I woke early on race day, and ate porridge in bed watching the sun rise over Wellington from the 19th floor of the hotel. The morning turned grey and drizzle began. I struggled into my race gear and headed into the city. I was excited.
As I walked towards the start area, other brightly-clad competitors emerged, and I joined a growing crowd of very fit looking athletes descending on the start line. Ed Sheran's "Give Me Love" blared longingly from huge speakers. To avoid the misting rain, I joined a cluster of runners huddling under the trees, and started scanning the crowd for my friend Kristy who was also competing (all be it in a much shorter time than I can hope for). I spotted Kristy, and we wandered towards the start line, where Kristy found her spot in the front 10 rows (along with the other elite's), and I tucked in behind the 2hr pace runner.
Race officials led a cramped warmup (shuffle left, shuffle right, punch the air, avoid hitting your neighbors), we were warned to not run into on coming traffic, and a small cannon was fired. We were off.
The field was enormous (some 2300 plus), and I was determined to stick with the 2hr pacer as long as I could, and I was managing the 5min 33sec pace that was being set. About a km into the race the rain stopped, and my bladder started nudging me, I didn't want to stop, but I knew that the nagging sensation would distract me later on. I figured that I might as well stop earlier on in the race (there would be less fellow relief seekers, and I would have more energy to catch up the pace group). I pulled into a rest stop about 4 km in, along with about 7 others before me, well how long does it take to go? I had stopped now so I might as well wait, I would still be able to catch my pace group.
SIX precious minutes, and what felt like a lifetime later, I had made it out of the loo! Countless others were still waiting, and many more had entered, sworn (ironically "shit") and left again. I had read somewhere that if I was going to catch up my pace group, then I should do so gradually and not sprint (not that I could manage 6 min of sprinting to catch up). I sped off, trying to keep my pace around the 5min 20sec mark, desperately scanning the runners ahead to see if I could see the familiar race garb of the pace group.
Fabulous entertainers and motivators lined the course, a jazz band played from a balcony, cheer leaders, supporters holding signs "Run like you stole something", smiling and cheering course officials, and drink station volunteers. Clusters of photographers snapped away. I was having a blast, and I was keep up a fast pace.
As the course wound around the peninsular, new views of the harbor and city revealed themselves. I was passing heaps of other runners, still desperately searching for my pacers. The first of the fast return racers dashed past, two young men neck and neck and looking to me as though they were sprinting, I clapped and cheered, hearing runners behind me take up the cry - those runners are champions. More runners coming in the opposite direction, and shortly, the first woman, Kristy was not far behind. "Go Kristy" I screamed waving both arms in the air, the runners in front of me jumped at the sound of my yells, and then turned to look and shrunk away from my flailing arms. I sped up and passed them.
By the half way point, I was feeling really good (porridge is the answer!) and I sucked down my first gel. At the next water station I grabbed an isotonic drink (more syrup than anything else) and in the process of drinking while running, spilled the sticky solution all down my front, legs and arms. The taste was dreadfully sickly, but was filled of energy and electrolyte-y goodness. I was now scanning the runners coming in the opposite direction, still searching for my pacer, but I must have missed her, as the turn around came and went and I still hadn't found my group.
I tried to keep my pace at around 5min 30sec per km mark, but I could feel my energy levels starting to flag a bit. When I reached the 16km mark my dreadful dehydration stitch had set in, and my pace had slowed to 6min 11sec per km. I heard a pod cast earlier in the week in which the interviewee (a 100miler endurance trail runner) had said that if you could master your mindset in times of challenge, your body would keep going even under adverse conditions. I kept telling myself to keep going, to push past the stitch pain, and to keep running. It worked, and the next water station appeared, thank goodness, I would get a drink and everything would be alright.
No bloody cups! The water station volunteers were pouring the water straight into the outstretched hands of runners. I cupped my hands under the spout, and the distracted pourer tipped the canister, water filled my shoes, and soaked my clothes. I sucked thirstily at my hands and ran on.
As we ran along the last few km I was able to lift my pace again (to around 5min 30sec), and ahead I spied the shirt of one of the runners that had started out in the 2hr pace group, the timer on my watch was only a couple of min off the two hour mark. I ran on, putting in more and more effort. I was waiting for the marker for the final km. As we rounded the last corner, the half marathon runners joined the flow of the 7km runners all heading for the finish. I sped up, and then sprinted the home stretch to the finish line. I was tired, and my legs felt wobbly and a little as though my feet weren't really connecting with the ground. I put in every last shred of effort and crossed the line in 2 hours and 1 min.
I never did find my pace group (although I couldn't have been far away from them). I can't believe that I had managed to run so fast for such a long distance (I had basically maintained my 7km race pace for almost the entire half marathon!). I had knocked 20min off my previous half marathon personal best. Considering that before I decided to run with the pace group I had wanted to try and maintain a sub-7min/km pace, it seems incredible that I can push myself to achieve a pace over a minute faster. Next time, if I don't have toilet troubles, I might make it in under two hours.
An amazing race and an incredible result for me. I loved it. AMI Round The Bays rocked!