Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lake to Lagoon Fun Run, September 2011

The Lake to Lagoon Fun Run (9.5km or just under 6 miles) is one of the very few organised running events held in Wagga Wagga each year. I ran it in 2009, rather undertrained, didn't much enjoy the experience and skipped it in 2010 in favour of a 20 mile (32km) training run for NYC marathon later that year.

This year I have to admit I am not sure why I even considered running it. In early July I was sidelined with an early stress reaction in my left femur, and when I tried to start training again a month later this promptly turned into a nasty pain in my left knee. The diagnosis: that leg length difference (12mm, almost an inch) that I had been trying to ignore for the last 6 years of running, finally had managed to injure me by affecting my iliotibial band on that side. This was insanely tight and pulling my left patella over to the side, causing pain when I tried to run.

With some excellent help from a wonderful local physiotherapist I managed to have my first truly pain-free run just 3 days before the Lake to Lagoon was held. Of course my next thought was: I'll do it as a fun run! Run with DH! Yeah!!

The training

Yeah, none. I might have run 10km once or twice in the preceding 2 months but not without knee pain. Excellent preparation, not.

Race Day

The Lake to Lagoon traditionally has the ridiculous starting time of 10:30am, and not only that, the runners start AFTER the cyclists. It's not uncommon to catch up to the last of the family cyclists as they meander along the levee bank beside the river, which can be extremely frustrating. And in 2009 it was very HOT by the time the race started, but this year we are in luck. It's cool (10C/50F) at the start and there are some clouds about, although these do clear pretty quickly.

DH and I jog the 1 mile from our house to the start line at an easy pace and my knee - which I haven't run for 2 days now - feels great. At the actual start line I start to feel REALLY excited that I'm here and my knee is better and I'm FULL OF BEANS! because I'm so fresh from not much running for almost 8 weeks.

That's me in pink on the left.

I spot my physiotherapist - who is also running - and I literally bounce over to him, grinning wildly. He laughs at me and tells me to go easy, okay? Yep, sure, bounce bounce bounce. I find another friend, Paul - an anaesthetist colleague of ours actually - who tells me he's shooting for 42 minutes. That sounds reasonable, so I tell him I'll hang with him and see how I feel at the half-way mark, which is also the end of the huge hill that dominates the first part of the course.

After a dorky warmup led by some local gym instructors, the gun fires and off we go. Rather a LOT faster than would be appropriate for 42 minutes, but whatever, it feels great and I just chase Paul down and go with it. I know it's too fast, but some rational connection in my brain has just snapped and suddenly I just want to see if I still know how to run fast.

1st km pace: 3:50 min/km (6:09 min/mile)
Wow. This is fast. I feel okay - maybe I can stick with this pace. Can't remember last time I ran a race at sub-4:00 pace, though - was it 2001? Hmmm.

2nd km: 4:04 (6:32)
Now we're going uphill. Awesome. But I still feel okay, it's hard but not unsustainable. My knee isn't hurting AT ALL. And I'm in front of Paul now! Onward!!

3rd km: 4:16 (6:51)
This hill sucks. Is it going to be over soon?

4th km: 4:09 (6:39)
At last we crest the hill. I'm still in front of Paul and, is that a woman ahead of me? No - it's a dude in a big wig. I think I'm the first female! Onward and downward!!

5th km: 3:52 (6:11)
Oh yeah baby. Downhill is the way to go!

6th km: 3:45 (6:02)
The fastest 1km split I can ever remember seeing on my Garmin. For a second I'm thinking, maaaaaaybe I'm going too hard here. But I'm still going and the road has flattened out. Time to dig in and hold on; someone at the corner onto the river path says "First lady!" to me and I think, stupidly, of Hillary Clinton. But that's obviously not what he means....

7th km: 4:03 (6:29)
So, if I can hold it together I'm going to win this. I've placed 2nd and 3rd in half-marathons in the past 5 years, but I haven't outright won a race since the infamous Potato Race in Dorrigo back in 2001. It's GO time now.

8th km: 4:25 (7:05)
Uh oh. My head is starting to spin. Is that a sign of dehydration? It's only been 5 miles and it's not that hot - um, now the world really is spinning, this is weird - maybe I did go out too fast after all? Too late to change it now, just got to keep the legs turning over.

9th km: 4:38 (7:25)
Oh dear. This is not good. By now I know I'm in serious trouble, but I'm still WINNING goddammit, and there's only half a kilometre to go. I think "finish strong" and try to tell that to my legs, but it's not happening.

Finish stretch: 5:27 (8:39)
Paul blows past me yelling "Keep it going!!" but I barely notice. Can't feel my legs. The video footage on the news the next night will show me staggering through the finish like a drunk, and I barely avoid landing in the lap of the timing lady as I cross the line.

Oooh, I'm going down.....

I've finished as the first female as far as I know, but I don't know much of anything right now. Someone says to me "Did you run the whole way?" and I don't answer, but I think "Do I seriously look like I didn't??"......and off to the medical tent I go, supported by two concerned volunteers.

The weird thing that happens here is that shortly after they sit me down, an official-looking guy comes in and I ask him, did I win? He hesitates and then says, No.

Really? Someone passed me and I didn't even see them? It seems plausible - I was pretty out of it those last few hundred metres - so I think to myself, okay, 2nd is not bad! After a few cups of water I feel less like I'm going to pass out, and DH finishes and comes over, completely unconcerned that his wife is in the medical tent. WTF??

When they let me out, I spot Paul and go over to berate him for inspiring me to almost kill myself....and am intercepted by a reporter from the local newspaper. She starts to ask me questions and I'm sort of puzzled - I ask her, so did I win then?? She seems to think I did, and tells me the newspaper photographer took MY picture (that's going to be a good one, I think).

Eventually it's all too puzzling and I go over to ask the official people, um, sorry to bother you but did I win? And the answer is YES! I'm officially the fastest woman in Wagga!

A pretty cool trophy and a medal for winning my age group are now mine! And two days later I get a phone call from the Race Director who wants to apologise for having asked me "Did you run the whole way?" at the finish. Oh, that's right, I remember that now! He's a little incoherent so I never really grasp why he didn't think I had run all the way - surely I wouldn't be almost passing out if I'd walked it or hopped out of my car just around the block? - but we have a nice chat about running and that's that.

The Analysis
Obviously I ran just way out of my fitness level, and now I know how that feels. Despite the shortness of the race, I hit "The Wall" and bounced off pretty hard. Clearly it's not the best strategy to show up completely untrained and just wing it like I did, and my only defence is to say "Well, I WON!!"

I confess my craziness to my RWOL friends and they are very understanding. Still, I don't tell them what I have planned for the next weekend......