Date: 30 November 2014
The Flying Pink marathon is the brainchild of Michael Stewart – the man who’s done the most marathons in the Southern Hemisphere.
After running into Michael at the Rotorua marathon earlier this year, I was curious to hear his story. His characteristic pink speedo and the sheepskin padding on his backpack is hard to miss. I’m sure there’s not a runner in NZ who doesn’t know of his achievements, but to me, he was (and still is, to a certain extent) a stranger. All I overheard in a short conversation with a fellow runner coming past, was that the Rotorua was his 515th or some such number marathon. I thought my hearing must have failed me during this bit of accidental eavesdropping as I could not believe that anyone could have achieved such a feat!
At the Wellington marathon, there was Mr Pink Pant(s)her again. So Gerry walked over and asked him about the conversation we overheard at Rotorua and he confirmed that it was indeed the case: he has done over 500 marathons.
We saw him briefly at the start of the Wairarapa Country Marathon, where we also picked up entry forms to his event, the Flying Pink. How neat is that – to have your own event. We decided then already that this is a marathon not to be missed.
Lack of stretching and any form of strengthening exercises landed me a niggling Achilles heal. Nothing major, just a small tinge, which is probably why I’ve disregarded the importance of looking after myself to avoid full brown Achilles tendonitis or some such injury. As a result, and the fact that we’re piling on the kilometres as training for our ultimate goal early next year (Tarawera 100km), we opted for a slow run, hoping to finish in just under 5 hours, and not to aggrevate any niggles more than necessary.
When we arrived at the Pinehaven Community Hall for registration, it looked so deserted we thought we might be at the wrong place. On entering the building we saw a few other runners having a chat or drinking coffee. It was all a very informal, quiet affair. No blasting music or someone on a PA system making small talk and commentary to get and keep the masses in the vibe. Nope, just a calm and quiet, almost whisper-like registration procedure.
On a table next to a wall containing the names list of participants, we were shown our race numbers, which is the number of marathons you’ve done (including this one). Some rather imposing numbers were on display, well over the hundreds and two hundreds. But only one containing the number 522 – Michael Stewart’s. Not much information is available about Michael but I could ascertain that his PB for the marathon distance is 2:59.7.
Ninteen of the 36 participants belonged to the 100s club: runners who’ve done more than a hundred marathons. Ten of those runners have done over 150 marathons, with 4 exceeding the 200 mark. Our 20 (mine) and 24 (Gerry) looked meagre compared to these legends. I found it curious how this knowledge of total strangers immediately changed social behaviour. Your number becomes you. Certainly not in a judgemental way, but nevertheless, you automatically gain or lose a certain status measured by the number on your bib.
The field was divided into groups with staggered starting times: a walker group which started at 7:00, a slow group which started at 7:30, a medium group which started at 8:15 and a fast group starting at 9:00. With the course being an out and back and the staggered starting times, this was quite a social run taking into account that there were only 36 participants.
In Michael’s honour, we all (at least most us) donned pink, his favourite colour.
We started off in our usual position right at the back of the field (if you can call 15 runners a field!) on a easy trot. The course meanders through Upper Hutt, between houses and industrial areas, before heading into the rural area towards the Rimutakas. Since this was such a low key event, no road closures were in place, but this didn’t pose any issues. The roads were quiet and the weather was great.
We soon realised that in our casual approach to this event, we’d forgotten a couple of things, like taking the necessary precautions against chafing. This created an unwanted and rather nasty experience for Gerry from about 15km in, and almost more so in the shower afterwards (he was joking that he would probably be screaming like a girl when the shower water hit him). I also decided to give my new shoes a go and I’m happy to report that changing brands after 13 years of running with NB, to Asics, didn’t cause any problems.
Water points were provided every 5kms and carrying our own turned out unnecessary. I suppose we could have taken in more fluids, but with limited “bushes”, I didn’t want to risk too many pee stops.
At about 17km the course links up with the Hutt River trails and a short scenic section of about one kilometre is run off road next to the river. At the other end of that you reach the farming area, before turning around and doing it all again in the other direction.
With the help of an HHH, the signage was ample on the way out. However, on the way back we encountered a rather big unsignposted fork in the road, which had us second-guessing which was the right one. After some humming and hawing, going up and down both roads, we saw familiar territory a couple of hundred metres down the main road. It’s probably obvious to the locals, but the completely unfamiliar terrain made navigation a bit more tricky for us out of town folk. And with about 2kms to go, we also ended up making a turn when we had to go straight and veered off track. The end result was the same though – the course rounded a block clockwise and we went anticlockwise. With just a couple of hills, the course is mainly flat to undulating.
This is a true gem. I loved the event and everything about it. I guess it is a case of different strokes for different folks, bit I’m tempted to say that if you lack a certain sense of humour, this event is not for you. I saw at least three runners with the number 1 on their bibs, and thinking back to my own first marathon with thousands of other runners, big event and a lot of hullabaloo, I can’t help but wonder how their experience of their first marathon was.
Concerning Michael, whom this is all about, he still remains a stranger to me. Someone who’s achieved amazing things and who is an inspiration to me and many others. This is a legendary person who deserves to have his story told. If not by himself, then someone else should write his biography. I hope one day to learn more about the Life and Times of Michael S.