Date: 29 May 2016
A few years ago, Gerry and I did an unsupported, 800km in 26 days walk through the Klein Karoo in the southern parts of South Africa, covering roughly 30+km every day. Day after day, we’d get up before sunrise, walk the whole day, sometimes up to 54km and other times until after dark, before cooking dinner, washing our only other set of clothes, going to sleep, to repeat it all the next day. We carried a tent, sleeping bags, a small camping stove, one set of extra clothes, including warm clothing and some basic emergency food and health care. For the rest, we bought food as we went, so had to be sure to make it to the next town in time to buy supplies. It was challenging at times (I suffered from severe blisters, we were sunburned despite thick slathers of sunblock, and sometimes had to endure temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius), but it was also great to spend each day all day long outside and being exposed to whatever nature throws at you – rain, wind, baking hot sun etc. And as the days got shorter during that Autumn month and our trip nearer the end, we were filled with mixed emotions. It was such a huge life changing experience which we didn’t want to end, but at the same time we were getting a bit tired of the mundane task, having to repeat everything each day for days on end. With the only change being the scenery, meeting new people along the way and the sun rising later and setting earlier each day.
And as is always the case with big events like this, once the end is in sight, you have to find a new challenge, something to get you off the couch and out the door – something that scares you enough to get your sorry ass moving. We haven’t done anything quite as big as that 800km walk since, but at least we have managed to emigrate to a new country, run more marathons in 6 years than in the 9 years prior to moving, complete a few ultras and clock up a 100km event. But that’s the thing with these sort of physical challenges – you are constantly seeking new adventures, new challenges, something that makes you feel alive, creates a sense of achievement, puts things into perspective. Something no one can take away from you.
Which brings me to our 5-in-5-in-5 challenge. Not nearly as challenging or difficult as the things that some people come up with, but it was there and it was something to do. And it was scary enough to keep us moving a bit, which is really the main goal.
We’ve often talked about Palmy needing a marathon. The Striders used to have a wonderful marathon, run over two days, split into three parts: a 7km on the morning of the Saturday, a 15km on that same Saturday’s afternoon, and a 21km event on the Sunday morning. It was great, but somehow always a very small event and never drew the numbers to make it worthwhile, I guess? So they stopped having it. When the Striders announced this year that they’ll be introducing a marathon as part of their annual half marathon event, we were very excited. Eagerly we waited to see what the course would look like. I was worried it will cover the familiar routes and roads we do on our daily runs, which might be, well, just boring. And, alas, as expected, it was along the routes we know by heart.
The first three events of our marathon streak all had fantastic weather. The u-turn in the weather started with the fourth event and a significant change of the season. Although it was not too bad, it was a bit on the cold side for me, but luckily we had little wind and no rain. We counted our lucky stars as it could have been a terrible 42.2km unofficial run. Needless to say, we were expecting the worst for the Palmy event. You can’t be lucky five times in a row. The two weeks leading up to the event saw endless rain, wind and colder days and nights. Everything was set for bad weather on the day of our final run with the weather forecast predicting gale force winds and rain. Never before was I so prepared for terrible weather and a boring five-hour run than at this event.
But I could not have been more wrong. Which made me wonder what makes some events great and others not so great. Is it the scenery, the water points, the medals, the Expo, the T-shirts? And then it dawned on me … it’s the people! We’ve met and made friends with so many wonderful people over the past couple of years and it was fantastic to meet up with and run into some of them on this course. It’s a great feeling when you are running 42kms and realising that you know most of the people on the course as well as next to the course. All the supporters and volunteers, as well as running mates having to endure the same adverse weather conditions. You know you’re not alone and you have a lot of mates to share war stories with afterwards. As with running clubs, this is probably why so many “book clubs” also popped up. Usually, when reading a book, you’re on your own with no one to share your thoughts and feelings with, but with a book club, you get to share your thoughts, emotions and interpretations.
Starting and finishing at the Massey Rec Site, the course winds its way from the Massey campus towards the Manawatu River. Turning right just after you crossed the Fitzherbert Bridge, you follow the river walkway (Bridle Track) upstream and all the way to the car park at the end. From there the course continues onto a small rural road until you reach the Higgins Aggregates yard. Turning into their property you continue along next to the river for about 3.5 kilometres before turning around and running the same route all the way back to the Fitzherbert Bridge and the 31km mark. But instead of just going straight back to Massey, you pass underneath the bridge to follow the river downstream for another 8km out and back section. By this stage, the field was spread out quite a bit and most of the participants in the half marathon and 10km courses have passed this part of the course already, so we only saw a few more runners and walkers for the next two kilometres or so. And then it was just the two of us. The far end of the course downstream made a big loop through Paneiri and Waitoetoe Parks before returning next to the river. The loop was about 2km long, and by the time we’ve done that, there was really just a handful of other runners/walkers out on the course. The huge crowd at the bridge when we passed through at the 31km mark, had also since packed up/moved on to the finish area, so the final seven kilometres really felt like a normal training day with just us two.
I was very sore at that point. More so than what I was at our previous marathon the week before. But all the joking and chatting and laughing along the course in the first three-quarters made the kilometres go by quite fast. The hill in the last kilometre turned out to be less of a challenge than I expected it to be and working a few other muscles – as opposed to just using the same ones that have been doing all the work on the very flat course – was a welcome change. Passing within sight of the finish line to do the lap of horror, nearly was the end of me. At only 600 metres long, I cursed all the way around for having to do that bit at the end after passing so close to the finish.
Pleased to have completed our challenge in less than a 5 hour average on the 5 marathons over 5 weeks, the pain in my legs was nearly forgotten. The wind picked up again and the temperature dropped considerably and coupled with exhaustion I was shivering like a stick. We had quite variable weather conditions during the run – from being hot in the first 2km to rain, to a brief moment of sunshine, to more rain, to a strong headwind, then heavy rain, to mostly overcast, then suddenly less wind allowing us to dry out, to another shower and finally really cold conditions. As if running a marathon is not enough of a challenge.
Water points were roughly every 5kms, supplying only water, unfortunately. We carried our own bag of jelly babies, and twice on the course volunteers were handing out jelly beans, which was great. With the Bridle Track being quite busy with the general public, a few more portaloos might be useful. Once or twice a dog came running up towards me, as dogs tend to do wanting a pat or a rub, but admittedly quite a difficult side-step to make after 30+kms. Not that anyone can do anything about it – dogs have their own minds, but a minor annoyance nonetheless in the last quarter of the marathon.
With prize-giving done and dusted, we headed home for a hot shower, soup and bubbly. And with feet up, we already started contemplating – what is next?
PS. Graeme, one of our 5-in-5-in-5 teammates went on to run a 6th marathon the following weekend, achieving a 6-in-6-in-6. Well done, Graeme!