Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Not a walk in the park: AKL Half marathon

John and I were up at the crack of dawn so that we could make it down Queen St to catch the ferry sailing across to Davenport where the start line was. We made the 5.10am ferry, so that gave us plenty of time before the start of our event. It was quite a buzz to be amongst so many people, all preparing for a big run.

The organisers did a good job with the number of port-a-loos available, but there was still quite a long queue prior to the start of the race. I guess it's always going to be a logistical problem with over 8,000 participants looking to empty their bladders at around the same time.

Just before the start, I embedded myself in the middle of the pack - it was hard to see much past all the other bodies cramped around mine, a bit of a disadvantage being so short I guess.

The race started at 7am and we were off. It was a calm cool morning, but the sun had risen and it was certain to get much warmer as the morning progressed. The first part of the route was "undulating" (as described in the route info.... An experienced
friend who had done Auckland before described it as "hilly"). So prior to the race, I was trying to ascertain the exact definition of "undulating" - for example, how steep does it really get? How long are the uphill parts?

But even in my darkest imaginings, I did not appreciate what a toll the "undulating" parts of the first half would take on my body. I felt fine while I was doing the hilly bits, and seemed to be on target for a decent time right up to the 10km mark, but by the time I got to the start of the Harbour Bridge, I was feeling the fatigue.

I knew that once I got over the bridge, I would only have just under 6km to go, and I had been told that the rest of the route would be completely flat. So I pushed myself up the bridge, one step in front of the other, refusing to stop even as bodies around me peeled off as more and more people started walking the bridge incline (it was also getting pretty hot by then). I was feeling pretty chuffed when I finally got to the top of the bridge, even mustering up the energy for a quick cheeky thumbs-up and smile for the camera. What came after that was a whole lot uglier....

Just past the bridge was a little loop which seemed to go on forever. I could see runners heading back on the other side of the road, which only meant there was a turnaround point coming up, but I'd turn a corner and would still be unable to see the turnaround point. And right up to the turnaround point was a bit of an uphill incline. Only, it felt more like scaling Mt Everast. That's when I started to fall apart mentally. And when I finally got to the turnaround point, my body had disconnected completely from my brain and was no longer receiving the messages of encouragement to keep moving - it was only transmitting pain signals. My calves started to cramp up and every time my feet hit the ground, it felt like hot needles were shooting up my legs. I gulped down as much Powerade as I could at the final water station (16km), but it did not seem to refresh me at all.

The final 5.2km was slow and painful (at least it truly was completely flat by then). The finish was pretty cool though. The crowd that lined the sides carried me through the final 500meters into the finish chute. It was finally over! And despite the struggle and agony, I felt pretty good at having completed it and having been part of a record crowd of some 15,500 participants in all events.

As the organisers had promised - it was more than just a race, it was an experience. As for whether I would do it again next year? Hmmmm... You'll have to ask me when my sore bits are no longer sore.

Not a pretty sight (at finish):