Auckland North Shore Marathon 2017: my first!

This race is still very fresh in my mind and is also my biggest achievement so far, so I figured it will be a good starting point to describe my experience as a runner in New Zealand.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the North Shore Marathon usually happens during the 1st Sunday of September, which also more or less marks the beginning of Spring and the hope for better weather. I believe the event is more of a double Half Marathon rather than a Marathon. There are way more entrants for the Half distance and the Marathon runners are doing the 21km loop twice. If you are planning to finish the event in about 4h, you will most probably join the start of the Half group. While the price is quite cheap, a big letdown of this course is that on top of having to run the same loop twice, you often pass the same streets, running one way and then the other.

Representing France and Alsace! A guy asked me if I came all the way just for this event! 🙂

I joined the event last year for the 10k and initially registered for the Half distance. But since I plan to run longer than 42km in the coming months, I figured it might be more interesting to see if I was first able to complete a Marathon on road and decided to upgrade my entry. My second challenge of the day was to finish in less than 5h, because my dear wife Maria was running her first 5k at 11am and I had to get our daughter from her before she could start.

Full disclosure: I did NOT prepare well for this event. Winter in Auckland is ruthless for me. Not because of the cold (I come from Alsace, it can reach -15C there and I survived Saint Petersburg during Winter), but because it is so humid! Houses are damp, everything is damp. The whole family got sick and I was feeling pretty bad in July and the weeks prior to the event. The prospect of having to train in windy and rainy conditions combined with the risk of getting sick again did not help me finding the strength to prepare like I should. The longest run I did was a week before the event, joining the (amazing and free on Sundays) Tempofit group and running 2 of their 15k Takapuna + Devonport loop, which is in the same area as the North Shore Marathon. And that was actually my longest run ever: 30km. I told you I am a beginner!

The event starts at 6am. It had been raining the entire Saturday and during the night so I was already prepared to be wet. But to be honest, this was the least of my concerns. I used to pack a light rain jacket during rainy days, but it never helped me stay dry, so I don’t bring it anymore. I don’t mind the rain. I’m going to be sweaty anyway, so I might as well embrace a “refreshing” shower. Luckily, it did NOT rain. I was a bit cold at the start and there was some wind, but no rain.

I knew that they don’t give any food during this event, so I packed dry mangoes (probably not the best food for runners and I don’t care… I just find them delicious and they give me a good “kick” when I need it) and a few cereal bars. I did not pack any water because I knew there were enough aid stations along the way to cater my hydration needs.

And off we went. The race starts on the beach and it was still very dark so I couldn’t see much. I’ll keep in mind to bring a headlamp next year. I ran about 3km next to a woman who was puffing a lot. I might be a beginner, but after a year of running, I have learned to control that rush of enthusiasm you get at the beginning of a race, where you feel like you can/have to follow the leaders of the pack. I also knew that while I can complete a Half marathon in about 2 hours, I couldn’t keep the same pace for 42km. It’s all about being patient and pacing yourself. And that’s exactly what I did. I was trying to not go faster than 6:30/km. But that poor woman was puffing, breathing hard and loud after only a few km. I believed she pushed too hard and she probably paid the price for it, because she quickly dropped never to be seen again. I sincerely hope she was able to finish.

At about 5k and 33min in, I saw the 1st runner coming back our way, meaning he had climbed the North Head Historic Reserve Hill and was already more than 8km in. Wow. It made me wonder how he would be able to keep that pace for the 34 remaining km, but also how long it would take me to finish MY run!

Reaching the top of the hill

I had bad memories of that hill from the 2016 Devonport Half Marathon, when it was pouring rain and the area was just a messy trail of mud. I dreaded it because I didn’t want to slip and fall with my road running shoes. It turned out that it wasn’t that muddy this time and I reached the top without any struggle.

16km: I get cheered by Tanya, a German professional triathlete I drove to several events in the past. I will see her again at the finish, where she will tell me that my time was “good for a first”.

I spent the rest of my first loop taking note of all the hills and difficulty of some segments to be ready for the second loop. I secretly hoped to be fast enough to finish my first loop in exactly 2 hours to see the Half start and say hi to a few friends doing it. But nope, it would take me 2h20min to finish it. Even though I missed them, finishing my first loop in less than 2h30min made me feel confident that I could finish the whole thing in less than 5h, which was the challenge to allow Maria to run her first 5k. I felt pretty good crossing the start line again and grabbing a few lollies (candies if you don’t speak local 🙂 ). Hold on! Don’t get too confident, you know that the real challenge only starts after 30k.

Still pretty confident after about 17k

At about 25km I crossed Cameron’s way, a runner I have often met during Tempofit events. He was running the Half and was already 8km in. We both saw each other and gave each other an epic high 5 that reboosted me before attacking the big hill for the second time. I also crossed Katie’s way a few hundred meters later. She only saw me after I shouted “Go Katie” to her. A bit cocky, I thought her husband was behind her and shouted “Go Kyle” but this dude turned out to be a totally random guy who must have taken me for a weirdo.

I had a nice chat on top of the hill with “Tim” who was running his… I can’t remember, but this marathon wasn’t his first and won’t be his last. He praised me for my positive attitude as I was explaining to him that it was my first Marathon: “You did not choose the easiest one”. He is right, this one is pretty hilly (482m positive ascent according to Strava). He passed me and I didn’t see him again later. Very nice guy.

The good thing about doing the same loop twice is that you get to overtake some of the slower runners from shorter distances. It gave me a really good boost when I needed it. But then I hit the 30k wall. To be honest, I was feeling great mentally and in terms of cardio. I wasn’t feeling hungry or thirsty… but THE LEGS! Oh gosh, my poor knees. The distance was taking its toll. But I kept running and didn’t stop. I passed Poema, my mate Boaz’ fiancee at about 32k. I believe I complained about the fact that “I’m going to die pretty soon”. But she reminded me that I can do it. And she was right: I had already done more than 75% of it. 10k to go.

A quick chat with “Tim” who praised my positive attitude when reaching the top of the hill.

The last aid station was at about 38km. A volunteer handed me a glass of electrolytes, but I raised 2 fingers: “Two for me, mate”. Absolutely needed to finish this.

39km: I recognized the tattoos of Beau, a guy I ran a Waywiser trip with last March and saw at several events, while he was passing me. He was running the 10k distance, very very fast runner.

42km. 4:48:56. I MADE IT! The finish line was there. Maria and Elise were there. I also saw Boaz waiting for Poema near the finish. Ready to cheer her. I got my medal. I drank loads. I ate some and… Maria was off. Time to take care of Elise. Gosh, all I wanted is to lie on a bed and sleep but I had to play with my 3 years old! Maria finished her 5k, we changed and we could finally enjoy the pizza we had been talking about since 5 days!

I’ll be doing this event next year again since one of my other events’ entry has been transferred to it already. So see you in 2018.

Things I liked:

  • The price is cheap, even for late entries,
  • If you decide to run for the first time, they give a medal for every distance. Bling is always a good way to find motivation.
  • The volunteer, especially the funny, laughing loud ones at the bottom of the North Head Historic Reserve


Things I liked less:

  • No food at the end of the event. Not even a banana. I would be ready to give an extra $5 for a cereal bar or a banana.
  • Doing 2 loops of the same things. Especially since a lot of the sections are going both ways on the same street.