Monday, October 31, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Auckland Marathon

On October 30, I ran the Auckland Marathon on New Zealand’s North Island.  This was my third international trip of the year and my second new country.  It was also the farthest I’ve ever traveled for a race.  To get to Auckland, I had three flights totaling 10,362 miles.  Including airport layovers, it took 28 hours to get there.

Tuesday, October 25

First I flew to Los Angeles.  When I arrived, there was a Delta employee in the jet bridge holding a sign with my name.  She was from Delta Elite Services and asked if I wanted a ride to terminal 5.  She drove me around the planes to the gate closest to the Delta SkyClub, where I waited until my next flight.  That was a new experience.

After a three hour layover, I left LA on a 15 hour flight to Sydney, Australia.  It was 11:00 PM Pacific Time, but to me, it already felt like 1:00 AM.  I had to wait until after the meal service before I could try to sleep.

Thursday, October 27

What happened to Wednesday?  I crossed six time zones flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, but I also crossed the International Date Line.  When I arrived in Sydney, it was already 8:00 AM Thursday morning.

I spent almost half the flight trying to sleep, but only managed to fall asleep for half an hour.  That was enough to get me through the next day.

I’m getting better at packing light.  Either that or I’m getting better at stuffing things into my small suitcase.  Including the travel days, this was an eight day trip, but I managed to get by with just a carry-on.  That saved me time in Sydney.  If I checked a bag, I would have needed to retrieve it in Sydney and then re-check it before boarding my flight to Auckland.  I also didn’t have to worry about a lost bag on a trip where I flew on two different airlines.

I had enough time between flights that I was able to have brunch in the Sydney airport.  Add Australia to the list of countries where I’ve had pizza.

After one more flight, I finally arrived in Auckland around 4:00 PM.  The airport is a long way from downtown Auckland.  A cab ride would have been too expensive, so I took a Super Shuttle.  It normally takes about an hour, but traffic was horrendous.  By the time I got to my hotel, it was already 6:00.  Surprisingly, I didn’t feel that tired.

I stayed at the Auckland Hilton, which is on Princes Wharf, in the heart of downtown.  It was a great location for both sightseeing and the marathon.  I could walk to almost everything.  The Hilton is right on the water, and it has a nautical theme.  There’s a small wing facing the harbor that’s shaped like a sail.  From just outside the hotel, I had great views of the harbor, including Auckland Harbour Bridge.

The weather in Auckland was cool but comfortable.  Late October in the Southern Hemisphere is like late April in the Northern Hemisphere.  During my stay, I experienced high temperatures in the 60s and overnight lows in the 50s.

Auckland has lots of good craft beers, so I tried to eat at restaurants that were attached to breweries.  For dinner, I went to Brothers Beer, where I had my first pizza in New Zealand.  I had pizza in two new countries in one day.  This pizza had bacon, pineapple, mango chutney and cilantro.  Hawaiian pizza is popular here, but the mango chutney gave it a local spin.

By the time I left the restaurant, it was getting dark, and I got to see what the Sky Tower looks like at night.

I had no trouble getting to sleep, but I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Jet lag was rearing its ugly head.

Friday, October 28

On Friday, I took an all-day guided tour.  The bus picked me up at my hotel, but I had to rush through breakfast, so I would be ready to leave on time.

My tour was actually two separate guided tours that happened to be in the same region.  The first one was a tour of the Hobbiton movie set.  Hobbiton was the fictional home of the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

The set used for the Lord of the Rings movies was built on a 1,250 acre sheep and cattle farm near Matamata.  After filming, that set was torn down.  When the producers returned to the same farm to build another set for the Hobbit movies, the farmer agreed, but this time he wanted them to build something that could be used as a tourist attraction when they were done filming.

The set includes 44 hobbit holes, plus fields, gardens, and other sights depicted in the movies.  Our guide pointed out which parts of the set were used in memorable scenes.  I was impressed by the incredible attention to detail.  Some parts of the set took weeks to build, but only appears on screen for a few seconds in passing shots.

Our Hobbiton tour concluded with a free drink at the Green Dragon Inn and a buffet lunch.  It was a meal fit for hobbits.

The second guided tour was at the Waitomo Glowworm Cave.  The Waitomo Caves are limestone caves with lots of stalactites and stalagmites.  The cool, damp environment in the caves is a natural habitat for glowworms.  Where we entered the Glowworm cave, it was well lit, and there were large chambers where we could see all the limestone formations around us.  Then we descended to a lower level, where a river flows through the cave.  We boarded small boats to travel slowly through this section, which is unlit.

In the lower section of the cave, it was completely dark, except for the phosphorescent glow of thousands of tiny glowworms.  They looked like tiny blue points of light.  Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you can see them all over the ceiling of the cave.  It was like looking at stars in the nighttime sky.

Matamata and Waitomo were both a long distance from Auckland.  We spent hours on the road in a large tour bus.  We got to see quite a bit of the countryside, and our driver told us about the history of the area.

When I got back to the hotel, it was late, and I was too tired to go out.  I had a light dinner at a seafood restaurant at the hotel.

That night I got more sleep.  I still woke up at 3:00, but I was able to get back to sleep.

Saturday, October 29

On Saturday, I didn’t need to be in any rush, so I was able to enjoy my breakfast at the hotel.  They had a buffet with a great deal of variety.  It was similar to breakfast buffets at nice hotels in Europe, but there were also Asian dishes, like pork dumplings and local foods, such as yellow kiwi fruit.

After breakfast, I walked over to the Viaduct Events Center, where the marathon expo was held.  In addition to my race bib and gear bag, I received a wrist band, which served as my ticket for the ferry ride to the start.

Next, I walked over to Queens Wharf for a free walking tour that started at 10:00.  We started along some smaller streets parallel to Queen Street.  Our guide gave us some of the history of the city, and told us how some of the older neighborhoods have changed over time.  If I was walking by myself, I could easily have walked past many of the historic buildings without noticing them.  After walking as far as the art museum, we went through Albert Park and over to the Old Governor’s House.  Then we worked our way back to Queen’s Wharf.

After the tour, I continued to explore downtown Auckland on my own, starting with Queen Street.  Along the way, I was also scouting for a good place to eat dinner (i.e. a brewery with pizza).  I eventually settled on Shakespeare Hotel & Brewery.

Sunday, October 30

Sunday was race day.  My alarm was set for 3:00, but I woke up at 1:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  This time it wasn’t jet lag.  It was pre-race nerves.

I was conflicted about what to wear.  The temperature was going to be in the low 50s throughout the race, but it was also going to be somewhat windy.   I noticed on Saturday that whenever I was near the harbor, the wind felt cold.  There was also a chance of a passing shower later in the morning.

There are races where you go all-out for a fast time, and there are races where you carry a camera and stop to take pictures.  This was going to be the latter.  With that in mind, I decided to wear tights and an extra shirt.  This was my third continent as Cheetah Man, although I didn’t have room in my suitcase for the matching hat.

The race started across the harbor, in Devonport.  To get to the start, I took a ferry.  The race started at 6:00, so I had to be up early to board a ferry.  The ferries started running at 4:20.  The ferry terminal was at Queens Wharf, which was about a 10 minute walk, so I left the hotel around 4:10.

As I was walking down Princes Wharf, I heard lots of commotion.  Apparently, the local bars closed at 4:00 and the patrons who partied all night were just leaving.

I got to the ferry terminal in time to board the first ferry to Devonport.

It didn’t take long to get there.  The ferry terminal in Devonport had bathrooms, so I took the opportunity to use a real bathroom before the race.  When I came out of the bathroom, I noticed most of the other runners were hanging around inside the building.  That made sense.  It was still more than an hour until the start, and it was warmer inside than outside.

I eventually made my way to the start area, took off my warm-ups, checked my gear bag, and made a final bathroom stop.  From the start area, we had this view of downtown Auckland from across the harbor.

When the race started, I ran at a pace that felt comfortable.  I didn’t have any goal pace in mind.  Before the race, I had looked at a course map, but not an elevation profile.  I knew Auckland Harbour Bridge would be a big hill, but I didn’t know if the rest of the course was hilly or flat.  I quickly discovered the first half to be non-stop hills.  On some of the hills, I started to get hot.  That was a reminder to throttle back my effort.

I wasn’t looking at my watch.  I wasn’t even watching for the kilometer markers.  I just tried to run a pace that felt easy.  On the longer hills, I sometimes started to tire, but the rest of the time it felt easy.

Around 11K, we came alongside Shoal Bay, and got our first view of downtown since the start.

As we got closer, the view kept changing.

Then we began the approach to the bridge.  As we started the ramp up to the bridge, we were greeted by these drummers.  I was reminded of Battery Hill in Burlington, VT.

The ramp up to the bridge was a seriously tiring hill, but I broke it up by stopping a few times to take pictures.

Here's a view of downtown and the marina from the bridge.

While I was taking pictures, I was passed by the 4:00 pace group.  For the first time, I knew my pace.  I started too fast for such a hilly course.

The downhill side of the bridge gave me a good rest, but I wasn’t done with the hills.  We no sooner got off the bridge than we ran uphill again as we crossed a freeway.  Then we began a long descent.

I don’t know if this descent was steep or if my legs were weary from the bridge, but this was the only time it felt uncomfortable to run downhill.  I continued descending all the way to the water’s edge.  Then we ran under the bridge.

After a few more hills and turns, we worked our way toward downtown.  Between 19K and 20K, I was passed by two motorcycles.  Each of the drivers was telling the runners to keep to the side of the road.  They were escorting the lead runner of the half marathon.  That race started an hour after the marathon, and the leader was already approaching the finish.

Just before the halfway mark, the courses separated.  The half marathon runners kept to the right and ran toward the finish in Victoria Park.  The marathon runners turned left to begin a long out-and-back.

I reached the halfway mark in 2:01:47.  It was the first time I checked my time.  Within a few minutes, I recognized the Hilton.  We were going to turn onto Quay Street, which is right on the waterfront.  I’ve done three international races this year, and all three courses have gone right past my hotel.

The second half of the course never ventured away from the waterfront, and it was fairly flat.  The hills of the first half left my legs feeling sluggish, but after a few kilometers, I started to recover.  Then I started taking more pictures.  Each time I stopped to take a picture, I had trouble starting up again.  My legs would feel stiff at first, but I would gradually work back into my rhythm.  Then I’d stop for another picture.

Before getting out of downtown, I saw the leader of the marathon coming back.  He looked just as fast as the leader of the half marathon.

As we left downtown, there were fewer spectators, but the ones we saw were fairly colorful.  This woman appeared to have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  Actually, she was from the UK, but this sign was for the benefit of about 30 runners from the United States.

Next, we were greeted by these dancers.  I’m not sure what type of music they were dancing to.

As we got farther from downtown, I got different views of the harbor.

On our right, we passed Hobson Bay.

Then after a bend in the road, we had a view of downtown on our left.

Were these the same drummers we saw earlier?  It seems like it would have been difficult to pack up and move this far in such a short time.

We started getting big crowds again as we ran through Mission Bay.  The Mission Bay fountain was on our left.

On Saturday, I always felt a cold wind when I was near the harbor.  I wasn’t feeling it now.  I didn’t realize it yet, but the wind was at our back.  I started to get hot.

When I reached the turnaround, I knew I would be seeing the same sights on the way back, so I stopped taking pictures.  From here on out, I didn’t stop.  Within a few minutes, I felt a drop.  It was mostly sunny, so I didn’t occur to me that it might rain.  As it turned out, there was one gray cloud, and I was underneath it.  It started sprinkling.

The rain felt good.  It helped cool me off.  Then the rain stopped, and I started to notice the headwind.  Now that my clothes were wet, the wind felt cold.  I went from too hot to too cold in about one kilometer.

I felt sluggish, but I kept moving.  I got a psychological lift when I could see downtown buildings again.  That was about 7K to go.  Then I heard the drummers and let the rhythm of the drums pull me along.  That was about 6K to go.  After passing Hobson Bay again, I had just over 5K to go.

I knew I was slowing down, but I didn’t look at my watch.  Finally, with 2K to go, I noticed a runner with a sign on his back.  He was the 4:15 pace leader.  Nobody was running with him, but I assumed he was on pace.  I wasn’t going to break 4:15, not that it was a big deal.  Not paying attention to my watch was liberating.

I started passing familiar downtown buildings for the last time.  I saw the ferry terminal at Queen’s Wharf.  Then I saw the Hilton at Princes Wharf.  Then the course turned to the left.  The hardest part about passing my hotel was knowing that after the race I would have to walk back the same distance.  It was about a kilometer.

After a few more turns, I saw half marathon runners approaching from the other direction.  They had been running for just over three hours.  I was surprised how thick the pack was.

After two more turns, both races finished alongside Victoria Park.  I finished in 4:17:43.  The finisher medal depicts the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

After making my way back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, I had lunch at another brewery with pizza.  Then I stopped to get an ice cream cone for dessert.  Dairy farming is one of the biggest industries in New Zealand, so by eating ice cream, I was helping the local economy.

After lunch, fatigue from the race and lack of sleep caught up to me.  I spent most of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel to recharge.  The break gave me a chance to plan my activities for Monday.  I didn’t book anything before the trip, because I wanted to wait and see what the weather would be like.  It also gave me a chance to do some photo editing.

For dinner, I went to Brew on Quay.  No pizza, but after a race, sometimes a burger hits the spot.  They also had a wide variety of both New Zealand and import beers.

Monday, October 31

I usually fly home the day after a race, but I gave myself one extra day for sightseeing.  After sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I walked over to the New Zealand Maritime Museum. This museum has exhibits covering New Zealand’s seafaring history, ranging from the ships used by Maori settlers and European explorers to immigrant ships, merchant ship, fishing and whaling vessels, ferries, and competitive yachts.

In lieu of lunch, I stopped by a small ice cream shop.  I was still supporting those dairy farmers.

Next, I went on a half day dolphin and whale watching safari.  We traveled out into Hauraki Gulf on a 65 foot catamaran.  The region we visited is a marine park inhabited by numerous species of marine mammals.

The crew included two marine researchers.  They know the feeding habits of marine birds and use the birds to find dolphins and whales.  The birds feed on the same small fish that dolphins eat.  At first, we were seeing a few of the birds, but we weren’t seeing them in large numbers.  After searching all around the gulf, the crew eventually spotted a large flock diving into the water to feed.  We headed toward them, and before long, we were surrounded by dolphins.  They were swimming beneath us and diving in and out of the water.  There were roughly 1000 of them.

For dinner, I returned to Brew on Quay.

Tuesday, November 1

Today, I'm flying home.  It will take more than a day to get home, but I cross the International Date Line again, so it will still be Tuesday when I get home.  In fact, my flight from Sydney to Los Angeles leaves at 11:00 AM and will arrive in LA at 7:00 AM.  That’s four hours of my life I will get back, although I'll spent a good portion of that time going through customs.


  1. It's good of you to be so supportive of the local dairy farmers.

    1. Anything to help the local economy.