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Kerikeri Half 2023 - Follow your gut

Updated: Jun 25

Race report by Joel Bickers

The feeling on the startline of a race will always make me uncomfortable. It’s the anticipation of the result. Was all the time, energy, and emotion spent in the months leading up to this day helping me get faster? To have this lean on a single day is a cruel joke. After a disappointing result earlier in the year, I didn’t want both my ‘A’ races to not go as planned. This is a brief recap of how the lead up to the Kerikeri Half Marathon and the race went:


The training for Kerikeri focused on spending lots of time running at around LT (lactate threshold pace) - that comfortably hard pace. Effectively this meant doing a session a week ranging from 6 to 10k at these paces. I hadn’t spent a lot of time at this pace in my previous training blocks so it was a bit of a shock to the system. However, it helped the legs get comfortable moving at half marathon pace for extended periods of time.

On top of the LT session, a few 5k and below pace sessions were thrown in as well as long runs with a bit of marathon pace too. The long runs were often run with James Marsh who was training for the Auckland Marathon at the same time. I have only recently joined Owairaka Athletic Club and finding a training partner for the long runs has been unbelievably helpful.

The overall block leading up to Kerikeri was a solid B+. The weekly volume and intensity was a bit too much for me at times so there were a few weeks where I wasn’t able to do everything I was hoping to do. A few times I would drop an easy run so I could recover in time for the important quality sessions. I was just coming off a marathon block so the base required to run the half was already there, it was just a matter of being comfortable running faster.

Race day

Having run Kerikeri a couple of times previously, I was familiar with the course. I keep coming back to do the Kerikeri Half as the atmosphere is always relaxed, with a focus on getting everyone involved. The last runner is celebrated just as much as the first.

Race morning began with the classic early wake up. My dad had also signed up so we were traveling from my parents' home in Ruawai. We clearly failed forward thinking to book accommodation. My race day meal was two Weetbix with farm milk and a coffee, quickly eaten before we started our journey up north at 4:15 a.m. We were joined by the ultimate support crew of Mum and two of my brothers.

The first 7k’s of Kerikeri are uphill with k’s 5 & 7 being the worst. The following 14k are downhill with the odd rise. The plan for the day was just to try and set a PB. The only piece of strategy I had was to aim to get to the top of the hill in 25 mins, then hope like hell my legs held together - a solid plan!

A pack of about 10 runners went out together with the gun, holding together for around a Kilometer at a pace I was pretty happy with. When we got to the first rise I expected someone to make a move and break away but no one did. I told myself I was feeling good and my monkey brain quickly took over; the game plan was now completely thrown out. The opportunity to lead was there for the taking and I wanted it. I started to push and slowly broke away from the pack.

I reached the top of the hill about 30 seconds before I’d originally planned but knew the next two k were the fastest to come so the push continued. These were by far my fastest k’s but the downhill running hit the legs hard. I was never comfortable at the front. The roads were windy and it was difficult to tell how far behind anyone was but I got into a good rhythm and the ks just started to tick on by.

The rest of the race went by quickly. I got an unexpected cheer from the family at the 14 k mark. They were just as surprised as I was that I was leading but aside from that it was just me and the periodic company of a cyclist who was jumping between me and the chasing pack. Whenever the cyclist would pop back I’d make small off hand comments to him to distract myself. I slipped out the classic “Why do I do this to myself?” expecting a small chuckle or even just silence but instead got “It won’t hurt when it’s over”. I was struggling but this was the sticky tape that held me together - the promise of not hurting.

I managed to hold the lead for the rest of the race crossing the line with not just a 4 minute PB but also an unexpected 1st place. The added bonus of the day being that Owairaka won the team category by 20 plus mins from Striders after a solid outing from James Marsh, Lani Dodds and myself. Also, great to see Team Earl (Bella, Adrian and Tommy) in Owai colours coming 3rd.

The main point of the day was proving that I was better than I was last year, and that the days spent training (which I enjoy) are working. Race day was a great success and I’m proud that I followed my gut and backed myself from early on.

Full results are here:

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Awesome work Joel!

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