Hills and Rain at Waiheke Wharf 2 Wharf Marathon
13th of March
In my ongoing conquest to make the most out of this time here in New Zealand – as well as in life in general, really – here’s a story about the first ever Wharf 2 Wharf Marathon on the island of Waiheke, just off the coast of Auckland.
The “Wharf 2 Wharf” race has been going on for years and is popular with the Waiheke Islanders, of which there are just under 10,000. But there has always been one problem with the run, which is, it’s just 25 kilometers long. And who will even leave the house for that? Fortunately, the staff has come to their senses and, starting in 2019, added to the event a full marathon race. The name Wharf 2 Wharf still somehow fits, as the start and end will be at the same Wharf, rather than the two different ones of the original race. It’s 21.1 km out and back, not an A to B run.
Prior to the event, just after signing up, I was contacted by Emma from the team, who saw I traveled half-way around the world to come to Waiheke. She asked me to write something for their social media presence, which I found a bit flattering, to be honest. The newly created event needed some publicity. I was not aware of that.
I saw on the starters list that my initial race bib would have been 4000, which looks awesome, but the nice lady told me that during the marshal’s briefing yesterday, it was used as an example and subsequently forgotten somewhere. So I had to get a new number. 4047. Not nearly as great, but who cares.
The day started out quite rainy. Nothing unusual for us Hamburgers, but Waiheke people were really happy about that. March 8 was just the third day this year with rain. Waiheke is dependent on rain water, as there are no other sources. People collect the water in septic tanks and save it rigorously. If you run out of water, you can call trucks to deliver some to you, but they have waiting lines. So, this was a good day for them all.
Reaching the place from our home turned out to be a rather big journey. What is just 30 kilometers as the crow flies, involved a 40 minute ride with two buses, a 45 minute ferry trip, another 35 minute bus ride on the island to the village of Onetangi, and a 20 minute walk in the rain up a hill with four kids. Needless to say, exhaustion got us.
Wine and hills. That’s Waiheke.
For us, it’s pasta and water. Much needed. I would have to get up at 5 AM again for the marathon, so an early night would have been good. But something better happened that made that impossible: a visitor from Hamburg arrived late! Our dear friend MOS decided to exchange a few weeks of his medical consultancy job for a somewhat spontaneous trip to meet us and enjoy New Zealand as well. Flights were cheap and easy this time of year, so just two weeks after his announcement he knocked at the door of our Waiheke home. What an awesome surprise!
Sure enough, lots of talking happened before we all fell into the comfortable beds of this place.
Morning of the Race
When I woke up at 5 to prepare my standard marathon oatmeal with honey, jet-lagged MOS spent some time with me, too. I am usually completely alone in these morning hours before a run, but it was nice to have some company here.
Stepping out of the house, something strange befell me. It was pitch black dark. Nothing. No street lights, no sun or moon, no stars. Impossible to see anything. I had to get my phone’s light out to make sure I hit the asphalt road with my feet and not the wet mud next to it. This is interesting, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced such literal darkness before.
The island seems to be completely asleep. No people, no cars, no animals making noise. Ten minutes later I’m at the bus stop, ready to take the day’s first bus at 6:06 AM. And there is another living being! “This can only be another marathoner”, I think. And I’m correct. Hervé is his name, a French-born Waiheke immigrant. Job on the island, family with two kids. We talk about marathons for the whole duration of the 45 minute bus trip, laughing a lot and increasing our respective lists of marathons-to-do because of the recommendations of each other (I wrote down South Africa’s Comrades and Two Oceans Ultras, as well as the French Raid du Golfe Ultra). That’s a nice way to wake up and get over the bumpy bus ride!
A meadow two minutes from Matiatia Wharf is the starting area. The announcer notifies us about a short delay due to some fools who turned a few of the directions arrows on the course to mess with us. That had to be corrected.
The 7:15 start was just moved by 5 minutes, so the team had it under control pretty well. And off we went, all 46 of us.
I did not look for the height profile beforehand, because I thought it wouldn’t make much of a difference to know about it. And it doesn’t. It’s surely hilly here, but it’s no mountain race. Doable.
After that first hill it’s down to another bay again. The course is leading east, roughly.
Yes, definitely your friend now.
These lovely ladies were dressed up and always had a smile and a few nice words for everyone. Role-model aid station volunteers! And they clearly enjoyed themselves a lot. That was a thing on Waiheke. Many other aid stations were themed and little parties. Great idea, please copy.
The first 10 kilometers down, I felt awake. So far the course has been a little challenging but not too tough. No walking needed. It really is such a pretty island, even during a rainy day like this one was.
My friend, jet-lagged MOS is still wide awake and left the house to say hello! Sophie and the kids stayed home because it still was too early for them (8:30 AM), fair enough. MOS didn’t really plan to accompany me, but somehow we ended up running together for around 6 more kilometers during the first half.
We talked and laughed, all the while enjoying the view. For him, a run like this was obviously one of the best things to do to get that long journey out of his body. But at some point it was too much for his sore feet, so he turned around and walked west, waiting for me to complete the first half and catch him again.
On my own again. Somehow the company gave me some sort of boost. Might have been the conditions, too. The temperature hovered in the 15 to 20 degrees area, I would say. Couldn’t be better. No real rain, just a few drizzles from time to time made me cool off.
But then the one real hill started, at around 17 or 18 kilometers. I think I needed to walk for a short while, it’s been rather steep. It wasn’t too hard, though, and the top was reached quickly. Downhill again. And here comes the current number 1!
He’s about 5 to 6 kilometers in front of me. A few minutes later, more runners appeared. I counted them to see what my current position was. Result: 15 right now, including 2 women. Not too bad.
The little boy at the turn-around aid station proudly told me that he’s signed up for the 5k run later today. Not bad for a boy his age! I wish him the best and keep going. 21.1 to go.
Up that hill again!
All volunteer interactions are really pleasant today. People here are welcoming and friendly, which is something you don’t see that often. The job at an aid station isn’t great, it takes hours of standing and waiting, and then you might not even hear some thanks. That’s why I always make sure to show my appreciation.
As with all other marathons in New Zealand I have done, the streets weren’t blocked for the race. Cars were driving past us, but not all streets we ran on were important ones. So there was lots of quiet running, too. I barely noticed the cars being annoying, although a car-free island would have been an amazing thing. Big utopia, probably.
Right after I turned around at the half-way mark, I saw some runners close behind me. Just a few hundred meters, probably. I took that as motivation, and because I felt strong, increased the pace. Hervé was a few more minutes behind, but still was up for a high-five. Earlier, he told me about running marathons in the three and a half hours area, but having lost that speed because of ageing. He’s 50 now, and estimates that the years added about an hour to his finishing times. This might make people realize the volatility of it all. But I kind of want to see for myself if that turns out to be true for me, too. I hope to be writing posts about marathon runs in 16 years.
I manage to pass by a few runners. Always counting my position. Maybe I can reach the Top 10 for the first time at a race? That would be fun! A few fast runners start passing me by, but I realize that they are participating in the traditional Wharf 2 Wharf run, which is the 25 kilometer race from the western wharf to our Matiatia wharf. They have started not long ago and can be identified by the red colored bib numbers. Naturally, the bib number is the first thing I look at whenever someone passes me by. Just after that, I say something nice or encouraging. Priorities!
And there’s MOS again! He’s ready to be the pacer for a second time and we enjoy running up and down through the landscape. He had a break at one of the aid stations and talked to the friendly people. Together, we overtake a few more marathoners. Position 11.
They made it down to the street were the course passes by! Really happy. Lots of hugs and kisses for these ones. MOS ends his pacing activity here and helps Sophie with the kids. What a saint, that guy. He even hid some presents for the kids in the apartment for them to find. Earned him the new nickname Mossie. Friends like that is what you need!
At about 32 kilometers, I catch number 10, if I’m still counting correctly. I chat him up, but neither of us is up for a battle for 10th place. Turns out, he’s also an immigrant from Europe. England though, not France. Thomas. Footballer. His first marathon ever, nice guy. Wife who works at the restaurant next to our home in Auckland, two kids.
We chat as we run along for a few kilometers, but at one hill he lets me go, saying he doesn’t have it in him anymore to run up there. A bit of a shame, but the upside is that I might really be lucky today and reach the Top 10!
Now the course gets crowded. There’s a half-marathon, a 12k, and a 5k run which started so that everyone will roughly finish at the same time. Lots of walkers are also among them. It’s no problem for either the streets nor the aid stations though.
The big advantage of a turn-point course is you know what’s happening on the second half. All the remaining hills are not really hard, especially since I’ve done quite a few hilly runs in our neighborhood during the last weeks. I manage to keep the pace, noticing that, being happy about it, and keep the pace longer.
So far I have just gotten water and no electrolytes or sugar at all during the race. The aid stations could do with a bit of improvement in that direction, I think. The marathon last weekend had the same situation and I’ve learned from it and packed an oatmeal bar and some Jelly Beans, just in case. Those beans were the best, right now! Very wise decision.
36 kilometers, just 5 left. Back in the main village of the island. Now, the rain really starts. It’s pouring and everyone is completely soaked soon. Good thing we’re not running on open trails but on streets instead. I don’t really mind. That last kilometer is a bit of muddy downhill trail and I must be really careful so I don’t slip and fall. It works. One more turn around a corner, and there’s the family! Julie and Vera are waiting to accompany me crossing the finish line.
Great race! Definitely recommend this one. If there had been better weather, maybe the finish line spectators would have been a bit more numerous as well:
4:03:30 total, for just under 1,000 meters of elevation gain. Very proud of that. Turns out I must have overtaken someone else I didn’t notice, so my end result is 9th! 8th of all males, even. Out of 43 finishers, I think that’s alright. My first Top 10 result ever. I hope to have some more of these in the future. Before I’m 50.
Sophie brought a towel and fresh clothing for me, I really have the perfect team. They offer bananas as well. Best bananas ever.
Emma from the race team shows up and says hi, quickly. But the rain destroys more communication. Waiting for the the other runners I met during the race is also not on the agenda. Bus, home, shower.
Normally, the post and the day would end here, but this time I had something more on the plan.
I took the ferry back to Auckland, because I managed to get hold of one of these ones here.
It’s been a great show. How lucky this worked out. I’ve never seen them live, but always wanted to. Everytime they came to Hamburg it didn’t fit my schedule. So now it did. Thanks to Sophie and MOS making it possible for me by taking care of the kids at home.
I can’t say I could have experienced more today. I took the first bus of the day at 6:06 AM to get to the marathon and took the last bus of the day at 0:20 to get back home after the Chilis. Make the most of it.
One more week to regenerate for the next run!