The Sydney running festival is one of my favourite events and my entry for the 2011 HM was already in before I got injured in early July. Originally it was going to be a big goal race for me - I was hoping to break 1:27 and get back close to the times I was running in 2001-2002. Alas, it was not to be, but I was adamant that I still wanted to run it if possible. Hot on the heels of my Lake to Lagoon triumph-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-disaster, I resolved to give the Sydney HM my best shot.
Training? What? None to speak of - see previous post regarding the Lake to Lagoon race for details.
I'm up bright and early at 5am, heading over on the train to Milsons Point to start the race in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge. I run into my old friend Polly at Town Hall and we take the train together in the kind of easy companionship that comes from knowing someone for 25 years. She's in the C corral, I'm in the A group so we hug and wish each other luck before heading to the start just after 6am.
I don't even look for Paul, my Wagga colleague who led me so badly astray the weekend before, even though I know he's there somewhere - no way I'm getting myself into another medical tent only 7 days after the last event! The weather is quite warm even before the sun comes up - 21C/69F and it's going to warm up even further pretty fast - so I know it won't end well if I go too hard.
The past 2 times I've run this race I've been right up the front at the start. This year, since I'm supposedly NOT racing, I hang right back and pretend it doesn't annoy me when it takes me a good 90 seconds to get over the line. At least it convinces me that I'm not here to go nuts and set a new PR, but I don't like it.
Off we go up the hill and I settle into a pace that seems comfortable but challenging at the same time. I check my Garmin when it beeps the first 1km split - because I'm being conscientious about pacing now, ahem - and find it reads 4:15 (6:50 min/mile). Not bad! We head around the corner and over the Harbour Bridge and I relax, take in the scenery and break into a huge grin when I realise, I'M DOING THIS! So recently I thought I wouldn't have a chance - and my knee isn't hurting at all. Most excellent!
Miles 1-2: 6:56 (average pace in min/mile)
I reel it in a little heading over the bridge - don't want to overdo it - and there's a sharp turn right before we turn down onto the Cahill expressway. I'm trying to remember if this is the same route the race took last year and that mental exercise keeps me nicely distracted.
Miles 3-4: 6:58
Still going a little bit too fast. But it's so much FUN!! I need to keep my excitement in check. I decide to watch for photographers and ham it up whenever I see one.
Miles 5-6: 6:46
Again a bit too fast, but it feels AWESOME. I'm actually laughing to myself now because the pressure is off - no PR attempt today - and I'm just loving being in my favourite city in the world, running my favourite distance.
Miles 7-8: 7:12
We weave down through the Rocks and head out along the edge of the harbour. Passing under the Harbour Bridge I'm on my own and I spot a photographer. An excellent opportunity to strike a pose, and it works perfectly:
Best running photo EVER!!
Miles 9-10: 7:04
Now this is some really good pacing I'm doing here. I'm enjoying myself thoroughly and take the opportunity as we head along Dickson Road to clap and cheer the leaders, who are heading back in the opposite direction already. Normally I'd be watching and counting the women ahead of me but this time I'm too busy yelling encouragement to care.
Miles 11-12: 7:09
This bit gets tough, with some nasty sharp uphills and downhills, followed by a punishing hairpin turn in Pyrmont. But I'm feeling great - I was told sternly by a running buddy right before the race that I MUST drink at every water station!! - so I grab some water and down a GU chomp just to be sure I don't hit any kind of wall on the way back to the Opera House finish. Onward!
Mile 13.1: 7:00, then 5:49 over final stretch
Coming around Circular Quay I'm holding it together just perfectly and when I see the "400m to go" sign I cut loose with everything I've got left.
Sprinting like a maniac and grinning like a lunatic, I'm over the finish line in 1:32:53. It's the slowest HM I've ever run, but one of the most enjoyable ever.
Later I find out this is good enough for 3rd in my AG (F40-44) and I have a moment of "wow, could I have WON my AG if I was properly trained and racing this?" but it doesn't last long because I'm just so happy to have run to the best of my ability on the day.
Crossing the line, I hear my own name closely followed by that of my erstwhile colleague Paul. For a confused second I think "Why are they reading out all the names of the runners from Wagga together??" but then it hits me - I've finished at the exact same second as him! Turns out he started ahead of me and my time is 10 seconds faster: REVENGE FOR LAST WEEKEND IS MINE!!! I grab him in a bear hug and he's as surprised as me that we finished so close together.
I am pretty sure there's nothing I could have done better or differently in the way I ran this race. For the first time - and largely thanks to the advice and admonishment I've regularly been receiving from my RWOL (Runner's World) friends - I managed to pace myself intelligently and run my best without overdoing it or fading significantly at the end. I'm thrilled and more than a little bit encouraged that I can still run a pretty decent time on literally no training - it bodes well for the upcoming marathon in December. Hopefully it won't be the extended training run that I thought it would be....I have 11 weeks left to change that destiny.