“Why on earth did you come to Wellington?!” It was the incredulous question I was asked by nearly everyone in Wellington when I told them I had come to Wellington exclusively for the marathon. Truth be told I wanted to do a New Zealand marathon ever since the whole “8 continent” discussion at Antarctica, and my friend Karlos had moved there about a year ago so it only seemed reasonable that I book the marathon in the town where he lived. Unfortunately life being what it is I got a message from him that he would be leaving Wellington for Auckland a few weeks prior to my arrival. *headslap* Oh well.
The race kit pickup was low-key and held at a Volkswagen dealership that was sponsoring the event. As is somewhat common in many smaller international races, the shirt is sold separately. I personally think this is a practice we should adopt everywhere, but that might just be wealth of unwanted ugly shirts talking. The race began at Westpac Stadium and took us through the smattering of high rises in downtown Wellington, and out along the harbor to the coast. Perfectly flat with cool weather the conditions for the run could not have been better.
As we left town we saw the Windy Wellington sign, built with airport budget funds to promote Wellington’s film industry credits, like Peter Jackson, the Lord of the Rings director, whose films make Ken Burns look concise. The sign evokes the Hollywood sign imagery with a nod to Wellington’s most notorious weather condition: the wind. The Cook Strait between the North and South Islands creates something of a wind tunnel effect on the tips of the islands, and Wellington sits at the bottom of the North Island. These winds coupled with their short runways makes the Wellington airport one of the most challenging in the world for pilots. Despite the heavy winds postponing a firework show in the harbor the day before, the winds were quite calm for the day of the race.
Once outside of town we were treated to rocky coastlines and ocean as far as the eye could see. I ran with an American expat for the first 8 miles or so until I realized I had gone out too fast and dropped back, but it gave me an opportunity to ask about the area from the perspective of another coming from America. Laura the expat explained to me that the South Island was the prettier of the two and that when I come back I really must visit there. Oddly nearly everyone I talked to about Wellington described it as if it were somehow a disappointment, and if view of the harbor, and coastline that I got on this trip are somehow disappointing, then I really must come back to the better points because I found it a lovely little city.
The course is an out and back, but with an odd little double back in the middle, so we ran about 15.5km to the first turnaround in Scorching Bay and received a rubber band, then headed back to town until we reached the half marathon point and received another rubber band. At that point we turned around again and ran back to the first turnaround (15.5km, now 26.7km) to get our last rubber band and head into town. If you’re following along at home there’s a stretch of 5.6km that we run 4 times, twice in both directions. That stretch is the rocky coastal stretch that I could look at for hours, so I was not mad about it despite my aversion for loopy races and their rubber bands. At about 27km I saw a guy go down and several runners came over to give him aid. We offered him a salt pill, water, gu, and advice. He had 3 hours to go 9 miles. He was going to be just fine. He just needed to pace himself. Apparently he had not properly trained and set something of a stretch goal and paid for it. After a few minutes of getting him on his feet we moved along.
On the return we were along the harbor itself rather than in the street when we started. This made for a little bit of people-dodging, but Wellington isn’t that crowded so it wasn’t a huge problem, but I nearly pancaked an older woman who decided at the last minute to walk in front of the tubby guy in his last mile.
The finish brought us into the stadium for our finisher swag bags. No beer or chocolate milk sadly, but sparkling water (meh). The race itself was fine. Good aid stations, and generally well organized, but probably not the sort of thing for which you want to fly half way around the world.
Fun fact: At a latitude of -41.28 degrees Wellington is the southernmost capital city by a long shot. Its nearest competitor is Canberra at -35.3. The nearly 6 degrees in latitude change amounts to more than 400 miles further South of the Australian capital.