Taupo Marathon 2023:
Marathon # 101
Date:August 05, 2023
Oh man, it’s been a stressful month! For most of winter, I’ve left for work in the dark only to return home in the dark again. Stuck in my office chair all day (I really need to explore that standing desk), my back is sore and it feels like I’m losing my hair. Hence, I was really looking forward to running the Taupo Marathon to have a break from it all. It’s just after 12 noon on Friday and I’m running to the airport. My morning clinic was slightly longer than desired so I’m pushing time to make my 12.50pm flight to Rotorua. It seems like I’m the only person running towards the airport. Another passer-by senses my urgency and asks me if I’m late. “Yes, kind of” I respond as I keep shuffling. I didn’t want to disclose that I was really running so that I could eat. The reality was, I could’ve walked and arrived on time but if I ran, then I’d be able to eat at the Air NZ regional lounge. When it comes to food, I’m definitely prepared to run and even more so when it’s unrestricted and free! I arrive at the lounge with 10 minutes left until boarding so I hoe in. The hot meal options are green beef curry with cauliflower and eggplant, roasted cauliflower with bhaji onions, and rice pilaf. I select a lot of everything onto the biggest plate I could find and start shovelling it all into my mouth. When I’m done, I’m quickly back for seconds. Near the end of my second serving, I hear my boarding announcement. Dammit! I don’t have enough time for cheese and crackers and dessert. If only I ran faster. I take a slurp of my orange juice and I’m off. If possible, you should never skip meals before a marathon. A marathon will cruelly expose this oversight. The moral of this story is either walk and be hungry or run and be fulfilled. Or just be more organised…
Come Saturday, it’s a 5.30am wake up and by 6.15am, my cousin Paul is driving me from Rotorua to Taupo. It feels like I’ve been packaged up from work, onto a plane, and now this car and my low back pain is flaring up again. When we arrive in Taupo, the sun’s up and it’s a frosty start. It’s currently 2 degrees with a forecast high of 13 degrees Celsius. There are a few hardy souls in shorts and singlet though I’m not too keen to lose my polar fleece just yet. I join the masses huddled together at the frosted over Tongariro Domain to listen to the race briefing. The briefing is pretty stock standard until the MC mentions that someone from the YMCA is doing their 300th marathon today. Paul (having run one marathon in his life) looks at me in disbelief. “I thought one marathon was a good achievement” he mentions. “Young man, there’s no need to feel down” I respond. I pause, waiting to see if Paul will bust out his dance moves but he didn’t seem to pick up on his cue. After the briefing, we all move towards the start line on Redoubt Street. At the last safe moment, I take off my polar fleece and wish Paul luck for his half marathon later in the morning. At 7.45am, close to 300 marathoners set off together past the Taupo Marina. It’s cold but there’s no hint of a breeze and Lake Taupo is completely still. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running a marathon! No excuses. Theoretically, the main limiter should only be my training. Oh and myself of course. Always myself. Only I’m accountable for my effort.
Though I’m no expert, after running 100 marathons you certainly learn a few things along the way. Hence for my 101st marathon, I’d like to talk about Marathon 101: Starting & Pacing. Unless you’re an elite athlete hoping to win, intending to deliver your pregnant partner’s baby at the finish line, or running from the police, I’d suggest you start easy. Ease your body and mind into the huge challenge that lies ahead. It’s better to start slow and pass people towards the end, rather than start fast and spend the rest of the race slowing down. If you’re human and have an ego (which is most of us to an extent), being passed is psychologically damaging and can bring on ‘the walk’. Start slow, take all the pressure off, and leave the stress of winning to elite athletes. Don’t be another ‘one and done’ but rather think of this as something you want to be doing for as long as possible and ideally for the rest of your life. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Which leads me onto pacing. One of the most important things you can learn is how long you can hold a certain pace for. A 10km pace is different to a 21km pace, which is different to a 42km pace, which is different to a 100 miler pace for instance. If you like to run with a watch, look at your time splits every 5km rather than checking your km per min pace every kilometre. Monitoring your pace every kilometre is tiring and your time over 5km is a better reflection of pace consistency. For a marathon, over time, you need to learn a controlled pace that you can hold for 30km. This is not easy and life starts getting tough from the 21km mark. However, the true race starts at 30km so you need to do everything within your power to get to the 30km mark ‘relatively fresh’. Don’t prepare for the wall, prevent the wall! Train for 30km and race for 12km! If you’ve done this right, you should be feeling relatively ok by the 30km mark. Only then can you unleash your dance moves and ‘race’ the final 12km (at your known 10km pace if possible). Trust me, finishing a marathon strong is much more pleasant than slowly dismantling all the way to the finish line!
Finishing marathons under 4 hours has been a goal of mine for many years. A sub 4 hour time is hard enough to be challenging without leaving me absolutely wrecked before returning to work on Monday. After a lot of practise completing road marathons around 4 hours, I know that if I want to finish under 4 hours, I need to be pacing at 28 minutes every 5 kilometres. Even when my brain gets tired, I don’t have too many problems adding by 28. So by 5km, I need to be around 28 minutes, 10km 56 minutes, 15km 1hr 24 minutes, 20 km 1hr 52 minutes and so forth. By 30km you want to be around 2hr 48 min which should guarantee you a 4 hour finish if you’ve paced sensibly! As I head along Lake Terrace, I’m feeling pretty stiff after my recent travel and the frosty morning so I start very conservatively. My first 5km was all about warming up and easing into things rather than going out all guns blazing. It took about 1km for my back pain to magically disappear and 5km before my feet were no longer numb. After 5km, I’d clocked 31 minutes. Three minutes off the required pace but not the end of the world. For the next 5km, I steadily increased my pace such that by the 10km mark, I clocked 57 minutes and was there and there abouts. By 15km, I was at 1hr and 24 mins and bang on a sub 4 hour pace. All I needed to do now was hold this pace. Assured with my pace, I began to relax into the run and could appreciate my surroundings a bit more. The return section back to the Tongariro Domain along the Great Lake Pathway was absolutely stunning. There were some beautiful secluded bays with spectacular views across Lake Taupo and the snow capped peaks of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe, and the largest of them all, Mt Ruapehu. The wind had slightly picked up but the sun was still out and for a period of time, running felt amazing. Heading back into town, I reached the 20km mark at 1hr and 52 minutes which was bang on again. As the course was so good, we then had to turn around and do the same half marathon course all over again! There was a bit more congestion as the half marathoners started at 9.15am but at least I was incentivised to try catch my sister and cousins ahead of me. I managed to hold my running form between the difficult 20-30km section such that by the 30km mark, I’d clocked 2hr 48 mins which was right on pace for a sub 4 hour finish. From here, I steadily picked it up trying to replicate my usual 10km pace (easier said than done). Although I couldn’t quite catch my sister and cousins, I still managed to pass a hell of a lot of runners and finish strongly. Nearing the finish line, I got a nice cheer from my family (mum, sister, three cousins, and two nieces) which is always heartening. I eventually crossed the finish line for an overall finishing time of 3hr and 54 minutes. There was a large tub of chocolate fish at the end so I helped myself to a couple for good reward. Though it’s satisfying achieving a sub 4 hour finish, it’s a much greater joy celebrating my family’s achievements together. Shout out to my sister Cristy Tucker for doing her first half marathon since 2009 and beating her time by 1 second! Nice pacing and way to make a comeback! Running is medicine.