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Running Races On Auckland’s Newest Motorway

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Phil Stewart
Phil Stewart

I have never run on a motorway before. Probably because it’s illegal. And dangerous. But a few weeks back I saw a section of motorway that was absolutely perfect for running a 1km sprint.
I’ve never run the 1km distance before and have always wanted to. The almost-complete new State Highway 20 motorway link through Mt Roskill in Auckland includes a straight and flat 1 km section that seems to be custom-made for running this distance. We had to get in early to avoid construction workers, but hadn’t counted on 24-hour security….

I was out on the construction site of the $186M SH20 Mt Roskill Extension a couple of months ago and immediately identified its potential as a running track. A very flat surface, straight, marked in lanes, and even with signs posting the distances along the track. How useful. There was more to it that though. Logic (of some sort) suggests that if it is safe to run on then it is safe to drive on.  So you could consider this a high-speed safety test of the road surface for the good of the motoring public.

The motorway during construction in 2008

The world record for the 1km distance is 2 minutes 11.96 seconds by Noah Ngeny of Kenya set in 1999. This record still stands – and no one has come within 2 seconds of it since. Do you think that’s fast? It’s nuts. I boldly figured I could have a go at the 3 minute mark.

Todd and Woo (seen them in previous posts?) joined me for the early morning run. Todd has been in deep training since the six-volcano run and believed that this was going to be his event.

Before running, we had to mark out exactly 1000m so we could make this all official-like. Luckily, I had some construction drawings on me which indicated exactly yardage along the route. Are you any good at reading construction drawings? We could have used your help.

Here’s the home straight of our 1km distance. Doesn’t it look appealing as a running track? This is looking back from the finish line – Sandringham Rd pedestrian overbridge. All we had to do was head down the motorway to the identified 1km start point…

We hadn’t counted on this though. A security truck driving back and forth along the motorway – a 10 minute cycle from one end to the other. We had to wait for him to pass, and then get our trials done before he returned to take us to jail.

Todd on lookout for the security truck to pass. Adrenalin was high (quite useful before a sprint actually).

The security truck was like the greyhound and we were like the rabbits on the rail.

Todd in optimum starting posture. A fast start is important even at this distance.

Todd with 400m to go. This is where it really starts to hurt.

That’s me just about to finish. Ouch.

Todd finishing strong

Make no mistake, this run h-u-r-t. Rapid lactic acid build-up from high running speed combined with the length of time running mean that for a couple of minutes your muscles are burnt-out and you can’t get any oxygen into them. It’s a long time to be this uncomfortable.

Another important speed trial. Can you outrun a small road-roller?

Does that sign mean no walking?

That run was a lot harder than we expected. I didn’t break the 3 minute mark; I finished at 3:15. Todd ran 3:34, and Woo was 20 seconds further back from that.  We all walked away knowing we had run until our lungs were going to burst and our muscles ached. And that’s what counts right?

I encourage you to have a go at the 1 km distance. Short enough to have to run at top speed, long enough that it’s going to make you want to quit. Try it on the treadmill tomorrow.

Interestingly, the pavement surface felt very hard. Harder than a normal road or a footpath. What do they make these things out of? Very safe though I presume.

Speaking of which, our secondary goal of safety assessment concluded that NZ Transit Agency has delivered a superior piece of motorway. None of us came off the road, and if we had there were plenty of barriers to give us a soft landing. And the white lines are very straight and kept us pointing in the right direction.

So can we deem this new motorway safe for use? I’m not sure if the 1 km sprint is an internationally recognised safety test or not, but it certainly seems like a very safe piece of road for you to drive on. What we can conclude is that this motorway conforms to the very highest safety standards for a running track.
Enjoy your next run and keep safe ok?
Making sense of the plans to mark out the 1 km distance...

...was well beyond us.

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