Rodger, struggling. He has been dealing with an ongoing hamstring-glute injury and trying to fix it with wacky-doodle treatments. He was aiming for a 3:10 finish, even though it was obvious he was never going to do it. I always wondered if I would beat him this weekend. In the end he pulled out at the 30k mark. Sorry Rodger. With true Kiwi love and support he has been the butt (pun intended) of all our jokes since. The best being that it was the start of the duck shooting season, and Rodger bagged the biggest duck (a cricket term which means you are out for no runs).

That bloody headwind was back again. It was tough, mentally and physically. I felt like I was making no progress, whereas I was still running about 5:13 pace. My maths head was tired and I was doing crazy calculations. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stop. I wanted to be there. My toe hurt – there was a blister eruption growing. Must obey the rules and not wear new shoes!

But the ks kept ticking off. I kept battling the wind. I kept pushing it harder than I wanted to. The road is interminably straight. I have been passing people but still being passed by others. There are the half marathon walkers taking up space. And the next day driving it in reverse to the airport, we noticed what a steady climb it had been.

Somewhere we veer off but where was it. The ks are still ticking over. Down to 10 and then nine. Past the airport. Eight. Seven. Here’s the turnoff. This is shorter than around Hagley Park. There’s the finish over there.

Six. Five. Four. I ran four in 17mins last week. I have 23 minutes to run four this week and still break 3:30! Three. Pak’n’Save must be here soon. That is the final turn to home.

Two kilometres. Twelve minutes left.

One kilometre. And Pak’n’Save. The crowd goes wild. The support is incredible. The previous night we had secretly texted our estimated finish time to Andrea. The closest to their time would win. My text was simple. “3:32. Fuck!” But I knew that the others would have finished and they would be waiting for me.

We turn and run under the arches and down the river to the Rotorua Museum, a big grand old Victorian building. I cross a timing mat. People are yelling my name. My team mates. I sprint (or what counts as a sprint at the end of a gruelling 42k) past Mr Orange guy, aiming to get a gun time of under 3:30. It was 3:29:23. Net time 3:29:04.

Someone put a medal around my neck. Someone else stopped me and took my photo. I grabbed two bottles of Powerade and wandered out.

Andrew RJ and Richard found me. Congratulated me. Hugged me. There was Rodger. More hugs. And John. Another hug. I told them I needed to lie down, pass out, throw up or crap myself. Getting mixed messages from my body.

We met up with the wives and walked back to the hotel, a mere 500m away. Planned to reconvene for a soak in the mineral hot pools at 2:30pm.

I showered. And nibbled. And tried to sleep. But couldn’t. Eventually I wandered into town for some food. Macaroni cheese – yum, yum. Runners were still streaming in. We met up and went to the pools. It was really lovely sitting soaking the body in hot water, overlooking a steaming lake, birds flying. I don’t cope with the heat so I sat on the side and just soaked my legs. Had a bit of a swim in one pool. It was so lovely. The pools were filled with runners. There was a lot of sharing of war stories.

We went back to the hotel, met at the bar for a celebratory drink and walked back to the prize giving. I had found out by then that I had come fourth in my age group. Better than I expected. John had also come fourth with a time of 3:03. Rodger was a DNF. Richard had returned from the Paris marathon followed by four weeks in Europe. He was just behind John, considerably slower than his usual 2:50mark, but undertrained, overtired, and carrying a flight cold and a hip injury. Andrew ran 2:53. He found it tough too.

We went down to the prize giving. I was astounded to find that in the NZ Marathon Champs I had come second, John picked up a bronze medal.

What a wow. It really was a tough marathon. It was probably also the first marathon I really battled. Usually I get two weeks out and give up on my goals. Or sandbag. Or sabotage myself. But this time I just kept pushing and needling away. One more k. Just keep going. Run your own race. You are doing great.

Today I am tired. I never sleep well after a marathon. My toe hurts from my blister. My butt hurts from powering up those hills. I am hungry – need to find breakfast! But I am not terribly stiff at all.

And I am justifiably pleased with myself. Considering I have only five weeks left in this age group, I am still kicking some serious butt!

So every though the final days were fraught with obstacles, I overcame them and kept on kept calm(ish).

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One thought on “Keep calm and run a marathon.

  1. Robyn Burgess

    Well done Robyn – almost felt every k with you!

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