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.


  1. great race rachel, and once again you prove that smart racing strategy pays off (in more ways than one)! congrats!

  2. Good racing Rachel. I enjoyed reading that - how the tactics played out. Exciting! Glad you didn't pull a hammy when you extended your stride ;-) I reckon you should apply for the Aussie Survivor - you'd be great at challenges and are small enough to fly under the radar. Play a good social game too.