Well, today I took part in the local “Round the Bays” event. Thousands of people gave up their Sundays to run or walk en mass along the roads that circle the bays of this city. Many other cities have similar events. Participants can choose to run or walk or something in between, over distances ranging from 6.5km to a half marathon (just over 21km). I chose the middle 10km option.
As I was walking by myself this year I caught the train to town and therefore arrived before the runners who chose the longer distance had been started off. The start area was filled with people stretching various muscles and sinews, some contorting themselves strangely and probably uncomfortably.
There were groups stretching in synchrony and individuals doing their own stretching exercises. I suppose that these people would be pushing their bodies pretty hard and really needed to “loosen them up”. There were others, like myself, just wandering around, having presumably decided that they would not be pushing themselves that hard and such vigorous loosening up was not necessary!
Since the race bibs were colour coded it was easy to tell which event someone was entered for. Young and old were represented and of course all ages in between. Some were probably even older than me! All frames from skinny to very much over large were represented.
As the half-marathon was about to kick off, all participants were called to the line. Well, actually, the fastest, the “elite” were called to the line, and people were asked to place themselves in order of fastest at the front, slowest at the back. To assist with this some of the organising people held notices on poles with an estimated finish time, so that slower starters would not impede the faster, or to put it another way, the slower participants would not be trampled by the more speedy.
There was the usual “10, 9, 8,….” countdown and someone fired a maroon, and off they went, disappearing down the road. An event like this causes massive disruptions as roads are closed for obvious reasons.
Each runner or walker has attached to his or her shoe a little tag, which records the time that they cross the start and finish lines. As a consequence of this the participant can delay his or her start if the start line is too crowded. In fact, since the pack of runners and walkers extended 30 or 40 metres back from the start line, the shoe tags meant a participant could cross the start line minutes after the start and still get an accurate time for the journey.
Many people did in fact decide not to be too prompt to cross the line and there were queues for the loos right up to and after the official start. However, eventually everyone was away, though participants continued to trickle through the start for a while.
A bit later they called for the 10km runners and walkers, and again, the fastest were asked to go to the front and the slower people were urged to stay at the back. Once more the maroon went off and people started passing the start line. I held back because I knew that there was always congestion at the start line, even with the shoe tags helping to spread the rush.
When I came to cross the line there was a slight slowdown, but I’d fortunately judged it quite well, and we were away. I’m always wary of starting too fast and getting tired at the end so I didn’t try to push through the throng too much, but it spread out pretty quickly.
The first part of the course is actually a block away from the waterfront, past Te Papa, the national museum, and only joins the waterfront after a few hundred metres. The rest of the course though follows the coast quite closely, first going out to a headland and then back into the next bay around the harbour.
Of course, with thousands of people on the road, it is closed to traffic, but people don’t seem to mind this. Most car parks were empty, both those on the side of the road and those on private properties, so locals seem to have made plans to cope with the road closures.
After a couple of kilometres I put on some pace and started passing a fair number of other walkers. Others with similar plans but fitter bodies were also passing me, I should mention!
With thousands of people thundering up the road, there were no bicycles or skateboards, but there were a few runners without race bibs who had either not heard about the event or who had decided to run along the course anyway. Along one part of the Parade there is a quite large fountain, and this was playing as we made out way past.
The second stage of the course winds round some small bays which border much larger bay. We lost the view of the city as we looped through these bays. Quite a few of the local residents were watching from their balconies as we passed. A few had hoses out and offered cooling showers, but the day was not too hot and they had few takers.
And then we were 500m from the finish! But we had only travelled just over 5km! So we took a left and travelled around 2.5km and the same back again. This loop took us past the airport and several flights blasted off as we passed. It can be quite loud and surprising down on the road as the runway is elevated, so you can see or hear them coming until the last minute.
As we went out, we were passing the half-marathoners and the faster 10km runners who were on their way back, travelling the last few kilometres to the finish. The turning point was a great relief and I knew that there was not much left to do. When I finished the out and back the course merged with the course that the 6.5km participants followed (and which we followed up to the point where we followed the loop). Many of the 6.5 participants had already reached that point.
So eventually we all, half-marathoners, 10km runners and walkers and 6.5km runners and walkers, arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time! The result was not chaos though as people were efficiently passed through the channel, given a banana and a drink, and issued into the wider park behind. Oh, and I was relieved of my shoe tag too.
The park was crammed with participants and their “support teams” and various booths set up for participants of various teams, there was a band on stage and much going on. But for me it was simply a matter of catching the shuttle back to the station to get home, having had a great time.
The whole event was smoothly organised by Sport Wellington, sponsored by Cigna Life Insurance, and supported by Wellington City Council and Wellington busses and trains, and many others. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.