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 - best.photo.ever.
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.