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.

1 comment:

  1. Like your work Rachel. Hope there's a swift recovery from the TIPTSD. I prescribe a s#!tload of trail running between now and next year. You won't have to defend your title so go for the fun option: an outright win in the half marathon (which is a super fun course).