I ran the Speight’s West Coaster Marathon on Saturday November 26th 2011. This was my 11th marathon but the first time I’d run an off-road marathon, and it’s billed as one of the hardest off road marathons in New Zealand. The winning time is typically around the 5 hour mark so I knew it was going to be tough.
OK, so before I bore you with all the details, here’s my finishing time: 6:50:09
I took my camera with me and there’s plenty of photos if you scroll down. I’ve posted them at the end of each section of the course.
The run starts off at Bethell’s Beach on Auckland’s West Coast, follows a loop south of the beach on private land and Houghtons Track coming around the back of Lake Wainamu – approx 12k in total. Then north along Te Henga walkway (10K), a loop around Goldies Bush and Mokoroa Falls (10K), before returning back to Bethell’s Beach via Te Henga track again (10K).
Pre event expectations
Before the event, I figured it was going to take something like 6 to 7 hours based on results of previous events, and that I tend to come around the middle of the pack in these tougher off road runs.
With no real idea of what the course was like other than course notes and a couple of interviews I’d read in the NZ Herald, I figured it might take as much as 2 hours on the south loop, 1.5 hours each way on Te Henga, and 2 hours at Goldies Bush for a total of 7 hours.
Those estimates were surprisingly accurate, although the south loop was easier than I’d expected, Te Henga was tougher, and Goldies Bush was tough in a different way than I had expected.
The race plan
The longest I’d run before this event was 4:01 in The Legend Marathon in 2010 and the longest off road runs were the Xterra events earlier this year at around 21/22k each. Xterra Whitford took me 2:47 and was the toughest run I’d done before this one.
Knowing this run was going to be hilly and tough, the plan was to run at a comfortable/slow pace when I could and walk when I needed to. Because I tend to get very hungry when I run for anything longer than about 3 hours I planned to eat something every hour along with at least 3 gels through the race.
Before the race
My parents live in Waimaiku on the way out to Muriwai so I took my boys (2 and almost 7) and stayed the night with them. I had a terrible night’s sleep as usual before a big event, and the two of them got up with me at 5:30am even though we’d all been awake since 5:00am… I think I managed about 4 hours sleep in total.
I had meant to bring my own breakfast porridge with me but had forgotten so ended up having to eat some porridge I found in the cupboard which was nothing like I’m used to and almost made me wretch. Not a good start! I headed off in the car at about 6:15 eating a banana as I left.
I’ve been running on a minor injury in my left foot since my last event (the Auckland Marathon 4 weeks ago) and also sometimes get knee pains on longer runs, so I’ve started taking paracetamol and ibuprofen during events. I took those along with a gel at 7:00am and the race started a touch after 7:30am.
The race – southern loop
It was really windy at the start and a little cold so I decided to leave my thermal top on under my running shirt, knowing I’d have to take it off pretty soon (which I did after 3kms).
We set off south along the beach for about a kilometer or so before heading in land on some private tracks at first and then Houghtons Track. Houghtons Track and Te Henga walkway form part of the Hillary Trail.
I really enjoyed this section of the course and it was a lot easier than I had been anticipating, although looking at an elevation graph now it apparantly had the biggest hill of the race. There was beach, farm track, forest trail and a run up the river alongside a huge sand dune.
Although I’d thought it might take up to 2 hours to complete this 12k section of the course, it took about 1:30.
During this section I had an energy gel and some lollies at the 1 hour mark just before I got to the waterfall in one of the photos below.
Running up a hill on Houghton’s Track / private farmland
Looking north to Bethell’s Beach
The waterfall on Houghton’s Track just before we got to the sand dune / river section
Approaching the sand dunes and river section – that’s one great big sand dune!
Start of the river section on the southern loop
The race – Te Henga Walkway north
After the 12k aid station we started on Te Henga walkway which was a lot of up and down and around the coastline. There were some absolutely stunning views and I tried to get as many good photos as possible knowing I’d probably be too tired to snap anything on the way back again.
More food at the 2 hour mark, this time a bag of potato chips and another energy gel. I was dropping chip crumbs everywhere as I ran up some hills!
The end of Te Henga was just plain nasty – there was a massive ascent up some stairs which I ended up using my hands on as well. I got to the top of them and there was a fairly closed in track and I could see my dad and son Jamie waiting at the end for me.
Jamie came running down and we ran to the aid station together while my dad was doing something with his phone. I hope he was just taking photos and not a video – if it’s a video I don’t think I want to see it.
I stopped for probably two or three minutes while my dad filled up my water bottles at the aid station and my mum took a photo of me and my boys.
I’d brought a can of lemonade with me and downed that before setting off again with a banana from the aid sation, eating on the run. Parents and boys drove down the road slowly after me and I high fived Jamie as they drove past.
Te Henga north took about 1:40, total elapsed time around 3:10.
After the 12k aid station, start of Te Henga Walkway
Big hill to run up going north on Te Henga
View looking north on Te Henga Walkway
View looking north on Te Henga
Me and my boys at the 22k aid station
The race – Goldies Bush
Off the road and into Goldies Bush. I’d been told by a friend that this track was pretty hilly, but it was just a great big downhill with lots of steps at the start and then back up them at the end. The rest was fairly flat, but it was wet! Beforehand I had no idea we’d spend half the time crossing back and forward across a river. Ah well, at least the shoes got nice and clean!
I hit the 4 hour mark while down in Goldies Bush and had another energy gel and some more lollies. There was an aid station about 6k into this section and I topped up my water there.
On the way back up the steps I came across a guy who’d pulled a muscle so I stopped for a minute or so to check if he was going to be OK, and gave him some anti-inflammatory gel to help. Then onward to the next aid station.
Goldies bush took about 1:45, total elasped time around 4:55.
The river on Goldies Bush – lots of back and forth across this
The race – Te Henga Walkway south
We arrived back at the Te Henga aid station at 32k before having to run down those nasty old steps on Te Henga again. I topped up my water and caught up to my friend Michael Morris on the way down the steps. He’d also pulled a muscle and was struggling a little. He didn’t want to go back to the aid station and told me not to let him hold me back so on I went.
The southbound leg of Te Henga is “easier” than the northbound but not by much, and given I’d now been running for over 5 hours I was getting pretty tired so there was a lot more walking on the way back.
I got a massive hit of hunger pains around the 5 hour mark so ate the last of my food (almonds and raisins) but couldn’t face any more gels or even much water or replacement drink after 6 hours.
The worst part on the return journey was that I really had no idea how much further there was to go. Sure, I had my GPS watch and had calculated it was probably going to get to 43/44km at the end but that meant quite a big variance and with something like 5 to 6km to go I was just wanting it to all be over.
The fastest of those last 10kms was just over 9 minutes and the slowest almost 16 with most of them around 10 or 11 minutes so it was pretty slow going. But then the views were magnificent and I took my best photo of the day on that 16 minute kilometer.
I finally made it down to Bethell’s again and it was run through the mud, across the estuary to clean them up a bit, then across the sand to dirty them up again, and finally through the finishing chute.
Te Henga south was about 1:55 with a final time of 6:50.
Photo of the day! Almost home to Bethell’s Beach – the view south on Te Henga
My thoughts after the race
It’s Monday afternoon now as I write this. On Saturday night as I was falling asleep I wondered to myself if I’d want to run that race again, deciding I probably wouldn’t. Last night I thought through it again and yes, I would run it again for sure!
My legs weren’t feeling too bad yesterday but they were pretty tight this morning so I went out for a 7k run and they feel a lot better now.
This was my last event for the year and it feels a bit strange now not having anything lined up for a couple of months or so, especially having run in a lot of events this year.
My next big event is the Tarawera Ultra in mid March (I’m doing the 85k option) and this event in effect was a test for that one, which I apparently passed! I’ll probably do either Trailfest Riverhead and/or the Coastal Challenge in February as part of my final build up for that. In the meantime, just lots of training!