Latest reviews by Julian

"Gold Coast Marathon"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

For any serious distance runner, the marathon is one event that you just HAVE to tackle at some stage. Having convinced myself for so long that I was happy doing half marathons, curiousity finally got the better of me, and I finally relented and competed in a full marathon in late 2013 in Auckland.

I had a goal of running under 3 hours, but in reality I was actually chasing something closer to 2:50. In hindsight, this was far too ambitious for a first marathon and also for where I was at with my training base. I had gone through half way at 1:24, which was on track for my goal time, but I was almost completely spent by 29km, and struggled home with a 2nd half at 1:30, to finish with a time 2:54. As you would expect, I learnt a lot about where my weaknesses were and determined to work hard on these in the following months before tackling my next marathon in July 2014.

Having raced a fantastic PB at the half marathon at Gold Coast in Australia in July 2013, I was really looking forward to returning in 2014 to do the marathon. This time around though, I was determined to ensure that I was truly prepared to run this properly. A flat and fast course would mean that I was assured of getting a quicker time than the Auckland race which is undulating for the first half of the race. There were, however, 2 key elements that I had to fix ahead of this race:

1) Strength and endurance
- Having only had 3 months of proper build up with long runs before my first marathon, I knew that I would have to start long runs much earlier in 2014 to have the baseline fitness to properly complete a marathon.

2) Nutrition
- Gels were a given, but I also started experimenting with some Cliff Shot Blocks in March to maintain a constant stream of glucose coming through so that I could maintain steady glycogen levels throughout the race

I started heavy training in February and every Sunday meant 2.5 hour plus long runs with a minimum distance of 26km through to my longest at 40km. This was very difficult initially, as being rather miserly in training, I rarely took fuel and fluids with me on these Sunday runs until later in the piece when it was pointed out to me that the whole point of long run training is in fact to simulate racing conditions. So whilst for up to 60 mins, I could get away without water and fuel, for anything longer, I really needed to prepare as I would for a race to get the best possible training effect. Getting the distance done on a Sunday was generally a matter of perseverance, though once I started fuelling properly, I found I could get a more consistent pace and be stronger throughout the race.

To help keep things interesting, as usual, I interspaced my training with regular racing of half marathons every 4 weeks to check that my fitness was in check. My coach had explained to me that the simplest way of calculating your predicted marathon time is to double your season best half time, then add on 10 mins. For me, this would mean a time of around 2:50, which I was very keen to achieve. I had also entered a series of 10km races to keep my speed up, though these were less than ideal as they tended to interrupt my Sunday long run preparation every 3-4 weeks, and I was resigned to trying to add in some running before and after the races to build in some additional distance. One thing I did achieve with it was improved speed over a sustained period, with a couple of 10km PB's during this period.

So, the final weekends rolled by and before long it was taper time ahead of the Gold Coast Marathon. What a tough couple of weeks!! Day 1 of taper was a rest day, and I couldn't help myself but go out for a light run! Things did improve though, and I took heed of the wise advice to rest up and allow the body to start to recovery from the heavy training and refresh ahead of the marathon.

In the final week, I had a few light runs every second day, and a sports massage to loosen up the muscles ahead of the race. Finally I was ready and primed.

On the Friday before the race, I flew up to the Gold Coast, checked into the apartment and then headed down to race registration. Then it was a carb dinner with the coach for some final tips ahead of the race day.

Saturday morning was an opportunity for my wife and kids to get involved with the race weekend via the 5.7km fun run and the kids 2km dash. A great way to gently warm up ahead of the marathon on Sunday, plus some excitement for the kids who earned their very own race medal, running all the way over the 2km distance.

It was a very early night on race eve, into bed a 8pm! To be honest, I was still on NZ time, having come across to Australia a few days earlier. I had a fantastic sleep, and it was the first time ever that a 4:30am wake up felt easy! This allowed me ample time to go through my breakfast and pre-race preparation ritual in the morning.

At 5:30am, I left to get the shuttle to the race precinct, and found I had to warm up earlier than expected with a brief dash for the bus which was about to pull away when I approached the stop! On arrival at the race HQ, the half marathon was about to get underway, and there were 10,000 participants involved. It was quite a sight watching the entire field get away- not something that I have ever previously experienced as a spectator, despite having run around 20 half marathons in my time. Eventually the field finally cleared, and I was able to cross into the race HQ and start preparing for the race.

It was dark still, but sunrise came quickly. I did a light jog for 5mins, then some stretching and had some water, before ditching my race bag and heading for the starting chute. It was already quite crowded, but I managed to get in close enough to the front area behind where the elites start. I was surprised to get a tap on the shoulder before the race from a fellow Twitter friend @jsryding, who was also chasing glory in the marathon.

The race was preceded by a rev up speech from running legend Rob De Castella, Australia's fastest ever marathoner and a national hero, then the national anthem was sung, and we were away...

It was a slower start than I was used to with some stragglers managing to get into the front area of the start line holding up the field of 5,600 participants. After a couple of minutes I found some more open space and started to get into my race pace as we crossed a bridge and headed south along the course.

I had planned to try and sit on 3:55 pace for the first half of the race (aiming to average at 4:00/km, taking into account fatigue towards the end of the race), however this seemed difficult to achieve early on in the race as I experienced some tightness in my right shin which was slowing me up for the first 8km. I decided not to worry too much, and instead focused on doing my 5km splits in under 20 mins. Every few seconds saved here would be gold at the back end of the race...

At 7km, I passed Surfers Paradise which is where my family was waiting to cheer me on. Always a fantastic sight to see everyone so excited and enthusiastic as I run by! During this time, I started checking my pace with fellow runners and trying to find a suitable group to latch onto to help me maintain my pace. This was rather difficult as there seemed so much variability between the runners- some just pushing a little too fast for me, and others which were inconsistent with their pacing, and at times coming well off goal pace.

Eventually I caught up to a female runner who seemed to be rock solid with her pacing- consistent 4:00/km pace. We had a brief chat and found that we were aiming for a similar racing strategy, so I stuck with her over the greater part of the race.

The race headed south with a few minor turns until 15.5km, before turning around and heading back. I had prepared well with my fuel and gels, taking on the Clif Shot Blocks every 20 mins and a gel every 8km. There were plentiful drink stations to help with hydration, so I was feeling really good all the way along. I had crossed half way at 1:24, which was a minute slower than my initial plan, but I was feeling very strong, so was confident that I had the strength to hold on much longer at the back end of the race to make up some time.

Even when I came back through Surfers Paradise at 24km, I said to my wife "I'm all good!", which was not expected given my previous marathon experience!!

So I pushed on through 30km, and soon was crossing back over the race precint at 31km. It was here where the spectator support was at its greatest, and hence it gave all competitors a fantastic lift as we trudged north towards the final turn around at 36.5km. I had some friends supporting who yelled encouragement, and the race announcer was also doing a great job of motivating the runners. The first of the elite were also passing in the opposite direction as they neared the finish of their race, some 40 mins ahead of me. I decided that I felt strong, and with only around 10km to go, decided to see if I could lift my pace and finish with a wet sail.

I increased my speed to a 3:55 pace and started to make some fantastic in roads on runners ahead of me. My coach started to yell out some encouragement and tips as I passed 32km. As I went pased another runner at pace, he called out in surprise and said "Wow, you left your kick to quite late!". I replied with "We'll see, there's still ages to go..."

So I was fuelled up, hydrated, and going strong, happy to run alone now, when suddenly I started to cramp...

First my right calf and groin, then my left calf. Everything started to give way and I had to back off and go into preservation mode. I had experienced similar cramping during my first marathon in November 2013, but I was so much better prepared this time, and given that I was feeling so good, this came as quite a surprise. I tried a couple of times to re-engage, but the cramps came straight back. I couldn't believe it- I almost started crying... All this work and preparation, and everything going so well, and then my machine breaks down.

I started to slow considerably as I resolved that I had to try and nurse myself for the next 7km home and hope that I could still better my previous time. I took on some electrolyte drink to try and remedy the situation, but did not expect anything to change. It was a hard 2km to the turn around as other runners started to pass me and despite all my efforts, I was unable to respond. This is of course the hardest part of a marathon- the long and lonely last 7-8km. My pace had drifted out to 4:07, which was costing me valuable time, but my legs were burning and refused to obey my brain to go any faster. I struggled to the turnaround at 36.5km and then started to slowly work my way back south towards the finish line. More electrolyte drink at the next drink station, though I wasn't thirsty...

At around 39km, my coach had crossed the course and started yelling at me as I approached. This surprised me somewhat, as I was in limp home mode feeling sorry for myself as I watched my pace slowly blow out on my GPS, and whilst everyone else was getting supportive encouragement, I was getting verbal abuse!! "Jules, stop looking at your watch!! Keep your head up and chase!! Pass as many people as you can... Just RUN!!! Keep your head up and chase!! Pass as many people as you can.. Come on, just RUN!!!" Peter bellowed at me over and over as I passed. I started to swing my arms harder in a vain effort to muster some speed. 500m down the road, I could still hear him screaming at me! Then suddenly, it worked! I was able to pick up some speed and the cramping had gone. I was in all sorts of pain, but I knew this was the home stretch, I recognised this part of the course from last year when I had done the half marathon. It was a long relentless straight which can only be overcome by running and running as hard as you can!!

My pace picked back up to 3:55/km and I started to pass a few other runners as I closed in over the last km of the race. I could see the turn off to the finish chute, but it was still some 500m away, but I was now determined to finish fast. The pain was almost unbearable, but I was not going to slow up now, and as I peeled off to the left for the final 400m to the finish line, I caught a glimpse of the finish line and the race clock. As I neared, I could see that it was in the low 2:49 range. I knew then that I was going to finish under my 2:50 goal time, so I motored along until I finally crossed that magical line.

I remember stumbling over the finish line in my first marathon just 8 months earlier and being so exhausted that I could barely stand. This time I was in much better shape, and tired, but not quite as spent. It was quite an emotional moment though as I had finally achieved what I had set out to do from April 2013. So close to 18 months of work and around 4,500km of running had finally paid dividends for me with the most satisfying finish.

I grabbed a piece of fruit, some bottled water, then the prized finishers medal and t-shirt. I then took a proud walk down through the recovery area to the race precinct where friends were waiting for me. I was told that I had finished 80th overall out of 5,600 competitors. Also, despite the near disaster from 33km, I had only lost about 1.5 mins from my overall race pace. To me, that is opportunity to chase down at the next race!

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"Inaugural Paihia Half Marathon 2014"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

Without a doubt, the highlight of any runner's athletic career would be setting new PB's or conquering a new distance for the first time. As a keen competitive runner, I look forward to achieving new running goals, which generally means PB's or sometimes the elusive podiums in smaller races.

The June long weekend is a fantastic time of year in NZ. It is the onset of winter, but generally speaking the weather is still fine and mild during the day, and a fantastic opportunity to head off for a few days of rest and relaxation. That is, except if you are a runner! For on this weekend, there are countless opportunities to compete in race events all over the country. The premier event is the Christchurch Marathon, where all the best athletes will generally head along to. This year, a new event sprung up in Paihia- which is in the Bay of Islands- about 3 hours drive north of Auckland.

Having been here a few times before, I knew that it was a fantastic location for a running race. In addition, it makes a great base for some family recreational activities too. We managed to get in a steam train ride and some bush walks through magnificent Kauri forests on the Saturday before race day.

The town has a fantastic waterfront strip which is the first out and back section of the course, then there is a magnificent bush trail that takes about 4km to move through to the stunning Haruru Falls. The back end of the course is about a 3km hill climb up a gravel road before levelling out, then a km is added on down a steep hill and back up, before a rolling 2km run to the finish line.

Given that I never seem to get my nutrition intake right in the days before a race, I decided to spurn the traditional pasta carb dinner on race eve. Instead I went for steak and ribs which was a fantastic feast the night before- it felt like I was eating the post-race meal!

Not sleeping particularly well before the race, I got up at 6am and got in my breakfast which consisted of a banana, Sultana Bran cereal, and a V Energy drink. My son, as always is an early riser, so we also got in a game of monopoly! Once changed and ready, I headed out and did a light jog along the 3km to the start line- our hotel was on the race course.

For race nutrition, I had packed 2 Leppin gels and a packed of Clif Energy Shot Blocks, which I have been training with in a bid to try and keep my sugar stores well stocked across the race.

I had pre-registered the day before, so there was nothing really for me to do before the race start other than try and keep warm on a very brisk morning, and start my race warm up and stretching.

The race start was preceded with the local Waitangi Kapa Haka performing a stunning powhiri (Maori welcome). Then before we all knew it, the gun suddenly fired, which sent the Maori performers scrambling out of the way of the runners, and we were off! It was out of the carpark, a left turn across the rickety Waitangi bridge, and across the town.

I shot out quickly and was first across the bridge, leading the field into town. It was such a strange sensation, running along and know that there was a horde of 650 runners chasing me wherever I went! Through my peripheral vision, I noticed an imposing figure racing on my heels- a giant of a man in comparison to my modest 5 feet 8 inches. He certainly kept me honest for those first few km.

Though it was early, there were a few spectators about along the beach and in the cafes, and they provided welcome support and encouragement. I was looking forward to when I reached the 3km mark, as this is when I would pass by my hotel again, where my family was waiting to cheer me on. I don't particulary want for support when running, but it certainly gives you a huge lift, when you hear someone calling out your name.

Once past the hotel, it was up over a hill, then a descent to the next bay, where there was a drink station and turn around to head back across town towards the bridge. It was 5-6km in now, and I realised that I had already dropped the man mountain in blue, but suddenly there was a more nimble looking lad in a black singlet who had me in his cross hairs! He was close, but did not push for the lead, so I continued to navigate the course for the race field as we headed up another hill past the start line, and a left turn onto the trail section that ran through to Haruru Falls.

This part was unchartered territory for me as I have NEVER raced on trails, and as I stumbled down the first steps onto the track, I realised that I would have to slow down a bit to mind my footing. It was a very narrow and undulating track that twisted and turned, and went up and down. One less pleasant factor was that as it was early morning on a cold day, and I was leading the race, I was smashing into all the over night spider webs that had been cast across the track! My pace had slowed markedly on the trail, but here it was all about navigating the course safely without tripping or falling. Plus, I listened out as carefully as possible to try and sense how close other runners were behind.

A highlight of the trail section was a run across an elevated wooden boardwalk to cross the waterway. This was quite a long section of around 500m, and again was very narrow. So it was advantageous to not have to be chasing anyone or trying to pass- virtually impossible to do safely. Having got through this section, it was a bit more trail, before reaching the Haruru Falls, then finally getting back onto road at about the 13km mark.

Whilst a straighter and more consistent surface, this road section was a slow 3km climb which quickly changed from sealed road to loose gravel and dirt. It was hard going, and again slow initially. I had got about 1km up this section and looked back to see the guy in the black singlet about 500m back, so he had managed to stay in touch and keep me working for the final third of the race.

Eventually the hill levelled off, and there were some majestic views of the Bay of Islands as I crossed 17km. Then there was a left turn down to the bottom of a steep street for about 500m, before turning to go back up for the final 2km run to the finish. Having turned at the bottom, I was about a third of the way back up when my pursuers started to appear. It's always very disconcerting when you have a short out and back section as it appears to condense the field and bring everyone closer together. Though I had started to panic a little that I may ultimately be run down, the guy in second shouted out in frustration as we passed "Oh crap, we have to run back up this hill???" It was then that I realised that everyone else was hurting as much as I was, and all I had to do was to maintain my pace for the last 3km to keep the differential.

Eventually I reached the top of the hill again, and then it was a left turn and a flat run through the golf course with slight undulations. I started to pick up the pace again so that I could build what I hoped would be an unassailable lead to the finish.

In the distance I saw a police car heading my way. It went past me, then turn around and passed to my front again, then turned on its strobes and I realised that it was a police escort to the finish line!!! How fantastic was this- the whole race I was trying to lead out, but unsure of my pace, and over the last stretch of the race, I had a police car escort to pace me to the finish. To make things even better, the course started a gentle slope, then more pronounced downhill run, so I was able to (finally) finish a Half marathon race with the last km being the fastest!

I shot down the road as the finish neared, and it was the most amazing feeling I have ever experienced with some many people cheering me on. Some kids decided to run alongside as I neared the finish line, then I spotted my family cheering me on wildly as well. Wanting to ensure that I did indeed finish the job, I maintained my focus for the final 50m and hurtled towards the finish line to cross and win my first ever race!!

My time was not fabulous- just under 83 mins, however upon reading up on the course with the hills, trail and gravel road, I was expecting to be running somewhere between 83-85mins, so this was certainly better than my expectations. One thing that I did realise was that hills are no longer something that I dread in races, and certainly don't slow things down quite as much as I used to think.

What an experience it was to run such an amazing course in a brand new race, which had such a variety of beautiful terrain. To finish first was beyond my wildest dreams (and may never happen again), hence something that I will treasure for years to come...

Some of my unforgettable memories from the day:
1) The strangest sensation of having 650 people chasing you everywhere you go

2) The realisation that despite doubting myself over and over during the race, I knew that I could continue going strong, and the rest of the field was going to have to catch me first to take it from me

3) Getting a police vehicle escort over the last 1km to the finish line with sirens wailing

4) Running down the home stretch and seeing my family so excited

5) Crossing that finish arch, and having that moment all to myself

Onto the next race then...

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"Coatesville Classic Half Marathon 2014"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

After a long summer of training with very little racing, it was time to get back into my regular schedule of half marathon racing. Typically I like to race once every 4-6 weeks to keep a track of how my fitness is and also to keep the competitive juices flowing!!

I have competed at the Coatesville Classic previously in 2012 and have fond memories of the event. The course is on quiet/ closed rural roads just north of Auckland, though it is rather undulating and there is a climb after the turnaround point of around 5km, and hence difficult to settle into an even pace.

The organisers RUNNING EVENTS are a fantastic crew, and very dedicated on putting together a great event. However on the eve of the race date of 16th March, the race (like many other outdoor events) was postponed due to a cyclone that was due to come crashing over New Zealand.

Due to the rescheduling, the event was not able to utilise the local hall at the event centre for race registration, so the organisers decided to do a rolling roadshow across Auckland in the few days before to allow competitors to register at their convenience. Fortunately for me, one happened to be conveniently right at the bottom of my street!! The race pack was fairly basic, though you were given a reusable waterproof bag, an aluminium water bottle and a t-shirt. Plus all finishers get a fantastic medal, great value for $45!!!

Race morning meant an early start to drive up to Coatesville, which is approximately 30 mins north of the city. There was no issue with traffic at 6am, though it was very dark on the country roads (daylight saving is about to end here)! Once I arrived, there were fantastic officials to guide cars into the parking, and a lit path to the start area.

Having raced here before, I knew mostly what to expect, though being in a rural valley it was much colder than I was expecting, and I spent a good half hour shivering in the dark before starting my warm up. Remembering that 2 years prior I didn't get to my toilet stop before the race due to the queues, I made an early beeline for the portaloos. The event provided for 15 portaloos, though this seems to be barely enough given there were well over 1000 participants racing that morning across the various events.

I started my warm up as it was now about 35 mins before the race start, and then I noticed one of the top 5 gun runners turn up who would certainly earn a podium before 9am! We had a good chat, and wished each other well, and then I downed a gel and made my way to the start line. The advantage of smaller races is that it is easier to get right to the front of the start chute and I duly marked my territory on the front row (me in the red top).

One nice touch was the event allowed for a wheelchair racer Lee Warn to start 5 mins before the rest of the field. And he certainly was noticeable in a gorilla suit!! As it turns out, he had a fantastic race, finishing in 1:49:55, and this includes wheeling himself back up a 5km climb after the half way turnaround. What an amazing effort!

At 7:30am precisely, the gun fired and we were off. I remember shooting off into the lead for the first km when I raced 2 years ago, only to be swamped by the front runners 2km later, so I was a little more measured this morning, letting the top 4-5 shoot away. Based on their racing history and my abilities, I was never going to challenge these guys, so I decided to run my own race.

The first 2km were pretty straight forward, but then there was a steady climb from 3-4km and I tailed off somewhat. In hindsight, I was annoyed with myself as after starting the race with sub-4min km's, this one was my slowest at 4:17, and ultimately cost me a sub 82 min race!!

After about 4km, the road turned and started a gentle down hill section, so I picked up pace. The first drink station was a god send and the marshalls were fantastically encouraging and helpful. I guess being closer to the front you tend to get better service as you aren't in a logjam to get a cup of water!!!

For the next 5km, I traded the 'lead' of the chase pack with 2 other runners as we tried to settle into a good race pace. However, by 9km, it was clear that I was not going to be able to stick with the other 2, and they dropped me before the 10.5km turnaround at the bottom of the hill.

I went through 10km in 38:40, which was a little disappointing, as it meant that I was well off an 80min time, but it was too late to be worried about this, I just had to keep plugging away.

Turning back, meant 2 things- firstly it meant that I was more than half way through, but secondly, it meant a long and laboured climb was ahead of me. The other interesting thing was you get to see how close other runners are behind!

I tried to just focus on the moment as I set about the next 3km, before a left turn and dog leg at 14km. Again, there was fantastic encouragement from the marshalls. Given that this is a rural course, and a smaller race, there is very little in the way of spectators (unless you count the farm animals!), so you take anything you can get...

From here, there was another 3km of climbing before another left turn at 17km, which meant I was on the home stretch. Through these turns I noticed how close the racer behind me was placed. I was in 7th and was intent on holding this position, and the pressure from behind certainly kept me on my toes.

The last 3km were fantastic, rolling and slightly downhill, you finish in a flurry, and turn off the road onto a gravel path as you enter the event centre area with finish gantry in sight and finally some spectators to cheer you on as you charge around to finish.

During this section, I caught sight of the racer in front and started to push as much as possible to close the gap. I was definitely edging closer, but he did manage to stave me off and finish 12 secs in front. Again I was left to rue the rotten 3rd km of the race which was 20 secs off my average pace!!!

I rounded the final turn in the finish chute and scampered over the finish to an appreciative audience in 7th place with a time of 1:22:07.

The race winner managed a fantastic time of 1:14 which was a course record, so a fantastic effort on a fine Sunday morning.

Considering the hilly course, I was feeling pretty good and only wishing that I was able to push a little bit faster today. It was not to be, but I was still very pleased and was then handed the fantastic finishers medal... This is without a doubt, one of the best ones you will get in a half marathon race. One observation though was that this year, they awarded the same medal for half marathon finishers and the shorter 8km finishers. A little disappointing really, but understandable given the quality of the medal and the likely cost involved.

So with my race well and truly over before 9am, I chatted to some of the front runners, including my friend Brad who I had bumped into before the race. He had finished 3rd, some 5 mins before me in a fantastic time! I then spotted the massage tent, which was amazingly FREE, so I received a great 10 minute rub down of my calves and hamstrings before the queues arrived! There was also personnel available to provide free stretching for competitors as well.

The other competitors began to pour into the finish (including the 8km racers which started half an hour after the half marathon), where they were met with encouragement and applause, and drinks, bananas plus loved ones waiting for them.

I decided not to hang around for the prizegiving (chancing missed spot prizes including a massive flat screen TV), so headed back to the car park and left on a glorious Sunday morning, satisfied with an honest effort at a fantastic event.!/RunningEvents

I'm looking forward to my next Half Marathon race in 2 weeks, having kicked off the new season in fine style...

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