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!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lake to Lagoon 10K, September 2014

The Lake to Lagoon is Wagga's most popular running event and there's a good recap of its history - as well as my own history running it - in my post from last year; it now seems to have become a permanent 10K that starts and finishes at Lake Albert. This year I was hoping to avenge my second-place finish from last year when I was felled by a freak accident in early August, leading to my longest stretch off from running since the end of 2005: a whole 4 weeks of cross-training, uncertainty and frustration.

For any runner, being injured is bad enough. When it's the result of a silly decision to ignore one's advancing age and pretend one is a teenager complete with snowboard and baseball hat on backwards - much, much worse. The uneasy feeling that accompanies a running-related injury was replaced by one of chagrin and regret when I found that despite not having done anything resembling running for almost a week after the high-speed crash, my right ankle would not under any circumstances allow me to run. How ironic that I can run 100 miles a week and never get injured but two afternoons on a snowboard and I'm toast? WTF was I thinking to go snowboarding anyway? I will be advertising that stupid thing on eBay any day now.

Never again.

After another week - having missed the local trail marathon and noting only the very slightest of improvement in my ankle -  I arranged an MRI scan that to my admittedly amateurish eye looked to show bone oedema and a possible fracture at the tip of my lower tibia. A fracture, yes, that would explain why this thing is still so bloody painful!! But no - the official report finally came through 4 days later and was insistent that there was no fracture or ligament damage, just a sprain and a bit of inflammation in the joint itself.

I was so amazed that I called the radiologist who had reported it, just to confirm that what I'd taken for swelling and fluid was actually signal artefact (now I really don't understand MRIs at all), and after that I promptly put myself on a course of medication to treat the inflammation. Within 24 hours almost all the pain I had felt on walking was gone, and 4 days later I embarked on my first, cautious test jog. Success! And only 2 weeks until the Lake to Lagoon! Did I just hear someone say "comeback"?

The Training
Ah, see above. That is to say, not much.

Training log for August - alarmingly empty.

Race Day
The course may be different but the start time for this race is just as ridiculous as ever: 10:30am, which at least means that I can stay in bed a lot later than normal. In a repeat performance of last year's pre-race ritual (I am nothing if not a creature of habit) I get up finally at 7:30am and eat a piece of raisin toast with coffee for breakfast, then keep myself busy with chores until it's time to head out. The weather prediction of 12C/53F has not held up - it is much warmer when I walk outside and any worries about feeling cold in the singlet/short shorts combo I have chosen are quickly dispelled.

I jog down my street and head for the lake, completing 4km (I've switched my Garmin to metric, just for kicks) with some race-pace strides in the final kilometre. My ankle is not talking to me, which is great, but my legs don't feel normal, which is expected but still not too great. I seriously have no idea what is going to happen today; I might win, I might collapse, who knows? It also depends in large part on who else has shown up; I met one of my likely competitors yesterday randomly in town, but other than her, I'm not sure who is here. Since there's really no point worrying about it, I resolve to enjoy just being able to run again and take part in the fun of the day.

There are lots of people around that I know so it's quite fun to chat to them and enjoy the buzz of people all getting ready for the run - both my kids have set off in the cycle wave (at 10am) and now there are just runners milling about in the park and by the lake.

Two of Wagga's faster runners. Yes, really.
I've just noticed Spiderman lurking in the shade with a group of others from the Wagga Wagga Road Runners and am about to go over to say hi when the call comes to line up at the start. From experience I know that if I don't position myself RIGHT at the front, I'll end up running smack into the backs of all the kids who will charge out from the start like a pack of wild animals before stopping dead in the middle of the road around 200m later. So I head for the pink line on the road instead and hold my ground amidst a sea of tweens.

Me front and centre, kids all around.

The usual dorky warm-up routine takes place; I participate half-heartedly for about a minute and then give up, instead just focusing on keeping myself calm and relaxed. There's a skinny little girl right next to me who looks like she's going to make a very fast runner someday - I take the opportunity to chat with her briefly and find out that she ran 44:00 last year and placed 10th female. She seems set to take a fair chunk of time off this year; I tell her "Just don't go out too fast" and then it's time for the countdown. In the same style as last year it is bone-crunchingly slow, almost enough to make me get nervous, then finally - we're off!

1 - 2km: 3:43, 3:53 (pace in min/km) -- min/mile 6:00, 6:17
Sure enough, Hannah (the little girl in pink) shoots out ahead of me like a rocket. I feel obliged to chase her and geez, I wasn't ready to run this fast! I'm happy though that for once I don't have kids slowing down or stopping dead right in front of me this year - the road ahead is fairly clear. I'm briefly distracted by Spiderman dashing past me yelling "Rachel's going to get beaten by Spidey!!" - who the heck is that behind the mask, anyway?? - then the first kilometre split beeps and holy crap, that's too fast to be sustainable!

Thankfully I have just caught Hannah, who has slowed down considerably - but she remains just over my shoulder and I'm pretty sure there's another chick on the other side behind me. The second km is also flat, but the uphill is fast approaching. I'm in the lead now, but I'm not counting my chickens yet - it's time to dig in and hold on.

3 - 4km: 4:06, 4:02 -- 6:38, 6:31
Ugh, this uphill stuff sucks. It's not horrendously steep but it goes on and on without respite, all the way to the turn-around. The leaders are on their way back down as I grind onwards to the top, and I really can't be bothered counting what place I'm in overall -- but I am VERY interested to know how much of a lead I have on Hannah and the other woman who was hot on my tail earlier in the race.

I check my watch as I turn and am pleased to note that I have approximately 45 seconds on both Hannah and the girl I met on Saturday - Lizzie - hopefully I can at least hold that, if not increase it.

5 - 6km: 3:48, 3:44 -- 6:09, 6:03
Heading back down towards the lake there are lots of people yelling my name from the stream of runners on the other side of the road - the great thing about being known as a runner in a relatively small city - but I am way too focused to acknowledge any of them with more than a brief wave. I haven't forgotten my embarrassing near-collapse at the end of the 2011 race and a part of my brain is very worried about a repeat performance. So far I feel okay, though.

I speed down towards the lake and hit the path that runs around the western side; this next bit is going to be hot and exposed, I know from past experience. I've managed to get back up to speed and the last 2K were much closer to 10K race pace than the uphill ones, which is gratifying. But I'm starting to feel tired - let's see what I've got left.

7 - 8km: 3:56, 3:55 -- 6:22, 6:20
Up ahead there's a very small cyclist and a man in black running next to her: it's my daughter with her father! She stops to let the runners ahead of me pass, and I start yelling her name. She's desperate to show me her skinned elbow and knee - it looks like she's fallen off at least once, whoops - but all I have time to do is yell that I'm so proud of her, blow her a kiss and keep running. Hopefully she will make it to the end without more scrapes!

Snacks in basket in case of hunger emergency
9 - 10km: 4:02, 3:51 -- 6:32, 6:13

I lose my focus temporarily during the 9th kilometre; the short, steep uphill behind the Boat Club is every bit as nasty as I remember it, and I'm annoyed to see that I've slowed down beyond my normal marathon race pace. That's enough impetus to get me speeding up again as I cover the final 1000m to the finish line at Apex Park. For the very first time my Garmin agrees almost completely with the course distance, but there's enough extra distance to know that I did manage to hit 5:51 min/mile over the final stretch.


It's official, though: I have managed to win! Coming after my longest stretch off running since late 2005, there's a lot of confidence to be gained from today's performance. That, and a bloody big trophy.

Finish time: 39:06 (6:18 min/mile)

Placement: 13th OA, 1st female and 1st in AG (40-49)

Behind me by less than 2 minutes, Hannah has just finished in 2nd place! So impressive for an 11 year old - I make sure to go congratulate her and chat briefly to her mum. She's outsprinted Lizzie who has finished 3rd by just 3 seconds - a great day for everyone, really!

My name is on this one 3 times now! 

The Analysis
Not much to say here - I was the fastest on the day, and managed to win with a time 20 seconds slower than last year's effort for 2nd place. I'm happy that I managed to hold onto my pace, though, and perhaps all my fitness hasn't gone south with the enforced 4 weeks off.

It's very clear now that Melbourne marathon - just 4 weeks away - is going to be a training run and not a real race. The challenge will be to remember that when I'm lined up amongst all the elites and everyone charges off on pace for a 2:47 finish! But the bigger prize is New York Marathon in November, where again I'll be in the professional all-women race like I was in Boston; I need to keep my eyes on that and control my speedster urges. I think I can, I think I this space.