Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tokyo Marathon, February 2018

Despite several years of high school spent studying Japanese, I have never really had much interest in visiting Japan. It was a difficult language and all I can remember amounts to pretty much "Hello, my name is Rachel, I'm going to the beach". Tofu might have been what put me off, or perhaps sushi (for which I didn't develop a taste until well into my thirties), but that's just how it was, at least until very recently.

Tokyo marathon has a reputation as a fast and flat one, and it was added to the World Marathon Majors list a few years back, still I wasn't really interested until I finally visited Tokyo on the way to the ski fields of Hokkaido last year and fell immediately in love with the city. Suddenly it made perfect sense to find a way to enter the marathon - behold the 'Run As One' semi-elite program, for which I had qualified in Boston - and we were all set for our first running trip to Japan.

A nice little walking tour of Tokyo, anyone?

The Training

Yeah, ok, I guess I did train for this, although it was far from a conventional marathon training cycle.  Speedwork came only in the form of semi-regular Saturday morning Parkruns (a free, timed 5K that started in Wagga last September but is held in many locations every weekend all over Australia, the UK and various other countries) and perhaps one or two attempts at marathon pace during a long run. On that score, Hobart marathon in January was planned as a training run but predictably became something slightly faster - when chocolate is involved, all bets are off - and thus I found myself needing to recover, peak and then taper again, all within the space of 6 weeks. Right.

Considerably less than my usual training for a major marathon
These days I can legitimately claim advancing age as a reason for keeping the mileage lower,  I suppose, but I know that overall mileage is still one of the most important parts of marathon preparation. So, not hitting my usual totals should have made me fairly cautious about my chances in Tokyo - but on the other hand, optimism (and a dash of denial) probably helped me set off for Japan with fairly high expectations. What could possibly go wrong?


To save my legs before race day, we take the daytime flight and arrive on Friday evening. This means I don't have to drag my sleep-deprived self around Tokyo all day after the overnight flight, but it's still a long train ride from Narita and almost 10pm (midnight Sydney time) when we finally make it to our Airbnb apartment near Shinjuku. Yawn.

The next day my jet lag happily wakes me at my normal time, which is very frustrating because here it's only 4:30am. By 5am I've given up trying to fall back asleep and clearly it's going to be a very long day. Our only goals are to get to the expo to pick up my bib, which turns out to be a massive expedition that takes almost 5 hours to complete, and eat. More about that later.

The expo is strangely underwhelming, being split into 3 parts, but being unaware of this we are amazed to find absolutely NO merchandise of any sort in the booths through which we pass once I've gotten my security wristband, had my photo taken, my timing chip checked and everything but a DNA test to make sure the race will be as bandit-proof and secure as possible. All there seems to be, in fact, is towels and cookies and the odd keyring. What on earth??

Downstairs, however, there are two areas with clothing and shoes and - to my delight - I find a whole stand of ASICS Tarther shoes, my former favourite racing flats that have been extinct (other than in Japan) for at least the past 3 years. And there's an INKnBURN stand too!

Usually on the day before a big race I'll try to get as many carbs in as possible, but nothing much is very familiar and I've forgotten to bring along the powdered Gatorade I so efficiently packed. Oh well, I'll just have to settle for a massive bowl of ramen noodles, with extra noodles and rice, instead. What could possibly go wrong?

Race Day

For once the jet lag works in my favour, as does the late start (9:10am!) and the fact that we're staying a mere 650m from the starting line. Awake by 6:30am, I have plenty of time to choke down my customary iced coffee and a strange Japanese pastry or two - sourced from the local 7-11 last night - as well as relax and use our own bathroom facilities (with heated seat, no less) rather than queueing for some nasty porta-potty. This is very excellent.

Ready to rumble, or at least shuffle

Shortly before 8am I decide it's really time to head off and, with my throwaway tracksuit top and hat in place, venture out into the chilly 5C/42F weather to make my way towards Gate 2, block A. This takes surprisingly longer than I was expecting - there doesn't seem to be such a thing as shortcuts in Japan, not to mention I have to get my wristband scanned and pass through a metal detector as part of my journey.

I've got my phone in a velcro armband that I picked up at the expo; this is new for me but totally essential if I ever want to find Joel again after the finish, and predictably enough it seems to set off the detector but nobody pulls me over so I just keep walking. And walking, and walking. Eventually with the help of an English-speaking volunteer I find the right spot, and take up a position about 6 rows back from the front. The start is still 45 minutes away so I park myself on the roadway - women on the left side of the median strip, men to the right - curl into as tight a ball as I can manage and focus on conserving warmth. Brrr.

Not too far back at all, and at least I look marginally more fashionable than the person in the yellow garbage bag

Various celebratory events take place in front of me, including a choir of kids (very cute) and a bunch of men wearing "SuperDry" hoodies (strange - I don't recall exactly what they did), then finally the wheelchairs are started and the elites parade out to take their place right by the line.

Everyone around me is stripping off and throwing their clothes to the side so I do the same with my purple jacket, but I'll keep the hat until I feel warm enough to do without it. I've still got my gloves on - they're my favourite NYC ones and I don't anticipate ever needing to chuck them, nor would I want to - when the countdown timer hits zero: the announcer yells out "Ready, set, GO!" and the Tokyo marathon is underway. Wheee!

Start - 5km: 20:25 (6:34 min/mile, 4:05 min/km)

In practical terms it's a mega-stampede, the likes of which I have never seen before. I'm running as fast as I can but people are clawing their way past and almost over me pretty much constantly for the first 1km. So many that I'm almost annoyed - I have to remind myself this is Tokyo, not some country NSW race - because wow, I'm being elbowed from all sides and pretty much left in the dust.

Ready, set, run right over the person in front of you

I swear I'm in there somewhere, but so are 35,000 others and they're all running on top of me right now

My Garmin split for the first mile looks spot-on, which makes it even more surprising that I'm still being passed by so many runners and not only that, so many WOMEN. In retrospect my Garmin is probably not very accurate at this stage, on account of buildings and general Garmin city-weirdness, but I know for sure I'm running a pace that will bring me in well under 3:00.

My legs feel great, what's strange is that I've looked at last year's results and of the 700+ runners who broke 3 hours, less than 100 were female. The obvious conclusion is that a lot of these runners - both male and female - are going out WAY too fast. I guess maybe it's the do-or-die philosophy that drove the kamikaze pilots in World War II, translated into running?

In fact, I read a story just yesterday about Japanese runner Yuta Shitara, who made his marathon debut here last year and drew attention by going through halfway on world record pace, before fading to a still-honourable 2:09 finish. Fearless? You bet, and it's clear that plenty of his countrymen (and women) are running today in the same style: go hard and hope for the best. Not a strategy I can embrace, myself, but still very interesting to behold.

5 - 10km: 20:28 (6:35, 4:05)

Ooh, it looks like there are timing mats every 5km and a clock proclaiming the elapsed time since the race began. I haven't been organised enough to figure out how fast each split needs to be for something under 2:55 (which is my rough goal for today, other than my usual one of "as fast as possible on this particular day") but something around 20:30-21:00 seems about right.

It's incredible how many people are still zipping by; it's difficult resisting the temptation to accelerate and stay with them. One of them is a guy dressed as some sort of anime character, complete with long green hair. Well, that's a new one. My Garmin beeps a couple of ridiculously fast miles (6:07, which is 3:48 min/km, also known as Rachel's 5K race pace) but I'm pretty sure about my own ability to run to pace, so I ignore the watch and focus on taking in my surroundings.

We're heading directly east across from Shinjuku towards Tokyo station, where the finish precinct awaits my presence in hopefully just over 2 hours or so. The crowd is reasonably big and in parts quite vocal - I don't know what they're yelling, but the occasional "Jai-yo!" is a welcome sound and one that reminds me fondly of that horrific race experience that was the Fuxian Lake 50K last year - and there are amusing stretches where everyone is dressed the same and waving the same inflatable batons. Leave it to the Japanese to take marathon spectating to another level of organisation and harmony!

The volunteers are another part of this race that is unique: there's one every 20 meters or so, holding a garbage bin liner and part of their job is clearly to clean up anything we runners might drop. Japanese streets are remarkably clean (something I also noticed in China last year) and it feels very impolite to even think of littering, so I'm glad to have someone to throw my hat and empty GU packets at, even though that sounds fairly rude also. It occurs to me that I'm totally overthinking this race. Sigh.

Thought bubble: Are we there yet?

10 - 15km: 20:40 (6:39, 4:08)

Ok, this pace seems about right, although I don't really want to go any slower. The early-race springiness of my legs is starting to fade a bit, and it seems I've picked the right pace because cardio-wise I'm completely fine - unlike some of the people who are still huffing past, sounding for all the world like they're in the final stretch of their local Parkrun. Seriously?

The water stations are happening in earnest now and they are epic. Even though I'm not remotely thirsty (it's still only about 6C and I have barely cracked a sweat yet), I've figured out that the cups with "Pockari Sweat" on them really ARE full of Pockari Sweat - a disgusting-sounding Japanese electrolyte drink that is best avoided - and have been taking water as per usual.

The water is in plain paper cups, the kind that are perfect to squeeze into a spout and drink from without ending up either inhaling or wearing most of the contents, but I've discovered another drawback: my left glove keeps getting wet. I briefly experiment with taking the gloves off altogether, but quickly discover that makes my hands way too cold, so the damp one goes back on and I'll just have to be more careful.

What's remarkable is just how long these water stations are - they go on and on for at least 100m each. There's enough time to tear open and eat a GU, then wash it down with one or even two cups of waters, all without even slowing down. It's very impressive.

Cornering hard in Asakusa, with fancy scenery

15 - 20km: 20:32 (6:36, 4:06)

I look up just before the 15km mats to see an impressively Japanese-looking gateway: it's the entrance to a major shrine called Senso-ji that we're planning to visit over the next few days. It's there and then it's gone within seconds and the course turns towards the Skytree, another popular tourist spot that will make a nice backdrop for race photos. There are in fact large flags bearing camera icons at each official photography site, which makes it easy to pose and wave but also easy to be caught grimacing like a gargoyle. But more about that later.

This 5km split is pleasingly spot-on but what's less encouraging is that I'm not feeling that great right now, for reasons unknown. My legs and hips are a bit achey, more so than they really should be, and my brain just can't find that state of watchful peace - I think it's also know as "flow" - that is so helpful in the marathon. It's flipping between worrying about the state of my legs, calculating how far is left to run (never a good idea until the final 10km, and even then not really) and fretting over whether or not I can hold this pace all the way to the end.

I think part of the problem is that in the past few weeks, when asked, I've somewhat over-confidently stated my goal time as "low 2:50s". In reality I know my days of being close to 2:50 are over; I just didn't want to admit it to myself, but now there's no avoiding it. I'm on pace for 2:53-2:54 and there's no way I'll be any faster than that. And that knowledge is not sitting right with me.

Around 18km, however, there's a random Australian voice yelling out "Go Rachel!!" - much later I'll figure out that this was Georgie, one of the Aussies with whom I raced in China - and this gives me enough of a boost to get to the 20km mark with more positive thoughts than negative. Almost halfway; maybe I can ignore my brain for another 90 minutes after all.

Not entirely hating it right now

20 - 25km: 20:38 (6:38, 4:07)

There's a U-turn and a timing mat that my Garmin - inaccurate by a greater margin than I had anticipated - is convinced should be the halfway point, but it's not. That's about another 400m up the road and I glance at my watch as I pass it: 1:26:39.

Ok, well, that's 2:53, probably 2:54 more likely, and even if I really hit the "fade" button at the end, there's still a reasonably good chance that I'll make it under 3 hours. All these thoughts zip through my mind and are promptly filed away so I can focus on the task at hand: keeping my legs turning over.

The long out-and-back sections mean I've had a couple of glimpses of the race leaders: the men in a large, all-African pack, the women bunched in behind a phalanx of pacers. I've seen a couple of speedy Aussies, too: David Criniti - he's shooting for 2:17 or faster and I've seen him a few times at Manly doing punishingly fast long runs on Sundays - and Alex Rogers, whom I met at RunCamp in 2014. Hopefully both of them are on target for their goal times; now I need to make sure I still try to hit mine.

Focused. And my shoes match the traffic cones

25 - 30km: 20:41 (6:39, 4:08)

There's another long stretch with plenty of runners coming back the other way, and somewhat frustratingly we are headed yet again back to Tokyo station, although my sketchy grasp of the local topography means I'm not uncomfortably aware of the proximity of the finish line.

The negativity in my brain has quietened down somewhat now, to my relief, although I'm still more acutely aware of how far I have left to run than I'd prefer. What's helped to some extent is the fact that I'm now passing runners, a few of whom are clearly in big trouble. One is stretching and trying to walk; another is clearly in a rictus of agonising cramps.

What did I say about going out too fast, hmmm, class? Seriously, though, I've been guilty of it enough times myself. It just amazes me how many people never want to try doing something different. And with that thought, I find myself suddenly passing a female wearing an elite bib. Wait, what?

Nobody looks very impressed here.

Being almost exclusively focused on the process of running, I don't have many brain cells left to use on memorising the runners near me like I might normally do during a long race, but the appearance of another female inspires me to look around a bit. There's a (presumably) German one with a singlet that reads "Ick gloob det nich!" and something about a 100 mile race in Berlin, there's more than one with a bib on their back indicating this is their 6th (and final) Major, and now there's a Japanese woman in pink who looks like she should be in my age group. I cruise past but nope, she surges and disappears ahead of me again. Seriously?!

That's more than enough for now; I close off that part of my brain and busy myself looking awful for the photographers.

30 - 35km: 20:51 (6:43, 4:10)

Uh, oh.  I'm not good at mental arithmetic at the best of times but the clock at the 35km timing mats looks suspiciously like almost 21 minutes has elapsed when I cross. I need to hold it together now, really I do, because the wheels - while not yet falling off entirely - have definitely begun to wobble.

This stretch provides another opportunity to watch runners who are a whole lot closer to the finish than me, but I'm too far gone to notice anyone I know. Instead I focus on the fact that I'm actually passing quite a lot of people now - runners who are no longer running.

They are walking, or standing and stretching, or hobbling painfully towards a sympathetic volunteer. Some are lying on the ground wearing space blankets and one vomits, projectile-fashion, into the bushes as I pass by. How picturesque. I guess these are the people who stampeded past me in the early miles of the race; I bet they really regret going out at 10K race pace now.

Tokyo Tower, wheee!

The carnage all around me is quite distracting and I find myself almost enjoying the race again, despite the protests of my legs. Passing people in the dying (ha) stages of a race is always sort of gratifying and there's nothing like a game of Assassin Mode to pass the time.

35 - 40km: 20:54 (6:44, 4:11)

Shortly after the 35K mats there's a hairpin turn and finally we are on the way back towards Tokyo Station and the finish line. There's some very interesting scenery to my left, some sort of temple thing that I was vaguely aware of about 4km ago when I went past on the other side of the road, and I'd love to stop and look at it but I've reached the point of things where I just want to be done.

Again I'm able to somewhat distract myself from the increasing fatigue and discomfort in my legs by looking at all the late-race blow-ups that are occurring around me, and telling myself there's only x miles left to run, and when this doesn't work I resort to counting mindlessly in my head: one-and-two-and-three-and-four etc. in time with my steps.

It seems to be working - the mile splits are still ticking over more or less consistently and I'm not slowing down very much, all things considered - but oh boy, I want to stop running soon.

I'm still passing people hand over fist and it does occur to me that I'd like to look some of them up later, just to see how badly they are tanking right now. At the 40K timing mats there's a guy I've tried to pass a few times already but he kept fighting me off; he's totally done now and I won't find this out til the photos come online, but he shoots me a look of pure anguish as I finally pass him once and for all:

Some serious side-eye 

When I look him up later in the results, it all becomes clear: he ran the first half in 1:20 (over 6 minutes faster than me) and yet in the end I beat him by almost 2 minutes. Even worse - but also not surprising - he's half my age! No wonder he was pissed when I sauntered past....

At any rate, the end is nigh. Finally.

40 - 42.2km: 9:14 (6:45, 4:12)

The final couple of kilometres take me in a fairly straight line towards the Imperial Palace and the finish line. The crowd is larger again and quite vocal, but I'm way past being able to pay attention. I just want to stop - it's taking everything I have to keep my legs turning over now.  I'm part of a small group that is struggling to stay together: one Marathon Major Sixer, a small Japanese woman and a tall British guy wearing a Comrades shirt. I passed the Majors guy a while back but he comes pounding by again as I'm grinding my way down the final mile. This is unacceptable! yells my brain, and I abandon my plans to stop right now in favour of giving chase.

Suffer Street, aka the rather uninspiring scenery of the final mile

At last there's a sharp left hand turn and I'm in the finish chute. A glance up at the clock, which is showing 2:53:xx, tells me what I expected: I'm heading for mid-2:50s rather than low-2:50s, but whatever.  I'm almost there, at last!

Ugh, urrgghh, ahh! The many faces of the marathon

Finish time: 2:54:16  (6:37 min/mile, 4:06 min/km)

Half splits: 1:26:39, 1:27:44 (+ 1:05)

Placement: 57th female, 2nd AG (F 45-49)

It's freezing but I didn't drop any clothes, figuring I could just make my way to the Family Meeting Area to meet Joel who has everything I need. But that would mean a left turn after the finish area and because my bib is blue, I have to go right. I try everything I can to indicate that I want to go left - English (but nobody speaks it), increasingly vehement/begging sign language (ineffective), my very rudimentary Japanese (laughable) - but nope, I have to go right. Bloody Japan and their inflexible rules!

This means a detour of what seems like 10km as I make my way around the finish area, along the fenced-off course and eventually down into a subway station, wearing just my race outfit with a towel and space blanket on top. It's still seriously cold, probably around 9-10C at best, and I'm moderately hypothermic by the time Joel finally locates me.

But I survived! And a look at the Strava data later confirms what I already knew: I was red-lining it all the way so really I couldn't have gone any faster.

A small positive split means a race well-executed, and so despite the overall time being a little slower than I'd have liked, I'm satisifed. And even more so after a long afternoon at the most awesome sushi restaurant ever! I love Japan but in future I'll stick to tourism, food
and skiing - this marathon thing is getting a bit tough.

Refuelling, Tokyo-style.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sun Run 10K, February 2018

I really don't like shorter races. I have no idea why I signed up for this one, really, other than that I've been spending quite a bit of time in Manly (where it finishes) lately, and have gotten to know the area a bit from running to and taking part in Curl Curl Parkfun a fair few times. And I guess I sort of thought it might be fun. But while I've never run this particular race before, I knew in advance that it would be hilly and definitely not a fast course. And it made no sense in terms of my preparation for Tokyo marathon - I really don't know why I signed up.

But anyway, sign up I did, with no real idea of actually racing the course, and only vague expectations of a time possibly close to 40 minutes. All the ingredients for an interesting experience, at any rate.

Manly, race morning

The forecast rain hasn't showed up when I set off from Manly; my plan is to drive to Harbord and leave the car in the carpark adjacent to the finish of Curl Curl Parkrun. It will be about 3km from there to the start in Dee Why, the perfect warm-up distance, and when I'm parking in fact there are already people jogging past wearing bibs. I'm not the only one who had this idea, then.

I know how to get to Dee Why but I end up following a pair of guys anyway, and 15 minutes later we're part of a fairly large crowd that is making its way towards the beach. I peel off and head up a side street just to get out of the congestion, then at the beach I do a few loops around the surf club and along the road where the starting arch is set up. I've made it to 2.5 miles when suddenly the heavens open and BOOM, within seconds it's teeming with rain.

I dive for shelter beneath a shop awning and - with the exception of one very determined bloke who stays in the starting corral - everyone else does something similar. For the next 5 minutes the rain intensifies and the announcer who has been chatting happily over the loudspeaker grows steadily more alarmed. Five minutes to the start; wow, it's still coming down. The gutters are torrents of water and my goodness, it looks like we'll all be doing the aquathon option today!

That is definitely not me.

But, miraculously ,the rain stops abruptly with about 3 minutes left - everyone charges out to line up and I end up about 20 meters back, which is fine - and we're good to go! To my surprise there's a pair of 40 minute pacers in front of me, one of whom is female (this is rare); I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing.

Good, because I might be inspired to stay ahead of them (and sneak under 40:00, which I am totally not expecting), or bad, because I might find myself behind them and use this as an excuse to give up. I'm reminded of one such incident in Melbourne in 2013, where I was going for 2:49 only to have the 2:50 pacers catch me with about 3km to go; I stayed with them for a while but was mentally doomed by this turn of events and allowed myself to fall behind. I ended up missing my goal by only seconds and have had a bit of a fear of pacers ever since, but whatever, I need to stop thinking and start running now.

Miles 1 & 2: 6:35, 6:23 min/mile (4:05, 3:58 min/km)

Bang goes the gun and off we all rush, up the hill that Nigel has already warned me about. It's really not too bad and the pacer pair are not that far ahead of me when I crest the hill and see another, much larger, one ahead. As usual at the start of a shorter race, people are flying past me like there's no tomorrow. There would have to be at least 20 women further up the road than me already; it's all a bit disheartening and a voice inside my head is telling me to give up now and just jog.

But coming down the hill is much more fun - I'm catching back up to people again - and I hear my cousin Ruth yelling "Go Rachel!" as I speed past her house. Whee! The course turns right and we're on familiar ground now, it's part of where Curl Curl Parkrun goes and I have great memories of this area, not to mention the respectable times I've managed to run there. The rain is holding off and so really, why not just enjoy it?

The course narrows as we follow the Curly Parkrun route around the lagoon; I take the opportunity to speed my way past a couple of female runners. Yes!

Miles 3 & 4: 6:29, 6:25 (4:02, 3:59)

The third mile takes me out of the lagoon parklands and back onto the road near Curl Curl beach. The lagoon area is flat but this bit is most definitely NOT; it winds and dips and finally summits a decent-sized hill where there is a photographer taking pictures with the beach as a backdrop. This promises an excellent photo opportunity but unfortunately the heavens choose this moment to open again and suddenly the rain is pouring briefly down. So, no beachside photo for me from this event. Insert grumpy face here.

My 5km split is around 20:25 and I'm sort of amazed at this because the 40 minute pacers are certainly nowhere to be seen up ahead. When the road straightens out far enough for me to see them, they're at least a minute in front and I'm trying to figure out how I could have that split but still be so far back? It's too much for my brain cells to process and the hills are rolling at me thick and fast, so I shut this train of thought down and just focus on not losing too much time.

Miles 5 & 6: 6:41, 6:11 (4:09, 3:50)

OOF! The whole of mile 5 is one big, long uphill slog and there's a lovely little out-and-back along a side street in there as well. I hate U turns: having to slow down, turn (on a slippery wet road, no less) and speed up again is an unpleasant process that costs both time and momentum. This mile takes a bit of a mental toll that is only slightly alleviated by passing several people (one of them a woman) who are clearly having even less fun than me just now.

Mile 5 shaded darker, like my frame of mind at that point

The pacers are gone and after that mile split, I'm thinking anything under 42 minutes will be a miracle. Mental arithmetic isn't my strong suit even when my brain isn't being fried by the experience of running over large hills in the rain (which is trying valiantly to stop but somehow unable), but they're so far ahead of me that I can't see how I won't be running a PW this morning. Grrr.

The final mile starts with a very welcome downhill stretch and I know that beyond this it will be all dead flat from North Steyne to the finish line at the other end of the beach. There's a person with a red shirt and ponytail about 50 metres ahead of me; could it be another chick for me to catch? In this era of hipsters with manbuns it can be hard to tell, and nope, it's a guy. At least the rain has stopped, so I might try to catch him anyway.

No more hills is definitely a reason to smile

To my enormous surprise, almost as soon as I make it to the flat part I can suddenly see one, no, both of the 40 minute pacers. One is actually stopped and is waving another runner ahead of them; could it be possible that they went out too fast?? This would not be the first time such a thing has happened - for me it's a bit of a final boost to morale and enough to get me sprinting towards the finish line with every bit of energy I have left.

Final 0.2: 5:55 (3:40)

The effort I manage to put in for this final stretch is rewarded with a race photo in which I actually look like I'm running! I have almost no back leg kick in most of my photos, but then it's very rare for me to be actually sprinting, which I'm definitely doing now. 

Booking it past the Corso

As I pass the Corso I can hear the announcer yelling at people to get under 40 minutes - I look up to see the clock approaching 40, which is an utter surprise - I'm fairly sure I'm not going to make it but I'm also not going to miss by much. I hear my friend Nigel yelling from the sidelines as I throw myself at the finish (and Red Manbun Hipster Person, who is highly unimpressed somehow) and finally it's over. Did I make it??

Trying to casually slip in under 40; Nigel in yellow behind and Distraught Red Person in front

Finish time: 40:03 (6:26 = 4:00)

Placement: 11th female, 2nd in AG (F40-49)


No, I did not make it under 40 minutes. But I came a whole lot closer than I thought I would, and on a course like this (with a mindset like mine today) that's something to be pleased about. The placement reflects a fast field - last year only 3 women ran faster than 40:00 - and we all know my feelings about 10 year age groups, so yeah. A solid day's running at any rate.

Nigel joins me for the jog back to the car - we pass and wave wildly at my friend Keith, who is also running Tokyo marathon and has wisely taken on the role of bike marshal today, instead of running like my silly self - and I reward myself once back in Manly with a scrumptious breakfast. Tokyo is only 3 weeks away; I've got some serious tapering to do. Watch this space.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Cadbury Marathon Hobart, January 2018

Summer is usually a quiet season for me; there are precious few races held in the heat, so it usually means a relative down-time and a rare chance to rest. The exception is Tasmania, the southern-most state of Australia, where the Cadbury Marathon (and associated shorter races) is held in Hobart in the middle of January. 

I ran the half there in 2015 and came away with a large haul of chocolate, and although I’m not sure if that was my only motivation for signing myself and Joel up for the marathon in 2018, sign us up I did. He's never been to Hobart and we all know how much I love a bit of running tourism, so there you go.

The Training

Right, well. My intentions for the early part of 2018 were initially to train exclusively for Tokyo marathon, which I’ll be running at the end of February. A January marathon could therefore really only be justified as a training run, which would usually mean running it all at an easy pace, or at best perhaps running up to half at goal marathon pace.

But it’s REALLY HARD to intentionally slow down during a marathon, or at least for me it is. And while I'm not as fast as I was, say, 4 years ago - I'm still in reasonably good shape to run a fast marathon. Looking through past years' results it was clear that a time below 3:10 would have sometimes even been enough to win - definitely to place - and a place means a box of chocolate, so running to place became my definite goal. If you need to understand better, here's a picture of what I got for placing in the half in 2015, and winning the Australian Masters half marathon title in the process:


Hobart, race weekend

The advent in our lives of Parkrun means we’re able to continue the tradition of running a 5K the day before a marathon! I’ve become something of a Parkrun tourist this summer and waste no time in locating one (the only one, in fact) in Hobart. It starts at the very civilised time of 9am so it’s no trouble to be out there in plenty of time, and while we’re standing around waiting I am quite amazed to see a person I recognise – it’s one of the British team of ultra runners I met in Fuxian Lake last September. What a bizarre place to meet again!

A cosmopolitan Hobart Parkrun, with Scotland........ then America........and a plain old Aussie bringing up the rear

We have a nice chat before the run starts and while she’s out of my league it seems she has been injured the past couple of months; still I’m unsurprised to see her streak past me shortly after the gun goes off. The course turns out to be devilishly hilly and it's an out-and-back which means I get to enjoy it twice - fabulous - and the result is probably a Parkrun PW (personal worst) but whatever. It's time to carb load and try to get off our feet, and we succeed moderately well for the rest of the day, although it's extremely boring. Then an early bedtime and the joys of another 4:30am alarm are upon us, and already it's time to head out to the chocolate factory for the race.

The weather is remarkably perfect for marathoning: about 12C/54F and lightly overcast with almost no wind at all. This is quite a departure from recent temperatures (it was 26C the day we arrived) but whatever, we'll take it! If I had more time to think about it I'd probably be complaining about the cold, but there's no time for that so we just suck it up and line up at the start. Here goes nothing.

Miles 1-5: 6:57, 6:37, 6:26, 6:33, 6:44 (pace in min/mile)

The gun goes off and there’s the usual civilised stampede over the timing mats; as in previous years the first few kilometres of the course wind through the streets adjacent to the chocolate factory, so I’m surprised to see that the traffic cones marking the course seem to indicate we should go straight on down the hill.  And in fact that’s exactly what the leaders – including Dion Finocchiaro, a very fast runner whom I’ve met a quite a few races in the past– do, before being hastily called back onto the correct path. Oops!

I’m not sure of my pace but I’m right with Joel, who has decided to see how sub-3 pace feels, at least for the first few miles. The first split beeps and wow, it's WAY too slow and in fact there are FAR too many females ahead of me (at least 6, one of them my British friend Jo, of course) right now. The competitive part of my brain pouts and promptly stamps its foot on the accelerator, and before I really know what's happening, BOOM I'm gone.

"Bye!" I hear from Joel behind me, and by the time I’ve descended the hill and started to make my way out along the road towards Hobart I’ve caught all but 3 of the women ahead, which is gratifying. The leading woman is called Gemma and I’ve heard enough about her from various quarters that I know she’s way faster than me, then not far behind her is Jo, so the only way I’m definitely going to place (and win chocolate) today is if I can put the third one behind me now.

She has a long brown ponytail and is wearing a blue singlet, and wow, she looks lean and seriously fit. “Probably young too” says Joel’s voice in my head, helpfully. “Everyone is these days,” I snap back, and go to make my move to pass her anyway.

Trying hard to get into 3rd place


I'm rather surprised then, to find that as I surge past she accelerates and stays right with me. The mile split is now really way too fast (6:26 = 4:00min/km and is the right pace for a sub-2:50, which I certainly won't be running today) so I slow down and she opens a small gap on me. Wow, this isn't going to be as easy as I thought!

I've got an idea about 2:55 as a goal finishing time - faster than I was expecting to run, but whatever - and in most of the past 5 years this most definitely would have been fast enough to win. But today I'm in 4th and from what I know (or can surmise) about the women ahead of me, it may be the best I can hope for. This seems utterly unfair! But there's nothing to do about it other than settle in for the chase, so I stick to my pace and try not to think to much about the injustice of it all. La la la la laaaaaaa.

Miles 6-10: 6:37, 6:42, 6:46, 6:37, 6:38

I remember the course from 2015 when I ran the half, and this part is fairly boring really as we head along the highway and then out around some parkland by the river. We're heading towards a middling size bridge which we'll cross and then the turnaround will be not too far beyond that. I can still see Jo ahead in 2nd and Gemma about a minute ahead of her in the lead; both seem out of reach, and this person in the blue singlet just isn't slowing down, but I guess there's still quite a long way to go.

As we head up onto the bridge, to my surprise the overall leader is already on his way back from the turn. Wow, he's MILES ahead of the chase pack - which consists of Dion and a guy in a red singlet, both looking very relaxed - it looks like he might win easily. The bridge is rather unpleasantly uphill somehow, I don't quite remember this part from last time, but at least there's not a lot of wind at this stage. 

I hit the turn, the gradient turns downward at last and finally I am able to put in a bit of speed that sees me pull level with my blue-singleted nemesis again. "Right!" says my brain, "time to show her who's boss!" One of my favourite things to do in a race is to throw in a few bursts of speed - generally during the earlier parts, because in the final stages of a marathon, or even a half for that matter, it can be pretty tough to do anything more than just put one foot in front of the other and not fall over - and my legs feel good enough right now to do it, so here goes.

Once back on the bridge I start whizzing past but nope, she speeds up and stays right with me. I slow down very briefly then it's RoadRunner impersonation time again: I pump my arms and do the speed-shuffle with all of my might, but nope, again she accelerates and it's clear I'm not going to win this particular battle.

You've got to hand it to a worthy opponent like this - she's just not going to give up - so I burst out laughing and remark "Ok, let's slow down again, I won't mind!" She laughs too and pretty soon we've having a lovely mid-race chat. Her name is Mel and she's been injured for a really long time; this is her comeback race and - this always surprises the heck out of me - she knows who I am from reading this blog! Well, there goes the element of surprise, I guess.

The quest for chocolate continues

I enquire as casually as I can about her time goal and she replies "Sub-3", to which I can only answer "Wow" because we are quite a long way ahead of that right now. And showing no sign of slowing down either, but I feel fine so I guess we'll just keep running and see what happens.

Miles 11-15: 6:33, 6:50, 6:46, 6:40

Before too long I've told her how I met Jo in China (and that she took 2nd in the brutal 100K race that day, displaying truly formidable speed and endurance) and now I'm having a bit of a whinge about how unfair it is that we're running so fast yet coming 3rd/4th but Mel's not having a bar of it. "We'll just work together and maybe we'll both get chocolate" she tells me firmly - and perhaps Jo is just the tiniest bit closer to us than she was before? - so I nod my agreement and we press ahead.

Half split: 1:27:30 approx (on pace for 2:55)

I'm worried about having to run up the hill to the chocolate factory again but Mel is better-informed than me (did I mention that she's younger, too?) and says we'll be turning before the hill, which is a great relief. Here comes the leader again, still a reasonable way ahead, although Dion and his mate are closer than they were before. "Catch him!" I yell at Dion and laugh as we pass in opposite directions.

Dion (in black) and his chase pack, including Dane (red singlet)

I take care to note the time on my watch as Gemma and then Jo both pass us before we make the second U-turn ourselves, and it seems Gemma is about 4 and Jo about 2 minutes ahead of us at this point. Hmm, this could be about to get interesting. Joel appears and yells "3:15!" with a wave and a large grin; I have no clue what this might mean, is that how far we are behind the leaders or is it the time he thinks he's going to run? Or perhaps bingo numbers? Keno?

We debate this briefly before another shout comes from the side of the road, something about second place: a couple of minutes ago someone told us (wrongly) we're coming 2nd, so I snort and exclaim "No we are not!" but whoops, it's actually Mel's husband and he's letting us know that we're reeling in Jo at last. Wait, what? Really??

Sure enough, look at that: suddenly she's a lot closer as we head along the big road again for our second lap.  Obviously she's pretty much jogging now and a flash of worry goes through my head - hopefully her healing injury hasn't flared up again? Uh oh, this might be bad.

Miles 16-20: 6:36, 6:35, 6:39, 6:55, 6:49

But thankfully she seems okay and waves cheerily as we finally put on a burst of renewed speed to catch her during mile 16. I have absolutely no doubt that injury-free Jo would be miles ahead of us all at this point, but her injury misfortune has had a silver lining for Mel and myself: we've just moved into podium, and therefore chocolate, positions. Hooray!

Heading back out on the boring part of the second lap, this turn of events gives us a burst of speed, or at least we don't slow down much, not until we're on our way past the racecourse again and approaching the bridge.

Mile 19 in blue: the beginning of the end?

At this point I become aware of a strange discomfort under the ball of my left foot, and to my dismay realise that I seem to be developing a blister in that crucial spot, the part of my foot on which my whole gait relies for push-off. I guess I didn't pay enough attention to which socks I was putting on this morning and they are my cheap & nasty general training sort rather than the cushy, $25-a-pair kind that I packed and really should be wearing right now. Ugh.

It hurts with every step and I know that trying to alter my foot strike to protect it is just going to cause issues elsewhere, so really there's nothing to do but keep running. I wonder briefly about complaining about it to Mel, then decide that although I'm already pretty sure she is going to out-sprint me at the end of the race (and I'm fine with that, mainly because I still get chocolate for 3rd, but also because she's younger than me - like everyone - and fitter of course as well), I don't want to be seen to be making excuses. Suck it up, Princess, I tell myself, and just run.

Mile 20, the official point of a marathon where it gets serious, sees us cross the bridge again and I'm moderately annoyed to realise that there's now something of a cross-wind blowing, one that will be in our faces in the final miles on the way back to the finish line. Bugger! I'm almost allergic to headwinds after surviving NYC 2014 and Boston 2015, and Mel certainly isn't big enough to draft behind, although neither am I. We'll just have to cope with it and try to hold on. Dion and Dane rocket past on the other side of the road, in hot pursuit of the leader whose lead is now in fact a LOT smaller than it was. Go guys!

Miles 21-25: 6:44, 6:45, 6:49, 6:58, 6:59

The inevitable late-race slow-down seems to have arrived. All Mel wants to know is if we are still on pace for sub-3, and I'm certain that we are, with enough of a buffer that a few miles slower than sub-3 pace won't make any difference. There are lots of people coming the other way shouting encouragement at us now, which is awesome, and she's much better at responding to them that I am, which is an excellent spin-off too. Having company has been a life-saver for this race: I've run enough races utterly alone to know that it's neither fun nor easy.

So together Mel and I make our way back to the chocolate factory, secure in the knowledge that there's quite a lot of chocolate waiting for us when we finally get there, and trying our best to hold onto the pace despite the ongoing undulations that are now really REALLY making me want to slow down.

Late-race chicken-wing action from my left arm = I'm TIRED

Mile 26 and 0.1: 6:46, 6:36 pace to finish

Right as the final mile starts I hear loud footsteps pounding up behind me, along with breathing that sounds distinctly masculine. Oh my god, is it Joel?? He has form when it comes to showing up and casually jogging past me in the dying stages of a race but no, it's a bloke in a bright blue shirt. He moves ahead of us and, somewhat to my surprise, Mel moves with him.

I haven't put any thought into making a move to secure 2nd place as opposed to 3rd; I guess I've just assumed all along that she'd take 2nd and so now it barely crosses my mind to give chase. At the bottom of the dreaded hill that leads back up to the chocolate factory, a spectator is yelling at me "Catch her! She's not far ahead, catch her!" but my mind is entirely devoted to getting up this hill without losing too much time, and I really don't care that Mel and Blue Shirt guy have disappeared ahead of me around the bend.

Why is there always a photographer right at the top of that bloody hill? WHY?

Finally, thank god, the hill is over and there's just the finish chute to deal with. I'm trying to dredge up any speed I might have left but nope, I've got nothing - a good sign that I've given today's race all that I had to give.

Finish time: 2:57:20 (4:12 min/km, 6:44 min/mile)

Placement: 3rd female, 11th overall, 1st in AG (F45-49)

Mel has gotten me by around 15 seconds and she's stoked; we give each other a sweaty congratulatory hug and chat a bit to Gemma who has won with a handy 2:51. Dion and his red-singleted companion have caught the early leader, Sammy, as it turns out - and in an echo of my race with Mel, Dane (2:24:54) has gapped Dion (2:25:02) on the final hill to take the win by just 8 seconds. Amazing! Jo comes through in 3:02 and Joel shows up well under his predicted time, clocking 3:09 for 3rd in his age group. What a day!

It's chocolate all round when the presentations finally take place, and then off to the hotel for a much-needed shower and perhaps just a tiny bit of chocolate. Mmmm.

Not only am I older, I'm also shorter. Did I mention that?


I could be disappointed with 2:57 - it's far from my own personal best and yet I felt that I gave the race the best effort I could - but on the other hand, chocolate. And Hobart isn't the easiest course so in any case there will hopefully be a training benefit looking forwards to Tokyo.

And when I looked at the Strava data, I realised that we actually ran a pretty solid race. The 5K splits tell the tale: we only lost just under 2 minutes in the final 12km of the race but were otherwise very consistently around 20:45 per 5km.

We end the day drinking beer in a pub with a random South African couple who have also run the marathon today; they're adamant that we must run Comrades someday (the legendary race that seems more like a religion, turning its participants into evangelical devotees the world over) and it's a lot of fun chatting about all the places we've run and all the races we have yet to do.

So even considering the less-than-stellar finish time, any race that leads to chocolate and new running friends is one to be celebrated, indeed!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stromlo Lightning Strike 50K, November 2017

The story of Stromlo Running Festival has its roots in the devastating bushfires that struck Canberra back in 2003, claiming 4 lives, destroying over 500 homes and razing hundreds of acres of native forest. One of the people who lost their house and everything in it was Australia's fastest-ever marathon runner, Rob de Castella. In the 80s and 90s Deek and many of Australia's other top runners had done much of their training around Mount Stromlo ,and so in 2009 he was instrumental in the development of the new Stromlo Forest Park, which has become Australia's best off-road running and cycling venue.

So Deek remains an important part of the Stromlo Running Festival; you can read more about it here. My own connection to Stromlo began in 2015 when I signed up for the 50K but (for reasons I can no longer recall) was not able to actually run it. This year I seem to have developed a bit of an appetite for sadomasochistic running feats - see my post about the Fuxian Lake 50K as a reference - and so Stromlo made perfect sense. I signed myself and Joel up for the 30K because I knew the course would be super-hilly and honestly, I'm not THAT much of a masochist.

The Lead-Up

After China I ran Melbourne marathon with Joel and then attempted to take some downtime, which for me means running 70-80 miles per week (around 120km) without speedwork or particularly long runs. But since I was only planning to do the 30K option at Stromlo, I didn't bother with any sort of taper; 30K isn't even a particularly long long run when marathon training. In fact, the three weeks before looked more like a peak than a taper:

So it was off we went to Canberra without a second thought, really, for a nice long run and (just in the back of my mind, really) the idea that I might be able to place or even - dare I say it? - win. No big deal.


We find our way to Stromlo Forest Park and only get lost once on the way (for Canberra this is a big achievement), and we've got the new tent that came with Joel's Jeep as well as all the sorts of things that make camping bearable: air mattresses, a machine to blow them up (no more hyperventilating), a big quilt and many pillows, plus comfy chairs on which to sit under the awning. It's only $10 to camp onsite the night before the race and it will save a lot of pre-dawn driving too.

Should camping be this comfortable?

In the process of picking up our bibs, however, an unexpected glitch appears - in the form of an extremely young, fit-looking female who is chatting with the race director. He's been told, by one of Australia's fastest distance runners in fact, that she's going to win tomorrow. Uh oh! I strike up a conversation with her as we check out the dinner options and yep, she's doing the 30K.

Suddenly I'm filled with an inexplicable desire to switch distances.

I'm not exactly trained for 50K, but on the other hand I'd rather do a longer run if I'm not going to win. 30km is not exactly long in terms of weekly long runs - although the elevation profile will more than make up for that - so a longer run would be preferable, and yeah, knowing that the best I can do is second place is definitely a factor in my decision.

Original course profile - we'll be doing the middle part twice - the hills are so big they have their own names

Joel is immediately on board with the decision to almost double the distance (now you know why I married him) and it seems we'll need to come back to effect the official transfer at 5am because the 50K starts at 6am. Another early morning, sigh, but at least we'll hopefully sleep well on our comfy air mattresses! Deek comes around for a chat (awesome) and we happily settle in early in anticipation of the big run ahead.

Race Day

The weather is significantly improved on last night's tempest and I head over to change our bibs and pick up a coffee just after 5am. The wind has dropped but there's still a bit of cloud cover - this will be useful later on if things start to warm up - and all in all, I'm sort of inappropriately excited to take on what is undoubtedly going to be a tough day's running. Perhaps there's a touch of denial there as well, who knows, but in any case we're feeling ready.

Milling around at the start we are a little concerned to note that we're almost the only runners NOT wearing complicated-looking hydration vests; this speaks volumes about our general lack of experience with this sort of mad trail ultrarunning. Joel informs me that we're supposed to be carrying a minimum of 600ml of fluid with us - this is per the race guidelines which I seem to have neglected to read - so we decide he'll refill and bring the Gatorade bottle he's holding.

There are *supposed* to be water tables at least every 5km so I'm sure I'll be ok, but extra water won't hurt either of us. Due to the late change I only have 4 gels with me - everyone around me has significantly more, of course - but whatever, I'll be fine! Denial: not just a river in Egypt, it's a lovely place to hang out before a murderously tough trail race.

Loop 1: 10K
50:16 - pace 8:05 min/mile, 5:01 min/km (hmm)

I look resigned, Kelly looks determined and Joel has disappeared altogether

Off we go, directly into the rising sun. The first loop takes us at first around the flat asphalt of the cycling track where we've all been camped overnight, before heading off onto the fire trails around the side of Mt Stromlo. It undulates quite a bit but all in all, I spend the first few miles thinking this isn't really too bad. In retrospect this is probably due to my legs being still fairly fresh - let's see how I feel about it all in a couple of hours, hmm?

The field has strung out fairly fast and I'm pretty certain I'm the female leader already. Joel and I are running comfortably together, occasionally chatting with other runners but mostly just pacing along together at a conversational pace. The second lap is going to have some unpleasantly large hills and due to the late course change we'll be doing them TWICE, so there's no need to exhaust ourselves now.

A few kms in there's a guy running close with us and so we strike up a conversation; it turns out he's planning to run Boston next year and so we of course have LOTS to say about that, being veteran participants and everything. The conversation is slightly interrupted by the onset of some rather nasty steep uphills - and the first water station, near the top of the hill - but as we turn left and head back down towards the start precinct, he catches us up again and we resume our reminiscences about Beantown.

Pace-wise we're ranging between 7:10 - 8:04 minutes per mile depending on the up/down, and that's perfectly fine by me. But by the time the end of the first loop is approaching it has become clear that it's longer than 10km; this does not bode well for the rest of the race, but perhaps it's Garmin error or something? The water stations have been, well, almost non-existent, so we stop right after the finish/start/end of lap archway to get a drink.

Joel is still carrying our water bottle and our Boston-bound friend (whose name it will turn out is Warwick) is still right with us as we set out on lap number 2, and as we exit the criterium track there's Kelly-Ann with her entourage, about 3 minutes behind. Here goes loop 2!

Loop 2: 10-30K
20km in 1:52:57 - 9:05 min/mile, 5:39 min/km (slowing down hmmm)

The first part of this loop is the same ground we've already covered and we plough onwards with Warwick towards the 5km water station, where this time we turn right instead off left and head off into the hills. The incline up to the water table was a little more unpleasant this time but overall, things aren't so bad for me right now. Joel, though, is moaning faintly about how he's feeling and at one point tells me he'll see me later before falling about 50m behind. Hmm - it's very early still in a looooong race - who knows what will happen? And I'd much rather have company that not, so I keep trundling along and am very pleased when he suddenly catches up again before too long.

At the half-marathon mark things still aren't too bad really - a few sharp hills so far but nothing prolonged - and we're still holding a pace around 8:00 min/mile (5:00 min/km). But mile 14 is a massive reality-check; Warwick has disappeared behind us and for the first time our mile split is over 9 minutes. "That had to be the Mother, right?" asks Joel - that's the name of the biggest hill we'll have to face today - but no, I'm pretty sure it's not. There's another water stop which is also offering lollies, Coke and sports drink, so we stop briefly to refill the water bottle and off we go again.

A long uphill begins at the start of mile 16, and it just keeps on going...and going. It's still not the Mother, though! When she finally does arrive during mile 17, the incline is enough to almost stop us dead in our tracks: ranging from 12-18%, it's a battle not to walk, because honestly it probably would not be much slower. The mile split beeps 10:41 (6:27 min/km) and I just want to laugh - that's probably the slowest mile I've "run" in my life! Joel is ahead but I catch him at the top; together again we struggle through the Kicker (ugh) and then the extremely welcome downhill that follows.

We're still alive! Major thumbs-up

There's one more significant uphill to conquer on our way back to the start but there are 10K runners all over the place and this keeps us moving nicely (pace back around 8:00/5:00) - we pass our friend Ewen, who bellows encouragement - until finally, FINALLY, we are closing on the 30K mark.

Except that we're now closer to 32km by my Garmin, and Joel's Garmin agrees. In fact, 20 miles (32km) has come and gone by the time we turn back into the cycling track and make our way once again to the water stop just past the finish line. Uh, I don't want to think about how far this 50K race might turn out to be in the end. It's looking more like 54km, which is just ridiculous! I'd rather believe that there will be some sort of miraculous short-cut that will bring us in right on 50km, so with this delusional thought off we go on lap 3. Wheee?

Loop 3: 30-50K
20km in 2:00:49 - 9:43 min/mile, 6:02 min/km 

The small undulations that seemed so insignificant on lap 1 are now serious obstacles. It's hard to think about the fact that we have to summit the Mother again this lap, and in fact I really would rather not think about anything just now. We trudge onwards to the first water stop and hang a right turn once more. This time it's my turn to whinge and fall behind - my legs are NOT HAPPY - but Joel (still carrying his magic water bottle) very kindly slows down and so pretty soon I'm able to toughen up and stick with him. Phew!

The thought of the massive hills still ahead is daunting and the only time our pace is faster than 8:00 min/km (in my mind this is the threshold between running and jogging, somehow) is when there's a considerable elevation loss going on. Every incline gets us around 9:00 or slower (5:35 min/km) and it's just a slog, period. Thankfully the sun has gone behind the clouds, but it's getting pretty warm - the Gatorade bottle is doing double duty as a source of water to dump on our heads - and I'm out of gels. Ugh, I might have to pick something up at the next aid station, if it ever comes along.

Finally we're approaching the one that we know heralds the start of the Mother; when we stop I take the opportunity to grab a cup of Coke and to my surprise it goes down very well!  I don't feel thirsty but the extra sugar will hopefully help me deal with what lies ahead, even if only from a mental perspective.

The second lap up the Mother (and that a-hole hill the Kicker) somehow isn't quite as bad as I was expecting: the two miles of torture record splits of 9:00 and 10:38, with no walking (ok maybe just a few paces) and only minimal profanity running through my head, along the lines of "Why the bleep am I doing this, again?" Finally we're done with the major hills and are heading steeply downwards; at this point with quads that feel like jelly, going down is just as dicey as going up and not a lot faster.

31 miles comes and goes, and we're not at the start/finish area, not even close. The much-desired shortcut has failed to materialise! My watch reads 4:20 and that's a personal worst for the distance, but what's really worst is that I'm still running. There are quite a lot of 30K runners on the course and as we pass I hear some of them moaning about the distance, too; it's clearly not a Garmin malfunction, the course really is significantly long. SIGH.

32 miles, then 33 and STILL we're not near the finish line. I'm starting to get really pissed off about this situation: I was mentally prepared to run 50 difficult kilometers but this extension was not in the contract! Even on the flat and downhill stretches it's a struggle to do more than shuffle/jog sullenly along. Joel is still running quite strongly in the final, mercifully flat mile (7:55 pace, which right now feels ridiculously fast) and I deeply resent having to keep up. "Can we please stop SPRINTING??" I snap, and he wisely has nothing to say in reply.

Me: <incoherent yelling>
Him: 😂

At last! We're on the criterium track and the finishing arch is in sight. There are a few people yelling my name - this will turn out to be runners I know from our post-Melbourne celebrations - but I'm too hosed to respond properly, I just want to stop running. Sorry!

photo credit: Cath Tompos

Finish time: 4:44:02 (9:08 min/mile or 5:40 min/km but for the actual distance, more like 8:23/5:12)

Placement: 1st woman, tied with Joel for 5th overall

The total distance run adds up to 33.8 miles or 54.5km, a error that is quite astonishing to contemplate. Fit fast young chick has indeed won the 30K and she's in the shower room complaining that it was more like 32km when I head in there to clean up: I'm caked in salt as well as a liberal helping of dust and dirt up both legs. Ok, so loop 1 was over by just under 1km and the loop 2 that we ran twice was probably over by about 1.5km. Amazing!

It's an exquisite relief to be finished, although my legs don't feel nearly as beaten-up as I would have expected - perhaps that's due to how much slower the pace was than in the other 50K races I've run before this. Back at the tent Ewen and Joel are enjoying a beer, so I stagger around a bit gathering food and then it's time for the presentations; I've won both overall female and my age group, and Joel has won his too! Deek's on the microphone and he apologises for the length of the course, promising it will be fixed for next year - "Good," I tell him "because otherwise I don't think I'd like to come back!"

Cheese! And some alcohol to go nicely with it!


So this was a personal worst by almost an hour (after Fuxian Lake's 3:55:04), although if you allow for the extra distance it was only 25 minutes slower, or thereabouts. The elevation profile is frankly hideous and explains the whole disaster - but further analysis over breakfast and on the ride home shows that we only lost around 8 minutes on the final loop, compared to our first trip up and over the Mother. Almost all the other runners lost a fair bit more; this is proof of our endurance and something to be pleased about for sure!

If this was an ECG I'd be applying the defibrillator paddles, stat

In retrospect this was a pretty fun thing to do, despite the over-the-top difficulty rating. The last-minute switch plus the extra distance made this our longest run ever as well as our first major trail race, the camping was awesome and of course it was a lot of fun to run the whole thing together....so perhaps we will be back next year after all.