Thursday, October 16, 2014

Melbourne marathon, October 2014

After Boston in April I had ideas of taking another shot at Melbourne and hopefully running the sub-2:50 that I narrowly missed there last year, but life had other things in store. As I wrote in my last post, an ankle injury took me out for the whole of August and by the time I was back in training, there really wasn't enough time left to train properly for that goal.

My coach Benita talks to me a lot about the mental aspect of marathoning, and I've learned through experience that confidence is crucial for marathon success. I just didn't have the confidence that after 4 weeks off I'd have the endurance to pull off 2:49 or better, so my previous idea of running Melbourne for time and NYC for fun was suddenly in reverse; this was further solidified when my friend Tara convinced me to ask for a sub-elite (preferred) start at NYC. In fact I was down for this in 2012 when the marathon was cancelled, so I did email and ask again -- and was amazed to get a reply that was not only in the affirmative, but actually invited me to participate in the elite women's race! What, me? Up there with the Africans and such??

It seemed fairly ridiculous, but definitely not something to be refused - at this point in my life I am very unlikely to earn such an honour again - so I accepted, and the idea of Melbourne as a training run was fixed on the calendar. I have never run a marathon as training for another, but I guess there's a first time for everything.....

The Training

Thankfully I made a fairly smooth return to running after my ankle injury, assisted by my awesome physiotherapist, Marcus, and was able to put in a couple of solid weeks' mileage before the necessary mini-taper the week leading up to Melbourne. I only had one decent long run in the whole of August/September, however, so some doubt did remain in my mind as to whether my endurance would be at its usual level.

Exactly how much effort to put into the race was a question that vexed me for a while - I had ideas of just looking to run sub-3:00, but knowing I'd have my name on my bib (since I was already entered once again as an elite runner) meant that didn't seem quite enough. Thankfully a solution appeared, in the form of an online running friend who was going to be running his second marathon there and was aiming to take 4-5 minutes off his 2:59 PR.  I offered to pace him and he accepted; suddenly I had a both a goal and a purpose for this "training run". Excellent!

The Lead-up

I've wisely booked a nicer apartment for this year - far in advance - and we settle in without too much drama after an easy drive down on Friday afternoon. Ramen noodles for dinner marks the start of my official carb-loading regime, and I'm taking it fairly seriously even though the marathon is no longer to be what I would call an all-out racing effort. I confer briefly with Benita and also with Andrew, my RWOL friend who also happens to be a Kiwi, and decide on a pacing strategy for Sunday.

Saturday morning dawns cool and cloudy; Andrew and I meet up for an easy 4 miler during which we talk non-stop and miraculously manage to avoid getting lost - we even find a place for coffee afterwards. After some confusion I've managed to help secure a preferred start for him in the marathon, so we part with a plan to meet at the start line.

Smaller but somehow much scarier than the Sydney version

Other than the standard Elite Athlete briefing the rest of the day - as usual before a marathon - passes with as little activity and as many carbohydrate intake as possible. Pastries for breakfast, sushi for the time dinner rolls around I'm half-heartedly munching on a doughy slice of pizza and wistfully gazing at the salad. After this race I swear I'm not eating for a week.

Race Day
I wake to realise there's light streaming into the room - OMIGOD have I somehow slept in?? But no, it's coming from the elevator lobby windows that are opposite mine; a glance at the clock confirms it's only 3:30am. Phew! I doze off but wake again for good at 4:30am - might as well take advantage and try to have some breakfast. I can manage a glass of iced coffee but food leaves me cold; really the only reason that I'm having anything at all is to get the digestive system working, and when that effect has been achieved I give up on consuming anything more until the race is underway.

It's cold out, around 10C/50F, so I put on tights and my Boston jacket over my race outfit and at 5:30am I set off at a brisk pace towards the MCG. There are many other runners streaming in that direction; I find my way easily to the Elite Athlete room down in the bowels of the stadium and hang around there chatting to various other runners until it's time to head up to the start. Australian marathoning legend Steve Moneghetti  strolls in and is accosted by the Elite Co-ordinator, Tim: "Who let YOU in here??" - Monas laughs and I take the opportunity to go over and say hi. He probably only vaguely remembers me - it's been a couple of years since we met a few times in quick succession - and in any case it's time to go, so I wish him luck (he's running the HM) and head out with the others.

Let's do this.

I find Andrew without much difficulty and soon we're let out onto the road - he seems to want to hang modestly back but I drag him forwards with me and we end up about 8 rows back from the very front. That's good because we're not trying to go out too fast....are we? The remaining time passes very quickly and then a loud cannon sounds: it's time to run!

Miles 1-3: 6:33, 6:33, 6:33 (pace in min/mile)

It's more difficult than usual to settle in to the correct pace - I'm used to just going hell-for-leather the first half mile or so and then seeing where I stand. Today is going to be different, though, and already I know I'm going to be checking my watch a lot more than usual. A strange slapping sound distracts me as we head up the slight incline to Flinders Street - then a guy with long hair and BARE FEET speeds past. Andrew and I exchange looks of amazement, then the first mile split sounds and I am very pleased to see we are pretty much exactly on track.

At mile 2 I slurp down my first gel, then completely fail to get hold of a cup of water with which to wash it down. As we zoom through the water station I try several times to grab one - they're nasty, overfull plastic cups with a rim that absolutely cannot be bent into a spout - but only succeed in drenching myself. And possibly several of the volunteers, oops. Little do I know that this will become something of a theme for the day.

We head down towards St Kilda with the usual crowd of blokes around us; I have no idea how many women are ahead of me, and I'm honestly trying not to think about it too much anyway, because today is not about racing. Nope, it's not. As if to confirm this fact, the next 2 miles click past in metronome-like fashion: today is all about consistency, self-control and pacing.

Miles 4-6: 6:25, 6:31, 6:26

Speeding up slightly as we turn the corner and head around Albert Park Lake, things are still going very smoothly - Andrew is slightly behind me over my shoulder and both of us are breathing easily and feeling good. We are now catching the inevitable hot-heads who set off at 5K pace and are already starting to fade; one of them is quite tiny (probably under 5' tall) and has an enormous bushy beard that is bouncing in a comical fashion on either side of his head.

I point him out to Andrew as subtly as I can - we're approaching from behind at a rapid rate - but then as I pull just ahead of him, there's an audible grunt and whoops, he's surging past me like a maniac. I guess little guys with big beards don't like getting chicked! I hear Andrew laughing behind me; within another mile we will have caught Little Bearded One and left him in the dust. Another water station comes up and I once again spill water everywhere but in my mouth - it's a good thing I'm not a heavy sweater, or I'd be facing dehydration by now. Andrew offers me his cup but there's not a lot left in there - at least it's something.

There are a few out-and-back stretches in this part of the course that afford us a view of the leaders, as well as the enormous sub-2:50 pace group - I know from last year that very few of them will still be with the pacer by the end of the race - and I see my nemesis from last year, Fleur, slightly in front of them. Right next to her is Mr Barefoot! She's clearly going for a new PR after last year's 2:50, and she's looking relaxed enough that I am confident she'll get it.

Miles 7-9: 6:30, 6:27, 6:36

We go through an inflatable arch that marks the 10K; Andrew has a Kiwi pace band on (see below) and a glance at it confirms that we are dead on pace - our split is 40:58.

A Kiwi pace band. Cheap, convenient and re-usable!
The rest of this 3 mile stretch wanders back and forth near Albert Park Lake and the number of runners around us thins out considerably. We're still catching people; one of them gestures to the sub-2:50 pace group on the other side of the road and comments that he was supposed to stay with them. Um, I'm not sure why you're telling me that, but okay? All I care about is not getting caught by the sub-3:00 group, and there's little chance of that, thank god.

Time for another gel; I grab for a cup at the water stop and hooray, I get one first try! But YUCK it's filled with hydralyte, or whatever the disgusting electrolyte mix is that the race sponsors have forced on us. It's low-calorie, which makes NO sense for something that is supposed to be a fuel source for runners, and it tastes like lemon cordial made with sea water. I chuck the cup away in disgust and note that one of the guys running near us is doing the same. This stuff is gross!

Miles 10-12: 6:24, 6:40, 6:26

We turn back onto Fitzroy St and head down towards the coastline now - I remember this part from last year and the headwind that had already picked up. Thankfully today there is no wind at all, and so the long out-and-back stretches ahead of us might not be too tough. We have no real pack of runners around us, in sharp contrast to the situation I was in last year, although we do seem to have picked up a couple of guys in blue singlets. One of them recognises me from somewhere - maybe the HM I ran a few weeks ago in Sydney? - and when Andrew says that I'm his personal elite pacer, this guy laughs and says "And now mine too!" Really? Alright then! Off we go.

These guys just signed up to get chicked.

It's a little hard to judge pace here - we're going a bit too fast, so we compensate and end up right at the slower end of our pace range. Whoops, back the other way, now too fast again. There's a big blow-up arch down the road that last year marked 20K (which is still written on it very clearly) but it's somehow way too far away. Perhaps it's the half?

Miles 13-15: 6:37, 6:44, 6:35

We go through the arch - which as predicted is indeed the halfway mark - in 1:26:15, which is slightly ahead of the planned 1:27:00, but that's fine by me. Andrew comments at this point "I don't feel as strong as I probably should" and I'm strongly reminded of my own mental state last year at this exact point: I too was worrying about feeling too tired already, and it really had an effect on what happened later on when the sub-2:50 pace group caught me and I essentially gave up.

So I turn to him and say "That's fine, it's not meant to feel easy, you're fine" - and I go on to explain my own personal theory of running at "the pointy end" of one's abilities, which is that the pace will inevitably feel tough from very early in the race. It's important to understand this, to be ready for it and also to know that the pace - if it's what you've trained for - will be sustainable. Doubting yourself is not going to help; there's a saying among marathoners "Trust the training", and nowhere is it more applicable than right here.

Clearly my words have the desired effect on Andrew's struggling psyche, and the photo below is proof:

If you look very closely you can see me rolling my eyes

Since we're ahead and in order to further quell his anxiety about how he's feeling, I deliberately make Andrew slow down over the next few miles. We need to save whatever kick we have left for the nasty uphill that I know is ahead at the 35-37km mark; there is no point wasting it now.

I cautiously take my 3rd gel - the second one was salted caramel flavour and somehow burned the back of my throat, a very unpleasant sensation indeed -  at the next water stop I manage to get some water, albeit on my second or third attempt. I'm regretting somewhat the decision NOT to use personal water bottles (a privilege afforded the elite runners and one I should have taken up) but thankfully the lack of water so far doesn't seem to be negatively affecting me.

Miles 16-18: 6:31, 6:31, 6:44

We're still running down parallel to the coast now; the final out-and back stretch before heading back towards the city and - eventually - the finish. Andrew announces that he's feeling better, so we speed up a touch and watch the leaders as they streak along on the other side of the road. There's a pack of Africans running close together, a Japanese man all alone on his own and then a tight group of Aussies. The leading woman, Nikki Chapple, is not too far behind them and looking comfortable; she will go on to run 2:31. I'm predicting she will be running the marathon for Australia at Rio 2016, she's just so strong.

Myself? I'm starting to feel rather fatigued at this point (although I choose not to share this fact with Andrew) - running this pace feels tougher than it should, considering that I'm running quite a bit slower than I did this year in Boston. Time to suck it up, princess, and just run. I distract myself as best I can, and it helps that we catch another female Elite in this stretch: the lone African female who is a good deal less muscular (and more plump) than I would have expected. I'm still not really considering what overall place I will end up in amongst the women running this race, but whatever it is, it just improved by one. Yay!

Miles 19-21: 6:37, 6:34, 6:36

The turn back onto Fitzroy Street sees us mingle briefly with the runners who are doing the half-marathon; suddenly there are people all over the road and I'm forced to duck and weave to get around them. I take the initiative and forge ahead, hoping that Andrew will just tuck in behind me, and somehow we get through the crowds still together. Finally the road splits into two; we take the right side and the HMers go left. Phew, that sucked.

But nevertheless we are still pacing this race just about perfectly, and I take the opportunity to share this fact with Andrew. I tell him the truth, which is that he's running really strongly and the "20 mile blow-up" he jokingly predicted yesterday is certainly not on the cards. He's grateful to be reassured and asks me "So you're feeling good too?" to which I automatically reply "ah, yep" - but the truth is somewhat different. Around mile 20 I have started thinking that I would really, REALLY like to stop running right about now. I'm remembering what happened here last year when the sub-2:50 pace group caught up with me - it contained all of maybe 6 runners, most of whom were struggling - and I decided not to flog myself to stay with them.

It is SO tempting to want to do the same at this point again - it even flashes through my mind to tell Andrew "You know what, you just keep going, I'm going to jog the rest of the way." But of course there's no way I could ever let him down like that, so I just have to keep running. And suddenly I see another female runner ahead - passing her gives me the push that I need to face what's ahead.

Miles 22-24: 6:32, 6:41, 6:49

We turn down around the Arts Centre and whilst the short downhill stretch is lovely, we've merged again with the HM runners and at this point it's really quite annoying to have to keep zigging and zagging around them all. Andrew drops slightly back and I glance behind a couple of times before deciding it's too crowded for that; I'm just going to hope that he stays with me. The course winds around and takes us into the Botanic Gardens - ugh, this is the part I've been dreading.

Some sadistic course director has decided that mile 23 would be a good place to take the marathon up a hill that whilst not steep, is definitely way too long. The gradual uphill starts during mile 23 and just keeps coming - ugh, it's horrible, and a glance at my watch during mile 24 shows 7:10 pace. Come on Rachel! I yell inwardly, and finally - thankfully - the hill ends. My pace improves on the downhill but there's a flat mile coming up and all I can think is, get me out to the finish so I can stop! I've given up on water stations now - these poor volunteers deserve to stay dry and I don't seem to be able to stop chucking water on them in my attempts to grab a cup - so there's nothing slowing me down from getting there as fast as my legs can carry me.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:52, 6:48, 6:21 pace to finish

But my legs are toast after that stupid hill. All I can do is keep them moving, and that's just what I do. We zoom down along St Kilda Rd again - Andrew doesn't seem to be right behind me anymore and I briefly debate slowing down or waiting for him before deciding no, let him do his own thing now - and then I'm running past the train station, always a good photo op.

All on my lonesome ownsome at the 40K mark
Halfway through mile 26 I look up and to my EXTREME surprise I see a distinctly female figure running up ahead; could it be, could it looks like Fleur! Last time I saw her she was running just ahead of the sub-2:50 group, so what on earth has happened that I have somehow almost caught her? The next question of course is, can I actually catch her??

There's probably not enough time, I probably can't be bothered, and maybe it would be really demoralising for her if I caught her -- nope, I'm not going to catch her. But I come ridiculously close as I put on a final "sprint" to cover the final 0.25 miles at 6:21 min/mile, which is just under 4 min/km pace. I hear her being announced as the first finisher in her age group, then I'm finally over the line and yay, I get to stop running now!!

Ahhhh, what a relief!

Finish time: 2:53:38

Placement: 10th female, 1st AG (F40-44)

To my delight I've managed to run a bit faster than I was expecting - I spend a very short time looking (in vain) for Fleur, but she has disappeared and in any case I hear the finish line announcer yelling about more people finishing under 2:55 - I turn and squint at the men now rushing towards the finish line: yes, one of them is wearing a blue singlet!

Andrew charges across the line in 2:54:17 - more than 5 minutes faster than his first marathon - to the pleasant accompanying sound of me screaming "RUN! RUN!!GO!!!!!" at him as loudly as I can. We both hit our target time, in fact a little better - how exciting!!

We spend a few minutes congratulating ourselves on our achievement, but I have to get changed and find Mum and Amelia, so I head off pretty quickly to the elite room to get my stuff. Thankfully, on our way back to the hotel we bump into Andrew and his wife, and finally we get the photo we've been meaning to get all weekend:

We did it!
The Analysis

Pacing is a tough gig! I probably would find pacing sub-3 a lot easier; 2:53 is rather too close to my own PR of 2:47:57 for comfort. I was a little surprised at how hard it felt even quite early on - then again I barely tapered from the two weeks prior to race week when I ran 95 and 81 miles respectively.

On the other hand, pacing is also awesome! Running with Andrew gave me a purpose and drive for this race that otherwise would have been sorely missing. I have no idea what I might have tried to do if not for the need to stay steady and run that certain pace; I might have tried to stick with Fleur or even decided to run with the 2:50 group, who knows. I'm almost certain that my chances at New York are going to be better for having run Melbourne in the way that I did - so I'm very grateful to Andrew for letting me pace him to a really well-deserved, shiny new marathon PR.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blackmore's Sydney HM, Sept 2014

I have quite the history with this race; I first ran it in 2007, shortly after returning from a year in Scotland, and since then I've run it 6 times. It's one of the most beautiful and scenic courses that I've ever run on, but it's also a tough, twisty, hilly course and for a variety of reasons I've only really raced it once or twice. My finish times and notes tell an interesting story:

2007 - 1:27:48; return to Australia and my 3rd 1:27:xx HM of the year, despite truly haphazard training and nothing over 10 miles.

2009 - 1:30:39; return to racing after weaning my daughter, rather disappointed with the result; this inspired my foray into "proper" training.

2010 - 1:32:16; training run for first marathon (NYC November 2010), deliberately not racing (although I have no idea why not).

2011 - 1:32:53; returning after injury-plagued winter, not racing, therefore feeling particularly photogenic:
Not racing! But somehow still winning!
2012: 1:45:xx; pacing, not racing.

2013: 1:23:08; racing for once! And quite successfully so - 6th female, 1st in AG. Massive course PR.

The Training
I seem to get injured now once every 2-3 years, and typically in July/August. Sure enough, I did it again this year and only really had 2 weeks back at training before this HM. With a preferred start for the first time ever for this race - darn it - I was pretty miffed at not being in top shape to race it. But the bigger focus is now Melbourne, no, actually beyond it to New York. So when Benita suggested that I aim to run a solid but not all-out effort, around the 1:24-1:25 mark, I agreed. Secretly I probably though I'd be able to run faster than that, but in any case it took some of the pressure off and allowed me to head into the race without too much anxiety, which was naturally a good thing.

Race Day
I'm awake at 3am and then again at 3:30, which is not very helpful, and do manage to go back to sleep before the scheduled wake-up time of 5:00am.  But I spend the time dreaming that I'm running a half-marathon that inexplicably diverts to run through a farmhouse (which somehow belongs to my friends) and then fields of corn. In the house I've lost my shoes, so a stranger offers me some beetroot to rub on my feet instead. Surprisingly I accept, and am busy doing that when I awake somewhat bewildered to the sound of my alarm.

I'm staying right by the starting line and my intention is to get up and run my customary 2 mile warm-up straight from the door, but when I get outside there are so many people making their way to the starting area that running seems pretty much impossible. So instead I make a beeline for the elite/preferred runner area and just stand there trying to keep warm, and trying not to stress about the lack of warm-up. The weather forecast called for sunny skies and about 10C/50F temps, but the skies are surprisingly grey and threatening - a far cry from the warmth of a couple of years ago.

The elite area is a bit more crowded than I'd imagined: state championships seem to be on and there are a lot of people in various state uniforms. I'm chatting to some of them when one of my fast RunCamp buddies, Neil, shows up. Awesome! Soon Vlad - the head of RunLab - also appears and it's little reunion of sorts. Both of them are aiming for finish times that will put them miles ahead of me; again I wish that I was in better racing form today, but oh well.

The time comes to head up to the starting line so I reluctantly strip off my throwaway top - I haven't put anything on the trucks, an omission that I will come to regret later - and manage to at least get some strides done before taking my place towards the back of the preferred runners. Neil and Vlad are right up the front so I don't get a chance to say goodbye or good luck, but this won't be the last time I see them today.

Miles 1-3: 6:44, 6:11, 6:10 (pace in min/mile)
As usual, the first mile is mostly uphill, but at least it's not as crowded as usual. There seems to be a LOT of women ahead of me at this point, which I guess is fine, but the competitive part of my brain is not impressed. I'm trying to remind myself that I am NOT supposed to be running this all-out, but I'm happier when the second and third mile splits beep and are closer to what my half-marathon pace is supposed to be.

Heading across the bridge - that's me 5 people from the left.
Take note of the guy in stripes, more about him below.

Heading down for the first short turn-around on the Western Distributor (read: big spaghetti-type freeway that leads off the bridge) I see the leaders on the other side of the road: Vlad is in 4th place and Neil is in the chase pack in 6th or 7th. Go guys! I'd love to yell at them but I'm too busy trying not to fall over - the heavens have started spitting rain and the road is scarily slippery. The 5K split comes along and is around 19:38 - so far, so good, but the hilly parts are mostly still ahead of me.

Miles 4-6: 6:28, 6:28, 6:36
We zoom across the top of Circular Quay and head up Macquarie St towards the Domain. Ugh, uphill, this is really not my idea of fun. As I turn down to Mrs Macquarie's chair the rain has intensified and I'm too busy worrying about whether it is going to rain on the kids' race (which starts at 7:45am, and will have both my kids running in it) to focus on my pace. Which is either too slow or WAY too slow, depending on your viewpoint, but right now I'm too distracted to care.

I suddenly notice this guy who is running near me wearing a shirt with vertical red and white stripes - we've been running quite close together for a while now. As we grind back up the hill past the Art Gallery a remarkable number of people running the other way are now calling out to him, and very quickly I figure out that his name is Chris. Rapidly it becomes quite amazing - the calls of "Hey Chris!" "Great going, mate!" and the more basic "Chriiiiiiiisssss!" are coming thick and fast - so much so that I'm very tempted at one point to ask him "Do you know every single person in this race? Or just most of them??"

I have a shadow and his name is CHRIIIIIISSSSSS

I pass him on the uphill but he passes me back on the flat; his stride is similar to mine and for a short time I amuse myself comparing our cadence, which at least takes my mind off the constant chorus of "Chris! Chris! Chriiiiiissss!" At the top there's a short out-and-back on College St, I'm in front now and we run very close together for a while, then I guess I lose him (and the course veers away so there are no longer slower runners, aka people yelling "Chriiiis!!", coming the other way) as we zig and zag our slippery way down to Circular Quay again.

Miles 7-9: 6:10, 6:15, 6:22
The mile down to the Quay is mostly downhill and I'm flying along again at a more acceptable pace, thank god. I can hold it together even along the very slippery boardwalk through the Rocks - I idly notice a couple of banners advertising Headspace, which is pretty weird - and out along Hickson Rd, but in mile 9 the small rollers start again. A brief distraction comes along in the form of a guy wearing orange, who sidles up behind me and suddenly asks "Why are you carrying a walkie-talkie?"  I guess it is a rather weird running accessory - I laugh and explain as quickly as I can - he wishes me luck and then the hills start and nobody's talking anymore.

The first significant uphill is made better by the fact that here I catch a female runner - that's one less in front of me, and hopefully I won't get passed back - I'm slowing down again, but I feel good and I'm too scared of fading later on to push any harder. The lack of training has me doubting my endurance a bit, and the last thing I need is to blow up and fall in a heap.

As I head out once again on the freeway, the leaders are coming the other way - there's Vlad still in 4th and here comes Neil in 7th place! Inspired perhaps by the chorus of Chris, and in part by the fact that I'd rather conserve my breath, I manage to yell out "VLAAAAD!" and "NEEEIILLLL!!" as they pass; both are understandably too focused to acknowledge me, but that doesn't matter one bit. It has gone very quiet around me - I wonder where Chris is?

Miles 10-12: 6:47, 6:28, 6:13
Right, mile 10 is the horror mile of this race and has always been so - it does a loop around a block and then hits two short but very sharp uphills that I remember from every year I have run them, entirely due to their sheer awfulness. Seriously, WHY? I slog my way up and over, back up and down, and am only partly mollified by the realisation that there are now TWO more female runners within striking distance head of me. Mile 11 begins with me closing in on the first of them, who is wearing a pink top. I realise suddenly that I don't feel that bad, really, so I surge and pass her without a second thought. I'm definitely picking up the pace now.

Flying along, bonus famous landmark in the background

Zooming back along towards the finish line, I catch female #2 right at the spot where I caught another rival last year. The memory of that has me grinning, and my grin widens when I round the corner under the Harbour Bridge and realise there is yet another woman not far ahead! She's wearing a blue Athletics NSW uniform and looks to be fading. Can I get her??

Mile 13.1: 6:25, 5:55 pace to finish
Funnily enough, I actually slow down again during this mile, but almost everyone around me is fading out too, and probably because of my marathoning background I seem to be fading the least. I catch and pass Blue Uniform girl right on the boardwalk by the water (same place again as last year), and now all I have to do is hold it together and I'll be home. Holy crap, though, it's slippery going!

Left foot, right foot, don't fall down.
But I manage not to slip, and even to negotiate the wet cobblestones of the Opera House forecourt at 5:51 pace. As always it's a pleasure to see the finish line at last, and the announcer is shouting something about sub-1:25.....hold on, what?? Somehow I was thinking I had run faster than that, but whatever, sub-1:25 will do fine.

Finish time:  1:24:52  (6:28 min/mile, 4:01 min/km)

Placement: 13th female, 2nd AG (40-44)

I'm walking around drinking water and trying to stay warm when another runner in the same singlet as Chris turns up - it's Robyn from NSW Masters Athletics, who greeted me in the start area - and then Chris himself shows up! He's yelling at me for being too strong, she's warning me to stay away from him (something about him being Irish, lol) and I finally get to spit out my line about every other runner seeming to know his name. Awesome!!

This is  a pretty huge race - 7799 finishers, of whom 3971 were female - so I'm still happy with this result, although I *was* 6th last year and almost 2 minutes faster. Vlad has finished in 5th and Neil 9th position overall; but neither of them is anywhere to be seen and in any case I need to find the finish line for the kids' race pretty quickly, so I hot-foot it up the hill to the Conservatorium and before long I am amazed to see Jack finish the 3.5km race in just 18:38. That's faster than I expected - what a champ!

Unfortunately we then wait another full 25 minutes for his leisurely, strolling sister to finish - during which time I develop a mild case of hypothermia. I'm on the walkie-talking yelling "Where ARE you??" to which she calmly and repeatedly replies, with her knack for the obvious "I'm not there yet". I implore her to please go a bit faster, but nope, she's not having it. The subsequent trek back to the hotel is frigid and does nothing to improve my core temperature, although at least it's no longer raining.

The Analysis
Upon reflection, this is my second fastest time on this course by quite a long way, so I guess all is not lost. And for once I have actually followed Benita's instructions to a tee - I definitely wasn't going all-out, although I'm not sure I really could have gone a lot faster. It was pleasing to find that my endurance hasn't suffered too much from the time off in August, and that's probably a good sign for what lies ahead.

Next up: Melbourne!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lake to Lagoon 10K, September 2014

The Lake to Lagoon is Wagga's most popular running event and there's a good recap of its history - as well as my own history running it - in my post from last year; it now seems to have become a permanent 10K that starts and finishes at Lake Albert. This year I was hoping to avenge my second-place finish from last year when I was felled by a freak accident in early August, leading to my longest stretch off from running since the end of 2005: a whole 4 weeks of cross-training, uncertainty and frustration.

For any runner, being injured is bad enough. When it's the result of a silly decision to ignore one's advancing age and pretend one is a teenager complete with snowboard and baseball hat on backwards - much, much worse. The uneasy feeling that accompanies a running-related injury was replaced by one of chagrin and regret when I found that despite not having done anything resembling running for almost a week after the high-speed crash, my right ankle would not under any circumstances allow me to run. How ironic that I can run 100 miles a week and never get injured but two afternoons on a snowboard and I'm toast? WTF was I thinking to go snowboarding anyway? I will be advertising that stupid thing on eBay any day now.

Never again.

After another week - having missed the local trail marathon and noting only the very slightest of improvement in my ankle -  I arranged an MRI scan that to my admittedly amateurish eye looked to show bone oedema and a possible fracture at the tip of my lower tibia. A fracture, yes, that would explain why this thing is still so bloody painful!! But no - the official report finally came through 4 days later and was insistent that there was no fracture or ligament damage, just a sprain and a bit of inflammation in the joint itself.

I was so amazed that I called the radiologist who had reported it, just to confirm that what I'd taken for swelling and fluid was actually signal artefact (now I really don't understand MRIs at all), and after that I promptly put myself on a course of medication to treat the inflammation. Within 24 hours almost all the pain I had felt on walking was gone, and 4 days later I embarked on my first, cautious test jog. Success! And only 2 weeks until the Lake to Lagoon! Did I just hear someone say "comeback"?

The Training
Ah, see above. That is to say, not much.

Training log for August - alarmingly empty.

Race Day
The course may be different but the start time for this race is just as ridiculous as ever: 10:30am, which at least means that I can stay in bed a lot later than normal. In a repeat performance of last year's pre-race ritual (I am nothing if not a creature of habit) I get up finally at 7:30am and eat a piece of raisin toast with coffee for breakfast, then keep myself busy with chores until it's time to head out. The weather prediction of 12C/53F has not held up - it is much warmer when I walk outside and any worries about feeling cold in the singlet/short shorts combo I have chosen are quickly dispelled.

I jog down my street and head for the lake, completing 4km (I've switched my Garmin to metric, just for kicks) with some race-pace strides in the final kilometre. My ankle is not talking to me, which is great, but my legs don't feel normal, which is expected but still not too great. I seriously have no idea what is going to happen today; I might win, I might collapse, who knows? It also depends in large part on who else has shown up; I met one of my likely competitors yesterday randomly in town, but other than her, I'm not sure who is here. Since there's really no point worrying about it, I resolve to enjoy just being able to run again and take part in the fun of the day.

There are lots of people around that I know so it's quite fun to chat to them and enjoy the buzz of people all getting ready for the run - both my kids have set off in the cycle wave (at 10am) and now there are just runners milling about in the park and by the lake.

Two of Wagga's faster runners. Yes, really.
I've just noticed Spiderman lurking in the shade with a group of others from the Wagga Wagga Road Runners and am about to go over to say hi when the call comes to line up at the start. From experience I know that if I don't position myself RIGHT at the front, I'll end up running smack into the backs of all the kids who will charge out from the start like a pack of wild animals before stopping dead in the middle of the road around 200m later. So I head for the pink line on the road instead and hold my ground amidst a sea of tweens.

Me front and centre, kids all around.

The usual dorky warm-up routine takes place; I participate half-heartedly for about a minute and then give up, instead just focusing on keeping myself calm and relaxed. There's a skinny little girl right next to me who looks like she's going to make a very fast runner someday - I take the opportunity to chat with her briefly and find out that she ran 44:00 last year and placed 10th female. She seems set to take a fair chunk of time off this year; I tell her "Just don't go out too fast" and then it's time for the countdown. In the same style as last year it is bone-crunchingly slow, almost enough to make me get nervous, then finally - we're off!

1 - 2km: 3:43, 3:53 (pace in min/km) -- min/mile 6:00, 6:17
Sure enough, Hannah (the little girl in pink) shoots out ahead of me like a rocket. I feel obliged to chase her and geez, I wasn't ready to run this fast! I'm happy though that for once I don't have kids slowing down or stopping dead right in front of me this year - the road ahead is fairly clear. I'm briefly distracted by Spiderman dashing past me yelling "Rachel's going to get beaten by Spidey!!" - who the heck is that behind the mask, anyway?? - then the first kilometre split beeps and holy crap, that's too fast to be sustainable!

Thankfully I have just caught Hannah, who has slowed down considerably - but she remains just over my shoulder and I'm pretty sure there's another chick on the other side behind me. The second km is also flat, but the uphill is fast approaching. I'm in the lead now, but I'm not counting my chickens yet - it's time to dig in and hold on.

3 - 4km: 4:06, 4:02 -- 6:38, 6:31
Ugh, this uphill stuff sucks. It's not horrendously steep but it goes on and on without respite, all the way to the turn-around. The leaders are on their way back down as I grind onwards to the top, and I really can't be bothered counting what place I'm in overall -- but I am VERY interested to know how much of a lead I have on Hannah and the other woman who was hot on my tail earlier in the race.

I check my watch as I turn and am pleased to note that I have approximately 45 seconds on both Hannah and the girl I met on Saturday - Lizzie - hopefully I can at least hold that, if not increase it.

5 - 6km: 3:48, 3:44 -- 6:09, 6:03
Heading back down towards the lake there are lots of people yelling my name from the stream of runners on the other side of the road - the great thing about being known as a runner in a relatively small city - but I am way too focused to acknowledge any of them with more than a brief wave. I haven't forgotten my embarrassing near-collapse at the end of the 2011 race and a part of my brain is very worried about a repeat performance. So far I feel okay, though.

I speed down towards the lake and hit the path that runs around the western side; this next bit is going to be hot and exposed, I know from past experience. I've managed to get back up to speed and the last 2K were much closer to 10K race pace than the uphill ones, which is gratifying. But I'm starting to feel tired - let's see what I've got left.

7 - 8km: 3:56, 3:55 -- 6:22, 6:20
Up ahead there's a very small cyclist and a man in black running next to her: it's my daughter with her father! She stops to let the runners ahead of me pass, and I start yelling her name. She's desperate to show me her skinned elbow and knee - it looks like she's fallen off at least once, whoops - but all I have time to do is yell that I'm so proud of her, blow her a kiss and keep running. Hopefully she will make it to the end without more scrapes!

Snacks in basket in case of hunger emergency
9 - 10km: 4:02, 3:51 -- 6:32, 6:13

I lose my focus temporarily during the 9th kilometre; the short, steep uphill behind the Boat Club is every bit as nasty as I remember it, and I'm annoyed to see that I've slowed down beyond my normal marathon race pace. That's enough impetus to get me speeding up again as I cover the final 1000m to the finish line at Apex Park. For the very first time my Garmin agrees almost completely with the course distance, but there's enough extra distance to know that I did manage to hit 5:51 min/mile over the final stretch.


It's official, though: I have managed to win! Coming after my longest stretch off running since late 2005, there's a lot of confidence to be gained from today's performance. That, and a bloody big trophy.

Finish time: 39:06 (6:18 min/mile)

Placement: 13th OA, 1st female and 1st in AG (40-49)

Behind me by less than 2 minutes, Hannah has just finished in 2nd place! So impressive for an 11 year old - I make sure to go congratulate her and chat briefly to her mum. She's outsprinted Lizzie who has finished 3rd by just 3 seconds - a great day for everyone, really!

My name is on this one 3 times now! 

The Analysis
Not much to say here - I was the fastest on the day, and managed to win with a time 20 seconds slower than last year's effort for 2nd place. I'm happy that I managed to hold onto my pace, though, and perhaps all my fitness hasn't gone south with the enforced 4 weeks off.

It's very clear now that Melbourne marathon - just 4 weeks away - is going to be a training run and not a real race. The challenge will be to remember that when I'm lined up amongst all the elites and everyone charges off on pace for a 2:47 finish! But the bigger prize is New York Marathon in November, where again I'll be in the professional all-women race like I was in Boston; I need to keep my eyes on that and control my speedster urges. I think I can, I think I this space.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Volkslaufe, Michigan - July 4, 2014

The town of Frankenmuth is a bizarre little piece of Germany that is somehow located about 90 minutes' drive north of Detroit. It's as if an enormous forklift simply scooped up a quaint little village from deep in the Bavarian Alps and deposited it neatly in southeast Michigan - walking down the main street is like being transported back to 1985 when I was an exchange student in Ingolstadt (minus the insane, snuff-dipping host father, coked-up anorexic host sister and bodybuilding, Socialist Democrat exchange partner, of course) and with my otherwise fond memories of Germany (chiefly from other visits) I find Frankenmuth absolutely enchanting.

The Bavarian Inn, just by the race start and finish area.
The race has been on my radar for a couple of years now, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to run it this year. I know a bunch of Michigan runners who are apt to do both the 10K and 5K races - something I'd never consider, ahem - but with my own preference for longer distances, the 20K was the perfect choice for me. The unique thing about the Volkslaufe is that overall and age group winners are rewarded with these incredible, authentic German beer steins, and of course I was very keen to secure one for myself. So off I went to Michigan at the end of June, with most of a week to slack off, I mean acclimatise, before the race.

These are the overall winner steins - we need a scale for reference - they're about 2 feet tall.

The training

Nothing specific for this one, although I did get up at 3:15am the morning of my flight in order to run 8 miles in the pitch dark cold of Wagga - possibly just to remind myself of what I was leaving behind.

It should probably also be said that I spent the acclimatisation time going completely AWOL from my training plan (I did confess this to Benita later, I'm not sure why) - including a fair bit of time spent drinking beer, playing frisbee on the beach and watching fireworks. Also, not nearly enough food or sleep. In a way it was an experiment of one: if I do everything the opposite of what I'm supposed to, how badly will it affect me on race day? Hmmm, watch this space.

Then, at the expo I make a snap decision that is undoubtedly due to the company I'm keeping: I sign up for the 5K, which will start around 40 minutes after I finish the 20K. A good few people I know are running two races (mostly the 10K/5K combo) and I'll be in need of a cool-down, right? Plus, if I can get another stein for that - well, that's pretty outrageous, but also possible! It's also possible that I've finally gone completely insane, we'll soon find out either way.

Race Day

Being July in Michigan, the Volkslaufe has a reputation for rather dicey weather. A couple of years ago it was over 100F (38C) by the 5K start at 10am, and everybody pretty much melted. This year, however, sees the coolest and therefore best weather in a long time: it's predicted to be just 50F (10C) at the start, and we wake at 6am to clear skies and not a breath of wind. Perfect running weather, in fact!

We head over to the race precinct early to set up the racing team tent: I've been made an honorary member of the Hansons Yellow Team for today, and on account of it being July 4, also an honorary American. We pitch it quickly and drag over chairs and tables; it's been so hot here in the past that shade was at a premium, and the tent indispensable. Today will be quite different, but the team members present still pose proudly:

Yellow Team!
We head off en-masse for a 2 mile warm up, and I know fairly quickly that today isn't going to be easy: my legs feel sluggish rather than springy, and I'm working harder than I should be. Never mind, all I need to do is the best I can do on this day - and that still should be good enough to win my old-lady age group. Ah, the advantages of being semi-ancient!

Those racing the 10K head off to start first, while we 20K runners mill around in the cool morning air. We're starting (and finishing) over grass, and honestly I'm not in the mood to run fast. But the gun goes off and suddenly I have no choice....

Miles 1-3: 6:29, 6:16, 6:13 (pace in min/mile)

It's difficult to get up to speed on the grass, and there are somehow a lot of people around me - I definitely don't want to trip, so I'm being very careful as we finally hit the gravel path and turn sharply to the right. The course heads out through some truly beautiful countryside, but for now I'm preoccupied by the fact that there's a woman who looks around my age just over my right shoulder, and I can hear a couple of female voices behind me. They are casually discussing the weather and beaches in Florida - okay, we're only running 6:30 pace, but still - either they're just jogging (in which case they are going to destroy me later) or they've gone out way too fast (in which case, why are they still capable of talking?). All I can do is hope to leave them behind in the miles ahead.

With this in mind I consciously speed it up in miles 2 and 3, and as a result I lose the woman over my shoulder (who I later find out is not in my age group anyway - her name is Lisa, she's 46 and one of Michigan's top masters runners), as well as the chatty pair. There are 3 Yellow Team runners within sight ahead of me: John, Jesse and Bill. I wonder if I can catch any of them?

5K split: 19:50 approx

Miles 4-6: 6:24, 6:17, 6:27

Just as I have that thought, Jesse (who at this stage is closest ahead of me) visibly pulls away. Is he speeding up? Maybe, but a quick glance at my Garmin tells the truth: it's me slowing down again.  I'm not being helped by the moderate headwind that has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, either - we've just turned onto a long straight stretch and the wind has definitely picked up. I need someone to draft off, but Jesse and co. are out of reach now; thankfully there's a guy wearing a blue shirt that reads "HillRunner" just ahead of me. I exert myself to catch him, but he's not happy with that and immediately surges ahead once more. Sigh, I wish these guys wouldn't react so badly to a girl catching up with them.

It's clear at this point that I'm not going to be able to run my usual HM pace today, so I might as well relax and enjoy the ride. For the first time I look up and take in my surroundings, and wow, it's beautiful out here! Cornfields stretch out on either side of the road, the sky is blue, the clouds are fluffy and white - it's gorgeous. And being America's birthday, every house we pass seems to have a flag in the front yard! I love how patriotic Americans are, especially because Australians are so much more casual about it - apart from drunken shouts of "Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi!" and gratuitous beer consumption at sporting events, I mean. Anyway, the Americans are doing it in style today, and it's very fun to watch.

10K split: 39:40 approx


Miles 7-9: 6:30, 6:25, 6:31

Now that I've settled into my pace and stopped worrying about why it isn't faster, I'm actually enjoying this race. We head through some woods and across a small bridge, and I can't help but wonder what it would be like to run here in winter when everything's frozen - the Winterlaufe is in February I think, and it would certainly be a big change for me to run on snow.

That's pretty much all that I remember of this part. HillRunner is long gone, Jesse and John are holding strong in front of me, and Wild Bill - although a little closer than he was before - is doing the same: I'm all alone out here it seems. We make another sharp turn, this time to the left, and I realise we're heading back towards suburbia. Joel has warned me that there are some hills (or at the very least some minor rollers) in the last 5km of this race, and sure enough I can see the first of them ahead. Yuck! Let's see what I can do about hauling in someone ahead of me - that might keep my mind off things. The dread is enough to make mile 9 my slowest of the entire race.

15K split: 59:35 approx

Miles 10-12.4: 6:26, 6:29, 6:17, 6:10 pace to the finish

The rollers come and go as I abruptly find myself in proper suburbia again, and there are noticeably more people standing by the roadside cheering, which is nice. On one corner I'm surprised to see a Yellow Team vest: it's Scott, waving and yelling encouragement at me! I wave back and realise I can hear Bavarian music all of a sudden - where on earth could that be coming from?? At the bottom of a small downhill stretch I see the answer: it's a row of women dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing, singing a cheerful song about nothing at all. There's a maypole there behind them but for now they're just bopping up and down right by the road - if they were using it they'd look something like this, I imagine:

Und wir tanzen, tanzen, ja ja ja....
This sight has me grinning like a cheshire cat as I realise we're getting right near downtown (read: cheesy faux-Bavarian) Frankenmuth again, which can mean only one thing - the end is drawing near! As if to prove the point, the course now takes me across the covered wooden bridge that is one of the famous landmarks of the region, built by the Zehnder family who are still a strong presence in the town. 

1 covered bridge, 2 happy excited runners.

Right before the bridge I look over to the side to see Merlin - another Yellow Team member who ran the 10K - snapping photos intently....of Wild Bill, who is inexplicably and suddenly right in front of me. Wow, how did that happen? I pant out "Hi Bill" as I barrel past him on the far side of the bridge, and he graciously greets me back.

There just CAN'T be that far to go now - I check my Garmin and see that we have just over a mile left to run. Sure enough I start to recognise landmarks and then finally, as I'm heading down the road where we all ran our warmup (which seems like it was hours ago now) I spot Joel, who is waving his arms and yelling to attract my attention. 

"ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET??" I bellow at him - and then "WHICH WAY DO I GO??" There are runners going in all directions ahead of me and I'm too exhausted to figure it out. Thankfully he points left and then starts running alongside me, yelling encouragement and snapping photos (simultaneously, too - I didn't know men could multi-task like that) and generally being a welcome distraction.

Before too long the course turns onto the grass and I know from talking with Kevin Hanson that I have perhaps 400m left to run - Joel peels off to the side -  and there are yells of "Go Yellow Team" as I round the final turn and charge down towards the finish line. I haven't checked my watch in a while so I look up and to my horror I see the clock reading 1:19:00. Ugh! I wanted to go sub-1:20 as a minimum - I need to get there pronto! My legs still have enough pep in them to step on the gas enough to accomplish it, and so finishes the first race of the day...

Made it!

Finish time: 1:19:30, 6:23 pace

Placement: 2nd female OA, 1st in AG (F40-44)

By the time I've made my way back to the Hansons tent there's only around 20 minutes until the start of the 5K race, and suddenly I'm wondering, what on earth possessed me to sign up for that? That's right, it's my cool down, that's all. I down some water, congratulate Dani (the gorgeous, bubbly female 20K winner who works at the Hansons Running Store and who has just kicked my butt by over 4 minutes; then again she's 23 years my junior so age-adjusted I totally beat her, totally) and - to my absolute surprise - as the winning Masters female I get interviewed by a dude from Michigan Runner. Awesome!

It's time already to line up for the 5K - I strategically place myself well back from the starting line, chanting "Cool down, cool down, not a race, not a race" in my head - and it's weird being so far back, but not unwelcome. 

Mile 1: 6:49

The gun goes and it takes me a while to start moving - ugh, my legs are protesting loudly at having to run again so very soon after the 20K. I'm trying to hold back and just jog, but the assassin part of my runner's brain sees women ahead of me and goes completely insane. Inside my head there's a relentless stream of hysterical yelling: "She doesn't look faster than you! How can you let HER be beating you?? And SHE is probably in your age group! PASS HER PASS HER DO IT NOW!!"

Reluctantly my body complies with the screaming in my head and I start to speed up - I focus on reeling in the females ahead of me, one by one, and slowly my legs stop complaining and let the manic competitive psychopath inside take over proceedings. I'm surprised and somewhat pleased when the first mile split beeps and it's nowhere near the 8:00 that I was planning to run. Could it be that I might be able to win my AG in this race too? There's definitely an evil grin on my face as I emerge from the other side of the covered bridge and head into town.

The 5K course
Mile 2: 6:35

A fairly simple lap through downtown Frankenmuth gets mile 2 done, and I'm surprised to see that I'm almost at my usual marathon pace now - my legs are turning over quite nicely! And I've caught a good few women along the way, too. I usually hate 5Ks because of the pain and discomfort of essentially trying to sprint the whole way, but when you're used to racing more than 4 times the distance and you're not running all-out, 3.2 miles really is laughably short. Only 1.2 more to go!

Mile 3, 0.2: 6:46, 6:10 pace to finish

Back over the wooden bridge and onward towards the finish line, I'm kind of losing interest now and ready to be done - I'm slowing down again and I really don't care. I've got enough left to put on a decent sprint for the final stretch but I have no particular interest in trying any harder at this point, just get me there so I can find some food: my stomach has been making its presence felt and in particular is interested to find a free bagel or two at the finish line.

Finish time: 21:11, 6:41 pace

Placement: 10th female OA, 1st in AG (F40-44)

I'm moderately surprised at my finish time, and the big surprise will come when I go to check my placement.... and find I'm not even on the list! A quick visit to the race office confirms what I hoped would be the case: I won my AG in my cool down race. Okay, I wasn't really cooling down so much as seeing how much more flogging my legs could take, but even so - result!

It's time to celebrate, and I do so by snagging and devouring a substantial number of bagels from the food tables near the finish - bagels are one of my favourite foods and one that is sadly deficient in my homeland, so I need to make the most of things while I'm here.  Soon it's time for the prize-giving ceremony and I'm the happy owner of not one but TWO authentic German beer steins -- which will both be soon filled with free beer, oh yeah.

Fast chicks....                             blokes...                            ....insane raceaholics.

The rest of the Yellow Team has also secured a dazzling array of steins ranging from teeny-tiny (for 3rd in AG) to bloody massive (overall winners Mike and Dani) - we have all gotten our steins filled with free beer by the time this happy photo is taken, with the winners struggling under the weight of theirs.

YELLOW TEAM!! With many steins, and ring-in Aussie wearing patriotic gear.


I had no idea racing as part of a team was so much fun, and it's a major pity that nothing similar exists in the part of Australia I inhabit. Still, what an amazing weekend of racing, and a fantastic group of people to share it with! I didn't run to the absolute extent of my abilities in either race, but it was good enough to win me some pretty incredible hardware - my carry-on bag is going to be bloody heavy on the way home, that's for sure.

My experience of racing in Michigan has further confirmed what I already know: it's fun to travel and it's fun to run, but doing both at once? Priceless. And the American running scene sure makes a lot more of a fuss about Masters runners than the Australian one does, something that is not lost on me. I need to race more in the US before I get slow!

After sadly returning to Australian soil I find myself somehow signing up for another racing double, this time over the Wagga Trail Running weekend. Did someone say "Raceaholic"? Wheeeeee!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mini-Mosmarathon 10K, June 2014

This preposterously hilly 10K is actually one of my favourite Sydney races, mainly on account of the fact that it takes place in the suburb where I grew up and serves as a fundraiser for the school where my twin brother and I started our academic careers (ahem) way back in kindergarten. It’s most definitely not a PR course, but still fun to do, in a masochistic sort of a way.

Elevation profile: not for the faint-hearted

There’s also a kids’ 2K race that I really wanted both of my kids to run, given their excellent results in the Mount Beauty and Yarrawonga races they’ve done so far this year. Somehow along the way I managed to convince my brother to not only sign his oldest daughter up for the 2K, but also to run the 10K with me himself. Well, “with me” was initially up for debate – “You always go hard don’t you?” was his first question when I mentioned running together.

It’s true that I tend to be competitive – although generally not with him, even when we were kids – but my initial thought was to just take it easy for this one. My justification was two-fold: not only was I pretty much destroyed from the May Madness (not to mention last weekend's RunCamp!) I was also mindful of the fact that the Mini-Mos is an insanely competitive field. Last year I raced my heart out yet only managed to finish 10th overall and 3rd in my AG. So this year I figured, why bother? As a result I was feeling pretty darn relaxed as the kids and I flew up to Sydney the day before and settled in to stay with the little cousins, even with the inevitable wild kid chaos that ensued.

It also should be mentioned that none of the fun that the Mini-Mos turned out to be would have been possible without my sister-in-law, who uncomplainingly took on the daunting task of getting 5 kids age 9 and under ready to leave the house by 8am. Rob and I therefore got to head off early and unencumbered, with the kids arriving later but in plenty of time for their own race. Thanks Claire!!

The Training

In detail: see my 4 latest posts. 

In brief: lots of racing, lot of mindless jogging, and a weekend of high intensity running just 7 days earlier. Taper? What taper?

Race Day

It’s a perfect morning for running as we leave for Mosman: a crisp 10C (50F) with light cloud cover to keep off the sun. Rob and I go our separate ways to warm up – I do my customary 2 miles while he wanders around to keep warm – and meet again by the car to walk to the start line. He laughs when I insert us both right up the front; his style is more suited to casually starting at the back of the pack, or perhaps in the middle. But I know he’s capable of running close to 4:00 min/km (6:26 min/mile) in a race – I haven’t forgotten the many times that he beat me in the Biathlon at the Boy when we were in our twenties – so I laugh back and insist we stay here, which is about 4 rows back from the front.

"I can't believe you talked me into this"

Miles 1-3: 6:27, 6:50, 6:38 (pace in min/mile)

The gun goes and we set off, uphill of course. I'm setting what I think is a reasonable pace and Rob is keeping up without a problem as the first mile beeps - so far, so good. The undulations start for real during mile 2 and we slow down a bit, but since I'm not planning on racing anyway, I'm not too worried. During this mile there's a sharp uphill and then we're on the out-and-back part of the course where I counted the women in front of me last year. Uh oh......

Much as I try not to, it's irresistible; quite a few of them are wearing pink, too, and they inevitably catch my eye. One, two, three, four....and then quite a break until I count another 4 women...and that, apparently is all. My eyes widen: could it be that I'm already in the top 10?? This knowledge speeds me up during mile 3, and just as we approach the 5K mark there's another out-and-back stretch. Time to confirm that, maybe?

My brother is about 10 seconds behind me at this point, and I check my watch as we approach the 5K mark. I'm counting women on the other side of the road again - I was right the first time, I'm in 9th place right now - and a few of them are closer than I thought!

5K split: 19:45

Miles 4-6.2: 6:36, 6:26, 6:42 and 5:57 to finish

I round the turn out near the zoo and wave to Rob as I see him on the high side of the road; he gives me a grin and a thumbs-up, which I interpret as a free pass to do whatever I like (twin telepathy is good like that) so I step up the pace ever-so-gently. I have a very good idea of what's coming up and it includes some very unpleasant uphills, but my killer instinct has been ignited and I want to see if I can catch some of these girls ahead.

With the usual retinue of guys trailing me

Quite easily I catch and pass the first - obviously she's slowing down - but the second (also in pink) takes a bit longer to reel in. I finally pass her on the sharpish downhill to Cowles Rd and right before what I know is the steepest uphill of the course; I'm guessing she won't be catching me back anytime soon. Then, as I grind painfully up the hill I am VERY surprised to see yet another girl ahead. She's dressed in a white shirt and is clearly much younger than me (aren't they all these days?) - aha, a challenge! Let's go!

I'm in hot pursuit as we turn down the street on which I grew up and then down the only remaining downhill; she gains a bit on this stretch, but I know what lies in wait. I catch and pass her on the small flat stretch that follows, and it's a great incentive to keep pushing - because the final mile is pretty much ALL uphill. Crap, this is going to hurt! But I'm now quite unexpectedly in 6th place, and there's money for places 1-5: can I catch another female before the race is over??

Up, up, up I go and it's torture - through the start line again, up past the school and the park we used to play in at lunchtime. Finally things level out again and the 6th mile beeps. I'm giving it everything I've got left as I sprint around to the final small out-and-back; I glance behind me and nope, White Shirt is nowhere to be seen. But the nearest female is already on her way to the finish as I'm still heading the opposite way - there will be no cash reward for me today. All of which is irrelevant, anyway, I just want to finish and finish I do, hammering it all the way (in sharp contrast to my earlier expectation for the race).

Finish time: 41:03  (6:36 pace)

Placement: 3rd in AG (F40-49), 6th OA female.


It's a little disappointing to be so close to winning something yet miss out, but I have no time to dwell on it - I spot Sebastian from RunCamp and go over to say hello (he's off to run the 5K and will set a surprise new PR) - then I look back and Rob has appeared already! He's run 43:10, a very respectable time for this course (and for not having actually trained at all), so we grab some water and eventually make our way to a local cafe to warm up. The weather has taken a turn for the worse - it's cloudier and even colder than before - so it's very pleasant to sit and drink coffee while we wait for Claire and the kids to show up.

The organisational side of the 2K is absolutely wonderful: all the kids are lined up in age groups and marched out to start in wave fashion, which is enough to motivate Amelia to run the race on her own and spare me having to go with her, and I'm thrilled with this because I'm bloody FREEZING! Her start is later than Jack's, so I barely have time to run up to the finish line before he appears, striding along like a champion. In fact all 3 kids do extremely well and are very proud of themselves and their medals - many hours later they are all still wearing them.

Mini-Mos mini-champs
After the race there's a fair held in the school grounds, so we wander around and the kids choose some rides to go on; Rob and I predictably remark on how much smaller everything seems to look now, and after a while it's just too cold to stay any longer so we head home.

In retrospect, if I had been all-out racing the whole time I might well have finished 5th rather than 6th, but I wasn't - and I'm actually very happy with how I caught those 3 women in the final stages of the race. And I negative split a notoriously tough course, where the worst of the hills are in the second half, so I feel great about that too. Bring on next year!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RunCamp, Newcastle - June long weekend

Camp is something of a nostalgic concept to me these days; I have fond memories of jazz camp and other musical escapades that occupied me in my teenage years, and some less-fond-more-strange memories of the one Sport & Rec camp that I attended age 10 at Lake Burrendong. To this day I wonder why they teamed me (smallest camper of all) with the second-smallest camper of all and sent us out orienteering with instructions to "Take X steps northwest, then X steps east..." etc. If that's not a recipe for losing little campers, I don't know what is.

But I digress. I saw an ad for a running camp last year sometime in a magazine, and was quite intrigued by the idea of spending a weekend devoted to all things running with a bunch of similarly-obsessed people. So, when my longtime friend and fellow runner Polly told me she was attending a camp being held over the long weekend by RunLab, I was quick to sign up.

It turns out that the brains and driving force behind RunLab is Vlad Shatrov, a former champion triathlete who recently ran 2:25 in the Paris Marathon and has a passion for helping others achieve their running goals. RunLab is his pride and joy and has been taking up most of his time since the end of 2013, but this is the very first camp they've held. His enthusiasm is evident in the group emails that fly around in the weeks leading up to the camp, and I manage to taper for it by NOT racing on the weekend immediately beforehand. This turns out to be an excellent idea - even the impressive camp schedule gives no real clue as to just how strenuous the weekend is going to turn out to be, which is - in a word - VERY.

See all that yellow? That's running. And not just jogging, oh no.
DAY ONE: Saturday

I arrive in Sydney late on Friday night in the midst of an absolute tempest: wind, rain, and it's really cold. Conditions in Newcastle are similar, and to be honest I have some serious misgivings about the weather forecast, which calls for more of the same over the entire long weekend. But as Polly and I drive north on Saturday morning the clouds miraculously clear, and at 10:30am we arrive at Glenrock Scout Camp to sunny blue skies and not a whisper of wind. The view from the deck on the main meeting hall is glorious:

Yes, that's a beach down there, it will be the setting for some torture on the final day...

We dump our stuff in the fairly basic dorm rooms, meet our coaches and roomies, wander around a bit and then it's time for an introductory 40 minute run around the local area. Courtesy of all the rain in the past 24 hours, this devolves fairly rapidly into a mud-splashing, puddle-jumping joyride through the bush, and I have no chance to look at the scenery because I'm too busy watching my feet. So much for the theory - published in the Wagga Daily Advertiser a couple of months back - that I'm "predominantly a trail runner"; nothing could be further from the truth, although admittedly this leaping from rock to puddle and back again is sort of fun, in an oops-I-almost-broke-my-ankle sort of way. Thankfully, despite the gnarly obstacle course we all make it back to camp without that kind of incident.

After lunch there's a bit of time to relax - and a bike maintenance workshop for those with an interest in triathlons or cycling, which most definitely does NOT include me (for why, click here) - and then it's time for the second session of the day. Based on speed I've been put in the "A" group, but am most definitely one of the slower runners in it; this is something of a change for me, but not an unwelcome one. Vlad suggests some of us run to the start of the trail where we'll be doing long intervals - most of the As are up for it - and this part of the run involves wading across a tidal inlet, climbing a cliff and skipping through more tangled undergrowth. I can hardly wait to see what the workout involves!

At the top of the trail we're split into our 3 groups and given instructions as to what we are supposed to run: a ladder-type group of intervals comprising 2 x 1200m/1000m/800m with jog-back recoveries. Vlad and the coaches - Ben, Sebastian, Josh and Rich - are there to help everyone keep track of what's happening, and we all set off jogging to the start of the first repeat.

Vlad, at right: "And if you run so hard you need to throw up, just do it over there."

PEEP! The whistle sounds and we all take off like hyperactive 8 year olds at a fun run. God, this group I'm in are all fast! Alex and Neil are both sub-2:30 marathoners, Kasey is just 21 and a promising sprinter and short-distance runner......and in fact, everyone else is right up there too. I'm rapidly at the rear  (but not quite the whole way, because there is a nasty hill right before the final 200m, and in my usual form I catch people on it with my shuffly but efficient gait) and rather than making me feel annoyed, it's actually a great motivator for me to keep pushing myself.

This is the kind of workout I've never really done before, where there is time (although not much of it) to wait around between repeats, chiefly because I usually run alone and so there's nobody to wait for. I've never liked stopping during a run, either, but by the second set of repeats it's a very welcome respite from the effort required to get up that hill. And to make things worse I've managed to somehow not bring my Garmin, so I don't know how fast I'm running each repeat. Actually, that's probably not a bad thing after all.

By the end of the session everyone is utterly exhausted, but happy. We of the A team wisely refuse to run back (although someone does suggest it), mainly because during the final repeat the heavens have opened and we are all not only wet but now also cold, muddy and in dire need of a warm shower. All of that is readily obtainable back at camp, and after dinner it's time for an intriguing session from a local physiotherapist about the Functional Movement Screen.

So glad I wasn't chosen to attempt this stuff
The FMS looks at a runner's ability to perform certain movements, identifies limitations and asymmetries, and can be used to predict the risk of injury. Taso and Phil gamely step up and it's apparent rather quickly that one of them is potentially treading (running?) on thin ice. Uh oh! All this makes me very thankful I've had so few brushes with injury in the years since my Big One, and although it's fascinating it's also time for bed - a welcome idea in the face of a tiring day and the 5:30am wake-up call ahead.

Total running for the day: approximately 17 miles (27km)

DAY TWO: Sunday

There's a knock on the door at 5:30am and Vlad appears, hustling people into cars and we all (well, most of us) head out to some random location where a big hill awaits. I take one look at the gradient sloping away from me and decide, NOPE. There's a tempo workout on the books for this afternoon and a "recovery" run later in the morning - my ageing bones (not to mention muscles) aren't going to appreciate 2 tough workouts hard on the heels of yesterday's hills of death. So Sebastian - who has already done 8 training sessions this week as part of his Ironman prep - and I head off together for a 40 minute easy run whilst the sadists and masochists head down the hill to do their stuff. We run and chat our way down to the beautiful Merewether beach, along and up the next headland, then turn and retrace our steps.

The view as we turn around - yes, we have to go back up that hill in the distance. All the way up.

Wow, this hill didn't seem so big when we were jogging down it. Finally we make it back to the cars but no-one is around. Seb is going back to help prepare breakfast so I jog onward, 5 minutes up the road and then back, but there is still no sign of the hill runners. Another 5 minute out-and-back in the other direction; nope, still nobody around. I figure I might as well keep going, but when I return for a 3rd time, the parking area is empty. Whoops! At least I have my phone - at worst I can google maps my way back to camp, and by my calculations I've only run about 10 miles so far, so it won't kill me if I have to run the whole way. Although I have absolutely no idea which direction to take....

This, on the other hand, would probably have finished me off.

I decide to head down towards the beach, and thankfully after about 2 minutes I spot Vlad driving back towards me. He pulls over and Josh very valiantly gives up his seat so that I can hop in. Back at camp we devour our breakfast with relish and then the biggest decision is, do we shower now, or later after the second run....or remain stinky the WHOLE day until the final tempo is over? I elect to shower now and probably later as well; out of the sun the temperature is still chilly and a nice shower is the perfect way to thaw out.

To top off a morning that has already seen a great run, a warm shower and a yummy breakfast, what could be left to do? A visit to a running store, of course! We head up the hill to Pure Performance Sports - who have generously sponsored the camp in the form of a nice discount for all campers to use - and it's runner nirvana, honestly. I've been thinking of trying out some new Mizuno shoes (the Wave Sayonara) so it's a really easy sell for the bloke who comes over to help me: I tell him what shoe I want, in which colour and size, he goes to get them and I buy them. Simple!

Mmmm, shoes.

The late morning recovery run takes place on a nearby disused railway line that has been turned into a wonderful sealed path beloved by runners and cyclists alike - the Fernleigh track - where my rapid cadence and way-too-fast recovery pace means I can easily keep up with the speedsters (Vlad, Alex, Neil, Kasey, Ben and Phil); this will NOT be the case later in the afternoon. We run and chat and make our way up to the oval where we will be running tempo intervals later in the day. It's kind of muddy - Vlad is muttering and sizing up the gravel path around the outside of the oval - but none of us is paying much attention really as we amble along at a comfortable, conversational pace. Although I *am* trying not to get too much mud on my new Mizunos.

Recovery option: Le Tour de Verandah!
(shirtless blokes a bonus extra)

Back at camp it's time for lunch - everyone is starving - and then some quality laying-around time in anticipation of a quality workout later on. After a very informative talk on shoes I actually crawl into the sleeping bag Polly has kindly lent me and have almost decided that I'm never coming back out again, when Vlad's whistle sounds and it's time to saddle up for the afternoon session. We drive up to the entrance to the Fernleigh track, the A team warm up by running the 3km or so to the oval, there's a bit of standing around and then PEEP - it's on!

The session is 3 x 7 minutes at half-marathon pace - or at least effort - quickly we discover that the mud and gravel and soggy grass are very difficult to run normal pace on! Once again I'm at the rear end of the A group, and I'm pleased to find that I can make it roughly 3.25 laps around each time without really seeming to lose much ground on the later repeats. Sebastian, Vlad, Josh and Ben are scattered around the place yelling encouragement and random numbers (usually time left) at people; much of it doesn't make sense to me because the B and C groups have started at a different time and are sometimes running shorter reps. So I just keep running until I see Phil and Ben (who are the A guys closest to me, the others being lost in a blur of mud and motion) slow down, then I stop. It's surprisingly a lot of fun, and the doubts I had on the warm-up about the sanity of this workout are quickly dispersed.

The A team run our final tempo interval back on the Fernleigh track, and it's hilarious: Neil and Alex take off like their shorts are on fire, which makes the rest of us forget the fatigue in our legs and just GO! I manage to keep myself together enough to pass a couple of the guys who initially streak ahead of me (and that's more satisfying than it should be, heh heh) but have no hope in hell of catching the others: I find out later that Neil ran 2:58 pace for the first 1km of the final interval. That's 4:46 min/mile. Did I mention he was 2nd overall at Boston to Big Sur this year? Or that he followed that up with a 2:42 at the Vancouver marathon a week later? They breed 'em tough in the far north of Scotland, let me tell you.

Feeding the hungry hordes at lunch day 2
Back at camp we're all a mess of mud and post-run endorphins, and I can't quite believe I've completed my first TRIPLE running day. After another very pleasant shower it's time for dinner and then entertainment - local running enthusiast Andrew Dodd has come to talk to us about the recent history of running in Australia and to generally amuse us for the evening.

He puts us through a series of group exercises including one where we all have to line up in order of who has raced the longest distance (it turns out a fair few have run ultramarathons, and Ben makes us all laugh when he remembers he's actually run a 56km ultra rather than the 6K he thought was his longest race - obviously his brain has just repressed that traumatic memory), and another according to how far away from here we have raced.

I'm standing in the group of "New York/Boston" until I do a Ben and realise suddenly that Edinburgh, Scotland is a fair bit further away than Boston! I race to the head of the queue but there's someone who has been even further north. Thankfully it's time to sit down again and we all listen intently to stories about running and runners for the next hour or so - by 9:30pm many are flaking out on the spot and we have a 5:30am start tomorrow, so again it's time for bed.

Total running for the day: approximately 23 miles (37km)


Long run day is here! I get off to an interesting start by somehow neglecting to set any kind of alarm, and sit bold upright at 5:37am to the realisation that I have MISSED THE GROUP!! I guess I assumed I'd just wake up or that I'd hear Vlad's knock or something - a quick inspection tells me that everyone else in the room (Kasey, Polly and Liz) is still snoozing and that apparently I was the only one scheduled to leave at 5:30am. BUGGER!

I throw on my running clothes in the pitch dark and dash out the door, wondering wildly if I can find my way to the start of the Fernleigh track via that crazy trail where we ran on the first morning (although I will almost certainly break both my ankles in the process, considering how dark it is), or if I should go up the (VERY steep) road that leads to camp --- and I bump straight into Taso, who has also been left behind. Thankfully Aron up and he offers to drive us to the start, so we set off on the long run only 10-15 minutes behind the other early groups.

RunCampers L to R: Phil, Elizabeth, Kasey, Liz, Josh (coach)
Aron, Emma, Tytana and Greg (newly-weds on their "runnymoon"!) and Polly

The Fernleigh track is 15km in total, and we've started about 1.5km from the Adamstown end of it. I'm supposed to be running 30km total today; I run a couple of km with Taso but I'm freezing (in the mad rush to get dressed I completely underestimated how cold it is outside) so I speed up quite a bit in order to warm up in the process.

I've settled into a comfortable pace around 4:40 min/km (7:30 min/mile) and am almost all the way to the Redhead station - a very cool part of the track where you actually run right through an old railway platform - when I finally see another group of RunCampers coming back towards me, and it's the speed demons themselves:

Neil, Alex, Vlad......and me, totally in their dust.
Over the course of the next hour I see most of the others from camp at various stages of their run, and when I get back to the starting point I have to decide whether or not to go run the other part to complete 30km in total. At first it's touch and go, but I really really want to run through the tunnel that we saw on our first run at camp, so I head across the road and run onward. And there it is!

Isn't that so cool?

Fairly soon after I emerge from the other side my enthusiasm for running much further is waning - I'm not in official marathon training just now, so there's no compelling reason to complete the whole distance - and I turn back. With about half a mile to go I am caught by the speedy trio on their return leg - I have plenty of energy left to speed up and stay with them, thank goodness, so we finish the LR together in style. 27km or so for me; for the first time I've been tracking myself using MapMyRun, but my phone has just run out of battery and I'm surprisingly Zen about not knowing my exact pace or distance run. The camp has been good for me in this regard!

Back at camp it's surreal to think we still have one session left. I literally NEVER exercise again on the same day as a long run, and I've actually already told Benita that I don't want to do the sand running session that's on the schedule (and she agrees!), but predictably I get sucked in and pretty soon we are heading down to the beach.

"They will probably be able to get to the top of that dune without supplemental oxygen....I think....." 

I know now why I've pretty much never done any running on sand: I'm an utter wimp. Add hills to the torture of slogging through soft sand and it's the perfect double-whammy - I really can't believe I'm doing this. At first Vlad has us running on/off fartlek intervals around a loop that is part hard sand (with the occasional shoe-drenching from rogue waves) and part soft. Actually it's mostly soft sand, with twigs and rocks thrown in here and there; some people have their shoes off but I'd rather keep mine on than step on something sharp. Pretty soon they are FULL of sand, and it's hard enough running on the darn stuff, this is making it worse.

And just when I'd like to stop, it's time for sand hill repeats. EIGHT of them!! I stupidly and stubbornly start with the A team - this means I have 2 hills to run up rather than 1 - but for the second set of 4 I finally concede defeat and move myself to the group that is starting a little closer to the turning point. It's a totally different kind of workout but somehow we all make it to the end -- and so ends the running part of RunCamp, with an impromptu salt water ice bath and half a beach in my shoes.

Total running for the day: approximately 18 miles (29km)

Summing it all up

There's not much to say about the rest of the morning - we eat lunch, clean up, say our farewells and head off home. The weather has been just about perfect, in sharp contrast to Sydney where it has pretty much poured rain all weekend. A few times during the weekend I did wonder about the wisdom of packing so much of both quantity and quality in to 3 days of running, but I've come through it unscathed and actually feeling pretty great. I've never been one to push the limits much (other than in terms of overall mileage) so these hill repeats and sand torture sessions are entirely new to me; and now I know that I can do them and not fall in a heap. That's a great thing to know!

Overall, I couldn't have enjoyed the weekend any more than I did - it was ridiculously fun to meet a group of similarly running-obsessed people and for me, a mostly solitary runner, it was a fantastic change to run in a group and be challenged to keep up with them. I'm in awe of the concept of RunLab and the dedication, commitment and expertise that Vlad and his wife Cheryl have put into making the weekend such a success for everyone. I'd recommend them to anyone looking to get into running, change up their training, regain their running mojo, or just have a lot of fun with other runners. And next time you see an ad for a running camp - sign up on the spot!

The end of the line!
at back: Ben, Chris, Sebastian (coach), Mariana, Nicole, Cheryl, Helen
at front: Neil, Blair, Brent.
As a result of the weekend at RunCamp I have now started doing regular hill sessions in my own training program, and it will be very interesting to see how this affects my running in the next few months - as always I will report back!