I really don't like shorter races. I have no idea why I signed up for this one, really, other than that I've been spending quite a bit of time in Manly (where it finishes) lately, and have gotten to know the area a bit from running to and taking part in Curl Curl Parkfun a fair few times. And I guess I sort of thought it might be fun. But while I've never run this particular race before, I knew in advance that it would be hilly and definitely not a fast course. And it made no sense in terms of my preparation for Tokyo marathon - I really don't know why I signed up.
But anyway, sign up I did, with no real idea of actually racing the course, and only vague expectations of a time possibly close to 40 minutes. All the ingredients for an interesting experience, at any rate.
Manly, race morning
The forecast rain hasn't showed up when I set off from Manly; my plan is to drive to Harbord and leave the car in the carpark adjacent to the finish of Curl Curl Parkrun. It will be about 3km from there to the start in Dee Why, the perfect warm-up distance, and when I'm parking in fact there are already people jogging past wearing bibs. I'm not the only one who had this idea, then.
I know how to get to Dee Why but I end up following a pair of guys anyway, and 15 minutes later we're part of a fairly large crowd that is making its way towards the beach. I peel off and head up a side street just to get out of the congestion, then at the beach I do a few loops around the surf club and along the road where the starting arch is set up. I've made it to 2.5 miles when suddenly the heavens open and BOOM, within seconds it's teeming with rain.
I dive for shelter beneath a shop awning and - with the exception of one very determined bloke who stays in the starting corral - everyone else does something similar. For the next 5 minutes the rain intensifies and the announcer who has been chatting happily over the loudspeaker grows steadily more alarmed. Five minutes to the start; wow, it's still coming down. The gutters are torrents of water and my goodness, it looks like we'll all be doing the aquathon option today!
|That is definitely not me.|
But, miraculously ,the rain stops abruptly with about 3 minutes left - everyone charges out to line up and I end up about 20 meters back, which is fine - and we're good to go! To my surprise there's a pair of 40 minute pacers in front of me, one of whom is female (this is rare); I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing.
Good, because I might be inspired to stay ahead of them (and sneak under 40:00, which I am totally not expecting), or bad, because I might find myself behind them and use this as an excuse to give up. I'm reminded of one such incident in Melbourne in 2013, where I was going for 2:49 only to have the 2:50 pacers catch me with about 3km to go; I stayed with them for a while but was mentally doomed by this turn of events and allowed myself to fall behind. I ended up missing my goal by only seconds and have had a bit of a fear of pacers ever since, but whatever, I need to stop thinking and start running now.
Miles 1 & 2: 6:35, 6:23 min/mile (4:05, 3:58 min/km)
Bang goes the gun and off we all rush, up the hill that Nigel has already warned me about. It's really not too bad and the pacer pair are not that far ahead of me when I crest the hill and see another, much larger, one ahead. As usual at the start of a shorter race, people are flying past me like there's no tomorrow. There would have to be at least 20 women further up the road than me already; it's all a bit disheartening and a voice inside my head is telling me to give up now and just jog.
But coming down the hill is much more fun - I'm catching back up to people again - and I hear my cousin Ruth yelling "Go Rachel!" as I speed past her house. Whee! The course turns right and we're on familiar ground now, it's part of where Curl Curl Parkrun goes and I have great memories of this area, not to mention the respectable times I've managed to run there. The rain is holding off and so really, why not just enjoy it?
The course narrows as we follow the Curly Parkrun route around the lagoon; I take the opportunity to speed my way past a couple of female runners. Yes!
Miles 3 & 4: 6:29, 6:25 (4:02, 3:59)
The third mile takes me out of the lagoon parklands and back onto the road near Curl Curl beach. The lagoon area is flat but this bit is most definitely NOT; it winds and dips and finally summits a decent-sized hill where there is a photographer taking pictures with the beach as a backdrop. This promises an excellent photo opportunity but unfortunately the heavens choose this moment to open again and suddenly the rain is pouring briefly down. So, no beachside photo for me from this event. Insert grumpy face here.
My 5km split is around 20:25 and I'm sort of amazed at this because the 40 minute pacers are certainly nowhere to be seen up ahead. When the road straightens out far enough for me to see them, they're at least a minute in front and I'm trying to figure out how I could have that split but still be so far back? It's too much for my brain cells to process and the hills are rolling at me thick and fast, so I shut this train of thought down and just focus on not losing too much time.
Miles 5 & 6: 6:41, 6:11 (4:09, 3:50)
OOF! The whole of mile 5 is one big, long uphill slog and there's a lovely little out-and-back along a side street in there as well. I hate U turns: having to slow down, turn (on a slippery wet road, no less) and speed up again is an unpleasant process that costs both time and momentum. This mile takes a bit of a mental toll that is only slightly alleviated by passing several people (one of them a woman) who are clearly having even less fun than me just now.
|Mile 5 shaded darker, like my frame of mind at that point|
The pacers are gone and after that mile split, I'm thinking anything under 42 minutes will be a miracle. Mental arithmetic isn't my strong suit even when my brain isn't being fried by the experience of running over large hills in the rain (which is trying valiantly to stop but somehow unable), but they're so far ahead of me that I can't see how I won't be running a PW this morning. Grrr.
The final mile starts with a very welcome downhill stretch and I know that beyond this it will be all dead flat from North Steyne to the finish line at the other end of the beach. There's a person with a red shirt and ponytail about 50 metres ahead of me; could it be another chick for me to catch? In this era of hipsters with manbuns it can be hard to tell, and nope, it's a guy. At least the rain has stopped, so I might try to catch him anyway.
|No more hills is definitely a reason to smile|
To my enormous surprise, almost as soon as I make it to the flat part I can suddenly see one, no, both of the 40 minute pacers. One is actually stopped and is waving another runner ahead of them; could it be possible that they went out too fast?? This would not be the first time such a thing has happened - for me it's a bit of a final boost to morale and enough to get me sprinting towards the finish line with every bit of energy I have left.
Final 0.2: 5:55 (3:40)
The effort I manage to put in for this final stretch is rewarded with a race photo in which I actually look like I'm running! I have almost no back leg kick in most of my photos, but then it's very rare for me to be actually sprinting, which I'm definitely doing now.
As I pass the Corso I can hear the announcer yelling at people to get under 40 minutes - I look up to see the clock approaching 40, which is an utter surprise - I'm fairly sure I'm not going to make it but I'm also not going to miss by much. I hear my friend Nigel yelling from the sidelines as I throw myself at the finish (and Red Manbun Hipster Person, who is highly unimpressed somehow) and finally it's over. Did I make it??
|Trying to casually slip in under 40; Nigel in yellow behind and Distraught Red Person in front|
Finish time: 40:03 (6:26 = 4:00)
Placement: 11th female, 2nd in AG (F40-49)
No, I did not make it under 40 minutes. But I came a whole lot closer than I thought I would, and on a course like this (with a mindset like mine today) that's something to be pleased about. The placement reflects a fast field - last year only 3 women ran faster than 40:00 - and we all know my feelings about 10 year age groups, so yeah. A solid day's running at any rate.
Nigel joins me for the jog back to the car - we pass and wave wildly at my friend Keith, who is also running Tokyo marathon and has wisely taken on the role of bike marshal today, instead of running like my silly self - and I reward myself once back in Manly with a scrumptious breakfast. Tokyo is only 3 weeks away; I've got some serious tapering to do. Watch this space.