Saturday, December 14, 2013

Central Coast HM, November 2013

One of the first few half marathons I ever entered was this Central Coast race, which I ran in November 2001 and finished 2nd in 1:25:40. I recall feeling that was a pretty good time, but also knowing I could do better - I certainly had no idea it would stand as my half-marathon PR for over a decade. I was training for my next HM when fate intervened that afternoon in Nowra and left me smashed-up on the road - it would be a full 6 years until I could race that distance again. So it was kind of fitting that 2013, my best year of running - ever - should end at the same race where I set that long-standing PR.

The Training
As mentioned in my last post, I recently started getting some online coaching with someone I met through a mutual friend from Runners' World. We started with 2 speed workouts a week and pretty conservative mileage (in terms of my usual mileage over the past year, anyway) and I was very happy to find that I was able to manage the workload without too many problems. It seemed logical that the combination of lower mileage and faster workouts, with someone to make sure I did a proper mini-taper, would set me up for a good run at The Entrance.

The Travel
It's a long drive to the Central Coast, but thanks to a new motorway bypassing the worst of Sydney's traffic, and the inventions of Steve Jobs (nothing like an iPad mini to keep children from killing each other in the back seat), we arrive in good time and relatively unscathed on Friday afternoon. I step out of the car and the first thing I notice is wow, it's windy. In fact, when we head down the road to check out the beach, it's actually blowing a gale - this better not last another 36 hours or I'm in serious trouble!

Early Saturday I run an easy out-and-back 4 miles, taking in the first part of the race course. I remember it well from not only 2001, but also a family holiday to a nearby resort in late 2011 - t's a flat out-and-back course on a bike path quite near the lake - an ideal location for a PR attempt, in fact. I certainly won't have any hills to blame if I run a pathetic time!

Saturday's weather is less windy, but no less worrying: dark clouds intermittently spit rain at us all morning, with prolonged rumbles of thunder keeping us nervously watching for lightning from the relatively dangerous vantage point of the hotel pool. Finally we give up and head off to the movies - and 90 minutes later emerge to clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Yay!

Race Day
It's relatively easy to get up at 5am, and I make myself a piece of toast to go with the chocolate milk that has become my traditional pre-race breakfast. I've realised that I forgot to pack any gels - not that they are essential for races shorter than the marathon - and so I figure I need to have something in my stomach before I head out to run.

I spend the next hour aimlessly surfing the internet and finally head out around 6am. I walk down to the park where the race will finish, pick up and pin my bib, then head off to run a 2 mile warmup on the first part of the course. It's PERFECT running weather - probably around 17C/70F, too warm for many but great for me - with no wind and clear skies, just a few clouds around the horizon really.

Eventually it's time to gather near the starting line, and interestingly enough there is one of Australia's best runners lined up near me: Martin Dent, a 2:16 marathoner who represented Australia at the London Olympics. I recognise him from the elite room at Melbourne marathon - and there are another couple of guys around who are likely to run sub-70 minutes. More pressing is the question, are there any fast women here too??

I look surreptitiously around, trying to size up any possible competition, but nobody really takes my eye. Apart from one skinny bloke, that is - he's standing behind me nervously jumping up and down, wearing a fairly ridiculous combination of skin-tight 2XU compression gear (including a triathlon-type vest and calf sleeves), a visor and heavy black-rimmed glasses. Immediately the thought pops into my mind: European. In fact he reminds me strongly of the infamous Nils, a borderline crazy German (okay, that's not true,  there is nothing borderline about him except perhaps his personality disorder) from Runners World...but anyway, enough about him because it's time to run and I probably won't see him ever again. Or will I?

Miles 1-2: 6:12, 6:18 (pace in min/mile)
The gun goes off and we charge off down the street. The usual line of blokes opens up ahead of me, but then a girl in purple blows past me like I'm standing still. Wait, what?? She looks powerful and I can't quite believe she's running 6:00 min/mile (or perhaps a bit faster), but she is. Oh well, it's early days yet, so I concentrate on trying to lock down my goal pace (6:15) as we hit the lakeside path and things get considerably narrower. So far, so good. Then another girl - this one in blue shorts with a dark ponytail - pulls up beside and then ahead of me. Ugh! This is not okay!!

Miles 3-4: 6:07, 6:19
I'm getting a bit erratic here, speeding up too much and then slowing down too far. At the 5K mark I make the stupid mistake of looking at my watch to check the split - and almost run smack bang straight into a large bollard. Ooops! I dodge it at the last second and the guy behind me gasps out "Are you alright??" Yep, I'm fine, and the split was 19:38 or thereabouts, which is also fine. Onward, and pay better attention from now on please Rachel!

Yep, that's her right behind me...
Just after the 5K I pass Blue Shorts, and realise that Purple Chick is not far ahead now. By the time mile 4 is half over, I've passed her too and moved into the lead. Excellent! And what's more, I've somehow ended up right behind EuroGuy. His tight lycra shorts aren't the loveliest of views to be following so closely, but he's running the right pace and Coach B did tell me to find some boys to run with. So I tuck in and do my best to keep up.

Miles 5-6: 6:31, 6:12
In the lead now, I somehow suddenly lose concentration - for reasons known only to some of my Facebook sub-3 marathoners friends, I get distracted thinking about Marmite sandwiches (I know, I know) and also by the process of crossing a small but steepish wooden bridge. Coming off the bridge I look up and realise EuroGuy has opened a small gap. Then my watch beeps the mile split and I realise what has happened - bugger! I focus, put on a burst of speed, and catch him again. Concentrate, concentrate, keep it going.

During mile 6 we see Martin Dent approaching from the turnaround, and he's waaaay out in front, just as I would have expected. There's water on his side of the path and I'm mystified to see him just run straight through it when he could have easily dodged around it. The reason becomes clear a short distance later - here there is ankle-deep water all over the path and this time no way around it. Splash, splash, there go my pristine new Mizunos. I hate squelchy feet - grrr.

Miles 7-8: 6:14, 6:22
During mile 7 comes the turn-around, and I'm all set to check my watch and see how much room there is between me and that Purple Chick, who must be the next girl behind me, right? But whoa, no -- Blue Shorts is RIGHT on my tail!! No more than 20-30 seconds separates us, and Purple is another 30 seconds or so behind Blue. Crap!! I've got some work to do if I'm going to stay ahead.....

Heading back there's a steady stream of half-marathoners on the other side of the path, which is sufficiently narrow that I only just avoid a collision with a solid footballer type, who is barreling along overtaking people. A LOT of people are clapping and cheering and calling out "First lady! Wooot!" and such to me -- it's sweet but also making me rather stressed -- particularly when they yell stuff like "GO GIRLS!" or "YAY LADIES!" I can understand why they're not saying "girl" or "lady", but it also sort of implies that Blue Shorts is right on my tail. And I'm too scared to look around to see if she is!

Miles 9-10: 6:26, 6:20
Now I'm in deep trouble, because I'm realising gradually that EuroGuy is starting to tire. During mile 9 it becomes clear - he's not going to drag me all the way. I'm going to have to do the work now, and it's not going to be easy. After seeing the mile split, I grit my teeth and pull ahead of him. Quickly I realise how valuable it is to have someone pacing you - all you have to do is keep up, really, and you've always got that moving target ahead of you on which to focus.

So why not focus on this?
I look ahead for someone to catch. There's another half-marathoner who has been ahead of me the whole race, but he's clearly done and dusted, and I pass him quickly. He calls out something encouraging, which is nice, but it's not going to get me through the next 4.1 miles. Mental grit is what I need, and there's a war in my brain already: do I push harder and risk blowing up, or do I coast it in and count on whatever lead I still have over Blue Shorts? That may not be enough.

Miles 11-12: 6:27, 6:31
I'm wasting energy on arguing with myself at this point - without the magnetic pull of EuroGuy and his 6:15 pace, I'm starting to fade, and I know it. I'm trying to yell at myself to run harder, dammit, but I kinda like myself too and I don't want to land myself in the medical tent. Again.

By now we are past the 10K turnaround and there are even more people around, which should be sort of comforting but in fact is just distracting. Somehow I've decided to take it easy until the final mile, which is not a clever strategy at this point, but there we go. Mile 12 is my slowest since that bridge early on, and there's someone right behind my right shoulder. I think it's EuroGuy, but am I sure?

Mile 13, 0.1: 6:13, 5:38 pace to finish
Finally my subconscious takes off the brakes and I'm back on pace for mile 13. As we approach the bridge where the start line was located I know there's about 500m to go, and I hear screams of "Mummy! Mummy!" from the left hand side - I look over briefly and try to wave, but what's happening to my right? A runner pulls up alongside me, and OH MY GOD it's Blue Shorts!

My brain is shrieking "NO!", and now finally I'm putting everything I've got left into trying to surge back - but it's not to be. She zips past; a repeat of 2001 is about to ensue (when I led the whole race but was closely shadowed by a much younger girl, who surged and overtook me in the final mile) and there's nothing I can do about it. Bugger!

The course turns a bit technical - there's curbs and stuff to watch for - how far away is that bloody finish line?? Around the side of the carousel, past the water park.....and finally I'm dashing over the grass to finish. I hear my name being announced as the female winner (oops, nope) and I'm shaking my head vigorously as I hit the mats and throw myself under the arch.

Finished, not impressed.

Finish time: 1:22:40 (6:19 pace)

Placement: 2nd female, 18th OA, 1st in AG (F40-49).

Wow, that sucked. I stop, bend down and try to catch my breath. There's Blue Shorts doing the exact same thing - so I smile and congratulate her on out-kicking me for the win. Her name is Belinda, she's 27 years old, and I soon find out she has beaten me by 6 seconds! Using my old lady handicap system, I've actually won by 8 minutes, though, so that's okay. I wander over to get some water and EuroGuy waves at me - he opens his mouth to speak and it's all I can do not to die of laughter: he has a German accent! Later I find out his name is Fritz. Oh my god, that's perfect.

The kids and Mum arrive - we dash to the hotel to shower and pack up - then back down to the park for the presentation.
A little old lady and two fast young things

The Analysis

I'm a little baffled as to why the lower overall mileage and better taper hasn't gotten me a faster time. My fastest HM remains Bathurst from May 2013, just a few weeks after Boston - clearly I was coasting on the fitness from all those weeks of 100 miles/160km and more. There's also a possible mental thing going on, too; I should have pushed myself harder during miles 9-12. Maybe I need to practice staying BEHIND the competition, shadowing them and then zooming past right near the end -- but my personal style is far more one of taking the lead when I can and then trying to hang on, running the best I possibly can rather than letting another set the pace. 

Another thought is the nature of the course; although hilly courses are undoubtedly harder, I seem to lose less time on the uphills than most people, and my marathon endurance comes in handy when things get tough near the end. Maybe flat races aren't all they're cracked up to be?

I have a few months to consider all this as I approach my next goal: the Oceania Masters Athletics in January, where I'm already entered to run the HM. Watch this space!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Run Y'Ass Off HM, October 2012

A half-marathon just 2 weeks after a 2:50 marathon? Seems like a totally stupid idea. But the very name of this running festival just appealed to me on some level, and seeing as it is pretty rare to have events like this anywhere near Wagga - well how could I resist?

It must also be mentioned that Yass is the hometown of Fleur, the runner who narrowly beat me in our AG in Melbourne. I did ask her in Melbourne if she was planning to run the Yass HM and she didn't sound too enthused, but I figured she might yet show up for a rematch. After Melbourne I took 2 days off and was surprised to find myself feeling much less sore than after any of my races this year (except possibly Gold Coast, when the agony of my dying big toenails probably distracted me from my sore muscles), so after a nice 11 miler the next weekend, I pulled the trigger and booked accommodation in Yass for the night before the "Run Y'Ass Off" running festival.

The Training
See above. In other words, nope.

Race Day
The random motel we're staying at turns out to be lovely - clean, modern and very central. I wake up from a lovely night's sleep, check my phone and see that it's 0C/32F outside. And yep, there's a layer of frost on top of the car - suddenly I'm regretting not bringing gloves or a hat or something other than my usual racing shorts and singlet. Oh well, maybe it will warm up quickly. I prepare a lovely motel instant coffee and a mountain of raisin toast to share with the kids, then it's off to the Riverbank Park where it will all begin.

I've almost never left race registration until race day, but today we arrive at the start area just 5 minutes before it closes! I quickly sign up, jog a mile as a warm-up, and then wander over to look at the course map just as the announcer calls for a pre-race briefing. The thing that stands out is how many people are using the phrase "very hilly" when talking about the course. Then the announcer uses the word "up" far too many times when he's describing it - I'm reminded of the HM I ran in March in Orange (another NSW regional town) which was billed as "fast and flat", and was anything but that. Instantly my expectations change: I was thinking 1:25 might be a good goal time, but now the number 1:30 pops into my head. I guess we'll just see how it goes.

Elevation profile is from my Garmin, glad I didn't see this before the race....

And now we're walking over to the starting line, which turns out not to be a line so much as a random spot at the bottom of a massive hill. And there's no starting mat - so I position myself right at the very front. Next to me is a guy who looks like a fast runner (although I can't explain why my brain has made that snap assessment), and we chat briefly about what's ahead. His name turns out to be Jim, he's from a town not far away and confirms what I've already decided about the course profile: it's going to be tough. We wish each other luck and wait for the official start to be declared.

And they're off  -- me and Jim in front, on the far right side of the road

Miles 1-3: 7:10, 6:43, 6:46 (pace in min/mile)

Holy mother of god. We charge off virtually straight uphill into a gradient of at least 30 degrees, if not more, and as soon as it flattens out there's another. There's a girl with a long brown ponytail off to my left and she quickly takes the lead on the first hill. She has strong-looking legs - is she going to be my competition? Nope - she slows down considerably on the second hill and I surge past her. A line of men stretches ahead of me, but no other women. Let's see if she can catch me again.

Onward we go, the hills rolling continuously upwards until finally we hit a small downhill in the second part of mile 3. I hear thudding feet behind me and am filled with a sudden anxiety about Brown Ponytail girl - is she coming to get me already? But no. A guy in a red shirt surges up and zips past - I breathe out, check my Garmin and decide that as long as the pace is sub-7:00 I'm happy - and he opens up a small lead as we head to the first turn-off.

Miles 4-6: 7:42, 6:17, 6:50

The 14K runners turn left just after the 4th mile starts, and we half-marathoners turn right to start an out-and-back that will add just over 4 miles to the course. And it's straight up another ENORMOUS bloody hill! Ugh - I'm trying to maintain an even effort so as not to wear myself into the ground so early in the race, but it's seriously tough going for the whole of mile 4. I pass 2 guys near the top, one of them holding his side and in obvious agony from a stitch. They never pass me back.....

Red Shirt up ahead, the other two are about to eat my dust.
Finally cresting the hill makes me VERY happy, and the long downhill that follows is even better. I've been thinking about my gait a lot recently and instead of trying to deliberately lengthen my stride (which always slows me down) I embrace my inner RoadRunner and just let my legs spin, like you would the pedals on a bike when zooming downhill. It works surprisingly well and mile 5 is my fastest so far by a long way. Then it's uphill once more to the turn-around.....blimey, here's the male leader  on his way back already, waaaay out ahead of everyone else......and it's Jim, the guy I was talking to at the start! To my surprise at this point I catch another runner, a tall bloke in blue, and with the turn so close I can see now that I'm in 7th position overall.

There's a water stop at the turnaround and HOORAY, they have McDonalds cups that are only half-full and easy to pinch and drink from! Somebody who knows their stuff must have set this up. As I make the U-turn I check my watch quite deliberately - I want to see how far I am ahead of the women behind me. Although I'm feeling reasonably recovered since Melbourne, if there's enough of a cushion that I don't have to kill myself on this run to stay in front, then I will gladly back off a bit. And there probably is: I'm over 2 minutes ahead of the second place woman, and more than 3 minutes ahead of 3rd. Excellent!

Miles 7-9: 7:03, 6:35, 6:50

Back up to the summit of that awful hill, but it's not as nasty as the initial ascent. There's a steady stream of runners coming the other way and a surprising number of them clap, give me cheers or call out encouragement. How sweet! I'm dying a little on the relentless uphill, but the positive energy from the other side of the road is really great and keeps me smiling even when I'd much rather grimace.

For some reason I'm more cautious bombing down the other side, maybe because I'm not so scared now about getting caught by another girl. I see the final runner starting the ascent, a plump lady who is struggling along with a kid on a bike right behind her. She claps and calls out to me, and I do the same in return - I would have a very hard time starting a HM if I knew it was going to take close to 3 hours for me to finish, so I truly admire anyone with the guts to do something like that. As the course rejoins the 14K loop just after the 7 mile mark I grab some water and take the vanilla GU I've been carrying in my bra.

A lovely Sunday long run....race? What race?
The course now heads out along a dirt road not dissimilar to the routes I often run at home. The undulations continue, but not as extreme as in the first half of the race, and I tell myself just to think of it as a nice Sunday morning LR. As long as I don't completely tank, I've got this one in the bag -  Sunday LR pace will do just fine. Ok, maybe just a touch faster.

Miles 10-12: 6:57, 6:34, 6:19

More ups and downs, and now I'm catching 14K runners left right and centre. At the end of mile 10 we pop back out onto bitumen, which to an asphalt devotee like me is an absolute joy. My pace immediately picks up and the best part is that there's only 3.1 miles to go! Or so I think....

The road winds its way back towards town and the river, and it seems like we really must only have downhills left from here -- but no. Several short, sharp uphills ensue, and to my great surprise I am now clearly catching Red Shirt guy, who has been within my sight but 150m or so ahead ever since mile 4. He's really slowing down on the inclines, and the next time the road banks upwards again, suddenly I'm right behind him. I zip past into 6th place, and oh boy, now I need to hold onto it! But who knows if I can - the next corner leads into a sharp downhill, and I can hear his footfalls pounding along right behind. I'm not super-fast on downhills, with my shuffly little stride, what if he comes bombing past me?

Charging down the hill, throwing caution to the wind
That thought is motivation enough for me to pull out my 2nd fastest mile of the race during mile 12, which includes possibly the steepest downhill of all. At the top I almost slam straight into a 14K runner wearing a black tutu, who is zigzagging along whilst adjusting her headphones. I bellow at her "ON YOUR RIGHT!!" - she laughs good-naturedly and waves me through - and just so she doesn't think I'm completely rude, I manage to add "...oh, love your skirt..." before I'm out of earshot, barrelling wildly down the road in front of her.

Mile 13 - finish: 6:32, 6:24 (13.4 miles by Garmin)
The bottom of the hill brings mile 12 to a close, and I turn sharp right to see before me -- another 2 enormous hills. But rather than dismay, the thought that pops into my head is "Oh good, Red Shirt won't have a hope of catching me now!" The mental trick I use on hills is to remind myself that even though I'm slowing down, so is everybody else, and in fact I know that I'm quite strong on hills due to my short stride and high cadence. If it's killing me, it's likely murdering everybody else too, so there's no point in panicking. Upward!

Finally we're down the other side and we drop through a small park onto the riverside path again. Turning the corner beside the water confirms that Red is far behind. And already I can see the finish, but it is still almost half a mile away. Not much further along the path, my watch chirps 13 miles -- excuse me, what?? There's no way it's 0.1 to the line, the course has to be long. I'm not too keen to bother with a finishing kick but as I hit the grass I do put in a small effort, which sees me crossing the line to minimal fanfare (nobody even seems to care that I'm the first female finisher in the HM, I have to go ask an official later if I did in fact win) and a rather groovy medal.

Finish time: 1:30:38 (6:46 pace)

Placement: 1st female, 6th OA.

We chill on the banks of the small river whilst the rest of the racers straggle in, then I run the 2.5km dash with the kids as a cool-down. It's a small loop incorporating that last couple of hills - hills in a kids' run?? Are they insane? But both children acquit themselves admirably (although I do have to more or less drag Amelia up the hills) and finish 9th overall and 7th girl respectively. Here's hoping they've inherited Mummy's speed gene!

Little runners

Two days later when my legs are in worse shape than they were after Melbourne, I'm still glad I ran this race. My past experience with regional HMs has taught me to expect hills and other major obstacles, and Yass did not disappoint in that regard, but I was prepared for it this time and able to enjoy the experience without worrying about my time. It would have been nice if they would have made just a TINY bit more fuss of the winners, and I would have liked a chance to take on Fleur again, but it was not to be.

I will close with a quote from one of my fellow runners, who posted on the Run Y'Ass Off Facebook page: "Thanks for a fun day. Enjoyed the beautiful scenery, great weather, only problem was when I got to the end, looked down and my ass was still there : (" 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Melbourne marathon, October 2013

I must admit that as a born-and-bred Sydneysider, I've never had much interest in that smaller, colder, wetter city that lies 12 hours' drive to the south. I have been there a few times, never been that impressed, and had no particular reason to want to go back.

That was until late July when I found myself looking around for a spring marathon and realised....isn't Melbourne like really FLAT? Yes! Sign me up for that sucker! No, wait, see if I can get them to sign me up for free! And sign me up they did, to the elite athlete ranks no less. Suddenly my opinion of Melbourne was improving by the second, and the date October 13 was firmly marked down for a proper PR attempt.

The Training
Small but important detail here: for whatever reason, I never managed to commit myself to a proper training program for Melbourne. I have no idea why I thought this was even vaguely acceptable behaviour - elite start and everything, for God's sake, and I can't get my act together to print out something from Pfitzinger? But no, I couldn't, and thus the WTF Training Method was born. I've had several friends use WTF, with varying degrees of success and failure, so why not me as well? Wheeee!

Add to this insanity a week off to go skiing, a tough trail marathon and subsequent recovery, several weeks confined to the TM and a week of school holidays where doubles just didn't work out at all -- well, it wasn't looking pretty for Melbourne. I maxed out at 96 miles, which was one in a streak of 3 decent weeks (95-96-92) but for the rest it was a less-than stellar result. Again I set MP around 6:26 and for whatever reason this felt more realistic than ever before (maybe the reduced mileage? duh), but other than a HM in Sydney (1:23:08) and the local Lake to Lagoon 10K (38:48) I really didn't bother with speedwork at all this cycle. Again. Does anyone see a theme developing here? Anyone?

The Lead-up
Part of the elite treatment for this marathon means getting my bib mailed out, and 2 days before we're set to head to Melbourne it arrives:

With blue sticker for emphasis
This is the 3rd marathon I've raced with my name pinned to my singlet, but every time it's both exciting and intimidating.

Late Friday morning I drive down to Melbourne with my small daughter (and Mum in tow to help watch her), and the trip is surprisingly quick and easy. By mid-afternoon we're checked in to our (rather dodgy) B&B and have already made the short stroll down to the MCG, where the race will start and finish on Sunday. It's a beautiful day, and we take a random tram trip which happens to end in finding an amazing Italian restaurant, where I take the opportunity to start some serious carb-loading.

Saturday I run a 4 mile shake-out in the park around the stadium, finishing up with 3 minutes at top speed (the prescribed workout that starts the Aussie carb loading plan) and the rest of the day passes in a blur of Powerade and food. In there somewhere there's an elite athlete briefing, where I get to snap a shot of the developing finish area:

and a surreptitious one of Yuki Kawaguchi, although the look on his face suggests I might just have been caught out:

note Kenyans hanging out casually in the background
By 5pm I'm totally stuffed, so we find a Japanese restaurant (sushi has rice, so it's still carbs, ok?) and have a light meal before all hitting the sack early. The forecast is somewhat foreboding - possible rain and definitely a headwind at some point along the way - but at this point it is what it is, and there's nothing to be gained by whining about weather (or so I'm telling myself, and trying to believe it).

Race Day
I'm awake several times overnight, and then for good by 4am. I sneak to the bathroom to get dressed and try - mostly in vain - to make myself eat a poppyseed muffin. After yesterday's carb fiesta I just can't face it, so I drink some chocolate milk instead and sit on a pile of towels with my computer, mindlessly surfing the net. At 5:30 I clumsily attempt to sneak out but instead succeed in waking both my roommates, who groggily wish me luck as they collapse back onto their pillows. I set off in the crisp morning air towards the MCG.

The elite athlete's room is fairly easy to find, although the bowels of the MCG are something of a rabbit warren and at first all I can find are a line of rooms marked "Drug Testing". I eventually walk in to see Lisa Weightman (who will go on to win and break the female course record) sitting there dressed mostly in my lucky colour. I sit in the row in front of her, remark  "Love the pink!" and she responds by smiling and commenting on my Boston 2013 jacket - this gets the attention of a line of blokes sitting in the row behind, and we all briefly chat about the horrific aftermath of this year's race.

At this point Yuki Kawaguchi arrives and bows to everyone, which I find awesome considering he may well be today's race winner. He proceeds to stretch and wander around with headphones on, and I can't stand sitting still anymore myself so I head out the door in search of my running buddy Tony, who is in the pacers' room getting ready to steer a busload of lucky runners to a finish time of 3:20. We remark again on the crazy fact that there's someone pacing 2:50 - I joke that maybe I should just run with him (this will come back to bite me) - and then I'm off again to find some water.

All in all it's AMAZING to be hanging out in a room full of (mostly) Australian elites. And it's more pressure too: I'm no longer the token Aussie, plus there are people here I should be able to beat, or at least come close behind. I've met Jane Fardell before - that HM I ran right after Boston - so we chat for a while about Moscow and the horrible heat that forced her to DNF in the World Champs there in August. I've also met my main AG rival at the meeting yesterday - her name is Fleur and she lives about 90 minutes' drive from me - when she shows up we greet each other and briefly discuss strategy. She's aiming for 2:50 (her current PR is 2:54) and it does occur to me that I may end up running a lot of this race with her.

Eventually it's time to head up to the start, and this part is by far the least-organised of the whole elite experience to date. We get up there only to find we're not allowed in front of the starting line to warm up, and then the preferred runners all swarm in while the elites are standing around watching. Whatever, I manage to end up in the 4th row or so, which is fine by me. Finally the gun goes (crap, it's LOUD) and it's time to run. Let's see what the day will bring.

Miles 1-3: 6:24, 6:25, 6:23 (pace in min/mile)

This pace always feels a bit too tough during the first few miles, and by now I know it's nothing to worry about, but I can't help a small frisson of anxiety that goes through me when I check my pace and find it's not faster than it feels. Technically this is good - I'm aiming for a slightly slower first half than in my 2 road marathons this year so far - but psychologically it's a bit distressing. I try to brush it off, take my mile 2 gel, and note with interest that Fleur (who is distinctive in light blue shorts and shirt) and a large group of other women have rushed off and are at least 100m ahead of me already. I wonder if I'll catch them at some point?

Miles 4-6: 6:12, 6:28, 6:08

Yo-yoing back and forth, I just can't settle into the pace like I usually can: I'm over-compensating like a maniac. There's no 5K marker so I can't even be reassured by my split time. There are, as usual, heaps of guys around me - but as we make the turn to run alongside the small Albert Park Lake, I suddenly realise I can see Fleur and her gang, still about 100m ahead. I've been told there's inevitably a headwind at some point around this lake, and sure enough there's a small but noticeable breeze that makes me thankful for the blokes around me. I spend the next mile hopping from one to the next, tucking in as much as possible.

Miles 7-9: 6:18, 6:12, 6:15 -- 10K split: 40:08

The crowd thins out a bit as we curve around the lake and the path narrows; the wind drops, I have no idea where the pack ahead of me are, and for a while this doesn't bother me. I've picked up the pace a touch now, taken my second gel and am feeling more comfortable. But I know the stretch along the beach is coming up soon, and that's where we're going to feel the wind most of all. I need to catch that pack.

Miles 10-12:  6:10, 6:30, 6:21

As my Garmin beeps 9 miles, a bloke in bright orange shorts and yellow Newtons suddenly appears alongside me. Together we make a sharp right hand turn onto Beaconsfield Parade, right beside the water, and oh my god there's Fleur and that group of runners, still about 100m ahead. I point at the group and say tersely to Orange Shorts guy "We HAVE TO CATCH THEM....before the headwind hits...." To my surprise and delight he nods and grunts out "I'll go with you" - so together we accelerate in a way that I would never have done on my own. It seems like suicide, putting on such a spurt not even mid-way through a marathon, but I know that the headwind will surely sap my strength if I have to face it alone, just like it did in Honolulu and again the final 3 miles of Gold Coast.

We surge like a pair of maniacs, taking turns to lead the way. My Garmin is reading 5:58 pace when I briefly check it, and I wonder again if this is a mistake - but Orange is taking me with him, and within half a mile we are snugged up against the back of a pack that contains (to my surprise) 4 women and about 6-8 men.

The Rat Pack, just after the 20K arch
It's actually now quite easy to recover from the effort that it took to catch them, jogging in the wake of so many other runners. Their pace is actually a little slow - the next split is 6:30 - but whatever, I'm staying put for the rest of this long, coastal out-and-back. That big guy in the black and white singlet can do the work and I'm staying in his wake...right?

Miles 13-15: 6:26, 6:24, 6:28 -- 20K split 1:19:42

I've never run in such a large group before in a marathon - with the exception of CIM, where I spent a few miles in the company of the 3:10 pacer and his mob. Or the very short time at Gold Coast 2012 when I was running next to Steve Moneghetti with his sub-3 juggernaut in close pursuit. There's a reason for this; I really REALLY don't like running with a lot of people close on my heels. So within a mile or two I have gravitated naturally towards the front of the pack, and then we pass under an arch that marks 20K. I'm surprised there's no mats at the half, which we reach soon afterwards in 1:24:10 - so pretty much right on target, for now. Excellent!

There's a degree of concentration required to run at such close quarters: it's perilously easy to not only bump elbows but also trip on the heels of the person in front of you. People are jockeying for position, bumping and apologising, zigging and zagging a bit as we all try to run the best tangent. It's a bit surprising, too, the level of animosity that starts to emerge. Pink Singlet girl has a terse exchange with a bloke in a blue top, who seems to think he is the only one running straight and everyone else is in his way. I'm just trying to stay out of it and enjoy my lovely sticky vanilla gu......

Miles 16-18: 6:23, 6:30, 6:29

We turn back into the wind, and the group begins to split up a bit. It's starting to get really tough, and tempers are fraying. The last I hear of Pink Singlet is an expletive as she searches for her water bottle on one of the elite drinks tables, and now I'm in close formation with Fleur and a girl in bright yellow whose name is Johanna - I googled her last week and know she's a Mizuno ambassador. She's wearing cute yellow shoes that would go well with most of my Boston gear...I make a mental note to ask her which model they are...but not just now. Right now I'm just battling to stay on pace and talking about shoes is not going to help.

Then it happens. Rude Blue guy is just to my left, and although I'm slightly ahead of him he seems to think I'm following him, not the other way around. My left elbow bumps him and I hear a muttered expletive, followed by the words "Run straight, can't you?" For now I ignore him, but when it happens again and he again swears at me and tells me I'm not running straight, I snap and tell him in no uncertain terms to go have sex elsewhere, please. Only not quite that politely. What an idiot - I'm done with running in large groups.

But then something happens that completely turns my mood around. From the other side of the road - where a steady stream of runners is making its way in the other direction - I hear a familiar voice calling out "Alllll together"....and then a deafening chorus of male voices sings out, "GO RACHEL!!!!!!!"

It's Tony and his pace bus! If I had the breath to do so, I'd be laughing my head off. I'm running with a smile on my face again as finally we turn away from the beach and back onto St Kilda Rd towards the city.

Miles 19-21: 6:36, 6:29, 6:28 -- 30K split 1:59:49

My pace is slipping very slightly now - all race the pace has felt tougher than it probably should, and now it's getting annoying. The worst part, though, is that I'm getting sick of it all. I'm actually considering giving myself permission to give up. Fleur is still right on my tail, so an AG win isn't even assured, and I know for sure now that 2:48 is out of reach. But if I keep it together I can still get my 3rd sub-2:50 for the year. That's a good goal to have, and I want to achieve it, but how badly do I want it? We are about to find out.

During mile 20, I hear a noise approaching from behind, and when I realise what it is my heart sinks. It's the 2:50 pacer and his accompanying horde. CRAP! So I'm not even going to break 2:50?

The thought is a mental torpedo, and all of a sudden I'm sinking fast. I hate having the crowd on my heels - there are maybe 6-8 guys running with him - and I resent the pacer, lovely though he is, for trying to encourage me to stay with him. I have no intention of exerting myself more than I am right now, so after about a mile of running near him (holding my mile 20 gel, which for some peculiar reason I suddenly can't be bothered taking) I start to fade back.

Fleur now opens up a tiny gap, and this time I'm not interested in closing it. I've always been proud of the fact that I don't tend to back away from challenges, but today is different. Maybe it's the extremely tough year I've had to date (not just running but personally as well), but today I've decided to be kind to myself and let myself coast a bit. I know I may regret this decision later, but in my mind the die is cast: the 2:50 pacer gradually pulls ahead of me, and I let him go.

Still being chased by lots of boys though

Miles 22-24: 6:39, 6:35, 6:42 -- 40K split 2:41:08

We merge briefly with some half-marathoners and I see the 1:35 pacer - the half started an hour behind us and I'm trying to do the mental math to figure out what this means for my potential finish time - but then our courses diverge again and it becomes irrelevant. There are more people around now, so more to look at and more to run with, and since I've mentally kind of checked out, I'm enjoying this part of the race more than I should. A few sprinkles of rain appear at this stage, but nothing like what was predicted - I realise the weather has been just about perfect for a marathon, other than the wind by the coast - another reason that I should have been able to do better today than I have. Oh well....

Concentrating hard at 25+ miles, Flinders St Station in the background

We do a weird loop under a bridge - I wonder idly if my Garmin is going to freak out or not - and head along through some very pretty parklands. Fleur is still not too far ahead of me (the gap just 6 seconds at the 40K mark) and I see her husband run up and offer her a banana. A mile or so back he was there handing her a bottle of Coke, and it strikes me that this is an excellent display of supportive spousal behaviour that I am witnessing here! But is that an expletive I hear her yell at him?? I've already noticed that Fleur is extremely focussed (she didn't really greet me at all when I joined her group back at mile 9) - maybe she's suffering more than I realised at this point? Her husband scurries off and we soldier onwards.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:46, 6:47, 6:34 to the very end (pathetic non-kick)

Finally the MCG is within sight. I can still see the 2:50 pacer, and that there are less and less people left running with him. Fleur is very slightly further ahead now, Johanna a little further, but I have no intention of trying to catch up. In my mind I'm expecting a 2:51-2:52 finish and somehow I'm okay with that. At the turn into the stadium I see 2:50 guy actually STOP and start yelling at the guys straggling in his wake. I pass one or two of them as they stagger towards the tunnel, and I'm actually smiling and almost laughing as I head up into the light. It's almost over!


Running around the stadium is actually pretty cool. I don't bother with a finishing kick, I just look up and around and grin for the cameras. As I round the final turn I hear the finisher yelling about getting marathoners in under 2:50 -- hang on, what?? There's no way I'm anywhere near 2:50 flat, am I? But yes it seems I am, so I put on a tiny bit of a finishing sprint to get over the line, and thus ends the Melbourne marathon for me.

Finish time: 2:50:19, 6:29 pace.

Placement: 11th female, 102nd OA, 2nd AG (F40-44).

I'm really not feeling trashed at all - I immediately go in search of Fleur and give her a hug to congratulate her on what turns out to be a 4 minute PR - awesome! I chat briefly to the 2:50 pacer and apologise for not bothering to stick with him, then I head down towards the elite athlete area to potentially find a shower. Fleur's on her way down too so we pose happily for a photo:

Two speedy old chicks
and then there's the challenge of finding the showers. Again it seems all I am fated to do is end up in small rooms marked "Drug Testing", and eventually I give up, head back to the elite room and just put on my Boston jacket, which has made it safely back from the start in the hands of the helpful elite coordinators.

Steve Moneghetti is sitting there and he smiles at me, so I go over, re-introduce myself and ask after his Achilles (on which he had an operation at the start of the year). He's happy to report that it's doing much better - he just ran the 10K in 31:27, an unofficial world record for his age (51). I see Lisa Weightman and OMG her feet - they're a mass of blisters and she's in the process of being carried off for a massage. But she looks ecstatic, and when I hear her time I can understand why - 2:26??? Incredible!

The Analysis
Well, this whole training cycle was really something of a farce, even the taper (which was disorganised) - only the carb-loading was  relatively efficient. With everything else that was going on in August and September, I actually only averaged 76mpw for the 11 weeks between Gold Coast recovery and the Melbourne taper. Sounds like a lot, but for Boston I ran at least 20mpw more. And the difference was palpable - high mileage really works for me.

The mental side of things was quite a surprise - until now I've always thought of myself as a tough cookie, but I melted like butter when things got tough this time around. Perhaps I've just had enough and need a mental break - or perhaps I need to toughen the heck up.

Next up? Coaching. It's the one thing I've really never tried, and for once in my life I'm actually almost excited to have someone else tell me what to do!

Medal! Yay!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blackmores Sydney HM, Sept 2013

I was moderately surprised to look back through this blog and discover that whilst I have run this race 5 times in the past, my course PR was in fact the 1:27:48 that I ran on my very first attempt, in 2007. It's a tough and twisty course but also very beautiful - taking in many of the tourist highlights of central Sydney - and for that reason alone I was keen to run it again in 2013. Also, I figured that I could quite easily run a course PR - if not an absolute PR - and be done in time for breakfast: the hideously early start time of 6:15am was a little off-putting (I do NOT remember it starting so early in the past!) but then again I get up stupidly early most of the time anyway.

Look at all those hairpin bends! Ugh.

The Training
After Gold Coast, somewhat to my surprise, I found myself thoroughly sick of training plans. Normally after a goal marathon I can't wait to stick the next plan to the spot on my fridge reserved for this purpose, but this time something was different. I kept thinking "I should print something out, or write something up", but then somehow I kept forgetting to actually do so. Even after I had secured an elite start for the Melbourne marathon in October, my brain stubbornly and inexplicably refused to get into gear.

In the meantime I was mostly just going out every day (or hitting the treadmill) and running by feel. Occasionally I sprinkled in some miles at marathon pace (6:25 min/mile, or approximately 3:59 min/km) when things got too boring, but otherwise it was just a bunch of fairly aimless jogging. The Wagga trail marathon in August became my first real long run of this "cycle", if the term can even be applied to such a haphazard state of affairs.

Thereafter I developed a degree of paranoia about my lack of structure, which I addressed by stringing together a row of weeks running 90+ miles, two of which culminated in a 20 mile long run. On a whim I decided that the second of these should include 12 miles at marathon pace, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to hit and hold MP with much less difficulty than in my last couple of training cycles: I averaged 6:24 for the whole MP segment and felt like I could have kept going. Slightly bemused but also pleased, the next weekend I headed off to Sydney for the Blackmores race.

Race Day
It's not as hard as I expected to get up at 4:30am, and pretty soon afterwards I'm jogging down the hill from my dad's place towards the city, where I'm intending to get the train over to Milsons Point where the race begins. I'm planning on running just 2 miles, but I get to Wynyard Station and my Garmin only shows 1.5 - I might as well keep going. By my estimate it's probably around 3 miles total if I jog most of the way across the Harbour Bridge, so I head through the Rocks and up onto the Bridge.

I've left my phone at home - I've decided to travel very light and am even planning to discard the old jacket I'm wearing at the starting line, so I'll put nothing on the baggage trucks - and I realise now that this is a dreadful pity, because the early dawn view out across the harbour is nothing short of breathtaking and I wish I could take a photo to post here. As ever, I am reminded of what a beautiful city Sydney is, and how much I miss living there.

Dawn over Sydney Harbour - only it looked better than this
My watch beeps 3 miles as I approach the steps down to Milson's Point, so I slow down and take the vanilla GU I've been carrying in my pocket. Vanilla GU is still my lucky racing charm, and this morning also my substitute breakfast. It goes down nicely and pretty soon I'm walking across the grass towards the starting area. There is exactly an hour to go until the race begins.

It's weird being without my phone, but in a good way: normally I'd be scrolling through Facebook, commenting, texting, snapping photos, or mindlessly playing Candy Crush Saga - oblivious to my surroundings, just wasting time. Instead, I stand quietly in the shadows of the Bridge above me, staring across the Harbour and watching the sun rise. It's somehow very Zen, and it strikes me that this is probably a much better way to prepare mentally for a race than distracting myself with my phone.

Around me, people are carrying out all sorts of strange pre-race rituals: many of them are stretching, one appears to be jogging on the spot (I wonder how long he'll keep that up?) and a group of Japanese runners behind me are eating sushi and taking selfies. All I care about is when will they let us into the corrals? I'm utterly FREEZING now, despite the jacket, and I desperately want to be wedged in amongst all the other runners in the corral, purely for the warmth that this will provide. Finally, with 15 minutes to go, they let us in. I have just heard people talking about the elite and preferred runners -  I didn't realise there was such a thing for this race, and I'm annoyed because I would definitely have applied had I known - so I make up for that omission by positioning myself in the very front row. Excellent.

Finally it's time - we inch forward, then inch forward again until we're hard up against the small group (maybe 20) of preferred/elite runners. Bang goes the gun and off we all sprint up the hill. Here goes nothing!

Miles 1-3: 6:41, 6:11, 6:03 (pace in min/mile)
The first mile of this race is a horrible one - it's inevitably crowded, uphill, and narrow. My Garmin beeps the first mile after we've made the first big turn under the expressway and onto the bridge, and when I look down I'm horrified to see it read 6:41. That's WAY too slow for the effort level I'm feeling - momentary panic overtakes me: if 6:41 feels this tough, there's no way I'm running a decent time today. But I quickly push this fear aside and try to focus on enjoying the run.

I'm halfway across the bridge now and I'm reminded of the first time I walked across the bridge proper - was it 1982? It must have been the 50th anniversary of its construction, but was that 1932, or maybe later? My brain is still happily occupied puzzling over this question when the second mile beeps 6:11. Ahhh, much better. I relax into the pace now, and with mile 3 mostly a gentle downhill, it's all good.

The obligatory peace sign, with bemused onlooker

Miles 4-6: 6:09, 6:15, 6:25
The course continues its undulations as we head across the expressway above Circular Quay and up Macquarie Street towards the Domain. This is the final stretch of the half-marathon I ran in May, but this race is only just getting started. As we turn down towards the harbour to start mile 5, at this point I realise there is a group of women not far ahead ahead of me. There weren't that many females in the elite/preferred group, only one of whom looked likely to be of my vintage - and that's her right there, running in step with 2 others.

She has this weird posture or running stance, leaning right forward like she's almost about to fall. I wonder idly if her name might be Eileen (totally unfunny), then tell myself to focus and JUST CATCH HER ALREADY. I manage this during the unpleasant uphill that takes us back past the Art Gallery, and just as I pull past her, one of her companions stops to tie her shoelace. Voila, two positions up in the field without trying too hard! The other woman, who is wearing pink Lululemon shorts, has pulled ahead by about 50 metres now and I'm not going to be catching her anytime soon. There's a challenge for the rest of the race, perhaps.

Miles 7-9: 6:31, 6:15, 6:23
With the first significant uphill finally behind me, I concentrate on keeping my footing as things get a bit technical heading through Circular Quay and the historic Rocks precinct. I realise I forgot to take my  second vanilla GU at mile 6, so I fish it out of my bra and suck it down. Things flatten out at last for real as the course takes us under the bridge - scene of my best running photo ever, taken in this race 2 years ago - but there's no photographer there this time, unfortunately. So I'll have to be content with the original:
September 2011 -
Heading around the corner, Pink Shorts is still about 50 metres in front of me and she stays there as the next mile ticks over and we head out towards Pyrmont. The rollers continue and I decide not to worry too much about pace - I seem to be keeping it around 6:25 without too much difficulty, and that's good enough for me. A guy now passes me and I note with interest that he has the same shuffly gait as I do. It occupies me nicely for a while to watch his cadence and compare it with mine (we're pretty much the same), then compare us both to the few runners around us. We are both out-shuffling everyone else at a rate of at least 3 steps to 2. At least I'm not the only person who does this!

The male leaders pass on their way back towards the finish, and there's a Japanese man way out in front of a familiar African runner, both looking strong. I wait for the ladies to appear behind them, but the course branches before any females are visible. Oh well - I know I'm probably in the top 15, maybe even top 10, but it doesn't really matter anyway at this point. I just want the race to be over!

Miles 10-12: 6:29, 6:24, 6:04
There's a horror turn-around to start mile 10, with a sharp hill where we run up, over, around and back. Ugh,  it's really steep, and I almost catch Pink Shorts. But she's a gazelle to my glider shuffle, and she out-strides me easily on the ensuing downhill. Then up we go again and onto the expressway for the last few miles of the race. She's maybe 75m ahead now.

I know that most of the rest of the course ahead is pretty flat, but of course it's easy to lose focus at this stage and slow down unintentionally. I'm not doing that yet, but neither am I speeding up. Then, as mile 12 starts I suddenly realise Pink Shorts is definitely slowing down - I seem to be catching up without really trying. A familiar dilemma starts in my head: should I exert myself to pass her, and risk then not having enough left in the tank to hold a lead right to the finish? Or should I hang where I am and pass her closer to the line? I debate this for at least half a mile as I gradually creep up behind her....

Then when I get within striking distance suddenly my subconscious takes over, and before I realise what's happening, I'm accelerating and burning past her (and the guy who is lumbering along beside her). I hear a muttered expletive that makes me inappropriately gleeful, and I know the chase is ON. Let's go!

Finally in front of her - can I stay there?

Mile 13, 0.1 to finish: 6:23, 5:09
The final mile of the race takes us back under the bridge and along the boardwalk right on the edge of the harbour.  Not only can I hear and almost feel Pink Shorts behind me, people are now calling out "Go ladies!!" in a way that reminds me I have NOT lost her yet. I'm speeding up as much as I can within the constraints of the course, but it's tough. Suddenly a guy in red absolutely blazes past us both - wow, what a finishing kick! - and then, as we approach the end of mile 13, someone yells out "6th lady, 7th lady!"

Oh.My.God. If there was need for motivation, there isn't anymore: I put my head down and SPRINT. This is going to make for some very, very ugly finish photos, but I just don't care. Sixth! It's a lot better than I had guessed, and I'm darned if I'm going to be pushed back into 7th at this point.

"She's right behind you!!" - bonus points for obviousness to the smartypants who yelled that at me here

I speed down the finish chute just as fast as my little Roadrunner legs will take me, and cross the line still in front of Pink Shorts just as the clock hits 1:23:08. Hooray, a course PR by almost 5 minutes!

Finish time: 1:23:08, 6:19 pace.

Placement: 6th female, 59th OA, 1st AG (40-44)

I grab a bottle of water, shake Pink Shorts by the hand and congratulate her on the race (she's fairly monosyllabic in response, and I can't say I blame her) before wandering around to sit on the Opera House steps. I spot the red shirted bloke who tore past me earlier, so I sit down next to him and remark "Some finishing kick you got there!" It turns out this was his first ever half marathon and he had no idea how to pace it - so we talk for a while about training and mileage, I encourage him to run more and check out the RunnersWorld forums, and then I go to claim my medal and start the cool-down jog home.

The Analysis
Well, that was kind of fun! I knew going into it that a fast time was going to be difficult, but around 1:23 seemed possible and I'm glad I got that part right. And 6th female is a great placement for such a big race - there were 3806 female finishers - how could I be anything other than happy with that?! Maybe the more unstructured training I've been engaging in lately is not such a bad idea after all. And maybe I'm actually in pretty darn good shape heading into Melbourne. I guess we'll find out in 3 weeks' time!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lake to Lagoon Fun Run, September 2013

Wagga's premier (and only) annual road race is the Lake to Lagoon. It started in 1972 as the City to Lake (9km) and then reversed direction to become the Lake to Lagoon (9.5km) in 2005.

I moved to Wagga in 2007 and first ran it in 2009, finishing as 4th female in an unimpressive time that I won't immortalise here. In fact, that result was one of a few less-than-inspiring race times I posted in late 2009, and the combination was what set me on the course I have pursued since -- finally getting serious about training and about running to the best of my potential.

In 2010 I was training for NYC marathon and so I chose not to run that year. In 2011 I ran it almost completely untrained and managed to win, despite ending up in the medical tent immediately after crossing the line. And in 2012 I finally set that right by winning and not only remaining upright afterwards, but also setting a new female race record for the 9.5km Lake to Lagoon course. Yay me!

Looking across the lake to Apex Park, where the fun begins

For reasons unknown, in 2013 the route was again changed and slightly lengthened to become a proper 10K - in effect the Lake to Lake, as it would now start and finish at Lake Albert. Since I live almost exactly one mile from the lake, this was a bonus for me and removed the need to figure out a way home from the Wiradjuri Lagoon in the middle of town where the race usually ends. Excellent!

The Training
I never had any doubt that I'd run again this year, unless injured of course, but I never gave much thought to how I'd fit it into my training schedule. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the race I was pretty much "off-plan" for the first time in a very, very long while - after running Gold Coast and then the Wagga Trail marathon, I found myself completely sick of formal training schedules. A few times I fully intended to write something up or work something out....but I simply never did.

To make matters worse I then signed up to run Melbourne marathon in mid-October as an elite, still without a training plan in place, and promptly began stressing out about my lack of proper long runs with only 5 weeks til the race. And so it came to pass that the very day before the Lake to Whatever, I set out to do 15 miles and ended up running 20 (that's 32.2km for the metric-minded) instead. Whoops, that might not have been the best idea I ever had! I spent the rest of the day resting (and refuelling) as much as I could, but I knew my legs would still be fatigued come Sunday morning.

Race Day
I take full advantage of the otherwise stupidly late start time of 10:30am to sleep late. Finally, at 7:30am I roll out of bed, make myself a light breakfast of raisin toast and coffee, and then I pretty much laze about the house until it's finally time to leave. At 9:45am I set out for a 2 mile warm-up jog that takes me through the local neighbourhood and eventually all the way down to the lake, where crowds are massing already. It's a beautiful morning with barely a cloud in the sky, and my guess is it's at least 65F/18C already. At least there's no wind.

Near the start I start bumping into the usual suspects: the fast guys including the winners of the past 2 years, and my trail marathon buddy Rob, who to my extreme surprise is standing behind a jogging stroller. "You're not pushing that are you??" I ask in amazement, but yes, he is, and there's a sturdy-looking preschooler comfortably ensconced in there as well. I wish him luck and tell him I hope he wins the stroller division, and head off to lurk near the starting line.

That's me in the groovy INKnBURN gear, squinting because I don' t like to run in sunnies.
As usual there are a bunch of young boys lined up right in front, but this year I'm not hanging back - I haven't forgotten how tough it is getting past the kids when they take off like rockets and then die rapidly around the 200m mark. And Tony Abbott isn't there this year to slow me down, either: last night he was elected Prime Minister of the country, so I'm sure he's otherwise occupied. I make small talk with the guy next to me (he's wearing a Camelbak hydration pack! Is this overkill or is he really slow, and in that case what's he doing in the front row?) and try to ignore the dorky aerobics instructors trying to get me to warm up with them, and finally there is a very very slow countdown from 5........4..........3......2,1 and it's time to run.

Miles 1-2: 6:12, 6:25
As usual, all the kids sprint ahead like maniacs and then slow down dramatically. This year I'm ready for them and only have to bark out "Watch it!" to one boy as he goes past me in reverse. I glance at my watch about 1km in and the pace is sub-6:00, which is definitely way ambitious for me. Oops, slow it down - but then a chick with a long blonde ponytail shoots past and opens a lead of about 20m on me. I'm fine with this until Rob appears on my right, stroller and all, and does the same. This is not okay! I'm running sub-4:00min/km and he's pushing probably 60lbs of kid and stroller? No way.

The first mile split is a bit slower than I thought it would be, as we head along Lake Albert Rd and start the climb up towards the turn-around point. I was ready for this but it still sucks, and I know there won't be any relief until the 4km (2.5 mile) mark. I'm overtaking bunches of guys now but Blonde Ponytail is around 50m ahead and she's holding that lead despite the uphill. Damn it, I'm going to finish second in another local race! Nothing I can do about it though, and I doubt if I can catch her.

Miles 3-4: 6:15, 6:07
Into the downhill, by my calculations Blondie is about 30 seconds ahead. Between me and her are a couple of guys and Rob with his stroller, and the situation stays the same as we click off mile 3 at a more acceptable pace, then mile 4 as we hit the lakeside path and its minor undulations. I know this path so well - I run it at least 4 times a week - and I know there are some small inclines and technical parts coming up ahead. I've formed the ambition to at least catch Rob, even if Blondie remains out of my reach, and with that thought I manage to keep myself going at an appropriate speed, even if the thought to just give up and jog it in for 2nd place does keep popping into my mind.

Miles 5-6: 6:19, 6:19
We skirt along past the Golf Course and I'm noticeably gaining on Rob now, although Blondie is still well ahead. As the path goes steeply uphill behind the Boat Club, finally I get past him (and another guy) and now all I have to do is not get caught! Just over a mile left....

The sun is out in full force now and I'm reminded of last year's 11km race that followed this exact same course, but in temperatures probably 20F hotter - the last part was very uncomfortable, and today I feel similar. As we approach the final corner towards the park and finish line, I can see that Blondie is surging and the gap is noticeably bigger than it has been all race. I put on my best finishing kick - hearing the cheers of friends and spectators helps greatly - as I approach the finish at 5:57 pace.

Finish time: 38:48 (6:16 pace)

Placement: 2nd female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

Delighted to be able to stop running now!
As usual it's very pleasant to be able to stop running, and I've only just caught my breath and straightened up when Rob and his little passenger come charging across the line. Sub-40:00 with a stroller - now that's impressive! I thank him for motivating me to run my best, then spend the next half hour chatting to various running acquaintances whilst waiting for the presentation. Turns out none of last year's winners - or the year before - have triumphed today: Blonde Ponytail (whose name is Julia) is part of a posse of fast runners who have swept in and put us all to shame. I accept my medals for my AG and overall 2nd place, then jog gently home, mainly because I'm far too impatient to walk.

The Analysis
I could feel that 20 miler in my legs from about the start of mile 2 - if not for that, I probably would have been able to run a faster time. How much faster? Anybody's guess is as good as mine, but I'm fairly sure I still would have been the bridesmaid and not the bride. That's shaping up to be my theme for 2013, but at least I'm still out there trying! And once again the next female behind me was several minutes adrift, so I can take some consolation in that fact.

Next up: Melbourne marathon, brought to you by the WTF training plan. Can it get me a sub-2:50? It's going to be rather interesting finding out the answer to that question.....


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wagga Wagga Trail Marathon 2013

As the defending champion of 2012, of course I felt it necessary to enter the Wagga Trail marathon when the opportunity arose again. It is an extremely hilly and tough course - the perfect thing for the day after you return from a week of skiing/no running, in fact - but given that Wagga has all of 3 running events per annum, it's hard to justify not participating.

The Training
I did manage to squeeze in a single 20-miler in the weeks following Gold Coast, but otherwise it was just a bunch of running around aimlessly, really. Actually running some hilly traily-type of courses might well have helped in preparing for this race, but oh well, I never managed to fit it in. In fact, after twice running the Pomigalana hills-of-death with the Wagga Road Runners and twice coming off second-best, I was probably suffering from trail-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Course elevation profile, more food for nightmares

Race Day
Having returned from a very active week of skiing just the evening before the marathon, I continue my holiday habit of lying motionless in bed for some time after waking. As a result I eventually get up a whole hour after I was intending to, and then I decide to eat a piece of toast and drink coffee even though the race is only 1.5 hours away. Good idea or suicidal? Only time will tell.

It's a beautiful, slightly cloudy winter morning and the perfect temperature (around 5C/41F)  as I drive to the start at the lovely "Wagga Beach", a stretch of sand on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River near the centre of town. The route of the marathon will take us in a full loop around Wagga to end back here, and I know from experience it is a punishingly tough course.

Miles 6-20 are a constant procession of hills, with some seriously narrow, technical mountain bike trails and a sprinkling of fences just to keep it interesting. The last 6 miles are flat, but there are multiple stiles to climb and stretches of soft sand to contend with - it's going to be a difficult morning no matter what.

Wagga Beach
I'm hanging out with last year's male winner, Rob, chatting and checking out the competition when he points out a group of people not far away. One is a woman, about my height but obviously a good deal younger. She has thigh muscles like I've never seen before on a runner, and he informs me her name is Hanny Allston. All he tells me at this point is that she was an orienteering World Champion, but it's enough for me - I know instantly that the best I can hope for today is 2nd place. Oh well, at least I'll still aim for a course PR, but some of the shine has gone off the day already. Sigh.

The start is predictably casual - I'm right in the front row, of course - and before I know it we're off. Wheee!

Miles 1-3: 7:07, 7:00, 7:07
Hanny takes off at sub-3 pace, Rob in lock-step with her (he's told me already his goal is sub-3, and I know he has the speed to achieve this although it would be an 8 minute PR over his time from last year) and I hold back the desire to go with them. This isn't hard to do, as there are steps and a few slippery gravel parts to the first mile along the river levee bank. I can't quite believe the pace at which the runners ahead of me are taking these obstacles, in fact. Am I the only person who wants to wimp out when confronted with a slippery obstacle course? I'm such a pathetic devotee of the asphalt.

Miles 4-6: 6:58, 6:58, 7:20
I'm going rather too fast for a couple of miles here, but I know I can afford to bank a little time because of what's coming up. And sure enough, in mile 6 begins the painful climb up Red Hill - the first but definitely not the last of the big hills. In contrast to last year, by the time I reach the base of Red Hill I'm pretty much running all on my own. This is not good for my mental state - combine that with the knowledge of what lies ahead, and I am not enjoying this as much as I thought I would. Oh well, onward and upward....

Miles 7-9: 7:24, 7:07, 7:31
I realise now that pace-wise I'm holding my own rather well through the first few hills, and this is a pleasant surprise. The sun has come out and it's warmer than I was expecting, but on the whole the weather is really cooperating extremely well. At the first drink station I ended up wearing most of the water I grabbed - the cups are plastic and impossible to pinch into a spout, like you can with paper cups - so I have now adopted a new policy of stopping at the water tables and making sure I get a good mouthful in before I run on. I usually hate to stop whilst running, but I don't have a good option here and in fact so far it's working out fine.

The trail marathon circumnavigates the town of Wagga - the squiggly bit top left is through Pomigalana Reserve.

Miles 10-12: 7:58, 7:12, 7:06
The steepest incline of the race comes during mile 10, but it's tempered for me by the pleasant experience of running past an early starter - she's tiptoeing daintily along and wearing an iPod - I can't imagine she hears me coming but as I pass she calls out to me "I love your blog!" and that's so nice to hear that I almost forget that I'm practically dying up this horrible hill. I wanted to keep my pace under 8:00 min/mile for the whole of this race, but mile 10 gets awfully close. The downhills that eventually follow allow me to make up a bit of time, but I'm painfully aware that the worst is yet to come.

Miles 13-15: 7:13, 7:35, 7:59
Shortly before half-way, something weird happens. There's this guy that I've been gradually catching over the past 4-5 miles, eventually passing him around mile 12. About half a mile later he suddenly emerges in front of me as I make my way across the flat stretch of trail leading into the half-way relay changeover point. How did he get ahead without me seeing him?? I give him a dirty look - clearly he's cut a corner somehow - and he sheepishly calls out "I keep getting lost...." Good thing for him he's not a chick - I would have been much more annoyed.

Through the half in around 1:34, I'm hoping that will still set me up for a time around 3:10-3:12. But under the highway and up towards Pomigalana, those hopes start to fade. The hills there are bad enough when you're running them fresh - after 14 miles already? Forget it.

The worst part is that this year I don't have anybody to chase. I'm passing a few early starters here and there, but last year was so different. It was a battle to catch and then pass the one female ahead of me - I'm about to realise how helpful that battle was in keeping me going through the treacherous trails of Pomigalana.

Miles 16-19: 7:48, 8:10, 8:25
Wow, there goes my pace. The first mile north of 8:00 pace of the entire race, followed by my slowest mile EVER in this race - worse that mile 24 through the sand last year - that number does a total number on me mentally. The thought goes through my head "Just pull back and jog it in comfortably, it's not like you're going to win it anyway" and I must admit that the idea of saving myself some pain and suffering is extremely appealing. I've had a side stitch since just before mile 13 (the revenge of the toast? probably) and it's getting worse by the minute; it appears to be alternating with a weird pain in my left hip flexors, and putting it simply, I'm just NOT having fun today. Why kill myself into the bargain? But I do still want to beat last year's time....and that's about the extent of my ambition at this point. Sigh.

Miles 20-22: 7:29, 7:23, 7:43
The long downhill beside the City Golf Course is a welcome relief. Last year this is where I caught Singlet Girl, then two blokes - this year there's almost nobody in sight. I pause for a cup of water, then shoot through the turnstile and head left down the road. Are we there yet? Mum? ARE WE THERE YET??

Beautiful river, even after 24 miles of hell to get there...

Miles 23-25: 7:28, 7:41, 7:51
The finishing miles along the Murrumbidgee River (above) are somehow not as bad as I'm expecting. Serendipity, or perhaps random vandalism, has turned several of the stiles into non-events, as the fence beside at least 3 of them appears to have vanished. Nice! And the stretch of sand at mile 24 is not nearly as long as I remember it - I'm keeping the pace under 8:00! Small things like that please me greatly at this point.

Around mile 25 I see two blokes jogging along ahead of me, and one of them is in fact my supervisor at work - he doesn't run much but announced to me a few weeks ago that he'd be running the half and expected to finish just ahead of me. Since both half and full marathons started at the same time, I assumed he was being funny - but no, that's definitely him up ahead. As I approach he turns and starts jogging backwards. Does he have a cramp?? I start to worry that maybe he's in trouble, but no, he greets me cheerily and steps easily aside to let me past. Wow, very bizarre.

Mile 26, finish: 7:46, 6:28 pace to finish.
I really don't feel nearly as bad as I did last year at this point, but I just can't be bothered even trying to stay near my stated goal pace of 7:30 for the final few miles. I have a small kick left as I get into the final stretch of the race, and actually crossing the line is fabulous for the simple fact that now I get to stop running at last - does it show on my face??

Finish line, OMG finally!

Finish time: 3:16:09 (7:31 min/mile)

Placement: 2nd female, 9th OA. 1st in AG (F40-44)

I soon hear that Hanny Allston won but was only 7 minutes ahead of me - a quick Google search on my phone leads me to the page linked at the top of this entry, describing her talents and also her age (27) - it's some consolation that she is 16 years younger than me and technically I could actually be her MOTHER, oh my god. I devise a quick handicap system in my head - a minute per year of age difference - and decide that based on this I have just won by nine minutes, then I accept my $25 gift card for winning my AG, and go home to get my kids. We spend the next couple of hours by the river, which means they get to get thoroughly wet and cover their clothes with sand/mud, and I get to lie on the grass in the shade and watch. The perfect win-win situation!

The Analysis:
It's all about who shows up on the day, really. I'm happy to have bettered last year's time by 3 minutes, and relieved that nothing fell apart after my slothful week at the snow. Not winning again is disappointing, but them's the breaks. Next up? Capitalising on my current ability to get elite status at major marathons. That one is most definitely not going to last - so I need to make the most of it while I can.