With an extra 6 months of anticipation, Matt, Gene and I headed to the start line nice and early for the 2021 Auckland Marathon in Jan ’22.
The added luxury of a car ride to the start line instead of a bus from Albany meant we missed out on all that nervous tension. That tension that compounds as the bus leaves late, stops everywhere and slows to a crawl on Lake Road navigating around cones and parked cars.
After arriving at the start we found others that still had this nervous tension and were on their third portaloo stop, already wondering what heat the day would bring.
To ease the nerves I headed out for an easy 2k warm up where my watch decided that with sticky buttons, it would reset itself. I resigned myself to the idea that I might actually be running this race to feel, without my watch to check at all.
Thankfully it rebooted for the start as I met Kate, the other GRG Lydiard athlete trained by Maree and Steff. Kate was super excited to finally put her 100k weeks to use in the half, where she smashed her goal time!
I went over my race plan in my head.
I’d run a 3:07 Yasso workout, a 1:34 half in training but after last year’s vomit 🤮 fest at the Sri Chinmoy 12 hrs, I was still nervous about the heat. Coach and I had talked it through Friday and made the the best plan for me. “Don’t overdo it, go to feel, if good push. If hot, button off but don’t give up.” Simple.
What were my goal times you ask?
- A 3:15
- B 3:20
- C ahead of Bryan in the 3:30 pace group to PB.
With that in mind I entered the start chute. We were delayed 5min, and the banter started with Matt, Gene, PJ, Sean and the others in the 3:15 group. Looking forward it was impressive to see the sea of Ninja orange in the 3 hour pack, knowing the pacer and a few others were incognito in their club kits too 💪.
The first K was slow, it was 10 seconds too fast, but it felt slow, as did the second kilometre. This is good I thought. We were chatting and talked about how good it was that there were people out on the sidelines that you can see with a lot smaller field. Starting at this time of year meant you can actually see the bollards in the centre of the road too, rather than tripping on them or sidestepping last minute.
Sean and I watched Matt start to pull away ahead of us, two stepping us even in race mode, as we headed down to Narrow Neck Beach. I told Sean I’d ease it up the first bit as I knew it flattened off. We could hear Gene and PJ maybe 20 or 30 metres back, as they called out the approaching aid station. We grab a cup, I get two good sips and we head up Lakeside. We’re speeding up, but it still feels ok.
We comment it’s fast and try to contain ourselves, Sean is happy holding back to the pace, I’m happy and it’s not a stretch yet. A short guy next to us joins in saying he’s hoping for sub 3 (😂) he pulls ahead on a hill then comes back to us, saying he should’ve just stayed with us. We drop him in the U turn extension before the second aid station.
I grab the first of my bottles and we smile for Rachel and the other Kellys cheering as we round the corner at Smales Farm. The hairpin is tight and we pick it up a little in the bus way. Sean drops his energy ball bag, seems they’re important so he doubles back and has to catch up.
We discuss the bridge. “I’m in no hurry” was said affirmatively by Sean. I agreed and we try to take the tightest lines until we’re there. Out in the open the sun hits us for the first time, but there’s a cooling breeze, it’s ok for now.
I use the same line I have in the last four Auckland Marathons, “I’m not $#&@ing going to Bash The Bridge” as we approach the sign. We ease off and about 7 or so runners come past us as we head over the bridge slowing by about half a minute for the kilometre. I can’t help myself and half way down the other side I stride out to recuperate 40 seconds and take about 10 places.
I barely feel Shelly Beach hill (nothing compared to Waiwera) and we’re into the aid station for my second bottle.
We start a great rhythm along the flat as I drink the bottle over two Ks. Sean picks up a bottle on either side of the Silo park loop and we enjoy the shade through to Parnell baths. A cup of water down my back, anticipating the heat rising.
As we head over the slight rise near Hobson point, Greg is on the left and lets out a reassuring “Whoa Sean and Nick, go lads”. Sounding like he was surprised at us, a good 90 seconds ahead of 3:15 pack at this stage.
I check in with Sean if he wants to push ahead as I’m starting to feel the heat near Kelly Tarlton’s. He’ll hold off until the turnaround so we keep at it till then. Like the cricket players Jones and Crowe in ’91, we’d double centuried by now and 6s were becoming 4s. We were still swinging but playing a little safe.
My hamstrings hint at cramps, I really start to feel my calves as Ninjas are appearing coming back the other way. We’re greeting Brent who had a cheery reply for us both by name (he’s looking composed).
(Lads forgive me if I get this order wrong now)
Next is Ben, looking in pain, and pretty silent. We give Seamus a massive shout to make is dad proud. Then Wade, Brad and Mark with some great shouts.
Not much after it’s Matt coming back at us shirtless, and it’s time to let Sean kick ahead from the turnaround at St Heliers.
I can’t kick with him.
I’d spotted my bottle on the way out right at the back of the Mission Bay table. So with noone in the way, I go inside the table grabbing with my right hand then quickly sidestepping around the first volunteer and his proffered cup of water.
That pings all the muscles in my right leg. I walk a couple of steps then settle in behind another runner for shelter, it’s not quite the pace I need but I’m hot, and can’t hear Gene yet.
We round Kelly Tarlton’s, I can start to hear Gene. It’s Okahu bay, I’ve slowed.
He’s in fine pep talk form and eggs me on as we can see Matt, our target, so off we go. I still can’t hold the 4:36 I need, despite the pep talk. My heart’s pounding now (in the 190s) as we head up the final rise at Mechanic’s Bay. I walk a few steps.
Gene and the sole 3:15 pack remainder are pulling away but a friend of Gene’s, who’s out biking is my new cheerleader. “You’ve got this Nick, get back to Gene, use the downhill”. I’m maxed out and have another 10 pace walk and think, get to the aid station. I know my drink is there, it’ll refesh me. I rally.
Gene’s not having a bar of me not making 3:15. He’s standing sentry at the drinks, waiting for me, shouting me in. He slaps me between the shoulder blades, knocking the “wimp” out if me. I start running.
He’s in full Gene Goggins Mode. Actually, David would take it easier.
- My form is good he says. I feel myself pumping my arms and legs spazzing.
- You’ve got this he says. I’ve got nothing above this gear, I think.
- I’m half running with my eyes closed and it feels like a final 800 metre rep.
- To the corner he shouts. I push to the corner. In the shade it feels better, ever so slightly.
I tell myself that last drink is giving me energy and I can breathe at the finish. My heart hits 202 bpm somewhere around here.
We zig zag, PJ and Gene telling me “It’s yours, you’re there, you’re gonna smash it”.
We round the final right and someone in the crowd shouts go Ninja. I’m still not sure where the time is. I push, my legs buckle a little going over the planks and I can hear a couple screaming “Go Nick, Go Nick, Go Nick”.
I sprint and look up, it’s a 14 in the middle. Yeahhhhhh I cross the finish.
It’s a 3:14:09.
It sinks in. Even with the heat, I’ve only lost 2:45 in the last half.
There it is, a solid race day, snuck in and not even complete, before we switch back to Red🚦 light COVID norms.
Now, what’s next?