The Auckland Half Marathon is pretty much where it all started for me as a runner back in 2015. I’ve got a lot of good memories of this event – aside from kilometres 35-41 of the marathon, that is! My first half marathon (2015), my first full marathon (2017), PBs along the way, and last year in 2018 I got to run most of the half with Camille Buscomb, one of NZ’s leading distance runners on the international stage who has just been in career-best form at the World Championships. Spoiler alert – she’s got a really quick finish on her!!
It’s a big race – the biggest actual race in the country. This brings an extra level of atmosphere and excitement that you don’t often find at events in NZ, as well as generally a very strong elite field. It’s also your only chance in any given year to run over the Harbour Bridge (well, at least until Skypath opens), and the post-event setup at Victoria Park is outstanding, particularly now the finish line is in the park itself and not out on Fanshawe St.
Anyway I’ve run the half every year since 2015 (except 2017 when I ran the full) so I know that half marathon course pretty well now. This year the plan is just to run it for fun (?!) and go hard at a couple of races in November / December, but I just can’t bring myself to skip this one – partly because I’ve got an eye on a Roadster bib (and permanent number) as this will be Auckland Half Marathon #4 for me, only one short of Roadster qualification.
At this point I also have to give a shout to Hayden Shearman – his guide from 2014 is still as good an analysis of the hills as you will find. I found it invaluable before hitting this race the first time. Check it out if you want to know more about the hills. Yes, there are some.
Anyway, as you’ll notice below, there’s a slight change to the course in 2019 due to construction work in Wynyard Quarter. This basically pulls 1km out of the course around Silo Park, and adds it in Takapuna before you hit Smales Farm. I’ve guessed the rough distances below for each section but don’t take them as definitive.
Part 1: Devonport to Takapuna (0-6km)
The saying ‘don’t go out too fast’ is true of all long distance races, but I have yet to find a better example of it than this course. Most of the hills are in the first 7km, and after that, there’s a LOT of flat fast stuff. Many a runner has set a PB on this course, but you have to be smart about it. As you are standing on the start line on King Edward Parade, you should repeat ‘don’t go out too fast’ to yourself. Tell your friends. Tell everyone around you. Unless you’re trying to beat them.
I did not do this in the marathon in 2017. It was great, until it sucked. And then it really REALLY sucked.
Anyway, invariably there will be a few runners behind the elite corral that have grossly overestimated their ability and end up blocking faster traffic. The first km or so can be a bit of a mess while everyone sorts themselves out so keep your wits about you.
Turning left into Church St, keep repeating ‘don’t go out too fast’ to yourself. The first 2km has a series of 3 small hills. You’ll feel great at the start of the race with all the adrenaline and it’s easy to get carried away. Don’t do it.
Often there’s a guy on a trumpet around the shops on Vauxhall Road at around the 1km mark. I don’t think he’s part of the official entertainment but he’s pretty much always there. If you’re reading this, trumpet guy, cheers to you. Always gets me smiling.
Anyway the last hill past Fort Takapuna (apparently it is actually called that) gives way to a nice view over Narrow Neck beach and you can pretty much boost it down the hill here.
When you get to the bottom, once again repeat to yourself “don’t go out too fast”. Everyone assumes the Harbour Bridge is the toughest part of the course. Sure, it’s a big climb, but actually this following section up Old Lake Road is where this race can be made or lost before you’ve even hit the 3km mark. Coming off the beach, it’s pretty steep initially before levelling out gradually – if you hit it too hard, too soon, you’re going to feel it.
The first aid station is at the 4km mark, just uphill from Takapuna Grammar. Here you swing right onto Lake Road and another long climb. Past the school, then sweeping left and continuing up towards Hauraki Corner. It goes on for a while, and as Hayden Shearman points out in his guide, this is the one that’s going to really hurt for anyone who’s gone out too quick. At this point last year, my group of 3 became a group of 2 at this stage.
Anyway the good news is that you’ve now got over 7km of fast stuff with only a couple of very small undulations between you and the Harbour Bridge. Enjoy the ride down towards Takapuna!
Part 2: Takapuna to the Busway (6-10km)
If you’ve been running conservatively for the first part of the race, now you can start to kick it up a gear. There’s a small rise on Auburn St. as you climb up towards Anzac St. but it’s pretty short, and then once you’re on Taharoto Rd there’s a change to the course unique to the 2019 event.
With America’s Cup bases under construction in the Tank Farm in Wynyard Quarter, they’ve unfortunately had to cut the Silo Park loop out. Fortunately, they’ve found a way to do it without changing the elevation profile of the course at all. This involves a loop around suburban Takapuna, where you turn left into Dominion St (no, NOT Dominion Rd), and then loop around Puriri St and Karaka St before rejoining Taharoto Rd. I’m kind of mildly intrigued by this as I’ve run past those streets many times, but never down them.
You may have seen a smattering of supporters through suburban Devonport but normally there’s good crowds through Takapuna, particularly around Smales Farm. The second drink stop is here too.
Refuel and strap yourself in, because here comes the fun bit. The busway! Ahhh, 5km of glorious racetrack.
Part 3: Busway to the Bridge (10-15km)
If you have been a Smart Runner, now you get to enjoy the fruits of your superior race tactics. This is an uninterrupted 5km stretch, with no sharp corners, all the way to the Harbour Bridge. There’s a drink stop around the Akoranga Drive bus station but aside from that this is where you can really hit a good rhythm.
Just pray that there isn’t a southerly on the day because, uh, then it’ll suck a bit.
It’s kind of strange running here, because the motorway itself is still open to traffic – albeit it’s kept well away from the runners. So you have this nice coastal panorama on your left (with great views of the city skyline), and an active State Highway 1 on your right – albeit it is a Sunday morning.
Hilariously, around this point in 2016, my wife drove past and tooted the horn and gave me a big wave.
Part 4: The Bridge, and a nasty surprise (15-17km)
As much as I am planning to run the race for fun this year, I am determined to smash the Harbour Bridge climb. There’s a very small outside chance that I might be able to take out the ‘Blitz the Bridge’ title if I really hammer it which measures runners from the bottom to the top of the bridge.
Anyway the Bridge itself isn’t as hard as it gets made out to be. It’s a long, steady climb with an elevation gain of ~40m over around 1km. This makes it roughly equivalent to the climb from Greville Road towards Albany Mall, and easier than Curran St. Distracting yourself with the views certainly helps, and you may as well enjoy the opportunity to run here – it only comes once per year!
Just, don’t assume once you get to the top that the hard stuff is over. The downhill here is awesome – ideal for downhill running, but when you get to the bottom and turn on to Shelly Beach Road there is one final hill that everyone kind of forgets about because they’ve just run over the big baddie. It’s short, but it’s fairly sharp, and I promise the hard stuff is finally done once you turn right on to Sarsfield St.
Part 5: Flat all the way home
The final few km of the race can be entertaining. I’ve heard stories of them being the fastest of the race for some runners, and the slowest of the race for others. Once you’re past Sarsfield St, it’s completely flat. If you want to push the last few km – here’s your chance.
There’s generally lollies on offer around Westhaven. One year ASB, who have been a brilliant sponsor of this event, made one poor judgment call by offering black and yellow jelly beans. Suffice to say that the ones that had landed on the road looked like bumblebee ball bearings ready to trap the unwary runner. There’s normally a very vocal Barfoot and Thompson contingent around here too.
The only other slightly weird thing is the road paving around Wynyard Quarter, particularly Jellicoe St. It’s got this cobbled thing going on that feels a little strange and mildly uncomfortable underfoot if you’re wearing racing flats or minimal shoes.
Anyway, Halsey St will take you to the final turn into Victoria Park (there’s a small ramp to take you over the wooden fence), and to the finish line in the middle of the park. This is one of the great improvements to the race in recent years, as opposed to finishing on the road in Fanshawe St. Finishing in the middle of Victoria Park is awesome!!
There’s no shortage of post-race entertainment – if you’re an ASB customer, there’s traditionally been a free barbecue on offer too! I’ve managed to actually beat my gear bag here from Devonport a couple of times too which is a mild source of amusement.
The Verdict: Any Aucklander should consider running this just for the fun of running over the Harbour Bridge. Visitors should consider it for the same reason!! It’s a great, well-established, well-run event – it might not be the fastest course in the country but it’s got the most atmosphere and plenty of PBs have still been set here.