Friday, May 25, 2012

SMH Half-Marathon, May 2012

The Sydney Morning Herald half is one of my favourite races and, in 2001, was the first HM I ever ran. I finished in 1:26:24 and was training hard to beat that time in 2002 when I was blown off the map by my accident. Then, in 2010 this race was my first HM where I managed to creep back under 1:30 after my post-second-baby slump.

I didn't crack it by much, though - the course that year was a 2-lap affair with a nasty hill right near the end, and it totally slowed me down the second time I had to run up it - but for 2012 a new, single-lap course had been introduced and once again I was able to get preferred runner status. So I was excited to be able to line up for another try in 2012 - especially on the back of my recent running form.

Course map

The training
I really didn't make many changes to my current marathon training plan, other than to shift the long run earlier in the week and run a very short (4 miles) run the day before the race. I still hit my weekly total of 74 miles (119km) but felt relatively rested for the race, which was a relief.

The travel
Ooh, the excitement when I decided I wasn't up for 10 hours of driving and instead took the kids by plane to Sydney. We lobbed in early on Friday afternoon, hopped on the train and hit the (tiny) expo. I had already decided on my race outfit - a departure from my usual pink, I was going to wear my lucky/skimpy Boston outfit and the hideous orange/red shirt I bought to make up for the fact that the Boston 2012 jacket was too awful to waste money on - but this did not stop me from buying a very cute new running skirt there, um, just because.

Race Day
Pop comes over to stay the night before - since DH and I are both running the race - and so I end up sharing a bed with my daughter, who kicks and wakes me at various intervals in between the times when I wake up just because I'm wired. I give up at 4:30am and sneak out to eat a banana, drink some coffee and generally try to wake up.

Strangely for me, I find I'm not in the mood to race. There's a stupid, negative voice in my head that is saying "Blah blah, I can't be bothered with this". I realise pretty swiftly that last weekend's 5K has done a number on my confidence - even though I placed well, it was a far slower time than I *should* be able to run - and as a result I'm doubting myself and wanting to just hide and forget about racing.

Well, this won't do at all. I give that voice a stern talking-to and then retreat to my usual pre-race state of denial, where I'm just off for a lovely run and whatever time I manage will do just fine. Shortly after 6am we leave the apartment and join a stream of runners heading over to Hyde Park, and by 6:20 I'm warming up in the seeded/preferred runners area in front of the start.

There I spot a familiar face and realise it's Keith Bateman, a world-class Australian Masters runner who was profiled in last month's Australian Runners World magazine - in an article about getting faster with age, something that is right up my alley! I go over to say hi and get accosted by a tall skinny bloke who is standing with him. Tall skinny bloke starts telling me that the secret to running better over 40 years of age is to run BAREFOOT! Yes!! You MUST do it! It's the WAY!!! He's up to 10K already! He has a rather scary, wild-eyed look and I back away slowly, nodding politely and smiling, saying OK! I will! I'll try soon! But oh - I don't live in Sydney - ok bye.....

It's cold (9C/48F) but once I'm wedged in amongst the rest of my starting group I don't feel too bad. After a whole lot of shuffling back - they haven't left enough space for all the preferred and seeded runners, somehow - the gun goes off and we shuffle forwards instead, and yay! We're running!

Miles 1-3: 5:50, 6:18, 6:22 (pace in min/mile)

Off we storm down Macquarie St and past Circular Quay. It's all downhill and I feel GREAT! Until I look at my watch and realise OOPS! I am going out way too fast! Didn't I learn yet not to do that? Conscious effort slows me down for the next two miles, during which Tonz from RW's 3:20 thread cruises gently past me. He scolds me for not wearing pink, saying he didn't recognise me without it, and asks how I'm feeling. I'm actually worrying stupidly that I've somehow screwed up the whole race with that one too-fast first mile, but I say "Ok I think..." and he disappears amongst the runners ahead.

5K split: 19:07 (new PR!!)

Miles 4-6: 6:14, 6:16, 6:28

We're running along right next to the Harbour now and there's a bit of wind, but nothing dramatic. I've settled into a good rhythm that is only slightly disrupted by the first of quite a few little ups and downs that we take as we run through Pyrmont. There are runners coming the other way at one point and I see the leading female, who looks more like a bloke, and the girl in second place. She looks like a tiny, blonde pixie. I'm not about to pressure myself by counting how many women are ahead of me, so I focus on lengthening my stride and staying relaxed.

10K split: 39:13 (14 seconds off my PR)

Miles 7-9: 6:27, 6:18,  6:16

Somewhere in here I realise that for a mile or two I've been trading spots with another female runner. She's wearing blue and - although it pains me to say this - looks like she's probably in my age group. She's fast, though, and she keeps pulling back ahead of me when I pass her. I decide my mission in this race will be to beat her. We go on like this for another mile until she slows down to get water - and I pounce on my chance to drop her. I don't see her again (until after the finish) and the whole process is a great mental boost.

Miles 10-12: 6:29, 6:15, 6:04

Then around mile 10 something hilarious happens. We run over the Cahill expressway and exit onto Macquarie Street (once again) and in doing so I pass a bloke who sounds to be working pretty hard. He gasps in my ear "First chick??" as I move ahead of him, and it's all I can do not to fall over laughing. He really thinks he's that close to the leaders?? I gasp back "No!! But.....thanks!" and then we hit the uphill.....and he's gone.

Well, I guess I DO look quite relaxed

It's tough heading back up Macquarie Street and I know this will be one of the slower miles, but then we crest the hill and I see the finish. The 3rd male has just run a 1:08 - but we have to loop right down to Lady Macquarie's Chair and back up past the Art Gallery. Ugh. I know this bit is going to be hard, but at least I'm still on pace. And there's a downhill - wheee! The blokey leading female goes past on her way back up and wow, she does NOT look happy. Tiny Pixie is gaining on her...

2nd 10K split: 39:49

Mile 13 + 0.1: 6:25, 5:38 pace to finish

Slogging back up the hill from the harbour, I'm not thinking much other than that I'm almost there. I deliberately haven't looked at my overall time even once since the 10K mark, so I really have no idea what the clock is going to show when I make that final turn into the park. I'm guessing 1:24:xx, so I'm gunning for the line like a crazy maniac when I look up and it says 1:23.

Finish time: 1:23:29, 6:22 pace

Right across the line I find Tonz, who has just run a new PR of 1:21:17 and is standing there looking sweaty and happy. Blue Woman shows up - she's finished 45 seconds behind me and like almost everyone I know in Australia who is a serious runner, is going for sub-3 at Gold Coast in July - so we all congratulate each other and say "see you there!" I take off running pretty quickly in order to get back to the hotel, pick up kids & Pop and get back in time to see DH finish in a very respectable 1:56:44, which is amazing considering he's never run more than about 10 miles in his life before.

The analysis
14th OA woman (4402 female finishers)
2nd AG (40-49)

I never would have thought I'd be taking more than 2 minutes off my old PR at the age of 42, and more than 11 years after I set it. It's all a testimony to the power of RUN MORE, really, and there's nothing more to it. And it feels great!

Not very long ago I told a friend that once I broke 3 hours for the marathon, all my running ambitions would be fulfilled and I wouldn't be thinking or trying to further improve my time significantly. But here I am, doing just that, and wondering if I have 2:55:xx in me for Gold Coast after all. It's a bold goal, and a lot of that pressure stuff I don't like, but why not aim high?

And although I've now lined up my HM best time with my marathon ambitions, the matter of my ridiculously soft 5K and 10K PRs remains - I've never been one to enjoy frequent racing, but something has changed in my brain this year, and I know that I have plenty to work on even if I decide to take a break from marathoning. So many races, so little time!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day Classic 5K, Canberra 2012

I've run 4 marathons now and probably close to 20 HMs, but until last weekend I had never raced a 5K. It just never seemed LONG enough - like why bother getting all dressed up and nervous if you're going to stop after just 20 minutes? - and I have to admit that being told over and over by various RW friends how much a 5K hurts/sucks did nothing to inspire me to sign up for one anytime soon.

However! After Boston I got curious as to how fast I really could run a much, much shorter race. The McMillan running calculator said "18:17", which seemed VERY fast to me, and now I was definitely interested to see what I could do. So I signed up for the Mother's Day Classic in Canberra. I have run the MDC many years ago in Sydney but it was either an 8K or 10K (I think I ran it in 2001 and 2006) and the second time I was 26 weeks pregnant with my son, so it was hardly a speedy time. 2012 seemed like a good opportunity to improve.

The training
After Boston I took a very, very easy week of mostly no running, and then started following a Pfitzinger Multiple Marathoning plan. My next goal race - the Gold Coast marathon - being just 11 weeks after Boston made things tight, but within 2 weeks I was running over 50mpw again and feeling good.

The week of the 5K I ran my LR on Thursday (18 miles) and then did a mini-taper of 10 and 7 miles the two days leading up to it. I still hit my weekly total of 71 miles but felt relatively rested at the same time.

The travel
Um, considerably less exciting and involved than many of my previous races. The kids and I piled into the Volvo on Saturday afternoon and drove over quite comfortably, with a pit-stop at McDonalds for an early dinner. We stayed at our usual digs and I got them into bed with minimal fuss by 8:30pm, then settled in at 9pm for an early sleep.

Race Day
I wake at 6:30am to the sound of hysterical laughter from the room next door and realise the kids are already up. We all eat raisin toast, I drink a coffee and then it's off to drop them at my wonderful friend Sonia's house to play with their great friends there - and I enjoy the extreme lack of noise in the car on the way to the race. I realise quite suddenly that I'm actually REALLY nervous, much more so than before any marathon, and that seems utterly ridiculous.

It's cold and grey by Lake Burley Griffin when I arrive, but not windy - until I walk down onto the lakeside path to start my warm-up lap in the wake of the 10K runners (who are doing 2 laps of the 5K course). Brrrrrr, down by the lake it's freezing, and the wind is howling out of the southwest, which is fairly normal for Canberra but not exactly optimal for a fast 5K debut.

Lake Burley Griffin, with howling wind blowing right to left 

I run a lazy lap of the course, trying to keep the pace slow. Halfway around I get passed by the male 10K leader on his second lap. It's a BIG struggle not to speed up and go with him, but I resist! Back at the start I shed my jacket and gloves, and head back down to the lake. My imaginary running friend Ewen, who lives in Canberra, shows up and easily recognises me (although we've never met before) close to the starting line. We chat for a bit and then I go back to feeling nervous.

I soon spot two women who look like they might be pretty fast. One is YOUNG - maybe 22 - and the other might be 30, I'm not sure. Anyway, I jump twitchily in place for a bit, then the gun goes off and wheeeeee we're running!

Mile 1 - 6:02 (pace in min/mile)

Right on target and it doesn't feel too hard yet. Immediately the other two are ahead of me and I am in 3rd place. I focus on not going TOO fast yet and the pace feels okay. However, I have forgotten about the tailwind - as soon as we turn up onto the first bridge there's a STRONG cross-breeze. Ooh.

Course map

Mile 2 - 6:20
Ooh turns to urgh. Turning off the bridge takes us along in front of the National Gallery, High Court and National Library. We are right down by the lake and the wind is BRUTAL - freezing cold, 20+mph and right in my face. There is nobody around to draft off. The effort feels similar to the first mile but when my Garmin beeps I look at it and think OH CRAP. That was way too slow. Still, both the women ahead of me are still in sight. If I can hold on one more mile I'll come 3rd.....

Mile 3 - 6:13
The cruel wind stretch is followed by a cruel and steep uphill onto the second bridge. The uphill continues to the crest of the bridge and I suddenly am MUCH closer to 2nd place than before. However the combination of wind and hill has done a number on my head: I've decided that 1) I hate this, and 2) I'm racing for place now, and overall time can go screw itself. I keep it going but I know I won't be catching up to 2nd lady.

Final 0.1 - 5:43 pace
A gentle uphill (noooo) and then a finish chute over grass. I look up to see 19:xx on the clock and am again amazed at how slow I ran compared with the effort I feel I have been putting out. But whatever, I have just finished 3rd in my first 5K! In the excitement of giving my name to the officials who now come over, I forget to press stop on my Garmin. Duh.

19:17 is my official time, just 16 seconds behind the female winner, and 13th place overall.

While I'm talking to Ewen (who has been taking video of the finish) suddenly I hear "Mummy!!!" and two small people are firmly attached to my legs. We hang around for the presentation, I get a nice trophy that is immediately confiscated, and that's that!

I never did get it back yet

The analysis
I might be able to run a 2:58 marathon now, but I'm clearly out of my depth with the 5K. I have no idea how it's supposed to feel and I've done almost zero speedwork specific to this distance in the past, um, 12 years? Sure, 19:17 is a good time, but I suspect I'm capable of better. I don't think 19:17 would have gotten me 3rd place in many 5K races.

The main problem is that I'm still very much focused on marathon training right now - and I don't know when that is going to end. However, I am sure of one thing: I NEED TO DO BETTER! So more 5Ks are most definitely in my future.....stay tuned.