Fitness: Novice runners, put yourself in my shoes

Participants running through a vineyard during the Hawke's Bay Marathon in New Zealand. Yesterday's event ended at the Sileni Estates Winery, where a food and wine festival celebrated the completion of the race.
Participants running through a vineyard during the Hawke's Bay Marathon in New Zealand. Yesterday's event ended at the Sileni Estates Winery, where a food and wine festival celebrated the completion of the race.PHOTO: HAWKE'S BAY MARATHON

Orchards and olive groves form the stunning backdrop for a marathon that ends in a winery

Reigning Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya attempted to run a marathon under two hours last week. He nearly succeeded, finishing in a time of 2hr 25sec.

Yesterday, I took an additional hour-plus to complete half the distance in New Zealand but it felt like a triumph for me.

I have never been much of a runner and when Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand invited me to participate in this year's Hawke's Bay Marathon, I felt apprehensive, as it would be my first time tackling 21km.

I knew I needed help. So I did what most people in my situation do. I went shopping and got myself a new pair of running shoes.

But in the one month of training, it felt like I was only running away from commitment - heading home immediately when it started to drizzle. Somehow, I managed to squeeze in 4km runs twice weekly and even clocked 10km in my final run before the big day.

On race day however, the nerves dissipated and I was instead overwhelmed by excitement.

  • 76%

  • The majority of the 4,500 participants hailed from outside Hawke's Bay, with runners from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and the UK.

The Hawke's Bay Marathon, only in its second edition, comprised a scenic route of cycle trails, vineyards, olive groves and apple orchards, all on flat, easy-running country and gravel roads.

It ended at the Sileni Estates Winery, where a food and wine festival was held to celebrate the completion of the race.

At the start line, participants were in high spirits despite the chilly 9 deg C weather and windy conditions. Many were even taking wefies to commemorate the day.

The event, which consisted of 42km, 21km, 10km running and walking categories, and a 3km fun run for kids, was marketed for its unique experience rather than a competitive element.

Vice-race director Chris Randle said on Friday that he was absolutely thrilled with the 4,500 participants, 76 per cent of whom were from outside Hawke's Bay.

There were about 100 Australians and "a good number from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and the UK," said Randle.

"One of the things we looked for when we created this event was a great destination that people would want to travel to."

The race began at 8.15am and I was eager to experience the scenery. It was relatively easy at the start with fresh legs and I took in the sights of never-ending rows of apple trees and of course, the countless sheep.

Just before the 4km rest station where volunteers were handing out water and isotonic drinks was an amusing sign that read: "Whine now, wine later."

New Zealanders do have a good sense of humour.

I continued running and despite a drizzle, I was undeterred. Push on, I told myself. It helped that my fellow runners were supportive of each other. A simple "great job" does wonders for morale.

Fellow first-time participant Huang Li Li, 50, told me that she had been running marathons for about four years and had picked the Hawke's Bay Marathon for its natural landscape after years of running in a concrete jungle like Singapore.

At the last stretch where the vineyards were located, a timely rainbow appeared after the light rain. The pot of gold was near. By then, my legs were already aching. It was also a mental struggle and my mind started to waver.

I recalled my colleague, Rohit Brijnath, once telling me about the wacky Marathon du Medoc in France, where participants also run through vineyards so they can sample wine at the same time.

I was glad that wine was only served post-race at Hawke's Bay, otherwise I may never have completed the journey.

I finally made it in a little over 31/2 hours, collected a free bottle of Sileni Estates wine and memories of the beautiful views of Hawke's Bay to take home.

I am now inspired to continue running back in Singapore. Nobody knows what sort of enriching experiences you will get from running a marathon until you take up the challenge and persevere until the end.

Life, after all, is a marathon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'Novice runners, put yourself in my shoes'. Print Edition | Subscribe