By Hayden Shearman // One of the many frustrating things about running is the incredibly vague and contradicting uses of the terms “hilly”, “undulating”, “rolling”, and “flat”. Every runner has a different take on what these terms mean and even with a course elevation profile it’s difficult to make out the real magnitude of the hills on a particular course.
And it’s often not until you’re bent over, hauling your lactic-ridden limbs up another “minor undulation” that you realise what the hills on the course are actually like. So, after racing the course and running it dozens of times I’ve put together the complete guide to every hill (longer than 200m and higher than 5m) that you’ll encounter in the Auckland Marathon.
I have to preface this by noting that all the distances and elevations are just approximate, but they should give you a good gauge of what’s coming your way.
Hill #1: Church St
Being right at the start of the race, these first three hills are barely noticeable when racing, but that’s part of their danger. In the first 1.5k you’re climbing about 35m, so you need to accept that this first mile is going to be a little slower than planned. So you should definitely aim to avoid being anywhere near ahead of schedule at the second KM marker.
Hill #2: Vauxhall Rd
Another short speed bump, but be sure to still keep that effort level down.
Hill #3: Vauxhall Rd
This is a little longer but slightly less steep than the first two.
Hill #4: Old Lake Rd & Hamana St
Forget about the Harbour Bridge, if you are going to go wrong, you’re most likely to go wrong on this long grinding hill. And although 35m may not seem like a massive gradient over 1.2k, the trick with this one is how it kicks up sharply from the beach and then ever so gradually levels out over the following 1k. So if you push hard over that first 200m, you’ll be running on heavy legs for at least another 1k uphill, as they won’t get a chance to recover. My approach last year was to take this first section conservatively and then gradually build into your rhythm so that when the gradient is only slight on the back half of the hill you’re running basically at target race pace (rather than still being in recovery mode).
Hill #5: Lake Rd
This comes straight after a fast downhill section (where you’ll want to float and make use of the free speed gravity gives you), but, with the lack of flat in-between, it makes for a tough transition straight back into another climb. It’s not particularly steep but is a good grind, especially so soon after Hill #4.
Hill #6: Lake Rd
Just when you think the climbing on Lake Rd is done, you get around the corner and the road kicks up another time. It’s not much, but it’s the icing on the cake of an accumulating series of rises. This is the point that you’ll start to see the first explosions of those who have gone out too hard on the early hills and are suddenly realising they’re not even a quarter of the way through the half marathon.
Hill #7: Burns Ave & Auburn St
If you were driving, or even just jogging, you wouldn’t even notice this pimple of a hill. But again, it’s the accumulation factor of these bumps that take their toll. Good thing it’s one of the last surprise speed bumps.
Hill #8: Taharoto Rd
Slightly longer this time and a reasonable gradient of about 3.5%. Accept a slight loss in speed here, knowing that you’re about to hit the long expressway of the beautifully tarmac surfaced bus lane.
Hill #9: Harbour Bridge
This is the one that everyone fears, but if you’ve paced it right and kept the governor on your effort levels over those first 5k you should still be looking nice and springy for your top-of-the-bridge photo opportunity. Aim to accelerate over the top of the hill and glide down the other side (it’s actually an ideal gradient for controlled fast downhill running).
Hill #10: Shelly Beach Rd
This is the nasty little surprise waiting for you at the base of the bridge, but once you’re over it, you’re home free. This is the spot I would be making my move in the half marathon. It’s 5k to go and the rest of the course is flat (and most likely with a tail wind). You still want to save enough in the tank to get you around the lonely loop of Silo Park though.