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) 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, 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.

1 comment:

  1. Have fun AND run well! Glad I caught up with this report before 'Run with the Wind' and Melbourne. There was so much wind at the former that Melbourne is sure to be dead calm, in spite of Joel's presence.