Friday, June 12, 2015

SMH half-marathon, May 2015

The SMH half-marathon was my first ever race of this distance, way back in 2001, and for some obscure reason has always been one of my favourites. Not because it's fast or flat (trust me, it's not) or easy to run (hairpin turns, anyone? Thanks, I'll take a dozen) but because somehow it's so very Sydney. The city where I grew up is without a doubt in my mind the most beautiful city in the world - despite being hilly and congested and therefore not exactly a running paradise - so running a big race there is always something I enjoy.

See?? It's gorgeous!

I've raced the SMH half quite a few times now - my worst outing being 2010 (coming back from years of injuries and babies), my best 2013 (narrowly beating 2014, both years following a sub-2:50 marathon at Boston) - and while I knew that 2015 was very unlikely to be a fast year, it presented the perfect opportunity to show Joel around my hometown. So I signed us both up!

Past results

The Training
Well, not so much training as recovery, really, after our Boston 2 Big Sur extravaganza. Both Joel and I were very surprised to discover how good our legs felt the morning after Big Sur - I'm still not sure how that happened, although I suspect it was the vast quantity of food that I ate in the hospitality tent immediately after finishing at Big Sur - so it wasn't much trouble to run 44 miles the week after, and kick straight back up into the 70s the week after that. All easy jogging, no workouts (I've given Benita the month off, or perhaps it's the other way around?) and all very relaxed and fun. Apart from last weekend, ahem. But that's another story.

We head up to Sydney with the kids in tow and spend the days leading up to the race doing touristy things, which is a lot of fun but of course involves a lot of walking that probably isn't too advisable with a race coming up. Dad comes to stay with the kids overnight before the race, as he has done several times before now, and it's only a mile to the start so we don't even have to get up all that early, really. Both of us are in the preferred start group and I've even managed to score myself a seeded bib this year (after being rather miffed at never having one the past 2 years when I was probably much more deserving!) so we jog a short warmup, wave hi to Neil and then insert ourselves into the crowd forming behind the start line. I have seriously NO idea what my legs are capable of today, but here we go!

A demented spider crawling on my map? No, it's the half-marathon course.

Miles 1-4: 5:59, 6:15, 6:36, 6:07 (pace in minutes/mile)
As usual everyone takes off like a pack of maniacs and we all tear down the first mile to Circular Quay - I'm a bit surprised that the end of the mile now seems to have an uphill in it somehow - but whatever, this is fun, wheeeeee! I slow down without realising it during mile 3, however, and Joel appears grinning beside me once again. Oh no you don't, I think, and take off again like my shoes are on fire. He's going to have to work for it if he thinks he's going to beat me this weekend too!

The usual story: I'm all laser-like focus while he's having way too much fun

Miles 5-8: 5:58, 6:18, 6:16, 5:59
We wind our way out through Pyrmont and I'm astonished to see some really inappropriately fast mile splits popping up on my Garmin - sub-6:00 pace this far into a half marathon? Really?? But I feel good, surprisingly good actually, and I can't see Joel anymore (heh heh) so I might as well go with the flow. Liam Adams heads past in the other direction and he's waaaay ahead of the guy in 2nd; the flow of runners coming back starts to increase as I see Neil storming past in 7th place, then it's around the turn and ooh, there's Joel about 30 seconds behind me. Let's chuck another sub-6:00 mile in there just for fun!

Near halfway, working my way past an unhappy gaggle of blokes

Miles 9-12: 6:10, 6:38, 6:15, 5:59
The course heads back through Pyrmont and so far the blistering pace doesn't seem to be hurting me -  I hit the 10K mark in around 38:30 which is a fairly remarkable split considering what I've put my legs through in the past month. But the short, sharp hills that greet me on the way up to the Cahill Expressway are a nasty shock and I slow down enough for Joel to catch me again - just as the mile 10 split beeps he eases up alongside me, waves cheekily and accelerates past.

Ugh! All I can do is watch him pull ahead as we burn through the tunnel and out along the Expressway above Circular Quay....our mutual running buddy Tony is standing on the left and yells out "Watch it, Joel, she's catching you!!", but he has it completely the wrong way around. Oh well!

Being caught again inspires me to speed back up again and even the painful hill up Macquarie St doesn't slow me down too much; what's more surprising is that I've got enough left to really pick it up on the final downhill mile around Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Another sub-6:00 mile, whoopee! But I know what's coming.....

Is she catching me? Oh god, she's catching me!!

Mile 13-0.1: 6:32, 6:47 pace to finish
The final mile is uphill. Seriously, whoever thought this out needs a stern talking-to. I round the turn at the end of the point and Joel is about 10-15 seconds ahead, but I've given today's race everything I've got and there's not much left with which to battle. I'd love to catch up more - I'm catching all the people between us, in fact - but it's not going to happen. The only pleasant surprise at the end of the very painful slog back up Art Gallery Road is that this year they've eliminated the final, soul-destroying out-and-back along College St (must have been that extra hill at mile 1-2, hmm)  so when I hit the top the course pretty much makes a beeline for Hyde Park where the finish line awaits. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Rounding the corner to the finish, I look up to see the clock just turning over 1:23. Good grief, that's a lot faster than I was expecting! I throw myself at the line with every ounce of energy I've got left and pull up where Joel is standing, very pleased but also rather unpleasantly close to throwing up. Ooog.

"Wheeeeee!!" vs "Uurggghhh"

Finish time: 1:23:19 (6:15 pace)

Placement: 14th female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

He's beaten me by 13 seconds, a much narrower margin than at last week's 10K and this reflects what we already know is true: the longer the distance, the better I get! It's been suggested to me that I should try ultras, and as soon as a day contains 30 hours instead of 24, I'm sure I will have time for that.

Less than 60 seconds slower than last year! It's comforting to know that I apparently haven't lost all that much in terms of fitness, despite the random training and of course being a year older. And maybe I *was* in shape for 2:50 or so at Boston - bloody Weather Curse, I can't wait til that one wears out.

Joel declares the race "the hilliest and toughest half I've ever run!" but agrees it was a great way to check out Sydney, and I'm rather excited to find out that although the field was stacked with fast young things, I'm officially the fastest old chick of the day. My first AG win in this race, hooray!! And probably a guarantee that even though it's hilly and tough, we will both be back next year.


  1. Hee, Joel definitely looks like he's having way too much fun for a hard race!

    And the last mile being uphill is totally unfair. But I am not surprised - when I saw the name of the race I laughed, because 'SMH' means 'so much hate' in my corner of the internet.

    1. Wow, I never knew that. Of course it stands for Sydney Morning Herald (our best newspaper, or it was until they made it a tabloid not a broadsheet a few years ago) but So Much Hate or possibly So Many Hills would both be viable alternatives.

  2. Great account Rachel. You'll have to get Joel to race the Wagga Trail Half - I'd rate that as tougher. I like the look of the one lap course, but so crowded - especially where I'd be running. But yes, a beautiful Sydney run.