Thursday, July 21, 2016

Facebook and the Art of Getting Yourself Disqualified

** This post has been amended at the request of one of the runners mentioned in the original post**



A funny thing happened to me in the immediate aftermath of posting the link to my latest race report (from Gold Coast 2016) on Facebook. As I mentioned in the report, I've gradually gotten to know quite a few people in the Australian marathoning scene now - my first marathon friends were almost exclusively American, thanks to my connection to the US Runners World online forums, but now I have quite a few Aussie running friends as well, which is nice - and so it seems my race reports are getting a wider audience in my homeland then ever before.

I should also mention that I tagged a whole bunch of people in that post - probably the most I've ever tagged, actually - and given the way Facebook posts spread like a virus whenever given the opportunity (see below), it's not surprising that it reached a bigger audience than ever before.

108K shares and comments from all around the world


The report included a couple of photos kindly taken by a friend which she then posted to my Facebook. I downloaded and popped them in there, thinking nothing of it really, and so my interest was piqued when a friend of a friend - someone I've met once IRL and with whom I have 7 mutual FB friends - read the blog post and commented regarding one of the other runners in the photo Prue took at 23km. The comment (which is discussed in detail below) set me thinking about something that has been on my mind for a long time - it is one of the key elements to racing a marathon to the best of one's ability - namely, how best to pace yourself during a 42.2km/26.2 mile race.


The infamous picture

The Delicate Art of Race Pacing

It's well-known that a lot of runners go out way too fast in races, even marathons. By way of contrast, my own pacing approach is to go out precisely on target pace (ok, perhaps a tiny smidge faster) and then hang on as long as possible. When it works, I get all the way to perhaps 35km or so before I start slowing down; when it doesn't, well, the slow-down starts sooner. The worst positive split (second half slower than the first) that I've run remains around 5 minutes, so clearly this approach works for me.

It also works nicely for most professional runners. If you look at the splits of the mega-elites who win major marathons - like Yuki Kawauchi, who took second in a thrilling sprint finish at Gold Coast this year - they tend to run exactly even splits, fading at most by maybe a minute or less over the second half. If you look at the splits of many amateur marathoners - even the competitive ones - it's not quite the same story. Most slow down by a fair amount in the late stages of the race; some hit the wall; some don't so much hit the wall as slam into it head-on and wind up smeared all over it. So, the end result of my own personal pacing strategy is that I tend to pass a LOT of people in the second half of large races.

I'm still sort of baffled as to why anyone would employ the crash-and-burn sort of strategy - basically set out at top speed and see how long it lasts - because it can't be a nice experience to end up destroyed and walking, surely. On the other hand, it takes a lot of training and racing to be able to gauge exactly how to walk the fine line between an appropriately ambitious pace and one that's frankly suicidal; so perhaps most of the people I see running in this manner just don't have the experience to do anything different. Who knows?

My splits from GCAM 2016; note that I passed 72 people between the 5K mark and the finish, most between 30-40K


So, back to that photo taken at 23km. The Facebook commentator - who shall remain nameless - identified by name one of my companions in the photo, namely the bloke to my right wearing a "Newcastle Flyers" singlet. The comment indicated that this guy had blown up spectacularly in the second half and finished over 10 minutes behind me, which implied he had barely managed to run sub-3. I was therefore interested (in a Schadenfreude sort of a way) to see exactly how bad it had gotten for this poor soul, who clearly has a rather limited understanding of marathon pacing.

I looked up his name in the live results but the finish time didn't make sense; also, he had run the first few 5K splits in around 21:30 so would not have been anywhere near me at 23km. I zoomed in on his bib number and looked it up - this looked more like the right splits but to my surprise the name was completely different. Now I was really confused. What on earth had I stumbled upon here?


Facebook to the Rescue

Dodgy goings-on during running races are more common than you'd think. Lately I've been following the story of Rob Young, aka MarathonManUK, who claims to have run daily marathons for over a year and recently attempted to break the World Record for fastest Transcontinental crossing of the USA on foot. He is, however, suspected of cheating - the story is far too long to repeat here, suffice it to say that an official investigation is underway at present - and I learned quite a lot about how to gather evidence from following the extremely long thread on LetsRun where his cheating was exposed.

This "run" takes place at 8,500 feet of elevation, at paces close to 3:30 min/km for over 2 hours
After 3 weeks of running 70-80 miles per day, every day (120-140km)
Yeah, right.

At one point, and after many weeks of strident demands to see his GPS watch data from the Transcon attempt, Rob Young did finally upload some of his running data to Strava - only to swiftly delete large portions of it again without explanation. The wily sleuths at Letsrun.com, however,  downloaded and took screenshots of most of it before he could erase his tracks, and the evidence has not only been preserved for posterity, it has also been forwarded to the investigators looking into his claims.

So now the original commenter on my blog post was telling me he was going to delete his comment, not wanting to stir up suspicion. Thinking on this I quickly took screenshots of the two results - for the identified runner's bib number and also the official (rather different) result under his name - before doing some more digging. And what I turned up was interesting indeed.

It wasn't too hard to look up the two names - the one from my photo and the one whose bib he appeared to be wearing - among the commentor's FB friends and a very interesting story started to emerge.

The person from my photo has asked me to remove his Facebook profile pic from this blog post (well, he asked but also sent me a slightly threatening legal-style letter about it) so I have complied, but since he has subsequently changed his profile, the original is here:

http://imgur.com/a/lV1Js


This is the FB profile of the person who was identified in my photo at 23km, and unless he's changed the photo today, he's helpfully wearing the same kit as he did at Gold Coast! Nice shirt, by the way.

Since he doesn't like having his photos on here, here is the link to the race photos of this person - well, the bib #6020 who is the person running near me at 23km - from Gold Coast. 


You might notice that the name associated with these photos is not his. It's the same one as on this result below (which is publicly searchable and not his private property.





Yes, this is the race result associated with that bib number. The half split was similar to mine - slightly faster, in fact - so this is definitely the person who was running near me at 23km. But the name is wrong; so who exactly is Richard?

You have to love Facebook because I found him quite easily on there; in the interests of keeping his public Facebook profile picture private (*removes tongue from cheek*) here is the photo via Imgur:


Looks like he is a runner - the chick in the photo is apparently known as Marathon Barbie - we have a lot of mutual FB friends and he's friends with the bloke who rumbled this whole gig too. The plot thickens. Let's check whose bib he is wearing in the marathon.


Yep, that's him in the race photos too. Looks like he's having fun - doesn't seem like he blew up at all - unless that's a grimace of pain and despair rather than a smile, of course. Let's check the public results for that bib number shall we?


I'm not sure he's going to be happy with that time though.

In summary: John and Richard swapped bibs and ran as each other. Elementary, my dear Watson!

But the million dollar question is, why? I'm sure people are reading this and thinking, "So what if they swapped bibs? What's the big deal?" Some are likely thinking it was probably just  a silly mistake, and no harm was done so why even bother caring?

Well, this year at Gold Coast everybody had their name printed on their bib. If you zoom in close to 6020 (John)'s bib, it says "Richard"! right above the number. So, not a simple mix-up. These dudes did this on purpose. You may still be wondering why this is any sort of problem for anyone (except them), but there's another hidden reason that explains why bib swapping - unless done officially with the approval of race organisers - is just not on.

Before I proceed I will add a disclaimer that I was contacted by one of these fellows (via FB - oh, the irony) and he is adamant that no cheating or deception was intended; it was a spur-of-the-moment decision and meant in large part as a joke on another runner. Seems that person would not want to see one of their names ahead of his in the results, so they swapped to make sure this would be the case. He claims neither of them - not his mate who is an experienced runner and marathoner, nor any of their running club who knew about the swap - knew it was against race rules to swap bibs. They did not mean to cheat and it was not premeditated. Make of this what you will......and please keep reading.

Bib swapping - why it's a NO NO

It's a scenario you can easily imagine: your friend is injured, they can't run a race they have already entered, so they offer you their bib. If you don't think too much about it, it seems simple - just run the race, record a time and there you go. It might show up on their stats but unless they're a seriously competitive racer, they probably don't care, right?

The problems start when the ring-in runner turns in a performance that is quite unlikely or even impossible for the original runner. Like the (short-lived) winner of the F55-59 year age group this year at Gold Coast, who turned out to be a guy running with a bib belonging to someone called Judy. Whoops. That sort of thing isn't very fair to the rest of the F55-59 AG, who just got beaten by a 30-something bloke. Understandably, that guy got himself disqualified pretty quickly.

"Judy Bell"  F55-59

Then there's the bigger question of qualifying times for larger races. In Australia this doesn't really apply - we have no marathons for which there is a qualifying standard - but in the USA it's quite a big deal. New York is one example (there is a lottery but you can circumvent that by running a qualifying time for a guaranteed entry) but the biggest fish of all is Boston. Unless you're willing to sell your soul raising money for a charity bib, you can't really get in to run Boston marathon unless you qualify by running a marathon under a certain time. For some runners this is no big problem; for others it is a struggle and one that can become a mild obsession.

Chasing a "BQ" (Boston Qualifier) is a pursuit that drives many marathoners and in fact one of my American friends spent so much energy and time on it that she ended up writing a book about her experience. I met her this year in Boston and it was awesome seeing how happy and proud she was to be there, wearing her jacket and taking in the experience. Another of my good friends was there for her second time after spending a number of years narrowly missing out on a qualifying time, so it is not lost on me how lucky I am to be able to qualify easily.


All these awesome ladies worked hard to get to Boston; that's Elizabeth in the middle, next to me

Of course not every runner who aspires to run Boston has the grit and determination to put in the hard yards and actually run a qualifying time. In the era of the Internet - where everyone's race results and pictures and Facebook profile are right there for anyone to see - it is becoming increasingly clear that quite a few people who run Boston have cheated on their qualifying race, either by cutting the course or getting someone else to run a qualifier for them. There's even a guy who devotes considerable time to exposing this sort of thing - he has a blog that you can find here - and every year he finds cases where runners have done something shady in order to get to Boston.

Perhaps the most infamous example lately was the so-called "Marathon Dad" Mike Rossi, who took his kids out of school to watch him run Boston in 2015. When he subsequently received a letter from their school principal chiding him for the "unexcused absence" of his children that week, Rossi's response went viral and he was hailed a hero for his defence that by taking that trip "they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history, culinary arts and physical education."

He left out the part where they learned that cheating is okay: it was subsequently discovered - once again by the LetsRun sleuths - that Rossi had without a doubt cheated in his qualifying race for Boston! I'm willing to bet that Mike regrets his moment of Internet fame, which unfortunately led to a far more durable infamy in the general running community.


photo credit: www.phillymag.com

So what about NotJohn and NotRich

I still haven't gotten to the part where this becomes relevant to our two bib-swappers from Gold Coast, but I'm trying. It comes down to the WHY - for what possible reason would two runners swap bibs when they are both running the same event and there is no tangible advantage to doing so? There are no official corrals at GCAM; you self-seed and line up when you're ready, although the earlier the better in most cases. A different bib number won't get you closer to the front. So why would Rich want a faster time (run by John) although by rights it should have been at least 10 minutes faster than it was in the end?

John claims it was just a joke and that the faster time was meant for a bet or something . That is what he has told me and he says he is being honest, so I'll believe him (although some might not). What follows below is the only other scenario I could think of, as a competitive runner who runs marathons for themselves and not to play jokes on others. 

There's only one reason I can think of, and it is this: Rich needed a faster time to use as a qualifier somewhere else. 3:33 is not fast enough for a 35 year old male to enter Boston, but 2:59 is. Similar situation for New York, and although I don't have a clue whether Rich aspires to enter either of those marathons (and it's entirely possible that he doesn't) there's no other plausible explanation.

Or there wasn't until John clarified it for me - and I still don't understand why he would be fine with his own result being credited to another person. It clearly wasn't the sort of time he *should* be running; he should be a lot faster. I'm in possession of - but will not publish here - a photo of him running at a half marathon elsewhere in Australia and he recorded a very fast time, I think he came 3rd overall. So for him, 2:59 is not very impressive - yet he was happy to go on record with a 3:33? Right, okay.

For clarity, what I initially suspected of these two runners is a practice known as using a "bib mule" - someone faster wears your bib, runs you your BQ and off you go to run Boston (believing you got away with it, or perhaps that it's not that big of a deal) - and it's more common than you think. Our mate on Marathoninvestigation.com uncovered a running club where a single runner was found to have run BQs for 3 other club members (all of whom ran Boston in 2016): you can read about that fascinating story here.

above are 3 of Wild Mountain Running club's members at Boston
below is the guy running their qualifiers for them

It's not hard to figure out who might have cheated in order to qualify for Boston: you look for people who ran Boston significantly slower than their qualifying race. Maybe they were injured, or they ran for run, or blew up at mile 20. But the Wild Mountain dudes all ran so much slower - from 2 hours to over 3 hours slower - that they were flagged for review and their deception was uncovered. I wonder how proudly or fondly they will remember their day in Hopkinton now that they've been banned from the Boston marathon forever?


In conclusion

It turns out that John and Richard did not intend to cheat. Indeed, running with your friend's bib might seem like a silly or funny or crazy thing to do. If you run identical times then there's probably no harm done. But the consequences can be far worse than you'd imagine - so if you're planning to use someone else's bib, get it transferred to yourself officially. Or, all jokes aside, you may end up with a result that nobody can be proud of.


Facebook and the Art of Getting Yourself Disqualified

** This post has been amended at the request of one of the runners mentioned in the original post**



A funny thing happened to me in the immediate aftermath of posting the link to my latest race report (from Gold Coast 2016) on Facebook. As I mentioned in the report, I've gradually gotten to know quite a few people in the Australian marathoning scene now - my first marathon friends were almost exclusively American, thanks to my connection to the US Runners World online forums, but now I have quite a few Aussie running friends as well, which is nice - and so it seems my race reports are getting a wider audience in my homeland then ever before.

I should also mention that I tagged a whole bunch of people in that post - probably the most I've ever tagged, actually - and given the way Facebook posts spread like a virus whenever given the opportunity (see below), it's not surprising that it reached a bigger audience than ever before.

108K shares and comments from all around the world


The report included a couple of photos kindly taken by a friend which she then posted to my Facebook. I downloaded and popped them in there, thinking nothing of it really, and so my interest was piqued when a friend of a friend - someone I've met once IRL and with whom I have 7 mutual FB friends - read the blog post and commented regarding one of the other runners in the photo Prue took at 23km. The comment (which is discussed in detail below) set me thinking about something that has been on my mind for a long time - it is one of the key elements to racing a marathon to the best of one's ability - namely, how best to pace yourself during a 42.2km/26.2 mile race.


The infamous picture

The Delicate Art of Race Pacing

It's well-known that a lot of runners go out way too fast in races, even marathons. By way of contrast, my own pacing approach is to go out precisely on target pace (ok, perhaps a tiny smidge faster) and then hang on as long as possible. When it works, I get all the way to perhaps 35km or so before I start slowing down; when it doesn't, well, the slow-down starts sooner. The worst positive split (second half slower than the first) that I've run remains around 5 minutes, so clearly this approach works for me.

It also works nicely for most professional runners. If you look at the splits of the mega-elites who win major marathons - like Yuki Kawauchi, who took second in a thrilling sprint finish at Gold Coast this year - they tend to run exactly even splits, fading at most by maybe a minute or less over the second half. If you look at the splits of many amateur marathoners - even the competitive ones - it's not quite the same story. Most slow down by a fair amount in the late stages of the race; some hit the wall; some don't so much hit the wall as slam into it head-on and wind up smeared all over it. So, the end result of my own personal pacing strategy is that I tend to pass a LOT of people in the second half of large races.

I'm still sort of baffled as to why anyone would employ the crash-and-burn sort of strategy - basically set out at top speed and see how long it lasts - because it can't be a nice experience to end up destroyed and walking, surely. On the other hand, it takes a lot of training and racing to be able to gauge exactly how to walk the fine line between an appropriately ambitious pace and one that's frankly suicidal; so perhaps most of the people I see running in this manner just don't have the experience to do anything different. Who knows?

My splits from GCAM 2016; note that I passed 72 people between the 5K mark and the finish, most between 30-40K


So, back to that photo taken at 23km. The Facebook commentator - who shall remain nameless - identified by name one of my companions in the photo, namely the bloke to my right wearing a "Newcastle Flyers" singlet. The comment indicated that this guy had blown up spectacularly in the second half and finished over 10 minutes behind me, which implied he had barely managed to run sub-3. I was therefore interested (in a Schadenfreude sort of a way) to see exactly how bad it had gotten for this poor soul, who clearly has a rather limited understanding of marathon pacing.

I looked up his name in the live results but the finish time didn't make sense; also, he had run the first few 5K splits in around 21:30 so would not have been anywhere near me at 23km. I zoomed in on his bib number and looked it up - this looked more like the right splits but to my surprise the name was completely different. Now I was really confused. What on earth had I stumbled upon here?


Facebook to the Rescue

Dodgy goings-on during running races are more common than you'd think. Lately I've been following the story of Rob Young, aka MarathonManUK, who claims to have run daily marathons for over a year and recently attempted to break the World Record for fastest Transcontinental crossing of the USA on foot. He is, however, suspected of cheating - the story is far too long to repeat here, suffice it to say that an official investigation is underway at present - and I learned quite a lot about how to gather evidence from following the extremely long thread on LetsRun where his cheating was exposed.

This "run" takes place at 8,500 feet of elevation, at paces close to 3:30 min/km for over 2 hours
After 3 weeks of running 70-80 miles per day, every day (120-140km)
Yeah, right.

At one point, and after many weeks of strident demands to see his GPS watch data from the Transcon attempt, Rob Young did finally upload some of his running data to Strava - only to swiftly delete large portions of it again without explanation. The wily sleuths at Letsrun.com, however,  downloaded and took screenshots of most of it before he could erase his tracks, and the evidence has not only been preserved for posterity, it has also been forwarded to the investigators looking into his claims.

So now the original commenter on my blog post was telling me he was going to delete his comment, not wanting to stir up suspicion. Thinking on this I quickly took screenshots of the two results - for the identified runner's bib number and also the official (rather different) result under his name - before doing some more digging. And what I turned up was interesting indeed.

It wasn't too hard to look up the two names - the one from my photo and the one whose bib he appeared to be wearing - among the commentor's FB friends and a very interesting story started to emerge.

The person from my photo has asked me to remove his Facebook profile pic from this blog post (well, he asked but also sent me a slightly threatening legal-style letter about it) so I have complied, but the link is here:

https://www.facebook.com/John.Doyle101?fref=ts


This is the FB profile of the person who was identified in my photo at 23km, and unless he's changed the photo today, he's helpfully wearing the same kit as he did at Gold Coast! Nice shirt, by the way.

Since he doesn't like having his photos on here, here is the link to the race photos of this person - well, the bib #6020 who is the person running near me at 23km - from Gold Coast. 


You might notice that the name associated with these photos is not his. It's the same one as on this result below (which is publicly searchable and not his private property.





Yes, this is the race result associated with that bib number. The half split was similar to mine - slightly faster, in fact - so this is definitely the person who was running near me at 23km. But the name is wrong; so who exactly is Richard?

You have to love Facebook because I found him quite easily on there; in the interests of keeping his public Facebook profile picture private (*removes tongue from cheek*) here is the link:


Looks like he is a runner - the chick in the photo is apparently known as Marathon Barbie - we have a lot of mutual FB friends and he's friends with the bloke who rumbled this whole gig too. The plot thickens. Let's check whose bib he is wearing in the marathon.


Yep, that's him in the race photos too. Looks like he's having fun - doesn't seem like he blew up at all - unless that's a grimace of pain and despair rather than a smile, of course. Let's check the public results for that bib number shall we?


I'm not sure he's going to be happy with that time though.

In summary: John and Richard swapped bibs and ran as each other. Elementary, my dear Watson!

But the million dollar question is, why? I'm sure people are reading this and thinking, "So what if they swapped bibs? What's the big deal?" Some are likely thinking it was probably just  a silly mistake, and no harm was done so why even bother caring?

Well, this year at Gold Coast everybody had their name printed on their bib. If you zoom in close to 6020 (John)'s bib, it says "Richard"! right above the number. So, not a simple mix-up. These dudes did this on purpose. You may still be wondering why this is any sort of problem for anyone (except them), but there's another hidden reason that explains why bib swapping - unless done officially with the approval of race organisers - is just not on.

Before I proceed I will add a disclaimer that I was contacted by one of these fellows (via FB - oh, the irony) and he is adamant that no cheating or deception was intended; it was a spur-of-the-moment decision and meant in large part as a joke on another runner. Seems that person would not want to see one of their names ahead of his in the results, so they swapped to make sure this would be the case. He claims neither of them - not his mate who is an experienced running/tri coach and marathoner, nor any of their running club who knew about the swap - knew it was against race rules to swap bibs. They did not mean to cheat and it was not premeditated. Make of this what you will......and please keep reading.

Bib swapping - why it's a NO NO

It's a scenario you can easily imagine: your friend is injured, they can't run a race they have already entered, so they offer you their bib. If you don't think too much about it, it seems simple - just run the race, record a time and there you go. It might show up on their stats but unless they're a seriously competitive racer, they probably don't care, right?

The problems start when the ring-in runner turns in a performance that is quite unlikely or even impossible for the original runner. Like the (short-lived) winner of the F55-59 year age group this year at Gold Coast, who turned out to be a guy running with a bib belonging to someone called Judy. Whoops. That sort of thing isn't very fair to the rest of the F55-59 AG, who just got beaten by a 30-something bloke. Understandably, that guy got himself disqualified pretty quickly.

"Judy Bell"  F55-59

Then there's the bigger question of qualifying times for larger races. In Australia this doesn't really apply - we have no marathons for which there is a qualifying standard - but in the USA it's quite a big deal. New York is one example (there is a lottery but you can circumvent that by running a qualifying time for a guaranteed entry) but the biggest fish of all is Boston. Unless you're willing to sell your soul raising money for a charity bib, you can't really get in to run Boston marathon unless you qualify by running a marathon under a certain time. For some runners this is no big problem; for others it is a struggle and one that can become a mild obsession.

Chasing a "BQ" (Boston Qualifier) is a pursuit that drives many marathoners and in fact one of my American friends spent so much energy and time on it that she ended up writing a book about her experience. I met her this year in Boston and it was awesome seeing how happy and proud she was to be there, wearing her jacket and taking in the experience. Another of my good friends was there for her second time after spending a number of years narrowly missing out on a qualifying time, so it is not lost on me how lucky I am to be able to qualify easily.


All these awesome ladies worked hard to get to Boston; that's Elizabeth in the middle, next to me

Of course not every runner who aspires to run Boston has the grit and determination to put in the hard yards and actually run a qualifying time. In the era of the Internet - where everyone's race results and pictures and Facebook profile are right there for anyone to see - it is becoming increasingly clear that quite a few people who run Boston have cheated on their qualifying race, either by cutting the course or getting someone else to run a qualifier for them. There's even a guy who devotes considerable time to exposing this sort of thing - he has a blog that you can find here - and every year he finds cases where runners have done something shady in order to get to Boston.

Perhaps the most infamous example lately was the so-called "Marathon Dad" Mike Rossi, who took his kids out of school to watch him run Boston in 2015. When he subsequently received a letter from their school principal chiding him for the "unexcused absence" of his children that week, Rossi's response went viral and he was hailed a hero for his defence that by taking that trip "they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history, culinary arts and physical education."

He left out the part where they learned that cheating is okay: it was subsequently discovered - once again by the LetsRun sleuths - that Rossi had without a doubt cheated in his qualifying race for Boston! I'm willing to bet that Mike regrets his moment of Internet fame, which unfortunately led to a far more durable infamy in the general running community.


photo credit: www.phillymag.com

So what about NotJohn and NotRich

I still haven't gotten to the part where this becomes relevant to our two bib-swappers from Gold Coast, but I'm trying. It comes down to the WHY - for what possible reason would two runners swap bibs when they are both running the same event and there is no tangible advantage to doing so? There are no official corrals at GCAM; you self-seed and line up when you're ready, although the earlier the better in most cases. A different bib number won't get you closer to the front. So why would Rich want a faster time (run by John) although by rights it should have been at least 10 minutes faster than it was in the end?

John claims it was just a joke and that the faster time was meant for a bet or something . That is what he has told me and he says he is being honest, so I'll believe him (although some might not). What follows below is the only other scenario I could think of, as a competitive runner who runs marathons for themselves and not to play jokes on others. 

There's only one reason I can think of, and it is this: Rich needed a faster time to use as a qualifier somewhere else. 3:33 is not fast enough for a 35 year old male to enter Boston, but 2:59 is. Similar situation for New York, and although I don't have a clue whether Rich aspires to enter either of those marathons (and it's entirely possible that he doesn't) there's no other plausible explanation.

Or there wasn't until John clarified it for me - and I still don't understand why he would be fine with his own result being credited to another person. It clearly wasn't the sort of time he *should* be running; he should be a lot faster. I'm in possession of - but will not publish here - a photo of him running at a half marathon elsewhere in Australia and he recorded a very fast time, I think he came 3rd overall. So for him, 2:59 is not very impressive - yet he was happy to go on record with a 3:33? Right, okay.

For clarity, what I initially suspected of these two runners is a practice known as using a "bib mule" - someone faster wears your bib, runs you your BQ and off you go to run Boston (believing you got away with it, or perhaps that it's not that big of a deal) - and it's more common than you think. Our mate on Marathoninvestigation.com uncovered a running club where a single runner was found to have run BQs for 3 other club members (all of whom ran Boston in 2016): you can read about that fascinating story here.

above are 3 of Wild Mountain Running club's members at Boston
below is the guy running their qualifiers for them

It's not hard to figure out who might have cheated in order to qualify for Boston: you look for people who ran Boston significantly slower than their qualifying race. Maybe they were injured, or they ran for run, or blew up at mile 20. But the Wild Mountain dudes all ran so much slower - from 2 hours to over 3 hours slower - that they were flagged for review and their deception was uncovered. I wonder how proudly or fondly they will remember their day in Hopkinton now that they've been banned from the Boston marathon forever?


In conclusion

It turns out that John and Richard did not intend to cheat. Indeed, running with your friend's bib might seem like a silly or funny or crazy thing to do. If you run identical times then there's probably no harm done. But the consequences can be far worse than you'd imagine - so if you're planning to use someone else's bib, get it transferred to yourself officially. Or, all jokes aside, you may end up with a result that nobody can be proud of.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gold Coast Marathon, July 2016


If you ever want to run a truly fast, flat marathon in perfect conditions (not to mention one of the most beautiful parts of the planet), Gold Coast is the one for you. I've run it twice before, in 2012 and 2013, and can vouch for its flatness. As for fast - absolutely, it is. The course does have two small issues, though: a small but badly-placed hill at mile 20 and right after that a factor that will test your mental fortitude to the limit. Because during mile 20-21 you will run right past the turn-off to the finish chute, but on the other side of the road.

It's the ultimate teaser - you can see the finish area RIGHT THERE (and likely some faster runners already on their way to the finish line), but you're not allowed to turn because you still have 6 miles left to run. I remember going past it in 2012 and wanting nothing more than to just jump the median strip and be allowed to stop running (I didn't) and in 2013 I made it all the way to the turn at 35km/23 miles before losing my mind when the course turned directly into a strong headwind. Man, the memory of that moment still really smarts.

Anyway, my better-than-expected result at this year's Boston marathon, coupled with the other stuff that I've managed to achieve this year, prompted me to email the elite coordinator of Gold Coast and talk him into giving me an elite bib for this year. I'm no longer fast enough to qualify for all the bells and whistles, but a free entry and a bib with my name on it is good enough for me.

Beaches like this don't hurt either

The Training

Somehow this year I seem to have hit my sweet spot as far as training goes. Looking back on 2015 there was something slightly amiss - whether I was not running enough (doubtful) or whether I was actually slightly overtrained (entirely likely) - somehow it just didn't come together in the way that it all has this year. I'm at a stage now where my coach Benita and I have a really good, relaxed working relationship; quite often I need to adjust my schedule to fit in with work and the demands of family life, but she lets me figure it out and supplies me with a steady stream of workout suggestions without getting too bothered if I change things around.

So we agreed upon a plan of at least 2-3 weeks of peak training for Gold Coast that would allow enough time for recovery from Boston, some room for a few races and a sensible taper (this time definitely without the craziness of a fast half marathon the week before the big race, ha ha).

I've already posted the details of the 3 big weeks, which in fact culminated in an unexpectedly strong 10K race at the Mini Mosmarathon (not a marathon at all), but to recap briefly they were fairly high mileage - 88 miles (141km), 90 miles (145km) and 104 miles (167km) - and included some speed work, generally mid-week intervals and some tempo/MP running within a long run. After all that I dropped back to 77 miles per week for 2 weeks (123km) before a proper taper leading up to race weekend.

In the past I've struggled with tapering - as do many runners, so much so that the phrase "taper madness" and irritable Facebook posts including photos of strange animals (see below) are extremely common in both spring and autumn if you have as many running friends as me.




But this time around something was different. I was barely bothered by the fact that I was running less than half of my usual daily mileage. For once I seemed to be content with the justification that "less is more" during race week - could it be that I'm finally mastering the mental side of this racing thing? Perhaps I'm just getting better at existing in a state of denial, perhaps I'm getting lazier and actually like running less (gasp!) or perhaps I have been spending so much time acting calm and collected for the benefit of my anxious patients that I have actually become calm and collected myself? Whatever the reason, taper week was no biggie this time around. I found myself heading up to the Gold Coast in a state of happy anticipation, which is probably the best state to be in (other than Queensland).


Race Weekend

Gold Coast has become my Australian version of Boston - gradually I've collected a growing number of running friends over here and so my social calendar is rather full for the entire weekend. I spend the early hours of Saturday morning freezing half to death while watching the 10K race, before taking a gentle 5km jog with Steve and his running partner Shiloh - during which I demonstrate my marathon shuffle and they both die laughing - and then heading to the expo and finally lunch.

Saturday's highlight is the Legends Lunch, a gorge-on-pasta carb loading sort of event that features a very funny Steve Moneghetti as MC along with Pat Carroll, Rob de Castella and of course my coach (and arguably Australia's greatest ever long distance runner) Benita Willis.

It turns out to be one of the most enjoyable events I've ever been to on a marathon weekend; there are plenty of friendly runners with whom I can talk endlessly about running, Benita and Steve tell some awesome stories about racing at world-class level, Deek wants us all to "embrace the pain" of the marathon and explains the psychology of doing so in such a convincing manner that it actually sounds perfectly reasonable.

"Yeah I'm going to eat this!"
Robbo, me, my carbs and Keith

I'm also having a great time sitting next to the inimitable Keith Hong, who seems to know everybody who is anybody, and who also somehow talks me into signing myself up for the Centennial Park Ultra in August. Umm, what?? And finally Steve starts dancing with the Commonwealth Games 2018 Mascot - a rather strange blue, surfing koala by the name of Borobi - and my day is officially made.

Enough said.

Race Day

I'm staying in Surfers Paradise with my friend Laurence who is running the half - she has a bad habit of still being in line for the portaloos when the gun goes off - so, since her race starts at 6am we are already on our way at 5am in high hopes of avoiding another such incident. It's cold but not as bad as yesterday when I walk into the Aquatic Centre where the elite athlete area is set up; I'm reminded of Boston as I spread my stuff out and slowly get ready for the race.

There are African and Japanese super-elites lying with their legs up against the wall, but a good few familiar faces as well. I chat to Kirsten about New York marathon, Clare and I head out to run a few warm-up laps around the pool, and eventually we all get herded up to the start area. Lined up at the front of the crowd I'm maybe 5 rows back - there's no time to get nervous, or even really get cold - it's time to do this!

Can you spot me?


Miles 1-4: 6:22, 6:31, 6:17, 6:20 (pace in min/mile)

I'm over the line in seconds after the gun goes off and am pleased to find that the crowding is nowhere near as bad as I expected, and the pace doesn't feel too bad either. Usually it takes me a few miles to warm up properly but even during mile 1 I feel okay today; thinking back, this is probably due to having been more sensible than usual in the taper. Go me!

I have a few friends who are chasing 2:45 or faster today; one of them (Clare) has already disappeared in front of me as I'm approaching the Southport Bridge, and now one of the others - the amazing John Shaw whom I beat 18 months ago in the Cadbury Hobart HM (he's in 2 photos running behind me) - eases past and greets me as he goes. Did I mention that John is 63 years old and has just run a sub-1:20 half?? Before long and as expected he has disappeared ahead.

The first 5K pass fairly uneventfully; I'm a bit surprised to see mile 2 come in rather slower than expected, and predictably overcompensate in the other direction for mile 3, but I know better than to stress about this now. I'll find my groove soon and for now it's just great to be running again after a week of not enough miles and way too many carbs (although I never thought there was such a thing as too many carbs). The 5K mark passes in 19:40 and I'm more than happy with the pace just now.


Miles 5-8: 6:12, 6:22, 6:27, 6:21

We go whizzing down through Surfers Paradise and although it's still cold, the sun is shining off the water and there's barely a breath of wind. What a beautiful day, and perfect running weather! There's a small but vocal crowd yelling support - and it's early enough in the race that I can recognise and greet people I know - the result being what will turn out to be one of the happiest race photos of the whole day, thanks to the fan club of a fellow Wagga runner, Troy:

at 8km - hi Prue, Todd and Alex!

 It's not just people who know me, though. It's so cool having my first name on my bib: spectators all over are calling out "Go Rachel! Go Rach!" and at least I don't have to wonder who they are and how they know my name - I just wave or give them the thumbs-up and it's all good!

Through 10K in another perfect split, I notice a guy running just ahead of me wearing all black and a backwards baseball cap. He's been looking around a few times when people have yelled my name, and now there's a kid by the road holding a sign with a mushroom drawn on it that says "Tap Here to Power Up."

Now I know where that kid got the idea

I'm suddenly feeling a bit wiped out - I have no idea why - so I dart over to tap the sign. I'd like to suddenly and effortlessly zoom off into the distance like Mario would, but of course it doesn't happen. The guy behind me asks "Did it work?" - "Not really" I reply - we all laugh and the guy in black takes this moment to turn and say "Hi Rachel!" It's Xavier, the guy who won the strange, underwhelming Canberra Summer Marathon ahead of me last year!

He ran 2:45 there and on a much tougher course, but he's not been training much lately and that explains why he's not miles ahead of me at this point. We chat a bit and decide we might as well run together for as long as it lasts; I'm hoping that will be a while because this pace is definitely ambitious and I'll need all the help and support I can get.


Miles 9-12: 6:18, 6:23, 6:15, 6:19

With Xavier next to me suddenly I feel better and we make a little bit of small talk while simultaneously speeding up a touch. We hit the 15K mats and it's another perfectly paced split, which is extremely encouraging, and there's another boost when we see the lead pack come past in the other direction. Yuki is up there with all the Africans! I know they are all chasing the course record (2:08:42) and it's going to be very exciting to find out what happens - but for now I have my own fish to fry.

Up ahead I can see a girl wearing a yellow singlet and pink shorts; it's Liz whom I met at RunCamp. I had no idea she was shooting for such a fast time - we are on pace for 2:47 at the moment - and she unwittingly provides me with an incentive to keep pushing on. Because even though she must be 20 years younger than me I cannot suppress my competitive self that is somehow insisting "You're faster than her!" So I keep going even though I know this pace is quite a risk and that there's a good chance things may come badly unstuck before the end.

During mile 11 we make the turn to head back towards Surfers and eventually the start/finish area in Southport. There's a long way to go still and Xavier keeps surging, dragging me with him and making me nervous, because really I should probably slow down now and yet I know that I actually won't. But we are making ground on Liz, slowly but surely, and that's enough reason not to back down.


Miles 13-16: 6:22, 6:23, 6:20, 6:26

The 20K split is right on target as we head back up the coast - in fact it's a little faster than the previous few, which is very pleasing - but as we pass by my hotel I daydream briefly about stopping off for a rest. Running marathons at top speed is not necessarily fun and requires constant vigilance; let your mind drift and you'll lose precious seconds that will be hard to gain back later. I'd love to just go and sit on the balcony right now in the sun, but that will have to wait.

Halfway hits (split: 1:23:38) right as I finally pull alongside Liz - I've got enough breath left to say hi and remark that I didn't realise she was going for sub-2:50! - she greets me in return and says she's just hoping to hang on. As I gradually pull ahead I can still hear people calling encouragement to her for quite some time; hopefully she will do exactly that.

For some reason this next 5km/ 3 miles I start feeling like it's all too hard, and I'd like to stop running now please. Rather than panic about this negative turn of events, I think back to lunch yesterday and what Benita, Steve and Deek were all saying about the ups and downs of the marathon. For sure you won't feel great all race - it's like a rollercoaster really - and Deek's words about embracing the pain echo now inside my head. Time to embrace it and ride the coaster, waiting for the next upswing which hopefully isn't too far away. We pass by Prue and the Wagga cheer squad again at 23km; I hear them yelling but I'm far too focused on keeping my legs going to wave or smile this time. Ugh, that was rude, please let me feel better soon.


Still with a gaggle of blokes but looking far less pleased about it all

While I've been deep in my own personal struggles, Xavier has gradually fallen behind and I come out of my funk as I approach the 25km mats and realise he's not with me anymore. That's too bad, but on the other hand I'm not terribly entertaining company right now and that aspect of things is only going to get worse from here. No spare breath to talk and no spare brain cells to think of anything to talk about: from here on every ounce of energy is going into the process of keeping my legs turning over. The 25K split once again is right on target and I'm trying very hard not to dwell on the fact that there are 3.5 more of these 5K segments left to run.


Miles 17-20: 6:27, 6:27, 6:25, 6:33

Back up to the end of the coastal path I go, and it hasn't escaped my notice that I am now overtaking people quite steadily. The occasional one is a woman and suddenly I realise I feel pretty good! I have no idea what position I am in and honestly I don't really care; all that matters is getting to the next 5K split.

The next bit is going to be tricky: the course veers sharply left and then right onto the highway where we will climb back over the Southport Bridge and head up towards the start/finish area. This is where things are going to start to get hairy, but the 30K split is reassuring and somehow I am still on pace. It strikes me that if I can keep this up I may yet run an all-time PR (by only a narrow margin, but still) - but I know that is not particularly likely. Put the thought aside and just keep running!

Speed and photogenicity do not mix, at least not for me

I get an unexpected boost heading up the hill - it's a small hill but at this point in the race anything larger than a speed hump might as well be a mountain - in the form of some extremely loud yelling from the left side of the road. Later I will find out that this was my new running friend Nigel (who has also taken a video, see below); his enthusiasm is contagious and it carries me up and over the hill. And as I run past the infamous finish chute on my right, I'm pleased to realise I don't feel quite as bad as I thought I would at this point. But I still have 10km left to run.....


video



Miles 21-24: 6:32, 6:36, 6:38, 6:36

The 35K split comes and yep, it's my first over 20 minutes. A pang of dread goes through me - what if I'm about to hit the wall? But then something awesome happens that distracts me nicely from this negativity: I see the lead cars on the other side of the road. And running close together, perhaps a second or two apart, are two runners, one African and one Japanese - it's Yuki!

Immediately all I can think about is how exciting the live stream must be for Joel who I know is watching at home in the USA - we met Yuki 18 months ago in New York and he won Melbourne the first year I ran it. I need to get to the finish so I can find out who won! Only 7km to go - I can do this.

For some ridiculous reason the majority of official race photos seem to be taken in the final 10km of this race. As a result, 90% of my photos will turn out to show me in various states of distress: grimacing, eyes closed in pain, looking like I want to punch someone, throw up or perhaps burst into hysterical tears. These final 10km are the true test of the marathon, and it's taking every ounce of willpower that I have not to just pack it in and give up.

ohhhhh the pain

The final turn comes and I'm bracing myself for the headwind, but remarkably enough it just isn't there today. Usually in the final stages of a marathon I'll stop checking my mile splits, not wanting to be dismayed or discouraged by seeing them deteriorate, but this time I've been glancing at them much more than normal and so far I'm pleasantly surprised that they haven't been too offensive. I've slowed down some but I'm hanging in there a lot better than I expected to. Sub-2:50 is still within reach!


Miles 25- 26.2: 6:37, 6:37, 6:24 final approach

I don't remember very much of these final 2 miles, other than wishing them to be over as soon as possible. I pass a female runner just as I turn onto the highway towards the finish area - Steve, Shiloh and I jogged back along this route yesterday morning and it's comfortingly familiar as a result - I still have no idea what overall place I'm in and I don't waste any time thinking about it now. The crowd is large and vocal; they're cheering as I head for the finish chute but I can't hear them because I have resorted to counting in my head - the final refuge of the mind that wants to block out the several million pain receptors that are all bellowing at it to STOP DOING THIS! NOW!!

la la la la I can't hear you

The final 250m snakes left and right and I'm working the tangents like a Formula 1 driver, trying to shorten the distance between myself and the finish line. Finally it appears and I hear my name being announced - I look up to the clock and see the final seconds of 2:48 ticking away. Darn it!! I throw myself at the line in the most ungainly fashion possible, ensuring more hideous images that Marathon-Photo will subsequently sell to me at exorbitant prices, and finally I am there.


Finish time: 2:49:13  (6:27 min/mile, 4:00 min/km)

Placement: 14th female, 93rd overall, 1st in AG (F45-49)

Half splits: 1:23:38, 1:25:35 (1:57 positive split)


I weave my way slightly unsteadily through the volunteers holding barf bags and suddenly am aware of a strange, painful floating sensation in both big toes - it feels like my toenails are lifting up and I'm quite surprised I never noticed this before now. There's no visible blood on my shoes but a throbbing pain intensifies in the next few seconds and I'm starting to get worried about what I'll find when I take my shoes off. I look up in surprise to see Steve Moneghetti crossing the finish line not too far behind me - wasn't he pacing sub-3?? - he comes over, gives me an approving pat on the head and we stagger off together to talk to Clare.

Running legends!
photo credit: Dave Robertson
She has run a PR of 2:46 and is beaming from ear to ear, but it turns out her feet are also in bad shape. Eventually we try to head for the elite room but halfway there have to stop to take off our shoes - holding each other steady so we don't fall over in the process - and I'm greeted by a sock full of blood. Awesome! Not. Underneath my socks both big toenails are blistered and looking dreadful; it strikes me that this exact same thing happened in 2013 at this race, and still I have no idea why. But running 26.3 miles at suicide pace is probably to blame.


Post-Race Shenanigans

It's often hard to eat after a tough, long race, but most of the rest of the day will be spent in pursuit of food and beverages, and I find myself lucky enough to have some awesome company in which to do this. First it's coffee with Laurence and her friend Sonia, both of whom have run nice PRs in the half and are kind enough to wait patiently for me to hobble around and get cleaned up after my race.

CHEESE!

Then eventually I make my way to Surfer's Paradise to meet up with the group I have affectionately nicknamed "The Old Blokes": Steve (whom we met in Boston), John (who has run a single-age world record of 2:45, which age-graded is 96% i.e. world class) and the rest of their running group as well as Nigel, whose ear I am happy to talk off about all things running. Beer and deep fried food are two of my favourite food groups directly after a marathon, and both are procured in abundance as we all sit and enjoy the late afternoon sun. What an awesome way to spend a weekend!

Proving age is just a number....Team Geezer

The Analysis

I'm still not really sure what single factor is responsible for my great form this year, but long may it last! Going into this race I was a little apprehensive - although I know I trained well and that I have been racing well, it was a little daunting to be admitting to my goal of sub-2:50 - and a crash-and-burn sort of scenario would have been soul-crushing, to say the least. But thankfully it all fell into place and the result was a fantastic weekend of all things running.

Next up... there's always something coming next. And after that foolhardy lunchtime conversation I do believe it's my very first ultra! Gulp.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mini-Mosmarathon 10K, June 2016


Not that I have run every 10K race in Australia, but I'm fairly certain this course  - eclipsed perhaps only by the Run with the Wind 10K that I had the pleasure of experiencing last year - is one of the toughest 10K races on offer in the country. Masquerading as a fundraiser for my alma mater, Mosman Primary School, it is a type of torture that makes a mockery of the typical "fast and flat" 10K that one sees advertised so often.

I've run the Mini Mos twice before, in the two years that have been the best so far of my running career, and recorded times that reflect the difficulty of this particular race and the inexplicably strong field it usually attracts:

2013 - 40:13, 10th female, 3rd AG (F40-49)

2014 - 41:03, 6th female, 3rd AG again (sigh)

The course is - putting it mildly - relentlessly hilly, and the worst part of this is the fact that the second half is most definitely worse than the first. And to top it all off, most of the final 2km is straight uphill. It's really rather horrible, but I have my reasons for enjoying this race, even though it truly sucks in many ways.


That's a LOT of up and down for just 6 miles

Mainly it's because I grew up in Mosman, although I rarely visit there these days. Part of the course in fact covers the street where we lived, so my brother and I do like running this race together, which we previously did in 2014 and thoroughly enjoyed. That year both kids ran the 2K and this time I had Jack entered for the 5K (which thankfully is far less hilly than the 10K) but he was quite sick in the preceding few days and that, plus the unpleasant weather forecast (which called for rain virtually non-stop from 8am onwards) meant that I decided not to let him run. He had absolutely no objections to this change of plan, somewhat to my disappointment.


The Training

It goes without saying that I've never actually trained specifically for a 10K race, and with my trademark marathon shuffle and total lack of top-end speed, it's pretty obvious why not. The marathon is by far my best distance and I'm more or less in a constant state of marathon training these days, so a 10K race is really more of a tempo run in my eyes. And I tend to approach them as such, meaning I don't necessarily taper or do anything specific beforehand.

Being at the peak of my rather-short preparation cycle for Gold Coast marathon, the 3 weeks prior to this race were fairly mileage heavy, as follows:



3 weeks out: 88 mi - including some half mile intervals and a very long LR of 23 miles (oops)

2 weeks out: 90 mi - nothing special, just trying to keep going through a nasty bout of bronchitis

1 week out: 103 mi - 20 mile long run including 10 miles @ MP (average 6:33 min/mile, 4:04 min/km)


The week of the Mini Mos I wasn't intending on tapering too much but a sick child and sleepless Thursday night meant that I simply couldn't be bothered running the 16 miles I had originally planned for Friday morning. I did appease the mileage-obsessed lunatic part of my brain that was pawing forlornly at its abacus and cursing me for skipping my weekly long run by jogging 13 miles on Saturday morning in Sydney, figuring that this wouldn't tired me out too much for Sunday, but otherwise I suppose a taper of sorts happened despite my best intentions.


Race Day

Robbie and I arrive with plenty of time to spare and I'm about to set off for a decent warm-up when I go to pull my bib from my handbag and realise that in a fit of stupidity I took all the papers out (in a fruitless attempt to make it lighter - leaving in however my computer charger, a bottle of water, throat pastilles, a hairbrush, miniature bottles of soy sauce, etc) and put them in my suitcase which is back at the hotel. I'll have to go get a new one, which isn't too difficult but there goes my warm-up. Oh well. At least we have insider knowledge of the school - from our years of attending, although this was 40 years ago now - that means we can find our way onto the grounds and to the hall very quickly, meaning we are able to get the bibs and drop our warm clothes back at the car without running out of time.

We arrive to the starting area to find the organisers having a bit of trouble inflating the arch that last year marked the start; it lies limp on the ground and it's all a bit disorganised, really. There's a woman talking earnestly but inaudibly into a microphone - it's possible she is telling us what to do but everyone is (understandably) ignoring her and just milling around aimlessly. Some blokes drag the sad sagging arch into the gutter and we will have to make do with an imaginary line instead.

We line up near the front (Robert doesn't try to make me move back this time), I spot Julia up ahead and go to chat briefly with her, she points out a few other fast chicks and I retreat to contemplate whether I have a chance of placing today or not. Absent Husband (aka Joel, who is in Michigan preparing to come back with his kids in tow for the full Brady Bunch scenario in July) has made various wild predictions of a top 5 finish (hmm) or even an overall win (dude, seriously?)  but I've been very non-committal all along.

In fact I haven't thought at all closely about what is about to unfold today; in keeping with my recent post about mental trickery and running, I'm pretty much just winging it, pressure-free. I know the course is very tough, I know it's a competitive race, and yet I do know I've been in great form this year - which perhaps explains my calm confidence. I'm just going to do my best today and see what happens, which is without a doubt the best strategy for my particular personality and running abilities.


Miles 1-3: 6:20, 6:23, 6:05 (pace in min/mile)

The lack of arch makes the starting line hard to figure out; there's a countdown and a gun goes BLAM and I reflexively start my watch, but don't actually cross the timing mats til a good few seconds later. Whatever - I have no time to ponder this because I'm boxed in by slower runners and am feeling highly frustrated at having to zig and zag as well as run uphill on legs that haven't quite figured out what's going on yet. I pour on the effort and take off up the hill like my shoes are on fire; Rob I assume is behind me somewhere but I'm too busy sprinting to look.

As usual a massive number of women have zoomed off in front of me and I quickly realise that the next 40 minutes (or possibly slightly less) is going to be a protracted game of Assassin Mode. Oh well, bring it on! I love having a target to chase and there are plenty of them ahead, that's for sure.

my only race photo, sadly


Before the first mile is up I'm amused to hear a voice behind me saying "Meep Meep" and I look around to see my friend Tony easing past. This is the bloke who responded to my "40-41 minutes" predicted finish time with "Oh I won't be running as fast as that"! I'd love to be able to think of something witty to say here but all I can come up with is "Not running fast, eh?!?" and he's already pulling way ahead. Wait, was that rude? My brain doesn't have enough spare oxygen to process any of this really - I'm sure he'll understand.

The second mile starts and the ups and downs start too; I'd forgotten just how sharp some of these little downhills are, actually. They're so steep that I'm actively braking with my quads and I find myself slowing down, which is super annoying. The first out-and-back section provides the perfect opportunity to count the women ahead of me and there are no less than 8 of them - Julia is well ahead in 3rd place, which is great - and also great: at least 3 or maybe 4 of the others are within striking distance. Assassin Mode, activate! And here we go.

Mile 3 turns out to be my fastest, spurred on by the thrill of catching a few female (and plenty of male) runners, and without too much trouble I have soon overtaken no less than 4 chicks. And there's another ahead who is clearly tiring; I actually thought there was another girl to catch but by the end of mile 3 as I am working my way along the second out-and-back of the course, it seems I'm in 4th place. FOURTH? Fourth! That's way ahead of where I expected to be, and it hasn't escaped my attention that so far I'm on pace to break 40 minutes, which I've never done in this race. Can I keep it going?


Miles 4-6: 6:23, 6:20, 6:50

I'm concentrating way too hard to look on the other side of the road for Robert, but as mile 4 progresses it does strike me that I can suddenly see Tony up ahead. I draw gradually closer and by the start of mile 5, to my extreme surprise, I can also see Julia. There's no way at all that I can catch her though - unless she suffers some sort of major engine failure - so I do my best to focus on staying on pace. One thing that strikes me here is that there seems to be a LOT of traffic on the roads, despite the supposed "closures"; every minute there seems to be a luxury car cruising past a barrier or traffic warden. I guess that's what happens in a suburb full of multi-million dollar houses: the residents think they own the place. Because, of course, they do.


your average Federation cottage in Mosman - this one is actually on the race route

The most horrible part of this race is the steep hills that make up miles 5 and 6; a huge downhill to Cowles Rd is followed by a nasty, sharp uphill that goes on and on until there's another, final downhill before the slog to the finish. I plod my way up an inexcusably steep street that is 2 blocks down from Glover St where we grew up - on the way over we discussed this exact street but neither of us can remember what it is called - really I should look at the sign I suppose but all I can think is, bloody hell, I hate this race. (Holt Avenue. It's called Holt Avenue)

Tony has caught a couple of blokes who have been in front of him since I first spied him again, and I'm gaining on the lot of them until we hit the downhills and I'm forced to brake hard and slow down. Gah, this is torture, but the knowledge of what is still to come is worse. A short, flat section gives way to the final uphill that will last until the very end of mile 6 - I've slowed down way more than I'd like but at this point I really don't care. One foot in front of the other, up past the school and the now-inflated start arch....just keep going. Ugh.


Final 0.2: 5:51 pace

Mile 6 beeps to announce its demise and the split time is pretty horrific: 6:50, meaning I've lost almost 30 seconds. If I really want that sub-40 I'm going to need to start caring a LOT, and in fact suddenly I do, so I put my head down and SPRINT! Tony is ahead but I'm gaining on him; I see Julia heading to the finish as I'm still approaching the final short out-and-back; as I turn it's clear that 4th place indeed will be mine. But what of my finish time??

The clock is still too far away to make out clearly - but it looks like 39:xx and it's getting easier to see by the second - boy oh boy, this is going to be close. Summoning up every fast-twitch fibre in my body (there aren't that many) I hurl myself helter-skelter at the finish line and with just meters to go it reads 39:56...57...58...59... oh my god, I'm done.



Garmin time: 39:59.5 (6:21 min/mile, 3:59 min/km)

Official time: 39:54 (thank you, distant starting mats)

Placement: 4th female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

Wow, that was intense! I'm thrilled though - another course PR and I've squeaked out a sub-40 for the first time in this notoriously tough race. Tony has beaten me by 4 seconds (damn it); I sit chatting to him and the other fast chicks (Julia and Reegan) until Rob appears having run 44:10. That's great for someone who runs about 7km perhaps twice a week, but he seems a bit disappointed. As for me, once again it seems I'm just out of the money, as prizes are only on offer for places 1-3, but given my expectations of the day that's no biggie.


The Analysis

Another course PR, making it my 3rd for the year - could it be that I'm improving at the shorter distances now? Wonders will never cease! What this might mean for my next marathon adventure remains to be seen, but it's not that far away now - so stay tuned.