At 2am I reached for my iPad and googled 'running a marathon on no sleep'. At least 8 out of the 10 links pointed to no reduction in performance at all. Having been reassured I closed my eyes again and tried to positively visualise the perfect race but never quite made it as the first of my 3 alarm clocks went off. It was 3am Sunday the 3rd of November - race day for the Adidas Auckland Marathon.
The walk from my central city hotel across the road to the ferry was a short and rather comical one. Here we were, a procession of marathon runners in shorts and track suit tops navigating our way through hoards of partying revelers who struggled to articulate themselves. Using mostly profanity, they insisted we wake up and acknowledge the insanity of our chosen sport. Or were they wishing us good luck. It was hard to say.
Fullers have a wonderful ferry service from Auckland city across the bay to Devonport, the starting point of the marathon. Being one of the first on board I was able to choose any one of the 650 seats facing a giant TV screen now showing highlights of previous Auckland marathons. I sat gingerly down in the far left corner of the room and once again closed my eyes.
This time I reflected on each of the 5 marathons I'd run. Only then did I realise why this one meant so much to me. The first was way back in 1997 and with only a moderate amount of training I finished in a time of 3.27.20. My PB to this day. The time really had no meaning for me then. I was just pleased to have finished and proud of the fact that I'd lasted more than 3 hours without a smoke. Seven Star was my brand back then and I was easily a 30 a day man.
With one exception, every marathon thereafter I'd run progressively slower. Ive never really had that high runners get having achieved what they'd set out to. I so much wanted that Rod Dixon moment. To be all smiles, hands in the air and full of emotion. That's how I dream it would be. In reality though does it feel the same way?
I opened my eyes, stood up and stretched, careful not to pull anything. Looking around there wasn't a spare seat to be seen and yet the room was deathly quiet. Welcome to the land of skinny people I thought. I sat down as the ferry pulled out and went over my race plan one last time. I'd run 6 x 30K plus long runs in the lead up to today and felt good about a 4.44 / 4.45 pace and I knew I could probably maintain that easily for an additional 5K. With 7K to go I had to trust the 90K per week program I'd followed and prior to that the 80K per week base building I'd done for 10 weeks. I knew also I had a lot of pain to come in that last period but I was determined to suck it up this time and push through. A BQ time today would require running 21 minutes faster than I had in Rotorua just 6 months earlier and that really hurt.
We arrived in Devonport at 4.47am, still more than 1 hour 15 from the start. It was cold, I was tired and very nervous. I remember looking around at runners brimming with youth, eagerness and excitement. Most were either stretching, running laps or queuing in lines to the portaloos. I gently and discreetly pressed my bladder and thought, not yet but soon. After all, you don't want to queue twice!
Duncan Garner, a well-known TV and radio announcer congratulated all of us one last time. "You're all winners for making it this far and I only hope your day reflects the work you've put in". I couldn't have put it better myself. Just before the gun went off I again reminded myself to hold back a little to begin with and relax.
At 6.10 in the morning the only sound I heard was the pounding of 3,000 runners shoes hitting the road almost in unison. Military in nature, this rhythmical noise was inspiring. I remember thinking how great this moment would be captured on one of those motivational videos I share from time to time.
I knew this first 13K was going to be lumpy. I'd trained for it and knew the pace to run the inclines all the while holding back just a little. The run over the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge was very special. Life is about those singular moments we for whatever reason seem to hold on to and cherish. I'd just accumulated another for sure and felt every bit confident more were to come.
In no time I'd reached the half way point. Officially I'd recorded a pace of 4.46 although for me at that time I was running a 4.44. This mistake nearly cost me later. As planned I held the next 9K at an average of around 4.44 / 4.45 pace and to be honest, it all felt a little too easy. I'm sure for most, every race has one brief yet defining moment. Usually that point arrives as a result of fatigue. For me it hit at 33K and 34K. With splits of 5.01 and 5.16, I knew my plan was beginning to fall away as it had done so in many races before. I had to dig deep and trust in the training I'd done.
My saviours came in the form of a couple running side by side dressed like triathletes right out of Kona. With a slight head wind now I ran for all I was worth to settle in behind them and hold on for as long as I could. I did so for the next 4K and had splits of 4.50, 4.51, 4.55 and 4.50. Strangely enough I felt so much better. The added pace seemed to free up the earlier stiffness and pain that was setting in. In fact I now felt so much better I left my two lycra clad youngsters behind and went it alone.
All the while my Garmin confirmed my overall race pace at 4.47. With a BQ requirement of 4.51 I felt sure this would at last be my day. However turning for home and seeing the clock in the distance gave me the shock of my life. 3.24.32 ... 33 ... 34 ... But it should be reading around 3.22 I thought. With no time to think why or how I ran my heart out to the line all the while with eyes glued to that clock rapidly counting down.
With hands on trembling knees I gasped for breath. It wasn't as a result of exhaustion at all but rather a choking up of emotion as I finally realised my goal of achieving a Boston Qualifying Time. 3.24.55 with a net time of 3.24.47 at an average pace of 4.51 min/km.
Cautionary note: Probably relevant only for silly me. Never ever run you race solely on the numbers your GPS watch spits out at you. My fault for not running the tangents and paying attention to the distance markers. My Garmin summary - 42.68 km in 3.24.53 at 4.48 min/km.
Thanks again to everyone who has supported me along the way. A BQ time is everything to me at this point. Making the cut in 2014 however will be a lot tougher than in previous years with some predicting you'll need a time of 5 minutes better than your BQ. That said, my journey continues. I'm Boston bound one day for sure. This blog continues ...