Thursday, November 10, 2011

Run4Fun, Sydney Olympic Park, November 2011

The Rebel Run4Fun 10K race is one I have run before in 2009. At the time I was running fairly low mileage and baby #2 had just turned 1, so I wasn't in the best running shape of my life and I ran it in 42:09.

This was good enough for second in my AG (F30-39) and 12th female OA, but I remember feeling pretty unimpressed with myself, particularly since I had been easily running much more difficult courses in less than 42 minutes just two years earlier.

The awesome thing about this race is that the course is entirely run within Sydney Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games were held in 2000. The finish line is inside the main stadium, where I saw Cathy Freeman win gold in the 400m final at those Games, and it's an incredible feeling to run there.

So when an email advertising the run landed in my inbox in September, I decided it was worth a shot at improving on my time from 2009, and in October as my running was looking up again I decided to enter.

The Training

Being in the middle of a Pfitzinger marathon training cycle, I moved some runs around to accommodate the 10K race. This resulted in an all-time record for mileage over a 7 day period in the 10 days beforehand: 85 miles, or just under 137 km. I then had a few days of mini-taper before the race, including one full rest day, and I was happy to feel relatively well-recovered by race day.

Race Day

I travel down to Sydney by plane the day beforehand with my 5 year old son, for whom the whole thing is a marvellous adventure. We get the train into the city from the airport and eat lots of banana bread (carb-loading for a 10K? absolutely) whilst wandering happily around the shops, then catch up with my father and other family before sacking out at our hotel around 9:30pm.

The weather forecast is not terribly encouraging the morning of the race: low of 18C/62F and predicted high of 30C/86F, which with Sydney's humidity can be pretty miserable. It's already 21C/70F in the shade as we park Dad's car out at Olympic Park and walk up - in full sunshine - to the start; I'm prepared, though, and apart from compression socks am wearing as little as decency will allow. I take a Gu (my first ever, ewww yuck disgusting) 15 minutes before the race, try to wash away the taste with a lot of water, and head over to the start.

I have a preferred entry - courtesy of some HM result last year - so I get to line up at the front, hooray! The people up there with me don't look too intimidating, and as we wait for the start all I can think is: sub-40, sub-40, sub-40. The announcer is being all upbeat and yelling out "Who's going for a new PR???", and secretly I'm answering "ME!!" but I don't want to jinx myself, so I don't say it out loud. My old PR is 39:54 and it's from 2007, so I'm hopeful I can beat it today, but it's hot and I've trained in cold weather for the past 4 months, so who knows?

Mile 1: 6:08 (min/mile)
The gun goes off and we're off up a slight incline past the stadium. Surprisingly, there seem to be a LOT of slower people ahead of me and I feel quite boxed in for the first 400m. I decide to put on a burst of speed to get away from some people, and then I feel really good so I keep going like that. Looking at my Garmin at the 1km mark, lap pace reads: 5:48. Oooops! Too fast! I pull it back some and the first mile is soon over.

Mile 2: 6:19
Now I'm just focussed on keeping the pace comfortably hard. I've decided that 6:20 is a good target so this mile I'm close. There's more shade than I expected, and I stay in it as much as possible.

Mile 3: 6:14
Speeding up a bit again. This despite going back up that slight incline to pass the stadium once again - and people are starting to drop out. I see a girl who started next to me leave the course and bend over; further on in the bushes there's a guy on hands and knees, revisiting his breakfast. Wow, this heat is something. I feel okay though, so onwards I press.

Mile 4: 6:22
Ok, that's a bit slower, but I know that averaging 6:28 will still get me 40 minutes and I'm ahead by quite a bit now so I don't freak out. Instead I congratulate myself at finally hitting something closer to my supposed goal pace, and keep going. Still feeling relatively comfortable, too.

Mile 5: 6:24
This is a tough one - a lot of turns, some small rollers - and no less than 3 people who I've been running close to for most of the race now stop and pull over. Wow, again. I think of my best running friend, who told me to be sure to save something for the last 2 miles, and then we turn into the final mile and I can see the stadium ahead. Time to pull out all the stops....

Mile 6: 6:08
Full sun now, and again that incline up towards the stadium. For a second I feel a bit lightheaded and shivery, which is a slight worry, but then it passes and I hit the accelerator with everything I've got left. I'm passing people left and right now, which feels good, and then we hit the final turn - into the tunnel and I know I'll be on the grass inside the stadium very shortly. This pace feels REALLY hard, but I still have the presence of mind to attempt a cute pose for the photographer just before the tunnel entrance, and it kind of works......

Last 0.2 mile: 6:01 pace
Running as hard as I've ever run, I hear the announcers yelling something about "sub-39 minutes", but I don't hit my Garmin stop button until I'm well over the line (it looks silly on photos) and when I do, it reads 39:03. New PR!!! By almost a minute!!!

Shortly thereafter I get a text message on my phone, informing me that my official time is 38:59 - I have indeed broken 39 minutes, by one whole second, but I'll take it!

The single best thing about the stadium finish is that there is lots of room for spectators, so Dad and my son have seen my strong finish, and also there are HEAPS of volunteers who are armed with hoses which have spray gun attachments. I'm hot but otherwise I feel okay, so I slug down some water and head into the stands, where one of them comprehensively hoses me down and I feel MUCH better. It's about 27C/80F by now, so I'm mostly dry by the time we get back the car. Winning!

Turns out my time puts me 10th overall female and 1st in my AG (F40-49), which is a result I'm very happy with.

The Analysis
It seems that maybe I'm really learning something about proper pacing now, from all the people who regularly beat me up on RWOL about running too fast all the time. My old racing strategy - which was pretty much "Go out as hard as possible and hold on as long as you can" has been replaced with something far more sensible. And I'm learning how it should feel to be running just fast enough that I'm doing my best whilst simultaneously keeping something in reserve so I don't run out of gas before reaching the finish line.

My finish in this race was the polar opposite of September's Lake to Lagoon fiasco, where I ended up in the medical tent after almost collapsing. And yet I really didn't leave any time out on the course AT ALL - maybe I could have run a little faster in those middle miles, but that would have posed a real risk of blowing up before the end, so I'm glad I didn't do it.

So it all bodes well for next month's marathon in California, which is now looking like a real goal race again for me. Hooray!!


  1. Well done Rachel. That's quick! 38:59 is miles better than 39:03. Speaking of, what's with the mile splits? It's a 10k and we're living in Australia!

    Anyway, looks like you're in good shape for the marathon. The CIM? Good course I've heard. You could PB in that - esp with the cool weather. By the way, I was there when Cathy won that gold. How loud was the noise?!

  2. Hey Ewen!
    The mile splits - well, I have kind of switched to miles now - given that I have over 10 times as many American runner friends as I do Australian ones! I am actually finding it easier; they all talk in miles and doing the pace conversions constantly was driving me insane.

    Yeah, CIM is going to be GREAT. Can't wait - aiming for sub-3:10.

  3. It's funny, but when I started running in '79 I used miles because Runner's World was about the only info on running available (besides library books), and that was in miles. After a year or two I switched to kilometres and haven't looked back since ;)

    I think you'll go sub-3:10 if you run an even effort. Fast starts definitely don't work for marathons.