Rotorua Marathon 2023:
Marathon # 99
Date:May 06, 2023
I hadn’t planned to do the Rotorua Marathon this year as I’d entered the Ultra Trail Australia (UTA) 100km which was one week after Rotorua. However, when I got wind that one of my cousins was hoping to run his first road marathon at Rotorua, I felt obliged to support him. When two more of my cousins also decided to do their first marathon at Rotorua, I was committed and locked in. Flights were booked and the entry fee was paid. I was hoping that my family’s ‘moment of inspiration’ would be followed by ‘months of dedication’. After all, three months was plenty of time to prepare for a first marathon if one had reasonable fitness AND was committed. Fast forward to the week before the Rotorua Marathon and all the excuses started to pour out. Some you could possibly buy into whereas others were questionable. “The longest run I’ve done is 8km”. “I’ve only run twice since Tarawera (50km)”. “It’s going to be raining all weekend”. “I have a sore throat”. “I don’t want to get sick because if I get sick, I won’t be able to work”. “I didn’t want to train because I feel like smoking after running and I’m trying to quit”. “I wanted to see if my youth and mind would get me through instead of training”. “I wanted to go from couch to marathon”. There were also doubts creeping in (doubts are a normal response to challenge). “I think I need to drop down to the half marathon”. “I hope it’s cancelled because of the rain”. The great thing about family is that you can be brutally honest. There’s this great quote from economist Thomas Sowell that reads “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear”. This was to be my 14th Rotorua Marathon and 99th marathon overall. I’d heard all this shit before. There’s also this strange trend in society currently where weakness or failure is being championed. People are being called heroes for putting themselves (or their mental health) first. So rather exasperated I responded, “It probably won’t be cancelled. Either you have a weak mind or you haven’t trained hard enough to justify your effort on the day. Like Israel Adesanya said ‘fortify your mind’. You have one week to prepare your mind for the wet. If you pull out now, you’ll always be known as a quitter. Listen to your family, F*** society…”
Fast forward another week and all six of us who had entered fronted up to the Rotorua Marathon start line. Joining me were my cousins Casey, Monette, and Paul (doing their first marathon), Shane (doing his 11th marathon), and his partner Madeline (also doing her first marathon). As much as I wanted to support and run with them, I knew I had the UTA 100km in 7 days so I had to run my own race. Doing a marathon slower than what you’re used to is as painful as running a fast marathon. However, I also had a bone to pick with the marathon and wasn’t keen to simply coast through. The last marathon I ran in Christchurch three weeks prior served me a lesson in humility so I was pretty determined to get one back on the marathon and finish under 4 hours this time. I hence wished my family the best of luck and when the race started, we all set off at our own pace. Despite chasing a time goal today, in my rush to leave for the airport, I’d forgotten to pack my watch so I had to rely on running by feel again. I knew my baseline marathon pace was around a 4 hour finish but I hadn’t consistently run at this pace for a while so I made sure that I was in front of the 4 hour pacing group when we set off. Although we started in dry conditions, five kilometres into the run, the forecast rain set in. A supporter at Ngongotaha tries to lift our spirits by shouting out “The rain is kissing you because you’re awesome”. However, having prepared for rain all week, I wasn’t overly phased by the rain. After all, everyone’s in the same boat and you can’t control the weather. The best thing you can do is control your attitude towards it. It is what it is. Accept and deal with it. The Rotorua Marathon gets deceptively hilly from the 10km mark so after a faster start than I’ve been used to in recent times, I eased back a bit. It’s at this point that I start getting passed by most of the field but I’m not overly concerned. Though some may find this concerning, my experience is that you actually want to be passed early on in a race as it means that you’re pacing appropriately. Passing should be reserved for the later stages of a race, not the start! As I approach Hamurana (15km), I’m suddenly passed by a very large group of runners. One of the runners has a yellow balloon tied around her so I realise that I’ve been caught by the 4 hour marathon pacer. I’m then left with a reasonably common dilemma that most runners experience after they’ve just been passed. Am I going too slow? Do I stick with this group or keep going at my own pace? I chose to run with the group for a wee while but then eventually fall back. The group was going a bit too fast for my liking and I knew that there were still the hills around Mourea (including Rotorua’s own Heartbreak Hill) to contend with. The interesting thing I’ve learnt about pacers that all runners should be aware of, is often they’re selected to pace slower finishing times compared to their ‘usual’ finishing time. So a 4 hour marathon pacer is usually a 3hr 30 min or 3hr 45 min marathon finisher. The issue with this approach is that these runners will instinctively run at their 3hr 30/45min pace. So often, they’ll go faster in the early stages of a race only to slow down near the end to finish under 4 hours (i.e. they’re more likely to have a positive split rather than a negative split). I’d argue that a 4 hour pacer should be someone who normally runs a marathon around 4 hours as they’re the best at pacing a 4 hour marathon! Yes, there’s the risk they may finish over 4 hours if they have a bad day at the office. But at least their pace will be steady and consistent right from the start! As I reach the half way point of the marathon near the back end of the lake, the 4 hour pacing group surges away from me on some of the big downhills. Oblivious to my timing splits, I ask a random runner what the time is. She tells me that it’s 9.58am. This means that I’ve done the first 21.1km in 1 hour and 58 min which means I’m well placed for a sub 4 hour finish. Although I try to keep the 4 hour pacing group within sight, they seem to keep accelerating until I lose sight of them around Mourea. I restrain the ego and hold back. The reality was, all I had to do was hold my current pace (not go faster) and I’d still finish around 3hr and 56 mins. I was still tracking well. Keep calm and carry on.
As I go up Rotorua Marathon’s own Heartbreak Hill just past Mourea (around the 27km mark), I can see some runners are starting to falter and slow down. I hold my pace and don’t force any passing. After this hill, there’s a steady downhill gradient but again I don’t force the pace. The aim is to get to the ‘real start line’ at 30km relatively fresh. When I get to 30km, it’s time to unleash. I take my first energy gel and caffeine and I’m off! From 30km, it’s now safe to start passing people and rein in all those runners who passed you earlier. I catch the slower of the 4 hour pacers near the Rotorua Airport (33km) and the faster of the 4 hour pacers at the McDonald’s near Owhata (34km). From then on, it’s all about holding onto momentum. When I reach Vaughan Rd (35km), I know I’m close. The long straight can be challenging but I focus on the positives – it’s mainly downhill and the finish line is beckoning. Eventually Vaughan Rd becomes Te Ngae Rd. As I turn off Te Ngae Rd onto Hinemaru St, there’s one kilometre to go and I know it’s a done deal. I make the final turn off into the Government Gardens under the Prince’s Gate Arches and eventually cross the finish line in 3 hours and 56 mins. Having achieved my finishing time goal, my focus now switches back to my family. I turn around and walk back towards my family. Along the way, I cheer and encourage others. Having been in their position only minutes ago, I know exactly how tough it can be and the affect a few words of encouragement can have. If you do this enthusiastically enough, it’s like a direct transfer of energy from you to them. Eventually I see Casey and Paul on Te Ngae Rd near the 40km mark and give them a big cheer. Paul asks if I’ve got anything for cramp. “No sorry” I reply. “But I know the best treatment for cramp is the finish line”. I keep heading out until I see Shane and Madi on Vaughan Rd and not far behind them is Monette. It’s at this point that I turn around and head back in again. Monette looks determined and locked in her own world of pain. It appears that her 8km long run hasn’t quite prepared her for ‘life after 30km’. But she’s in the zone and doing what she needs to do to finish. Not much is said along the way and my jokes seem to fall flat. Near the end, I sense that she’s tiring of my company so my 7 year old niece, Billie, takes over for the last kilometre. Monette crosses the finish line with Billie just after 6 hours. We then stick around and wait for my sister’s mother in law who finishes her marathon walk in just under 6 hours and 30 mins (and in the process completes her 15th Rotorua Marathon which is a remarkable achievement)! With all the family finished, we take a group photo together near the finish line. After years of running, maybe my running influence is starting to rub off on my family? In marathons, you get out what you put in. It may not be the best tasting medicine at the time and the benefits may be delayed. But after a while, it becomes an acquired taste and you appreciate that the benefits are multifaceted and long lasting. Running is medicine.
When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.