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!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

May Madness, 2014 - Mount Beauty HM

The fourth (and final) race: Mt Beauty HM, Saturday May 24

I can't even remember signing up for this race, or how it came to my attention, but Mt Beauty is a lovely spot in the Victorian Alpine region just to the south of Wagga, and I guess I felt a change of scenery would be nice.

It's also possible that I looked up the winning times from last year and figured I could easily run better than 1:29. But I signed up for Mt Beauty well before I added races to the 3 weekends immediately preceding it - so by the time this half marathon rolled around, I was already pretty much raced-out. But not quite entirely.

Race Day
Mum, the kids and I arrive after dark on the evening before the race, so we have not seen the scenery until we wake on Saturday. It's a crisp, cool morning and the mountains all around us are shrouded in mist - but once it lifts, wow! This place certainly lives up to its name.

It's a very short drive to the start area where lots of excited runners are milling around, and we pick up our bibs without much trouble at all. I head out for my now-traditional 2 mile warm-up and nope, my legs are not too interested in moving particularly fast. Benita and I have discussed strategy and figured that a solid time around 1:25 will do nicely, and if last year's results are anything to go by, should also be enough to make me the winning female. But it's also all about who shows up on the day - so my chickens are by no means counted at this early stage.

Lining up right at the front, I spot the blonde girl who charged out ahead of me at Yarrawonga and then faded; she has a 10K bib on, though, so I don't have to worry about her. But then I see a small, wiry-looking woman with a huge head of dreadlocks and a snappy all-black outfit that bares enough skin to show off some rather interesting ink. She looks like a contender.....but what is that on her feet??
Can it be? Oh my god. Yes, it is. It's a pair of these:

What is this, 1976?
She probably wasn't even born yet back then.

Okay then, maybe I don't need to worry about her after all. The starter calls out "One minute!" and stupidly I realise I haven't turned on my Garmin. Didn't I do this last week as well?? To my relief it finds the satellite signal exactly as the 10 second countdown starts, then the gun sounds and away we go!

Miles 1-3: 6:04, 6:26, 6:17

The start heads out across the damp grassy oval and onto a gravel path beside a small lake. In the first mile I'm initially in the lead, but then the girl with dreds saunters past me and opens up a tidy gap - hang on, what?? The dreadlocks and black attire bring to mind the word "Rastafarian", which a slight oxygen debt in my own brain transforms into "Rasta Fairy-Ann" - ok, it's cheesy, but it really fits her. She's flitting ahead of me at a disturbing rate, but my own pace is already too fast, so I resist the temptation to give chase. Jeez, she's quick though.

During mile 2 I'm slightly distracted by a bloke who comes up alongside me and starts chatting. When he tells me he ran this race last year, my instant response is to ask "So does it get hilly?" He replies emphatically that it does, and I look at my Garmin: it's reading 6:08 pace. Wow, too fast, even though we are yet to encounter a hill. I slow down deliberately and we chat on for a bit, then he drops back and I move ahead. During mile 3 it starts - a small roller and then a much bigger one - I'm still holding onto a good pace, but I have no idea what lies ahead.
5K split: 19:05 (approx)

See how it goes UP the whole bloody page? That right there should have been a red flag.

Miles 4-6: 6:36, 7:10, 6:49

Oh. My. God. The small sharp hill to the 5K mark leads the way to a much larger, much longer one that just keeps going and going and GOING. I'm gaining on Rasta Fairy, although not quickly, but any thoughts about her are rapidly replaced by ones that contain only 4 words: WHEN WILL THIS END? My pace slides promptly south, and I choose to focus not on the numbers but solely on the gap between Rasta and myself, because it's the only thing that is improving right now. There's a photographer on the side of the road so I exert myself to smile and flash a peace sign - god knows my race photos lately have been almost uniformly hideous, so it's the least I can do to try and change that. Although it's probably more a rictus of horror than a smile that I have on my face right now. Up, up and up I go.

(still waiting for photos from the race to put here, hopefully soon!)

Miles 7-9: 6:28, 6:07, 5:55
10K split: 39:50
Finally the turnaround is in sight - it amuses me briefly to see that the road beyond it is even steeper - and, what's more, I'm only about 10 seconds behind Rasta Fairy now. She looks surprised when she turns and sees how close I am; she immediately speeds off down the hill at a pace that doesn't surprise me. I have a decision to make: do I chase her, or let her go? 


It's an interesting dilemma; I didn't quite catch her going up (which is my strong suit, since my gait means I tend to slow down less than others going up hills) and she's definitely faster than me on the downhills and flat, so it may not be possible at all. My only hope is that she doesn't have my endurance - but it's a big hope and one that's worth pursuing. So I relax, let my Roadrunner legs spin free, and off I go in hot pursuit. I check my Garmin when mile 9 beeps and am amused to see 5:55 - that's not a number I see very often, even in shorter races! But it's about what I want, and again I'm catching Rasta Fairy - or at least I'm no further behind, she has about 100m on me - so all systems are go at this point.

Miles 10-12: 6:03, 6:05, 6:10

I'm thinking I want to check my time at the 10 mile mark, but suddenly something happens ahead of me that takes me completely by surprise: Rasta Fairy is running out of pixie dust. Abruptly she is within striking distance, and then before I know it I am pulling up right alongside her. Yet again the debate starts inside my head, should I pass her now or hang back and wait? I don't even know why I bother asking myself this anymore, since I already know the answer - I'm not going to hang back. 

Rasta Fairy holds on next to me for a good half mile, and I'm starting to wonder if she's going to find another gear and once again leave me in the dust, but finally during mile 11 she disappears from my side. Phew! Strangely enough, no part of my brain can form the thought "I'm going to win!" yet - all I can think is "Keep pushing, don't give up" - I have no idea if I'm going to be able to build or hold any kind of lead whatsoever.  It's comforting to know that she slowed down even when we were still going downhill, but I take nothing for granted, I just run. I'm not looking at my Garmin, I'm just running as hard as I can and figuring that if it's meant to be, it will be.

Mile 13.1: 6:10, 5:51 pace to the finish

Dashing across the grass towards the finish line, I'm still way too scared to look over my shoulder. I have visions of a dreadlocked runner in tennis shoes, powering past me at the last second to break the tape, and it's enough to make me finally panic just a tiny bit - with the finish line only 50m away I finally look. To my great surprise she is nowhere to be seen! And then I heard screams of "Mummy! Mummy!!" from the side as I throw myself over the finish mats and hit my Garmin all at once. I'm more out of breath than I've been at the end of any of my recent races, but it was totally worth it: I won!!

Finish time: 1:23:18 (6:20 pace)

Placement: 1st female, 8th OA. 1st in AG 40+

In retrospect I think this was possibly one of my best races ever - I raced smartly, conquered an enormous hill in the process, and ran essentially 10K pace on either end of the massive ascent. I outlasted a much younger (and probably inherently faster) rival, and finished with my second win for the month, 3rd podium finish -- but the only one with an actual podium! Yay!

Blurry photo (thanks, 7 yr old son) and I'm not even looking....but you get the idea!
That's Rasta Fairy on the left of the photo.

And now? Some well-deserved rest!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May Madness, 2014 - SMH half-marathon

The third race: SMH half-marathon, Sunday May 18th

I have no idea why this race is still one of my favourites; it's competitive, relatively crowded, but worst of all it's an absolute bastard of a course. These days it's probably actually easier than it was in 2001 when I ran it as my first ever HM, but it's still as hilly as heck and the final mile (all uphill) is pure torture. Elevation profile, for the sadists:

Sure, there are downhills, but what about the final mile? Hmm?
Still, Sydney is without a doubt my favourite - not to mention the most beautiful - city in the world, and it's always wonderful to run by the harbour and enjoy its sights. Maybe that's why I keep returning to torture myself here - there's no other reason that comes to mind.

Race Day

Another Sunday, another race. We're staying just half a mile from the start and Dad has stayed over to take care of the kids while I run (the race starts at the not-very-kid-friendly hour of 6:45am) so I decide to just set off on my warmup directly from the apartment and not have to bother dropping off a gear bag. The weather has been unseasonably warm in Sydney lately, so I'm confident I'm not going to freeze while I wait around at the start. Also I'm in the preferred start group, which is reasonably large, but it means I get to simply jog up about 10 minutes before the gun goes off and once that happens it's only around 10 seconds before I cross the mats. Off we go!

Miles 1-3: 6:12, 6:08, 6:15

Ooh, crowded. The pace feels stupidly slow as we head towards the wild downhill charge that will take us to Circular Quay and then the historic area of The Rocks. I'm zigging and zagging in an effort to get past people who are dawdling all over the frigging road (how did they get into the preferred start??) around me. I glance at my watch and am surprised to see 6:08 pace on there - it feels a LOT slower. But then again, I think I ran this first mile in 5:49 one year, so I really *am* going kind of slow at this point. Kind of.

Tortuous, or should that be torturous? Whatever. Course map.
Anyway, the pace feels fine as I zoom along through the Rocks and under the Harbour Bridge. There seem to be a lot of women ahead of me, but as soon as we hit the first incline just before the 3 mile mark, I start to catch them - including a young girl with red hair and her name on her bib. Hey, why don't I ever get a name bib for this event? It's a question that occupies me briefly until mile 3 beeps and so I'm happy to see that I'm pretty much on pace (for now) that I forget to be annoyed.

Miles 4-6: 6:16, 6:12, 6:11  5K split 19:28

The rolling part of the course starts as we head out on the Western Distributor (read: big road) towards Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. Up, down, up down - so far it's not killing me too badly, but I'm very aware of the big hills that await right before the finish, so I'm not pushing it too hard just yet. Already the male leaders are coming back - Michael Shelley and Liam Adams are close together and pushing hard - I keep an eye out for the female lead and am not surprised to see Nikki Chapple streets ahead of any other woman.

Somewhere in the early miles, looking rather too focused.
Miles 7-9: 6:23, 6:18, 6:18

Around mile 7 I am pleasantly surprised to see my friend Polly - who, as it turns out, is running part of the race in a relay team with another friend - pop out from the crowd and call my name. My own personal cheerleader! I still have enough breath and brainpower to wave back and yell "HI POLLY!!" - so that's good. Not long afterwards we start weaving our way through some of the freeway spaghetti on our way back to the city, and my Garmin starts freaking out - still, my pace is okay. Particularly since miles 8 and 9 contain some nasty steep inclines as the course winds its way up onto the Harbour Bridge approaches again, before diving off down to the Cahill Expressway, ugh. Are we there yet?

Mile 10-12: 6:02, 6:11, 6:09

Okay, that first mile split has to be a glitch - there's no way I just sped up that much. Or did I? The downhill across the Cahill Expressway is a major relief and I relax into it, letting my legs spin as my breathing settles back down. I'm going to need the recovery now because the final 2 hills are coming up, and I'm not looking forward to this part at all.

Catch me if you can, boys.

On the other hand, hills are sort of my strong suit, and I tend to catch many people whilst running up them. By the time we hit the top of Macquarie Street and head down past the Art Gallery for the loop around Mrs Macquarie's Chair, I have passed at least 3 more girls and a small harem of boys is desperately trying to stay with me. By the time I get to the turn down by the harbour, they're nowhere to be seen. And it's time to start the final, painful mile to the finish.....

Alone now, and unimpressed.

Mile 13.1: 6:24 all the way
I continue to catch female runners in this final mile back up past the Art Gallery and through the parklands of the Domain - but it's torture and all I can think is, when will this be OVER? Rounding the corner at the top of the hill I see a familiar blue shirt go past on the other side of the road - oh my God, she has a named bib that reads "FLANERY" - it's Fleur, who beat me here last year by about a minute and in Melbourne by about 10 seconds, and something similar is about to happen again, dammit!! I put my head down and try to sprint but my legs are not having it, and I cross the line at the same 6:24 pace as the rest of the final mile.

Finish time: 1:22:25

Placement: 9th OA female, 3rd AG (F40-44)

9 seconds slower than last year, and somehow that's disappointing until I realise I placed better (9th vs 11th, 3rd vs 4th in AG) and suddenly I feel fine about it all. One more race on the calendar - oh dear, I'm beginning to feel like I need a break. Was this really such a good idea after all?

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Madness, 2014 - part 1

I've finally gotten to a point where I find racing pretty fun. I remember a time not so very long ago when I preferred to race infrequently, feeling I didn't need the pressure to perform and that I'd rather do my own thing than line up with a bunch of strangers and feel compelled to compete.

But now, oh how things have changed. Maybe it's the modest success I've had in placing well or winning swag (chiefly in small, regional races), maybe I'm more confident than I used to be, or maybe I just don't give a rat's ass anymore about how I perform. Whatever it is, I like racing now! And even before Boston I had already thrown my hat in the ring for no less than 4 races in the month of May. I did the same last year (and in fact this year I'm returning to 3 of the same races); it was more fun than I expected.

The first race: Bathurst HM, Sunday May 4th.
Boston was late this year, and the gap between the two races has narrowed to just over 12 days. Although my legs feel quite peppy again after a very easy first week post-marathon, I'm not sure what is going to happen as I drive to Bathurst with my enthusiastic cheer committee in tow. The night before the race it's VERY cold (it has snowed nearby that morning) and raining, with a forecast that calls for similar conditions in the morning. It's the weekend of the Bathurst show, though, and despite the cold the kids and I enjoy an impromptu fireworks display from the balcony of our hotel room. Then it's early to bed under multiple layers of blankets, to see what the next morning will bring.

Race Day
Well, it's cold but at least not raining. The race outfit I have packed is frighteningly skimpy, though, so I layer on lots of other clothes and we head for the Bathurst Rugby Club, where the race begins. As I pick up my bib I sneak a look at the list of entrants and nope, Jane Fardell is not on there. Hmmm, interesting. She might yet show up and register, though, so I keep a bit of an eye out before heading off on a 2 mile warm-up jog.

There's a stiff breeze blowing and by the time I've reached the end of the first mile and turned back, I know my legs aren't fully recovered from Boston yet. There's a strange achey feeling to them and the effortless springiness I felt in Wangaratta (before my 1:21:34 half in February) is absolutely not there. Never mind - Jane is definitely not racing today so there is still a chance I might win.

Lined up for the start I see last year's overall winner, Brendan Davies (a world-class ultra runner), so I introduce myself again and we chat briefly whilst shivering in the icy blast. The announcers finally call us over, we gather near the timing mats and whoosh, off we go, directly into the wind.

Yes, front and centre.

Miles 1-3: 6:18, 6:25, 6:24 (pace in min/mile) 5K split 19:50 approx
Benita has told me to go out in 6:15-6:25 pace and I actually have no intention of going that slow (ha) but it seems my legs have decided who's boss, and it is definitely not me. The first mile is a touch faster - there's a woman who powers out ahead of me at around 6:00 pace and so I exert myself to pull ahead of her in the first half mile to check her bib: aha, a 10K runner, so nothing to worry about. I let her pass me back and she stays ahead for a short while; then when she starts to slow I saunter by and her breathing reassures me that she won't be passing me again.

Miles 4-6: 6:21, 6:10, 6:31
The effort I'm putting in should be getting me low 6:00 pace, but it's not. That would be worrying except for one thing: this course has a LOT of hairpin turns that are somewhat annoying but also afford an excellent opportunity to check how far behind (or ahead) the competition is. So that's exactly what I do.

5 hairpin turns per lap!

At the first big hairpin (lower right of map, between miles 2 and 3) I note that the 10K girl is about 40 seconds behind me. Another 10 seconds back is the first HM female - 50 seconds is not a huge gap at this point, but I guess we will see what develops. My legs are toast but  I'm managing to hold 6:25ish pace without too much difficulty, so I figure if I can stick with that I'll be okay.

Now is the time when I start passing blokes who have gone out way too fast. This generally happens at some point in almost every race for me, and it's always fun to see their reactions. The first guy I approach from behind surges like a maniac when I pull up alongside, and I let him go before gently reeling him in again. He surges again but it doesn't last and I sail past once more, this time for good. The next guy is up for the fight as well. He's wearing a NSW State Titles jersey which I think is for boxing - it's probably not for running. The wind is at our backs as we race up the out-and-back that finishes mile 5 and starts mile 6, and he drags me along to complete my fastest mile of the race (6:10). When we turn back into the wind it's like being hit with a sack of bricks; I grit my teeth and battle on, but he fades fast. Next?

Miles 7-9: 6:25, 6:27, 6:26 10K split 39:30 approx
Back past the starting line and up the road for the add-on that completes the first lap of the HM, Brendan is waaaay out in front now. I note my time again at the turnaround and see with satisfaction that I now have 4 minutes on 2nd place female and almost 5 on 3rd. I'm barely holding onto my marathon pace from Boston, though, and whilst it would be nice to just slack off now and jog home, the winning time should be at least half worthy and I'm definitely not going to take it easy. I pass another 2 blokes as we again battle the headwind back past the Rugby Club and out for the second lap.

All alone....

Miles 10-12: 6:27, 6:29, 6:24
The wind is really taking a toll now; every time I turn into it, I feel it more. There's a guy ahead of me with a short, shuffly gait that reminds me of my own, and it takes me a while to catch him but I finally achieve it after yet another hairpin that puts the icy gale directly into our faces. I can hear the pitter-patter of his feet behind me for a while, but he's not catching me. I'm starting to lap the slowest of the half-marathoners as I finally take the turn back along the river and into the final mile.

Mile 13-finish: 6:26, 5:54 pace to finish
It's a small mercy that the wind is at my back for the final half mile; I sail down the road towards the finish and even manage to pull out a small finishing kick that gets me across the line as first female. I've set an alarm on my son's iPad to tell him when to come down to watch me finish, and as I cross the line I hear excited cries of "Mummy! You won, Mummy!" to my left. How fantastic!

My local fan club, membership: 2.
Finish time: 1:23:44 (6:23 pace)

Placement: 1st female, 5th overall.

I'm pretty happy with how I hung onto the pace, even if it wasn't very much faster than I ran the whole of Boston. Obviously I'm not fully recovered yet but I was still able to put in a solid effort, so that's great. And Jane not showing up played a large part in my ability to win!

We hang around to get our photo taken (see above) and for the presentation, where I get an envelope and a medal. Then it's off for brunch and an exciting museum full of fossils and dinosaur bones before the lazy drive home. My legs are sore already when I step out of the car back home; will I live to regret racing again so soon after Boston? Only time, and perhaps next weekend's race effort, will tell.

The second race: Canberra Mother's Day 10K, Sunday May 12.
The Mother's Day Classic is one I've run in Sydney many years ago (at least 2 or 3 times) and I've run Canberra the past 2 years, chiefly because it's a lot closer. Not to mention how lazy Wagga only has a 5K walk....really not my speed. Anyway, it's a great event, a good excuse to wear lots of pink, and I've had moderate success there - even with relatively slow times - with 3rd place finishes in both the 5K (2012) and 10K (2013). Why not go back and see what better training might get me this year?

The 10K is 2 laps of this deceptively simple-looking course.

Race Day
Somehow I manage to underprepare in almost every way for this race: I stay up late the night before drinking wine with my friend Sonia, and wake up very reluctantly at 6am with a slight hangover and a marked aversion to the thought of running fast. Eventually I drag myself out of bed, snag a banana and a kids' muesli (granola) bar from the kitchen, and venture forth in the direction of Lake Burley Griffin. The weather is nowhere near as wretched as I was expecting it to be - in fact it's a balmy 10C/50F and cloudy but not raining - so that's a good start.

I've forgotten to bring water with me, though, and on the drive over I realise I'm utterly busting for the bathroom. Thankfully I know where to park and also where to find a restroom, so I'm able to take care of that need fairly promptly after I arrive near the race start area. Then it's off for a warm-up lap of the course, which feels pretty uninspiring. At least the stiff headwind of 2012 has not reappeared, I guess.

Waiting for the start a woman starts talking to me; her name is Kelly-Ann and she recognises me from last year when she placed 4th to my 3rd. I tell her "I'm not in the mood to run fast today"; she laughs and then points out a woman nearby who is all in black. Apparently she is one to watch - she beats Kelly-Ann at half marathons regularly - but she might be injured. I guess we'll see what happens.

Start line, with Kelly-Ann and an Indian bloke who appears to be checking out her left knee.

Lap 1: 6:12, 6:17, 6:04
Immediately there are 3 women - Girl in Black among them - who shoot way out in front of me. As we go up and over the Kings Ave bridge for the first time I'm already thinking "Ok, fourth isn't bad, at least you won't have to hang around for the presentation", but of course it's too early to make that kind of prediction. Benita has told me to aim for 6:05-6:15 pace and not go too hard on the first lap, so I settle in and try (for once) to follow instruction. Surprisingly it seems to work, and the first mile split beeps as I head down off the bridge: spot on.

Pounding along the southern side of the lake is somehow never inspiring, and despite the lack of headwind I still slow down a little. There are kids at a water station about halfway along with a bubble machine, and it's kind of fun to see how many I can pop as I whizz through. Predictably, I've started to catch guys who went out too fast, and then towards the end of the second mile I realise that OMG, I seem to be catching two of those women as well!

Mile 3 starts with a sharp uphill onto the Commonwealth Ave bridge - that one is going to HURT the second time around, I know it - and although I slow down a bit, Girl in Black ahead of me slows down a LOT more. Before I know it we are over the peak of the bridge and then I'm bearing down on her like a B-double (read: enormous truck) with no brakes. I zoom past as we head back down towards the lake, and look up to see that a girl in a pink singlet and black capris is now also well within reach. I'm going to be in second!! It's all so exciting that mile 3 turns out to be my fastest so far. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat I pass by the start line to begin the second lap.

Lap 2: 6:13, 6:18, 6:06
I honestly have no idea now who is behind me or how far behind, and by "who" I specifically mean "other women". This lap is going to be all about hanging on and not fading, and to my surprise I find myself doing that with panache. Up and over the King's Ave bridge again, mile 4 beeps 6:13 and I'm feeling surprisingly good. Benita has told me that it will hurt from the start, that's how 10Ks are, and sure I'm hurting some - but it's not unbearable.

I continue to catch male runners along the pathway in front of the High Court and library, and one over-enthusiastic volunteer calls out "First lady!" to me as I pass. Hah, thanks, but I know there's a girl with a white singlet and long ponytail in front of me, although I can barely see her most of the time. Second is definitely good enough for me at this point.

The game of Assassin Mode continues up and over the Commonwealth Ave bridge - that steep uphill gets me another male scalp, and the bridge yet another - the incline is tough going but my pace actually holds up surprisingly well. I'm lapping the slower 10Kers now, and many are yelling encouragement or clapping, and this spurs me on as well.

When mile 6 beeps I look down to see 6:06, and am so surprised that I put on a bit of a  sprint to the finish. There are slower runners all over the place now and the path narrows considerably - I'm forced to bellow "COMING THROUGH!!" a few times - but I manage to hold onto 5:53 pace over the final part of the course. Two people are holding up a tape (for second? sure!) as I dash across the grass to cross the line: second female!! Yippee!

The spoils.

Finish time: 38:36 (6:13 pace)

Placement: 2nd female, 8th OA, 1st in AG (F40-44).

Well, that was actually fun! And possibly the best-executed race I've ever run. There's quite a difference now to how I feel about racing - I have a lot more confidence, I'm no longer as scared or worried about not being able to hold a certain pace and stay the distance. The speed work of the past 6 months has shown me that I'm capable of running closer to 6:00 pace than I ever imagined I could, although I'm still convinced that my shuffle means I'm speed-limited to some extent.

If you count Boston, I've raced 3 of the past 4 weekends, and quite frankly my legs don't know what has hit them. It's been a ton of fun, though, and there's more to come!