Saturday, April 30, 2016

Some thoughts about training

A fair few people have asked me recently about my training - I guess I have been saying less and less about it in my usual race reports, or perhaps more accurately I have just been enjoying letting coach Benita tell me what to do (even though I often don't) without my having to think too much about it - so in response I thought I would try to write a post about how I have trained over the past 7 years since I started training for and running marathons.

But first, something of a disclaimer. Every runner is different and what works well for me, may not work at all for you. There is undoubtedly a ceiling limit on mileage for each individual runner before they get injured, burned out or both; mine happens to be quite high. Also, there is a great deal of scientific knowledge underpinning the physiological principles of aerobic conditioning and training. I am not an expert in this field and make no claim to be one. I don't monitor my heart rate, I don't track my VO2max and I do what has brought me success in the past. It may not be terribly scientific but it works for me! Even if I can't really explain this with precision or even coherence.

"A Proper Plan"

Thinking back to my earliest days of running and racing, my training was absolutely random. I ran as far as I wanted (or had time for) every day, rarely did any sort of speed work and almost never ran more than around 10-13km in a day. I raced a few decent half marathons on this sort of training regime - 1:26 in my debut at the distance and 1:25 in my second attempt - but in both instances I slowed down considerably in the final 5km of the race.

It wasn't until early 2010, aged 40 and approximately 18 months after the birth of my second child, that I felt the inclination to follow a formal training plan of any sort. I had friends who swore by their training plans, and after having Amelia I was struggling to get my half time back down under 1:30.

This was my primary motivation for starting to train "properly" - by which I mean that I located, printed out and followed a formal plan that had been formulated by one of the greats of running, Hal Higdon. This saw me extend my weekend long runs and start doing speed work for the first time; I was rewarded with 1:29:48 at the SMH half that year and was officially converted! No more random running for me.

This photo is entirely unrelated but I'm just going to put it in here anyway

Going all Pfitz

I first heard of Pete Pfitzinger and his marathon training book  in late 2010 when I started frequenting the marathon forum on Runners World Online (RWOL). It seemed that all the serious dudes (and there are a lot of those on RWOL) were Pfitz devotees, variously discussing the merits of 12/55 vs 18/55 vs 12/75-80 at some length. The first number (12 or 18) refers to the number of weeks in the plan and the second to the peak mileage reached; at the time I started looking at Pfitz plans I was running around 50mpw maximum (and somehow thought that was a lot, LOL) so the idea of adding a further 30 miles (50km) to that was almost incomprehensible. The most intense plans topped 85 miles a week -- running that much and doing speed work at the same time? Wow.

The rationale for more mileage is to increase aerobic endurance; given that in my previous half marathons and my first marathon (NYC 2010) I had run significant positive splits (whereby I had slowed down a LOT in the latter stages of the race), it made sense that I should start to increase my mileage. So that is what I did, and the results were staggering.

Pfitz plans - and over time I went from 18/55 all the way up to 12/85+ - include a midweek medium long run (MLR) that for me was the key to improvement.  This was characteristically done on a Thursday and initially for me the MLR was 10-12 miles (16-19km), although as I intensified my training it would eventually reach 15 miles (24km). To this day I know that a midweek MLR is one of the most important parts of my training, and rarely a week goes by that I don't include one.

Quantity vs Quality vs both at once, aka running suicide

After the success of my first outing with Pfitz - the 2011 Canberra Marathon, for which I trained using 18/55 and where I took 5 minutes off my NYC debut time, despite significantly underfueling and therefore again slowing down more than I should have towards the end of the race - I was raring to go with the next step forwards.

Canberra 2011.
I have no fashion sense but it's raining madly and somehow I'm having fun!

So it made sense (to me at least) to intensify my training significantly, and in my enthusiasm I decided to not only run more, but also run harder at the same time. Yes! The result? My only major running-related injury of the past 8 years: a stress reaction in my left femur and a nasty case of runner's knee that kept me out for the middle few months of 2011.

The lesson is clear, folks: don't bite off more than you can chew. Increase your mileage and intensity all at the same time, and you'll very likely regret it soon. Which leads to what came next: pure quantity.

Run All The Miles!

Coming back from injury, I was focused with laser-like intensity on my next marathon: CIM in Sacramento, California. But at the same time I was petrified of re-injuring myself, so while I eventually found myself once again following a Pfitzinger plan, I left out ALL the speed and just ran the prescribed daily mileage at a comfortable pace.

The effect was astounding. I took another 7 minutes off my Canberra time, and repeated the feat using pure easy mileage in April 2012 for my first sub-3 result. Even in a 90F/32C sauna. There's a reason why most elite/world class marathoners run up to 200km per week in peak training: it really does work.

Boston 2012.
Not waving, drowning.

Over the second half of 2012 and the whole of 2013 I would go on to exploit this discovery and it became part of my normal running routine to cover at least 80 miles (124km) a week and up to 100 miles as part of each training cycle. Yes, you read that right. Routine evening doubles of just 4-5 miles meant I was able to maximise mileage without having to slog through 20km+ every morning, and my home treadmill got a good workout, as did my Netflix account.

For those of us without much top-end speed, working solely on endurance by increasing average mileage is a great, albeit somewhat lazy, strategy for the marathon. I have never particularly liked smashing out intervals or enduring lung-busting tempo runs, so I was content for a long time with running lots of miles and confining my speed work to running portions of my long runs - sometimes up to 12 miles - at my goal marathon pace (MP).

As I got closer and closer to what I consider my ultimate marathon potential, MP got tougher and tougher. After several cycles during 2013 when I found myself stuck around 2:50 (2:49:03, 2:49:21, 2:50:19) I made an important decision: I would get myself a coach.

Putting it all together

The addition of knowledgeable guidance from Benita - who has been my coach ever since November 2013 - took me to my personal record in the marathon: the 2:47:57 I pulled off on Patriot's Day in 2014. We kept the mileage high while adding a judicious amount of real, actual speed work, and the difference it made was  dramatic.

An average week became something like this (in miles):

MON: 8 easy am, 4-5 easy pm
TUES: 9 easy am, 4-5 easy pm
WED: 12 miles incorporating 4-5 miles of intervals or tempo running, 4-5 easy pm
THURS: 13-14 miles easy
FRI: 8 easy am, 5 easy pm
SAT: 10-12 easy
SUN: 18-20 miles with 10-12 miles around MP

Working with Benita I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to run as an elite at Boston and New York marathons, and despite encroaching age and infirmity still managed to put in a rather decent showing at Boston just a couple of weeks ago. It has been a wild ride, one that would not have taken place had I not printed out that first training plan and stuck it to my fridge 7 years ago, and I'm so glad I took that step.


So I leave you with this: for me, high mileage is the key for endurance. Managing to mix in some speed work without getting injured is quite the feat, but worth the effort. 

You need to find your own optimal mileage - if you are a marathoner, the higher the better - and work out how much stress your body can take without getting injured. All of this takes a LOT of time, and inevitably all of us will have to deal with injury, ennui and sometimes just getting sick of running. 

But I think we can all agree that the rewards of running and of making it a part of your everyday life far outweigh the inconvenience of having to get up early to get your miles in at the start of another busy day.

You might even find yourself one day getting chased by a pack of Africans.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Boston Marathon, April 2016

It's impossible to talk about marathoning without talking about Boston. It's the marathon that serious runners all over the globe aspire to run, yet it's probably one of the toughest road races on the planet. But that doesn't matter. For so many of us dedicated runners, Boston is The One. And for those fortunate enough to be able to qualify with relative ease, going back again and again is a common theme.

In both 2013 and 2014 I ran in the Elite Women's Start (EWS) and finished with times that were fast enough to automatically get me back in there for the next year. In 2015, however, the weather on race day was fairly brutal and I finished with a far-too-slow 2:55. Despite going for broke (sub-2:50, that is) in Melbourne, I ultimately came up empty-handed last year and found myself assigned to corral 3, wave 1 of the general start for Boston 2016, my 5th attempt at the course.

After the alone-in-a-headwind debacles of NYC and Boston I must admit I was sort of happy about starting with the crowds - I figured it would be nice to have people around me for once, if for no reason other than to help break a headwind if one blew - and of course it would be fun to be at Athlete's Village with Joel for the first time ever. We only needed the weather to cooperate, really, but sadly that is quite a big ask for Boston in April.

The Training

Miles per week: around 87 miles (140km), averaged over the preceding 13 weeks;
Speedwork: at least once a week, sometimes as part of a long run, in which case speed = marathon pace, which was around 6:30 min/mile this cycle (4:02 min/km);
Other races: rather too many (ahem);
Taper: 2 weeks - 30% reduction then a one-week crash taper (see below).

Being a hopeless raceaholic and now married to someone similar, I've increasingly run races as part of marathon preparation, and in this cycle that included one full marathon (Wangaratta) and two half marathons. That wouldn't be such an issue if the second half (Canberra) hadn't been just 8 days before Boston.  Yes, 8 days. What on earth was I thinking? Was I thinking at all?

You'll have to click here to make up your own mind about that question, but suffice it to say that the lead-up to this year's Boston was far from conventional. After that questionable half marathon I made the surprisingly sensible decision to pretty much shut things down and as a result I arrived in Boston having run very little in 4 days and feeling as fresh as a daisy, or at least thinking that I was. What could possibly go wrong?

Race Weekend

We bowl up to the expo just a couple of hours after it opens on Friday and are amused to find ourselves bumping into Runners World forum (RWOL) alumni left and right; it's not too crowded and we are able to snag all the merchandise we need/want.

with Nick, of the sub-3:20 RWOL thread

On Saturday morning we again run the BAA 5K race - in the starting corral I am very surprised to find we are standing right in front of Rob de Castella, who is running today with his wife and daughter! His bib number is 1986, the year he won Boston in 2:07:51 (his personal best); how cool! I say hi and briefly chat with him about the marathon before it's time to start, and this year I manage to hold back much more appropriately than last year, finishing in 24:08 - once again hand-in-hand with Joel.

in the finish chute, both laughing and running a bit too fast (cough cough)

The usual hectic social roster sees us spending the rest of the weekend with a wide variety of running friends, and as usual this is ridiculously fun, involving quite a lot of beer and rather too little sleep. Sunday night is a fairly quiet affair (in contrast to the 2 nights preceding); neither of us has really adjusted to the new time zone and we are focused on trying to get to bed and to sleep as early as possible. Joel, with the assistance of his friend Jesse, has been providing me with frequent updates on the weather situation (“There’s been another shift!”) and it seems possible that the day will be warm, although nothing like the sauna of 2012.

I absolutely prefer heat over a freezing headwind - last year’s weather was my own personal definition of hell - so I am actually pleased with the forecast, since one of my biggest worries is freezing to death while waiting out in the corrals at the start.

I've already discussed my race strategy many times and have it fairly clearly set out: my time goal is “low 2:50s” so I'll aim to run the first half in 1:24-1:25 and then try to hang on as best I can after the Newton Hills. My RWOL friend Dan, who is in amazing (by which I mean 2:45ish) shape and has averaged something insane like 106 mpw this cycle, is worried about the heat and it's likely he will run the first half at least in my company. I'm glad about this but also a bit intimidated: his half marathon PR is a full 3 minutes better than mine so I'm concerned about going too fast in those exciting, downhill first few miles. He's reassured me this won't be an issue, so we make plans to meet somehow in the corral.

Race Day

We’re both awake before 5am and it’s not as tough as I expected to get ready and be out the door shortly after 5:30. I have my AG bib pinned to the back of my Chameleon INKnBURN tank, and I’m ready to crush all the other old chicks! Or at least I’ll look good whilst trying.

I love my INKnBURN

A short train ride has us dropping off gear bags and heading to the bus on time; a post-race meeting plan is made and agreed upon, and before we know it we’re on our way to Athlete’s Village. It’s pretty much as I remember it from 2012, so we pose for a photo with the famous sign and start getting ready for the race. Several fortuitous meetings take place – amazing really, with over 25000 excited runners in the one spot, what are the odds of randomly meeting my Canadian elite buddy Paula?? but I do, then we bump into Barry and he shows us where the RWOL contingent are camped – all this keeps us busy until finally it’s time to head up to the corrals.

So the photographer crops out the sign in favour of including our daggy sweatpants? bizarre

We end up directly in front of the Korean church where I’ve spent the last 3 years waiting with the other elite runners to start the race; it occurs to me that I’ve never really looked at the building from in front, having been dropped off out the back every year. It looks much more impressive from this aspect, you’d really never know how drab and dated it is on the inside.

Dan shows up as we stand there in the sun, and it’s obviously now way, WAY warmer than the supposed forecast 62F (16C). Heat is not Dan’s friend and he has had a bad time with the Boston course in past years, so he repeats his intention to run 6:30(ish) pace with me and we all wait together for the starter’s gun.

It seems like a long time before we start moving, first shuffling, then walking and finally running; then suddenly I find myself crossing the line (Garmin already fired up, for once) and Boston 2016 is underway! Here goes nothing.

Miles 1-4: 6:28, 6:21, 6:16, 6:18 (pace in min/mile)

OMG, the congestion. There are people EVERYWHERE! I know I have been waxing lyrical about how great it’s going to be to have other runners around me, but this is horrible and I hate it. Dan and I dodge and weave like maniacs the whole first 2 miles and I’m terrified I’m going to get tripped. Was I really thinking this was going to be so helpful? I must be out of my mind.

The water stations start and they are an absolute debacle: I’m either getting clotheslined, dodging collisions or missing out altogether. Dan generously shares one of his two water bottles with me so I can take my first gel at mile 2, and although we’re sort of going too fast right now there is plenty of time to get it right. Right? Sure.

By mile 3 it’s obvious we are going too fast. The 5K split (19:50) proves it and although I’d like to care more, right now all I want is for the field around me to thin out. Passing people does have that effect so I’m not about to slow down yet. Dan is right with me and seems to be having fun; the crowd is yelling support but I’m too busy finding a path through the other runners to notice much.

Miles 5-8: 6:21, 6:18, 6:25, 6:25

Finally I’m properly warmed up; the too-fast pace now feels great, and I look up to see another F45 bib not far ahead. I remark on this to Dan and we agree that we’ve got plenty of time to catch her. We’re both dumping cups of water on ourselves at every opportunity but funnily enough I’m not bothered much by the heat – it must be all the summer training and racing that I’ve done the past 4 months. At least I have that going for me.

10K split: 38:33

The 10K mark comes and suddenly I’m freaking out – our split is almost exactly the same as what I ran in Canberra last weekend. Holy crap, am I really on pace for a 1:23 first half? Dan makes the unhelpful remark that his HR is still fine – I know he’s fitter and faster (did I mention younger?) than me so I can’t really use his effort level as a yardstick against which to measure my own. Suddenly I’m very worried that I’m going way too fast and that it’s all going to blow up in my face later in the race.

For now though I keep this fear to myself and somehow my legs just keep turning. We ease past the other F45 and it feels good to know at least one of my competitors is behind me; all the faster ones are far ahead in the elite race and I won’t know how they did until much later.

Miles 9-12: 6:22, 6:29, 6:23, 6:24
15K split: 59:34

More water station mayhem, and it’s starting to get me really annoyed. At least I haven’t managed to dump a cup of Gatorade over myself yet – that would be the end. There are lots of spectators handing out water but I’m not thirsty and funnily enough my stomach isn’t too happy after my second gel at mile 8. I feel sort of a bit sick really; is this a confirmation that I’m running faster than I should?

I know my average mileage for this cycle is much lower than it was before any of my other sub-2:50 performances, yet here I am on pace for 2:48 or thereabouts. I know I shouldn’t have raced that half marathon last weekend: my quads already have that odd, achy feeling that I wouldn’t normally notice until around mile 20. All of this should add up to me slowing the bleep down and yet really I still don't.

I do however start expressing my paranoia to Dan, who is looking way too fresh and it’s driving me slowly insane. I tell him – not for the first time – to go ahead but he again refuses. Luckily he’s smart enough to realise that he is making my brain hurt, and wisely says “Just tell me if I’m making you crazy though”; my pointed silence is correctly interpreted as a firm YES YOU ARE, and over the course of the next mile Dan gradually leaves me behind.

Miles 13-16: 6:29, 6:21, 6:32, 6:21
Half split: 1:23:57

OK, that’s too fast, but it is what it is. The Wellesley scream tunnel has at least not made me deaf this year, and the second – infinitely harder – part of the race lies ahead.

Without the pressure of trying to stay with Dan I finally relax a little, but funnily enough I don’t slow down that much and he stays within sight until the pain of the Newton Hills starts at mile 16. Oh boy, I remember this from last year. Here we go.

Miles 17-20: 6:38, 6:43, 6:37, 6:53

Having run this course 4 times already means that parts are very familiar to me by now. The first hill is not too bad, I remember that, and it’s gratifying to see that I’m not slowing down too much yet. I pick up the pace again adequately (by which I mean under 6:40) after the first and also second hills, but I know what’s coming and it’s not going to be pleasant. The temperature is still not a big issue but my head is becoming a problem: negative thoughts are creeping in and I’m worrying about my physical condition.

This is no time for mental weakness, I tell myself sternly. Your legs are fine (even if they’re not) and your breathing is fine (ok, it actually is) so just put your head down and get on with it. I’m still passing people at this point and there are quite a few who are walking or limping along rubbing their legs – by comparison I’m in great shape.

yeah, I look unimpressed but that dude behind me has it much worse
photo credit: Clay Shaw, with thanks

But then Heartbreak Hill starts. God, I hate this mofo of a hill. My pace takes a nosedive and Scott – one of Joel’s Michigan running buddies – sails past me as I plough my way upwards. I actually thought he was way ahead already so I’m unfazed by this and focus instead on my own form: keep the arms pumping, keep the legs turning.

oh, the pain

I suffer in this fashion all the way to the top and on the way the rational part of my brain is screaming abuse at the part that wants to keep running fast. I tell myself “You am never, EVER racing Boston again. The most you’ll ever aim for is sub-3. No faster, period!” But why, then, am I trying like a madwoman to requalify for the Elite Women’s Start? I know; it makes no sense at all.

Miles 21-24: 7:06, 6:32, 6:35, 6:42

Where’s the archway that proclaims the end of Heartbreak Hill? It’s not here this year but I know when I’m there, and it’s time to see what I’ve got left. In 2014 I beat my 2013 time by 66 seconds and almost every single one of those was gained in the final 6 miles; how well can I hang on this time around? I know I’ve lost time in the hills - including one split over 7:00 pace - but 2:51-2:52 is still on the cards if I don’t fall apart. That’s an enormously big if, however.

The crowd of competitors has thinned a fair bit more and for the first time I’m actually alone for a brief period – it’s now that I notice the headwind. Seriously, really, a bloody headwind? It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so unfair. Pretty soon I’ve picked the pace up again and am back amongst runners; one of them is my RWOL buddy Oleg who blows by me at mile 23 or so like I'm standing still.

As he sails past he taps me on the shoulder and I turn my head, but I’m so far gone now that I don’t have the energy to change my facial expression, which at this point naturally is one of deep disgust. End result = Oleg gets a fierce glare and a grunt from me rather than any sort of civilised greeting. Oops!

Hating every single second, but not quite as much as the guy behind is

My brain is chiefly occupied at this point in a bargaining match with itself, whereby I declare to myself that it’s time to give up RIGHT NOW and then agree with myself that yes, I can give up, but not for one more mile. I repeat this exercise from mile 21 onwards and it works nicely until mile 25 starts. At this point, says my brain firmly, you might as well just keep going until the very end. Sigh, ok then. I can see the Citgo sign but it seems so very far away still.

Completely on autopilot at this point 

Miles 25-26.2: 6:43, 6:55, then 6:19 pace to the finish

My legs are toast. My feet are fried. Since mile 10 in fact I’ve known that I was going to get a blister on my right little toe – something that occasionally happens but usually not until the final miles – and since mile 20 or so my left foot has also been pretty much numb. I’m fairly certain there will be blood visible through my right shoe when I stop, but somehow I’m managing to ignore the pain and keep running.

The crowd is deafening; more than once I hear my name being yelled with gusto, but I can’t respond. I know I've slowed a bit but I don't care; I just have to keep my legs going until it’s time to stop. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston – and GO!

I swear they moved it...every year they move it...

That finish line is So. Bloody. Far. Away. From some deep reserves I summon the energy to speed up again and now I’m charging down Boylston St with the last dregs of courage and determination that got me here in the first place. Inside my head an inane chant has started: “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!” Who knows why it is there, but it has the effect of keeping my legs turning over, and that’s all that matters.

As I approach the clock I know I’m around 70 seconds ahead (the time it took for me to cross the start line from corral 3 after the gun went off) and my mental arithmetic is never great when I’m in this sort of situation, but I think if I give it everything I’ve got, sub-2:52 may still be mine. Yes!!

Finish time: 2:51:51

Placement: 28th OA female, 3rd Master, 2nd AG (F45-49)

Immediately after crossing the finish line I am not sure if I want to vomit, pass out, fall over or perhaps all 3. At least one of these options seems imminent – so I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and pretending to the volunteers that I’m fine, because I really don’t want to end up in the medical tent. After about a minute I do start feeling better, until I try looking down at my right shoe and almost keel over sideways.

Yep, blood, right where I expected to see it. Of course it’s not the sight of blood that makes me stagger like a drunk, it’s the fact that my legs really don’t want to keep me upright much longer. I collect my medal, summon an exhausted grin for the photographer, and eventually plant myself on the kerb opposite the bag check to wait for Joel. Volunteers are telling people to get up and keep moving, but I’m not having it. My quads are in serious danger of cramping up so I sit massaging them until Joel appears grinning; he’s run a gutsy 3:07 and is very pleased with himself.

Amazing what a difference 15 minutes and finding my husband makes......from almost passing out to grinning like a Cheshire Cat

Despite the fact that it’s still quite warm, something like 60F/16C, my lips are blue and I’m shaking so we make the wise decision to head straight back to the hotel rather than to Loew’s (the post-race RWOL bar hangout) which had been our original plan. There I pick up my phone, check the BAA app and to my amazement find I’ve placed second in my age group! An email confirmation arrives shortly afterwards, inviting me to the official presentation at 5pm. How thrilling!

The presentation is every bit as amazing as you’d expect, and my fast friend Robyn has in fact WON her AG (F55-59) so we ham it up onstage together and all head out together afterwards for dinner and many drinks – our waiter gives us both free margaritas after we show him our awards – and thus ends my fifth Boston marathon. What an incredible ride.

AG winners, boooyah!!!

The Analysis

In retrospect I realise that going out as fast as I did was taking an enormous risk; I could easily have blown up completely and ended up walking or in a medical tent well before the finish. As it happens, I put every single bit of my training and ability out there on the road from Hopkinton to Boston, and I managed to hang on to the very end.

Only 11% of finishers in this year’s race requalified for 2017; it was therefore a slow year and this was probably due to the heat, which thankfully for me does not affect me nearly as much as it does many others. It remains to be seen if my 2:51 will get me back into the EWS but I think my AG placement probably won’t hurt in that regard.

Am I up for giving it another go? Yes, it seems that I am. Monday’s race showed me that I’m not quite completely washed-up yet; there’s at least another year in me perhaps. First, some well-earned rest! Then we’ll see what comes next. As long as it’s not another marathon next weekend!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Canberra Half Marathon, April 2016

Ah, our marvellous national capital. The scene of many a wind-swept Mother's Day Classic and my rain-soakedsecond marathon (2011), I have never been keen to go back there in autumn yet somehow this year managed to sign myself up for the half marathon.

"A half marathon, just a week before Boston? Do you really think that's a good idea?" I hear you ask. "Well yes! I'm just going to jog it! Although somehow I seem to have asked for a seeded bib...."

Anyone who has ever met me will be able to discern immediately that the concepts of "fun run" and "seeded bib" do not mix particularly well. And especially not in the mind of an ultra-competitive, highly-strung, type A personality such as yours truly. Nonetheless I persisted in my insistence that I wasn't going to try to run particularly fast, right up until ooh, 10km into the race? But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the lead-up.

The Training

12 weeks preceding: 86 miles on average
Speedwork: um, yes
Long runs: not enough, but one full marathon in 2:56:02
Taper: no, not really

Race Weekend

It's a family affair once again - after the success of our Wind Farm 5K efforts, I've signed everyone up for the 5K (and Joel for the 10K/5K double) -  and thus we head off for the drive over to Canberra on Friday afternoon with much enthusiasm.  Apart from Amelia, who declares as we leave that she is planning to have a stomach ache tomorrow and it will keep her from running. However, anyone who has grown up with a parent who is a doctor knows that unless you're actually bleeding or unconscious,  complaints of being sick will get you very little attention indeed. My own efforts at getting my parents to take my illnesses seriously always met with a calm "Let's see how you are in the morning" and I have every intention of visiting the same fate upon my own children.  

Joel jogs off for the 10K start at 7am; Amelia's stomach ache has disappeared at the sight of her flashy new running shoes and so the kids and I follow (in the car) an hour later. Everyone is pumped up and ready for the 5K well before it’s time to line up. The gun goes and Jack takes off like a maniac – I’m staying with Amelia so Joel takes off in hot pursuit – and pretty soon they are both out of sight.

Go boys!

Amelia, meanwhile, is not happy after all. She berates me the entire first mile with multitudinous complaints including that her legs hurt, her throat is dry (I offer her water, which she refuses) and that she hates running and I never should have signed her up for this. I scroll unsuccessfully through a range of appropriate and slightly less appropriate maternal responses (see below) and finally give up.

1.   Encouragement: “Come on darling, you can do this, you’re a great runner!”
2.   Calm resilience: “You’re fine, Amelia, just keep going”
3.   Placid indifference: “…….” (but ignoring her just makes things worse)
4.   Bribery: “Just run to the next flag, sweetheart, then you can walk for a bit”
5.   Threats: “If you don’t stop whinging I am going to speed up and leave you behind!”

Less whining, more running

Finally she declares “I’m never doing another 5K ever again!!” to which I respond calmly “Oh, that’s fine, darling. Jack and Joel and I will just run together and you can watch.” The sudden silence is deafening, and with the exception of a few short walk breaks, she completes the distance without another single complaint.

Finish times:      Jack 30:33
                           Amelia 33:35

They back up with some sprints in the Festival zone (whereby we establish that I am truly horrible at sprinting) and eventually we head back to the hotel to make the most of the rest of the day in Canberra.

They can both out-sprint me, which is pretty much ridiculous

The kids have slept over with friends and Joel is off to the airport, Boston-bound (via Detroit) so I’m flying solo for this one, which may or not be a good thing in terms of how I end up pacing myself. It’s just over a mile of easy jogging to the start precinct and I’m not really supposed to be doing more than 15 miles today, so I forgo my usual warm-up and instead meander over to the Elite tent to drop my stuff and get ready. 

I still haven’t really decided on a race strategy but when I finally make it to the starting line there are a LOT of fast-looking chicks there including Fleur, whom I have never yet beaten in any of the 7 or 8 races we’ve raced together. So a podium finish is pretty much out of the question, then – I should just jog it, right? But as I mentioned before, my name is emblazoned across my bib and I’m right up the front – jogging is just not really an option. So what now?

Miles 1-4: 6:18, 6:10, 6:12, 6:18 (pace in min/mile; 6:26 = 4:00min/km)

The gun goes off and wow: Fleur and at least 10 other women sprint off like it’s the 100m dash. I decide to put in a decent effort at least for the first few miles, if for no other reason than to warm up my legs properly. Blokes are sprinting past me left and right and my response is characteristic – I speed up until it’s pretty much how I knew this would go down – I’m going way, way too fast. Oh well. At least I’m predictable.

Before the end of the first mile we hit the notorious uphill stretch that leads to Parliament House, and here I have the small satisfaction of passing at least one chick on the way up. There’s another in my sights as I zip around the perimeter of the building and head down again. The 1:20 pacers are still nearby and at least I'm not crazy enough to think I can (or should) stick with them - they pull gradually away in front during mile 2 as we all head back down the hill. 

There are two guys in red shirts very close behind me now and we swap positions a few times. One of them has a stripy top that reminds me of Where’s Waldo – in fact I’m still sort of laughing about this when we round a corner towards the 5K mark and I hear a spectator counting: “9th woman, 10th woman..”

Ooh, which one was me? It doesn’t matter, though, because I’ve just passed one female and there is another firmly in my sights already. It never ceases to amaze me how so many people seem to think that running the first 5K of a 21km race at their usual 5K race pace is an excellent idea. So what are you expecting to happen over the 15km that you still have to run? Hmm?

5km split: 19:30

I spend mile 4 catching at least one more of the sprinters, and the little posse around me seems to be getting tighter-knit. None of them are girls, which is entirely normal at this point.

Miles 5-8: 6:25, 6:12, 6:17, 6:19

I’m still toying with the idea of slowing down to marathon pace or thereabouts, but the group around me is doing a number on my head. I want to keep up, basically, and I feel really good now that I’ve warmed up properly and hit my stride, shuffly though it may be.

The guy in red pulls ahead but the one in the Waldo outfit stays close over my shoulder and I remark to him more than once “I really need to slow down soon”. He pulls out alongside me and we start chatting despite the fact that we’re now on a long uphill stretch heading towards the War Memorial – it turns out he’s in training for the Christchurch 100km in 3 weeks, which he hopes to use as a qualifier for the Australian 100km team – and this is just a tempo run for him. Wow, impressive. I tell him I’m running Boston marathon next weekend and repeat my intention to slow down VERY soon, but things are about to change dramatically.

10km split: 39:30

As we come up to the crest of the hill and coincidentally pass the 10K mark, I have suddenly spotted 2 female runners up ahead. I’m utterly shocked to realize that one of them is none other than Fleur, who I imagined would be miles ahead at this point. Waldo (whose name will turn out to be Kay) hears me gasp in amazement and I explain what’s going on; he responds by saying calmly “Oh, we can definitely catch her.” And he’s happy to support me in this endeavour as long as he can keep in the HR zone his coach has set for this workout. Right, then, the chase is officially ON!

I have absolutely no idea what I am so worried about here
There’s an out-and-back in mile 8 that lets everybody see who’s around – we catch the first chick ahead of us and Fleur gets a preview of just how close behind her I am – and then we’re heading west on Parkes Drive for what seems like an eternity.

Miles 9-12: 6:24, 6:18, 6:18, 6:21

More than once we discuss just hanging back and cruising, but it’s not to be: before I realize what’s happening, we’re already pulling right up behind Fleur. We also happen to be chatting animatedly – he’s just told me that he is originally from Germany and I’m trying out my rusty German on him – which in retrospect is probably the worst thing we could do to her psychologically. It’s bad enough being passed by someone whom you usually beat, but to have them pass by looking comfortable and relaxed? Infinitely worse.

There's a first (and last) time for everything!

Sure enough, over the mile or two until the next turn we put a full minute between ourselves and her. We also take the opportunity to talk a bit more, and we could also slow down now but somehow we just don't. Four women pass by on the other side of the road - so I'm in 5th place, which is pretty decent really, considering that this is supposed to be a training run! I'm running comfortably hard, not red-lining it by any means, but a week out from Boston this is still a potentially dangerous thing to be doing.

Mile 13 and finish: 6:11, 5:44 to finish

Contrary to all expectation, the final mile is one of my fastest, probably because Kay and I have now mostly shut up and are just running. As we make our way around the park towards the eventual finish line, I can hear 2nd place being announced over the loudspeakers. Wow, we really aren't too far behind! Finally we're there, crossing the line in a dead heat time that will turn out to be my fastest HM since May 2014. Whoops.

Charging for the line

Finish time: 1:23:10 (6:16 min/mile, 3:56 min/km)

Placement: 5th female, 1st in AG (F 40-49)

That was a lot of fun! Kay has hit his HR target perfectly and I've done something that may turn out to be very silly, but hopefully I will be able to recover quickly and still put in a good performance in Boston. The next 7 days will be uncharacteristically low-mileage for me, that's for sure! If nothing else, today was a huge confidence booster that shows I do still have the same endurance and (limited) top-end speed I ever did. Bring on Boston #5!