Summer is usually a quiet season for me; there are precious few races held in the heat, so it usually means a relative down-time and a rare chance to rest. The exception is Tasmania, the southern-most state of Australia, where the Cadbury Marathon (and associated shorter races) is held in Hobart in the middle of January.
I ran the half there in 2015 and came away with a large haul of chocolate, and although I’m not sure if that was my only motivation for signing myself up for the marathon in 2018, sign us up I did. We all know how much I love a bit of running tourism, so there you go.
Right, well. My intentions for the early part of 2018 were initially to train exclusively for Tokyo marathon, which I’ll be running at the end of February. A January marathon could therefore really only be justified as a training run, which would usually mean running it all at an easy pace, or at best perhaps running up to half at goal marathon pace.
But it’s REALLY HARD to intentionally slow down during a marathon, or at least for me it is. And while I'm not as fast as I was, say, 4 years ago - I'm still in reasonably good shape to run a fast marathon. Looking through past years' results it was clear that a time below 3:10 would have sometimes even been enough to win - definitely to place - and a place means a box of chocolate, so running to place became my definite goal. If you need to understand better, here's a picture of what I got for placing in the half in 2015, and winning the Australian Masters half marathon title in the process:
Hobart, race weekend
The advent in my life of Parkrun means I'm able to continue the tradition of running a 5K the day before a marathon! I’ve become something of a Parkrun tourist this summer and waste no time in locating one (the only one, in fact) in Hobart. It starts at the very civilised time of 9am so it’s no trouble to be out there in plenty of time, and while I'm standing around waiting I am quite amazed to see a person I recognise – it’s one of the British team of ultra runners I met in Fuxian Lake last September. What a bizarre place to meet again!
|A cosmopolitan Hobart Parkrun, with Scotland........ then America........and a plain old Aussie bringing up the rear|
We have a nice chat before the run starts and while she’s out of my league it seems she has been injured the past couple of months; still I’m unsurprised to see her streak past me shortly after the gun goes off. The course turns out to be devilishly hilly and it's an out-and-back which means I get to enjoy it twice - fabulous - and the result is probably a Parkrun PW (personal worst) but whatever. It's time to carb load and try to get off our feet, and we succeed moderately well for the rest of the day, although it's extremely boring. Then an early bedtime and the joys of another 4:30am alarm are upon us, and already it's time to head out to the chocolate factory for the race.
The weather is remarkably perfect for marathoning: about 12C/54F and lightly overcast with almost no wind at all. This is quite a departure from recent temperatures (it was 26C the day we arrived) but whatever, we'll take it! If I had more time to think about it I'd probably be complaining about the cold, but there's no time for that so we just suck it up and line up at the start. Here goes nothing.
Miles 1-5: 6:57, 6:37, 6:26, 6:33, 6:44 (pace in min/mile)
The gun goes off and there’s the usual civilised stampede over the timing mats; as in previous years the first few kilometres of the course wind through the streets adjacent to the chocolate factory, so I’m surprised to see that the traffic cones marking the course seem to indicate we should go straight on down the hill. And in fact that’s exactly what the leaders – including Dion Finocchiaro, a very fast runner whom I’ve met a quite a few races in the past– do, before being hastily called back onto the correct path. Oops!
I’m not sure of my pace when the first split beeps and wow, it's WAY too slow and in fact there are FAR too many females ahead of me (at least 6, one of them my British friend Jo, of course) right now. The competitive part of my brain pouts and promptly stamps its foot on the accelerator, and before I really know what's happening, BOOM I'm gone.
By the time I’ve descended the hill and started to make my way out along the road towards Hobart I’ve caught all but 3 of the women ahead, which is gratifying. The leading woman is called Gemma and I’ve heard enough about her from various quarters that I know she’s way faster than me, then not far behind her is Jo, so the only way I’m definitely going to place (and win chocolate) today is if I can put the third one behind me now.
She has a long brown ponytail and is wearing a blue singlet, and wow, she looks lean and seriously fit. “Probably young too” says a voice in my head, helpfully. “Everyone is these days,” I snap back, and go to make my move to pass her anyway.
|Trying hard to get into 3rd place|
I'm rather surprised then, to find that as I surge past she accelerates and stays right with me. The mile split is now really way too fast (6:26 = 4:00min/km and is the right pace for a sub-2:50, which I certainly won't be running today) so I slow down and she opens a small gap on me. Wow, this isn't going to be as easy as I thought!
I've got an idea about 2:55 as a goal finishing time - faster than I was expecting to run, but whatever - and in most of the past 5 years this most definitely would have been fast enough to win. But today I'm in 4th and from what I know (or can surmise) about the women ahead of me, it may be the best I can hope for. This seems utterly unfair! But there's nothing to do about it other than settle in for the chase, so I stick to my pace and try not to think to much about the injustice of it all. La la la la laaaaaaa.
Miles 6-10: 6:37, 6:42, 6:46, 6:37, 6:38
I remember the course from 2015 when I ran the half, and this part is fairly boring really as we head along the highway and then out around some parkland by the river. We're heading towards a middling size bridge which we'll cross and then the turnaround will be not too far beyond that. I can still see Jo ahead in 2nd and Gemma about a minute ahead of her in the lead; both seem out of reach, and this person in the blue singlet just isn't slowing down, but I guess there's still quite a long way to go.
As we head up onto the bridge, to my surprise the overall leader is already on his way back from the turn. Wow, he's MILES ahead of the chase pack - which consists of Dion and a guy in a red singlet, both looking very relaxed - it looks like he might win easily. The bridge is rather unpleasantly uphill somehow, I don't quite remember this part from last time, but at least there's not a lot of wind at this stage.
I hit the turn, the gradient turns downward at last and finally I am able to put in a bit of speed that sees me pull level with my blue-singleted nemesis again. "Right!" says my brain, "time to show her who's boss!" One of my favourite things to do in a race is to throw in a few bursts of speed - generally during the earlier parts, because in the final stages of a marathon, or even a half for that matter, it can be pretty tough to do anything more than just put one foot in front of the other and not fall over - and my legs feel good enough right now to do it, so here goes.
Once back on the bridge I start whizzing past but nope, she speeds up and stays right with me. I slow down very briefly then it's RoadRunner impersonation time again: I pump my arms and do the speed-shuffle with all of my might, but nope, again she accelerates and it's clear I'm not going to win this particular battle.
You've got to hand it to a worthy opponent like this - she's just not going to give up - so I burst out laughing and remark "Ok, let's slow down again, I won't mind!" She laughs too and pretty soon we've having a lovely mid-race chat. Her name is Mel and she's been injured for a really long time; this is her comeback race and - this always surprises the heck out of me - she knows who I am from reading this blog! Well, there goes the element of surprise, I guess.
|The quest for chocolate continues|
I enquire as casually as I can about her time goal and she replies "Sub-3", to which I can only answer "Wow" because we are quite a long way ahead of that right now. And showing no sign of slowing down either, but I feel fine so I guess we'll just keep running and see what happens.
Miles 11-15: 6:33, 6:50, 6:46, 6:40
Before too long I've told her how I met Jo in China (and that she took 2nd in the brutal 100K race that day, displaying truly formidable speed and endurance) and now I'm having a bit of a whinge about how unfair it is that we're running so fast yet coming 3rd/4th but Mel's not having a bar of it. "We'll just work together and maybe we'll both get chocolate" she tells me firmly - and perhaps Jo is just the tiniest bit closer to us than she was before? - so I nod my agreement and we press ahead.
Half split: 1:27:30 approx (on pace for 2:55)
I'm worried about having to run up the hill to the chocolate factory again but Mel is better-informed than me (did I mention that she's younger, too?) and says we'll be turning before the hill, which is a great relief. Here comes the leader again, still a reasonable way ahead, although Dion and his mate are closer than they were before. "Catch him!" I yell at Dion and laugh as we pass in opposite directions.
|Dion (in black) and his chase pack, including Dane (red singlet)|
I take care to note the time on my watch as Gemma and then Jo both pass us before we make the second U-turn ourselves, and it seems Gemma is about 4 and Jo about 2 minutes ahead of us at this point. Hmm, this could be about to get interesting. Joel appears and yells "3:15!" with a wave and a large grin; I have no clue what this might mean, is that how far we are behind the leaders or is it the time he thinks he's going to run? Or perhaps bingo numbers? Keno?
We debate this briefly before another shout comes from the side of the road, something about second place: a couple of minutes ago someone told us (wrongly) we're coming 2nd, so I snort and exclaim "No we are not!" but whoops, it's actually Mel's husband and he's letting us know that we're reeling in Jo at last. Wait, what? Really??
Sure enough, look at that: suddenly she's a lot closer as we head along the big road again for our second lap. Obviously she's pretty much jogging now and a flash of worry goes through my head - hopefully her healing injury hasn't flared up again? Uh oh, this might be bad.
Miles 16-20: 6:36, 6:35, 6:39, 6:55, 6:49
But thankfully she seems okay and waves cheerily as we finally put on a burst of renewed speed to catch her during mile 16. I have absolutely no doubt that injury-free Jo would be miles ahead of us all at this point, but her injury misfortune has had a silver lining for Mel and myself: we've just moved into podium, and therefore chocolate, positions. Hooray!
Heading back out on the boring part of the second lap, this turn of events gives us a burst of speed, or at least we don't slow down much, not until we're on our way past the racecourse again and approaching the bridge.
Mile 19 in blue: the beginning of the end?
At this point I become aware of a strange discomfort under the ball of my left foot, and to my dismay realise that I seem to be developing a blister in that crucial spot, the part of my foot on which my whole gait relies for push-off. I guess I didn't pay enough attention to which socks I was putting on this morning and they are my cheap & nasty general training sort rather than the cushy, $25-a-pair kind that I packed and really should be wearing right now. Ugh.
It hurts with every step and I know that trying to alter my foot strike to protect it is just going to cause issues elsewhere, so really there's nothing to do but keep running. I wonder briefly about complaining about it to Mel, then decide that although I'm already pretty sure she is going to out-sprint me at the end of the race (and I'm fine with that, mainly because I still get chocolate for 3rd, but also because she's younger than me - like everyone - and fitter of course as well), I don't want to be seen to be making excuses. Suck it up, Princess, I tell myself, and just run.
Mile 20, the official point of a marathon where it gets serious, sees us cross the bridge again and I'm moderately annoyed to realise that there's now something of a cross-wind blowing, one that will be in our faces in the final miles on the way back to the finish line. Bugger! I'm almost allergic to headwinds after surviving NYC 2014 and Boston 2015, and Mel certainly isn't big enough to draft behind, although neither am I. We'll just have to cope with it and try to hold on. Dion and Dane rocket past on the other side of the road, in hot pursuit of the leader whose lead is now in fact a LOT smaller than it was. Go guys!
Miles 21-25: 6:44, 6:45, 6:49, 6:58, 6:59
The inevitable late-race slow-down seems to have arrived. All Mel wants to know is if we are still on pace for sub-3, and I'm certain that we are, with enough of a buffer that a few miles slower than sub-3 pace won't make any difference. There are lots of people coming the other way shouting encouragement at us now, which is awesome, and she's much better at responding to them that I am, which is an excellent spin-off too. Having company has been a life-saver for this race: I've run enough races utterly alone to know that it's neither fun nor easy.
So together Mel and I make our way back to the chocolate factory, secure in the knowledge that there's quite a lot of chocolate waiting for us when we finally get there, and trying our best to hold onto the pace despite the ongoing undulations that are now really REALLY making me want to slow down.
|Late-race chicken-wing action from my left arm = I'm TIRED|
Mile 26 and 0.1: 6:46, 6:36 pace to finish
Right as the final mile starts I hear loud footsteps pounding up behind me, along with breathing that sounds distinctly masculine - it's a bloke in a bright blue shirt. He moves ahead of us and, somewhat to my surprise, Mel moves with him.
I haven't put any thought into making a move to secure 2nd place as opposed to 3rd; I guess I've just assumed all along that she'd take 2nd and so now it barely crosses my mind to give chase. At the bottom of the dreaded hill that leads back up to the chocolate factory, a spectator is yelling at me "Catch her! She's not far ahead, catch her!" but my mind is entirely devoted to getting up this hill without losing too much time, and I really don't care that Mel and Blue Shirt guy have disappeared ahead of me around the bend.
|Why is there always a photographer right at the top of that bloody hill? WHY?|
Finally, thank god, the hill is over and there's just the finish chute to deal with. I'm trying to dredge up any speed I might have left but nope, I've got nothing - a good sign that I've given today's race all that I had to give.
Finish time: 2:57:20 (4:12 min/km, 6:44 min/mile)
Placement: 3rd female, 11th overall, 1st in AG (F45-49)
Mel has gotten me by around 15 seconds and she's stoked; we give each other a sweaty congratulatory hug and chat a bit to Gemma who has won with a handy 2:51. Dion and his red-singleted companion have caught the early leader, Sammy, as it turns out - and in an echo of my race with Mel, Dane (2:24:54) has gapped Dion (2:25:02) on the final hill to take the win by just 8 seconds. Amazing!
It's chocolate all round when the presentations finally take place, and then off to the hotel for a much-needed shower and perhaps just a tiny bit of chocolate. Mmmm.
|Not only am I older, I'm also shorter. Did I mention that?|
I could be disappointed with 2:57 - it's far from my own personal best and yet I felt that I gave the race the best effort I could - but on the other hand, chocolate. And Hobart isn't the easiest course so in any case there will hopefully be a training benefit looking forwards to Tokyo.
And when I looked at the Strava data, I realised that we actually ran a pretty solid race. The 5K splits tell the tale: we only lost just under 2 minutes in the final 12km of the race but were otherwise very consistently around 20:45 per 5km.
We end the day drinking beer in a pub with a random South African couple who have also run the marathon today; they're adamant that we must run Comrades someday (the legendary race that seems more like a religion, turning its participants into evangelical devotees the world over) and it's a lot of fun chatting about all the places we've run and all the races we have yet to do.
So even considering the less-than-stellar finish time, any race that leads to chocolate and new running friends is one to be celebrated, indeed!
So even considering the less-than-stellar finish time, any race that leads to chocolate and new running friends is one to be celebrated, indeed!