Monday, September 5, 2016

Wagga Trail Marathon, August 2016

In the 9 years I've lived in Wagga I've run every event in this running festival - the 10K in 2009, the half in 2010, and the marathon finally for the first time in 2012 - until last year of course, when I stepped things up to do the 5K/marathon double. It made sense to do the same this year (well, as much sense as anything does when it comes to me and my running) so after once again surviving the annual family ski trip without injury I signed myself up, and Jack for the 5K.

Training? What?

Nothing to speak of, actually. I seem to have spent most of the past 7 weeks tapering or recovering from one thing or another, so to call it "training" would be a misnomer. It was more like a reverse taper, to be honest. I followed up the CP 50K with a week of light jogging and then 4 days of skiing that I told myself would be enough cross-training (aka enforced rest) to let the legs recover properly, but it seems I was kidding myself completely. And rest of any sort tends to make me itchy, of course, so I couldn't resist compensating with a little too much running in the few days I was back in town before race weekend. Ooops.

Race Weekend

The forecast is - unfortunately - entirely in keeping with the general tone of this winter: rain, rain, and possibly a bit more rain. The wet stuff continues to fall from the sky all of Thursday and Friday, until I'm seriously wondering if the river will be so high that the final 10km of the marathon will have to be a swim leg instead. Not so long ago I was down at Wagga Beach - the start and finish area of the marathon - and noticed that the water was up to the grass, which is not a great sign.

An image from the 2012 Wagga floods. Ok, so maybe it's not quite that bad just now

Even if the riverside trail isn't actually underwater it is very likely to be muddy, and if other parts of the course are as affected (particularly the treacherous trails of Pomingalarna) then it's going to turn an already-tough marathon course into a seriously dangerous endeavour. I certainly haven't forgotten the lovely mouthful of dirt - not to mention the skin off my nose and chin - from last year when I tripped over at mile 16, and I have no intentions of repeating that particular experience. So it really doesn't matter that much if I'm not in peak shape for Sunday: it's not like I'm going to be able to run a super-fast time anyway.

Saturday: the 5K

I ran (and won) this race last year but there was a fast young girl there who made me work for it; this year, somewhat to my relief, she is nowhere to be seen. The gun goes and my legs are not very happy about the first half a mile but then they somehow relax and I can start to enjoy myself. This path along the river levee bank is very familiar from my afternoon doubles during Amelia's ballet class and the first mile goes by quickly in 6:32 which is a little slower than maybe I'm capable of running today, but still reasonably fast.

Just before the turn, not sure why I look so unimpressed but Jack looks about the same

Heading back to the start area I see Jack and then Ewen in quick succession, but first there are a couple of females who in fact are not too far behind me. This knowledge speeds me up somewhat and mile 2 goes by in 6:22. The final mile is going to be slower, I know this already; it's half along the levee and half down by the water. The turn down to the river happens at a different spot this year, though, which makes no sense - I've just overtaken two of the blokes ahead of me and it's sort of annoying that I have to slow down and in fact ask a volunteer where I'm supposed to turn - but then finally I'm down on the narrow path and on my way back to the beach.

It's muddy in places and there are some unpleasantly spiky weeds that prompt me to decide I'm wearing long socks tomorrow - I don't particularly fancy getting my legs scratched up in the final miles, thanks - but overall it's not too bad really. I pick my way steadily along the bank and mile 3 beeps as I'm approaching the finish line: 6:39.

Both the guys just behind me choose this moment to charge past me again and I really should rise to the challenge but sadly I can't be bothered. Instead of chasing them I just run steadily to the finish line and that's enough to finish as the first woman, which is certainly good enough for me today!

Finish time: 21:03 (a minute slower than last year, probably due to that inexplicable add-on)

Placement: 1st female, 6th overall

Jack rolls in a little under 8 minutes later (29:00), which is a very impressive time given the terrain! We grab our medals and this year I remember to stay around for the presentation - another cool crow trophy to add to the collection.

Sunday: the Marathon

It's perfect running weather when I arrive back at the Beach on Sunday morning: around 10C and slightly cloudy, although this is predicted to clear during the day. The mountain bikers are preparing to start their race - once again it's a hilarious Le Mans start where they all have to hobble/run on their cleats to reach their bikes - and it's great to see that numbers are well up on last year.

My Sydney friends Elkie and Tony show up, along with the usual cast of Wagga runners, but it seems there are no fast young things raring to beat me today. Well, as far as I can tell. I'm certainly not making any assumptions and also not feeling like running fast either; we will see how things play out over the next few hours.

I actually look happy about the 3+ hours of pain coming right up

Before I know it it's time to line up, and Tony - who I am expecting to run a similar time to me - inexplicably is hanging out way in back. I stomp over and drag him up closer to the front with me, and then boom it's time to go!

Miles 1-5: 6:54, 6:46,  6:54, 6:47, 6:56

Off we go along the levee bank, and to my slight surprise Tony is almost immediately well ahead of me and soon he's out of sight. Ok then! Perhaps I'll catch him when the hills start, but my legs don't feel amazing, in fact they feel pretty awful considering how early it is in the race.

I usually run the first 10km of this course a little faster than goal pace (although having said this, I haven't actually bothered to figure out a goal pace and all I can really say is that I'd like to keep most miles under 8 minutes) because it's flat and familiar, but today it's a bit of a struggle. As far as females go I'm in the lead, but I don't really know who is lurking behind...

Heading towards the start of the hills - aptly this happens on Red Hill Road - there's an opportunity to look back and see who is within a few hundred metres, so I take it and oh boy, there's someone with long blonde hair about 100m back. That's closer than I would like - and for all I know they may be a relay runner - but hopefully it doesn't matter: the horrible hills are about to start and there's a good chance I won't slow down as much as they will in the next 20km. I hope.

Absolutely evil elevation map

Miles 6-10: 7:29, 7:43, 7:20, 7:28, 8:04

Up, up, up I go - this hill never seems to end and the infuriating sign that I noticed last year is still there, right near the top (it reads "It's a hill. Get over it" and you can imagine how furious that makes me as I'm climbing the first incline in the graphic above) - but finally I'm there. I'd quite like a drink but the person handing out cups is too busy looking at other runners to notice me, and my grab for a cup of water misses altogether. Too late, and I'm not about to stop (I might never get moving again) so I'll just have to suck it up and keep going. Grrrr.

I'm running pretty much alone and have been for the majority of the race so far; I don't really mind of course, although it would be nice to have company. There are quite a lot of people at the 15km mark, for no apparent reason, and this time I grab a cup of water from the table and slow right down to drink it. As a result I feel pretty good as I set off again into the hills.

For every agonising up, thank goodness there's also a thrilling down

I'm managing to keep a decent pace going, somehow, and of course I've started catching some of the early starters. The climbs are increasingly agonising - my legs haven't lost that "dead wood" feeling they always have in the aftermath of a race - so even though I can keep a decent pace on the flat or downhill stretches, I'm dying on the uphill stretches. Mile 10 is one I remember from past years and this time it gets me - my first mile slower than 8 minutes. Oh well - at least it's mostly downhill to the halfway point now. Isn't it?

Miles 11-15: 7:29, 7:04, 7:23, 7:46, ??

The downhill turns into a pleasant flat stretch and I'm making my way mindlessly through the bush on my way to the Silvalite reserve when suddenly I hear a voice behind me yelling something that sounds strangely like "WRONG WAY!!" What, really?? So far the course has been reasonably well-marked with a combination of chalk arrows and small pink flags, but the past mile or so they have been far less obvious. In fact, I was just reminiscing about the year another runner popped out in front of me in this area and complained how he kept getting lost, and then of course there's the memory of how getting lost cost me a victory in the trail half marathon of 2010. Could I be about to suffer the same fate today?

There's a group of runners up ahead - more early starters? - and they greet me by name as I zoom past, but then suddenly there's a fork in the trail, no markers and I have no clue which way to go. I could easily squander whatever lead I have over the next female marathoner if I get myself properly lost, and the thought makes me momentarily quite cross. I'll just have to keep heading in what I hope is the right general direction and hope for the best; I usually have an uncanny sense of direction (Joel refers to it as my internal GPS) and right now that's all I have going for me.

Sure enough, eventually I find myself in sight of the halfway point and I'm on the wrong side of the fence. There's a gate though, so I pop through onto the correct path and help myself to a cup or two of water before trudging off to tackle the gnarly hills of Pomingalarna Reserve. Ooh, I can't wait.

Halfway split: 1:35

I'm making my way as enthusiastically as I can manage (read: not very) along the steep and muddy trails of Pomi when I become aware of two small issues: firstly, this course seems sort of different to the last few years, and secondly, my blasted Garmin watch has once again seized up. I stop it and start it again but I've missed around 2 miles (I think) and I'm rather annoyed that this has now messed up two races in a row. Grrr, Garmin are going to be hearing from me rather soon.

Miles 16-20: ??, ??,  9:00?, 9:29?, 8:08

Even when it starts up again, the pace seems off and it seems I really can't trust the Garmin now. When it beeps a 9:00 and then a 9:29 mile, I give up and decide to just concentrate on running. I'm passing a fair few half marathoners and one cyclist (who looks well and truly fed-up); it's taking all my concentration to get past them without falling. I'm also wondering where I fell last year and trying to spot the spot, so to speak, but before I know it I'm coming to the top of the hill already. Time to grab some water and start bombing the long downhill to the golf course!

Except somehow my legs aren't all that into bombing. Or anything much at all, really; I've suddenly realised that my left iliotibial band and the outside point of my knee where it inserts are both seriously unhappy. It is hurting to plant my left foot on the ground and that's happening in spades just now because of the descent - ouch, ouch, ouch. When this day is done I'm going to need to reacquaint myself with my foam roller and the world of pain it loves to inflict. Oh, what fun.

So many ways to torture, so little time

The final part of the golf course is pure mud but I'm too tired to bother detouring around the small shed where it's the deepest: I plow/splash straight through, stop at the gate for a cup of water and then pop out onto the road to face the final 10km of the race with thoroughly wet and filthy shoes. How pleasant!

Miles 21-25: 7:51, 7:30, 7:37, 7:37, 7:59

My Garmin appears to have gotten over its latest brain-fart and is once again showing acceptable paces, although they're probably a fair bit slower than I managed over this stretch last year. My legs are toast, the muscles an unimpressed mass of jelly, and all I want to do is stop. Of course I won't, but it would be so nice.

I occupy myself instead by considering the marvellous fact that this year I won't have to spend my evening looking at sore throats and funny rashes at the after-hours GP clinic (which was my unfortunate fate last year) and instead will be able to stay on at the after-party at the Thirsty Crow. Chips (French Fries to the rest of you) and beer are my two favourite refuelling choices after a marathon and both should be available in abundance there. Mmm, yum. Just keep running.

Typical late-race frown; internal mantra: "Chips. Beer. Chips. Beer"

The stiles begin and in my exhausted state it's even less enjoyable than usual to have to haul myself over them, but I manage it and despite the mud also manage to stay on my feet, which is a miracle. The sun has been out for a while and I'm sort of warm - I could probably take off my arm warmers if I had the energy to do so, but I don't - then again I'm close enough to the finish that I should just keep going like I am.

I'm passing a steady stream of half marathoners now, all of whom are very courteous and conscientious about stepping aside to let me through, and finally with only a few kms to go I catch Elkie who is running the half. I remark on how Tony has left me in the dust long ago, she agrees that he's doing an amazing job of showing me up today, and onwards I plod. It's a beautiful day to be out running and even though I'm not doing nearly as well as last year time-wise, it's great to just be here. Or so I keep telling myself.

Miles 26 and 0.2: 7:47, 7:23

I'm just waiting to be done, at this point. There are half marathoners all over the place and as I finally approach the finish line I'm right behind a guy; part of my brain wants to speed up and charge past him like a glorious victor but my legs are not having it. I arrive in his wake to the finish in a personal worst time, but gladder than ever before to finally be done.

Finish time: 3:19:42 (7:37 min/mile,  4:43 min/km)

Placement: 1st female, 9th overall

I've trashed my favourite shoes but have the most awesome trophy in the world to make up for it

I'm muddy and exhausted, although thankfully not bloodied as well like I was last year; I chat briefly to a couple of people, confirm that I've finished this race slower than even my debut race here in 2012, and then flop onto the grass next to Tony. He has run a sensational 3:07 to finish 3rd and is very pleased with himself indeed. And of course I'm extremely, extremely impressed!

Elkie appears not long after I've finished and it seems everyone (well, other than me) has done a great job today. I've managed to win but the fatigue of the Centennial Park Ultra just 2 weeks ago has done a number on my legs - I guess I never should have expected anything different, but somehow I sort of did. Will I ever learn?

After a sausage sandwich and the presentations it's a great pleasure to spend the afternoon and evening relaxing at the Crow with so many other crazy runners, and perhaps because they never really let me work them too hard, my legs aren't even all that sore. My opinion of the Wagga Trail Marathon as one of the toughest, gnarliest courses on the planet has not changed, but I seem to love it nonetheless. Will I be returning next year to defend my title - of course I will!


  1. There seems to be a similar trend for your races this year. "Just finished another race a bit back and feeling pretty dead for this one".

    Or was the trend that I was thinking of "First again".

    Perhaps both!

  2. Definitely a slightly long 5k course - my last 2k wasn't *that* slow.
    Nice going to get the win off "what training?" beforehand. And no face planting is a bonus. I always wonder if the organisers could be sued if you fell on one of those dangerous looking trophies. See you next year :)