Auckland Marathon 2011 – Mike Lichtwark steps up

After a long period of procrastination I decided it was finally time to take on a marathon.  Putting off doing a marathon was in large part due to the respect I have for the distance.  I have done my fair share of half marathons and they can be very difficult – especially if you go all out.  But I fully subscribe to the theory that humans can run reasonably comfortably for approx 30km or two hours – after that the body is doing something it’s not really made to do.  That has always been my experience anyway.

So with that in mind I spent more time trying to plan out the race than I do usually.  The plan was to try and feel really easy through halfway, get to to the turn at St Heliers in one piece and take it from there.  Normally I don’t eat during a half, but with the marathon i knew i’d need fuel, so planned to take four gels at various parts of the course with my mate Mike K on a bike to support so that i didn’t have to carry them.  Finally, I decided not to wear a watch, as I don’t really like the weight on my arm, and like to run free without checking on splits all the time.

Race morning came and I was up at 4am to have some weetbix.  Then back to bed for 45 mins sleep, before travelling down to Devo.  The start was at 6.10 am, and usually at that time of morning it would be a bit chilly and mean you need to keep a jersey on until the last possible moment.  But in a sign of things to come, it was a very pleasant temperature already.

I had planned to run with my friend Jase, who was wearing a GPS watch and would keep us on track for a sub-3 time.  However, as the gun went I dodged past a couple of people who were a bit slower, and then didn’t see Jase again for another 2 hours 45.  The start of the marathon is much more chilled out than a half, and even though I was trying not to put in too much effort I found myself up in the second bunch – probably inside the top 20.

The next couple of hours were really fun.  My legs felt very light and effortless.  There was a lot of support out on the course, and wearing my Takapuna singlet was a good call as lots of people support you for that – especially over on the Shore.  I cruised through halfway and was looking forward to picking up the effort.  Mike H had given me the sage advice of not trying to be a hero in the first half, and not being a pussy in the second.  I felt like i was following that advice.  I passed a guy and asked him what time we’d done for the first half, and his answer of 84 mins surprised me, but i thought that was good news, and gave me a big buffer to break 3 hours.  Surely, I couldn’t miss it now, especially when I was feeling so great.

The 3rd quarter of the race goes from town out to St Heliers.  Things were starting to get tougher – especially with a sea breeze picking up.  I saw Ron near Ngapipi Rd, he asked how i was feeling and i said “good” and meant it.  I was breaking down the course into where I’d see supporters – Mum at Barrys Point Rd and Curran St, Mike K on his bike just before the drink stops with gels, Mike H and Heidi in Mission Bay.   It was also a big benefit to know the course so well.  I think if i’d been doing any other marathon course not knowing exactly where i was would have played on my mind.

I was glad to get to the turnaround at St Heliers.  A couple of people passed me at this point and i felt like i was slowing down, but wasn’t too worried.  I was expecting things to get hard and was ready to dig in.  It was nice to have the wind behind me.  From Mission Bay Dave Robertson was following me on his bike, and kept a great stream of encouragement going which I appreciated, but probably couldn’t show that externally.  The wheels were starting to come unstuck, and I was battling through the wall and then having mini recoveries.  However, overall i was trending downwards and the wheels were definitely starting to come off.  Coming through Mechanics Bay towards the port, first Jase, and then the 3 hour bunch passed me.  Not a good sign as i’d been a long way up at the turnaround, and there was nothing I could do to stay with the pace.

At the final drink station at 40k I figured i needed whatever fuel i could get to make it to the finish – so i walked through and had cup of powerade, then a coke, then water.  I tried to run again – but the body disagreed and I had to make an emergency toilet stop at the conveniently placed portaloo.  Having to stop and be seated did my legs no favours and they were cramping pretty badly as i struggled through the last two km.  As i came around the final corner, i looked up and saw 3.03 on the clock.  I managed to pick up the pace for one last effort down the finish straight and get across the finish line just before it ticked over to 3.04.  My brother Nick ran 3.04 for the Nice-Cannes marathon last year – so it was a consolation to the fastest marathon runner from my immediate family.  Nick is running again in a couple of weeks so i suspect i won’t have that title for long.

I have never been so tired at the end of a race – just a full body exhaustion.  It took me a long time to get out of the shoot, but i was met there by Dave and Mike K.  Dave gave me a man hug, which was brave considering how sweaty I was, and I can honestly say it was one of the most emotional hugs I’ve ever had.

Reflecting on the race, it was an epic experience and the Auckland marathon has a great atmosphere.  The end result can definitely be improved on, and so i will be back.  I always thought that people who ran multiple marathons were a bit odd, so it is strange to be considering my next one already.  Sign me up for the weirdos club i guess.  Just hoping I don’t become so unhinged that I think 100k runs (or 100k fixed mtbs) are a good idea!

Mike Lichtwark

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4 thoughts on “Auckland Marathon 2011 – Mike Lichtwark steps up

  1. Superb write-up thanks Mikey! I thought you had the sub 3 when you went through Mission Bay. Your return pass did look a bit more restricted, with those few fellas sneaking ahead of you as you mentioned. I wonder if you can let us know what parts of you broke down at the end? Was it an energy lack/fatigue, or did you have localised pain or stiffness? Any ideas on how to improve for another time? Well done mate – a super quick debut for sure.

    • yeah i thought i was still ok going through mission bay – definitely feeling it, but i have been to that place on a run before and didn’t think it would get much worse. thought i could struggle home in the late 2.50s rather than the low 2.50s i’d been heading to.

      my memories after there are pretty fuzzy, but seemed to just keep getting worse. i’d have mini recoveries but wasn’t enough to fight it. just seemed to be general fatigue rather than anywhere specific. the legs just weren’t turning over.

      i remember asking dave the time with 5k to go and working out i had 25 mins to make 3 hours which seemed do-able. dave told me he kept track of my k splits and they deteriorated from still under 5min/ks to 6min/ks and then with the toilet stop it was all over.

      not quite sure what i’ll do differently next time. probably know that i have to be even more conservative than i think. with retrospect i probably also should have been tipping more water on myself to keep the core cool.

      fun times

  2. Beautiful description and excellent work on the gritty finish. An array of motivating targets (low 2:50s, high 2:50s, 3:00, <3:04) seem to be a 'must have' for the the lottery that is the debut marathon. Whatever gets you through the last 10km, 2km, 500m…

    Think I'll procrastinate a bit more before entering a road marathon. I've got pleny of excuses I can still pull out 😉

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