When Marathons & All Blacks Collide

We all know anything can happen in a marathon and not everything goes to plan even when you're in PB shape! Rejoov runner Julie McConnell, gives a fascinating write up of her Auckland, NZ marathon experience coinciding with the All Blacks Rugby World Cup win and how although she was challenged by a number of "crash tackles" she too was a winner on the field!! Read on for Julie's story: 

What happens in New Zealand in the most rugby crazed nation on earth when a marathon event and a rugby world cup clash on the same date? Well Kiwis get very creative, go a little bit nuts, and a lot of runners run in rugby jerseys!

Thank you Coach Greta for putting together such a fantastic marathon program that has seen me achieve new 1/2 marathon and City to Surf PB’s during the last four months. I feel fitter and stronger than ever before and with Coach Tim pushing us hard each Friday during our speed sessions, boxing classes with Susie every Thursday night and our Rejoov sports nutritionist Charlene helping me with my meal plans and long run nutrition I am at my goal race day weight and ready to rumble. Auckland Marathon here we come!

Fast forward to race day, and I’m wondering how a calf tear that happened a couple of weeks back will hold up for 42k’s and how am I supposed to run when I’ve been kept awake the entire night by rugby and halloween revellers, drunk and shouting outside my hotel room? I decide this is going to be racing ugly and really isn’t this what marathons are all about, pushing through when your body is aching and the mind is saying no. Marathons are supposed to be a triumph over adversity and a test of character, well according to Instagram anyway.

When we arrive by ferry at Devonport (on Auckland’s North Shore) it is beautiful and surreal, everyone is seated in the dark at a gorgeous park on the harbour waterfront near the start line, closely huddled together to keep warm, in front of a massive screen broadcasting the Rugby World Cup final live and when everyone stands up to sing the national anthem together, I get goose bumps and shed a few tears. We very polite Kiwis clap loudly when 6 Aussies stand up in the middle of the crowd to proudly sing Advanced Australian Fair. Now it’s game on and the atmosphere is electric - who is thinking about running right now? Can we just stay lying in the park and watch the rest of the game, how do I explain that to Greta? Do I need to eat a gel every 45 minutes while watching rugby? Ohh is that coffee I smell? Damn I can’t have that, I haven’t drunk coffee before a run before, and today we are not allowed to be trying new things *boohoo*.

Time to get the layers off and it’s freezing and I can’t stop shivering, but I’m wearing my awesome new Rejoov top and thank both Greta and Zeus it’s black, because it might have been awkward wearing green and gold at this point in history. I then meet Alison Roe, famous NZ marathon runner in the start area and think how much more extraordinary can this day get? Alison won both the New York and Boston marathons representing NZ in the 1980’s and here she is, super proud Mum beaming with pride and excitement to see her son Elliot run his first ever marathon.

We head off into the dark with the light just starting to break, and I can see the harbour and the distances I will run over the next few hours. Every house in Auckland is by now lit up like Christmas trees as people watch the rugby. As we run past houses, people are all dressed in black standing outside their houses holding up scoring updates scrawled on cardboard and whiteboards and cheering us on. Les Mills provides two of their PT's with back packs containing iPads that are live streaming the rugby in the middle of the running pack, so every time a try is scored, a huge surge of excitement flows through us runners, and we hear random things like “Nonu try!!!" and then a huge cheer erupts. The screams of joy that explode out of every house in Takapuna when the final whistle blows and the elation that flows through to us marathoners is something I will never forget.

I’m running very well but can feel myself using up a lot of energy with the first 15k’s of the course consisting of rolling hills. I’m now at the point in the course where my Mt Everest lies before me as I need to traverse that damn Auckland harbour bridge. I’m sure it’s going to induce a panic attack running right on the water’s edge. However, when you get a special drumming performance to welcome you on to the bridge, you’re on a rugby world cup high, you’ve made new running buddies, excited volunteers are cheering you on, I just enjoy the views across the harbour and keep on running (although can I just say that bridge is blimmen steep!)

I hit the 21k mark and I’m 3 minutes off my fastest ever 1/2 marathon time, and by now I start to feel extremely hot and tipping water on my head is not helping to cool me down (it’s 17 degrees by this stage in the race so something is not right). By now the gels are not going down at all and it’s getting very painful to run. I have never had stomach cramping like it, and I try all sorts of things to shake it off, but nothing is helping so I hold my sides and walk to try and work through the pain. I had several attempts at running again but my calf muscle is by now distressed and is demanding to know why we didn’t stay lying down in the park watching the rugby. At this point I can either feel sorry for myself or I can make the best of the situation. So I walk as fast as I can and cheer on all the speedy runners who are by now running past us on their way to the finish line. More awesome drummers to go past, so many people wearing All Black jerseys and now updating their signs to say “The All Blacks made it and so can you”.

39ks and this is the hardest part of the race yet, I think my body is now in shock and I start to wonder if I’m going to be one of those tragic runners that looks drunk while they run and will I need to start crawling up the course? I stop walking and then thought about Greta and my friend Amanda running in the 50k North Face Event and I give myself a talking to and push on. 41ks and I see my buddy Suzanne from high school and she leaps over the barricade and gives me the biggest hug and says “I’m getting you to that finish line”. We part company with 500 meters to go, but not before she says “you’re there, you’ve got this”. I start to run and then I hear my sister Nat yelling “Jules!!!!” and she’s running along through the crowd beside me (she’s just smashed out 12ks in super quick time in the 12k traverse event but she is so excited for me). 16 weeks of hard work and a few tears today and I’m finally crossing the finish line to huge cheers from the crowd. It’s taken me 5 hours and 11 minutes, way off my goal time, but I know that this run has also brought out the very best in me. Auckland Marathon you pushed me in ways I never thought physically possible, but what an amazing experience and one that I will never forget! All Blacks I’m pretty proud of you too.

Julie McConnell