First official half marathon today, and it was awesome. There was a huge turnout for the Wanganui 3 Bridges Marathon (3/4, 1/2, 10km and 5km), and the course was beautifully laid out along the banks of the Wanganui River, crossing all three bridges.
I had left leaving home to the last minute, so enjoyed a vaguely frantic drive to Wanganui, wondering if I would make in on time for the 8:45am registration cut off. I was lucky enough to make it, and find a handy parking space with 15 min to spare. There was a massive que of last minute competitors (being unable to register online was probably to blame!), and I was glad not to be the only runner puffing up to the sign-up desk before the race started. After registering I raced back up to the car, to change my shoes and jettison my excess gear, before running back to the start line to catch the last 30 sec of pre-race briefing: "...please abide by these instructions and rules as they are important for participant safety, now everyone have a great race, and you have 15 sec till start". The upside to all the rushing about was that I was well warmed up by the time I crossed the finish line.
There were probably 200 (maybe more) runners entering the half marathon, making this by far the biggest field I have entered so far. The niggly calf pain has been ailing me again recently, so I was planning to take the race pretty easy with a goal of completing the 21.1km. I was hoping for a time around the 2hours 30min mark. A couple of days ago I went for a short run and gave my hamstrings a good stretch half way through, to my surprise this alleviated the calf pain a lot, so I made sure that all of my legs were well stretched before the start (the whole length of my legs, rather than me having a collection of legs).
Despite my prayers for refreshing rain, the sun was shining (not that I am complaining about that), and the pack soon thinned out as we wended our way along the trail. I took the first 5 or 6km very easy, but half way through the first lap felt energetic and was magically lacking any leg pain, so I sped up for the next 6km and powered through the half way point feeling strong and fast. The second loop of the course was, as I expected more challenging, and my knees and hips started to feel twingy. At my final crossing of the third bridge, and with about 4km to go, my energy had run out, and although my body didn't feel too tired, my legs felt sluggish and heavy. I had to keep a constant and very positive internal monologue to the finish "come on body, you are doing so well", "keep going legs, you are doing awesome", which really helped, and somehow kept all the right limbs working, and me, moving forward. I suspect that my high energy fast mid-race run probably didn't help my energy levels towards the end of the race.
I crossed the finish line in 2 hours 26 min, a time I was really happy with, although I must have looked pretty rough, because one of the officials kept asking me if I was alright.
I really enjoyed this race, it was so fulfilling to complete the distance, and the course was lovely (it reminded me of running in Hagley park, which I really miss after leaving Christchurch). The other competitors and spectators were supportive and encouraging, one woman I saw several times, she moved around the course to shout support to all runners and cheered me on "go bright and shiny girl, go!". Other amusing sites included a group of lithe young inline skating racers speeding around a circular track (much in the form of ice-skating sprinters) in Lycra body suits and streamlined helmets, and a very fast male competitor running shirtless with an impressive tattoo of a V8 engine on his back with the drive belt running down to his legs - steam-punk and poetic all at once.
Showers at the finishing line were an excellent idea (you didn't have to pass through them as you crossed the finish line, or anything like that, but this was the first race where they were provided, and despite the flooded floor and plethora of nude runners, they were deliciously refreshing).
The day concluded with the prize giving, with special mention and awards given to the numerous competitors who had completed 100 or more marathons, one man was celebrating his 501st marathon, and others were recognized for completing their 250th and 200th marathon runs. The members of the 100 club were mostly rich in years, and I found it rather inspirational to see that there are many more years of running to be enjoyed.