Thursday, May 23, 2013

May Madness, 2013

One of my RWOL friends races a LOT. Almost every weekend, in fact. Sometimes twice a weekend, and once I recall him racing a "triple": 1 mile, 5K and 10K races one after the other. Often he doesn't even seem to enjoy it: time and time again I've heard him complain how he's just going to jog this one, because his legs are dead/he's sick/he's tired/ he's hungover/he's just plain over it. 

And time and time again he pulls off a new PR, or a podium finish, some serious hardware or all 3 at once. In between races he just jogs around nice and easy, and somehow it seems to work out great for him (he ran 2:50:56 at Boston) despite not being the most conventional of training strategies.

After Boston this year, and with Gold Coast approaching fast, I decided to try it out for myself. 

The first race: Bathurst HM, Sunday May 5

Bathurst is a regional city about 3.5 hours' drive from where I live. I had heard from a friend who ran the 10K last year that this is a truly flat course, so I knew it was probably my best shot at a new half-marathon PR. I drove up the night before and stayed at a local hotel, stuffed myself with pasta and settled in for a good sleep. 

Race Day
The race doesn't start until 9am so I have plenty of time to get ready. It's perfect running weather - sunny, no wind, around 45F - then just before the start I look around and spot Jane Fardell. She won Orange HM in March (I came 3rd) and I know there is no way in hell I can ever beat her. Oh well, I may yet come second, I think. We all crowd around the starting line and this weird electronic beep goes off. Time to run!

Miles 1-3: 6:11, 6:20, 6:00 (pace in min/mile)
The 10K and HM runners all start together so it's CROWDED in the first mile, and it gets worse when we turn onto a narrow path down by a small river. I get annoyed when I see 6:20 for the second mile, so I put on a spurt of speed to get past a few people. Thankfully things thin out considerably after that.

Miles 4-6: 6:05, 6:01, 6:07 (5K 19:15)

Around mile 4 there is a hairpin turn and I see there are 2 women ahead of me. The first is Jane and I know I have no hope of catching her. The second is wearing a blue bra thing and she looks vaguely familiar. Also, she looks like she's tiring. After the turn I'm relentlessly gaining on her. I get close enough to realise she's breathing HARD and making weird grunting noises - is she running the 10K?? It's way too early to be sounding this distressed if she is in the HM. But yep, she's wearing a HM bib. Talk about going out too fast....I catch up to her, she sees me and surges. WTF, is she crazy?? I drop back, smiling. The next time I catch her, she does it again. The third time she tries, but nope. I go sailing past around the 5 mile mark, breathing easy and fairly confident she won't pass me back.

Miles 7-9: 6:10, 6:13, 6:13 (10K 38:30)
The 10K runners who were pushing me along nicely now peel off to finish. Bugger! It's really tough not to slow down more. Off for the second lap after another hairpin turn where there is a water table. I just took a gel so I try to get a cup from the person standing there, but she lets go too early and it goes all over me. Awesome! She offers another as I return but I'm not risking it. I can run a whole HM without water if it's cool (like today) so I don't worry about it.

Miles 10-12: 6:12, 6:14, 6:10
Ok, not any faster really, but also not any slower. Running totally alone sucks - there's nobody anywhere near me to keep me pushing. At the last hairpin I see that I have at least 2-3 minutes on Blue Bra now, so the temptation to slow down and jog it in for 2nd is quite strong. But no - that's not my style. Instead I start chanting in my head, telling myself to keep it going no matter what, thinking about the Boston bombings and the victims of that horrible attack. It seems to work - I'm still going at a reasonable pace.

Mile 13, final 0.1 (0.2 by Garmin): 6:16, 6:02 pace to finish
There are all sorts of slower runners coming the other way now, and I'm not enjoying this final mile. Keep chanting, keep running, and I cross in 1:21:24.

Placement: 2nd woman, 4th overall. Pace - 6:11 min/mile average.

Medal and money, cool!
Wow, a 2 minute PR! Jane turns out to be very nice (and impressive: she's representing Australia in the World Marathon Championships in August) and Blue Bra turns out to be the woman I sledged last year in Port Macquarie and beat for 3rd there. Now I remember that I've also beaten her for 1st in our AG in the past 2 years at the Rebel Run4Fun 10K in Sydney. Jane may be my nemesis in regional running, but I'm Blue Bra lady's for sure!

The second race: Mother's Day 10K Canberra, Sunday May 12th

Last year I ran the 5K here and placed 3rd. It was a slow time and I found the course tough: it went around Lake Burley Griffin and involved 2 bridges with steep on-off approaches. Of course, the natural reaction to this experience is to come back and run the course twice. What on earth was I thinking??

Race Day
OMG. It's 4C/39F and the lake is shrouded in freezing mist when we arrive at the start area. I'm already in a very bad mood and it just keeps getting worse.

The's out there somewhere.....
My ankle is hurting after a rocky trail run on Wednesday evening, I'm cold, and why am I running another race when I just ran one 7 days ago? Grumble, grumble, pout. I run two sullen miles as a warm-up (ha) and line up right up the front. Might as well put my bad attitude right there where everyone can see it.

Miles 1-3: 6:12, 6:16, 6:14
Instantly I'm just not feeling it. I'm going as fast as I can but it's slower than last weekend, and by quite a lot. There are 3 women ahead of me; I catch one easily and as the first bridge approaches I catch the second, who is slowing dramatically. But then I get passed by a girl in a purple singlet, and she quickly opens a gap of about 20 seconds. Whatever - just keep running, Rachel. I'm trying to push out the negativity but it's not working so well.

Miles 4-6: 6:20, 6:18, 6:11
Around for the second lap, it's fun to run through the start/finish area and hear my kids screaming "Mummy!! Mummy!!!" I wave and grin, and set off again very slightly less grumpy than before. I'm resigned now that my legs just aren't interested in going fast today, but at least I'm in 3rd and I have no intention of relinquishing that position.

Final 0.2: 6:12 pace
No finishing kick today, and a disappointingly slow time of 39:19 which is more than a minute slower than my PR (which was run during a 100-mile week). Grumble, sulk. But it's pretty cool that I placed, and on reflection it's Mother's Day and I'm here with my Mum, so things maybe aren't that bad.

Placement: 3rd female, 18th overall. Pace - 6:20 average.

Me and Mum
I get a trophy that is immediately confiscated, as per protocol. And then it's off for lunch with friends, and back home. By the time the sun comes out I'm happy again and it was a lovely weekend after all!

The third race: Sydney Morning Herald HM, Sunday May 19

The SMH half marathon was my first ever HM, back in 2001, and I've run it twice again since. The course seems to change every time, but is invariably gorgeous in that it takes in a lot of the most picturesque scenery that Sydney has to offer. All in all I think it's one of my favourite HMs of all time, despite being hilly as all hell.
My results:
2001: 1:26:24
2010: 1:29:55 (back after long injury hiatus and 2 babies)
2012: 1:23:29

After the debacle of the weekend before, I approached this race with caution: it's a tough course, lots of hills, and I had no expectation of beating my Bathurst time. Instead I decided that improving on last year's time would be great - a course PR!

I did my best to unravel this concept by travelling to Sydney the day before and going out for dinner with my Dad and stepfamily - an experience which somehow involved way more wine than I had expected. At dinner I made a half-hearted attempt to carb load by ordering fish and chips, but really was far more interested in the alcohol and creme brulee. Ooops.

Race Day
I wake up at 4am feeling dehydrated and mildly hungover. Ooops again! I'm too lazy to get up and get breakfast, so instead I lie in bed coming up with excuses as to why I'm going to run really slowly today. Finally at 5:45am there is no more avoiding it: I get up and dress, and head down the hill towards the start in Hyde Park.

Wow, for Sydney it's actually freezing. I drop my clothing bag and head out for a 2 mile warm-up that helps somewhat, but my hands are still like blocks of ice. Lined up in the preferred runners' start area it's warmer with other bodies around me, but I'm glad I'm wearing my Boston outfit, complete with arm warmers.

First 5K: 18:45, 6:02 average pace
About a mile in my Garmin beeps low battery - weird, since I charged the stupid thing two nights ago and have barely used it since. It will go on to completely conk out right at the 13 mile mark, and then refuse to charge again, so my race splits are lost (possibly permanently). Bloody technology!

In any case, the first mile is downhill and we zoom down towards Circular Quay at sub-6:00 pace. My friend Tony blows past yelling my name, and I wave but don't try to keep up. Through 5K faster than my official PR, again, sigh.

First 10K split: 38:45, 6:14 average pace
We're in Pyrmont now and the rolling hills are pretty savage. I pass a girl who looks like Blue Bra girl from Bathurst, but it's not her. The leading men come past during this stretch - heading the other way - and wow, they are SO far ahead. In 3rd is the man who won the 10K race in Canberra (31:45) and, surprisingly, he looks quite uncomfortable. I'm too absorbed in the run at this point to notice the leading females - Jane Fardell won this race last year and I looked for her at the start but didn't see her - I did see Clare Geraghty, though, who was 2nd last year (she is quite distinctive - tiny with long white-blonde hair) and now I wonder if perhaps she's in contention. Anyway, onward.

Second 10K split: 39:06, 6:17 average pace
Around the 7 mile mark we head onto the freeway underpass and my Garmin starts freaking out. But there's something MUCH worse that I notice at this point - it's Clare, limping along at the side of the road and sobbing loudly. Poor thing - she's clearly badly injured - I have a strong impulse to stop and help her, but then again what could I possibly say or do? I send up thanks to the running gods for keeping me injury-free for the majority of my post-broken-leg running career, and run on.

Heading across the Cahill Expressway and back up Macquarie St, it's getting tough now - what's with all these last-minute hills?? I pass a few guys, one of whom audibly moans "Oh, man" as I pull ahead of him. The next asks me in a chirpy voice "Hey, what's your goal time?!?" The last thing I want to do now is chat, but I pant out "Um, faster than last year - 1:23, so 1:22 I guess". He's all "Wow, that's a great goal! I think I'll try to hang with you!" Thinking of the Gold Coast last year and all the boys there who thought they could stay with me, I smile and say nothing. About half a mile later he is gone....and I'm burning down the second-last mile, trying not to think about how much of the remaining race is uphill. Which is to say, almost all.

Booking it around Lady Macquarie's Chair

Final 1.1km: 6:26 pace
Round the bend and back up Art Gallery Road I go. Ugh, it's painful, and the small out-and-back on College St before the finish is mental torture. I can see two women not far ahead of me - both with seeded (named) bibs on - they will turn out to be 2nd and 3rd in my AG. Tony is just ahead of them and again yells my name as he sees me; later I see from the splits that he beat me by 90 seconds, ALL of which was from the first 10K - from there we were running the exact same pace almost to the second.

Finish line. I look a whole lot happier than that bloke behind me.

Finally I'm in the finish chute and there it is: 1:22:16. It's not a PR but it's over a minute faster than last year, and given my preparation for the event (woefully inadequate) I'll take it!
Placement: 11th female, 4th AG. Pace - 6:17 average.

Overall Analysis

All in all, three races in 3 weekends was actually kind of fun. My main problem was mental, not physical - I find racing quite intimidating, and so psyching myself up to perform my best 3 weekends in a row was definitely a challenge. I failed miserably at this in Canberra, but managed to pull it together in Sydney to redeem myself and finish on a high note.

Physically, I'm surprisingly none the worse for wear: I've managed to run through the sore ankle and I've even put on a couple of pounds since Boston. I'm pretty confused about pre-race nutrition, since the wine and lack of breakfast really didn't seem to hurt me much in Sydney, but I probably won't be adopting that as my new pre-race routine. As for racing frequently - not something I want to do every month, but September is looking like a good time for a repeat performance.

Now it's time to focus a bit more and try to prepare adequately for Gold Coast, which is only 6 weeks away and looming large in my mind. Will I try for a new PR? Or just try to beat last year's time? Decisions, decisions.....