I chose his most advanced half-marathon program and soon found myself running long runs of up to 2 hours on Sundays, with shorter easy runs during the week and a variety of speed workouts thrown in for good measure. In retrospect, it wasn't a tough program, but I did find myself improving my paces throughout the training.
At the end of the 12 weeks I found myself once again lining up for the same race which had been my debut half marathon in 2001, but a lot had changed in the 9 years since I ran that course in 1:26:24. The start was in a completely different place - much more convenient, actually - and although there were some small alterations to the actual route, it was still 2 laps through the Sydney CBD with a murderous ascent up Hunter St during the final 5km of each.
Once again I travelled up to Sydney the day before the race, but this time with a very excited 3 year old son in tow. We spent Saturday riding around on public transport (heaven for small boys) and ate an early dinner with Pop and Nona before retiring to our hotel, where DS wriggled and kicked and was generally too overexcited to fall asleep until we had been lying on his bed together for at least an hour. Thankfully there was another bed for me to creep into and get a much better sleep than I would have if we had shared one all night!
The day of the race was beautiful, crisp autumn air and a bright blue sky. We walked up to the start and were met by Pop, who had been drafted to babysit for the duration of the race. This was when I started to feel quite emotional, in large part because I had used my time from the previous September to get preferred runner status for this race. I had been given preferred runner status for 2002 but had then been so badly injured and was devastated to miss out on taking up the offer. Now, I was finally getting to enjoy what I had first earned so many years ago - warming up out front, lining up behind the elite runners - and it felt GREAT!
The gun went off and I was running at what felt like a comfortable pace, not too fast - so I was surprised to find myself going through the 5km mark in under 20 minutes - 19:51, to be exact. I was definitely off to a good start!
I stayed fairly well on pace even despite the Hunter St hill to finish the next 5km in 20:16, and hear the announcer saying "These people are on pace for an 85-86 minute finish" as I made the turn to start lap number 2. That sounded pretty good to me - but could I hold the pace?
At first the answer was yes: I ran the 3rd 5km in 20:53.......but then I hit Hunter St for the second time around.
Groan - it was awful - and my pace took a huge hit. Around me people were stopping, walking, looking like death. I felt like joining them, but made it to the top of the hill still running and was relieved to turn down into the Domain for the last 4km. My split for the 15km-20km section was a shocking 23:19, almost 3.5 minutes slower than my first 5K split. As we rounded Lady Macquarie's Chair and headed up the final hill to the finish, I heard someone yelling to his friends "We have to pick it up if we're going to break 90 minutes, come on!".
This was like a red rag to a bull. I put my head down, ignored the protest from my legs and lungs, and ramped it up as far as I could. I rounded the final corner and went into the chute like I was being chased, crossing the line in 1:29:48 with a huge beaming smile: I did it!! Not much under 90 minutes, but under just the same.
It would be the only time in 2010 that I would run a half in under 90 minutes, but that was in part due to another, new goal: the full marathon.
Watch this space......