I woke up two minutes before the 4.15am alarm, tip-toed downstairs and jumped through the shower, trying my best not to wake up mum and dad who were sleeping in the lounge. I guess the hair dryer woke them up though, because on my way from the bathroom to the kitchen I got a 'good morning' from dad. So I had no qualms about turning on the light and making a cup of tea for the road and a peanut butter sandwich for the run ;) I had packed everything the night before, so just grabbed my refuel snacks to shove in my pack, filled up my water bottle, said 'see you later' and headed out the door. Martin picked me up at 5am and we were on the road, stopping at Macca's in Paeroa for a pit stop and quick breakfast. I was cheeky and ate my from-home weetbix and banana with soy milk, but did at least purchase a cup of tea... McDonald's is very far away from being my food of choice, particularly at that time of the morning!
We arrived at event base quite early - they hadn't even finished setting up the registration tent! My nerves had set in a little by then so I got quite friendly with the row of portaloos over the next hour. After about visit number three we were best buds. Martin and I made several last-minute checks, had our gear check, received our race numbers and timing chips, then Martin went on a warm up jog while I hung out with my new friends for a while longer. I was a little annoyed to discover that head torches had, at some point, become part of the compulsory gear. I am absolutely sure that it was not previously listed as essential, just recommended. If it was, I'd have been sure to get one. Y'all know how particular I can be about these things... Luckily, as we had assured them we would be running the marathon together and could share Martin's torch, they let me off with a 'make sure you have one next time' warning. (Next time? Ha! Surely you jest.)
At 8.20ish we headed over for race briefing. No mucking around this time - as soon as the brief was over, we were off. With a field of 35 runners in the marathon distance, we settled into a few bunches and kept a pretty easy pace through the first few kilometres of single track.
After the first of several (very very cold) river crossings we all spread out a bit. I got a bit ahead of Martin for a while, who was not feeling so flash early on. I started to get worried - whenever I looked back, I couldn't see him. He was the one with the head torch!! How was I going to get through the tunnel in the second half of the run without a head torch?!? We'd been told that they were going to put lights in the tunnel, but I started racking my brain to think of a way of acquiring a torch before reaching it, just in case. I had thoughts of running through event base at the half-way point yelling 'has anybody got a spare head torch?!?' in the hopes that somebody would be able to help me out. Thankfully, Marty caught up again a little while later. He had his own doubts at that point - he checked my race number, and asked if I'd like to swap the head torch to my pack at the first aid station in case he had to bail. I told him quite firmly 'no, you're finishing this', so he shut up and carried on. Bless him.
I'd decided somewhere along the way that I wasn't going to stop if I didn't need to. This meant running through the aid stations - they're supposed to be a back-up anyway, you should have enough water and food to be self-sufficient - but it also meant not stopping to take any photos of the amazing scenery. And believe me, it was amazing! I think Martin stopped at each aid station to grab something to eat or drink or have a bit of natter, but I just kept moving, knowing he'd catch up again soon. I decided to eat something every hour give or take a few minutes, which worked out pretty well. I had plenty of supplies - date and cashew balls, a power cookie, a peanut butter sandwich, and four gels. The date and cashew balls weren't quite right for the day though. I had one after the first hour of running, and it was way too sweet. After the second hour I had my PB sandwich. Let me tell you, that was hard work! I felt a little nauseated but made myself eat it. My mouth was dry, and y'all know how good peanut butter is at sticking to the roof of your mouth. I got through it though, and was acutely aware of it sitting in my stomach for the next hour. From there I alternated gels and power cookie halves. By the end, all I had left was a gel and the three remaining date and cashew balls. I'd gone through almost the entire two litres of water in my pack too, there was about 100ml left I think.
Before we'd finished the first half of the run, I was questioning my ability to make it to the end. I tripped at one point, landing on all fours, and had to talk myself out of a mini pity-party before my eyes started to well up. Knowing we had to pass through event base, I had the feeling that I wouldn't want to keep going. The first half was quite a challenge. Everything already hurt - knees, lower back, hip flexors... But on our steep descent on the way back towards Dickey Flat campsite, we passed some trampers who had done the marathon in previous years. One of them made the comment that the second half was a lot more cruisy. That sounded very welcoming! By the time we reached the camp ground I was feeling a lot better, and powered through to the second half.
I'll admit it was a little weird running through the base, along the car park area and past tents and campers. There were cones and arrows, but I still got a bit confused about exactly where I was supposed to be going. Once we were past that section and back onto the track, it was much easier. We made it to the tunnel which, incidentally, did NOT have any lighting in it. If it wasn't for Martin's head torch, I wouldn't have made it through. He went ahead and I kept a very tight grip on his trail pack! You could see the end of tunnel, but it was incredibly dark inside and the footing was really uneven and rocky. I wobbled a bit and had to put my hand out to the side, hoping like hell there wasn't a cave weta or giant spider sitting on the wall!!
We found that the ascent over the second half of the course was indeed cruisy - the elevation map had lead me to believe it would be far more challenging. Turns out I suck at reading and understanding elevation maps... Unfortunately though, we settled in to our familiar Waitakeres-training-run-style brisk walk and were so busy yakking that we didn't really notice how long we'd been walking for. Maybe it was my complaining about how much everything hurt - I was actually worried that my hip flexors were going to fail and soon I wouldn't be able to lift my legs to take any more uphill forward steps. It wasn't until a group of three passed us, and another guy caught up soon after that we decided it was time to hustle. We spent the next while alternating between running and walking, and I found that things didn't hurt quite so much when I was running, but a slightly steeper uphill would tire me so I'd slow to a walk again. We went through the Dubbo 96 intersection the first time without any issue and just kept trucking, enjoying the scenery and chatting away happily. The downhill, when we finally reached it, was quite hard by that stage. I had been looking forward to it for a while, but found that my knees weren't enjoying it at all. Nor were my poor battered toes! Martin got ahead of me quite a bit in this section, as he found the downhills much easier to handle. After the second pass through the Dubbo 96 intersection, we knew we didn't have too much further to go. Having said that, we were quite unsure exactly how far, because our watches had a difference of over 4km in distance covered. We tried asking somebody else we saw along the way, but he wasn't much help - his watch said he'd already covered 42km! We questioned aid station helpers to try to narrow it down a bit. They were pretty vague, but we guessed it was about 8km. I kept counting down each kilometre and was glad to know that even if I was unsure of the actual distance left, I would be able to run it and finish the race.
Some time later I was surprised and very happy to spot Deane sitting on the side of the track, waiting for us so he could get some pictures. I was even happier to find out that we only had one kilometre to go then - I was expecting another four!! From there we ran the rest of the way without stopping (except to climb over the last fence stile), and I could hear the announcer calling out my name, congratulating me on running my first marathon on my 35th birthday. Apparently he'd been announcing this information for the last several hours, and everyone (well, everyone who was still at event base that hadn't already left) was waiting for me to cross the finish line. Ha! X was at the fence stile waiting to congratulate me, and ran most of the last few hundred metres alongside us, which was very sweet. T was on the other side, jumping up and down. I could hear mum yelling 'go Jody!'. It was pretty awesome. I was waving like a loon, and grinning from ear to ear. Another surprise was seeing Robbie (my mother-in-law's partner) waiting at the finish line to give me a big hug. He'd come up for the day, run in the short distance race, and was waiting with a bottle of bubbly. My boys gave me a medal each - the official one for the race (which was a surprise, I thought there wasn't going to be one!) and one they'd had made for me (because I was disappointed at the thought of not getting one for my first marathon). Happy happy happy!!!! By my watch, I had run 46.66km in 7:33:37 (official time 7:33:54, official distance 43.5km). I was 7th out of 9 women, and 30th out of 35 overall. Certainly not outstanding, but hey, I did it!! Life goal achieved!
The boys are running alongside us in the background, you can see T just in front of me, and X behind me. As always, cheers to Photos4Sale for the awesome snaps
Celebratory bubbly in hand, wearing my two medals (thanks to Sue Davidson from the Hillary Trail Runners group for this pic, via Facebook):
Hmm, wonder what I should do next...? ;)