Auckland Marathon 2022:
Marathon # 96
Date:October 30, 2022
Oh my goodness. It’s 4.45am and Courtney, Paul, and I are making our way through the Auckland CBD in torrential rain. I’m lubricated up to my eye balls and I’m trying to keep my feet dry. It’s bucketing down and water is gushing along the gutters and spilling onto the foot path. We bump into party goers heading home who appear to be clearly disturbed by the sight of 3 people in running gear jumping and skirting around puddles at this hour of the morning. “What are you doing?” they ask. “We’re running a marathon today” I respond soberly. You could tell by their bewildered faces that they were struggling to grasp the concept and that no amount of alcohol would provide further enlightenment. To be fair, had I not entered the Auckland Marathon, there’d be no way I’d be out running in rain like this. But I had trained, booked flights plus accommodation, and had been carbo loading for 48 hours so I had no choice (or at least I thought I didn’t). When we board the ferry service on Quay St, we’re now surrounded by people who ‘get it’. The ferry is full of runners enroute to the start at Devonport and it’s standing room only. We head outside onto the deck and find a seat under some shelter. Sitting opposite us is a gentleman with a race bib labelled ‘Chris the Yank’. “Where ya from?” I ask jokingly. “It’s so people know I’m not Canadian” he responds light heartedly. ‘Chris the Yank’ is dressed in jean shorts and an orange cotton t-shirt and is in the process of fashioning a make shift poncho from a plastic bag. “Will that prevent chafing?” I ask. “I hope so. I wouldn’t wish chafing on my worst enemy” he says with nervous laughter. We’re then joined by 4 lean looking guys and ladies from St John on bikes. They’re wearing shorts and dri-fit t-shirts designed to wick away moisture. My wife Courtney asks in tongue in cheek if they checked the weather. “They didn’t provide us with any wet weather gear!” they exclaimed. “Besides, it’s you guys we feel sorry for. You have to run in this!” “I think I feel sorry for you guys. You’re going to be dealing with chafing all day” I counter. “Do you have to apply it as well?” as I gesture towards Chris. “No. We provide it but we don’t apply it” the gentleman from St John says firmly. “Self-application. Definitely self-application” his female colleague chimes in. After a bit more banter, we eventually arrive in Devonport around 5.15am ready for the 6am start. Having previously run the Auckland Marathon in wet conditions, I knew there wasn’t much shelter at the start line so I suggested we hang out in the terminal for as long as possible. Around 5.50am, we wish my cousin Paul luck for his half marathon and head out to brave the elements. We walk briskly through the park and now queue less portaloos and assemble at the back of the starter’s field. We’re so far back from the start that Courtney and I don’t hear the starter’s gun. However, the cheer from the crowd and slow shuffle forwards signals it’s time to go. We step over the start line together. It’s cold and it’s pissing down. Time to channel the inner Miyagi again. Sun is warm. Grass is green.
Ten thousand steps a day has been adopted worldwide as a benchmark for minimal daily physical activity. However, you’d be interested to know that this had no medical origin and was only later adopted by the medical fraternity. Its origins derive from a Japanese company called Yamasa Tokei who in the mid-1960s invented a simple, inexpensive pedometer / step counter. The company decided to call the device Manpo-kei which translates as “ten thousand step meter”. The name was catchy and the pedometer was very popular and sold well. It wasn’t until 2004 that two exercise scientists (Tudor-Locke & Bassett Jr) published that 10,000 steps/day appeared to be a reasonable estimate of daily activity for most healthy adults for health benefits. Ten thousand steps a day was catchy, easy to remember, and achievable so it stuck. The American College of Sports Medicine categorise ‘sedentary’ as less than 5,000 steps/day, ‘low active’ as 5,000-7,499 steps/day, ‘somewhat active’ as 7,500-9,999 steps/day, ‘active’ as 10,000-12,500 steps/day, and ‘highly active’ as greater than 12,500 steps/day. They recommend that you aim for 10,000 steps per day. If your base line is under this level, you should increase your steps by 1,000 per day every two weeks until you reach 10,000 steps per day. Ten thousand steps a day is approximately 8km a day. Studies have shown that hunter-gatherer societies (like the Hadza) have an average daily travel distance of 11.8km/day (14.1km for males and 9.5km for females). However, this doesn’t include the ‘thousands of extra steps they take in and around their camp. The average Westerner walks 4.1km/day. For hunter-gatherer societies (where chronic diseases such as obesity and type II diabetes are non-existent), their mere survival demands up to 20,000 steps/day. Large scale physical activity data from cell phones around the world [Nature. 2017 Jul 20;547(7663)] show that we pale in comparison. The average Japanese takes 6,010 steps/day, English takes 5,444, American takes 4,774, and Australian takes 4,941 steps/day. Unfortunately, the average New Zealander doesn’t fare any better with 4,582 steps/day. So if 10,000 steps per day is the benchmark for minimal daily physical activity, then sadly we are nowhere near it. However, is 10,000 steps per day even enough? Are we setting the bar too low? Should we be aiming for 20,000 steps per day? If we set the bar too high, will be lose our audience? Do people even care regardless of where the bar is set? According to the American Council on Exercise, people who track their steps take an average of 2,500 more steps per day than people who don’t track their steps. So there are merits in using the multitude of tracking devices available. I must confess, I’ve never really been one to count steps or be interested in my daily step count. But for the purposes of this blog, I’ve looked back at the events I’ve participated in this year. For the Selwyn marathon, I took more than 39,000 steps. The Taupo Ultramarathon 100km, I took nearly 106,000 steps. My Leadville 100 miler? More than 175,000 steps (Disclaimer – the Leadville took more than 28 hours so the calculated steps per day count will be slightly lower). I acknowledge these events aren’t daily occurrences. So maybe a better reflection would be looking at your step count over the course of a year rather than 10,000 steps/day. Or is 3.65 million steps/year too daunting? I think so. Break it down into achievable portions. Just get out the front door and make every step count.
The rain is still falling steadily as 1,500 participants step out onto the streets of Devonport. Someone in their garage is playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ on their trumpet which is a nice gesture. After 2km, my core is dry but I’m getting too hot with my jacket on. Auckland’s a lot warmer than Christchurch but I’m very conscious that once you get wet, you can’t get unwet (or get dry to use better English). I make the executive decision to take my jacket off which means stopping is now out of the equation. Once wet, one can get cold very quickly when you stop so you’ve just got to keep on moving. Courtney and I are still together at the Akoranga Bus Station (12km) so at this point I decide to run the remaining 30km with her. She’s supported me a lot over the years so I figured it would be good to return the favour. A long run makes me happy. And a happy wife equals a happy life. So if I put the two together, then a long run should make us both happy for life right? At least that’s how my simple male brain saw it. Courtney is on a high and fist pumps as we course over the top of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. “That’s the first time I’ve run to the top without walking” she says. The first part of the marathon is deceptively hilly and your legs only seem to catch on to this as you approach the half way mark in the city. It’s also where the mind games start kicking in as you pass the Half Marathon Finish (STRAIGHT) and Full Marathon (LEFT) junction. As we turn left onto the long out and back towards Mission Bay, I joke to Courtney “It could be worse. You could be doing the half marathon.” I’ve personally never found a half marathon to be satisfying. There’s a lot of high fiving and bum slaps going on as one crosses a half marathon finish line. But after crossing a full marathon finish line, you’ve barely got any energy and you’d be doing well if you didn’t collapse in a heap. In a full marathon, you’re served the entrée at 21.1km and the real race (and the suffering) doesn’t start until the 30km mark. As Courtney and I pass the 23km mark, I can sense she is starting to struggle. “This is normal. Keep going” I counsel. “People will start to waver and start walking from here. Don’t be like them. Just keep going.” “I want my pain relief” she responds. “No, no, it’s too early for that” I tell her. “You haven’t suffered enough”. “I am suffering!” she blurts out. “And I want my pain relief!” “It’s too early!” I retort. “Just have a gel instead. It’s too early for pain relief! It’ll give you about 10km so you have to use it wisely.” “But I want it now!” she demands. “It’s too early!” I snap back. “Look!” she roars. “Unless you want to run this bloody thing by yourself, I’d suggest you shut up and let me do what I want to do!” Sun is warm, grass is green. Happy wife, happy life. “Ok, do what you want.” I back down. “But I recommend you wait until at least 25km if not 28km. I like to hold off until 30km.” Courtney swallows a gel and the next couple of kilometres are eerily quiet. I reflect on the irony of it all. Isn’t it ironic that the more we suffer, the stronger we become? Thankfully, more people ahead start to walk and Courtney reels them in which keeps our relationship intact. I think somewhere between 25 and 28km Courtney takes her paracetamol with a noticeable improvement in her speed and movement. “You’re looking good. Keep going” I add. “Things get a bit easier once you reach the turn around point… There are virgins there…”. Usually the promise of virgins would physically spur on my usual running partner (Dr Andrew Stanley) but Courtney was indifferent to this comment. Instead, she pulls out her phone and asks her mum if she could bring our 2 kids to the turnaround point. Why didn’t I think of that? As we approach the turn around point (approx. 32km), the rain starts to pick up again. It’s therefore a heart-warming sight to see Millie and Poppi (our 2 kids) underneath an umbrella standing next to a Pohutukawa tree with Auntie M and Martin. Courtney gets a loud cheer and the kids shout out “Go Mumma!” which really lifts her spirits and gives her all the motivation she needs. Heading in the opposite direction down Tamaki Drive and with 10km to go, a volunteer cheekily gestures “The finish line is just down the road!” I couldn’t help but laugh at how accurate this comment was. “We can’t be looking that bad” I told Courtney. “He wouldn’t be saying that to everyone”. Courtney remains true to form and keeps going. Around 35km she wants to walk but I urge her not to. “Don’t walk. Just slow down a bit but don’t walk. And then pick up your pace when you feel good again. You’ll feel much better if you keep passing people. You don’t pass people when you walk.” She manages to keep running whilst others around her start to walk. In a marathon, there’s a constant toing and froing between the will to run and the desire to walk/stop. The most important thing is that you just keep going forward. Every step matters. Every step counts. Take it one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. When we reach the 40km mark, it’s almost a done deal. Courtney is looking determined and is finishing strongly. “Have you met Jesus yet?” I chirped. “No, but I’ve met my Trelise Cooper dress!” she exclaims. “What are you talking about dress?” I reply bemused. “I’ve met my dress. And I’m getting it after this marathon” she replies assuredly. How anybody could think about dresses 40km into a marathon is beyond me. But I guess you’ve got to find what motivates you in those final kilometres. And for Courtney, it was a dress. Courtney and I eventually cross the finish line just after 4 hours and 30 minutes. She’s smashed her personal best by 1 hr and 15 minutes (previous PB of 5 hrs and 45 mins). As we hobble away in the rain, I congratulate Courtney on her efforts. “It’s the first marathon where I haven’t walked” she tells me. “Yes, they’re the best ones” I reply. I look down at my watch – 46,385 steps. Make every step count. Running is medicine.