Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Canberra Summer Marathon, December 2015

Normally I wouldn't pay too much attention to races that are held as part of a triathlon weekend - I've run (and won) one in Wagga a couple of years ago and found that the running events were largely ignored - but somehow while perusing a running race calendar I found this "extreme weekend" of racing and signed myself up for the marathon. It's entirely possible that I have raced so much this year that another marathon seems like the logical thing to do. Or perhaps I just wanted something to distract me from Joel's departure for a month in the USA. And perhaps I did think that with my fast friend Kelly still in recovery mode after the 50K World Champs I might just be able to win the race. Did I mention Christmas shopping in a place with actual real shops? No?

The Training

As time goes on and races pile up it seems I have less and less to say about training. I did get in a really good specific long run about 8 days out from this marathon, with 2 segments of 5 miles each that were supposed to be around marathon pace. The first 5 averaged 6:40 min/mile and the second 6:31 with a final mile of 6:24 min/mile (3:58 min/km), which let me feel confident that I'm still capable of a low-2:50s marathon, and my stretch goal for Canberra was therefore set at sub-3. Because it would also be my 6th marathon of the year and I'm TIRED.

The Travel

The marathon is set for a 6am start on Saturday morning, so I need to drive over to Canberra on Friday after work. Seems like a plan until something pops up that requires my presence in Sydney on Friday, meaning  that I have to get up at 4am to run 4 dark, reluctant miles before the early flight at 6:20am. 8 hours later I'm back at Wagga Airport and driving home to pick up Mum - we finally reach Canberra at 8pm and I'm starving (despite having at least tried to carb-load all day with copious quantities of Gatorade) so we head out and end up at Guzman and Gomez. Mexican food for a late dinner the night before a marathon? What could possibly go wrong?

During dinner I realise I have not bothered to figure out how or when I am supposed to pick up my bib, and this leads to the realisation that I haven't really paid attention to ANYTHING about the race tomorrow. In fact I've forgotten to bring GU gels and it's a miracle I even have running shoes in my bag. I pop over to Rebel to remedy the fuelling problem and text my friend Tony to remedy the bib one. He's far more organised than me, thank god, (even though he's not running tomorrow due to an injury) and soon all is sorted and I'm heading for an early bedtime. Might as well try to get that part right I suppose.

Race Day

My alarm goes off at 5am and I lie there ignoring it, which is not standard practice for the morning of a marathon. But it IS in keeping with the ridiculously casual approach that I seem to have adopted for today's race -- so I wait until 5:30 before I drag myself out of bed, then quickly dress, decide against breakfast and start jogging gently towards the lake.

Perfect race weather = me freezing my butt off at the start line next to Claire

It's a gorgeous day and completely still (a big change from my last race here in gale-force winds), not to mention quite chilly when I take my place at the traffic cones marking the start "line". There's clearly only a small field today and apart from Claire, whom I know from the Canberra Times 14K (and who is doing the half), there are no fast-looking chicks other than one wearing a marathon bib and a shoulder hydration belt that screams "ultra runner". A quick briefing is followed by somebody saying "Go" in a voice so soft that I only realise it's time to run because everyone suddenly sprints off. Whoops - I suppose I'd better get moving myself.

Miles 1-4: 7:02, 7:08, 7:24, 7:40 (pace in min/mile)

Off we go along the lake to the east but we don't stay on the path for long - we dodge over the grass and kerb into the carpark and then up and around a roundabout, down and up to another turn and then down Kings Avenue towards the bridge. So, fast and flat isn't going to be the order of the day, clearly - this will become even more obvious in a few miles' time. Claire is out ahead of me but there are only 2 other marathoners (both blokes) moving faster than I am; being the female winner today doesn't seem like it is going to be in question. What is my goal for the morning, then? I decide I want to be as consistent as possible and run a pace that I can maintain for the entire race - in my mind I settle on 7:00-7:05 as a rough goal.

The first 2 miles go well but then wow, we head up the hill to Parliament House. It's as steep as I remember from the 14K, and it is not lost on me that I'm going to have to run this 3 more times - but at least I'm expecting a nice recovery as we run around the back of the building on the wide, flat road that surrounds it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I'm not only directed onto the grass but then onto a sandy dirt track that winds around through the bush before dipping back out onto the grass, then back into the bush, for the best part of 2 miles.

The dirt track isn't too technical but the grass is not your typical, firm grass - it's fat-cat-politician grass: plush and deep, soft and squishy - it's like running in sand and my pace plummets appropriately. Thankfully it's all well-marked and there are plenty of volunteers around making sure nobody goes off-course; before I know it I'm on my way back to the front of the building and then down the hill to finish off the first lap.

4 laps, each 6.5 miles with a finish chute of 0.2.
The wiggly bit at far left on Capital Hill is the unexpected fitness track detour.

Miles 5-6.5: 7:00, 6:59, 6:54

Wheeeee! This downhill is marvellous after the trails and grass: I bomb along with my legs whirring, thoroughly enjoying myself again. The course flattens out again as I head towards the Kings Avenue bridge and back to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin - I pass a half-marathoner whose breathing sounds way too laboured for this stage of the race - but I'm feeling fine and looking forward to lap 2 as I approach the turn-around point.

The faster half-marathoners are heading back already with Claire firmly in the women's lead; one of the male marathoners is looking strong but the other is clearly tanking already. After the hairpin turn that finishes the first lap I take the opportunity to check how far behind the next marathoner is: it turns out to be the ultra girl (whose name is Amelia) and she's a lot closer than I would have thought. Uh oh.

Miles 6.5-11: 6:54, 7:01, 7:20, 7:16

At the turn towards the top of Kings Ave I deliberately check my watch as I pass one of the traffic cones and find that Amelia is about 90 seconds behind me - wow, that's not really much. A momentary stab of fear hits me but I shake it off and refocus on the task ahead. All I have to do is NOT fade and that may be enough to pull off the win today. As if to drive home the point, I now catch and pass the bloke in front of me: I'm 2nd overall in the marathon. Hooray!

<cue singing: "I'm all aloooone, there's no-one here beside meeee">
photo credit: Tony Collie (thanks mate)
Heading back over the bridge it's time to take a gel so I grab a bottle of water from one of the friendly volunteers - these triathlon people sure know about fuel and hydration it seems - and slug it down. The weather remains crisp and there's no wind to speak of so I really don't need to drink very much today, but the taste of caramel macchiato GU is not something I need to experience for the whole of the next 6 miles until another one is due.

Miles 12-13: 6:51, 6:55

Once again I find myself powering along next to the lake and there's noticeably more traffic this time around; lots of pedestrians, cyclists and people with dogs. It's not too hard to avoid them all, though - once again the enthusiastic marshals at the turning point cheer me onwards and I glance at my watch at what I guess must be the halfway point: 1:33:30. So a sub-3:10 finish is entirely possible, then, and this knowledge is enough to spur me on as I head off on my third lap.

Miles 14-17: 6:50, 6:46, 7:13, 7:28

I'm trying again to clock how far back Amelia is now, but the course diverges across the grass before I see her and all I'm able to do is estimate how long it has taken me to this point from the turn; I'm not running flat-out so my brain's ability to do mental arithmetic is better than it usually would be at this point. I calculate that she must be at least 5 minutes behind now - so in theory there's no need for me to keep pushing the pace. In reality, though, I have never actually slowed down intentionally during a race, and I'm not about to start either.

I'm fully expecting this lap to suck, so it's very surprising to realise later when looking at the splits that it will turn out to be my fastest. I've entirely stopped checking my watch and am running by feel, relying on my perceived effort level to keep things steady - this is a valuable skill for the marathon and today is the perfect opportunity to practice it. The 10K race has started at 7:30am and I manage to overtake a few of these runners before I hit the hill up to Parliament for the 3rd time.

Up and around onto the fitness track yet again - the marshal at the turn-off point says simply "Same way as last time" and it sets me laughing, although to be fair at least he's not entirely engrossed in his phone like a few of the others are by now. I make my way through the bush, up and onto the grass, etc etc and pass a few more of the slower 10K runners. I'm also starting to lap the slowest half-marathoners now as I make my way once more back to the lake.

Miles 18-20: 6:55, 6:55, 6:59

The hardest part of a 4-lap race is finding interesting things to say about it for a blog post, I think. Less than a week later I barely remember anything about this course other than that it really wasn't as bleak as I was expecting. There are runners from all the various events on either side of the road now so I'm never entirely alone, but I'm certainly not running with anyone at all.

However the obvious benefit of the multiple laps is that I now recognise a few of the more vocal supporters who line the course (there are precious few of them!) and can wave and greet them each individually as I pass by yet again, which is quite fun. As I approach the turn-around point there are people swimming in the lake - some tri event must have started, yawn - and the fastest ones are clambering like salamanders out of the water already.

I wonder where he got that cool race kit from?

There's a gaggle of people watching and a few are on the course between me and the turn; this could get ugly, and I'm gearing up to start yelling at them, but the marshals very efficiently shoo them away and I make the hairpin turn for the final time.

Miles 21-24: 7:01, 7:03, 7:25, 7:19

There's not much to say about this final lap; I'm making a conscious effort to keep my pace steady and so far it seems to be working. I'm catching the slower marathoners now - one thing that has stood out about this race is how friendly and encouraging everyone is, and the runners I'm passing are no exception. The water station volunteers on Kings Avenue have very little to do now so they all cheer as I approach, and I head up for the final lap around Parliament House with a grin on my face.

The leader of the marathon is so far ahead of me that he's on his way back down already when I make the turn onto the grass - my rough calculations have him at least 15 minutes in front, probably more. As I thread my way through the bush for the final time I'm starting to feel weary but manageably so, and as I head back along the side of the road it's comforting to know that there are only just over 2 miles to go.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:38, 6:41, 6:30 pace to finish

Mile 25 of every marathon should be downhill, seriously - it's the perfect way to finish things off! I throw caution to the wind and open the throttle a bit at last: it's time to see how much I have left in the tank. Things flatten out but I keep up the effort level and to my amusement just before the water station I catch a group of slow 10k runners, jogging along 4-abreast. I could slow down I suppose but I might never speed up again so I bellow "COMING THROUGH!!" and barrel right on past. The volunteers thunder their approval and I wave them goodbye for the final time as I charge up the approach to the bridge.

I just need to keep things going for the final mile - I'm not sure I can speed up much but I can certainly try not to slow down.  There is a lot of pedestrian and cyclist traffic by the lake now and in fact a few triathletes are coming the other way during the final leg of their own race, so I'm paying close attention to avoid a collision and this keeps my brain occupied until suddenly I'm on the red gravel of the starting area again. I approach the turn-around with every intention of heading right into the finish chute, but what's this? The marshals are shouting at me and frantically motioning me to the turning point  - good grief, they are trying to send me out for another lap!

I've just run 26 miles and I really don't have the energy to argue, but there's no freaking way I am running another 10.5km right now. So I shake my head vigorously, yell "NO! NO! I am DONE!" several times and point decisively to the finish chute. The penny drops - I'm not on my 3rd lap like the others - and finally they relent and direct me to the finish chute. I'm about to win! But what's this?

The finish chute - save for the loyal Tony and his girlfriend Elkie who has just run the 10K - is pretty much deserted. They cheer me on regardless and I blaze my way across the grass but there's no tape, no crowd, and the announcer is talking vigorously about the triathlon race currently in progress: he obviously has no clue that the female winner of the marathon is anywhere near the finish line. This is the most underwhelming victory of all time!

Finish time: 3:05:05 (7:04 average pace)

Placement: 1st female, 2nd OA, 1st in AG.

A few officials come up and seem surprised to see me; the announcer is still loudly talking about bikes and swimming and it's clear he has not noticed me coming in. I give my name to the lady who is asking and wander over to congratulate Xavier, the winner who has clocked an extremely impressive 2:45. I feel pretty good, not too tired really, and I stand around sipping water and chatting until Amelia appears and crosses the line with a similar almost-total lack of recognition. She has run 3:14 and yes, once we start talking I learn she's mostly an ultra runner whose impressive credentials include an overall win in the Ned Kelly Chase 100K this year. Amazing!

Skinny fast chicks unite!

There's an official presentation so I show up not sure what to expect; Claire is there and has won both the half and the 10K events, but once again there's basically nobody around and the announcer is still elsewhere and we each get a medal with "marathon" instead of "finisher" on it, and that's that. When it comes to triathlon festivals, races that don't involve biking and swimming are clearly just not on anyone's radar! So I head back to the hotel to get cleaned up and then out for a delicious brunch and coffee at my favourite Canberra cafe. Might as well refuel in style, right?

Doubleshot Deakin, best brunch ever.

The Analysis

This race doubled as a really good workout for endurance and pacing - while I faded a little in the final lap, I was still able to pick up the pace in the final miles and finish strong. I achieved my goal for the day and had a lot of fun, which was a great bonus. With endurance clearly my strong suit at this point in my running career I should probably start running ultras, but with competition like Amelia I'd have to work pretty hard at it!

For now I'm content to just enjoy what I'm doing and the next big focus race will no doubt be Boston in April 2016, although I did make plans to catch up with Amelia at the Wangaratta Marathon in February. Cough, cough, did someone say raceaholic?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Central Coast HM, November 2015

I missed this race last year for some reason - probably because it was too soon after running New York - but having run it twice for two close 2nd place finishes (in 2001 and then more recently in 2013), it was impossible not to want to have another try when the email advertising the race hit my inbox earlier this year.

Central Coast is a fast, flat out-and-back course that runs along next to the water at The Entrance, a quaint coastal town in NSW about an hour's drive from Sydney. The trip from Wagga is considerably longer, but the rare absence of moaning children makes it so much more relaxing, almost like a holiday! So I signed both myself and my husband up to run it and was even more pleased with myself when I managed to get a reasonably-priced room at a very nice hotel right by the start/finish area. The perfect set-up for an awesome weekend of racing.....or so it would seem.

The Training

Ah yes. Well, I will admit to taking things rather casually after the struggle that was Melbourne 2015, and so it came about that I only put in two decent weeks of training for this half. I'm always a bit tired towards the end of the year and this year has been quite an eventful one - I have run in no less than 13 races (and 3 of them marathons) since the beginning of July. So I went in with no major expectations other than to have fun and hopefully run a decent enough time to put me on the podium in some capacity, even if only as my age group winner (a modest enough goal in my opinion).

The Travel and Pre-race Shenanigans

We head up on Friday afternoon and arrive in The Entrance after dark - the hotel is right by the water and I can't wait to show Joel the sights in the morning when it's light. But Saturday dawns cloudy and foreboding, and it threatens to rain throughout our whole easy 5 mile run that takes in the first part of tomorrow's course. The weather forecast is shaping up to be easily the worst I have ever had for any race - and given what I went through in New York last year and Boston this year, that's really saying something - not only warm but also wet and potentially electrifying! How wonderful.

We spend a low-key Saturday doing touristy stuff and end up in a bar drinking beer and watching cricket, which is absolutely what one should be doing on the coast in summer, just perhaps not the night before a race. At least it's not a marathon this time.

Race morning dawns and I swear I can hear torrential rain outside the window, but no - it's just the air-conditioning, and outside the pavement is dry. Hmm, maybe we'll be racing after all. We head outside and ugh, the humidity is instantly stifling: 85% at least and the temperature is warmer than predicted, too. I've already emailed Benita and told her about the humidity and we have agreed that I'll be running for place rather than time, so there's nothing to do but front up and get ready to suffer.

Can't say that any of these runners look particularly excited to be here today. 
Milling around at the start line I meet up with Alex and Phil, both of whom were in my RunCamp group, and see one chick who looks like serious competition: she's about my size and build, with blonde hair and a bright red hat. She also looks like she might be over 40 (although of course I myself look not a day older than 27) - I'll be keeping a close eye on her once this sweat-fest of a race gets underway.

Miles 1-3: 6:12, 6:33, 6:20 (pace in min/mile; 6:24 = 4:00 min/km)

Sure enough, the starter yells "GO" and the woman in the red cap shoots off ahead of me at an impressive pace. I'm fully expecting to run the first mile rather too fast and it's no surprise that the first mile clicks off in just 6:12 - what's surprising is that she's at least 15 seconds ahead of me already.

During the drive up I spent some time researching goal paces and times, and I know that 6:12 is the average pace that got me my half-marathon PR of 1:21:24. Red Cap is way ahead of that pace and if she keeps it up she'll most likely run sub-1:20 - it's entirely possible that I'm a long out of my league here. Oh well, another 2nd place wouldn't be too bad really. I focus on easing back on the pace - there's no point killing myself if I'm not going to win anything, right?

During a much more sedate mile 2 Joel pulls up alongside me, grinning as usual, and informs me that there are 2 more females about 100m behind us. I'm digesting this news when oops, these same 2 women suddenly appear and then pass us quite effortlessly. Wait, what??  "So much for that," I remark wryly to Joel beside me - it seems I've eased up way too much without realising it. I renew my efforts somewhat and the 3rd mile passes with the both of us eyeing the backs of the women ahead, and me trying not to feel too depressed at the prospect of finishing 4th.

Joel, all chipper at mile 3 - I am nowhere to be seen, probably sulking

Miles 4-6: 6:26, 6:24, 6:32

Red Cap - who, incidentally, is almost certainly in my age group - is far out of sight now but the pair ahead are still probably within reach. One has a "Woodstock Runners" singlet on and is running close together with a man in similar attire; she looks to be the stronger of the two females and sure enough, during mile 4 the other girl (wearing black) drops gradually off the pace. My brain registers this and automatically switches on Assassin Mode - I can get this chick, I know I can. Before we know it she's within striking distance and then wheeee, we sail gleefully past. I'm back in contention, hooray!

Mile 5 starts and Joel remarks how hard the going is in this remarkable humidity: in fact we both feel like we're putting in much more effort than our pace reflects. He looks back and tells me that the girl we just passed is already 100m behind - I'm paranoid about being caught, though, and promptly accuse him of exaggerating. He assures me that he's not, and tells me again that I'm doing great, but he's done and will be dropping back. I don't really believe this either, but his footfalls fade quickly behind me so I focus my sights on the Woodstock runners ahead.

They're still going strongly but the girl is intermittently losing touch with the guy who I am almost certain now is pacing her. "You can get her too, you know you can..." whispers Assassin Mode in my ear, and I don't disagree. Male runners start coming back the other way - I see my RunCamp friend Alex in 6th place - but where oh where is Red Cap? Could it be that she is starting to fade?? Somewhat to my surprise I now catch a couple of guys (both looking spent and absolutely drenched in sweat) as I edge ever closer to my quarry.

Miles 7-9: 6:19, 6:22, 6:25

Finally the turn is coming up - I check my watch and to my great surprise, Red Cap is only 50 seconds ahead. My competitive nature takes charge and before long I find myself cruising past Woodstock Girl - yes! second place! - and not long afterwards I'm right next to her companion.

Woodstock Guy looks around and does a bit of a double take (it's the wrong girl!!) but then tells me confidently "Go get her, she's tiring up in front" and for the next 2 miles he pushes me along as I draw very gradually closer to Red Cap. I still don't believe that I'm actually going to catch her, but he's not letting me slack off and part of me (the part that is not cursing the humidity) is feeling confident: I know that endurance is my strong suit and it will probably also help that I didn't go out like a bat out of hell. Ahem.

Miles 10-12: 6:34, 6:31, 6:33

Midway through mile 10 we join with the 10K runners as they make their turn and start heading back. I'm about 10 seconds behind Red Cap now and wondering what to do; in my head I try out how it's going to feel telling Joel after the race "I just couldn't catch her" - actually, that doesn't feel good at all and suddenly I realise I really want to win today. The path is more congested and she has slowed down enough that I'm actually right on her tail now, which presents another dilemma: should I go for the lead now or hang back? Wait too long and I might not have time to build an unassailable lead, but pass too soon and I might not be able to hang on all the way home.

I've been in this situation a few times and as yet never been able to hold myself back from passing, but this time I manage it for almost a mile. Then, for no particular reason at all, suddenly I decide it's time to make my move. It's important to look strong and decisive when you pass a competitor - to have the maximally demoralising effect on them, of course - and so I put my head up, lengthen my stride a touch (who am I kidding) and off I go. There's approximately 2km to go and OMG OMG, I'm in the lead. Can I stay there??

I'm almost too scared to check splits anymore; I just put my head down and GO. I'm passing 10K blokes left and right - one looks at me and says "Rachel??" but I'm too focused to respond - and pretty soon I'm on the heels of my fast mate Phil, who told me on the starting line he was shooting for 1:22. I see he's carrying a full bottle of water (where did that come from?) and as I pass he gasps "I'm haemorrhaging!" - what, really? it seems more like choking or vomiting, actually - and then something about the humidity. For someone who barely sweats during races I'm incredibly drenched today, and I can't imagine how bad it must be for your average heavy sweater.

Mile 13, 0.1: 6:30, 6:10 pace to finish

I'm running scared this whole final mile: in my mind there are female runners galore right behind me, all just waiting to cruise past. Coming along the foreshore where I got passed in 2013 I have a moment of fear and almost look over my shoulder, but I resist and put the effort into getting myself to the finish line as quickly as possible. The humidity has made me wilt and I feel like I'm putting in a ridiculous amount of effort for the pace my legs are generating: I've run whole marathons faster than this!

But all that matters is getting to the park before any of the other female competitors do, so hopefully it will suffice. Heading into the finish chute I'm basically sprinting, and too focussed to even try to smile, but there's no way I'm being beaten today - I've run one of my slowest half-marathons in the past 5 years, but it turns out to be enough for the win. What a surprise!

Crushing it in the finish chute

Finish time: 1:24:50 (6:26 min/mile, 4:01 min/km)

Placement: 1st OA female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

Wow, that was a lot tougher than I expected. I wait for Joel, who arrives looking like he took a detour into the water, and we head back to the hotel to get cleaned up. Later at the presentation I chat a bit to the other place-getters and discover that Red Cap (Fiona) is indeed over 40 although the Woodstock Girl (Bronwyn) is not. I get a medallion the same as the one from 2013 and a nice envelope of cash, then it's off for an indulgent brunch and the long drive home.

Woodstock Girl, me, Red Cap. Winners are grinners!

The takeaway message from today is that humidity is a killer - I'm not used to racing or training in it and it appears to have made a huge difference to everybody's times - and that for someone of my age and racing experience, running this sort of race is like an episode of the reality show Survivor. The motto is Outwit, Outplay, Outlast and it fits: today I was smarter (didn't go out at 5K pace), I waited patiently (to make my move) and eventually was the only one who didn't slow down significantly in the second half. What I lack in top-end speed, I make up for in cunning wiles - and today's victory was all the sweeter for having been narrowly defeated there twice before. Plus, spending money! A good day's toil, all in all.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Melbourne Marathon, October 2015

Fast and flat, Melbourne is one of Australia's premier marathons and I have been lucky enough to run it in both 2013 and 2014. Both years it was a great experience, even though in 2013 I fell just a little short of my goal of 2:49, and in 2014 I ran pacing a friend as I was just coming back from injury. I felt quite confident of running a decent time this year when I emailed the elite coordinator about getting in again for 2015, and was very happy when he promptly replied that it would be possible.

Melbourne is indeed quite flat - bar a rather nasty long slow rise through the Botanic Gardens that makes up the whole of mile 23 - and although it seems my running style is better suited to undulating courses (Boston is a prime example), it made sense that Melbourne should be my goal race for the year. Plus, Joel has never been there so it would be yet another opportunity for some lovely running tourism.

The Training
My training, of course, has been quite affected by the events of this year, most particularly by getting married to Joel in late February. It turns out that I'm not quite so keen to rise at 5am to run 15 miles before dawn when the other side of the bed is no longer empty, nor is a dinner of toast at 10pm after an evening treadmill run an appealing option at this point. Life, as it does, sometimes gets in the way and to be honest, I wouldn't change a thing.

And so it happened that rather than averaging my customary 90-95 miles (145-155km) per week before a big race, I only managed to average 76 mpw (122km) over the 12 weeks leading up to Melbourne. This might not seem like a major change but my past successes have come about largely due to high mileage, by which I mean consistently running 90-100 mpw, building the endurance that helps me to maintain my marathon pace for much longer during a race. I hadn't run as little as this in preparation for a goal race since early 2012, but ignorance is bliss and I never bothered to figure this out before the marathon.

Also, I managed to race no less than 7 times during that period, including 2 marathons - Wagga Trail in 3:11 (a 5 minute course PR and 1st overall female) and Sydney Marathon in 3:08 (a progression run-gone-wild sort of scenario for 14th overall female and 3rd in AG) - hardly the ideal preparation for a major marathon. I'm sure Benita had no idea what to make of all the fun I was having, but she patiently stuck by me and let me do my thing, even if much of it seemed ill-advised.

The Lead-Up
Joel and I head down to Melbourne on Friday afternoon, and on the way we come up with the idea to reprise some fun we had in New York after Boston 2014, when we went out dancing at an 80's nightclub and stayed out til 2am. Note that I said "after Boston", not 2 nights before, but we have overlooked this tiny detail because the place we want to go isn't open Sunday night so it will have to be Friday. Right? Right.

On arrival in Melbourne we google the best ramen restaurant (also a personal tradition of ours) where we slurp down some delicious noodles and google-maps our path to the nightclub, aptly named "Retro". On the way we manage to meet up with my fast friend Kelly, who is not running on Sunday and so is very happy to join us in our foolish endeavour. Much beer is drunk, many dodgy dance moves are performed, and we fall into bed at midnight exhaustedly happy.

Some last-minute cross-training. What could go wrong?

Sunday morning starts very slowly indeed with the first hangover I can remember in some time; we eventually head out for a jog and put in 4 miles exploring the banks of the Yarra River and the Botanic Gardens. We see and wave to Kelly along the way - she looks much more chipper than we both feel - and after finishing with a few fast strides, it's time to start loading up the carbs. This is the part of marathon prep that I both love and despise; it's fun at first to have a licence to gorge on pancakes and gatorade, but I know that by the end of the day I will feel so gross and bloated that I won't want to ever eat again.

Got my name on my bib again....what could possibly go wrong?

After the elite briefing we spend the afternoon walking rather too far into town to meet up with Neil (who is running the half), Lenka (one of my RunCamp roomies) and Laurence, both of whom are running the marathon. After some aimless meandering we end up at a little Italian restaurant where I force myself to eat some fries, and eventually everyone retires for an early night. Will the surfeit of carbs make up for the excesses of not only last night (alcohol and dancing) but the excess of racing and deficit of training about which I am currently firmly in denial? We will find out very soon.

Race Day
The proximity of our hotel to the MCG is marvellous - we can rise at 5am and be walking into the elite room at 5:40 without feeling the least bit rushed. I'm worrying stupidly about my lack of bathroom action (TMI but hey, we're runners, we get it) and although I've had my usual breakfast of iced coffee, nothing much is going on. Fleur shows up and both Rob de Castella and Steve Moneghetti appear in the elite room briefly (Aussie running legends, amazing!), and before too long it's time to head up to the start.

Maybe a light warmup jog will get things moving? Yes, maybe, but we arrive at the preferred/elite start area and there's a MASSIVE queue for the 3 portaloos - there's no way I'll make it to the front in time. We stand in line regardless, until I see one of the elite coordinators pulling rank to get an African elite in at the front of the queue; I've got an elite bib too and the start is just 5 minutes away. So I grab her to ask for help, and she takes me straight up the front as well.

The people waiting at the head of the queue are VERY unhappy with this and start basically abusing me but I don't care, and once in I finally manage to go, hooray, problem sorted! As I dash to the start line the coordinator is still arguing and has in fact discovered that a few of these runners are not even in the elite or preferred group: they are summarily sent far away to find their own bathrooms, which are suitably far away. Hah!

Miles 1-4: 6:12, 6:22, 6:28, 6:19 (pace in min/mile)
Off we go with everyone predictably sprinting, and I'm waiting for the pace to feel too hard, but it doesn't. Fleur is with me at first - then after a few miles she tells me "I'm easing back, my first half is going to be slower than my second." Ok, well maybe I should be doing the same?? But somehow a decision has been firmly made: today I'm going all in. I've argued many times about this sort of race strategy with the fastest (and most stubborn) runner I know, who always goes out for a PR and accepts the chance of blowing up or gracefully fading, because my own approach has generally been much more conservative. However as of right now, in this race I'll be doing a Neil!

The 2:50 pacer and his group are behind me but not far, I'm sure of it. Staying in front of them is going to be an important mental boost, although if they catch me I'll be equally happy to just keep them in sight. The first 5K passes in 19:54 - things are going well.

Miles 5-8: 6:28, 6:15, 6:26, 6:26
Mile 5 takes us into one of the fastest parts of the course, winding along beside Albert Park Lake. There's a tiny headwind and I'm reminded of 2013 when I spent this mile catching a group to shelter behind on the St Kilda foreshore. This year things are much more strung-out but there seem to be a fair few guys running my pace - and there's always the sub-2:50 horde not far behind. If the headwind out there is bad, I can always let them catch me. So I relax into things and am pleased to find the pace still doesn't feel too arduous. The 10K mark passes: 40:08. Still on track, woo hoo!

After the 10K mats I'm running next to a guy in a yellow singlet; we bump arms and apologise to each other a few times before I tell him "Next time let's just assume we are both sorry and save our breath, ok?" He laughs and I ask him if he has a time goal - I want to cry when he tells me "Just sub-3!" Um, how many marathons has he run? I can probably guess - yep, this is his second.

"You do realise right now you're on pace for 2:49?" I ask as kindly as I can. He shrugs and says "But I feel good!" Of course you do, sunshine, you've only run 10K! As diplomatically as I can, and prefacing my comments by telling him this is my 19th marathon, I tell him to slow the heck down NOW or regret it later. It's somewhat surprising when he actually does - I only wish I'd noted his bib number to look up his time later.

Miles 9-12: 6:32, 6:22, 6:35, 6:26
The turn as we head to the coast takes in a slight uphill and I clock my slowest mile of the race - it's still within the range I had in mind so that's fine and I let it go. I can hear the 2:50 pacer behind me, which inspires me to speed up a bit as we start making our way north up to St Kilda, but there's definitely a wind coming off the bay and I slow back down again in mile 11 purely because headwinds give me flashbacks now and I don't care if it means running slower, I'm staying put behind whoever is around.

A rare pic from mile 11 where I'm not shamelessly drafting

The headwind picks up as we turn to run south and I make another conscious choice - I'm going to let the 2:50 group swallow me. Fleur is among the pack and the shelter is definitely better with some people around me; this was a good decision.

Miles 13-16: 6:32, 6:25, 6:28, 6:26
We go through halfway in 1:24:55 and I'm just behind Fleur and the 2:50 guy. The pace is starting to feel tougher but I expect that at this point and it's nice to continue to see the miles click off without much time being lost. The leaders run past going the other way and I see Jess Trengove in the midst of a big group and clearly leading the womens' race. Fantastic!

I'm still with the 2:50 group when we make the turn and head north again. This part of the course is known as one of the slower stretches and I'm won't be too surprised to lose a bit of time here.....but I'm quite surprised to see Joel on the other side of the road just ahead of the 3:00 pace group. Last I saw he was not far behind me, maybe a minute or two - so what on earth has happened? It doesn't cross my mind that he has had to take a bathroom break, but I'll hear about it all in graphic detail later, and it turns out he's had an epic one. But back to the race!

Looking rather amused for no particular reason

Miles 17-20: 6:33, 6:34, 6:48, 6:35
I'm still part of the 2:50 pace group for the first 2 miles of this section, but then we go through a water station together and to put it bluntly, it's a total cluster*#ck. People are snatching water left and right and I can't find a volunteer who still has a cup to offer. At the final table one of them sees my dilemma, turns to grab a cup and pretty much flings it directly at me: my hand closes around the plastic cup but the momentum of the gesture keeps the water moving in an arc that puts most of it directly into my face. I look in the now-almost-empty cup - there's still a mouthful in there, which I guess is enough - enough, in fact, for me to choke on. Lovely. Screw this group running thing, I'm over it......and I let the 2:50 horde leave me slightly behind.

The course turns back away from the coastline and the next mile does me in. We climb up to meet the half-marathoners and my legs are not happy. It's a huge relief to get back onto St Kilda Rd and be on the other side of the road to the slow half runners.

Miles 21-24: 6:47, 6:42, 7:24, 7:00
The wheels are finally beginning to come off; my pace is slowing now despite my efforts to keep it steady. I can still see the 2:50 group up ahead, although Fleur seems to have also fallen off the back; if I can just hold on to even sub-7:00 pace I'll be okay, I decide. Struggling back towards the city I manage to keep my legs turning over as we again merge with and disentangle ourselves from the half. Things could be worse - I pass a guy who is clearly cramping badly - and then up ahead I see someone lying passed out in the gutter. Uh oh.

There are bystanders leaning over him - oh my god, is that one doing CPR?? If so I am going to have to stop, and I'm not sure I'll ever get going again. The man on the ground is wearing a blue shirt and no, although his face is ashen his eyes are open, so no CPR will be required and I can keep running. Bugger.

On the Tan track marathon diverges again from the half and here we go, the long gradual climb I've been dreading all day.  The 2:50 group is too far ahead to see now, and to make things worse, I get passed by a couple of blokes as I struggle up the hill - I'm sure I've slowed down but by how much? My Garmin beeps and I glance down: holy shit, I've lost a whole minute! Mile 24 starts - I pass a couple of guys now and the hill finally ends - time to see how much I can regain. But suddenly a female runner swoops past me, muttering "Great job" as she goes, and my heart sinks. Where on earth did she come from??

Slowly it's dawning on me - I've hit the wall. So this is how it feels! My legs just won't go any faster than 7:00 pace so I stop checking my watch and focus on just getting to the MCG alive.

just past 40K, slightly delirious, but doing "the plane" for the photographers

Miles 25, 26 & 0.2: 7:04, 7:17, 6:37 to finish
Passing Flinders St Station is fun this year because I know there will be a good photo opportunity and I have a new move to try out: the plane. One of my running friends, Alice, moonlights as a race photographer and she posted a pic on Facebook recently of herself doing it during a 5K. Apparently it is a popular pose over there but I've never ever seen anyone do it here - what better time than during the dying miles of a marathon than to try it out? So as I come around the corner I go into full-on plane mode and ham it up for the cameras - and the result is pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

I think I lost an engine somewhere around the 35K mark

Not much to say about the final miles; it seems a lot further to the stadium entrance that I recall from last year, and once there I get stuck in amongst a group of slow half-marathoners once again and it takes forever before I pop up from the tunnel onto the green grass of the MCG. The mats for the full marathon are empty so I head straight for them and as I round the corner I can hear the announcer. He just said something about...wait, what? 2:55??

No bloody way, did I really crash so badly that I'm not even going to break 2:55? The disgust is written plain across my face as I drag myself towards the finish - it's a big relief to realise that the clocks are set to the HM time or god knows what and when I hit my watch it's not as bad as I thought.

Wait, what?

Finish time: 2:54:28 (6:39 pace)

Placement: 10th OA female, 2nd in AG (F45-49)

Half splits: 1:24:55, 1:29:33

Wow, that sucked - a 4:38 positive split, probably my worst for a road marathon since Canberra 2011. But there's not much time to feel sorry for myself - there are too many people to talk to! I see Fleur and Jo and then before I know it here comes Joel, who has epic bathroom stop stories to relate. We mooch around a bit, go get our medals, head back upstairs and bump into Clare who has run the half and despite racing probably more than us recently has still managed a fantastic time. This is shaping up to be my most social marathon ever on Australian soil, which more than makes up for the slightly disappointing time. There's nothing to regret: I went for it and came up short. At least I tried!

Jo, me and Fleur - fast chicks unite!

After a shower and some time off our feet we head into town in search of chips and beer. Neil has bonked a bit in the half (1:12:35), Lenka has run an awesome PR (3:34:24) and Laurence needs some medical coaxing to join us after gutting out a courageous finish in the full marathon, but she eventually relents and we spend a very enjoyable afternoon/evening with some marvellous running buddies.

Neil, Laurence, Brent, Mariana, Joel and me....with hipster photobomber behind, how perfect

The Analysis
Now I know how it feels to go for a stretch goal, and miss. I'm glad I tried, though, and in retrospect it's pretty obvious that I just wasn't fit to run that sort of time on the mileage I had put into training. Numerous other factors could have been also to blame: too many races, too much partying, my ever-busier career. At this point in life I should be just happy to be able to run a sub-3 marathon, right? That's what I'm trying to tell myself lately - but it may or may not have sunk in just yet. Next up? Some rest, some aimless running, then we'll see if the competitive fires are ready to be re-stoked or not. Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Run With The Wind 5K/10K, October 2015

I saw an ad for this run once last year, I'm not sure if it was on Facebook or in a magazine or where, but I remember thinking how very cool it would be to run around in a wind farm - the enormous turbines whizzing around overhead - so when it popped up again a month or so ago I was quick to pounce. So what if it was just 7 days before Melbourne? What could possibly go wrong?

Since Joel has been in Australia it has also been a priority to travel for races, and since Jack ran his first 5K in Yass I had been on the lookout for another race for him to do. Run with The Wind fulfilled all of those requirements so I signed us up without a second thought. Plus, there would be some major prize money at stake for the 10K - and so it happened that I entered everyone (including Amelia) for the 5K and just myself for the 10, figuring that I *might* have a chance at some cash. If nobody younger or faster bothered to come, of course! Which is quite a big if, but still worth a shot.

The Training
I decided to run my final long run for Melbourne on Friday in order to give myself time to recover, and took things very easy on the Saturday beforehand as well. My plan going into the race was always to run a strong but not necessarily fast race; looking at the wind turbines that are visible from the highway between Wagga and Yass, Joel and I had already concluded that it was likely to be a hilly course. And the winning times from previous years backed this up: there was pretty much no way this was going to be a flat, fast course.

The Preparation
We head over to stay the night in Yass on Saturday; it's a pretty easy drive and everyone is having fun so far. Until we arrive at the hotel and I realise that the bag I very cleverly packed for the kids a whole day in advance has NOT made it into the car. Bugger!

I have pretty much decided to drive all the way home again and back (a task that will have me on the road until 11pm or so) until Joel talks me out of it; thankfully, his habit of packing way too much stuff has rubbed off on me somewhat and it turns out I have enough spare gear for both the kids. Jack has worn joggers and shorts that will go nicely with my Boston t-shirt, but Amelia is decked out in a flowing gown and platform sandals; this is quite a problem.

Through sheer luck I have left a spare running outfit - including shoes - in the back of our car and I have enough safety pins in my bag to pin a singlet and shorts so they will fit her. As for shoes, well, with 2 pairs of socks and the laces done up tight we discover that she can in fact safely wear my racing flats. I will have to wear my crappy old pink Mizunos, but so what, it's a miracle! Joel sends Amelia out to jog up and down the carpark just to check she's not going to trip and fall on her face, then we declare the problem solved and go out for dinner.

Early Sunday morning we are back on the road heading to the wind farm, which we soon realise is nowhere near the wind turbines we've seen so many times from the highway. The road meanders around in the middle of absolutely nowhere until finally we spot the turn-off to the farm - it is so hilly that the 88m tall turbines are almost all hidden from view until we get very close. Awesome! Time for a quick family pic before going off to investigate what lies in wait for us:

Small, tiny hillocks in the background. Really, they are tiny.

The 5K
There's a race briefing that mentions hills just in passing - but Joel arrives back from his warm-up looking aghast and tells a story of endless mountain ranges that essentially make up the whole of the course. We line up together and brace ourselves for it: the start is almost vertical and in fact makes Yass look practically flat. How is that even possible??

Everyone charges off up the hill when the starter fires his gun, but within about 100m many are walking. The kids make it to the top without stopping - although Amelia is quite a way behind - so I pause there and wait for her to catch up. There's a lovely downhill but it is very clear that no part of this run is actually going to be flat. As far as the eye can see, the hills just keep going - with enormous white turbines perched along the ridge where we are to run.

Both barrelling along despite the terrain

The second mile starts and I'm having quite a hard time keeping Amelia moving - Jack has disappeared in front, which is fine - when suddenly I see the leader heading back towards me. And who is this in second place? It's Joel! I'm so excited I don't know whether to scream or take a picture, because I know I probably can't do both at once - screams are momentary but a picture lasts forever - so I grab my phone and snap a shot before it's too late.

In 2nd place! Wheeee!!

There's not much to say about the rest of what for me is a stop-start warmup run; the relentless hills are too much for both kids who are stopping to walk on most of the uphills. I catch Jack once and then again on the final hill: "Don't let me beat you!!" I yell at him and he takes off like a rabbit. Amelia is struggling with her shorts so we stop to re-pin them and she then jogs the whole rest of the course, finishing her first (but hopefully also hilliest) 5K ever!

Joel has finished 3rd - overtaken on the final hill by some young thing - every exciting but there's no time to talk because the briefing for the 10K is already underway. I don't bother to listen, really; it's just going to be a whole lot of talk about hills, isn't it? Instead I attempt a few strides and size up the competition: there are 4 young (in comparison to me, at least), fast-looking females lined up right at the front. Well, 5th place won't be a bad outcome then. Sigh.

The 10K

Miles 1-3: 6:38, 7:59, 6:54 (pace in min/mile)
We set off downhill away from the start area and everyone is just FLOORING it: I glance at my Garmin after about half a mile and laugh when I see 6:09 pace. That's 3:49 min/km and pretty much normal 10K pace for me, but I know it won't last. We approach a turnaround and I count the women ahead of me - I'm in 9th position when the course turns and the inevitable long uphill begins. Let's see who went out too fast, shall we then?

Leading the charge up the steepest hill on the wind farm, if not the whole planet

By the time mile 2 has finished I have overtaken so many runners, quite a few of them women, that I don't know exactly where I am in the field now. At least one of the fasties who was raring to go at the start line is in fact WALKING when I approach her not long after we pass through the start/finish area and encounter that ridiculously steep section once again. Walking at mile 2 of a 10K - something I've never seen before, well except last week in Yass. Cough, cough.

I'm trying to count girls ahead of me and I think there are 3? So 4th, well that's not too bad! I spin my legs to make the most of the downhill that takes me out on the 5K loop again, and brace myself for the next up.

Miles 4-6.2: 7:11, 7:12, 7:07, 6:19 pace to the finish
There's another hairpin turn during mile 4 and I take the opportunity - whilst struggling up the hill to the turning point - to again count the females ahead of me. But one is missing! I could swear there were 3 but it seems there are only 2: a figure in a blue singlet that I thought was a chick is actually a teenage boy. Ooh! Could there be another unexpected podium appearance in my near future? The thought is enough to keep me feeling relatively cheerful despite the ongoing hideousness of the hills - a runner coming the other way tells me "You're 3rd lady!" and confirms what I thought - prize money could be mine! And all these hills might just be almost worth it.

Miles 5 takes me back towards the finish but there's one more out-and-back loop to conquer: the one that takes us up Giants' Hill. Aptly named, it's a bloody giant of a thing and I catch a few more people on its rugged slopes. The top takes forever to reach but finally I'm there and turn to find a long gap until the next runner behind me - I should be able to hold onto 3rd place, which is great!

Giants' Hill behind me, I'm glaring down at the finish yet to come

I bomb back down the hill and make the turn onto the main road to find Joel and kids there screaming encouragement - I'm so focused on not falling off this ridiculously steep slope that it's all I can do to smile (briefly) and wave as I whizz past towards the line - and there you have it, a 10K race the weekend before a marathon.

Finish time: 45:03 (7:08 pace)

Placement: 3rd female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

What a successful day! Joel and I have placed exactly the same, again, and we both get cool medals and a bag of various stuff for our efforts. I am presented with a giant paper cheque and get to feel like an obese, elderly midget when I have to stand next to the winner, a very tall and thin young lady who is in fact 27 years my junior. No doubt she has an illustrious running career ahead of her, but I'm satisfied with how our day has unfolded: the kids have both run wonderfully well (Jack has in fact run 9 seconds faster than in Yass, and Amelia despite all the walking has placed 12th in her AG) and both Joel and I have something to show for our efforts.

Winners are grinners! And I'm somehow suddenly short and stumpy.

The Analysis
I don't actually feel like I ever really ran at 10K pace or effort during this race - perhaps right at the start, but not for a sustained period of time at any stage. That's a good thing with regard to Melbourne, and perhaps today was a strength workout in disguise. Whatever it was, I just have to hope that it won't hurt my race in 7 days' time - and if it does, then at least it was worth it for the fun and unique experience we have all just had amongst the wind turbines.

To top it all off, we make it into the Canberra Times the very next day - hooray!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Run Y'ass Off 14K, September 2015

In previous years the Yass Valley Running Festival was held in October in the weeks after Melbourne marathon (a regular fixture on my calendar these past few years) and although I did participate in 2013, just 2 weeks after running 2:50:19 at Melbourne, last year I decided to give it a miss. My excuse at the time was that it was way too close to the other race; it would therefore seem ridiculous that I would decide to run it again just ONE week - in fact only 6 days - after running (not racing) Sydney marathon.

But ridiculous or not, I decided it would be a fun event for Joel to run (he does love our hilly Aussie races, after all) and not only for him but also the kids. Jack has been talking for a while about doing his first 5K and I figured that this would be a golden opportunity; plus, I already knew my friend Fleur would be running and that her husband would be able to watch the kids while Joel and I did the 14K.

Unfortunately I left it way too late to book accommodation for the weekend and when I finally got around to trying, the combination of school holidays and Canberra's Floriade meant there was nothing available in either Yass or our national capital. Bugger! But it's not that far of a drive, really, so I packed us up for a day trip and we hit the road at 6:30am on race day.

The Preparations
Um. None, really, other than a (relatively) easy week on the heels of last weekend's racing-while-not-racing shenanigans. And I make the small concession of entering for the shorter distance - the 14K in preference to the half - even though I know Fleur is also doing the 14K and is guaranteed to kick my ass comprehensively.

In a way this is also strategic: I know I can't beat Fleur, even at my fastest, so realising I can finish only 2nd at best, I definitely won't be tempted to race this one all-out. Well, that's the mindset I have going into the event, and all that can be said is that I am TRYING to be sensible. Benita appears to be in a state of disbelief that I'm even thinking of entering another event already and hasn't given me any kind of plan for the 14K; so I'll have to just see how I feel. Wheee?

Race Day
It's a slightly cool 12C when we roll up to Heritage Park and there are a few clouds coming and going: perfect racing weather, really! Um, running. Not racing. Oops. I don't really manage to get a warm-up in, somehow, and I find myself marching over to the starting area with Joel and Fleur in a fairly unprepared state. Oh well! Once again I'm not really racing so it actually doesn't matter.

The start is just as hilly as I remember. Joel almost passes out in shock at the sight of it:

But wait, that's just the FIRST hill.

We line up suitably far back from the front, although not TOO far because there are no mats and we'll all be going off gun time. We may not be officially racing, but the competitive spirit is never too far from the surface! And with that we are off, or perhaps it would be better described as "up, up and away....."?

Miles 1-3: 7:31, 6:38, 6:48 (pace in min/mile)
I'm trying not to kill myself on this first hill, but it's tempting: quite a lot of runners streak out way in front and part of me definitely wants to go with them. But it's just too much of a slog - my marathon-weary legs are having no part of it, thanks - and I have to settle for the moderate-paced jog that is the best they can offer. The first mile is a constant procession of inclines, one after the other; towards the top of it Joel pulls ahead of me and there's no way I can stay with him. Sigh - but on the other hand he needs a solid run after the disappointment of being beaten by me in the Lake 10K not long ago - and so I'm more pleased than peeved that he looks set to crush me today.

Then, to my very great surprise, just as we crest the final hill a bloke running directly in front of me abruptly slows down and actually starts walking. Doesn't he know there are more than 12km left to go?? But it's not the first time this will happen: another guy does something similar just 100m further down the road. At least I know by this stage in my running life that there is nothing to be gained by going out too fast - but it seems these dudes are yet to make that connection. Oh well - let's see how many more of them I can overtake!

Suitably ghastly elevation profile, note 1st mile

The second mile is mostly downhill, a pleasant reward for the suffering endured in the first one, and then things start to undulate upwards again. I'm catching a man who is clearly a triathlete, wearing a white singlet with "TriTravel" emblazoned on the back and the characteristic shorts-over-tights look that screams "multisport athlete" (well, really it's more like "tosser" but I'm trying to be polite). Just as he's in the middle of passing another fellow, I pull up alongside and sail past them both. Yippee, now I'm having fun!

Miles 4-6: 6:27, 6:57, 6:29
Having fun means I'm now running around marathon pace, which is not 14K pace but still somewhat too fast for today and for my poor legs. And what's this now? It appears TriTravel does not like being passed, not one little bit; as soon as the course turns downhill again he BLAZES back past me in a flurry of white lycra and over the next mile or so he puts quite a bit of distance between us.

Oh, it's going to be like that is it? I chuckle inwardly as the half-marathoners peel off to the right; we take the gravel road to the left and suddenly it's apparent that there are only 4 runners ahead of me, including TriTravel. We are spaced out fairly evenly: Fleur is way out ahead with another bloke hot on her heels, Joel is mid-way between Fleur and myself, and TriTravel is midway between myself and Joel. Hmm, this is going to be interesting.

Mile 5 is uphill and I'm still not sure what TriTravel has up his white lycra sleeve, but apparently it's not endurance. He fades consistently back towards me and by the start of mile 6 he's again within striking distance. Time to act! I surge past him again and he panics - he pushes hard and once again he's in front. But his breathing gives him away: he's not going to stay there for much longer. My legs may be toast but the engine is firing on all cylinders and I'm not even puffed yet - by the end of mile 6 I've gotten him once again and the noisy sound of his breathing fades rapidly behind me. I'm in fourth position overall, my husband is in 3rd and my friend Fleur is somewhere ahead of us both, possibly winning. This is a great day!

Miles 7, 8 & finish 0.9: 6:34, 6:30, 6:18 pace (0.24 miles long by my Garmin)
Shortly after I pass TriTravel we pop back out onto the roads and I'm back in my element. I remember this part clearly from 2013, also - there are plenty of undulations and one rather nasty hill coming up before we will finally be heading back down to the river and the finish line. Joel is far, far away now and Fleur is ahead of him still; I can see someone in yellow beside her but I can't decide if it's a lead cyclist or another runner.

Whatever's going on up front, I need to ignore it and focus on keeping my legs turning over comfortably. I'm focusing on running the tangents (although my Garmin will later disagree) and this keeps me mentally occupied until it becomes clear that I'm almost back in town - there's a familiar sharp downhill and I know what's coming next: that nasty steep hill with a church at the top. Ugh, it's torture, but I keep things moving and then it's wheeeee all the way down to the river. I can hear the announcer saying something about Fleur....wow, he's announcing her as the overall winner!

As usual he's smiling while I'm all steely focus - at least we both have cool shirts

This knowledge is enough to spur me on to new heights of speed, despite the increasing protestations of my leg muscles. I power along by the river and now it's Joel's name I'm hearing - he's coming in 3rd overall and 2nd male. YES!! I'm almost there, it's further than it should be and according to my Garmin I should already be there, but finally I'm on the grass in the finish chute and over the line.

Finish time: 59:52

Placement: 4th OA, 2nd woman and 2nd in AG (F40-49) - Fleur, obviously has won (again).

Wow, what an outcome: Fleur has won the whole bloody thing and both Joel and I have placed 2nd in AG and gender! And he's crushed me by more than 2 minutes, in fact. Nevertheless I'm happy with my run: it's a lot more than I expected from my legs just 6 days after a marathon, that's for sure. But there is no time to gloat over our achievements: the kids need to be marshalled and prepared for their races too. Jack smashes out his first 5K on a very difficult course (a hilly loop that he has to complete twice) and manages to win his age group! He's a little crestfallen to discover he was the only under-10 to run the 5K but I tell him firmly that he deserves the medal even more because he was the only kid his age with the guts to attempt such a tough race, and he's pretty happy with that explanation.

First 5K, yay!

In the end everyone has a medal (Amelia gets one of mine for finishing the 2.5K with a smile) and we head out for lunch and then the trip back home.

The family that runs together, has a lot of laundry to do.

So I guess this was a strength/endurance workout in disguise? It was pretty daring of us to even attempt this sort of thing on the heels of last weekend's marathon, but it seems to have paid off. I know a few people who "race themselves into shape" rather than doing routine speed work - looks like I have joined their ranks! How it will all fit into the grand scheme is yet to be determined, but either way I'm having a ton of fun with the whole family, and nothing could be better than that.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sydney Marathon, September 2015

After 7 times running the Blackmores' half-marathon in September, you'd think I'd be ready for a shot at the full distance in Sydney, but this has never actually been the case. The course for the half is challenging enough - hilly with plenty of hairpin turns - that I never felt the need to double the distance.

Hairpin turns, anyone? Thanks, I'll take a dozen.

I had entered for the half once again in 2015, and it was my husband Joel's idea to change distances: fretting over his apparent lack of running during the American summer, by which I mean he never once ran over 100 miles in a week (appalling, I know), he thought the idea of a supported long run made more sense than trying to do the half and add on miles before and after.

How could I disagree with that? Accordingly I quickly embraced the idea of a marathon as a training run, and talked it over at some length with Benita with regards to how doing the full distance in Sydney could double as a specific long run in the buildup to Melbourne. We settled on a quite exact pacing plan for the whole 26.2 mile distance, and on Friday before not-race weekend Joel and I headed to Sydney with great intentions - chiefly of having fun and enjoying the lack of pressure that "not-racing" would surely bring.

Race Preparation
It seems unnecessary to talk about "pre-race training" for what is going to be essentially a supported long run, so let's talk instead about the preparations that took place in the days leading up to the event.

We arrive relaxed and hungry in Sydney and are soon on the hunt for food; ideally this would include carbohydrates of some sort, but after months of deprivation in Wagga (on my part, at least) we're really not that fussy. Walking to our hotel through World Centre we spy a sushi place and OMG it's the best thing I've ever tasted. Plus, rice is carbs!

Joel then announces that we are meeting our fast friend Neil for dinner and drinks later - seems like a good excuse to continue carb-loading with beer, which is fine by me - little do I know that the dinner part will be forgotten and the drinks part will turn into full-blown pub-crawl that will end in an enormous basket of chips at City Extra at 1am.

Now we're upright..............(5 beers).............now we're not

Saturday morning is a complete write-off but it seems like a great idea to laze around the day before a marathon, so we embrace the idea and only emerge for a jog and brief (underwhelming) visit to the expo, then it's time for carbs and early bedtime. Getting up at 5am to get ready and head over to Milsons Point is no trouble at all, and it's quite perfect weather too. I spy my fast friend Kelly - she comes over for a hug as she's heading out with the other elites to warm up - despite our stated "training run" intentions, Joel and I are lined up at the very very front of the A corral. It's nothing like the ruthless, pushy half-marathon A corral; I've been trampled and squeezed to within an inch of my life in there more times than I care to remember. But here we're casually standing around chatting when the call comes to move up, and even then people take some encouraging before moving forward. So civilised! Let's see how this goes, then.

Miles 1-4: 7:37, 7:10, 7:10, 7:38
5K split:  23:06
As usual it's quite impossible to hold back adequately during the stampede up towards the Harbour Bridge, so I'm not worried when the first mile is considerably faster than planned. There are plenty of miles ahead in which to get it right! But the second sees an inexplicable acceleration taking place; Joel is still right with me and we decide run together over the bridge at least. Mile 3 is no better really, then finally during mile 4 I decide to make an effort: as per Benita the first 10K are supposed to be at 8:00 pace or slower, and frankly things are a bit out of control right now. I feel a sense of achievement when I see 7:38 on the Garmin, then the course turns steeply downhill towards Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Oh dear. Three guesses at to what is going to happen next?

Oh dear.

Miles 4-8: 7:16, 7:31, 7:20, 7:10
5-10K split: 22:51
Yes, that's right: we speed up yet again. Joel is still beside me but at the end of mile 5 he decides he needs a toilet stop; he is still insisting that he's running 3:30 today so he bids me farewell and good luck as I head back up and away from the harbour. But within the next mile he pops right up next to me again, having run 6:49 pace UPHILL in order to do so. "I thought you said you were running slow today?" I remark casually, and in return he shrugs and says "Whatever". Ok then, it looks like we're in this together after all. Wheeee!

Whizzing through Hyde Park, completely ignoring the race plan.
(photobomber bib #10262 will turn out to be someone we know)

Somehow the pace keeps drifting inevitably back down towards 7:10 - I can't explain it, but it FEELS like I'm running easy pace, so I just go with the flow. We whiz through Hyde Park and head up Oxford Street; "Nasty hill here" I tell Joel but we make our way up it without slowing down at all.

There's a weird out-and-back along Moore Park Road and during the "back" section of it we are greeted by a Kiwi accent from the other side of the road: it's our good mate Tony, out for a morning jog! He seems to have been swept up in the race somehow (hmmm) and pretty soon he appears alongside to keep us company for a while. Cool!

Then not long afterwards a bloke running nearby says to me "Didn't I meet you at RunCamp last year?" and look at that, it's Ben. Our group has swelled to four members  - I introduce everybody and spend some time catching up with Ben about his recent races and his hopes for today. Turns out it's his first marathon and he only trains 3 times a week! If I wasn't concentrating on running too fast I"d probably fall over at this news; instead I simply tell him that the last 6 miles are going to be interesting, and our little group powers on towards Centennial Park.

Miles 9-12: 6:57, 7:15, 7:11, 7:05
10-15K split: 22:50
More confusing hairpin turns and loops all over the place - somehow we now clock our fastest mile of the race so far (oops) - perhaps I've lost concentration because I'm just too busy chatting, who knows. The social side of this "racing-while-not-racing" gig is marvellous and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself at this point, despite the marked lack of interesting scenery.

Inside the park Ben is still with us and I've sort of decided that since I was supposed to be running a bit faster this 10K section of the race, I'm not going to worry about trying to slow down anymore. Tony engages in a bit of banter with a bloke in a grey singlet who seems QUITE offended at the realisation that Tony is effectively a bandit, although it's also possible that he's just offended at being effortlessly passed by a chick in a pink singlet, who knows? We leave him behind without anybody coming to blows, so at least there's that.

Miles 13-16: 7:14, 7:00, 6:58, 7:04
15-20K split: 22:25
Halfway: 1:35:34 (on pace for 3:11:08)
We go through halfway in a tight little group and I remark to Ben that we're on track for a finish time of around 3:10 or so. For his first marathon he'd be pretty darn happy with that, as it turns out, and I'm  just hoping that he'll be able to hang on. Because I intend to speed up from this point; this was in Benita's original plan, to speed up from 20-30K, and I figure I should try to do at least part of what I was told to. That's much better than nothing, right?

The next few miles see us passing quite a lot of people really now, and my competitive side is pleased to see that a few of them are women. At this rate I might even place in my AG...not that I'm racing or anything....no, nothing like that. Mile 16 takes us out of the park again and Tony peels off to head elsewhere; we three now start making our way back towards the city.
20-25K split: 21:55

Miles 17-20: 6:56, 7:07, 6:47, 6:47
25-30K split: 21:41
We pound the pavements in silence for a while and the course takes us back down Oxford Street - the downhill is helping maintain a faster pace and just when I'm wondering what has happened to Ben a voice pipes up behind me "I'm still here....", which makes me laugh. Joel is running strongly after seeming a bit less enthusiastic inside the park, and it's obvious his claims of intending to slow down in the later miles are not going to come to much.

The 30K mark brings me an interesting dilemma: as per Benita I am supposed to slow down again now for the final 12km. Although she did say "Run as you feel" - that could be used to justify about ANYTHING really. Cheered by this realisation, I decide to just keep going and see how it feels. Our two fastest miles of the race so far are the immediate result.

Miles 21-24: 6:55, 6:59, 6:57, 6:54
30-35K split: 21:54
We're back down at Circular Quay now and heading out towards Pyrmont for a final out-and-back loop, complete with obligatory hairpin turns and few nasty hills that I won't mention to Joel yet. Thankfully there's a lot of distractingly beautiful scenery to take in; we've run this part of the course a few times together in past trips to Sydney and it's all very familiar.

Heading out along Hickson Road we see Kelly coming back in 5th place - I pretty much go nuts at this and use all my available energy to jump up and down screaming her name - she's on track to run a huge PR and win the Australian Marathon Champs. How wonderful!

It's all enough to keep me speeding along at a pace that may or may not be appropriate at this stage of the game, but at least it feels good. The heavens have decided to bless us with a sprinkling of rain, which is not unwelcome actually, and before we know it we're back on the Western Distributor on our way to the finish at the Opera House. A good time for a little game of assassin mode? Because I can see at least 2, maybe 3 women ahead whom I would quite like to pass. Let's go!

35-40K split: 22:04

Miles 25-26.2: 6:55, 7:07, 6:24 pace to finish
Slowly but surely we haul in one, two, three female runners. To my great surprise, each says something nice to me as we pass: "Good job" or "Great running", which is great sportsmanship really and I warmly congratulate them each in return. Only one tries to fight back by surging as I pull alongside her - she tries it twice but I'm relentless and she's got nothing left the third time I pull in front. This brings us to within sight of the Opera House, and the obligatory photo opportunity. Thank goodness we both have enough energy left to smile and wave! The resulting photo is definitely a keeper:

Bonus points awarded to anyone with enough energy left to be photogenic at mile 25.2

We are so nearly there! The final mile beeps on my Garmin - somewhat prematurely, it seems, but whatever - as we dash through Circular Quay to the home stretch. Another female runner appears ahead and both Joel and I lose all self-control, which means we start flat-out sprinting. Another couple of runners are within sight and with the way we're flooring it now, they are quickly also behind us. It's beyond exciting to feel this good at the end of such a long run, and at risk of posting way too many pictures, it most definitely shows. Plus, Joel and I have never before run a whole marathon together. This is major!!

OMG OMG OMG too exciting!!

We dash up the ramp to the final 100 meter finish chute and Joel grabs my hand - together we sprint to the line as the announcer yells our names and the crowd (damp and a bit scanty, but enthusiastic) goes nuts. It's in fact my third slowest road marathon ever - not an issue since I supposedly wasn't racing, ahem - but you'd be forgiven for thinking I've just run a 30 minute PR, I'm that excited and enthused.

Finish time: 3:08:11 (7:06 overall pace)

Placement: 118th OA, 14th female, 3rd in AG (F40-49)

A 3 minute negative split?! This is only the second time I've ever done that (the other being CIM almost 4 years ago) and it feels fantastic. We wander over to get our finisher shirts and when we return, here's Ben who has just run an impressive 3:13 for his debut marathon. He's happy but semi-delirious with exhaustion; we exchange congratulations then head up to the Recovery Village while he looks for somewhere to collapse.

A dead heat - but look at the overall placement, snigger snigger

Ok, it's sort of unclear right now what effect today will have on Melbourne, my goal race that is only 4 weeks away. Last year I ran 2:53 in Melbourne just 3 weeks before New York  and I still suspect that might have damaged my performance in NYC, although the 60kph headwind probably didn't help either. Then again, I had been injured for a month in August last year and only been back running properly for a few weeks before Melbourne.....another factor that could easily have played a part in how things worked out.

An easy week of recovery is on the cards and then I guess we will see what happens; all this racing is sort of fun, in a slightly masochistic sort of a way, and having fun is as important as running well, isn't it? Hmmmm. At some point I may need to make a choice.