Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wangaratta Marathon, February 2016

Wangaratta is a small town in Victoria, just 2 hours' drive from home, and 2 years ago I ran a blisteringly fast half marathon there on one of the flattest courses I've ever encountered in regional Australia, although that's not saying much.

The only things that held me back from a win and personal PR that day were 1. Sarah Klein, an extremely fast young lady (who went on to represent Australia in the Commonwealth Games marathon later that year) and 2. some serious crowding issues over the final 2 miles where I literally ran straight into the back of the 10K race. I had heard on the grapevine late last year that these crowding issues had been completely resolved by the RD, however, and so when the opportunity presented itself I went right ahead and booked myself and Joel in to run the full distance.

It's commonly thought that running a marathon whilst training for another marathon is a terribly bad idea - and that's entirely possible, actually, but it is not a thought that has really had much effect on me. With 8 weeks to go before Boston it seemed reasonable - even coach B agreed - and on perusing the past results I decided that sub-3 would be a good goal and one that would very likely result in an overall (female) win. My very speedy friend Kelly-Ann won the marathon in 2015 with a 3:02 and although that still doesn't make much sense to me (she is capable of much faster times and the course couldn't be to blame) I decided that beating that time would be my chief goal.

The Training

I'm pretty much always marathon-ready these days, being quite accustomed to small but regular doses of speed training amongst the usual deluge of miles that I run week-in, week-out. So no major adjustments were made to my usual training plan (other than a couple of easy days and a surfeit of carbs) and we set off for Ned Kelly country in high spirits with the top down on our new Jeep.

Too cool for school

The carb-loading continues in style at a brewery near our hotel in Beechworth, but we manage to avoid the shenanigans of our Melbourne marathon build-up and retire to bed at the ridiculous hour of 8pm in preparation for our departure to Wangaratta at 5:30am the next morning. Cough cough, did someone say senior citizens?

Race Day

It's a bit of a cold drive over to Wangaratta since we haven't quite figured out how to latch the front of the soft-top, so it stays open and the heater is on full-blast when we park in the darkness outside the Showgrounds where runners are gathering for the 6:30am start. I'm familiar with it all from 2014 so we have no problems finding the bathrooms, bib pick up and then the starting line all in short order. I never warm up before a marathon (unless I'm starting with a bunch of Kenyans and multiple Olympic contenders and they're all outside doing it, in which case I will reluctantly join in) which is good because somehow it's time to start already - we line up near an inflatable arch, there's a brief countdown and whoops, I'm running my 20th marathon.

Out and back 3 times and multiply by 2. Got it? No, me neither.

Miles 1-4: 6:58, 6:41, 6:48, 6:50 (pace in min/mile)

Off we go across the bumpy grass that I remember so clearly from last year, onto the pathway and away through the bush. Last year I watched Sarah zoom out ahead of me but this year there's only blokes - they quickly form into two loose packs and I'm not really interested in trying to stay with them. The first mile beeps and it's rather too slow, but then again it's my de facto warm up (or so I tell myself) and there's plenty of time left to get it right.

Heading into the residential area that backs onto the Showgrounds I soon find myself running all alone, which happens far too often really. The guys ahead are out of reach, there are a couple more loudly huffing and puffing in my wake - they will be gone soon enough, I know this from experience - and the nearest female is goodness knows where. The course has two out-and-back segments so I'll be able to check on that.....time to try to settle into a rhythm and get properly warmed up.

Miles 5-8: 6:38, 6:40, 6:40, 6:41

To my great surprise, as we head toward the first headpin turn, I round a bend and suddenly there's a bloke right in front of me. Fading already? Hasn't anyone ever told him not to go out too fast?? Of course I exert myself a little more just to pass him in style and at this point the race leaders appear on the other side of the path, speeding along and looking strong. Before I can gloat too much about having just moved up a spot in the overall placings, the turn is coming and there are 2 more guys not that far ahead. I check my watch and go whizzing back from whence I came, a close eye on the runners now approaching.

Amelia is the first woman I can spot, around 90 seconds back and she has a companion - a dark-haired girl who somehow appears to be working a bit too hard for this point in the race. She's a little ahead of Amelia but I don't think that will last; and here's Joel, less than a minute behind them! He waves enthusiastically and I blow him a kiss before setting my sights on the next flagging sprinter, now fast coming into my field of view. Seriously, at the rate I'm passing people I may end up winning the whole bloody race!

A few Wagga runners pass on the other side of the path and soon the half marathon leaders are starting to appear: I spot Claire (of Canberra Summer marathon and 14K), predictably leading the women's race, before I head down the second out-and-back. I'm very pleased with myself at the moment - the exertion level feels manageable and I'm holding onto sub-3 pace quite comfortably - even more so when I catch yet another male marathoner just after the second hairpin turn. I guess he's learning about marathon pacing the hard way, like so many others are today.

Miles 9-12: 6:39, 6:34, 6:55, 6:47

Back into the residential subdivision and back towards the Showgrounds I go, and I'm having so much fun I lose track and speed up a touch too much. This leads to a bit of an overcorrection in the other direction, which is in part because it has just occurred to me what is coming up and it's not a particularly enjoyable thought. The final part of the course contains a number of short, sharp inclines and at least 2 suspension bridges that I do NOT remember with much fondness at all. In 2014 I actually came to a complete halt while crossing one of them, my path blocked by 5K walkers ambling along 4 abreast, and I will be mightily annoyed if such a thing happens again.

But to my relief the 10K runners - although I do now start catching up to them and they're out in impressive numbers today - only share a short part of the course with the marathon this year. Heading back into the park we split away from each other and once again I'm alone. I spot the sole photographer on the course and take full advantage:

Custom INKnBURN gear, only slightly marred by an empty gel packet in my bra...oops

I do manage to hold things (mainly my pace, not necessarily my attitude) together through the park and over the bridges, which is pleasing; my fast Canberra friend Scotty burns past on his way to finishing 7th overall in the half marathon and I feel a pang of longing - if only I could turn off now and head to the end! But no, not possible, I just have to keep sucking it up.

Miles 13-16: 6:57, 6:42, 6:41, 6:40

Another slowish mile takes me up and back to the start/finish precinct, where due to the large number of races taking place today (including 2 waves of the incredibly popular kids' 2K) there are rope lines and signposts and people literally everywhere. For a minute I'm not sure where to go: should I head back under the starting arch or is there another way around? I'm also on the wrong side of the rope somehow, but in the end I manage to dodge left at the last second and pass under the arch after all, hitting one of the two timing mats underneath it. When I look at the results later it becomes apparent that a good few others had similar issues, and quite a number of the faster runners have no half split at all. But mine is there: 1:28:33.

Ok, that's a bit faster than prescribed by Benita, but I can live with it. I settle back into my 6:40ish rhythm and head back out through the residential area for lap 2. The sun is out in full force now and the miles without protection from trees are definitely warmer than I'd like; thank goodness I'm a relatively good heat runner.

Miles 17-20: 6:45, 6:35, 6:34, 6:35

On the second time out the leaders once again pass me, but the black-singleted bloke who was in 2nd place is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he just ran the half? I wait and wait for him to pass by but when I again approach the first hairpin turn, I'm stunned to see him only a hundred meters or so ahead of me. That's one hell of a fade! Later I will discover he has run something like a 20 minute positive split. I have no comprehension of how anyone could let such a thing happen, but anyway.

Meanwhile I've clocked how far back Amelia is, and am pleased to know I am leading by at least 10 minutes. Joel appears; we high-five each other as I yell "I'm 10 minutes in front", and onward I zoom. Miles 18 and 19 are faster than they should be because against all the odds I now have Black Singlet to chase, and I'm rather partial to a late-race game of assassin mode, as we all know. Sure enough I pass him right at the end of mile 20: it looks like it will be a painful final 10K for one of us. And it's definitely not me.

Miles 21-24: 6:39, 6:41, 6:35, 6:41

Almost there, almost there - except that I have to negotiate that damned park once more before I get to stop running. Once again there are runners on the course when I enter the residential area, although these must be 5K walkers or something because to call them runners would be rather an exaggeration, but again they are not a major obstacle and although I feel like I'm slowing up, a glance at my Garmin tells me otherwise.

The only problem really is that the photographer is too busy photographing the walkers to see me at all, or so I think until the photos are available online and it turns out he saw me alright - this time looking far less cheerful, and still with an empty Gu packet shoved down my top. Sigh.

It's hot, I'm bored, are we there yet?

Miles 25, & 26.1: 6:50, 6:55, 6:21 final sprint

I make my way reluctantly down and through the park again, over a bridge, past another, up onto the road and along the boardwalk, then back down and across the other bridge. There's no hiding it now - without a compelling reason to keep pushing, I'm starting to lose interest. The steep incline back up to the Showgrounds almost brings me to a disgusted standstill but I still have enough left to put in a decent finish  sprint, and then finally I can stop. Finally!

Finish time: 2:56:02 (6:42 pace)

Placement: 8th OA, 1st female, 1st Master (40+)

As it was 2 years ago, so it is again today: very little fanfare, although someone does come up and bother to confirm that I'm the female winner of the marathon. I spend some time chatting to the guys who have finished ahead of me (not nearly as far as I thought they would) and a couple of those I passed in the final miles, and I'd really like to go over and watch the half marathon presentations (since Claire has indeed won) but I have no idea when Joel will be arriving and I really don't want to miss that.

So I stay put long enough to see Amelia finish with a new PR (3:13) and just 4 minutes later my husband rolls in, happy and sweaty, and our job is done! Another excellent result.

Me: "uggghhhhh"
Him: "wheeeeee!"


Ok, so I probably overdid it a bit. Sub-3 was never in great doubt but I could have been more conservative and still met my goal - however that's not really my style and I've managed to finish without feeling too trashed (despite the look on my face in the finish line photo).

Overall female podium for the marathon

Later we will find out that my time is a new female course record! This doesn't seem quite right as I know my friend Kelly is capable of much faster times than me - but I'll take it.

We hang around for the presentation, chat a bit to Amelia, find the best cafe in town for brunch and then it's home to enjoy the rest of the weekend and recover. At work on Monday I'm going to enjoy answering questions about what I did on the weekend: "oh, not much really.....I won a marathon..." because overall wins are not that easy to come by! Might as well bask in the glory for the short moment it will last.


  1. Another enjoyable read Rachel. Congratulations on your win. You need to run more Marathons just so you can satisfy my read cravings.Good luck for Boston. Would be great to see you back in Queensland to have another crack at the Gold Coast Marathon.

  2. Well done again. Nice wheels! I think you could have "don't hold back" as your motto, especially when it comes to racing people in the second half of a marathon.