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!

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.