Having done the Mountain to Surf in 2008, our first international marathon, I was very eager to run the race again. My memories of the previous event was generally good, that it was a well organised event, apart from a cold wind and rain in the second half of the run (not that the organisers could do anything about that!). The organisers also offered us accommodation for the night before the event and was generally very kind to us. They made us feel most welcome.
So, on Friday afternoon, we were packed and ready for the trip. We left from Palmy at around lunchtime for the three hours trip to New Plymouth. An old running buddy from our CSIR club days, Willie, also relocated to NZ and we were pleased that he decided to join us for the marathon. Driving from Auckland, he arrived shortly after us at the Fitzroy Holiday park where we would be staying.
As we were nearing New Plymouth, it started to rain on and off, but by the time we reached The Quality Hotel Plymouth International – the race headquarters – to pick up our registration packs, it was fairly hot and humid. MetService predicted some rain for the Saturday, but we were holding thumbs that they might be wrong. One can never really tell what the weather will be doing. We quickly said hi to Neale, the race director, who mentioned that the previous two years were extremely hot and runners battled with heat exhaustion. Rain, therefore, from an organisers point of view, would be better.
At registration we bought some very cool race t-shirts – lovely white Adidas technical tee’s. We’re definitely going to wear these with pride on many future runs!
Afterwards, we bought some ingredients for a pasta and started to set up camp around six. And shortly thereafter, it started to rain again. We quickly made dinner and were sitting in the camp kitchen, when it suddenly really started to pour down. When we eventually got a bit of a break in the weather, we dashed back to the tents by ten and jumped into our sleeping bags, laying there, listening to the rain coming and going – not knowing what to think.
And what a dreadful long night it turned out to be. I battled to sleep, the wind was howling and the rain continued with greater and lesser intensity throughout the night. We got up shortly before five to have breakfast (yogurt and banana for me, which would be a first as a pre-race meal), sort out race numbers, attach timing chips etc, and were on our way to the race headquarters where we would catch the bus to take us to the start.
As promised the buses left promptly at 6:15. As we were driving towards the mountain, it was raining all the way. Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. As we approached the start at the gate of the Egmont National Park in the dark, we could see some of the walkers who started 1 hour 15 minutes before us, making their way through the farmlands, soaking wet. By then, I had given up all hope for a miracle of no or little rain for the run. The biggest issue for me, has always been to start a race in the rain. It is okey if it starts to rain some way into a race, but not at the start … But we were there, we were entered, and as Gerry said, you can’t wear the race t-shirt if you don’t finish the race, so we had more than enough motivation to keep us going.
The bus stopped and no-one wanted to get off. We knew we still had to wait about 30 minutes in the dark and in the rain before the race would start and participants were reluctantly looking at each other to see who would go first. We had no choice but to step out into the wet weather and as a quick introduction to what was to come, I managed to step into a puddle, getting my left foot soaked completely. At that point you just give up and start to see the humour in the situation :-).
Fortunately it wasn’t too cold, but being wet is not associated with warmth either. And so we waited. Some more buses arrived with some more participants and we were all gathering under trees and umbrellas like soaked chickens. What a sorry bunch we were. It was quite funny actually.
Just before 7:15 we were rounded up by Neale, who gave a short briefing and then we were off, with another first for me: starting a marathon in the rain. The first few kilometers are mostly downhill, making for a fast start. The three of us were trotting along, already in the back of the field, getting wetter and wetter, and settling into the running-in-the-rain-thing, while the dark was turning into a faint cloudy, misty, rainy, morning light.
Reaching our first water point, there was unfortunately no water left! So we had to aim for the next water point at 9km, hoping it wouldn’t also have run dry by the time we got there (which fortunately wasn’t the case for the remainder of the race – especially in the second half of the race we had plenty of water points, well stocked with water and Leppin). At 6kms we turned off Egmont road onto quiet roads to meander through farms. Still raining, we tackled the uphill section that followed – a slow-poison from the 6km to the 12km mark. Gradually we conquered the hill in the rain reaching the top while being soaked to the bone by now. And wasn’t it supposed to be downhill from here?
A few kilometers before Inglewood, we turned onto the State Highway 3 and had to run single file, while cars and trucks were speeding by. In Inglewood at the halfway mark, the participants running in teams, had their change-over to the second team member for the second half. Jokes were exchanged with some of the marshals next to the road, and it was nice to find that most of them still found proceedings quite amusing, despite having to stand in the rain for hours.
Through Inglewood, we turned onto the State Highway 3A for the biggest part of the second half. These sections turned out to be my least favorite bits of the race. A lot of support vehicles were also on the road, stop-starting, dropping off sustenance for friends and family, driving slowly and hovering next to the road. This turned out to be a pain at times, in particular as some support vehicles clearly had very little consideration for other runners, speeding past, stopping without warning, and making it difficult for other traffic to pass between them and the competitors. (Or am I just sour because we weren’t receiving any support and had to carry bags of jellybabies etc with us all the way?) Personally, I think it is a bit unfair towards those who don’t have support, coming from far and not having someone in the area to hand out goo’s and gels and whatever is required.
On the positive side, all major road crossings were very well marshaled, and cars were promptly stopped to allow us to pass. The drivers being stopped also seemed to not be too phased by the delays, and quite a few smiled and waved as we passed. Also there were short sections where no support vehicles were allowed, which made a huge difference.
We were going strong to the halfway mark, but I could feel the accumulative tiredness in my legs from the previous weekends’ 21km long runs. They were a bit sore and we were firmly in “unfamiliar” terrain, having run our last road marathon in 2008 – the Bayleys Mountain to Surf! The kilometers were going past slower than I hoped for over the undulating terrain from the 12km mark to the finish, but we continued fairly strongly until about 8kms to go when I started to battle a bit. By now my legs were more or less numb and extremely sore at the same time. And I’ve never been so wet in my life. Still the rain didn’t stop.
With the “run bits, walk bits-strategy” for the last couple of kilometres, we made it to the finish, which came just in time. I myself was close to finished, but we managed to complete the 42.2km in 4:49:15, looking like prunes, soaking wet, cold and sore. And as Willie jokingly said: “We ran 42.2km and all we got was a banana!”. No medal to brag with. So, Neale, how about it for next year? 🙂
The rain eventually started to ease up a bit in the last kilometre. With the finish being in Waitara, some 20km from New Plymouth, we took the bus back to the hotel where we fetched our car and returned to the campsite. Figuring it to be a good idea, we each grabbed a beer and went to stand in the sea, hoping the cold water would bring some relief to our sore leg muscles. And then that euphoria of realizing what you’ve just accomplished kicks in and the silly grin can’t be wiped off your face by anyone.
Willie treated us to lunch, and some JC le Roux bubbly and OBS! When last did we have some of this Africana? Thanks Willie!
At the prize-giving, we discovered that the overall ladies winner was Charlene Jacobs, originally from South Africa. Congratulations Charlene! Well done, on an excellent time of 3:15:49.
All-in-all a great event. It was the 32nd running of the Mountain to Surf. We will probably be back, but as Willie mentioned, a medal would be a nice keepsake for an event like this. Oh, and thanks for the banana and watermelon at the finish. And thanks in particular to the kind lady who took off my timing tag, as I was certainly in no position to bend down and take it out of my shoe laces myself.