I ran my first marathon at Auckland in 2007 and made the classic beginner’s mistake of setting off too fast and paying for it at the end. It then took me until my 7th marathon in 2010 to beat my first marathon time in what I consider to be my only “perfect” marathon to date; I maintained a consistant pace throughout that run and didn’t have to walk or slow down at all.
Since that 2010 marathon at Auckland I’ve attempted to run a 3h30 marathon three times: Wellington 2011, Auckland 2011 and Rotorua 2012. Unfortunately I have found that while I find 5:00 minute pace very comfortable, I just can’t sustain it beyond about 30 to 35kms.
At Wellington it hit around 30kms, Auckland 36kms and Rotorua 32kms. I was able to slow down at Wellington and with one short exception run the entire way so that was the most successful of the three. If it hadn’t been for the wind, I suspect Wellington would still be my marathon PB today.
There wasn’t too much walking at Auckland 2011, but Rotorua 2012 was another story altogether…
In the weeks leading up to the event
I ran the 85K Tarawera Ultra (also in Rotorua) 6 weeks out from the marathon and the 50K Riverhead Adventures in Auckland 3 weeks out. Both of these are off road, although Riverhead was entirely on stony forestry roads. Riverhead was more or less a training run for Rotorua.
I figured although they were quite close to the marathon, these plus the longer distance training I’d done for the Tarawera Ultra earlier this year would give me the endurance I needed to attempt a 3:30 yet again.
My plan was to run 5:00 minute pace for as long as possible, and then slow down if and when required.
Rotorua Marathon 2012
I set off running with the two YMCA 3:30 pacers and it was a nice comfortable 5:00 pace. The course at Rotorua has some undulations with really only two testing hills around the middle of the course, although I found the road underfoot was pretty hard: it’s the large chip seal rather than smooth tarseal.
14kms around, all good. 21kms around, all good. 28kms around, all good. Everything was going so nicely and to plan until about 31kms when I could feel the tiredness slipping in, and the 3:30 pace group slowly started to slip away from me.
At the 32km aid station I decided to walk to make sure I drank all the water and that’s when I finally lost the pace group and knew it was slow down time. I struggled quite a bit the rest of the way around, alternating between walking and running. Mind you, I wasn’t the only one. There were at least two or three others in the same boat as me and we’d keep passing each other when one was running and the other walking.
With a mile to go, I started to pick my pace up knowing it was still actually possibly to set a PB. The end of the Rotorua Marathon runs along Hinemaru St and then turns through some gates into Queen’s Drive.
After turning, you can see the finish line about 500 metres away, so I concentrated solely on it and sprinted as fast as I could, blocking absolutely everything else out. A couple of people called out to me (including my wife Jane) but I was just focussed on the finish. According to my Garmin watch I ran the last 480 metres in 2:04!
Crossed the line, stopped my watch, and I’d run a new PB by 20 seconds in 3:39:10.
Feelings after the race
I was full of emotion and felt like crying after I finished, and not in a good way. I’d run a PB but I was disappointed with my effort because once again I’d struggled at the end and I’d found the run really tough, partly because of the hard road surface.
I started trail running last year and have found I enjoy running off road much more than on road, and I really enjoy running really long. It took me almost 12 hours to run the Tarawera Ultra but it was one of the best days of my life.
A disappointing Rotorua Marathon has made me think a lot about running and enjoyment, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m done with trying to set PBs for road marathons. I still have a desire to run them and I’d still love to run a 3:30 but I’m just not sure my body can do it.
I would prefer to enjoy running a road marathon than run a PB and not enjoy running it. So my plan moving forward is to run just one more road marathon this year at Auckland in October, but run the perfect marathon. And that means running slower.
I’m not sure what next year will bring as far as road marathons go, but I’d like to be a 4 hour pacer probably at Auckland. I can comfortably run a 4 hour marathon (I’ve done it in training) and it would be really nice to help other people out in achieving their goals.