Sunday, April 29, 2018

When It All Goes Terribly Wrong - Canberra 50K, April 2018

Canberra is our national capital and a very confusing city indeed. When I was a child we used to drive through it on our way to the snowfields every year, usually becoming lost as a result, and the tradition continued when I started driving there myself as a young adult. It was only after spending 6 months living and working in Canberra in 2005 that I managed to develop enough of a feel for the city that I wasn't constantly finding myself going in circles or hopelessly lost. And considering my excellent sense of direction, that's really significant.

In 2011 I ran the Canberra marathon for my second attempt at the distance, but since it is generally held on the same weekend as Boston, I haven't been back since. This year, having decided to take a break from Beantown, it made sense to return to Canberra. Back 7 years ago they already had the 50K event but it wasn't terribly popular: you had to run the marathon, cross the finish line and then continue for another 8 kilometers.

At the time all I could think was, seriously? Who would make the decision to keep going after they'd just finished?? It's bad enough in races like Gold Coast where you have to go past the finish chute with another 10km to run, I couldn't imagine how psychologically tough it would be run to that far and cross a finish line but not be done.

Clearly the organisers figured this out at some point, and changed the arrangements so the 50K would start before and then merge with the marathon. Even though the announcement was made prior to race day that there would not be a World Championship event for the 50K distance in 2018, I figured I'd still run the longer event; my main motivation was the chance of winning the National Championship title, although if I'd bothered to look at the prize money for the marathon I probably would have dropped down.

In any case, I hadn't done a lot of running since Tokyo but I figured my endurance would still be pretty good, so I wasn't worried about major mishaps when I set off after working Saturday morning in Wagga. I managed to arrive in time to pick up my bib (amidst a squally, rainy Canberra afternoon), had a lovely catch-up for coffee with my friend Catherine, and then settled in to my very reasonable Queanbeyan accommodation for pizza and an early night. I didn't bother studying the rather-complicated course map in detail, because why would I? In a major city road race, a National Championship race no less, what could possibly go wrong?

There are a lot of numbers on there and the order appears somewhat random, but I'm sure it will make sense on the day

Race Day

4am isn't the most pleasant of times to wake up, and it's probably closer to 4:30 when I make it out of bed to get dressed, but it's a short, easy 10-15 minute drive to the start area and I sort of know already where I'm going to park. The rain has stopped but wind is still howling outside - this is a potential problem, although at least it's not going to be in my face the whole way as in Boston 2015 or New York 2014 - and it's chilly enough that I decide to wear a t-shirt rather than my usual singlet for racing.

I make it to the Elite tent shortly after 5:15am and time flies by, to the extent that suddenly there are only 5 minutes to go and I have to rush out in a panic to the start line. I realise halfway there that I've forgotten one of my gels, and in any case I only had enough for a marathon rather than a 50K (I have no idea why), but whatever: I need to get to the start! There's time enough there to wave to a few friends who are waiting to start the marathon, shed my jacket into the hands of a helpful volunteer, bounce up and down for a bit and then wheeee! Off I go on my 5th attempt at the 50K distance.

The First Part, aka Ignorance is Bliss.

It's still sort of a bit dark as we zoom off around the corner and pretty much directly up the only major hill and around the back of Parliament House. The lead pack of 3 (Vlad Shatrov, Brendan Davies and Barry Keem) quickly gaps the rest of us and by the second mile they and their bike escort are out of sight. I still have about 4-5 male runners visible ahead of me at this point, and am settling into a steady pace that is right around my goal of maybe-just-a-bit-slower-than-3-hour-marathon-pace, roughly 6:55 min/mile or 4:18 min/km. It feels comfortable and perhaps I'm going just a bit faster as we come down the hill again, but I know I'll find my sweet spot soon and so I'm not too worried.

About 1 mile in, blissfully unaware of what is about to happen

In fact, my brain is more occupied trying to figure out if the person 2 places ahead of me is a man (which I suspect) or a woman (doubtful but it's keeping my mind busy) - I'm just churning my legs and paying precious little attention to what's happening around me. We're following the usual circuitous path that road races seem to take in Canberra; it's familiar territory from all the times I've run in this area and I'm just happy to be out in what has turned out to be decent (if very windy) running weather today.

The Strava map above shows mile 3 in blue; we curl around under the bridge, the guys ahead of me peel one by one off to the left and I follow like the lemming that I am. Up and around we go towards the bridge across Lake Burley-Griffin. There's a red 5K banner right at the correct spot - I check my watch and it reads 21:30, which is reasonable I suppose. Heading across the bridge there are traffic guys putting out orange cones, which seems a bit late, and my friend Kelly jogging across in the opposite direction. We wave and greet each other enthusiastically, then she's gone. I refocus on the boys ahead and we zip down past a few race officials off the bridge and through the tunnel on Parkes Way.

I remember this part from late in the marathon when I ran it in 2011, and also from late in the half when I ran it in 2016 (foolishly), and it seems weird that we're headed out this way already but I know they've changed the course so whatever, it must be right. The guys ahead of me are still going so I just keep running, but after another 5 minutes, what's this? Men are running back the other way and they're not the lead pack: they're the chase pack. Huh?

It All Goes Horribly Wrong

Suddenly a car appears, driving at speed past me on the other side of the road, with lights flashing and people waving out the windows. The guys who were heading back have passed me, the rest who were out in front of me have turned around; someone yells "Turn! We're going the wrong way!"

Every brain cell I possess jumps to attention and screams "WHAT??" This cannot be happening! The wrong way?? But it is. I turn on my heel and give chase to the guys who are now only just ahead of me: one of them is wearing a strange red singlet with holes in it (purpose: ventilation? or perhaps to avoid chafing?) and stripey tights, another has a bright blue shirt.

"But I was in the lead!" I yell at the driver of the car, which has just done a U-turn and come up behind us. I was, but clearly I won't be by the time I make it back to wherever we have gone wrong.

Back we go across the bridge, fuming and complaining and trying to figure out how on earth this could possibly be put right; one of the people who turned us around was insisting that it would be corrected later somehow, but realistically I know how unlikely this is. By the time Stripey Holey Guy and I have made it back to where we diverged from the correct course, my watch reads over 6 miles, or 10km. Checking with him confirms it: we seem to have added at least 5-6km to the course.

Comically, at this point there's a red flag that says "10km" and I have a moment of disbelieving hope: perhaps this really is going to be fixed somehow? But as we run onwards, runners are now appearing, heading in the other direction on the other side of the road and I watch the two women who were behind me at the start make their way onwards, well ahead of me.

In fact, I'm now at the VERY BACK of the 50K field, it seems. As the course turns I am passing the slowest runners - all of whom are very encouraging, which is lovely but does little to settle my churning mind. Here I am at the very tail end of the pack when I SHOULD BE IN THE LEAD! Grrrrrr. The guy in the blue shirt pats me on the back and says "Calm down, just run your race", and of course I know he's right. Freaking out won't help, but come on, how could this have happened? In a national championship race!?

Making my feelings quite clear

It has happened before

So what happens when runners go off-course in a race? It has all happened before, of course, and what I remember from those instances doesn't give me much reassurance.

In the Venice marathon last October, a relative unknown won the entire thing after the course leaders were taken off-course by one of the motorcycle guides. Not long before that, the top 5 runners in the Kassel marathon in Germany were led astray by the timing car, which resulted in their disqualification from the race. And way back in 1994 at the New York marathon, a Mexican runner in contention for the win took a wrong turn in Central Park and looked sure to have lost the race, only to claw his way back to victory in a thrilling sprint finish.

So what does this all mean for me? I'm fairly certain that no matter what happens, the overall win is out of reach. I could - and do intend to - make an official protest about the lack of signage and direction that led to this debacle. Several of the guys who were ahead of me have now more or less given up and I've caught them, and we've chatted a bit as we've run together. All of them say they'll support me and testify to the fact that I ran all of the extra distance that they did.

These thoughts give me a degree of comfort, but nothing will change the fact that, barring something bizarre happening, another woman is going to be breaking the finish line tape today instead of me. Disbelief is giving way to dismay: I need to stop thinking about yelling at race officials at the finish and consider what on earth I'm going to do RIGHT NOW.

The Options

1. Give up and jog.
Yeah, that's not going to happen. I didn't come all this way just for an extra-extra-long training run, and I'm not interested in spending any more time running today than I actually have to.

2. Run hard to the 50km mark then stop.
Tempting, but no. I will end up with my first DNF if I fail to cross the actual finish line, no matter what my justification.

3. Cut the course to make it correct, or as near as I can manage.
Wow, also tempting, but again, against the rules. I hadn't even thought about timing mats or whether there will be any out here today (yes there will) but being caught cutting the course will mean an automatic DQ. And people will probably see me, and that will be really bad because they'll think I am cheating - nobody other than me, the guys I ran off-course with and a few people I have yelled at about it, knows that I have run so much further than I should have; they'll just think I'm cheating - so this option is also a definite NO.

4. Suck it up and just run the 56km already.
Sigh. Ok, I guess I really don't have a choice in the matter now.

What's more, my best chance of convincing the officials that I really *should* have won will be to run the entire way just as fast as I possibly can. I could run hard to 50K and then jog, but that will just look like a massive late-race bonk, so I guess that's not going to happen either.

My challenge now is to pick a pace that I think I can sustain not just to the 50km mark, but 6km beyond it. Actually, that's the easy part; the bigger challenge is what's going on inside my head.

Change your thinking

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm a GP and possibly also that I do a lot of work in mental health. I spend a significant amount of time every week trying to teach patients to calm down and learn to manage their negative emotions when these (inevitably) occur. That may sound boring and trite, but the big positive benefit for me has been that I've pretty much had to learn to practice what I preach.

In Tokyo recently I struggled the whole way through the marathon with an inexplicably negative mindset, and today goodness knows I've got an excellent excuse for feeling really, really PISSED OFF, but somehow it doesn't matter. I want to enjoy my run today - even if I'm not going to win - and I want to prove to myself that I can cope in difficult circumstances, so I set about doing so in no uncertain terms. I'm still really annoyed at what has happened, but I'm able to put that feeling to the side and focus on holding my pace. Negative thoughts are swirling around in my head but I pay no attention and eventually they evaporate, and it feels really, really good to be able to do this.

Might as well enjoy myself a bit

A Very Long Race

I spend the next 3+ hours basically overtaking people.

First there's the tail end of the 50K field, then I realise that I'm coming up on the back of the marathon field. I catch the 5:30 pace group, then the 5:00, the 4:45 and the 4:30 groups. It becomes an incentive, drawing me forwards - how many will I catch? Can I figure out which one I should be finishing closest to? (Short answer: no, my mental arithmetic sucks during races, so I can't. But I think it might be the 3:45 pace group. Maybe.)

There are quite a few Wagga runners in the marathon and I get to greet a number of them as I plough past at a decent clip. I hit what my Garmin tells me is the half marathon mark: 1:30:34. That's a bit faster than I should be going, although not at all far off what I had hoped for.

Eventually I'm back on the infamous part of the course where it all came unstuck before; this time I've run almost 24 miles, not just 3. My legs are not very happy. The wind is howling from the left hand side and the long out-and-back where I got turned around earlier is going to be hideous; it's a full-on gale headwind that almost stops me in my tracks.

The marathon mark comes as I'm having flashbacks to NYC 20143:03:15. 
Ok, I'm slowing down, and what's more, I really don't care. Not in an angry, screw-this-crap sort of a way, it just doesn't bother me. So much has already gone wrong with this race that I'm not about to let a mere headwind upset me, although I'm certainly not about to enjoy it either.

Whose idea was this anyway? Mine?  I hate myself.

The wind is ridiculous and miles 26-29 are my slowest of the race so far. I'm sort of trying to figure out in my head how far the marathoners have run already - I've just seen Luke, who is running his first marathon and seems to be ahead of the 3:30 pace group - while also trying not to think of anything at all. Finally the turn comes and at least there's a decent tailwind now; it pushes me along and I manage to pick up a bit of speed again.

Trudging back along towards the Kings Avenue bridge, I'd sort of like to be done now, thanks, but I know I still have quite a long way to run. I'm surprisingly not too upset about this - perhaps my entire brain has just gone numb, who knows? - so I put my head down and keep going. Eventually we're back over the bridge and heading out on yet another long out-and-back. As I circle back and pass beneath the bridge my Garmin hits 50km, or 31 miles, and I note the time: 3:39:45. That's about what I was expecting and aiming for, so that's great! Next challenge: not hitting the wall somewhere in the next 6km. Game on.

Another out and back affords me the opportunity to see Larissa, whom I know vaguely from other races and who is in the lead, which is sort of what I expected. It's sort of depressing to see her sailing along and know that things have gone so horribly wrong for me, but it's close enough to the finish now that I just want to be done. And finally I am: the finish line appears and, amidst a throng of marathoners and slower half marathoners, I cross the line to very little fanfare.

Wait, where's the tape? <grimaces>

Finish time: 4:09:09

Distance on watch: 34.99 miles / 56.31km

Placement: 3rd female, 12th overall.

Someone comes up to put a lanyard and medal around my neck - I've still managed to place, but 3rd instead of 1st - and I urgently blurt out "We went off-course! I should have won!"

The official person knows about this and reassures me it is being looked into, and someone will come to the elite tent to talk to me soon. So I head back there and find Larissa and Karen, the two women who were behind and then in front of me. It turns out they went across the bridge too, but were corrected much sooner than I was: they only ran an extra 3km to my extra 6.3km. Lucky them!

They're both very generous and kind about it all, and the officials from ARF and AURA are both in agreement that I should have won, but nothing can be decided right now. Therefore, the unpleasant result for the three of us is that the presentation has to be cancelled while the whole thing is reviewed. So I head off for a delicious, very late breakfast in a bit of a grumpy mood, wondering why I don't seem to be able to get race distances right in the ACT (see also Stromlo, 2017).

The unofficial results on the ARF app show splits from the timing mats, and they prove what I already know: although it took me just on an hour to reach the first one, after I finally got back on course, I ran from that one to the finish line faster than any other woman in the race. I took 3 hours and 4 minutes to cover the distance; Larissa took 3:08 and Karen took 3:12. I definitely showed that I was capable of winning, but rules are rules, and I'm fairly certain I won't be judged the winner once all is said and done.

The Final Outcome

The Australian Running Festival and AURA both contacted me on Thursday after the race, and I have to say I was impressed with their responsiveness and desire to help. Although I was undoubtedly one of the worst-affected (none of the men who went off course were in a position to place overall but I certainly was), many others had been hoping to use the race as a qualifier - particular for Comrades - and so a great deal of effort was put into making sure these runners were not adversely impacted.

For myself, there's no 50K Worlds this year so I don't really need a qualifier, but I was humbled and gratified that both organisations chose to recognise my effort appropriately, and Larissa and I were co-awarded the title of 50km National Champion.

Looking at the results, there is a gap of just under 36 minutes between the 3rd and 4th finishers, in contrast to previous years when it would have been more like maybe 8-10 minutes. The pointy end of the field in this race got decimated by the unfortunate lack of clear course markings. One of the positive things to come out of all this is that next year's female leader in the ultramarathon will have her own bike escort - I'm just not sure yet if I'll be trying to be that person again.

Later, when I get to look at my data from the race, it's actually pretty gratifying. Rather than giving up, I ran fairly consistently, slowing down a bit in the second half but by no means crashing into the wall. Considering that I knew so early on - around 10km - that I was going to have to run at least 5km more than I had bargained for, this made me feel really good about the way that I handled the situation, both physically and mentally.

Breaking it down into quarters (roughly 14km each);
First: 1:01:05, pace 6:59 min/mile, 4:20 min/km
Second: 1:01:21, pace 7:00/4:21
Third: 1:03:15, pace 7:14/4:29
Fourth: 1:03:30, pace 7:15/4:30

Predictably, I'm now being told by all sorts of people (including the current 100km female World Champion!) that I should try the 100km distance. In much the same way that I once said a marathon was twice as far as I wanted to run, I pooh-poohed that notion to start with. But now that I've had time to think about it......well, still no. I think.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tokyo Marathon, February 2018

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

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

A nice little walking tour of Tokyo, anyone?

The Training

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Race Day

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

Ready to rumble, or at least shuffle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 - 10km: 20:28 (6:35, 4:05)

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

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

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

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

Thought bubble: Are we there yet?

10 - 15km: 20:40 (6:39, 4:08)

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

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

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

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

Cornering hard in Asakusa, with fancy scenery

15 - 20km: 20:32 (6:36, 4:06)

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

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

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

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

Not entirely hating it right now

20 - 25km: 20:38 (6:38, 4:07)

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

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

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

Focused. And my shoes match the traffic cones

25 - 30km: 20:41 (6:39, 4:08)

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

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

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

Nobody looks very impressed here.

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

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

30 - 35km: 20:51 (6:43, 4:10)

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

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

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

Tokyo Tower, wheee!

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

35 - 40km: 20:54 (6:44, 4:11)

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

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

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

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

Some serious side-eye 

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

At any rate, the end is nigh. Finally.

40 - 42.2km: 9:14 (6:45, 4:12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Refuelling, Tokyo-style.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sun Run 10K, February 2018

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

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

Manly, race morning

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

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

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

That is definitely not me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No more hills is definitely a reason to smile

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

Final 0.2: 5:55 (3:40)

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

Booking it past the Corso

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Cadbury Marathon Hobart, January 2018

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

I ran the half there in 2015 and came away with a large haul of chocolate, and although I’m not sure if that was my only motivation for signing myself up for the marathon in 2018, sign us up I did. We all know how much I love a bit of running tourism, so there you go.

The Training

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

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


Hobart, race weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not sure of my pace when the first split beeps and wow, it's WAY too slow and in fact there are FAR too many females ahead of me (at least 6, one of them my British friend Jo, of course) right now. The competitive part of my brain pouts and promptly stamps its foot on the accelerator, and before I really know what's happening, BOOM I'm gone.

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

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

Trying hard to get into 3rd place


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quest for chocolate continues

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

Miles 11-15: 6:33, 6:50, 6:46, 6:40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 19 in blue: the beginning of the end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right as the final mile starts I hear loud footsteps pounding up behind me, along with breathing that sounds distinctly masculine - it's a bloke in a bright blue shirt. He moves ahead of us and, somewhat to my surprise, Mel moves with him.

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

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

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

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

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

Mel has gotten me by around 15 seconds and she's stoked; we give each other a sweaty congratulatory hug and chat a bit to Gemma who has won with a handy 2:51. Dion and his red-singleted companion have caught the early leader, Sammy, as it turns out - and in an echo of my race with Mel, Dane (2:24:54) has gapped Dion (2:25:02) on the final hill to take the win by just 8 seconds. Amazing! 

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

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


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

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

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

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