Monday, May 19, 2014

May Madness, 2014 - part 1

I've finally gotten to a point where I find racing pretty fun. I remember a time not so very long ago when I preferred to race infrequently, feeling I didn't need the pressure to perform and that I'd rather do my own thing than line up with a bunch of strangers and feel compelled to compete.

But now, oh how things have changed. Maybe it's the modest success I've had in placing well or winning swag (chiefly in small, regional races), maybe I'm more confident than I used to be, or maybe I just don't give a rat's ass anymore about how I perform. Whatever it is, I like racing now! And even before Boston I had already thrown my hat in the ring for no less than 4 races in the month of May. I did the same last year (and in fact this year I'm returning to 3 of the same races); it was more fun than I expected.

The first race: Bathurst HM, Sunday May 4th.
Boston was late this year, and the gap between the two races has narrowed to just over 12 days. Although my legs feel quite peppy again after a very easy first week post-marathon, I'm not sure what is going to happen as I drive to Bathurst with my enthusiastic cheer committee in tow. The night before the race it's VERY cold (it has snowed nearby that morning) and raining, with a forecast that calls for similar conditions in the morning. It's the weekend of the Bathurst show, though, and despite the cold the kids and I enjoy an impromptu fireworks display from the balcony of our hotel room. Then it's early to bed under multiple layers of blankets, to see what the next morning will bring.

Race Day
Well, it's cold but at least not raining. The race outfit I have packed is frighteningly skimpy, though, so I layer on lots of other clothes and we head for the Bathurst Rugby Club, where the race begins. As I pick up my bib I sneak a look at the list of entrants and nope, Jane Fardell is not on there. Hmmm, interesting. She might yet show up and register, though, so I keep a bit of an eye out before heading off on a 2 mile warm-up jog.

There's a stiff breeze blowing and by the time I've reached the end of the first mile and turned back, I know my legs aren't fully recovered from Boston yet. There's a strange achey feeling to them and the effortless springiness I felt in Wangaratta (before my 1:21:34 half in February) is absolutely not there. Never mind - Jane is definitely not racing today so there is still a chance I might win.

Lined up for the start I see last year's overall winner, Brendan Davies (a world-class ultra runner), so I introduce myself again and we chat briefly whilst shivering in the icy blast. The announcers finally call us over, we gather near the timing mats and whoosh, off we go, directly into the wind.

Yes, front and centre.

Miles 1-3: 6:18, 6:25, 6:24 (pace in min/mile) 5K split 19:50 approx
Benita has told me to go out in 6:15-6:25 pace and I actually have no intention of going that slow (ha) but it seems my legs have decided who's boss, and it is definitely not me. The first mile is a touch faster - there's a woman who powers out ahead of me at around 6:00 pace and so I exert myself to pull ahead of her in the first half mile to check her bib: aha, a 10K runner, so nothing to worry about. I let her pass me back and she stays ahead for a short while; then when she starts to slow I saunter by and her breathing reassures me that she won't be passing me again.

Miles 4-6: 6:21, 6:10, 6:31
The effort I'm putting in should be getting me low 6:00 pace, but it's not. That would be worrying except for one thing: this course has a LOT of hairpin turns that are somewhat annoying but also afford an excellent opportunity to check how far behind (or ahead) the competition is. So that's exactly what I do.

5 hairpin turns per lap!

At the first big hairpin (lower right of map, between miles 2 and 3) I note that the 10K girl is about 40 seconds behind me. Another 10 seconds back is the first HM female - 50 seconds is not a huge gap at this point, but I guess we will see what develops. My legs are toast but  I'm managing to hold 6:25ish pace without too much difficulty, so I figure if I can stick with that I'll be okay.

Now is the time when I start passing blokes who have gone out way too fast. This generally happens at some point in almost every race for me, and it's always fun to see their reactions. The first guy I approach from behind surges like a maniac when I pull up alongside, and I let him go before gently reeling him in again. He surges again but it doesn't last and I sail past once more, this time for good. The next guy is up for the fight as well. He's wearing a NSW State Titles jersey which I think is for boxing - it's probably not for running. The wind is at our backs as we race up the out-and-back that finishes mile 5 and starts mile 6, and he drags me along to complete my fastest mile of the race (6:10). When we turn back into the wind it's like being hit with a sack of bricks; I grit my teeth and battle on, but he fades fast. Next?

Miles 7-9: 6:25, 6:27, 6:26 10K split 39:30 approx
Back past the starting line and up the road for the add-on that completes the first lap of the HM, Brendan is waaaay out in front now. I note my time again at the turnaround and see with satisfaction that I now have 4 minutes on 2nd place female and almost 5 on 3rd. I'm barely holding onto my marathon pace from Boston, though, and whilst it would be nice to just slack off now and jog home, the winning time should be at least half worthy and I'm definitely not going to take it easy. I pass another 2 blokes as we again battle the headwind back past the Rugby Club and out for the second lap.

All alone....

Miles 10-12: 6:27, 6:29, 6:24
The wind is really taking a toll now; every time I turn into it, I feel it more. There's a guy ahead of me with a short, shuffly gait that reminds me of my own, and it takes me a while to catch him but I finally achieve it after yet another hairpin that puts the icy gale directly into our faces. I can hear the pitter-patter of his feet behind me for a while, but he's not catching me. I'm starting to lap the slowest of the half-marathoners as I finally take the turn back along the river and into the final mile.

Mile 13-finish: 6:26, 5:54 pace to finish
It's a small mercy that the wind is at my back for the final half mile; I sail down the road towards the finish and even manage to pull out a small finishing kick that gets me across the line as first female. I've set an alarm on my son's iPad to tell him when to come down to watch me finish, and as I cross the line I hear excited cries of "Mummy! You won, Mummy!" to my left. How fantastic!

My local fan club, membership: 2.
Finish time: 1:23:44 (6:23 pace)

Placement: 1st female, 5th overall.

I'm pretty happy with how I hung onto the pace, even if it wasn't very much faster than I ran the whole of Boston. Obviously I'm not fully recovered yet but I was still able to put in a solid effort, so that's great. And Jane not showing up played a large part in my ability to win!

We hang around to get our photo taken (see above) and for the presentation, where I get an envelope and a medal. Then it's off for brunch and an exciting museum full of fossils and dinosaur bones before the lazy drive home. My legs are sore already when I step out of the car back home; will I live to regret racing again so soon after Boston? Only time, and perhaps next weekend's race effort, will tell.

The second race: Canberra Mother's Day 10K, Sunday May 12.
The Mother's Day Classic is one I've run in Sydney many years ago (at least 2 or 3 times) and I've run Canberra the past 2 years, chiefly because it's a lot closer. Not to mention how lazy Wagga only has a 5K walk....really not my speed. Anyway, it's a great event, a good excuse to wear lots of pink, and I've had moderate success there - even with relatively slow times - with 3rd place finishes in both the 5K (2012) and 10K (2013). Why not go back and see what better training might get me this year?

The 10K is 2 laps of this deceptively simple-looking course.

Race Day
Somehow I manage to underprepare in almost every way for this race: I stay up late the night before drinking wine with my friend Sonia, and wake up very reluctantly at 6am with a slight hangover and a marked aversion to the thought of running fast. Eventually I drag myself out of bed, snag a banana and a kids' muesli (granola) bar from the kitchen, and venture forth in the direction of Lake Burley Griffin. The weather is nowhere near as wretched as I was expecting it to be - in fact it's a balmy 10C/50F and cloudy but not raining - so that's a good start.

I've forgotten to bring water with me, though, and on the drive over I realise I'm utterly busting for the bathroom. Thankfully I know where to park and also where to find a restroom, so I'm able to take care of that need fairly promptly after I arrive near the race start area. Then it's off for a warm-up lap of the course, which feels pretty uninspiring. At least the stiff headwind of 2012 has not reappeared, I guess.

Waiting for the start a woman starts talking to me; her name is Kelly-Ann and she recognises me from last year when she placed 4th to my 3rd. I tell her "I'm not in the mood to run fast today"; she laughs and then points out a woman nearby who is all in black. Apparently she is one to watch - she beats Kelly-Ann at half marathons regularly - but she might be injured. I guess we'll see what happens.

Start line, with Kelly-Ann and an Indian bloke who appears to be checking out her left knee.

Lap 1: 6:12, 6:17, 6:04
Immediately there are 3 women - Girl in Black among them - who shoot way out in front of me. As we go up and over the Kings Ave bridge for the first time I'm already thinking "Ok, fourth isn't bad, at least you won't have to hang around for the presentation", but of course it's too early to make that kind of prediction. Benita has told me to aim for 6:05-6:15 pace and not go too hard on the first lap, so I settle in and try (for once) to follow instruction. Surprisingly it seems to work, and the first mile split beeps as I head down off the bridge: spot on.

Pounding along the southern side of the lake is somehow never inspiring, and despite the lack of headwind I still slow down a little. There are kids at a water station about halfway along with a bubble machine, and it's kind of fun to see how many I can pop as I whizz through. Predictably, I've started to catch guys who went out too fast, and then towards the end of the second mile I realise that OMG, I seem to be catching two of those women as well!

Mile 3 starts with a sharp uphill onto the Commonwealth Ave bridge - that one is going to HURT the second time around, I know it - and although I slow down a bit, Girl in Black ahead of me slows down a LOT more. Before I know it we are over the peak of the bridge and then I'm bearing down on her like a B-double (read: enormous truck) with no brakes. I zoom past as we head back down towards the lake, and look up to see that a girl in a pink singlet and black capris is now also well within reach. I'm going to be in second!! It's all so exciting that mile 3 turns out to be my fastest so far. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat I pass by the start line to begin the second lap.

Lap 2: 6:13, 6:18, 6:06
I honestly have no idea now who is behind me or how far behind, and by "who" I specifically mean "other women". This lap is going to be all about hanging on and not fading, and to my surprise I find myself doing that with panache. Up and over the King's Ave bridge again, mile 4 beeps 6:13 and I'm feeling surprisingly good. Benita has told me that it will hurt from the start, that's how 10Ks are, and sure I'm hurting some - but it's not unbearable.

I continue to catch male runners along the pathway in front of the High Court and library, and one over-enthusiastic volunteer calls out "First lady!" to me as I pass. Hah, thanks, but I know there's a girl with a white singlet and long ponytail in front of me, although I can barely see her most of the time. Second is definitely good enough for me at this point.

The game of Assassin Mode continues up and over the Commonwealth Ave bridge - that steep uphill gets me another male scalp, and the bridge yet another - the incline is tough going but my pace actually holds up surprisingly well. I'm lapping the slower 10Kers now, and many are yelling encouragement or clapping, and this spurs me on as well.

When mile 6 beeps I look down to see 6:06, and am so surprised that I put on a bit of a  sprint to the finish. There are slower runners all over the place now and the path narrows considerably - I'm forced to bellow "COMING THROUGH!!" a few times - but I manage to hold onto 5:53 pace over the final part of the course. Two people are holding up a tape (for second? sure!) as I dash across the grass to cross the line: second female!! Yippee!

The spoils.

Finish time: 38:36 (6:13 pace)

Placement: 2nd female, 8th OA, 1st in AG (F40-44).

Well, that was actually fun! And possibly the best-executed race I've ever run. There's quite a difference now to how I feel about racing - I have a lot more confidence, I'm no longer as scared or worried about not being able to hold a certain pace and stay the distance. The speed work of the past 6 months has shown me that I'm capable of running closer to 6:00 pace than I ever imagined I could, although I'm still convinced that my shuffle means I'm speed-limited to some extent.

If you count Boston, I've raced 3 of the past 4 weekends, and quite frankly my legs don't know what has hit them. It's been a ton of fun, though, and there's more to come!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you're enjoying the racing. That hill onto Comm Bridge is a bugger - comes at about the 13k mark of my 15k 'long' run. The young girl who beat you has improved a lot since she was an U15 xc runner. You're improving a lot too!