Stuff.co.nz staffers Sarah MacKenzie and Ed Scragg, egged on by their workmates, went head-to-head in Wellington's Round the Bays. There could only be one winner...
My legs were aching. They're still aching two days later.
It was a hot day with a harbour breeze. They were good conditions for Wellington's Round the Bays half marathon.
It was my first competitive 21km race and there were many unknowns to contend with. How would I cope with 14,000 people all pounding the same stretch of pavement? How would I hold back at the start and not fall into that trap of going too fast too early? How would my muscles and joints hold up?
Everyone in the office gave their two-cents of advice before race day. Eat this, eat that. Wear this, wear that.
''Don't forget the Vaseline for your nipples,'' the boss would say.
Apparently bleeding nipples are a common problem for long-distance runners; it was nice to have colleagues who cared.
There were the competitive ones too. There were three of us running the race. We'd all signed up independently, but as word got out, so too did the hype, banter and wagering.
The one who wanted to stake a $1000 on the race was new to the business. He was a few years my senior, but his running credentials were a bit of an unknown. A hard bet to call. Then I heard he'd joined a running club. No way was I placing that sucker bet as I'm no fitness bunny. One run a week is my regime.
As it turned out he didn't even make the start line. A forfeit of grand proportions.
The other runner from work was always going to be a tough race though. A regular at the gym and some years my junior I knew I was right up against it. No mention of a wager in her case. She would be my smiling assassin.
I started off in full stride, going way too fast, but there seemed no other way. It was a stampede along the waterfront and an easing of pace risked a collision-induced toppling and concrete face-planting.
On I strode, darting this way and that.
About 6km in now and the herd was thinning. There was some breathing space and I was in the groove. No sign of that girl. There was no sign of my flatmates either. They were gym junkies - one more so than the other - so I never expected to be close to them.
As we turned off the main road and began the scenic route along Shelly Bay Road, this stretch would prove no relaxing ride.
I was just behind the one hour, 50 minute pace setter. I wanted to break two hours, that'd be a great achievement. I just had to keep my eyes on the pace runner and not let the next one - the two hour pacer - pass me.
My cardio was strong. I felt I could hold my rhythm. It was my legs that were the problem. I needed a distraction.
It came in the form of a girl in my pack applauding the race leaders - now running back the other way. They were some kilometres in front. How did they get there? Too quick.
As for the cheerleader in my pack, her applause began to rile. Nothing like some anger to pass the time on a run.
Where was this energy coming from? Here I am, battling on, one heavy step after another and here she was with the stomach to sing praise. It made me sick. Still, good on her for being positive; can't really get upset with someone over that.
A kilometre or two along now and my flatmates passed me by. They were on their way to the finish line.
That was a nice pick-me-up. It helped that they looked like they were struggling. I was not alone.
I reached the turn around now. Still no sign of the woman from work.
There were 7-8 kilometres to go and my legs were really starting to hurt. My weekly run was 10-11km and so I was venturing into distances I wasn't used to. I could feel every step. A weird tightness in my muscles gripped. Yet I had to keep going. Breaking to a walk was fatal, I'd never find my stride again.
I was motivated though. That woman from work was still nowhere to be seen, I knew I was in front. I started to believe I might beat her.
My steps were heavy though and my nerves edgy. People were passing me in steady waves and I knew it was just a matter of time.
Six kilometres to go. Could I make it? Believing yes was keeping me going. It was the distraction I needed.
Then I saw her. She steamed past faster than the others. Where that speed came from, who knows.
Like a band aid being pulled off, at least the pain was brief. Though the ache of the moment lingers like the pain in my legs today.
I didn't even see him. He was my main adversary, but I just didn't see him.
Running on a high, I powered on through, my legs surprisingly strong with an extra kick of adrenaline pulsing through with every person I overtook.
The end was in sight, I'd finally made it through the countless twists and turns of Shelly Bay Road which, while undeniably beautiful, seemed almost never-ending that day.
Thankfully, this time the main road was almost deserted, with only a few runners struggling through the final kilometres.
I used the space and set my sights on a man about 50m ahead.
He was moving at a fairly decent pace, but I knew I could pass him if I gritted my teeth and pushed on.
I accomplished this small goal, but it became an even bigger battle of willpower when the full brunt of the Wellington wind came into play.
My legs felt heavier than they ever had - it was harder than climbing the Plimmer Steps after leg day at the gym, and that's saying something.
The final corner of the race beckoned and I received a high-five and some much-needed words of encouragement from an inspirational personal trainer and friend.
Strong finish, he said, and with that I was off.
This proved easier said than done. The luxury of space was a distant memory as a dense pack of 6.5k runners were idling down the home strait. It took all my social touch rugby prowess to weave between them, building up to a sprint as I hit the grass with the finish line only 20 metres away.
I passed that girl in the pink t-shirt who had been just out of my reach the entire race.
It's a victory of sorts, but there's no sign of my main competitor - where was he?
Knocking off one of my New Year resolutions certainly felt good - I've always been a fitness-oriented person, often relying on an action-packed cardio class or intense weights session to get me through the day, but consistent long-distance running was a different animal altogether.
Conquering 21km was an achievement in itself, but when I found out I had beaten him, it was definitely a fist-pump moment.
What can I say, I'm a competitive person.
And while I would love to be able to describe the feeling of satisfaction I appear to be expressing in this photo - the truth is, I didn't even notice as I passed him.
Apparently with the end in sight (I'm guessing this shot was taken about 16km into the race) and a camera in my face (if someone points a lens your way - why not smile, I say) I was completely oblivious to my fellow runners.
Office rivalry aside, we both finished comfortably under two hours, and lived to tell the tale.
My thoughts? Well, let's just say I have well and truly got the running bug - watch out June half marathon, I'm coming for you.
As for Ed, will he run a half marathon again?
"It's too soon."
Why not give the Auckland race a try too? You have 11 more days to train ... head here for more info on entering.
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