Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cadbury Hobart Half-Marathon, January 2015

The cooler climate of Hobart - the capital city of Tasmania, that smallish island to the south of the mainland, the one that is often left off maps of Australia - is probably the only place on the continent that could host a major running event in January (at the height of summer) and get away with it. After the fairly disappointing racing experience in New York, I laid low and sulked for a while before eventually deciding to snap out of it and find a way to redeem myself. The opportunity presented itself quite promptly in the form of the Australian Masters Half-Marathon Championships, to be held in conjunction with the Cadbury Hobart HM.

Note the sponsor: Cadbury, makers of all manner of yummy chocolate and other sweet treats. I'd never really considered a trip to Hobart (too cold) but suddenly it all made sense (chocolate) and I decided to sign up.

mmmm, chocolate

The Training
After NYC I found myself feeling draggy, tired and sore in a few spots; no doubt the mental toil of 26.2 miles in a hurricane-strength headwind also had taken its toll. I refused to even consider doing any speedwork when Benita started trying to work it back into my plan towards the end of November; fortunately she was very understanding  of my reluctance (thanks, B) and so it was mid-December when I finally started putting some effort in. I was also keen to build back my overall weekly mileage once I felt recovered from NYC, managing to clock up 110 miles in the week prior to race week in Hobart. I can't imagine that this made for the most ideal half-marathon prep, but it was certainly adequate.

The Travel
Travelling to Hobart from Wagga is somewhat tricky, but on a solo trip I have no particular reasons to worry about layovers or keeping maniac kids occupied, so it's going to be smooth sailing no matter what, really. I set off very early on Saturday morning and find myself in Tasmania just after lunch - my hilariously quaint accommodations are relatively easy to find (although I have no idea how anybody ever found anything in the era before Google maps) - and there is plenty of time to pick up race bibs, find a nice cafe for lunch, and even to relax and wander about the city centre a bit before it's time to pick up my fast friend Neil (whom I know from RunCamp in June) and head to the Best Western hotel for the official pre-race pasta dinner.

Hobart, heritage-style

At the dinner we don't officially know anybody but we land at a table with a bloke who looks very familiar. Turns out I've met him a couple of times at Gold Coast and Melbourne in the elite field - he is looking to run a blisteringly fast time in the HM tomorrow - we chat and scoff pasta before eventually wandering off in search of beer. Again, possibly not the best pre-race preparation, but it's not like I'm going to win tomorrow; Masters, maybe, but overall there is no chance. So beer, because, why not?

Race Day
I should be used to getting up at 4:30am by this point, but it's still just too darn early. Somehow, though,  I'm up and downstairs - where Neil is already waiting - when it's time to leave at 5:10am, and we make the drive to the Cadbury factory without any trouble. The roads are to be closed at 5:45am but we make it there in good time and in fact snag a great parking spot just before a massive influx sees the carpark fill to capacity.

The good news is that it's around 13C/55F out and cloudy, which is essentially perfect running weather. It definitely doesn't feel like the middle of summer, but whatever, it's all about the running today. The marathon starts at 6am, so rather than warm up we hang around and watch the marathoners get started. I usually run 2 miles with some strides before a HM, but somehow we are almost out of time and I'm not sure where to run anyway because the marathoners are busily doing loops on the only available roads.

Eventually we decide to jog on the oval near the carpark, but the grass is wet, my shoes are getting damp and it's all too much bother really. After 1 measly lap we both give up and focus on getting ready for the race. There are almost 700 starters but it's relatively easy to insert ourselves at the very front of the pack - and with very little fanfare other than a mis-firing gun, we are off!

Front row is where it's at...for Clare, me and Neil at least.

Miles 1-3: 6:35, 6:25, 6:26 (pace in min/mile)
The first mile involves a loop around the houses near the Cadbury factory, and it's mostly flat so I'm not surprised that the first 1km sign appears and I glance at my watch to see 3:52 - that's 6:13 min/mile, which is an appropriate HM pace for me. I feel good but Benita told me to take it easy the first 5-10km and I sort of intend to try to live up to that (how's that for commitment?) so I deliberately ease back on the pace and am rewarded with a first mile split that is my slowest of the whole race.

We head down a nastily steep hill next; coming back up that right at the very end of the race is going to be potentially quite unpleasant. There are two women only ahead of me - Brisbane-based pocket rocket Clare Geraghty, who is most certainly going to win today, and another girl who looks similarly young - but now a 3rd with a blonde ponytail and pink singlet goes charging past me. What?? This will not do!

The next 2 miles undulate more than I was expecting, but I catch Pink Ponytail without too much effort and focus on moving ahead of her. The sun has come out and is unexpectedly bright, but otherwise it's a perfect day and pace-wise I'm even doing what I was told for once. Excellent!

Grinning widely, probably because Pink Ponytail is behind me again

Miles 4-6: 6:16, 6:19, 6:29
Wow, already I am catching the slower marathoners and the course is gradually getting more crowded. Without realising I speed up a touch - I'm not checking my Garmin, deliberately, and am running mostly by feel. My goal for the day was to win the Masters championship, and success in that regard is virtually assured, but I still want to run a good race. That hill we just came down is on my mind, but I need to forget about it for a few miles at least.

A small group of guys powers past me at this point; among them are 2 men who are clearly in the Masters race. I wonder briefly if I'll see them again. The course turns off the main highway and winds its way through parklands right by the Derwent river - I'm distracted by the beauty of it all - and then suddenly there is a rather sizeable hill looming in front of me. Isn't this course supposed to be "fast and flat"?? Not for the first time I'm reminded that a course promoter's idea of fast and flat may not correspond entirely with my own.

I'm distracted also by the sight of the lead marathoners already powering down the other side of the road on their way back for a second lap of the course. This adds a degree of complexity to the race: not only do I have to make my way round an increasing number of slow marathoners on the left, I have to avoid an increasing stream of marathoners, and soon also there will be half-marathoners, coming back the other way. Passing through a water station is sheer chaos with people dodging all over the road; I'm certainly thankful I don't need to drink at this point.

Remarkably symmetrical out-and-back course

Miles 7-9: 6:22, 6:16, 6:06
Getting up onto the bridge is not really much fun, but things flatten out once I'm up there and it's actually not too bad. I catch back up to the group of men that passed me before, and almost at the same time Neil zooms past on the other side of the bridge. One of my goals for today is to finish within 10 minutes of his time but right now it's not looking all that good. I yell and wave - he's in 4th overall - but he's gone in an instant and I go back to concentrating on the race at hand.

Now I'm watching the other side of the road for the 2nd female (who has her name on her bib - it's Ruth) and am quite surprised that I haven't seen her yet - Clare has already gone past. Finally I see her, and glance at my watch in an effort to gauge just how big the gap is between us. To my surprise it will turn out to be less than a minute. It's unlikely that I'll be able to speed up enough to catch her....but perhaps if she really slows down I might?

Somewhat enthused, I zoom around the turning point and head back to the bridge. But what is going on now behind me?? Over the past half mile I've gradually become aware of a loud huffing, puffing noise - sort of like a walrus having an asthma attack - and several people have yelled at me "Go Andrew!" which is kind of strange, since I'm pretty sure I don't look like an Andrew. Of course: it's the bloke behind me, who was part of that group of guys but seems to have abandoned them in order to give chase to me.

My 2 fastest miles of the race come courtesy of Andrew - his breathing is really worrying me so I check over my shoulder to see that he's not actually about to collapse - he gasps out "You're setting a good pace!!" to which I reply "Thanks!" and then speed up more. One of my pet hates is being relentlessly tailed by someone making this much noise; I need to get away, and a small incline finally does the job, but only after another full mile of gasping. Phew!

That's not Andrew, it's his much quieter mate John

Miles 10-13: 6:26, 6:22, 6:27, 6:24
Mile 10 has some undulations that take the wind out of my sails a little; I could push harder, but that final monster hill is still ahead and really, what's the point? Well, actually there possibly is a point: I've realised I can now see Ruth, the girl who is in 2nd place, ahead of me at last. She inches a little closer over the next mile but I'm under no delusion that I can catch her, nor do I really fancy potentially blowing myself up trying. I've got both my main objectives for the race already tied up: overall placement and the Masters win. Why risk it now?

So I don't really speed up again, but I don't slow down much either. The hill comes and is not quite as bad as I was expecting, although there is a photographer at the very top to capture the moment - and so later I find out EXACTLY how unimpressed I looked whilst grinding up that incline, and it's not at all pretty (no you may NOT see the photo!).

Finally the finish line is in sight, so I put my head down and run as fast as I can: my Garmin later shows that I managed to dredge up 6:04 pace for the final stretch, which shows I wasn't completely out of gas. And I've managed to get myself on the podium for both the overall AND the Masters race! Hooray!

Finish time: 1:24:08 (6:22 min/mile)

Placement: 3rd female overall, 1st AG (40-44).

For once a proper podium!!
Two of my dinner companions - John and Neil - are standing on the curb stretching as I walk through the finish chute in search of water. They have placed 2nd and 4th overall, respectively, and Neil has not only won the Masters division but has done so in a course record for his age group. Impressive!

We all get enormous baskets of chocolate for our achievements, and I actually get two; this is going to make for an interesting flight home and also two very happy children, who immediately call me on FaceTime to verify the photo I have just sent through of the spoils.

Best. Race. Swag. EVER!

The Analysis 
I may have won a mountain of chocolate, but today was certainly not my fastest half marathon ever. In fact, it was more than 3 minutes slower than my actual PR. Maybe I'm getting old and slow, or just maybe I did what I was told for once and ran a tactically clever race? I did in fact pretty much follow Benita's advice, although not by pure design, I must admit.

In any case, my time was good enough for what I wanted to achieve, so there's no point moaning. And on the bright side, I probably won't have to buy chocolate for a year or possibly more. What's not to love about that?