Monday, March 17, 2014

Yarrawonga Foreshore 10K, March 2014

The idea for this 10K came from a flyer I was handed at the finish of the Wangaratta half-marathon - all revved-up and enthusiastic after my performance there, another race seemed like a great idea. Yarrawonga is a small town on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, which of course is defined by the mighty Murray River. The weekend is called the "Splash 'n Dash", with not only the fun runs on Sunday but also a state-to-state swim across the Murray on Saturday.

It's only a couple of hours' drive from Wagga and at the time, I thought this would fall on a weekend when my kids would be with their father. Visions of a leisurely, quiet drive down, a relaxing night in a hotel and the chance to run the 10K with a long cool-down to make it part of my weekly long run....they floated temptingly before my minds' eye. And the chance to do well and potentially win prize money too - I was quick to sign up.

At that point, of course, I had no idea what was actually going to transpire.

The Training
As ever, part of a greater scheme - deep in training for Boston, I averaged well over 90 miles per week in the preceding 3 weeks leading up to this race. The only concessions I made were to move my weekly long run to Friday morning and accept (grudgingly) a reduction in overall weekly mileage.

The lead-up
Unexpected work commitments on the part of my ex-husband lead to a very different scenario to that which I initially imagined: I end up driving to Yarrawonga with not only the kids but also my mother in tow. We all squeeze into the room I have booked for myself (there are no other rooms left - the town no doubt booked solid due to the weekends' events) and the kids do their best to make me want to sell them (or even give them away) with the most concerted display of psychotic, mess-creating behaviour they have ever produced.

Despite escalating threats of various punishments, they jump like amphetamine-addicted monkeys around the room until I banish one to the bathroom and the other to the bed, switching their positions every time one complains or bounces back out, until I cannot bear it any longer. Despite the sudden rain we head outside - where the children immediately calm down and behave like angels - to get takeaway fish and chips, which we devour with relish. Then it's down the slippery slope to bedtime, and we are all tucked in by 9pm.

Race Day
The hotel room is toasty and warm, so I'm rather surprised to find that it's just 13C/55F outside when I start hauling stuff down to the car. It's windy, too - there's a nasty cold breeze blowing off the strange, dilated part of the Murray River that forms Lake Mulawa, and we'll be running right along the foreshores there - this could be uncomfortable, particularly on the way back when it seems like it will become a headwind.

Lake Mulawa, aka "that creepy tree graveyard"

It's way too cold to strip down yet so I run my 2 mile warm-up in my sweatshirt, and am only just starting to feel a tiny bit too hot by the time I'm back at the start and ready to line up. I make my way close to the very front and wait, mulling over my race strategy. Benita has told me to start out around 6:05-6:15 min/mile pace, and see how I feel from there. In my typical, slacker-Rachel pre-race style I'm wondering if I should just run to place, and as such it seems like a good time to size up the competition.

There's a girl I've noticed who somehow strikes me as fast - not something I can explain, although she reminds me a little of Clare Geraghty, with very blonde hair in a high ponytail - I'm going to be watching her if we ever actually get moving here. There's a boy just in front of me with a similar shock of blond hair - actually he reminds me of a fairly new running friend in some old photos he posted on Facebook recently. I wonder if he's going to be as fast as his older dopplegänger, Kevin.

Nobody else looks terribly serious, then finally (5 minutes late) the race announcer is counting down, and off we go!

Mile 1: 6:03 (pace in min/mile)
Sure enough, the usual melee of young kids rushing off way too fast and fading equally fast starts happening around me. I feel slightly odd, disconnected from my body, and I can't tell if this is okay or perhaps a really bad sign. Quasi-Clare strides confidently out in front of me; Mini Kevin is out there in front too, and another woman I hadn't noticed. I'm wiser now and know not to let myself get phased by these early leaders - there's every chance they're going out too fast and I will catch them in good time. A glance at my watch confirms that I'm right: 5:50 pace, which is not something I want to try to sustain for the whole race. I kick back and settle into a rhythm as we head out along the foreshore path and around a small headland.

Mile 2: 6:14
This mile passes fairly uneventfully until I notice 2nd chick up ahead slowing down already. I ease past her and glance up to see that QC is still about 50m ahead. I thought she was further in front, actually, but whatever. The disconnected feeling has gone and I feel good - relaxed and confident. Not long after this thought I realise that sure enough, QC is starting to fade. The mile split beeps as I come up behind her - it's slower than I thought, but then I realise this is probably because I'm wondering if I should just hang behind her and let her do the work. This is a strategy I contemplated in the aftermath of the slightly disappointing Central Coast HM late last year, and this would be the perfect opportunity to put it into practice. Should I do it?

Mile 3: 6:09
Nope! My brain once again makes the decision without any further input from me, and I breeze past QC without a second thought. Her breathing as I cruise by confirms to me that she's not going to be a threat: she's puffing and wheezing in a manner that should really only be acceptable in the final stretches of a race like this. By comparison I'm hardly drawing breath, and this gives me a considerable boost in confidence (with a dash of schadenfreude thrown in for fun) as I pull further ahead and the course turns a sharp right into a rather swanky gold resort sort of area.

These houses are undoubtedly lovely, and on a sunny day it might seem like a good place to spend a holiday, but the combination of grey skies and nearby tree graveyard is way too creepy for me at this point. The atmosphere is decidedly macabre, but thankfully I'm too focused on this race to care much. I sneak a glance at my Garmin as I pass a 5K marker - it will turn out to be undoubtedly short, in post-race analysis - but for now I am astonished to see 18:40. The last thing Kevin told me before this race was that I should be looking to run in the 37s - admittedly though, since I have been running a lot of mileage, he would allow me to stretch to 38:00. At the time I laughed and ignored him -- but could it be that he was right??

Mile 4: 6:03
This mile becomes something entirely new when the paved golf cart path ends abruptly in the middle of nowhere and I suddenly find myself running across a fairway, on the grass. What on earth is this going to do to my pace? The grass is absolutely lovely, don't get me wrong - soft, smooth, springy, probably bloody wonderful for playing golf on - but running on it is a monumental pain in the butt. And it's a good thing there is a line of blokes ahead of me whom I can follow, or otherwise I'd end up in a bunker or a water trap or something of that sort. But no, I keep going over the grass, and am pleasantly surprised to find I haven't slowed down at all. Phew. And who is this up ahead that I am slowly catching? Why it's Mini Kevin in his flashy yellow singlet. I saunter past him and he doesn't take this well at all - he immediately surges and passes me back. Oh really, young man? We'll see about that.

Mile 5: 5:57
The fun of catching Mini Kevin and the idea of proving Big Kevin right does something magical to this mile: despite another decent stretch of fairway grass and a few interesting undulations as we get back into the housing development, it turns out to be my fastest so far. We pop back out onto the roads and another astonishing sight greets my eyes - it's Quasi-Clare, sitting by the roadside with her head in her hands.

What on earth happened to her?? From her location it looks like she dropped around half a mile after I passed her. There's a marshal right nearby who seems utterly unperturbed, so I have to assume that she is basically okay, but is she sick? Injured? Or was it just the psychological blow of watching someone old enough to be her mother running past her like she was standing still?

Whatever it was, that's one less thing I have to worry about, namely how close she might be behind me. It occurs to me that I could slow down considerably at this point and probably still win the race. But no way - that's not how I win races, and today is ALL IN.

Mile 6: 6:09
This mile sees us turning back onto the lakeside path where I ran my warmup, and as I predicted then, the wind off the lake suddenly smacks me in the face. Mini Kevin doesn't take this well at all - he slows down enough that I sail past him again and he doesn't pass me back this time. I'm focusing on keeping my form together, staying relaxed, not worrying about how I feel. This is the part of the race that I dread, where it starts to hurt and my brain just wants me to stop now, PLEASE. I can see the park where the finish line is waiting - my lungs are burning, but now I pass one guy and then another. Gotta keep it going.....

I start to count in my head, in the way I do when running very fast intervals: my roadrunner cadence is handy here, I know that 4 footfalls is roughly one seconds so I chant mindlessly to myself "One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one  thousand..." and so on. When I get to 60 I start again. I pass yet another male 10K runner, who doesn't like being chicked and immediately passes me back. My Garmin beeps the mile split and it's time to give chase.

Finish 0.2: 5:42 pace
I'm tearing towards the finish chute in hot pursuit when I hear the kids and Mum screaming at me - there are little children holding out their arms for a high-five (I don't dare, at this pace I'd likely take off a limb by accident) and then - as I've just about caught that bloody bloke - I hear it: the announcer says "First female home in the 10K......well done young lady....." It's all I can do not to fall down laughing - the young ladies are sitting by the road 2.5 miles in! Or at least they are all behind me. But now I'm finally across the line and OMG what does that clock say??

Finished and VERY pleased with myself, as well as my funky WCA singlet.

Finish time: 37:41 (official), 6:05 pace

Placement: 1st female, 1st AG (40+) and 8th OA.

Post-race schemozzle
New 10K PR!! But I barely have time to catch my breath before Jack is upon me, beside himself with excitement at the prospect of his longest running race ever (the 3K), yelling in my face that it's time for his race and MUMMA CAN I HAVE YOUR GARMIN??

Of course he can, so I reset it and strap it to his wrist and BAM he's gone, lining up in the very first row. Any wonder where he got that competitive spirit from? And Amelia and I are also lining up for the shorter, little kids' race, with much less enthusiasm but a whole lot more pink.

Awesome little fun runners.
Both run with style and pizazz, Jack powering home in 14:56 (a touch over 8 min/mile pace) and Amelia, well, being Amelia. She may have whinged incessantly but at least she didn't stop!

After an unacceptably long wait in the cold, finally it's time for the official presentation and despite having been told by a rather clueless volunteer that there are "only spot-prizes", I am soon the happy recipient of not one but two cheques that will do nicely for spending money at Boston. Hip hip hooray for regional racing!

10K category winners - yes that's Mini Kevin front and center, and YES I am freezing now!

The Analysis
It's plain to see that the addition of a knowledgeable coach, some judicious speed work and a fair bit more racing experience has made a world of difference to my performances this year. I have said that 2013 was the pinnacle of my running career to date, but 2014 looks very likely to knock it off its pedestal in no time at all. Boston is just 5 weeks away - bring it on!