Late in 2018 knowing that we had entries in the Boston Marathon for April 2019 our attention turned to the final Abbott World Marathon Major I needed to run – New York. We thought it could be nice for our children to come to New York to be there for the finale of the challenge – this was offered to them with the provision that they trained for and also ran the marathon! Alexander and Emily had other plans, but Verity, then aged 15 years jumped at the chance. She had never really embraced running and had been on a mission for around four years to finish a parkrun in under 30 minutes which was always going to be difficult when she only ran about twice a year. Flights to New York via San Francisco became available in early January 2019 and we booked for three – New York here we come!
Verity started running in December 2018, working her way from 3km to 5km over around six weeks. She was very anxious about running, but also very determined, with her eye firmly on the prize.
I had a sudden thought just after we grabbed the flights (and just after Verity ran 8km without stopping while we were on holiday in Port Macquarie – she was so pleased with herself that day) – were there age restrictions on New York? I checked – runners had to be 18 years old! Disaster.
I started looking for another marathon that allowed adolescents. There aren’t many. After a bit of searching I came upon the Wellington Marathon, held in late June. I’d done the 10km there in 2018 in howling winds and rain – I hadn’t expected to ever go back, but there were no age restrictions and it was at the very beginning of Verity’s school holidays meaning we could have a week in New Zealand afterward. The marathon was also 18 weeks from the date I found it which was the length of the beginner training program.
We purchased a Garmin watch, lights, shoes, spi belt, socks, crop tops, running tops and tights, calf sleeves, sun glasses, a visor, and initially a little hand held water bottle – she needed all of this gear as she had never really run before. As the weather became colder we purchased long tights, long sleeved tops and a running vest, with ear warmers and gloves.
Verity applied herself marvellously to the program. The program entailed running four times each week, while she continued rowing three times each week. Midweek she and I would run from our home towards the rowing club, with Craig picking us up en route, or we would drive into rowing and while I rowed, Craig and Verity would run. Long runs were generally weekends with Craig meeting us for breakfast afterward. While we were in Boston for the marathon Verity did her long run with Emily on her bicycle for company; and both Alexander and Emily went running with Verity some mornings and afternoons to keep her company.
We entered three races to get some racing experience. These were BBBRun (10km), Newcastle Running Festival (10km) and Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. The medal collection was underway! Excitingly too she came first in her age at the Newcastle event and received a second medal.
Around week 12 we ran from home to Warners Bay via Glendale – 24km. She complained of a sore foot and unfortunately this pain worsened in the weeks to follow, meaning Verity ran very little for a number of weeks although she still managed 25.5km and the SMH half.
Around week 16 she had some Physio treatment and the pain resolved but she was very underdone in terms of time on her legs and any experience above 24km. I started suggesting that perhaps the marathon could be a little too much and that as she had done the training, she could still come to New York without doing Wellington. We ran the last long run of 13km one week prior to Wellington and when we asked her at breakfast following the run what she was thinking, Verity said “of course I’m doing the marathon – I always was”. We were GO for the marathon!
We flew with Craig to New Zealand on the Friday night. Thursday night Verity said she had a sore throat and by Friday her nose was stuffy. Saturday in Wellington she was quite unwell with a head cold. We went to bib collection and did a little shopping, and she slept for the afternoon. That night at dinner there was further deliberation about the wisdom of running. The cold was only in her head – the rule of thumb is if it’s below the neck, don’t run. We knew there was no cut-off time for the marathon – the organisers would wait at the finish until the last person arrived, no matter the time – last year someone took over seven hours. So we decided we were still GO!
Sunday morning her nose was still stuffy but she was feeling positive. Verity and I caught a cab to the start, leaving Craig at the hotel. He was running the half marathon, starting at 8:45am. We had elected to start with the marathon walkers at 7am with the rest of the field starting at 7:30am. I had deliberated for ages about what gear we would need, thinking we could be on the course for over seven hours ourselves. The day prior had been very cold and very windy, and I had my Saloman trail vest packed with food, tape, bandaids, sunscreen, sunglasses, visors etc. In the end I ditched it as the forecast was for a sunny, mild day. We wore throw away K-Mart tops over our running tops and running vests. I chose to pack some of the supplies into the multiple pockets in my vest.
In New Zealand in winter the sun doesn’t come up until 8:15am. As such 7am was very dark! There was a race briefing and then the field of around 30 people headed off into the dark. Street lights lit the area but it was still quite difficult to see at times as we ran along the road near Westpac Stadium. We had only gone around 2km when Verity said she wanted to use a bathroom – lucky there was a McDonalds right there! We got underway again and ran steadily to around 10km when the first runners of the marathon field caught us.
Just prior to this we had overtaken a marathon walker. This fellow was clad in what I would call scungies (the pants girls wear under netball skirts). They were rainbow in colour and fortunately I only saw them from behind. He was wearing an old hydration pack with sheepskin covers over the straps. I said a nice Hello to him as we passed and as it turns out he was up for quite a long chat! Eventually we wished him well and moved ahead, seeing him again later when he overtook us. We spied him again at the finish, this time clad in rainbow long pants and a similar cardigan. He said he was going to the medal presentation and then off to dancing! What a character.
The course at Wellington is interesting in that it goes out to 16km, then you run back to around 22km, then back out to the 16km again which by then is 28km, and then all the way back to the stadium to the finish. There were wrist bands to collect at the three turning points.
The entire course is on the waterfront, around three bays. Beautiful. Flat. Honestly, there was a slight rise somewhere but nothing else except for a 200 metre on-ramp up into the stadium at the finish. The weather was perfect with 14 Celsius temperatures and no wind. There were drink stations every 3-5km stocked with water and electrolyte drinks. Runners were also able to have their own drinks taken out to those stations.
The race organisers and volunteers were all awesome. So many people were on the course volunteering – someone on every street corner and witches hats everywhere. Sections of the course began to re-open as we progressed through the 15km section back to the finish but there were wide footpaths on which to run if needed. Once back to the wharf area there were heaps of people out enjoying the winter sunshine but again there were volunteers everywhere ensuring our path was clear.
Verity had planned to run to the first turn around. I’d told her we could get the marathon done in under six hours if she ran 15km and we walked the rest. This was fair enough except she was running really well. We were sticking to about 6:30 min per kilometre which is what she had trained at and I thought she had it in her to go a little further. We struck a deal to walk one kilometre and run the next and so on. The walking was quite brisk at around 9 min per kilometre. This plan worked really well and we kept it up until around 28km.
After the second turn around while running I spied a garbage bin on the lake foreshore. We were running on the right side of the road and the bin was way over off to the left. I zoomed across the road and ran to the bin. There was one female runner around 150 metres away, coming toward us, with no-one else around. She started shrieking at me “Keep to the left (of her). Keep to the left”. This did not cease even when I held up the rubbish in my hand and said I was going to the bin. Today was not the day to take me on. I firmly suggested to her that she had the whole road to run on and that she should do just that rather than focus on me. She didn’t seem to have an answer for that.
By 28km at the final turn the lack of training and the head cold started to take a toll. Verity said her lungs were hurting when she took any breath under force (when running). We ditched the K-Mart tops we had tied around our waists earlier, knowing from this point the day was only going to get warmer. We walked 2km and ran another, and I could see she was done with running. We then walked briskly, continuing to average low 9 minute kilometres, and I was really pleased with how we were going. Craig phoned us about then, having finished the half marathon which was great considering he hadn’t been running for some weeks either.
Around 34 kilometres things started to fall apart from a physical perspective. She was not used to walking that far or for so long, and started to get panicky.
We used Facebook Messenger to contact Emily for a pep talk, and for the next 4km Emily played music that Verity loves over Messenger! We sang and there was some dancing; the dog and the cat at home featured in the conversation and singing; and there was generally a musical love-fest for getting this marathon done for Verity.
We hung up from Emily with about 4km to go but I kept playing music on my phone on Spotify. Ordinarily I’d never play music out loud while other people were walking past but I was up for anything to get us over the line. Telstra loved me that day. Craig phoned again with more supportive words and to say he was about to get in a cab for the airport as his flight home was not long after. We were all sorry not to see one another again that day.
We knew we were going to make the finish but it was hard. Verity had worked out a while back in the race that she could finish in under six hours if we could keep pushing.
With 1.5km to go she wavered and we phoned Emily again who kept up the pep talk for 500 metres when Verity pulled it together, and with the sniff of the finish in her grasp, fluffed up and ran the last 200 metres to the finish, overtaking another competitor!
Our time – 5 hours 56 minutes.
At the end there was fruit, water and electrolyte drink. Showers were available, and there was a coffee van. I bought Verity an event technical shirt to mark the occasion. We sat for a while with hot chocolates and then got an Uber back to the hotel. What an achievement! Our family is so proud of her and she has stunned herself with what she can manage to do. In true form the “Never again” at the finish was replaced within a few hours by “If I ever run another marathon….”.
Wellington Marathon was #27.