#36 Run a Half Marathon

This bucket list item was completed on 26th June 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand.

Although I completed this in 2016, the story starts back in 2013. This was a big year for my bucket list because I managed to cross eight items off the list. I was riding that high towards the end of the year and wanted to see if there was something else that I could cross off the list to maintain my momentum.

Having just settled into New Plymouth, with a new flat and my first engineering job, I realised that almost everyone has some sort of outdoor hobby in New Plymouth. There were a few keen runners at work, and it was them, who gave me the inspiration to go after #36.

I started researching half marathons at the end of November and pulled up a 10-week training programme from one of the event websites. The New Plymouth half marathon was scheduled for 8th February 2014, which was almost exactly 10 weeks away. I decided that there was no time like the present, so I went home and started running.

I had never completed a running race before, so I thought the best thing would be to follow the training programme to absolute perfection. If it rained, I ran in the rain. If I had to work late, I ran in the dark. If the surf was pumping after work, I went for a surf and then went running. Nothing stopped me from missing a day. I even went on a two-week trip through Northland over the Christmas break and maintained my programme.

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Towards the end of January the programme was starting to peak and I was running for up to 1.5 hours per session. Everything felt great. I could run any distance on the programme without getting tired and I lost about 10 kg. I felt incredibly fit and knew that I was going to smash the race in just over two weeks.

On one of the bigger runs throughout the week, I started to develop a pain in my knee. It came on slowly during the run but continued to get worse as I persisted. It got to the point where the pain was unbearable, and I had to walk the rest of the way home.

I wasn’t sure what I had done but thought that maybe it was time to take a couple days off and rest. I stretched as much as I could and rolled my legs to try to loosen up the muscles. I took three days off and then decided to give it another shot on Saturday.

The programme had a long run scheduled for Saturday, so I figured that it would be a good test for my knee. I set off with the intention of completing the whole run, but after 30 minutes, I was in pain and found myself walking back toward the house. This confirmed that I had done something serious enough not to be ignored, but what did I do?

I ceased all running and booked in with a physiotherapist the following week. The physio did a few quick checks and confirmed that all the ligaments were in working order. He continued to try to diagnose the issue, but there was nothing obvious. I was sent home with a list of exercises and stretches, hoping that these would be able to sort me out in just under two weeks.

I did my exercises ritually and didn’t get back into running. I knew that it wasn’t going to be ideal, but I needed to stay off my knee until the race. I really wanted to make this race happen and was hoping that my prior training would be enough.

The race was on Saturday and collection of our entry packs was on Friday. I left work, got my race pack and went straight home to have a practice run. If I could run for 30 minutes, then I was going to go for it the following day.

I laced up my shoes, put on my newly acquired running top from my race pack and headed off for a run, like I had done many times before. I was so anxious to get my answer that I was constantly looking at my watch. Five minutes – all good. Ten minutes – all good. Fifteen minutes – all good.

Around the 22-minute mark, the pain returned. By 25 minutes I was done. The next 15 minutes were spent walking home. I walked into the house, sat on the couch and moped for the next few hours. There goes #36…

I was so close that I could almost taste it, and then it was all gone, a day before the race. This wasn’t the first time that I was stopped from achieving something from my bucket list and it certainly was not the last, but this one really sucked.

I continued to go to physio for several weeks after the injury, but a lack of progress left me unmotivated and I eventually gave up on trying to find my answer. For the next two years, I just learned to live with the pain and avoided running at all costs.

End of Act 1.

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Act 2 of this story starts in March 2016, when my best mate, Jesse, arrived in New Zealand. It was always his dream to live and work here, and three years after university, it became a reality. I got him a job at the company I worked for and our adventures picked up where they left off in Halifax in 2013.

I don’t remember why I decided to have a second try at #36, but I think it had something to do with the excitement of Jesse being in New Zealand. Again, I went back to researching half marathons and found the Wellington half marathon, conveniently about 10 weeks away. I pulled out the same training programme and got to work. It starts off with short, low intensity runs, which I needed to help me get back into it.

The pain had not gone away and, in fact, became a part of everyday life. It hurt even when I walked around the office. Since I experienced this pain day-after-day, I learned what positions and movements reduced the pain. I had to use this knowledge when progressing through the training programme.

I had to shorten my stride and drop my hips as low as possible. My legs never reached full extension, rather they stayed bent during the whole run and acted more like springs. My torso bounced less, and my legs had to move even faster to achieve the same pace that I had achieved before. From an onlooker’s perspective, I am sure that I looked like Sonic the Hedgehog.

This almost eliminated all the pain in my knee, but it was exhausting on my quads. As I continued to train, my legs got used to this new running style and it was manageable. On longer runs, I could feel the pain creeping back in, which was my signal to regain my posture.

This time, I took to the training programme with a lot less enthusiasm. If the day got too busy, I just skipped the run and opted for more sleep. I made sure that I completed most of the runs, but I was considerably less fit this time, compared to 2014. Regardless of my fitness level, I managed to get through the 10-week programme without any further injuries.

Jesse and I left New Plymouth on Friday and made the drive down to Wellington. I have always loved Wellington and was keen to show off the city to Jesse. We arrived late on Friday, so we kept it simple and enjoyed a pint at the pub before calling it a night.

The following day, I took Jesse down to Lyall Bay to catch a few waves. Then it was up to Mt Victoria for a view of the city. I didn’t want to get up to anything too strenuous with the race in the morning, so I took it easy.

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There was an All Blacks game on that evening and Jesse really wanted to go to the pub to watch it. I agreed, but under the condition that I would only split one pitcher with him and then I was going to bed after the game. Well, one pitcher led to two, which led to three…

The combination of beer and pub food definitely angered my stomach and made for a terrible sleep. I probably only got five hours of decent sleep that night, but the fact that I was actually going to run had me buzzing from the time that my alarm went off.

I took the shuttle bus from the hotel, out to the starting line at the Westpac Stadium. I arrived early and had plenty of time to hydrate and stretch. As the clock ticked down, I began to find my position in the starting pack. I was nervous right up until the horn sounded for us to begin the half marathon.

The race was well organised and even had pace setters for different times. My goal was to complete the race in two hours so I found the 1:45 pace setter and the 2:00 pace setter and made sure to stay in between them throughout the whole race. They formed a bit of a buffer for me to run in, and I used this to figure out whether I was falling behind or going too fast.

Wellington is known for being a windy city, and sure enough, I was dealing with a headwind as I left Westpac Stadium, heading south on Waterloo Quay. The race followed the quayside, on to Oriental Parade and then around to Maupuia. I had a headwind almost the whole time, until I got to the halfway point in Maupuia.

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I reached the halfway point at 1:04, so I knew that I would have to shave off a bit of time to make it in two hours. Luckily, I would have the tailwind pushing me back to the stadium, so I knew it was achievable.

As with my training, the whole race was a constant focusing exercise, except now I had more to think about. “How is my hydration?” “Keep your hips down.” “You need to do this half in 56 minutes to make two hours.” “A bit of pain, let the quads do the work.” “Time for some energy gels.” “Oh damn, the 2:00 pace setter just passed you. SPEED UP!”

While I was banking on a tailwind, Wellington did what Wellington does, and switched the wind direction. As I rounded Evans Bay and began to head north, back to the stadium, I found myself in a headwind again.

I was more than halfway through the race at this point and knew that only stubbornness would allow me to put up with the wind. I just blocked it out of my thought process and kept running like the headwind didn’t exist. I had enough to worry about already.

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As I started coming back up the quayside, fatigue really began to set in. The lactic acid was building up and my quads were on fire. Luckily the whole race was flat, except for the pedestrian ramp, in the last 500 m, that we had to run up to reach the finish line.

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That last 100 m was the hardest running I have ever done, which is obvious from the pain in my eyes. All that pain was worth it because I managed to cross the line at 2:00:27, right on my goal!

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After finishing the race, I slowly walked around the stadium concourse area to catch my breath. I was given a medal to celebrate and some electrolytes to recover.

I was still trying to catch my breath, hanging my body over a handrail, when Jesse tracked me down. He said, “Look up” and snapped this picture. Despite the look on my face, I was so happy to finally cross this one off the bucket list. At the time of publishing this blog it is still the most rewarding item that I have completed.

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End of Act 2.

I am currently in Act 3, which involves me confronting what actually happened to my knee and getting the answers that I have long ignored. Pain is something that affects all of us and the years have taught me that knowledge is better than ignorance. My mission now is to figure out what I have done and fix it.

Have you run a half marathon? Where did you do it? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure to check back for my next post, which will discuss the lesson learned by completing this item. Want to be notified when it is posted? Subscribe below.

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