Philip Teakle’s New Zealand marathon story
Philip Teakle’s New Zealand marathon story
I decided this year I’d like to give a running tour a try. When intraining announced a New Zealand tour the combination of beautiful scenery, a short flight and reasonable costs seemed ideal for a first go. The timing was also good: my training was interrupted for a month by a holiday in July so I had two months to build up the kms before the 6th of October. I booked an appointment for a half-marathon training plan with Steve Manning. It would be my 6th half marathon for the year but I wondered if I should do something special. Steve said I would have enough time to do a longer run… well, one thing led to another and I walked out with a plan for doing a marathon in 3:38 (5:10 mins/km), slightly better than my Gold Coast PB of 3:40. I had done only two marathons before, both at the Gold Coast, and both had excruciating final 10 kms in which I felt I was desperately fighting the urge to stop.
I followed my training plan rigorously. I pushed myself during weeknight speed and threshold sessions, and loved the long training runs with the pre-dawn starts, mid-morning finishes and hours in between just being in the moment. I was tired and sore a lot and looking forward to the taper (Steve: “It’s not hard training that makes good performance: it’s recovery from hard training.”) During the taper the aches and pains subsided, but without the hard training some doubts did start to creep in.
The day of departure finally arrived and we had to be at the airport by 4:30am.
I got out of my Uber at the airport and immediately realised that out of habit I had asked for the domestic airport instead of the international terminal.
I turned around and tried to get my driver’s attention but he sped off from the kerb without seeing me. The airport was very quiet but after a while a taxi driver saw me. I arrived five minutes late, the last to arrive. I saw the tour group for the first time and although about half were familiar faces I wondered how we’d all get along since, well, other runners can sometimes be a bit odd. Not me, of course.
The flight over went without a hitch and the next morning we hit the supermarket to get our carbs. Margot Manning looked into my basket and said it looked a bit light on, and proceeded to load me up with bagels, rolls, popcorn, biscuits, juice, flavoured milk and bananas. Clearly my vision of carb loading was less grand than hers! I duly proceeded to stuff myself the rest of the day, to the amusement of others. In the van on the four-hour drive to Mt Cook we were starting to get to know each other better and there was more laughter.
On arrival at Mt Cook Lodge, it was raining and cold. The course was an out-and-return done twice by marathoners, with the outbound leg descending over 100m in 10.5km and a couple of hills. Steve cautioned that we should run to the conditions, not the plan, and the weather and predicted headwinds on the uphill return leg might require lowering our goals.
I like to think of myself as a go-with-the-flow kinda guy, but I confess this uncertainty bothered me and I had a restless night.
Several of the other runners had injuries and interrupted training, and had altered their goals accordingly. My room-mate, Adrian Morrison, who was doing the half was very understanding and put up with my noisy tip-toeing in the dark to the loo and my early alarm for a last bowl of cereal.
The start line was two minutes from our room – luxury! – and I found Steve there, all smiles. “The weather is perfect!”
“Excellent!” I thought. “Back to Plan A: a 3:38 marathon.” I guessed that a 5:00-5:05 pace would be suitable for the downhill leg and 5:15-5:20 for the return leg, giving an overall average of about 5:10 pace.
For me, the start is always a relief. I managed to keep close to James Rees for the first leg. He was good company but pulled ahead of me on the way back. During this time I chatted with some other runners and we admired the views of Mt Cook and Mt Sefton on the way back (“There’s the entry fee right there,” said Kate from Brisbane).
I was mostly on my own for the serious bit – the final 20km – apart from seeing Helen Keegan at the last turnaround and the occasional intraining runners on the other side of the road – it was always a brief joy exchanging encouragement with them.
The final uphill 10km was very tough but the spectacular view of the mountains distracted me for a time. One of the walking half-marathoners reminded me of my daughter and that lifted my spirits too. James Rees had a great last leg and was by now far ahead. Fortunately, it was a case of him speeding up rather than me slowing down – he did a negative split whereas I did a constant split. I pushed to maintain my goal pace but felt I was keeping it all together much better than in my previous marathons.
Finally, the finish was near and I was looking forward to the usual intraining reception. I was elated to cross the line.
The icing on the cake was my official time: 3:37:59 – one second ahead of schedule!
After the race there was plenty of time in the schedule for rest, but most of us took all the opportunities available to sightsee and socialise. At night, most stayed up at the bar until closing time (not too late) enjoying each other’s company. We had a last celebratory dinner in Christchurch before getting an early flight back home. Remarkably, I wasn’t aware of any complaints or antagonism amongst the tour group at any time.
This was certainly the highlight of what’s been a great running year for me.
I am already looking forward to next year’s. The tour planning and execution couldn’t be faulted and I would highly recommend it to any runner and their supporters.