Mountain 2 Surf Marathon in New Plymouth
7th of March
When you look at the New Plymouth region from above, you don’t have to be a geologist to understand how it came into existence.
This bump in New Zealand’s North Island is located half-way between Auckland, the country’s biggest city, and Wellington, the country’s capital. The mountain responsible for us being able to run a marathon in that area is called Taranaki, or Egmont, if you’re a British colonialist. There’s a movement to rename landmarks in their traditional way, which is before the European settlers arrived and felt the urge to name everything as they preferred.
I got interested in this marathon race, because not only did it fit our schedules very well, it’s also advertised as a relatively easy run, going slightly downhill most of the time. Mountain 2 Surf.
Flying within New Zealand is the best. There’s no crappy security annoyance, no liquids limit, and no huge lines. Especially a tiny 45 minute flight like this is actually a pleasurable experience many European airports and airlines would do well to learn from.
As you might have guessed from these descriptions, the city is tiny (43,000 citizens), but it’s the center of the Taranaki region which has about 100,000 citizens. Most cities in New Zealand are small like this. Auckland is a huge exception with its 1.4 million inhabitants, which is a third of the whole country.
Still, this New Plymouth marathon with the name “Mountain 2 Surf” is a popular one, holding its 40th anniversary edition this year.
Several side events like a half marathon and a kids’ dash were also on the agenda.
In total I would guess there were around a thousand participants across all different distances. A little less than 200 full marathoners, but a very high ladies quote among the finishers of 33 percent!
I was glad to be running a standard marathon three weeks after the Tarawera Ultra. An easy one, not to mention. Training went well in those weeks, as I shifted from the hilly area around our home towards the flat ocean front of my workplace in Auckland, Grid / AKL. Luckily, the office has a shower, so there were no problems in my way.
Another great addition to this weekend would be the meeting of our dear Wellington / Lower Hutt / Wainuiomata friends, Laurie with his granddaughters April and Layla. They did a roadtrip to meet us half-way in New Plymouth, which also happens to be the home of Laurie’s brother, Don. We spent a lot of time together, and the kids got along really well again.
They stayed at Don’s place while the six of us found an AirBnB at the beautiful home of the Masters family, living together with Rhys and Diane. They turned out to be very interesting and lovely people. Their sons, Wyn and Edward, both compete internationally in downhill and endurance mountain bike races. Check Wyn Masters’ Instagram to get an idea. Also, what a perfect name to do anything competitively!
The alarm goes at 5:10 AM. I need to get ready and be at the shuttle bus pickup at 6:30 sharp, because the bus will wait for no one. Porridge with Masters family honey, a big smoothie, 1 liter of coconut water, go. A 15 minute walk through the dark and cold morning gets me shaking, and I’m glad I decided to take a jacket today.
The bus drive took about 30 minutes but ended at the wrong place. The bus driver enthusiastically exclaimed “Get out, you’re on your own!”, but a runner who knew what’s up answered: “Can you get us to the start, first?” to the laughter of everyone. The bus driver had wrong information, apologized, and drove another 6 kilometers with us to the correct spot.
Most runners were dressed for the warm 22 degree weather we hoped to see at the finish line, but not for the 10 degrees up here on the foot of the mountain. 500 meters up and the early morning time really make a difference.
I felt alright with my running jacket and didn’t envy the guys in their singlets. 7:30 AM start.
That Taranaki volcano is about 2,500 meters high, by the way. Hasn’t been active in a long time, of course. But it’s a very pleasant looking and nearly symmetrical shape. Often, it has a slight snow cap. Hikers routinely get lost or die trying to reach the top though. The weather up there is nothing to take lightly. If we’d had more time, I would have really liked to try and go for it, together with a knowledgable guide, of course.
Unfortunately, early on I realize that something is off today. I have to take a number of short bathroom breaks, which is very unusual for me. Can’t really say why, probably a combination of things.
There’s a little loop and a few kilometers of headwinds here, but it’s all manageable. Running on asphalt the whole time is also quite easy, compared to the tough trails of the Tarawera region three weeks ago.
Suddenly I start to feel pain and pressure in my stomach. You know the kind. I’m thinking, I hope to get through this! Sometimes this just goes away. I remember my friend Sidy’s story of his Zurich marathon, in which he had similar problems that made him hide in the bushes every few kilometers for you know what reasons. He told me, after getting through that experience he felt like he could take on any new challenge, whatever it may be. That’s the spirit!
So, as I keep my 5:20 to 5:30 min/km pace and struggle to repress the uneasy feeling, I am suddenly stopped by a volunteer. What? Apparently there’s too much traffic on the upcoming crossing. That’s a new thing for me, as well. These roads are not closed and the cars have priority. It’s a car country. For about 30 seconds I stand there, some other runners are forced to stop behind me as well. One of them asks if he will get the seconds subtracted from his finishing time. Ridiculous! As if it matters. I enjoy the forced break, for obvious reasons.
A few hundred meters later, 18 kilometers in, I can’t take it any longer and search for a hiding spot. Success. Two minutes lost, feeling much better now.
I’m counting on the aid stations now to provide me with some lost nutrients, but these aren’t great, put frankly. They offer low-quality water which tastes like chlorine, and something they call “electrolytes” but which has no carbs and is very thinly mixed. I will need a lot of this to get up to level. But that will again stress the body. Tough choice!
I’m reaching the town of Inglewood, where the half marathon start is set to happen.
It’s getting a bit more crowded on the narrow sideways of the main road here. But that’s quite nice, I think.
There’s a very motivated guy who comes up from behind and says to me: “Hey, I’ve seen your pace, bro. Liked it. Are you the Big Mazunga?”, referring to my apes themed shirt. We joke around and keep running next to each other. It takes the mind off of my renewed stomach problems. He sees his girlfriend and screams: “Yo, I’m with the Big Mazunga now, he’s the man, he’ll pull me through!” – I’m not so sure, unfortunately. When he tells me this is his first half marathon and he aspires to do a full one like me, he mentions that a few years ago he’d never dreamed of being here, lying stoned in his caravan wasting his life. I know that from somewhere.
So we keep going, but lose each other due to different paces. At 28, I need another extended bathroom break, which is quite annoying but offers some relief. I wonder what went wrong and blame the food from the evening before. A junk pizza from the Hut. Delicious but unhealthy, I knew that.
The weather holds its promise and it gets warmer. The temperature and slight winds make it the perfect situation for me, usually. Under different circumstances I could have easily done a new personal best here, I think. But now I’m just glad I can still keep on running and even roughly keep my pace.
The last 10 kilometers are a bit tougher, as always. I’m just tired, also because the aid stations keep providing no sugary drinks.
This year, the marathon does not end in New Plymouth, but in the neighboring town of Waitara. There is a more important event in New Plymouth going on, I’ve been told. So we reach the suburbs of this even smaller town, the volunteer and spectator density slowly increasing.
Sub 4! I’m quite surprised I got this result, taking into account the circumstances. Must have been the easy course. Here’s the Strava tracking. 3:56:44 officially, placed 60th of 123 men.
Here at the finish line, they offer bananas. Best idea ever! I immediately have a few of them and feel so good taking in some lost nutrients.
The shuttle bus ride back to New Plymouth works perfectly, and stepping out of the bus I hallucinate food everywhere.
Time for regeneration. We have us an easy afternoon which I really need to regain some strength. Laurie, Layla, and I cook a nutritious meal for all of us in the evening.
We have the Sunday left to explore the city. There’s an interesting museum to visit, but also just being with the families is great.
We got along with the Masters so well that our AirBnB evaluation from them later said we were invited to visit any time again, not as paying guest but as friends. Now that’s something you’d like to hear from every AirBnB host! We’ll see how New Plymouth will fit our future plans. It would be great to come back.