Friday, November 18, 2016

Ned Kelly Chase 50K, October 2016



It's not unexpected that after my sub-par performance at the Centennial Park Ultra in August, I'd eventually find an excuse to have another go at the 50K distance (despite having long vowed I'd never be interested in running further than a marathon). An ad for the Ned Kelly Chase popped up somewhere - possibly Facebook or an email in my inbox - fairly soon after the CP Ultra and I quickly realised it would be the ideal candidate for my second attempt: a flat, paved course on a rail trail near Wangaratta in Victoria, far enough removed from my recent racing insanity to allow proper recovery, and timed just right to make the most of crisp spring mornings without needing to freeze half to death in the process.

There are a few other things about the event that piqued my interest - the start is staggered in order to have everyone finishing as close to 12 noon as possible, and bicycle "troopers" are dispatched at some point with wristbands matching each runner, aiming to catch up to and "arrest" the runners in the manner that the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly so long ago was chased through northwest Victoria. There are options for all distances from 100km down to 10km and since I know the area from having raced there a few times now (most notably when I won the Wangaratta marathon earlier this year) it seemed like the perfect opportunity to better my time from August.

The Training

After I decided to race at Ned Kelly, Benita and I hatched a plan whereby I would do back-to-back long runs on the weekend and in my own head I had the notion that a few weeks of 90-100mpw (145-160km) would ideally fill up September and early October before my now-standard 2 week taper. I'm FB friends with Camille Herron, who is the current 100km AND 50km World Champion, and I saw her post recently about running 40-50 miles in a weekend, so a scaled-down version of that certainly seemed like a great idea to me.

Life, however, had other ideas. In the end I did average 86 miles (138km) per week over the 6 weeks leading up to the taper, but only managed to complete the double properly on one occasion:

Lots of double digits but only one double long run

Perhaps the main improvement of this mini-cycle over my preparation for the Centennial Park race took place in the final week, when I finally managed to restrain myself from running too much (being pretty much sick of running after that single 40-mile weekend) and from spending too much time on my feet in the 48 hours preceding the actual race. The mantra "less is more" is a useful one when taper madness threatens; that and the memory of my dead legs in the early stages of CP combined to make this the most effective taper I can remember.


Race Weekend

It's an easy drive to Wangaratta, just over 2 hours in fact, and we arrive in plenty of time to pick up Joel's bib (he's running the half marathon) and spend the rest of the day lounging about and eating. Carb-loading is sort of fun but by the afternoon (as usual) I'm thoroughly sick of food, eager to stop stuffing my face and focus on getting a good night's sleep. We're both starting fairly late - 8am for me and 10am for him - so Sunday morning is a relaxed one although I'm awake at 6am to choke down a Clif bar and some iced coffee.

The weather is absolutely perfect: the howling wind of last evening has died down completely (although it is forecast to return, slightly diminished, later) and the air is crisp enough that I'm shivering a bit waiting around for the pre-start briefing. The group starting with me is fairly small - and most seem to have half bibs on - but there are a couple of 50Kers in there to keep me company, perhaps.

"We are all about to run for hours! Wheee!"

Miles 1-5: 6:42, 6:55, 6:43, 6:58, ?? (pace in min/mile)

First over the starting mat, I take the lead as we zig and zag and weave our way under the main road and up onto a sort of levee bank that leads out of town in the direction from whence Joel and I came yesterday. The Ovens River runs through Wangaratta and it has been in flood lately (like every other river in this part of Australia) so there are puddles of mud and water on both sides but thankfully none on  the actual path.

I'm trying to find the right gear in which to spend the next 3 hours and 35 minutes (or thereabouts, if all goes to plan) so I'm gratified to see the first mile split slightly too fast - this means I can back off a bit and relax. Phew. A bloke on an elliptigo-type machine goes whizzing past wearing a race number, which is slightly bizarre, and then suddenly I realise I have company.

It's the bloke in the red singlet in the photo above, also running the 50K, so I ask him his goal finish time and he replies "Four hours". Wait, what? The second mile split has just appeared on my watch and it's still right on target for me, but means he's going WAY too fast at this point. I inform him of this fact as pleasantly as I can manage, but he sticks with me for the next mile as well and in fact manages to save me from making a wrong turn. How helpful! I'm sort of disappointed when he pulls over at the first aid station and I have to continue on all alone, but it's undoubtedly better for him at this point to choose a more suitable and less suicidal pace.

Thankfully the course isn't too complex from here out - there's a short tunnel to negotiate and then a sharp turn onto the rail trail - and from there it's going to be straight and  flat the whole way to the turn-around. I make it there without any issues other than that I suddenly realise my Garmin hasn't beeped for a while: one look tells me that yes, it has once again frozen up in the middle of a long race. Grrr! I hit stop and start and it immediately comes back to life and starts recording distance again - now all I have to do is figure out how much distance I've missed. On a course this sparsely marked, that is going to be something of a challenge.


Miles 6-10: ??, 6:58, 6:58, 6:53, 6:48

Once my Garmin is cooperating again I'm pleased to note that I'm still right on target pace. I've brought a hand-held water bottle which is just as well, because the water stations aren't all that frequent. And at the one where I did want a cup of water there were people standing right in front the table, blocking me from helping myself but inexplicably not handing out water themselves. This seems rather unhelpful, to be honest, but I won't dwell on it because I'm feeling way too good really. The contrast to how my legs felt back in August is remarkable; I can only hope it lasts.

The half marathon turning point is marked by a bloke sitting in a car and a chalk arrow on the ground - he calls out encouragement as I pass and I note the time on my watch: 45 minutes, meaning I'm on track or even slightly ahead of where I want to be at this point. Excellent!


2 x 25km out-and-back legs - we are on the top one

From here on out things start to get fairly boring; due to flooding all of the 100K, 50K, marathon and half entrants are on this half of the course rather than being strung out over two segments, so there are many more people around than there otherwise would be, but still it's pretty lonely. The rail trail is smooth, flat and straight, so essentially perfect to run on but about as interesting as watching paint dry. I do get to overtake people every now and then - mostly they gasp in amazement at my pace as I zoom past - but for the majority of the time I'm on my own. Snooore. My friend Amelia from last year's Canberra Summer Marathon goes by on her way to the finish of the 100K - the excitement of waving to and greeting her wakes me up for a bit - then it's back to the grindstone, alas.


Miles 11-15: 6:57, 6:52, 6:51, 6:59, 6:57

There's a slight but perceptible uphill component now to the course and it slows me down a little, but I'm too busy waiting for the marathon turning point to worry or even notice too much. When I finally arrive at the marathon turn it's at a water station and a glance at my watch shows 1:30:30. Right on target pace, still! And I feel pretty good. My small hand-held water bottle is almost empty now but the clouds are keeping things cool and I'm not sweating much at all.

Best of all, the 50K turn is not far away now! There's a bit of a downhill to a major sort of a road - a volunteer is standing guard but I manage to arrive at exactly the right moment to cross between cars - and then a segment that slopes upward to what appears to be a bunch of people standing in the way. Surely that's the turning point?

But there's no official signage and I'm coming up behind a runner who has her own bike escort: that's nice for her, but he's weaving erratically all over the path and I'm worried I'm about to be flattened. I open my mouth to remark casually on my imminent arrival, but suddenly he zigs towards me. I gasp and bark out "COMING THROUGH!!" in an embarrassingly loud, abrupt and somewhat snappy tone. Oops! Better keep going just to put some space between us, I think.


Miles 16-20: 6:49, 6:42, 6:52, 6:53, 6:55

I charge up looking for a traffic cone or something to turn around but there's nothing visible. I yell at a random woman "Where do I turn??" She replies "Here!" so I turn on my heel, grab a cup from the water table and tear off back down the hill. My watch reads 1:47:13. Wheeee! I'm over halfway home and still on track for my goal.

I'm enjoying this downhill much more than I should be when I realise there's a bicycle trooper pulled over just ahead of me and it looks like she's pulling a wristband off her handlebars in preparation to arrest me. Wait, what?? I've got to be 20 minutes ahead of the nearest 50K runner; I haven't seen anyone from my starting group and we were the last ones to depart. As I approach I make eye contact and call out "Seriously??" The cycle trooper checks my bib number and grins sheepishly: she's looking for 218, not 213. I've evaded arrest!

At mile 20 things are still going well; I'm catching a fair few slower runners again and a few of my fellow 50Kers have gone past on their way out to the turn. My legs are starting to feel the mileage, though, and this is when I know I really need to focus. I can't afford to let my mind wander or even think about anything in particular at this point - just focus on keeping the effort level going and suppressing the thoughts of slowing down, which are starting to creep up.


Miles 21-25: 6:58, 7:02, 7:00, 7:00, 7:04

Yep, things are starting to get tough. The last 6 miles of any marathon are always the biggest challenge, and I'm trying hard not to think about the 5 more that I will still have to run after that point. For a while I go with the "counting in my head" trick that works quite well as a sort of mental white noise - it blocks out any other thoughts and also helps me keep my feet turning over at the proper-but-ridiculous Roadrunner sort of cadence that works best for me.

This is basically me in any kind of road race


This is me at the finish

Around mile 23 something crazy happens as I pull up behind another runner who is wearing a bandanna and a bright yellow Comrades shirt. I've got my name on both front and back bibs, as do all the 50K and 100K entrants, but he doesn't have a back bib so he must be doing the marathon or perhaps even the half. I go to pass him and he does a huge double-take, exclaiming "Rachel? Wow, you're doing great!"

Um, do I know you? At this point even if I'd had lunch with him yesterday I probably wouldn't recognise him; my brain is in that late-marathon-scrambled state where figuring stuff out is just not within its capabilities, so I grunt back "Hi" and go to pass him by. But he surges and accelerates out in front of me, so I guess I have company - for as long as it lasts.

Sven (his bib bears the name "Svengali" but I won't see this until after the race) is in the mood to chat and what's more he also seems to be in the mood to run 7:00 pace, which is great as far as I'm concerned. The pacing, I mean, not the chatting - I don't really have breath to spare just now and in any case I'm struggling to understand his accent. He's asking something about my time and I can't figure out if it's how long have I been running or what time am I expecting to run. I mumble something about 3:35 and he tells me he is running the marathon distance, then when I fail to respond he surges ahead again and drags me with him.


Miles 26-30: 6:54, 7:00, 7:10, 7:13, 7:22

Sven is acting like a tow rope - he's the only thing keeping me going at this pace and although I'm extremely grateful, I'm having difficulty expressing this right now. He drops back to chat some more and asks me where I am from, and I know that if I talk I'll slow down so I shake my head and mutter "Can't talk", hoping that he knows the feeling and won't hold it against me.

On we plough in silence for another 2 miles and we reach the point where the rail trail ends, once again running through the tunnel underpass where my Garmin lost its mind on the way out. I'm hurting now, my legs feel like jelly and I really want to stop. I'm even more tempted when, inexplicably, Sven abruptly slows down. In fact he doesn't just do that, he pulls right off to the side and cheerfully tells me I'm on my own for the final 5km. Wait, what???

Well this just sucks. Immediately my pace falls off the edge of a cliff, or perhaps only a small ledge really, but in any case I haven't got it in my legs to keep 7:00 pace anymore. Thankfully there's not far to go, because the wind has come up now to the point that it's noticeable and guess what, it's blowing directly into my face. How lovely!

I struggle along in this fashion, counting in my head and telling myself to just keep it together, hold on, hold on, the end is coming. There's a golden opportunity to get lost when the course veers left despite a clear path straight ahead - thankfully there's another runner ahead who makes the turn and prevents what would be a major disaster for me at this point.


The final mile: 7:26

I'm ready to be done now, thank you very much. I'm trying to keep the effort level up there but mentally I've had it and I just want to get to the finish. Everything looks different coming in the opposite direction and so it's a bit of a surprise when I realise I'm not far at all from the underpass that will spit me out right by the finish line. A photographer is lying in wait but I don't have the presence of mind to smile, wave, or even get the frown of determination off my face. Oh well, another grumpy race photo to add to the collection.

<incoherent angry noise>

Under the bridge, zig and then zag - I'm concentrating quite hard on not falling over here, but I do have the brains to look up and see the finish clock ticking fast towards 3:36:00. OMG, so close! I accelerate as much as my legs will allow and can only hope it's enough....


Finish time: 3:35:58 (pace 6:57 min/mile, 4:19 min/km)

Placement: 1st overall and 1st female


Only runners will understand how important those 2 seconds really are. My Garmin reads 3:36:00 but my official time is 2 seconds faster and it's the one I'll be reporting. I said I wanted to get as close as I could to 3:35 and I did it - a PR of 7 minutes and an unofficial Australian AG record to boot!

I throw myself at Joel (who has placed 2nd in the half marathon!) and he holds me up as I catch my breath: my legs have gone to jelly. But it was worth it - I'm so happy to have run the race I planned to run and to have limited the late-race fade to just the final few miles. My nemesis Sven arrives and - as I expected - apologises profusely for "annoying" me in the later stages of the race. I explain myself and in return thank him profusely for dragging me along like he did; he played a major role in keeping me from slowing down a lot sooner than I otherwise would have.

Turns out he is a marathonaholic who is planning to run several marathons in the next few weeks, including New York! Staying with me would have made those races more difficult and now I understand completely why he chose to back off.

Amelia is also there and has come 2nd in her race; it's congratulations all around and off for a much-deserved shower and rest before dinner and presentations later on.

Looks like Ned caught us all!

I've nothing much more to say about this race other than it was HARD and I think I really respect the distance now more than ever before. I'm not sure how much further I can improve on my time - more double long run weekends would no doubt be useful, but life is not always conducive to that sort of thing - but given the opportunity I'll be sure to have a try. And, come to think of it, an Australian AG record is probably my best achievement to date - so perhaps the 50K is a good distance for me after all!


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wagga Lake 10K, September 2016

Clockwise from top left: 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2013

The reborn Lake to Lagoon! One of my favourite races - I've run it every year since 2011 and won it 3 of those times - it's a bit of a nasty course with a rather long hill in the first half, but I love it just the same. Originally when I moved to Wagga it started at Lake Albert and finished in the centre of town by the Lagoon (hence the name, very original) but a couple of years ago it was rerouted and now finishes back by the lake at Apex Park. For me this is extremely convenient - I can jog to the start as part of my warm-up, and then home again afterwards (more of a crawl really) if I have to.


The Training

I will freely admit that the only reason I am including this sub-heading in this particular post is because I have put it in every other post on the blog, not because I did any actual 10K-type training in the lead-up to this race. As I had done the previous week, in the 7 days preceding this race I ran my long run on Friday (this time mercifully without any faceplants into the asphalt) and due to a combination of laziness and an Act of God (see below) I ended up running a paltry 5km on Saturday. Because on Saturday morning when I finally made it out of bed, my plans to hit the treadmill were derailed by the sight of this in our street:

I'd still go for my run but I can't find my snorkel

I was far too busy figuring out what was going to potentially float away (mercifully, nothing much) to worry about running, and in this way the flash flood actually came in sort of handy as a mini-taper. It would have other implications for the race itself, however.


Race Day

The late start (10:30am for the runners) means I'm able to spend a lazy morning getting ready and at 9:30am I set off with Jack - who is participating in the event as a bike rider - to jog to the start line. The sun is out and it's a gorgeous day; you'd never know that just 24 hours ago most of the suburb was underwater. Jack sets off and I go for my warm-up towards the northern end of the lake; before long it's already time to line up.

Remembering previous years and the usual horde of sprinters who will fade within minutes, I make sure to secure myself a spot right in the first row  - and looking around on the starting line there are a few coltish young girls who will surely be in that group; otherwise there doesn't seem to be much in the way of competition around. Yet. Hmmm.

I'm reminding myself not to count my chickens before they're hatched - I see Amanda, who was 2nd behind me in Canberra last weekend, and go over to say hi - and sure enough at the last minute I look to my right and hmm, there's a woman there who looks like she might be a contender. This is about to get interesting! I spent the dorky warm-up routine sneakily trying to size her up and decide that my only hope is that she doesn't have endurance because I'm fairly sure she's going to have speed.

My assumption about her abilities comes mostly from the fact that she has the powerful, strong-looking build of your typical shorter distance (5K, 10K) speedster whereas by contrast (and partly also due to my gait) I am very much built for endurance, not speed. My natural build is somewhere between mesomorph and ectomorph but unless I start lifting weights - which I haven't done for at least 3 years now - I tend to sit more on the endomorph side of the spectrum.

This is great for marathons (and ultras) but also means my 8 year old daughter can already beat me at a 100m sprint, meaning I have zero short-distance speed. So if this chick is as fast as she looks, my only hope is my endurance - and that she can't match it - because there's no other way I'll be winning again today.

Most casual start line ever

Miles 1-3: 6:08, 6:36, 6:14

Zoom! Off we all go in a mad rush and at least 3 of the teenage girls are instantly ahead of me - I can wait for them to tire but what's this to my right? Sure enough the chick in the white singlet (later I will discover that her name is Erin) is already pulling out in front and looks very comfortable when you consider the pace we're running.

Already by the end of the first mile the teens and tweens are all slowing right down but Erin is maintaining a gap of around 10-15 seconds ahead of me; a couple of times I think she's slowing down too but nope, even as we start the long uphill section on Lake Albert Road she just keeps on going.

Part of me is rather annoyed - I really wasn't planning on having to try this hard! But finally during th,e final part of the climb my persistance starts paying off: I realise that I'm slowly reeling her in, and as she reaches the top I'm probably only 10 seconds behind. At the turn of course she sees me and, of course takes off down the hill back towards the lake at top speed.

I'm not done yet, though, and there's a steady stream of runners yelling my name from the other side of the road which is having two effects: it's pumping me up (although I'm a bit too focused to reply much) and I'm fairly sure it's intimidating the heck out of Erin. If this is my home-town advantage than why not use it? Heh heh.

This year's course, pretty much an out-and-back one with the usual unpleasant hill in the middle


Miles 4-6.2: 5:56, 6;14, 6:20, then 6:16 pace to the finish

It's not often that you see a mile as fast as this from me in a race - 5:56 min/mile is 3:41 min/km and a LOT faster than my usual top speed - but it's downhill and I'm trying to win, so there we go. Erin is ahead for the first part of mile 4 but then there's a water station and to my surprise she slows down to grab a drink; I see my opening and jump right through it, into the lead. Wheeee!

The course plummets back down towards the lake and I'm basically giving it all I've got right now; as I approach the roundabout where things level out I'm therefore horrified to hear footsteps pounding up behind me. Crap! If this is Erin coming to get me then I'm toast - there's no way I can speed up beyond what I'm doing right now, or at least not without risking total meltdown sometime in the 2 miles that remain.

But no! It's a guy in a green singlet! I've never been so happy to be overtaken in all my life. I let him drag me along a bit faster as we head now to the path beside the lake - the opposite side to the usual course, which at this point is partially underwater due to the recent floods - and back towards Apex Park. This side of the lake is shorter so there will be a short out-and-back around the southern end; this will let me see exactly how close behind me Erin is, and hopefully that won't freak me out too badly.

There are more people shouting encouragement at me as I speed past the park, and at least they're not saying "Go girls!" which would suggest she's breathing down my neck. The 1km out part seems to take forever but finally I'm on the way back and by my estimate she's at least 40 seconds adrift. Phew! I'd like to relax now but there's no point tempting fate, so I just keep plugging until at last I'm in the finish area and yay! I cross the line for my 4th win in this event. James Davy has won overall and this is the 3rd time he and I have been victorious together: that's him in the top two photos of the collage at the top of this post.




Finish time: 38:40 (6:14 min/mile, 3:52 min/km)

Placement: 1st female, 8th overall


My son Jack is there to greet me - I told him I'd most likely finish around 38-39 minutes and so he's pretty impressed that I hit my target exactly - he rushes up to hug me and since he's mostly too cool to give me big hugs these days, I make the most of it and hang onto him long enough that the moment gets captured forever by a nearby photographer. Excellent!

Soon afterwards it's time for a surprisingly unorganised presentation - the medals are missing, there doesn't seem to be any sort of take-home trophy anymore and I have to leave before the AG presentations (at least I'm apparently not missing out on a medal since there are none) - but I do get to hold that mother of a trophy one more time and will have the satisfaction of seeing my name on there for another year. Not bad for a morning's work!

Cutest post-race photo EVER;                            This is one heavy trophy, believe me

All in all, although today's time wasn't my best it certainly was a good effort and I'm proud of myself for persevering and outlasting yet another fit young chick. 10K is not at all my favourite distance so it's gratifying to see that I can still run one a fair bit faster than I could 10 years ago, too. Next up? How about some rest? It's been a long, long couple of months, after all. 



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Canberra Times Fun Run 14K, September 2016




It seems like Fairfax Events have now set up the City Run Series: a whole set of races in the major cities of Australia, although the first (and still by far the most popular) was the City2Surf in Sydney - my very first race, in fact, after taking up regular running at age 29.

14km/8.7 miles is an odd distance, and in fact there are 10K and 5K options as well on the day, but as we all know I do much better with longer races, so there's never any question as to which race I will enter. Plus, I won a free entry by finishing 3rd last year! Who cares that it's only 2 weeks removed from the notoriously vicious Wagga Trail marathon? What could possibly go wrong?


Training? Please?

In classic Rachel-raceaholic style, I've also managed to schedule this race for the end of my first week of official training for the Ned Kelly 50K in October. There has been so much tapering and recovering going on lately that I'm thoroughly sick of it and determined to just train right through. I'm sure this will mean a less-than-satisfactory result in the 14K but whatever, I don't care.

Last year I ran 8 miles (12km) as a warm-up because I was doing the race as part of my long run, but this year I'm trying a different approach: I'm doing my weekly long run on Friday morning instead. That will give me a full 48 hours to recover before the race in Canberra and hopefully that will be enough.

Friday comes and it's all going perfectly well until mile 11 of my planned 21, when apropos of nothing I catch my left toe on the asphalt and BAM - a millisecond later I'm on the ground with blood pouring from both palms and several fingertips which have been suddenly stripped of their skin. Oh, god, this is just what I need. I stand gasping by the side of the road for a few minutes, trying without success to stem the bleeding, deciding what to do.

<horrified>

It's only my hands - if my knees were the main areas of injury then the effect on Sunday's race would probably be far greater - but the shock and dismay, not to mention the time that it will take to clean up and bandage all these abrasions, is considerable. I'm supposed to run a few miles around 50K pace during this long run, but I'm too shaken to do that just now; on the other hand I'm determined to get something out of this run so I jog/bleed my way onwards to a total of 20 miles (32km) for the morning. What a debacle.


Race Weekend



The weather is perfect - yesterday's wind and rain has completely disappeared - when I arrive at the start area with my friends Scotty and Claire; Claire and her friend Madi are running in costume today and raising funds for the Butterfly Foundation, which is pretty darn cool.

This year there's an elite tent to which we all have access, but it's barely set up, the water for coffee etc is not even warm and the space heater they have at the entrance isn't working. Initially I feel fine and not too cold, but after a few minutes in the tent I'm freezing so I decide to set off for a warm-up jog - wearing basically all the clothing I've brought with me, including my puffy jacket. After 2 miles I'm by no means overheated, but I've worked up enough warmth to see me through to the start, thank goodness.

I spot Nigel in the starting corral and wander over to say hi; he has a modest goal of sub-60 minutes which I am fairly certain he will crush. For myself I'm really not sure - not too much slower than last year is probably the best I can hope for. Pretty soon it's time to get in position and I clown around with Claire and the others, posing for the cameras and generally trying to top last year's starting line photo (see top of this post), although that's a pretty big ask since it's one of my all-time favourites.

Right there when at last the announcer is counting down from 15 seconds, the inflatable arch chooses this moment to lose interest and abruptly starts to sag right above my head! I reach up and prop it up with my finger; somehow someone saves it from complete collapse but it does make for a funny scene as we all dash away from the drooping arch:

The arch is collapsing! Run for your lives!!

Miles 1-3: 6:17, 6:27, 6:38

We streak out of the starting corral like a bunch of maniacs and Claire, in full Superwoman regalia, is very quickly in front of me. Another girl wearing black and pink is between us and okay, so it looks like today might not be quite the slam-dunk I imagined it might. The first mile is flat but then the gradual rise towards the city and, eventually, Parliament House starts to bite.

My legs are not yet fully recovered from the Trail marathon and whoops, I ran 20 miles just 48 hours ago. Did I mention that? So although I'm trying my best, my legs just don't have the power to maintain the same pace on any sort of incline, and as a result I've lost my usual uphill advantage. Although I've managed to catch the pink/black-wearing chick by the start of mile 2, Claire is still ahead and despite having been injured a lot this year (poor thing) in fact she's looking strong. Well, maybe it's partly the outfit. But she's still up there and I need to keep pushing to make sure I stay in touch.

Finally just around the 5K mark the events of the year start catching up to her and I ease up alongside her, then past. Okay, I'm in the lead now, but my chickens are not even close to being counted yet - there's still quite a way to go. And how embarrassing would it be to win in a pathetic time? No matter how much I'd like to cruise this race, I'm not going to. Onward.

Miles 4-6: 6:23, 6:29, 6:47

Mile 4 sees the crest of the hill finally reached and the course swings left and on a swooping downhill around the side of Capital Hill. Wheee! Without the upward gradient I feel much better and soon my legs are spinning comfortably and I've caught up to a group of blokes, some of whom seem to be struggling a bit. I'm vaguely considering this for a while but then one of them does something rather inexcusable: just a few meters ahead of me and slightly to my right, he turns his head to the left and blows out a massive snot rocket. Ugh!

The actual rocket doesn't hit me but the fine mist of nasal secretions that accompanies it does - it spreads itself disgustingly over my bare knees and I let out an involuntary yelp "HEY!" He better not do that again while I am still within range. Perhaps he's mortified (I hope so) because he accelerates now and I never catch up again.

That hill, seen from the opposite direction

Mile 6 is the nasty one I've been waiting for - it takes me up to and around the perimeter of Parliament House. I've run this loop so many times but it never seems easy, and this time with my beaten-up legs it's even worse than usual. I'm trying to figure out the geometry of how it can be uphill the entire way around (certainly that should not be possible) and this mental exercise at least keeps me occupied until I'm almost all the way around. I glance at my watch as I pass the 10K banner at the final corner of the building - 39:xx, which is not as fast as it should be but whatever, I'm winning so who cares.


Miles 7-8.6: 6:22, 6:19, 6:28 pace to finish

It's lovely to finally be heading downhill again! What's even better is that the finish line is not that far away now - the beauty of these shorter races, although they do hurt marginally more than the longer ones - and I've run this particular course back to the lake so often now that it's comfortingly familiar. As I make my way across the Kings Avenue bridge and onwards around the north side of Lake Burley Griffin it really does seem like I'm about to win this thing; proving once again that it's all about who shows up on the day!

I'd like to be able to say that I speed along the lake in a blaze of glory but in fact I slow down a bit, not out of complacency but more because my legs are insisting on it; still it's enough and in stark contrast to the minimalist finishes I'm used to enduring in this location, I see as I approach that a pair of volunteers are holding up a finishing tape that I am going to take great pleasure in breaking. Hooray, finally a bit of recognition!

I'm not about to keel over sideways, truly I'm not, it's the angle, I swear it is
Note cunningly inconspicuous bandages on both hands

Finish time: 55:50 (6:27 min/mile, 3:59 min/km)

Placement: 1st female, 14th overall


The excitement of breaking the tape and subsequently being interviewed on camera has completely made up for the discomfort of racing 14km on rather tired legs; the sun is shining on the lake, the sky is blue and very soon I'm feeling very pleased with how this day is turning out. Claire takes 3rd female and then I spot Nigel, who has smashed out a 58:04 to completely crush his goal - all very impressive!

First and only time I'll ever beat Superwoman

Well, that was sort of fun, in a masochistic sort of a way. If training for ultras means getting used to running fast on tired legs, then today was an excellent training session. I'm not entirely impressed with my time but in light of Friday's mileage and events, it will certainly do. And just in case you thought I was going to give my legs a chance to catch up, I've got another short race planned next weekend. Let's call it ultra training and leave it at that!


Monday, September 5, 2016

Wagga Trail Marathon, August 2016



In the 9 years I've lived in Wagga I've run every event in this running festival - the 10K in 2009, the half in 2010, and the marathon finally for the first time in 2012 - until last year of course, when I stepped things up to do the 5K/marathon double. It made sense to do the same this year (well, as much sense as anything does when it comes to me and my running) so after once again surviving the annual family ski trip without injury I signed myself up, and Jack for the 5K.


Training? What?

Nothing to speak of, actually. I seem to have spent most of the past 7 weeks tapering or recovering from one thing or another, so to call it "training" would be a misnomer. It was more like a reverse taper, to be honest. I followed up the CP 50K with a week of light jogging and then 4 days of skiing that I told myself would be enough cross-training (aka enforced rest) to let the legs recover properly, but it seems I was kidding myself completely. And rest of any sort tends to make me itchy, of course, so I couldn't resist compensating with a little too much running in the few days I was back in town before race weekend. Ooops.


Race Weekend

The forecast is - unfortunately - entirely in keeping with the general tone of this winter: rain, rain, and possibly a bit more rain. The wet stuff continues to fall from the sky all of Thursday and Friday, until I'm seriously wondering if the river will be so high that the final 10km of the marathon will have to be a swim leg instead. Not so long ago I was down at Wagga Beach - the start and finish area of the marathon - and noticed that the water was up to the grass, which is not a great sign.

An image from the 2012 Wagga floods. Ok, so maybe it's not quite that bad just now


Even if the riverside trail isn't actually underwater it is very likely to be muddy, and if other parts of the course are as affected (particularly the treacherous trails of Pomingalarna) then it's going to turn an already-tough marathon course into a seriously dangerous endeavour. I certainly haven't forgotten the lovely mouthful of dirt - not to mention the skin off my nose and chin - from last year when I tripped over at mile 16, and I have no intentions of repeating that particular experience. So it really doesn't matter that much if I'm not in peak shape for Sunday: it's not like I'm going to be able to run a super-fast time anyway.


Saturday: the 5K

I ran (and won) this race last year but there was a fast young girl there who made me work for it; this year, somewhat to my relief, she is nowhere to be seen. The gun goes and my legs are not very happy about the first half a mile but then they somehow relax and I can start to enjoy myself. This path along the river levee bank is very familiar from my afternoon doubles during Amelia's ballet class and the first mile goes by quickly in 6:32 which is a little slower than maybe I'm capable of running today, but still reasonably fast.

Just before the turn, not sure why I look so unimpressed but Jack looks about the same

Heading back to the start area I see Jack and then Ewen in quick succession, but first there are a couple of females who in fact are not too far behind me. This knowledge speeds me up somewhat and mile 2 goes by in 6:22. The final mile is going to be slower, I know this already; it's half along the levee and half down by the water. The turn down to the river happens at a different spot this year, though, which makes no sense - I've just overtaken two of the blokes ahead of me and it's sort of annoying that I have to slow down and in fact ask a volunteer where I'm supposed to turn - but then finally I'm down on the narrow path and on my way back to the beach.

It's muddy in places and there are some unpleasantly spiky weeds that prompt me to decide I'm wearing long socks tomorrow - I don't particularly fancy getting my legs scratched up in the final miles, thanks - but overall it's not too bad really. I pick my way steadily along the bank and mile 3 beeps as I'm approaching the finish line: 6:39.

Both the guys just behind me choose this moment to charge past me again and I really should rise to the challenge but sadly I can't be bothered. Instead of chasing them I just run steadily to the finish line and that's enough to finish as the first woman, which is certainly good enough for me today!

Finish time: 21:03 (a minute slower than last year, probably due to that inexplicable add-on)

Placement: 1st female, 6th overall


Jack rolls in a little under 8 minutes later (29:00), which is a very impressive time given the terrain! We grab our medals and this year I remember to stay around for the presentation - another cool crow trophy to add to the collection.



Sunday: the Marathon

It's perfect running weather when I arrive back at the Beach on Sunday morning: around 10C and slightly cloudy, although this is predicted to clear during the day. The mountain bikers are preparing to start their race - once again it's a hilarious Le Mans start where they all have to hobble/run on their cleats to reach their bikes - and it's great to see that numbers are well up on last year.

My Sydney friends Elkie and Tony show up, along with the usual cast of Wagga runners, but it seems there are no fast young things raring to beat me today. Well, as far as I can tell. I'm certainly not making any assumptions and also not feeling like running fast either; we will see how things play out over the next few hours.

I actually look happy about the 3+ hours of pain coming right up


Before I know it it's time to line up, and Tony - who I am expecting to run a similar time to me - inexplicably is hanging out way in back. I stomp over and drag him up closer to the front with me, and then boom it's time to go!


Miles 1-5: 6:54, 6:46,  6:54, 6:47, 6:56

Off we go along the levee bank, and to my slight surprise Tony is almost immediately well ahead of me and soon he's out of sight. Ok then! Perhaps I'll catch him when the hills start, but my legs don't feel amazing, in fact they feel pretty awful considering how early it is in the race.

I usually run the first 10km of this course a little faster than goal pace (although having said this, I haven't actually bothered to figure out a goal pace and all I can really say is that I'd like to keep most miles under 8 minutes) because it's flat and familiar, but today it's a bit of a struggle. As far as females go I'm in the lead, but I don't really know who is lurking behind...

Heading towards the start of the hills - aptly this happens on Red Hill Road - there's an opportunity to look back and see who is within a few hundred metres, so I take it and oh boy, there's someone with long blonde hair about 100m back. That's closer than I would like - and for all I know they may be a relay runner - but hopefully it doesn't matter: the horrible hills are about to start and there's a good chance I won't slow down as much as they will in the next 20km. I hope.

Absolutely evil elevation map


Miles 6-10: 7:29, 7:43, 7:20, 7:28, 8:04

Up, up, up I go - this hill never seems to end and the infuriating sign that I noticed last year is still there, right near the top (it reads "It's a hill. Get over it" and you can imagine how furious that makes me as I'm climbing the first incline in the graphic above) - but finally I'm there. I'd quite like a drink but the person handing out cups is too busy looking at other runners to notice me, and my grab for a cup of water misses altogether. Too late, and I'm not about to stop (I might never get moving again) so I'll just have to suck it up and keep going. Grrrr.

I'm running pretty much alone and have been for the majority of the race so far; I don't really mind of course, although it would be nice to have company. There are quite a lot of people at the 15km mark, for no apparent reason, and this time I grab a cup of water from the table and slow right down to drink it. As a result I feel pretty good as I set off again into the hills.

For every agonising up, thank goodness there's also a thrilling down

I'm managing to keep a decent pace going, somehow, and of course I've started catching some of the early starters. The climbs are increasingly agonising - my legs haven't lost that "dead wood" feeling they always have in the aftermath of a race - so even though I can keep a decent pace on the flat or downhill stretches, I'm dying on the uphill stretches. Mile 10 is one I remember from past years and this time it gets me - my first mile slower than 8 minutes. Oh well - at least it's mostly downhill to the halfway point now. Isn't it?


Miles 11-15: 7:29, 7:04, 7:23, 7:46, ??

The downhill turns into a pleasant flat stretch and I'm making my way mindlessly through the bush on my way to the Silvalite reserve when suddenly I hear a voice behind me yelling something that sounds strangely like "WRONG WAY!!" What, really?? So far the course has been reasonably well-marked with a combination of chalk arrows and small pink flags, but the past mile or so they have been far less obvious. In fact, I was just reminiscing about the year another runner popped out in front of me in this area and complained how he kept getting lost, and then of course there's the memory of how getting lost cost me a victory in the trail half marathon of 2010. Could I be about to suffer the same fate today?

There's a group of runners up ahead - more early starters? - and they greet me by name as I zoom past, but then suddenly there's a fork in the trail, no markers and I have no clue which way to go. I could easily squander whatever lead I have over the next female marathoner if I get myself properly lost, and the thought makes me momentarily quite cross. I'll just have to keep heading in what I hope is the right general direction and hope for the best; I usually have an uncanny sense of direction (Joel refers to it as my internal GPS) and right now that's all I have going for me.

Sure enough, eventually I find myself in sight of the halfway point and I'm on the wrong side of the fence. There's a gate though, so I pop through onto the correct path and help myself to a cup or two of water before trudging off to tackle the gnarly hills of Pomingalarna Reserve. Ooh, I can't wait.

Halfway split: 1:35

I'm making my way as enthusiastically as I can manage (read: not very) along the steep and muddy trails of Pomi when I become aware of two small issues: firstly, this course seems sort of different to the last few years, and secondly, my blasted Garmin watch has once again seized up. I stop it and start it again but I've missed around 2 miles (I think) and I'm rather annoyed that this has now messed up two races in a row. Grrr, Garmin are going to be hearing from me rather soon.


Miles 16-20: ??, ??,  9:00?, 9:29?, 8:08

Even when it starts up again, the pace seems off and it seems I really can't trust the Garmin now. When it beeps a 9:00 and then a 9:29 mile, I give up and decide to just concentrate on running. I'm passing a fair few half marathoners and one cyclist (who looks well and truly fed-up); it's taking all my concentration to get past them without falling. I'm also wondering where I fell last year and trying to spot the spot, so to speak, but before I know it I'm coming to the top of the hill already. Time to grab some water and start bombing the long downhill to the golf course!

Except somehow my legs aren't all that into bombing. Or anything much at all, really; I've suddenly realised that my left iliotibial band and the outside point of my knee where it inserts are both seriously unhappy. It is hurting to plant my left foot on the ground and that's happening in spades just now because of the descent - ouch, ouch, ouch. When this day is done I'm going to need to reacquaint myself with my foam roller and the world of pain it loves to inflict. Oh, what fun.

So many ways to torture, so little time

The final part of the golf course is pure mud but I'm too tired to bother detouring around the small shed where it's the deepest: I plow/splash straight through, stop at the gate for a cup of water and then pop out onto the road to face the final 10km of the race with thoroughly wet and filthy shoes. How pleasant!


Miles 21-25: 7:51, 7:30, 7:37, 7:37, 7:59

My Garmin appears to have gotten over its latest brain-fart and is once again showing acceptable paces, although they're probably a fair bit slower than I managed over this stretch last year. My legs are toast, the muscles an unimpressed mass of jelly, and all I want to do is stop. Of course I won't, but it would be so nice.

I occupy myself instead by considering the marvellous fact that this year I won't have to spend my evening looking at sore throats and funny rashes at the after-hours GP clinic (which was my unfortunate fate last year) and instead will be able to stay on at the after-party at the Thirsty Crow. Chips (French Fries to the rest of you) and beer are my two favourite refuelling choices after a marathon and both should be available in abundance there. Mmm, yum. Just keep running.

Typical late-race frown; internal mantra: "Chips. Beer. Chips. Beer"

The stiles begin and in my exhausted state it's even less enjoyable than usual to have to haul myself over them, but I manage it and despite the mud also manage to stay on my feet, which is a miracle. The sun has been out for a while and I'm sort of warm - I could probably take off my arm warmers if I had the energy to do so, but I don't - then again I'm close enough to the finish that I should just keep going like I am.

I'm passing a steady stream of half marathoners now, all of whom are very courteous and conscientious about stepping aside to let me through, and finally with only a few kms to go I catch Elkie who is running the half. I remark on how Tony has left me in the dust long ago, she agrees that he's doing an amazing job of showing me up today, and onwards I plod. It's a beautiful day to be out running and even though I'm not doing nearly as well as last year time-wise, it's great to just be here. Or so I keep telling myself.


Miles 26 and 0.2: 7:47, 7:23

I'm just waiting to be done, at this point. There are half marathoners all over the place and as I finally approach the finish line I'm right behind a guy; part of my brain wants to speed up and charge past him like a glorious victor but my legs are not having it. I arrive in his wake to the finish in a personal worst time, but gladder than ever before to finally be done.


Finish time: 3:19:42 (7:37 min/mile,  4:43 min/km)

Placement: 1st female, 9th overall

I've trashed my favourite shoes but have the most awesome trophy in the world to make up for it

I'm muddy and exhausted, although thankfully not bloodied as well like I was last year; I chat briefly to a couple of people, confirm that I've finished this race slower than even my debut race here in 2012, and then flop onto the grass next to Tony. He has run a sensational 3:07 to finish 3rd and is very pleased with himself indeed. And of course I'm extremely, extremely impressed!

Elkie appears not long after I've finished and it seems everyone (well, other than me) has done a great job today. I've managed to win but the fatigue of the Centennial Park Ultra just 2 weeks ago has done a number on my legs - I guess I never should have expected anything different, but somehow I sort of did. Will I ever learn?

After a sausage sandwich and the presentations it's a great pleasure to spend the afternoon and evening relaxing at the Crow with so many other crazy runners, and perhaps because they never really let me work them too hard, my legs aren't even all that sore. My opinion of the Wagga Trail Marathon as one of the toughest, gnarliest courses on the planet has not changed, but I seem to love it nonetheless. Will I be returning next year to defend my title - of course I will!


Friday, August 19, 2016

Centennial Park 50K, August 2016



I never thought the day would come that I'd think it a great idea to run further than 42.2km/26.2 miles, but that day arrived surreptitiously last month while I was on the Gold Coast, getting all excited about the marathon and talking to the very persuasive Keith Hong. He is also coached by Benita, knows everyone who is anyone in running and happens to be the organiser of the CP Ultra. Before I could say "I don't do ultras" he very kindly extended an invitation to come and run the 50K event, and somehow I enthusiastically agreed to do so. And I wasn't even drunk!

In my defence, I was under the influence of multiple running legends at the Legends Lunch

This sort of thing always seems like a good idea at the time, when you're all enthused about running and the actual pain of racing the marathon (or further) is the last thing on your mind - it was in this manner that I ended up entering the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge in 2015, after all - and it keeps seeming like that until reality sets in, usually about 5km into the actual event, but sometimes sooner.


Pre-race laissez-faire, aka "The Training"

In the lead-up to this race I find myself overwhelmingly casual and unconcerned, despite a glaring problem that I will only recognise far too late: the circumstances under which I had already planned to be in Sydney for the weekend of the race, namely to spend a lot of time decluttering a junk-filled first-floor apartment and a garage.

It will become clear later why this is such a big deal, but for the time being I am utterly unworried, and in fact am spending a lot of time considering some rather lofty goals for the distance. I'm not bothered about how little I have run since Gold Coast - only one week above 60 miles and nothing further than 16 miles for a long run - and I'm in blissful denial about the fact that I will have to run for at least 35 minutes more (and possibly quite a bit more) than I'm used to doing.

The "reverse taper" tends to have a rather different effect on race performance, compared with a traditional taper


Race Weekend

As mentioned above, I'm in Sydney with a gargantuan task to perform, and I realise quite belatedly that there's no way I'm going to be doing what I should be doing on Saturday, namely resting and eating. It begins with the arrival of a large rubbish skip at 8am, and I forgo my run - as well as the Aussie carb load that usually follows it - in favour of throwing junk madly into said skip. My brother arrives to help and the rest of the day proceeds in this fashion, with not nearly enough carbohydrates and far too many trips up and down stairs carrying boxes of stuff.

Merely the tip of the iceberg

When I finally finish at 8:30pm I've been on my feet for more than 12 hours and in fact they sort of hurt. This is NOT a good sign. As for carb loading, I probably haven't done a very good job of that either. Tomorrow is going to be very interesting.

On Sunday morning I'm awake around 6am and don't bother trying to eat (another potential mistake), I just gulp down some Powerade and head out to Centennial Park. I've never run on the track inside the horse fence before (a huge mistake, as I will soon find out) despite having logged hundreds of miles in the Park itself; pretty soon I am realising that it *might* be a bit more "trail" than I was assuming.

The start line. No I'm not kidding

Suddenly my goal pace of 7:00 min/mile (4:20 min/km) doesn't seem nearly as conservative and easy as I imagined it would be. There's no time to worry about this because we have to walk 400m down the path for the start - this addition will make up the 50km that will be otherwise covered in 14 laps of the dirt track - and I'm busy chatting to Nigel (whom I met at Gold Coast) and his wife Angela, who have very kindly offered to be my pit crew. We settle on a vague plan involving water and gels (just one extra on top of what I usually use for a marathon), then off I head with the rest of the runners to shiver under a tree awaiting the official start.

The facial expressions are due mostly to the fact that Keith is briefing us from halfway up a tree

Miles 1-6: 6:58, 6:57, 6:57, 7:00, 6:57, 6:54 (pace in min/mile)

Off we go on the first of many laps to come; almost immediately I know that I won't be able to hold this pace the whole way. It feels much too hard for so early in the piece - I'm having to put in a lot more effort than I expected - and this is in large part due to the terrain. We're 2/3 of the way through the wettest winter I've ever known in Wagga, and Sydney has had similar rainfall in recent weeks. As a result the dirt path is covered in mud and even water in many spots, in others it's uneven and partially washed-away, and on top of that there are rocks, tree roots and so many other trip hazards that all my brain wants to do is apply the brakes, hard.

Clearly, the challenge today is going to be keeping up the pace for as long as I can before the inevitable slow-down starts. So far it's going okay - let's see how long this lasts. Each lap is roughly 3.5km or just over 2 miles, and the first goes by fairly easily. During the second, however, I start catching people and I become aware of another issue that is not going away anytime soon: the narrow dirt path is way more congested than I was expecting.

Detouring around slower runners is normally not such a big problem, but when those detours potentially involve running through ankle-deep water and mud, well that's another story. As well as other runners there are also random pedestrians, runners going in the other direction and even the occasional horse crossing to content with. Energy wasted dodging left and right over uneven ground is energy that won't be left for the finish; with my wretchedly inadequate prep for this race, this is another factor I don't need. But there's nothing to be done, really, other than to suck it up and run. So I do just that.

Thought bubble: "I can't believe I actually agreed to do this"


Miles 7-12: 6:58, 6:58, 6:53,  7:03, 6:56, 6:58

So far things are going pretty darn well, if I do say so myself. I'm exactly on pace and my pit crew is doing an awesome job of offering me things that for the most part I'm taking, although I usually don't need too much water during a marathon and the weather is cool enough that I'm not even thirsty, really. There are more than a few random runners in the park whom I know, many of them from RunLab in fact, and they all shout encouragement as I run by, which is pretty awesome! I'm trying to respond but I'm also hyperaware of the need to keep my eyes on my feet as much as possible: the last thing I need on top of the mounting challenges of the day is a face-plant into the mud.

At this point I know I'm not likely to hit most of the goals I had going into today, and negative thoughts are definitely circling my brain but so far I'm not indulging them. So round and round I go, face mostly in a frown of concentration, focusing on keeping the pace. I probably don't look like I'm having fun, but I'm definitely not hating anything about today: it's a new adventure and a less-than-stellar time today will just give me more incentive to do better next time. Did I just say "next time"? God, I must be delirious. Anyway - onward.

Approaching the end of the 6th lap I'm astonished to see a familiar figure popping under the fence to my left: it's Tony, who mumbled something earlier in the week about coming over to run with me a bit, but we hadn't made any sort of plans around this and I'd sort of forgotten about it almost. He is a very welcome sight, although I'm by no means struggling yet - and I've already checked with Keith who confirms that it's fine for others to run a few laps with me - so I briefly explain the situation ("I'm screwed") and the goal pace, and we set off together for the 7th lap.


My water-bottle-passing skills vs Angela's catching skills; Tony is in awe


Miles 13-18: 7:03, 7:01, 7:00, 7:02, 7:04, 7:06

Having Tony with me is actually bloody awesome. I spend a lot of time running - and racing, for that matter - alone and although I'm cool with that, I realise suddenly that I'd totally forgotten how nice it is to run with a mate. We don't talk all that much but he keeps me on pace and clears the path of slower runners a few times so that I don't have to dodge off into the mud and grass. I've made it to halfway on pace but I'm acutely aware of the fact that it's not going to last; having Tony along for the ride makes it easier to keep hanging on, and I'm very thankful for his presence.

On our first time running through the start/finish area I have enough presence of mind to introduce him to Nigel - who looks a little concerned to see this bandit belting along next to me - and then on the second pass something truly hilarious happens. Nigel and Angela are deep in conversation and they don't notice me approaching; this would be fine except I need a gel and I need it before the end of the next lap. "NIGEL!!!" I bellow, "GEL! RUN!!!!"

Nigel bounces to his feet and chases us as we whiz by, managing to hand me my gel easily,  and Tony takes the opportunity to tease us both by yelling "NOT GOOD ENOUGH NIGEL!!!" I do feel awful for raising my voice and probably I could have been much less direct, but I guess I'm a stickler for routine and I really didn't want to mess up my usual fueling schedule. Anyway, we are all laughing about it as Tony and I head up yet again through the leaves and grass to start lap # 9, which will be his last with me.


Miles 19-25: 7:10, 7:16, 7:22, 7:35, ???, ???, ???

After Tony peels off and heads out of the park, my pace immediately starts to slide. I've known for a long time now that this slow-down was coming, and the only issue now is, how bad will it get? Lap 9 isn't too bad, but during lap 10 things get nasty. I *feel* like I'm putting in the same amount of effort but the numbers on the watch aren't agreeing: I've slowed down considerably.

I'm reminded of the final part of Canberra marathon back in 2011, when I was desperately trying to make my legs go faster and they were flat-out refusing. Or the final miles of the Wagga Trail marathon in 2012 - both times I later concluded this was due to running out of glycogen, and it would make absolute sense for this to be the case today as well.

Thankfully as I come through to start the 11th lap, Nigel is standing ready in running gear: he's going to run a couple of laps with me, and I'm extremely thankful for the company at this stage in the race. The sudden slow-down is not making me very happy and I need distraction badly.

Can't talk, focusing.

At first Nigel's full of beans and keen to drag me along at my stated goal pace, but I quickly explain the destroyed state of my legs (and hence the absolute impossibility of that task) and he relents. Together we decide to aim for 4:30 min/km, which is considerably slower than my goal and yet probably still fairly unlikely.

During miles 20 and 21 we're doing reasonably well but then gradually it dawns on me that my watch is not beeping splits anymore. In fact the stupid thing has evidently been stuck at 22.99 miles for quite a while now - ironic, since Nigel has just been telling the tale of his own Garmin doing funky things lately - and I have no actual clue what my pace has been like these past few miles. On his advice I press the stop/start button twice and it immediately goes back to normal, but I'm now actually past the point of caring about pace - it's time to just get this torture over with.

Garmin weirdness adds a surreal touch to this map, with water crossings aplenty

Miles 26-31: 7:37, 7:36, 7:48, 7:31, 7:51, 7:32

But it's not actually torture: with Nigel's company my mood stays good and I'm able to enjoy just running rather than fret over how badly I've fallen off-pace. The numbers on the Garmin aren't great but they aren't a complete disaster either; and I'm far from walking so that at least is a plus. And now that my legs refuse to run faster than 7:30 pace, I actually have plenty of breath spare and can make conversation! Not a lot of it, but I'm definitely chattier now than at any other point in the race.

We trudge doggedly through the miles and laps; I had it in my mind that I'd run the final lap or two solo but instead I decide I'd much rather not have to suffer alone unless I have to. So Nigel valiantly agrees to stick with me through the final lap, and we approach the finish at long, long last.


Finish time: 3:42:04, 7:09 min/mile (4:27 min/km)

Placement: 1st female, 3rd overall


What a day.

In retrospect it's absolutely crystal-clear what the problem was: lack of rest, lack of fuel, end of story. I was probably lucky to hang on as long as I did, and to not blow up much worse. My endurance has always been my strong suit, and it saved my skin today but wasn't enough to get me to the line in the style I had hoped for. I've learned a valuable lesson about what not to do on the day before a big race, although given the circumstances I really had no choice. And I've also confirmed my slight aversion to trail racing, although the next race on my calendar is going to be far worse and still a lot of fun.

The final result is far from pleasing, but at least it's a C qualifier for the Australian 50K team - this was the only part of my goals that I met, actually. The rest will have to wait for another time; in fact I already have the next race in my sights. Me, hooked on ultras? I think I just saw a pig go flying by.



One of the best parts of the day: my amazing support team.
THANK YOU!


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/NC4Xu


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, or putting it better we might say that not everyone who runs Boston has the honesty to qualify legitimately. 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 fun, 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, or so they say. 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.