Note: Unfortunately, injury has forced Stephen out of the 2015 Rotorua Marathon. He is already planning for 2016. 23 April 2015.
Stephen Lett will be among the favourites for the 2015 Rotorua Marathon in May. Steve Landells chats to the winner of the Auckland Marathon about his hopes and expectations for the 51st edition of the event.
November 2, 2014 will be a day Stephen Lett will never forget. Not only did the Takapuna Harrier achieve arguably the highlight of his endurance running career by winning the Auckland Marathon.
A little over nine hours later his wife, Felicity, gave birth to their first child, daughter, Ruby at North Shore Hospital.
It was, admits Stephen, “the best day of my life and hard to top” and one which quite rightly attracted its fair share of headlines.
Yet life never stands still. Five months on from Stephen's momentous day the reality of coming to terms with fatherhood and juggling the demands of his work as a physiotherapist and pilates instructor and squeezing in his training has proved challenging.
His next major target is to compete in the historic Lion Foundation Rotorua Marathon on May 2 – a race, Stephen has long harboured competing in.
“I've never run (the full marathon) at Rotorua and I'm really keen to do so,” explains Stephen, who has twice ran the half-marathon in Rotorua finishing second in 2012 and fourth in 2014. “It is a good time of year (for me to run it) and it is a strength based course with a few hills. It is also attractive because of the long history attached to it and the fact lots of big names have won there in the past.”
Growing up in the small beach town of Omaha about an hour's drive north of Auckland, where his parents owned a mandarin orchard, he enjoyed an idyllic childhood enjoying “a good sense of freedom” in which he was “always on the move.”
An accomplished all-round sportsman - he was Northland Under-16 champion for tennis and badminton and a keen soccer player – it was only after winning the North Harbour Secondary Schools 1500m title as 14-year-old did he first discover an aptitude for running.
From that point on his athletics career quickly accelerated.
“At that time North Harbour Bays Athletics Club had a sponsorship deal offered to talented youngsters in which they would offer a coach for free. Out of this I was fortunate to work with a good coach called Kevin Hunt for the next four or five years and I managed to enjoy quite a bit of success on the national scene.”
In 2000 he finished second – interestingly one place ahead of a young Nick Willis – at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships before going one place better 12 months later in Auckland in front of his family and friends.
A series of stress fractures marred his development for several years while studying at AUT University for a physiotherapy degree but he re-emerged as a serious competitor in 2006-2007 under the coaching of Jack Ralston, former mentor to 2004 Olympic triathlon champion Hamish Carter and 11-times Ironman NZ winner Cameron Brown.
Stephen describes Ralston as “a great motivator” and under his wise tutelage Stephen gradually built up his aerobic work.
Season after season the Beach Haven-based athlete benefited from the increased training and enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2011 landing national road, half-marathon and 10,000m titles and he was only denied the national cross country title by Matt Smith of Canterbury.
In 2012 he suffered a huge blow following the death of Ralston after a bout of leukaemia and he later hooked up with his current coach, Christchurch-based Sam McLean who also guides the career of Nicki McFadzien, a 34:37 10km athlete.
“Sam as an athlete got really good results out of maybe not the best potential and as a coach he has a work hard philopsophy,” explains Stephen. “We ring each other every Sunday and he sets a very individualised programme. He is quite analytical and he is willing to change the programme when he feels it is necessary.”
The combination has worked well. Stephen, who admits his economical running action is best suited to the marathon, earned a string of second place finishes over the 42.2km distance in Auckland (where he set his current PB of 2:24:58) and Wellington in 2013 and Christchurch 2014
Which brings us to last year's Auckland Marathon.
“It was a big target of mine,” explains, Stephen who was running around 200km a week in preparation for the race. “I knew Sam (Wreford) wasn't likely to run so I knew I had a good chance.”
There was, however, another very important personal consideration. His wife was found to be carrying their unborn baby in the breech position and was booked in for C-section one week after the Auckland Marathon.
Deciding to go ahead with the race “because everyone tells us the first baby is always late” his wife backed the decision and was on course to support her husband in his quest to win the Auckland Marathon.
In the lead pack at halfway, Stephen admitted feeling “not as strong or easy as I would have liked.” By 30km he was second and had dropped off the pace set by Tony Payne (Wesley) and adds of that point in the race as “It was quite a humid day and I was struggling.” Despite this he took the lead from Payne – who was struggling with a side strain - in the final 8km and clung on to claim the race victory in 2:27:38.
“It was an awesome thrill and probably right up there (as one of my career highlights),” explains Stephen, 31. “With 2km or 3km to go I throught enough of hurting myself - I just want to see the end!”
Yet shortly after finishing the race his wife pulled him aside and delievered the stunning news,'I think I need to go to the hospital.' Her early labour had started, which Stephen jokes had begun as a result of all the running around the Auckland Marathon course she had done in an effort to follow his race fortunes.
The pair dashed off to the maternity ward at North Shore Hospital before the prize presentations and at 5.51pm Ruby Jasmine was born weighing 6lbs 1oz.
“To be honest as soon as I was travelling to the hospital, I instantly forgot about the marathon,” he explains. “I was focused on whatever support I could give and do whatever was needed at the hospital.”
Post-Auckland and Stephen, who is also completing a number of post-graduate papers, admitted he is still trying to bring his work-life balance under control. This has not allowed him to train with the same intensity for the Rotorua Marathon as he did in the countdown to Auckland and he is currently running around 130km a week with a 20km round trip (10km each way) to work five days a week supplemented by longer weekend runs.
“I've been doing enough to keep fit and a little bit in the game, but I'm still working on getting my volume back,” says Stephen, who ran a time of 2:45 to finish second in the Bayleys Mountain to Surf Marathon in New Plymouth on a tough course earlier this month. “I'm a little unsure about what I can do at the Rotorua Marathon. I'm not unfit. I would like to think I could run low 2:30s and I would hope all the miles and my previous experience come into play.”
Beyond Rotorua, Stephen is hoping to run some cross country races this winter and build up his fitness to defend his Auckland Marathon title.
“I hope not to fade away into fatherhood and I hope get myself into PB shape for Auckland,” he explains. “To be at the peak of my game I need to be organised and put in a little extra training. There needs to be watching less TV and no procrastination.”
Stephen Lett's three reasons why you should run the Rotorua Marathon
1 – The history
“The event has been around for more than 50 years and there are lots of cool stories attached to the event. So many great names have won the race and remember the 2009 edition between Scott Winton and Steve O'Callaghan. Steve was leading by about 20m but tripped and fell just before the end and Scott went on to win.”
2 – Challenging marathon
“If you are keen and up for a challenge the Rotorua Marathon provides it. The race has lots of hills including one incline that keeps on going around the 18km mark.”
3 - Location
“Rotorua is a neat city. There are lots of places to eat and there is plenty to do. It is a perfect family destination for the weekend.”