Monday, September 22, 2014

Blackmore's Sydney HM, Sept 2014

I have quite the history with this race; I first ran it in 2007, shortly after returning from a year in Scotland, and since then I've run it 6 times. It's one of the most beautiful and scenic courses that I've ever run on, but it's also a tough, twisty, hilly course and for a variety of reasons I've only really raced it once or twice. My finish times and notes tell an interesting story:

2007 - 1:27:48; return to Australia and my 3rd 1:27:xx HM of the year, despite truly haphazard training and nothing over 10 miles.

2009 - 1:30:39; return to racing after weaning my daughter, rather disappointed with the result; this inspired my foray into "proper" training.

2010 - 1:32:16; training run for first marathon (NYC November 2010), deliberately not racing (although I have no idea why not).

2011 - 1:32:53; returning after injury-plagued winter, not racing, therefore feeling particularly photogenic:
Not racing! But somehow still winning!
2012: 1:45:xx; pacing, not racing.

2013: 1:23:08; racing for once! And quite successfully so - 6th female, 1st in AG. Massive course PR.

The Training
I seem to get injured now once every 2-3 years, and typically in July/August. Sure enough, I did it again this year and only really had 2 weeks back at training before this HM. With a preferred start for the first time ever for this race - darn it - I was pretty miffed at not being in top shape to race it. But the bigger focus is now Melbourne, no, actually beyond it to New York. So when Benita suggested that I aim to run a solid but not all-out effort, around the 1:24-1:25 mark, I agreed. Secretly I probably though I'd be able to run faster than that, but in any case it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to head into the race without too much anxiety, which was naturally a good thing.

Race Day
I'm awake at 3am and then again at 3:30, which is not very helpful, and do manage to go back to sleep before the scheduled wake-up time of 5:00am.  But I spend the time dreaming that I'm running a half-marathon that inexplicably diverts to run through a farmhouse (which somehow belongs to my friends) and then fields of corn. In the house I've lost my shoes, so a stranger offers me some beetroot to rub on my feet instead. Surprisingly I accept, and am busy doing that when I awake somewhat bewildered to the sound of my alarm.

I'm staying right by the starting line and my intention is to get up and run my customary 2 mile warm-up straight from the door, but when I get outside there are so many people making their way to the starting area that running seems pretty much impossible. So instead I make a beeline for the elite/preferred runner area and just stand there trying to keep warm, and trying not to stress about the lack of warm-up. The weather forecast called for sunny skies and about 10C/50F temps, but the skies are surprisingly grey and threatening - a far cry from the warmth of a couple of years ago.

The elite area is a bit more crowded than I'd imagined: state championships seem to be on and there are a lot of people in various state uniforms. I'm chatting to some of them when one of my fast RunCamp buddies, Neil, shows up. Awesome! Soon Vlad - the head of RunLab - also appears and it's little reunion of sorts. Both of them are aiming for finish times that will put them miles ahead of me; again I wish that I was in better racing form today, but oh well.

The time comes to head up to the starting line so I reluctantly strip off my throwaway top - I haven't put anything on the trucks, an omission that I will come to regret later - and manage to at least get some strides done before taking my place towards the back of the preferred runners. Neil and Vlad are right up the front so I don't get a chance to say goodbye or good luck, but this won't be the last time I see them today.

Miles 1-3: 6:44, 6:11, 6:10 (pace in min/mile)
As usual, the first mile is mostly uphill, but at least it's not as crowded as usual. There seems to be a LOT of women ahead of me at this point, which I guess is fine, but the competitive part of my brain is not impressed. I'm trying to remind myself that I am NOT supposed to be running this all-out, but I'm happier when the second and third mile splits beep and are closer to what my half-marathon pace is supposed to be.

Heading across the bridge - that's me 5 people from the left.
Take note of the guy in stripes, more about him below.

Heading down for the first short turn-around on the Western Distributor (read: big spaghetti-type freeway that leads off the bridge) I see the leaders on the other side of the road: Vlad is in 4th place and Neil is in the chase pack in 6th or 7th. Go guys! I'd love to yell at them but I'm too busy trying not to fall over - the heavens have started spitting rain and the road is scarily slippery. The 5K split comes along and is around 19:38 - so far, so good, but the hilly parts are mostly still ahead of me.

Miles 4-6: 6:28, 6:28, 6:36
We zoom across the top of Circular Quay and head up Macquarie St towards the Domain. Ugh, uphill, this is really not my idea of fun. As I turn down to Mrs Macquarie's chair the rain has intensified and I'm too busy worrying about whether it is going to rain on the kids' race (which starts at 7:45am, and will have both my kids running in it) to focus on my pace. Which is either too slow or WAY too slow, depending on your viewpoint, but right now I'm too distracted to care.

I suddenly notice this guy who is running near me wearing a shirt with vertical red and white stripes - we've been running quite close together for a while now. As we grind back up the hill past the Art Gallery a remarkable number of people running the other way are now calling out to him, and very quickly I figure out that his name is Chris. Rapidly it becomes quite amazing - the calls of "Hey Chris!" "Great going, mate!" and the more basic "Chriiiiiiiisssss!" are coming thick and fast - so much so that I'm very tempted at one point to ask him "Do you know every single person in this race? Or just most of them??"

I have a shadow and his name is CHRIIIIIISSSSSS

I pass him on the uphill but he passes me back on the flat; his stride is similar to mine and for a short time I amuse myself comparing our cadence, which at least takes my mind off the constant chorus of "Chris! Chris! Chriiiiiissss!" At the top there's a short out-and-back on College St, I'm in front now and we run very close together for a while, then I guess I lose him (and the course veers away so there are no longer slower runners, aka people yelling "Chriiiis!!", coming the other way) as we zig and zag our slippery way down to Circular Quay again.

Miles 7-9: 6:10, 6:15, 6:22
The mile down to the Quay is mostly downhill and I'm flying along again at a more acceptable pace, thank god. I can hold it together even along the very slippery boardwalk through the Rocks - I idly notice a couple of banners advertising Headspace, which is pretty weird - and out along Hickson Rd, but in mile 9 the small rollers start again. A brief distraction comes along in the form of a guy wearing orange, who sidles up behind me and suddenly asks "Why are you carrying a walkie-talkie?"  I guess it is a rather weird running accessory - I laugh and explain as quickly as I can - he wishes me luck and then the hills start and nobody's talking anymore.

The first significant uphill is made better by the fact that here I catch a female runner - that's one less in front of me, and hopefully I won't get passed back - I'm slowing down again, but I feel good and I'm too scared of fading later on to push any harder. The lack of training has me doubting my endurance a bit, and the last thing I need is to blow up and fall in a heap.

As I head out once again on the freeway, the leaders are coming the other way - there's Vlad still in 4th and here comes Neil in 7th place! Inspired perhaps by the chorus of Chris, and in part by the fact that I'd rather conserve my breath, I manage to yell out "VLAAAAD!" and "NEEEIILLLL!!" as they pass; both are understandably too focused to acknowledge me, but that doesn't matter one bit. It has gone very quiet around me - I wonder where Chris is?

Miles 10-12: 6:47, 6:28, 6:13
Right, mile 10 is the horror mile of this race and has always been so - it does a loop around a block and then hits two short but very sharp uphills that I remember from every year I have run them, entirely due to their sheer awfulness. Seriously, WHY? I slog my way up and over, back up and down, and am only partly mollified by the realisation that there are now TWO more female runners within striking distance head of me. Mile 11 begins with me closing in on the first of them, who is wearing a pink top. I realise suddenly that I don't feel that bad, really, so I surge and pass her without a second thought. I'm definitely picking up the pace now.

Flying along, bonus famous landmark in the background

Zooming back along towards the finish line, I catch female #2 right at the spot where I caught another rival last year. The memory of that has me grinning, and my grin widens when I round the corner under the Harbour Bridge and realise there is yet another woman not far ahead! She's wearing a blue Athletics NSW uniform and looks to be fading. Can I get her??

Mile 13.1: 6:25, 5:55 pace to finish
Funnily enough, I actually slow down again during this mile, but almost everyone around me is fading out too, and probably because of my marathoning background I seem to be fading the least. I catch and pass Blue Uniform girl right on the boardwalk by the water (same place again as last year), and now all I have to do is hold it together and I'll be home. Holy crap, though, it's slippery going!

Left foot, right foot, don't fall down.
But I manage not to slip, and even to negotiate the wet cobblestones of the Opera House forecourt at 5:51 pace. As always it's a pleasure to see the finish line at last, and the announcer is shouting something about sub-1:25.....hold on, what?? Somehow I was thinking I had run faster than that, but whatever, sub-1:25 will do fine.

Finish time:  1:24:52  (6:28 min/mile, 4:01 min/km)

Placement: 13th female, 2nd AG (40-44)

I'm walking around drinking water and trying to stay warm when another runner in the same singlet as Chris turns up - it's Robyn from NSW Masters Athletics, who greeted me in the start area - and then Chris himself shows up! He's yelling at me for being too strong, she's warning me to stay away from him (something about him being Irish, lol) and I finally get to spit out my line about every other runner seeming to know his name. Awesome!!

This is  a pretty huge race - 7799 finishers, of whom 3971 were female - so I'm still happy with this result, although I *was* 6th last year and almost 2 minutes faster. Vlad has finished in 5th and Neil 9th position overall; but neither of them is anywhere to be seen and in any case I need to find the finish line for the kids' race pretty quickly, so I hot-foot it up the hill to the Conservatorium and before long I am amazed to see Jack finish the 3.5km race in just 18:38. That's faster than I expected - what a champ!

Unfortunately we then wait another full 25 minutes for his leisurely, strolling sister to finish - during which time I develop a mild case of hypothermia. I'm on the walkie-talking yelling "Where ARE you??" to which she calmly and repeatedly replies, with her knack for the obvious "I'm not there yet". I implore her to please go a bit faster, but nope, she's not having it. The subsequent trek back to the hotel is frigid and does nothing to improve my core temperature, although at least it's no longer raining.

The Analysis
Upon reflection, this is my second fastest time on this course by quite a long way, so I guess all is not lost. And for once I have actually followed Benita's instructions to a tee - I definitely wasn't going all-out, although I'm not sure I really could have gone a lot faster. It was pleasing to find that my endurance hasn't suffered too much from the time off in August, and that's probably a good sign for what lies ahead.

Next up: Melbourne!


  1. can't believe Melbourne is only 2 weeks away. What's your taper plan like for a marathon?

    1. Usually 2 weeks, the first around 60% of my usual mileage and the second around 30% (pre-race).
      I'm not tapering for Melbourne though - it's a training run on the road to NYC marathon in November.

    2. Hope you at least have a couple of easier days before Melbourne ;)
      That was a good race. Funny about the conditions - it was perfect for the bridge run at the sensible hour of 9am :) By the way, Sarah who finished ahead of you is a bit of a legend down here. Think she ran around 2:40 in Melbourne a few years ago and was a very fast 1500 runner in the old days.