After accepting the offer of Elite status, I somehow conceived of the notion that I might be able to better my Boston PR, and trained with the goal of a marathon pace slightly faster than the 6:26/4:00 pace I ran there. I can’t say it went very well – I found MP disturbingly difficult this time around – but it was hard to say whether that was due to fatigue from high mileage or to running in the dark and cold, or some other random factor.
I had 11 weeks to both recover and prepare for Gold Coast, and in contrast to last year I pretty much made it up as I went along. I ran 11 whole miles in the rest of the week that followed Boston (which is run on a Monday), recovered for another week (67 miles) and then bounced back and forth between high 60s and low 80s (miles, which equates to 95-120 km/week) whilst running a bunch of shorter races. After getting that out of my system I managed to log 4 good weeks (100, 101, 100 and 91 miles) before being forced into a crash-taper by a weird pain in my left hamstring just 10 days out.
The hamstring thing settled very quickly, but I was left feeling totally paranoid and without any time to make up for the loss of confidence that a near-injury necessarily brings. And so I headed into the taper, my mysterious hamstring niggle adding to the negative energy that my MP struggles in training had produced. All I could hope for was that the taper and race day pixie dust might do the trick. Marathon pace or suicide pace? Hard to tell the two apart sometimes....
The kids and I head up to the Gold Coast a few days early, to take advantage of the 3 free nights’ accommodation that the marathon organisers have generously given me. We are all seasoned travellers by this point, so the 2 flights go by with little fanfare and in no time we’re checked in and enjoying the beach near our hotel.
Friday is the day of the Elite athlete briefing and media conference, at which I chat again to Steve Moneghetti (he remembers me! Or pretends convincingly that he does, at any rate) and am presented – on stage – with my race bib by Lisa Ondieki, another Australian marathon legend. It is all pretty surreal, and it’s not lost on me that my PR is a good 8 minutes slower than the slowest of the 9 other women up there, but hey, I’m there!!
|That's me in pink, second from right|
The kids are fantastic about hanging around in the hotel gym each morning as I run my final pre-race workouts (a measly 4 and 3 miles) on the very nice treadmill there, and then Saturday is the morning of the 2K Junior Dash, in which they are both entered. Amelia insists that a tulle skirt is essential running garb, Jack announces that he won’t be running with us this year as we are too slow for him, and he more than proves himself right by crossing the line in 10:41, a 41 second PR over last year! Amelia and I cross a couple of minutes later – a princess cannot be rushed, apparently – but at least she ran the whole way, and they are two very proud little runners as they pose for their equally proud Mama.
I’m easily awake at 4:30am and get up around 5am to dress and wash down a granola bar with some chocolate milk. The toughest part of the morning is waking the kids and hustling them out the door at 6am – there’s a good reason why small children and early morning marathons don’t mix well! – but we manage to get on our way only a little bit late. I drive a circuitous route to Southport, where we happily find a dream parking spot just a couple of minutes’ walk from the starting line. A good omen!
We meet up with the babysitter who is going to stay with the kids while I run, and off I go to the Elite tent to get a few moments of mental peace. There I meet one of my imaginary running buddies from the Runners World forums – very cool as always to meet someone in the real world – we chat briefly and off he goes again, but our paths will cross a good few more times during the day.
As I get ready I’m not too impressed with the Australian uniform I’m supposed to be wearing to compete in the Oceania Marathon Championships, and even less so when I find out from another girl that she competed in Oceania last year and didn’t wear it – so I decide to dispense with the horrible shorts: they are sure to chafe and I’m wearing my standard racing ones anyway.
|Australian uniform, pity it's so fugly|
I keep the singlet on – it’s kinda cool to be representing my country – but my sense of color coordination is deeply offended by the fact that I am now wearing green, gold, white, black, blue, pink and purple all in the one outfit. It’s a good thing I don’t have much time to dwell on it, because the race is about to start! It’s perfect running conditions – around 14C/57F, sunny but with some cloud and no wind – I couldn’t have asked for better, really. Everyone lines up, I’m about 5 rows back this year and boom, the gun goes and we spring into action.
Miles 1-3: 6:29, 6:18, 6:24 (pace in min/mile)
Heading out I’m trying to squish any negative thoughts and focus on settling into a pace that feels sustainable. The first mile comes in slightly slower than I expected from my effort level, but at this point I always feel like I’m working too hard, so I ignore the voice that says quietly “Uh oh…” and speed things up a touch.
Mile 2 is a bit fast, mile 3 more like what I’m aiming for, and the guys around me are helping me settle in – one is a shirtless blond surfer type, who pants out “You aiming for 4 minute kilometers?” I pant back “Yep, or thereabouts...”, he grunts in affirmation and onward we press. In sharp contrast to former years, he will not fade into the distance and in fact ends up beating me by at least a minute!
The best thing right now is that I’m on pace with no discomfort whatsoever from my hamstring. In fact I’m very happy with the first 5K split of 19:41, and by now I feel quite comfortable, so maybe today will go my way.
Miles 4-6: 6:21, 6:15, 6:21
The course is quite familiar from last year, which is both good and bad. I’m really not looking forward to going past the finish area yet still having 6 miles to run – that’s just mental torture – but on the other hand, my brain is quite happily occupied remembering stuff that happened last year. I pass the point where I pulled ahead of Steve Moneghetti and his sub-3 hour pacing group (more like a horde), and then we’re turning onto the back streets where that silly triathlete told me he’d be sticking with me for the whole race. Or maybe the next 400 meters, who knows.
Coming up to mile 6 there’s a guy ahead of me in a red singlet who looks weirdly familiar. As I pull alongside him I see he’s wearing a distinctive necklace and OMG, it’s my RWOL buddy Bernie! I gasp out “Oh! It’s you!” and we discuss how we’re both feeling. He’s running by heart rate – his training hasn’t been optimal due to an injury – and I’m running by feel; both of us conclude that we are feeling okay at this point! Phew.
But shortly after this conclusion, a weird feeling appears in my left calf. Uh oh, is this the hamstring thing again, just lower down? It’s not bad at all so I choose to ignore it and, mercifully, it goes away after about 10 minutes. Double phew!
Miles 7-9: 6:19, 6;17, 6:18
The 10K split is right on target at 39:28. It’s nice to have company, although obviously neither of us has extra breath to chat. The pace is still right where I want it, but of course that small voice in the back of my head refuses to be 100% convinced that I’m going to be able to sustain this for the full 26.2 miles. But I’ve never yet turned down a challenge during a marathon, and today will not be the day that I start. Slowly I start to pull ahead of Bernie, and we head further towards the turnaround.
My singlet is getting me quite a lot of cheers from the spectators, which is nice – “Go Australia!”, “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” and such – but it’s quite a surprise when someone yells “Go Rach!”. I turn to look but I have no idea who that was, and soon afterwards there are a few calls of “Go Wagga!”, which is even more surprising.
A few miles later I will realize that duh, there was a piece about me on television last week in Wagga, these must be the families or friends of the other Wagga runners who are taking part in today’s race. But for now it’s a mystery that my brain doesn’t have enough unoccupied cells to solve.
|The obligatory peace sign, maybe I'm having fun after all....|
Miles 10-12: 6:13, 6:18, 6:15
There’s a sharp right hand corner as we turn away from the beach and onto the highway – this is where I saw the leaders last year, already on their way back towards Surfers Paradise. But I’m quite a long way ahead of last year, pace-wise, so I don’t see them until I’m halfway along the stretch of highway. There are 9 of them, every single one African or Japanese! One poor lone bloke trails them by about 400m, I briefly feel sorry for him, and then I’m turning back towards the beach.
I count a few women on this stretch – two Africans are in the lead, New Zealand masters legend Sally Gibbs is 4th – but I don’t bother trying to figure out my own placing. I don’t need to know, or so goes my reasoning. The 15K split is reassuring: 59:05. At mile 11 comes the turn and I find myself looking forward to the half-way mark already, which isn’t a confidence-inspiring turn of events. This pace is starting to feel ambitious, but I’m not backing down.
Miles 13-15: 6:19, 6:23, 6:20
Wow, the half seems to be taking forever to come. My 20K split is again very consistent, 1:18:49, and I pass through the halfway point in 1:23:09. Ooops, faster than Boston?? Am I really trying to run 2:46 today? It’s too late to give up – my balls are well and truly on the table, as per the famous RWOL quote. Might as well just give it everything I’ve got. A quote from my Boston race report flashes through my head “Today I’m running the race of my life” – wow, seems like maybe I’m doing it again already. How did THAT happen?
Miles 16-18: 6:20, 6:22, 6:22
Through the 25K mark in 1:38:46 – slowing a tad but still on pace for 2:47 or so. Gulp. This stretch passes back along the beach, the sun has come out and it’s quite warm now, although not uncomfortably so. I’m remembering the bloke in the white-and-blue singlet last year who gave me a pep talk at this point (I could use one now too) when suddenly we come up to a water stop. I haven’t taken advantage of the elite water tables this year – I don’t sweat too much so I don’t need a ton of fluid in a race, and they weren’t that essential for me last year – plus I would have had to drop them off on Saturday to the expo, and I was busy riding rollercoasters with my kids that day.
So anyway, there are both cups and bottles (for anyone, not just elites) at this table. I’m debating whether to bother with getting water or not when a guy in a blue and black singlet unexpectedly hands me a whole bottle. Wow, what a nice gesture! We will go on to run much of the race close together before I finally pull ahead and finish a minute or so ahead of him – and I make sure to thank him for the water when I shake his hand after the finish.
|Starting to feel the pain, heading towards mile 20|
Miles 19-21: 6:22, 6:29, 6:32
I pass a girl – but oh no, she’s an African elite – I look around at her bib and she’s Tesema, the winner (who also set a course record) in 2011. How awful for her - but on the bright side, I just moved up a spot. And another, as I catch and pass a girl in black. Go me!
Finally we’re getting back closer to the start/finish area, and going across the bridge to Southport I’m idly thinking that this is where a good photo was taken of me in last year’s race, when WTF?? There’s an idiot on a skateboard, zigging and zagging down the bridge right towards me! Any potential photo op is probably ruined by the scowl this stupid behaviour puts on my face – but whatever, I need to brush it off and face on the upcoming obstacle: the only hill of the race. It’s small but for anyone who has just run 20 miles, that’s still a problem.
The 30K mark provides a reality check: 1:58:40, so I’m still pretty much on suicide pace. As I head up the hill and past the turnoff to the finish chute (mental torture) I can feel myself slowing down – is this the negative thoughts coming in to bite me? No, not entirely; I’m just tired and ready for this to be over! The next 6 miles are going to be tough.
As I head past the start area though, there are the kids and babysitter on the side of the road! They all wave and scream at me, and it’s just the boost I needed at this point. Of note I now pass another female in a loud triathlete-type outfit: it's the debut elite, Cassie Fien. She looks to be finding out the meaning of the saying “Respect the Distance” and when I examine her race splits later, yep, she went out even faster than me! At least I already learned that lesson, or did I?
The 35K split – 2:19:10 – confirms what I know already: I’m slowing down. I’ve just run my first split over 20 minutes, and at this point I know it won’t be my last. Time to hang in there and just get it done.
Miles 22-24: 6:28, 6:36, 6:43
It’s all going reasonably okay as I approach the final turn-around point at mile 23. There’s even another girl not that far ahead! I wasn’t actually aware of a tailwind, but boom, after the turn suddenly a moderately strong headwind is blowing right in my face. Turning out to head along the coast again just makes things worse, and there’s NOBODY around to draft behind – until I manage to haul in a bloke who is a decent size and I tuck right in behind him. Ugh, he’s sweating on me, this is totally gross, but I have no choice! Until I glance at my Garmin and realize he’s going too bloody slow. Just like Honolulu, when I had the same exact problem, I pull out and forge ahead alone.
My pace has taken a hit – this is survival mode, for sure – and I make a snap decision just to keep it under 7:00 min/mile. I’ve passed that chick, so at least I’m not the only one tanking at this point. The 40K split would be discouraging if I still had the mental faculties to actually do the maths and figure it out: 2:40:08, which means my average pace is now roughly the same as Boston, and there will be no PR for me today. But I’m too far gone – all I can think is to just keep running.
Miles 25, 26 and 0.2: 6:50, 6:47, 6:29
Tank, tank, tank – I’m dying as I struggle towards the finish line. There’s yet another girl not too far ahead, but I just can’t summon the kick to catch her. I make it into the finish chute with absolutely nothing left in the tank, and hear the announcer rabbiting on about 2:48 something blah blah blah, then he’s saying my name and wondering if I’m from South Australia, blah blah blah, I’m wondering doesn’t it say the state I’m from on my entry you idiot?, and then FINALLY I’m over the line and I get to stop running now. Hooray!
Finish time: 2:49:21, 6:27 pace.
Placement: 10th female, 66th OA, 1st AG (F40-44)
I can’t regret having gone for the pace that I did in this race. I knew it was risky, and even without the headwind over the final 3 miles I was always going to fade; but without the wind I honestly think I could have run a PR on Sunday. Still, to be only 18 seconds off is not the end of the world, and given my expectations for the race it’s probably pretty amazing that I came so close to 2:48 or even high 2:47s.
I’ve stated before that I think I’m fast approaching my absolute potential as a marathon runner, and I do believe that’s true – but maybe there’s still a tiny little bit more I can improve. Just maybe.