Guest post featured on “Runstoppable”
When you find yourself surrounded with inspirational people, you often have to step up your game. Which is why I found myself ironing my yellow, starry superhero cape last Saturday evening. It was the night before China Round the Bays in Wellington, and Achilles International New Zealand is the main charity for the third year running.
For those who don’t know, Achilles is an international organisation which provides running support and training opportunities for people with any scope of disability. One of the organisation’s main goals is to get those with disabilities involved in mainstream running events. Cigna Wellington Round the Bays is a landmark event for Achilles International NZ and athletes and guides from all around the country gather in the capital for the event.
The weekend started with a pasta party hosted at the Southern Cross bar in Wellington. It was a great opportunity for all the Cigna and Achilles team to get together, mix and mingle and talk strategy for the next day. Saying that, I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of athletes at the bar drinking French martinis and others reminiscing about the recent New York marathon very enthusiastically, so I’m not sure how much strategy talk was happening.
Cigna Round the Bays was celebrating it’s 40th year this year, and as usual there was a 21.1km, 10km or 6.5km that athletes could choose to run, walk, hop, wheel or hand cycle. I was taking part as a second guide for blind runner Ali, along with her number 1 guide Matt. Ali is totally blind so requires a tether to run with a main guide giving instruction on any obstacles or direction. A second guide is helpful at busy events such as this to help clear the way and allow the first guide to concentrate on the terrain.
Race day came and I’m lucky (?) to live 4km along the course from the start, so as I walked/jogged my way round in the morning I was greeted by troops of Cigna staff, volunteers and army cadets setting up the first few aid stations. Pretty early start for those guys! They’d also be out until the last entrant came through, likely 12 or 1pm, so a long day too.
I arrived to a swarm of yellow (Achilles) and blue (Cigna) t-shirts at the VIP tent, made a beeline to the coffee stand and started to get pumped for the event. The organisation was so smooth and everyone so relaxed. It was also great to meet a few more Achilles members from around the country, and catch up with some familiar faces.
It wasn’t long before we were rushing from the toilet queue to the start line, making it just in time for a head to toe “feel good” check before the horn sounded and we were off. There were 0000 people doing the half marathon, so it took a little while to cross the line. It was Ali’s first half marathon, so our main goal was to get to the finish line but we were hoping to get there in around 2 hours 15/2 hours 20. We weaved in and out of the sea of runners, me acting as body guard and Matt pulling Ali left or right … All the while giving the opposite direction verbally. You’d think knowing your lefts and rights would be a prerequisite to guiding, but Matt has seemed to get away with it for quite a number of years now.
We found ourselves pushing forward at a decent pace, conscious though that we didn’t want to go out too fast. As we came up behind a busy section of runners, I did my best to make some space for Ali and Matt to pass through, all the while trying not to disrupt anyone’s rhythm. We only had a couple of times where we were ignored or cut off by other runners, but a strong word from Robin here soon sorted that out 😉 (“term, excuse me Batman…”)
We carried on towards point jerningham, surrounded only by the echoing sound of hundreds of feet pounding the pavement, everyone in the zone getting their head in to the race. As usual, Keo Bay residents were on form, ready with the balloons, flags and hoses to keep everyone cool and motivated. As we kept on round the Bays,we continued to keep a steady pace and were all feeling good. We got heaps of support and chat from other runners, and it was really the perfect conditions for a run around the Bays.
We reached the 5, 6, 7km mark with no hassle, arriving at the Miramar junction without really noticing. Ali was running like a machine and the pace was going well. As we turned to go up scorching bay, we began to muse about how the front runners were doing, and just a km or so later the first one flew past. The next few followed and the steady stream of those on the way back got busier. Soo many people shouted encouragement to us, no matter what level of pain they were in. This highlights the community of running that Achilles has stemmed from, everyone just loves to see others out there doing it.
We pushed along the mildly undulating trip round the Bays towards Scorching Bay, the kilometers slowly but surely ticking away. Matt managed to knock one of the safety pins on his number off around half way, so I took over the tether for the rest of the run. Matt was a much better body guard than me anyway, the cape hadn’t helped as much as I’d hoped.
We began to catch up with another couple of Achilles athletes from out of town, and pass some others who were on the return stretch. It was so great to have so many athletes taking part, and witness everyone pushing hard and achieving amazing things. A couple of overtakes later and we were at the turnaround point, heading back toward Kilbirnie and with about 7km to go. Ali still running amazingly strong. We then had the joy of saying hello to everyone who was behind us, giving a great perspective of how we were doing in the race.
The rain started spitting around 16km, and my cape got a bit wet and heavy on my neck. The path was mostly clear for us to run through though and we continued with our steady pace, climbing places as we went.
Matt sneakily quickened our pace, but Ali kept up without any trouble. All of a sudden (?) There was only 1km to go. We sped up a little bit more and tried to give Ali a picture of how we were ticking off the last few hundred metres.
We crossed the finish line in just over 2.05 ish, smashing our original target. Well done to all runners, walkers and wheelers for competing in this year’s Cigna Round The Bays, I know everyone at Achilles is already looking forward to next year!!