Monday, May 18, 2015

Boston to Big Sur, April 2015 - part 2

Several of my crazier running friends have completed the Boston 2 Big Sur running challenge in the past few years, but I never paid much attention until last year at RunCamp. There, my new and fast friend Neil told me he'd placed 2nd in the challenge for 2014, and that if I could do a reasonable job at both marathons, I'd likely be able to place high among the female finishers. Well, who could turn down an opportunity like that? Certainly not me!

The challenge is open to only 400 entrants and sells out in a matter of hours, so I set my alarm for the wee hours one night in early October and was subsequently quite excited to have secured myself a place in the 2015 Boston 2 Big Sur challenge. All I knew about Big Sur was that it's apparently one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world, although not exactly a PR course - one look at the elevation profile and it is easy to see why:

Excuse me, there's a large mountain ruining this otherwise pleasant-looking profile.
Could someone please remove it?

The Lead-Up: Big Sur
The concept of 2 marathons just 6 days apart is an interesting one; as I said in part 1 of this post, it certainly seems like a great idea until you start pulling apart the details. I'm still totally gung-ho and enthused, right up until the morning of Tuesday, April 21st, when I wake up in Boston and attempt to hop out of bed. Ouch, ouch, my legs really hurt!

As I hobble to the bathroom I ask myself, can it really be true that I have to run another 26.2 miles on them in just 5 days? Whose idea was that anyway?? "Yours!" laughs Joel from the comfort of bed - but it's far too late to change anything, so apart from taking Tuesday off as a travel day, we spend the rest of the week limping about on 4-5 mile daily "runs" and trying to pretend we're not worried.

On Friday we travel out to California and are met at Monterey airport by Steve, the unflappable and ever-helpful elite coordinator. He installs us at the official elite hotel - a really cool place right by the coast, which we will discover is amazingly scenic - and has even picked up our bibs and goodie bags from the expo for us.

Very elite accommodations.

Pretty soon we are whisked off to a welcome reception on the top floor of the highest building in Monterey (with an incredible view), where we drink beer, eat canap├ęs and hob-nob with some of the craziest runners in the entire world, by which I mean Dean Karnazes, who oddly enough has brought his parents along. Later we drop by the airport again to pick up the legendary Michael Wardian, who turns out to be a really great bloke, before it's time to try to sleep. Sometimes I think a 3 hour time change is more difficult than a 17 hour one, seriously.

Crazy runners unite!

Saturday morning we head to the expo to take part in Bart Yasso's "shakeout run" - I don't really know what to expect but it turns out to be a LOT of fun, in the form of a huge group of runners jogging along the beach at 10:17 pace, snapping selfies with Bart (who is endlessly obliging and friendly) and generally chatting up a storm. There's a girl called Cristie who is sporting a gorgeous INKnBURN outfit - we bond immediately over our shared love of the world's coolest running gear - and the post-run breakfast put on by Runners' World is full of carbohydrates and therefore thoroughly enjoyable.

RW shakeout group at left, INKnBURN gorgeousness at right

We spend the rest of Saturday hanging out with Michael and Neil, either at the Expo or predictably gorging on anything with carbs in it, and finish up once more at the Marriott where the pre-race pasta fiesta is going on; if there's one thing that stands out so far about Big Sur, it's the excellent treatment that I'm getting as an elite (as is Joel, as an Elite Husband). And they're definitely making sure we don't go hungry! I have truly no idea what the next day will bring, but already I'm thinking that the chances of coming back next year are high - it's on the way home, after all.

Race Day: Big Sur
At 5am our ride departs from the hotel with Steve at the wheel and we spend over an hour driving towards the start line along Highway 1, which is in fact the marathon course in reverse. Once the sun comes up it's quite amazing - the description "the rugged edge of the Western World" doesn't do this incredible coastline justice. A group of relay buses ahead of us overshoot their stop and one by one perform heart-stopping U turns that see them practically teetering on the edge of the cliff. Scary stuff!

The wind has come up - as per the Weather Curse it's a headwind (is there any other kind?) - but so far it doesn't seem too bad. At the start line things are in fact quite calm; once everyone is lined up the announcer goes through the elite field by name (including me!) and it's pretty darn exciting. The course slopes downhill at quite a sharp angle away from us - one thing is for sure, it's going to be a fast first mile!

Miles 1-6: 6:31, 6:38, 6;29, 6:36, 6:37, 6:53
A surprisingly large number of runners (both male and female) shoot straight out in front at an implausibly fast pace; it's hard not to go with them and so when I check my watch after half a mile I'm not surprised to see 5:58 pace showing. Joel is right beside me and we discuss pacing briefly - he has decided to pace me for the first few miles at least, like the wonderfully supportive husband that he is - and although I state several times that Benita has suggested 6:50 pace (or so), and we agree that this sounds reasonable, somehow we end up keeping it closer to 6:30. This will turn out to be a key decision that influences almost every outcome of the day, but more about that later.

Everything is going swimmingly - my legs feel okay, definitely not fresh but surprisingly good for day 6 post-Boston - until mile 5, when the trees start to thin out and a sudden gust of wind almost blows us over. "Where did THAT come from??" asks Joel, and I reply "I ordered a tailwind so I have no idea!", but of course we know exactly what it is: the wretched bloody headwind that was forecast. And we're running right on the exposed edge of the coast where there is absolutely NOWHERE to hide. This is going to get nasty.

Miles 7-12: 7:08, 7;12, 7:08, 6:28, 8:20, 7:42
Joel sees me through the 10K mark and then wishes me luck and drops back. The wind is picking up steadily and is basically blowing me backwards - it's awful, but also by now a very familiar feeling. And with all the experience I have at this now, I know not to panic, to just lean into it and keep my effort level steady. I stop checking the mile splits when I see the first one creep over 7:00 pace; today is going to be a slow marathon compared to my usual abilities, but there's no point freaking out now.

A large pack of runners is not too far ahead of me - and I know at least 3 of the women still ahead of me are in there - but much as I'd love to catch them, I'm fairly sure it's not going to happen. Once again I'm left to face the elements mostly alone (although some of the relay runners who have gone out like bats out of hell are now essentially running backwards and providing some intermittent protection from the wind) but I'm in a really positive frame of mind, somehow. Perhaps it's the sheer beauty that is all around me, perhaps it's the fact that I believe at least 6-8 women are ahead of me so I'm not stressing over placement, or perhaps it's just remembering my friend Ron's admonition to "Remember to take in the view", but even the headwind can't phase me today. It's a good day for a run!

Views like this one don't hurt, either.

Mile 10 is a lovely downhill that sees me back on a reasonable race pace, but I know what is coming up: Hurricane Point, a murderous 2 mile stretch of uphill at a ridiculously steep gradient. The headwind chooses this time to make itself felt once again in full force, and I have that strange feeling that you get when trying to go up the down escalator: I'm running my heart out yet somehow not actually moving.

A very cruel mile marker.

When my Garmin beeps I glance at it and am completely horrified to see 8:20 pop up - it has taken me almost 2 minutes longer than it should have to cover this past mile. Suddenly I notice a bloke who seems to be drafting off me - he sees me look around and promptly moves up alongside. To my extreme surprise he then mutters "Come on, tuck in" and surges ahead - not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I step up the pace and follow.

He drags me in this fashion up most of the rest of Hurricane Point, and I'm gratified to see that my pace up the second mile of the hill is considerably faster than the first. Towards the top I am starting to struggle - my saviour pulls ahead a little; I thank him and ease up a touch, then finally I'm at the top.

Miles 13-18: 6:14, 6:52, 6:58, 6:55, 7:00, 7:13
Downhill! Wheee!! I put my legs into free spin mode and bomb down the hill like a maniac. Numerous people have warned me not to trash myself on the steep descent that follows Hurricane Point but I just don't care anymore; and thus I am rewarded with my fastest mile of the course. I've also got my eyes on the spectacular sight of the Bixby Bridge, where I'll not only hit the halfway mark but am also expecting to hear some lovely piano music courtesy of the musician seated at the baby grand piano on the far side of the bridge. I hear it, but I never see it - I'm too busy grinning and running and dodging walkers. I'll have to pay more attention next year.

There's another hill coming up, and I don't even care!!

I cross the halfway mats in 1:31:31 exactly - by my calculations, then, a 3:05-3:07 finish time seems likely. There's NO way I'm not going to fade and give back at least a few minutes...or am I?

The rest of the course is pretty much undulating until the final hill at mile 25 (so cruel, I know), and the somewhat-strange-but-somehow-also-cool ElevationTat tattoo that Mike Wardian has given me comes in very handy now: hills are much easier to handle if you know exactly when they are going to end. I find myself looking at it quite a lot more than I expected to, and it definitely helps me mentally as I deal with a never-ending series of small inclines.

My left arm has never been as useful as it is today.

I sort of lose focus a bit during miles 17 and 18, and give back a bit of time. The road is clogged with walkers now, some of them ambling along three-abreast, and I have to exert myself quite a few times to bellow "COMING THROUGH!" or risk a collision - and I've already had a couple of near-misses at water stations and relay change-over points. This stage of the marathon is mentally really tough; it's too soon to think "I'm almost done" but late enough in the game to be seriously tired already. Any small distraction can lead to slowing down without noticing - it's time to get back on point and focus.

Miles 19-24: 7:09, 7:12, 6:58, 7:27, 7:06, 6:57
It takes another couple of miles, but I find myself able to gradually speed up again. Mile 22 has a nasty, sharp little hill but mile 23 is a lovely downhill and suddenly I'm having fun, flashing past walkers like a streak of lightning.

Coming THROUGH!!

Ooh, now I'm starting to pass a few men wearing B2B shirts - they must have gone out way too fast and are paying the price - I'm not really giving this any attention until one of them sees me and yells "You're in 4th! There's 3rd - go get her!" He points, and it's true that I've noticed a woman in grey ahead of me for the past couple of miles; she seems to be going around the same pace as me, or just a touch slower, so she has to be a marathoner. But there's no way there are only 3 women ahead of me! I laugh and tell my cheerleader friend that he's mistaken, but he's insistent and I start to wonder if he could be right.....and whether I really could catch her after all? Probably not - she's got to be over 30 seconds ahead - but the idea will give me power over the final miles, and that's totally what I need right now.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:54, 6:59, then 6:17 pace to the finish
With only 2.2 miles to go I can afford to thrash myself a bit now, so I pick up the effort level accordingly and keep blowing by walkers and relayers as fast as my legs will take me. There's a RIDICULOUS hill that starts right after the 25 mile marker, which is totally unfair really, but at least I know from my informative left arm that it's going to be short.

Staring down the final hill; and then at long last it's almost over. Hallelujah is right!

Grey Girl ahead is ever-so-slightly closer than before but I'm fairly sure I won't catch her; however the idea of it keeps my legs turning over as I drag myself through the final couple of miles. Once I can see the finish I accelerate as much as I can, and I can hear the announcer saying my name.....then he follows up with "And I'm hearing that she's our unofficial female Boston 2 Big Sur winner!!"

I'm so excited and amazed that I charge over the line with my arms in the air and a manic expression on my face - I did it!!

Finish time: 3:03:22 (6:59 pace) - splits 1:31:31 and 1:31:41

Placement: 4th OA female, 1st in AG, 1st Masters female, 1st female Boston2Big Sur Challenge (combined time 5:58:34).

Victory!! And - finally - a post-finish photo together.

I will soon learn that I have secured victory in the B2B challenge by only 3 minutes, which equates to roughly the time I banked in the first 6 miles by running with Joel at around 25-30 seconds per mile faster than I had planned. Phew! And thank goodness for fast runner husbands, eh?

B2B podium, extremely pleased with myself.

I get a bunch of plaques, bottles of wine, shoe vouchers and a Big Sur bookmark in my 4 trips to the podium, then it's time to head back to the hotel. I'm still in shock at my finish time - it came as a complete surprise to realise that I had run an almost perfect even split after how I felt at halfway.  And my legs are not even close to trashed: the next morning both Joel and I will end up running 5 miles along the coast (and get lost in the Spanish Bay golf course, but that's another story) with much less discomfort than either of us experienced after Boston.

For the first time in my life I can begin now to understand those runners who do marathons every weekend or every other day - it's not quite as physically impossible as I thought it was! Which is a very good thing, considering the race line-up I have planned for May. Gulp.

The spoils (we drank the wine).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Boston to Big Sur, April 2015 - part 1

Ah, Boston. The Granddaddy of all marathons, it holds a special place in the hearts of runners all over the world, and mine is no exception. For me, so much has happened in Boston: it has been the scene of 3 marathon PRs, my first real "elite" running experience and also a tragedy that shocked the world in 2013. Last year's return was a triumphant one and a truly wonderful experience; there was never any doubt that I would return for 2015.

On a whim I also decided that 2015 would be a great year to attempt the Boston 2 BigSur challenge: 2 marathons, 2 coasts, 6 days apart. This is the sort of thing that seems like a wonderful idea at the time when you sign up for it, and remains like that until the day after the first marathon, when you roll over and try to get out of bed. But more about that later.

The Training
Well, yes. I wrote in my last post about life getting in the way of training, and the same was true for Boston. But for the best of reasons - in February my usual running schedule was very much interrupted when I travelled to Las Vegas to join and marry my soulmate, Joel - and the worst, when he subsequently came down with pneumonia on our honeymoon in the Grand Canyon!

Snow? In Arizona??

All interruptions aside, I did manage to put in some decent weeks of training in March and early April, in particular focusing on back-to-back long runs on the weekend of 17-21 miles each. I headed off to Boston with mixed feelings about my capabilities, knowing that a PR (sub-2:47:57) was very unlikely, but hoping that I'd be able to put in a decent showing at both Boston and Big Sur in any case.

The lead-up: Boston
As ever, it's amazing to be back in Boston and part of the festival atmosphere that envelops the city during marathon weekend. In the spirit of raceaholics everywhere, Joel has signed us up for the BAA 5K and we run it Saturday morning in the most perfect of race-day conditions: 10C/50F and clear with no wind. This contrasts sharply with the forecast for Monday, which calls for similar temperatures but also rain and - worse still - a moderately strong headwind. Pretty much a repeat of New York last November but also wet; how lovely.

So it's perhaps the idea of having at least a few miles of racing in good weather that is topmost in my mind when the gun goes off, because our plan of gradually accelerating towards MP is immediately scuttled when I notice females in front of me (this will not do!) and take off like a maniac. Oops.

Joel commentates on the pace as the miles click by in 7:01, 6:30, 6:20 and then the final stretch at 6:05 pace....we cross hand-in-hand for a finish time of 20:43. Much faster than anticipated and in fact good enough for 6th in my AG and 88th woman of over 5000! Ok, that was rather silly, but also rather fun.


The rest of the weekend passes in a blur of socialising, beer and various other forms of carbohydrate. To my horror, on Sunday morning an email arrives with a weather alert: the second of these I've had for Boston and the complete opposite of the first - it confirms what we already know, which is that Monday is going to be a freezing debacle. Nevertheless, the Elite briefing later in the day is exciting as usual; even more so that I now have a few friends there. Afterwards I sit chatting with my NYC friend Paula while Neil and Joel mob last year's winner, Meb Keflezighi, and pose for pictures with one of running's coolest dudes ever.

Race Day: Boston
Grey skies and a moderately strong wind greet us as we step outside to jog the mile or so to our respective buses; at the Fairmont Copley I quickly locate both Paula and Neil and we hop onto the coach that will take us to the Korean Church at Hopkinton. It's lovely to have company on the bus - for the first time in the 3 years I've taken this ride - and the time passes quicker than usual. Inside the church we quickly head upstairs; I know from experience it will be much warmer up there, and we settle in to one of the rooms to wait for the start.

Around 9am it starts raining outside - at this point I'm pretty much resigned to my fate, which is that today is going to be a nastier repeat of NYC. Benita and I have already talked about goals for the day and decided that 2:50 is no longer a realistic option; instead, we settle on a time around 2:55 and secretly I'm actually thinking that just breaking 3 hours (which I failed to do in NYC) will be enough for me today.

It doesn't matter though, because no Patriot's Day would be complete for me without a Meb Moment, and it happens when I decide to head downstairs to check just how horrible the weather is outside. I spy him in a side room and I can't resist: I poke my head in and wish him luck for the race. "You won't remember this," I add, "but I was the girl SCREAMING her head off when you passed me at mile 19 last year. I hope I get to do that again today!" Meb's whole face breaks into an enormous grin and he says "Aw, give me a hug!" I happily oblige, we again wish each other a great race, and I head downstairs with my day already made.

Outside it is indeed drizzly and cold; I jog around for a few unenthusiastic minutes and then head back inside to get changed. I decide on an outfit that replicates what worked for me in NYC, but at the last minute pull off my beanie and stuff it into my bag. Nobody else has a hat on and I don't want to risk jettisoning what is in fact my favourite running hat. The super-elites are called by name and before I know it I'm back up at my favourite starting line once again.

I'm so busy taking it all in - after all, 2015 is likely to be my last year running Boston as an elite - and smiling for the cameras that I completely forget to start my Garmin. I realise just as the announcer calls out "30 seconds!" and so it happens that my 4th Boston Marathon starts with me hyperventilating and frantically swiping at the face of my watch to get it to start. Certainly a change from previous years, and one that I'm not likely to easily forget!

2nd from left, with thought bubble: "Oh you IDIOT!"

Miles 1-6: ?6:20, 6:28, 6:23, 6:33, 6:31, 6:11 (pace in min/mile)
The GPS satellites usually take a few minutes to load, so I spend the first 10 seconds of the race wondering if I should wait for that or start my stopwatch regardless, before deciding to just start the timer and not worry about it any further. So I have no real idea what my pace is this first mile, but it feels okay and I just go with it.

The good news is that a small pack seems to have formed around me by mile 3; this will be very useful if it continues, a sharp contrast to New York and my expectations of today. Paula is in there somewhere amongst the group of 9 women running together; there is a tall girl right up front and I'm unashamedly sheltering behind her when the wind starts to really pick up around mile 5, bringing on painful memories of NYC once again. One part of my brain feels guilty over this but another is yelling "Are you kidding me? You deserve this!" so I tuck in and try to ignore my conscience. We will see just how long this lasts.

Miles 7-12: 6:33, 6:36, 6:24, 6:31, 6:36, 6:25
The tall girl - whose name will turn out to be Christine - is doing an amazing job of breaking the headwind for those behind her, and I'm still taking major advantage of this at mile 9 when she suddenly suggests "Why don't we take turns?" Immediately I agree and pull out ahead of her - she's done a lot of the work so far and my guilty conscience can only take so much, really.

As I pass Christine mutters "I'm trying to stay around 6:30", which is very convenient because that's what I'm trying to do too. Keeping on pace is going to require a lot of concentration, though: the wind buffets me relentlessly as I lead with another girl beside me, and it's very nice to fall back again into the shelter of the group when mile 10 starts.

We continue to switch positions mile by mile up to and then through the hellish cacophony of the Wellesley Scream Tunnel; by the end of it my right ear is deaf and the runner next to me remarks that she has a headache. So do I! Christine has started to pull ahead now so I am less sheltered than before; the group is inevitably starting to disintegrate. The wind picks up again as we emerge from the shelter of the trees and head towards the half-way mark.

Miles 13-18: 6:26, 6:36, 6:38, 6:24, 6:39, 6:48
Through halfway in 1:25:28, I know today's race is going to be far from a PR. All will hinge on how well I can hold things together through the Newton Hills and then onward to Boylston Street. By mile 14 my nice little group of runners has spread out completely; Paula is still with me as we head into the hills and there's another girl with us but nobody is close enough to affect the wind, which is gusting like crazy now. Mile 15 is where the heavens open and the rain finally catches us - as if things weren't bad enough - thankfully it isn't too heavy. Yet.

There are not enough swear words in my vocabulary to do this weather justice.

But by mile 16 the rain has petered out.......just in time for the first of the hills. This charming combination of weather and terrain brings an inevitable slow-down, but I don't care, I just want to be done. It's gratifying that I manage to get back to a decent pace by mile 17, but the worst is yet to come.

The 18 mile marker is barely behind me when suddenly I hear helicopters, then a bike spotter appears next to me yelling at me to stay right. Already? The men are catching me ALREADY?? I guess it's possible - I'm at least 5-6 minutes behind last year and who knows what pace they are on - but still, it seems a lot earlier than usual. Sigh.

What happens next could not be more different to 2014: an enormous pack of no less than 11 elite men rushes past, among them both Meb and Dathan Ritzenhein. I'm too surprised to remember to cheer, and then they are gone anyway. Oh well! The rain starts up again almost immediately, I'm completely reabsorbed in the misery of this bloody race, and the men are forgotten.

Rain? Just what I needed, thanks.

Miles 19-24: 6:39, 6:57, 7:15, 6:43, 6:54, 6:40
It rains the WHOLE way up Heartbreak Hill, and I watch both Paula and another runner who has been near me until now pull ahead slightly. My first mile slower than 7:00 beeps on my Garmin; whatever, I'm done, this is just completely unfair and ridiculous. What did I do to deserve this sort of weather in two consecutive marathons? Did I run over the Weather God's cat or something?

I could look at my watch and make myself try harder at this point but I just can't be bothered. I can't say I'm actively hating the race at this point - it's pretty hard to imagine hating anything about Boston, even when it's treating me like this - but I'm certainly not expending any energy trying to look good for the photographers. Mostly I'm just looking forward to getting out of the weather; I'm not cold but I'm definitely feeling very windblown.

Mile 23: stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:54, 7:13, 6:24 (final 0.2)
It has to be said that the crowd are still absolutely awesome, even despite the weather. In New York it seemed most of the usual spectators must have been blown away, but here in Boston they are still out in force and screaming their lungs out. This comes in handy over the final miles: more than once as I lumber down through Highline towards the welcome sight of Hereford and then Boylston streets, I make use of their energy by raising my hands and encouraging the crowd to cheer. They respond by trebling (at least) in volume - from deafening to completely unbelievable - and it brings a smile to my face that otherwise has been mostly absent today.

Trying to smile, and almost succeeding!

The sight of the finish line - as always SO far down Boylston St - is a very welcome one, more so this year than any other in fact. I have enough left in me to speed up towards it and reach a reasonable pace before at last I'm allowed to stop; Paula has finished just 29 seconds ahead and we walk together towards the elite recovery tent.

Finish time: 2:55:22 (6:41 pace)

Placement: 82nd female, 5th in AG (F45-49).

I'm only inside for a few minutes when there's a tap on my shoulder and I look around to see Neil grinning like a Cheshire cat - he has finished in just 2:30:03, an incredible performance especially in these conditions! Seconds later we hear noise from outside the tent and look out to see rain pouring down in sheets: we thought we had it bad, but the poor souls still outside are going to be in far worse shape. It's a huge relief to be able to change into warm, dry clothes, and I check my phone to see where Joel is.

It looks like he's on track to run 3:06, which he does, and the tracker on the BAA app enables me to spend just a few minutes shivering by the finish area waiting for him. A volunteer asks me if I'm okay - I say yes and explain that I'm waiting for my husband - and then asks me to move a little to the side. Why? Because she has a train of wheelchairs coming through heading for the med tent, each bearing a blue-lipped, shaking, hypothermic runner. These are the people finishing in 3:05-3:10 - how much worse are things going to be in an hour when the bulk of the finishers are going to be coming through?? I remark that I wish I could smuggle Joel into the elite tent, and when the volunteer replies "I won't stop you!" my mind is made up - he's coming inside with me, no doubt about it.

Elite tent awesomeness.

Once again, the weather has done a number on my race, but somehow I'm still pretty happy with how I ran. I took a full 5 minutes off my New York time and finished 5 minutes closer to Paula than I did there, so that can't be insignificant. In retrospect it will turn out that many of the elite women were around 5 minutes off their expected finish times, so I'm satisfied that I did the best I could under the conditions of the day. It remains to be seen what will happen at Big Sur, but for the next few days the focus is going to be very much on recovery. In the form of rest, foam rolling, and beer. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Riverina Rush HM, Narrandera March 2015

It's a rare thing indeed to find a half-marathon within coo-ee of where I live in beautiful Wagga Wagga, so when this race appeared on the radar I was instantly keen to attend. Adding to my enthusiasm was the fact that the timing was also very good: exactly 5 weeks out from my next big race, the Boston marathon in April. I was a little concerned about the start time of 9:30am, which would likely make things rather uncomfortably hot by the finish, but on the bright side this also meant there would be plenty of time to drive over the the morning rather than having to stay somewhere overnight.

The Training
Ah yes, the training. To be very honest, life had gotten somewhat in the way of running for me in the 2 months leading up to this race, and I found myself with a much less consistent background of decent training than I'd usually have at this point in the Boston lead-up. Instead of multiple weeks over 100 miles I'd had exactly one of those since the beginning of January; surprisingly however I was pretty unconcerned at this state of affairs.

My goal, therefore, for the race at Narrandera was to run a decent workout at or slightly faster than goal pace for Boston (6:30 min/mile or 4:02 min/km), and not really worry about trying to run a PR or anything of that sort. Coach B provided me with this plan and it seemed like a good one; there's also the matter of advancing age on my part, although we might just not mention that too often if that's alright with you.

Race Day
It's an easy and relaxing drive to Narrandera, just over an hour to the west - if we were to keep on driving we'd eventually end up in Adelaide, although probably 9 or 10 hours later. Mum and I get up early to eat a modest breakfast of raisin toast and coffee, then we set off. We arrive at the Lake Talbot swimming complex with almost an hour to spare, which is enough time for me to get changed, get my "bib" number (see below) and run a nice gentle 2 mile warm-up.

A portion of the pool complex, complete with gnarly slide - how steep is that thing?!?
Oops, did I just accidentally enter a triathlon?
I'm deliberately back by 9:15am but Mum tells me the pre-race briefing has already finished, so unfortunately I have missed hearing any specific advice about the course. Down at the start line, though, I hear one guy briefing another on where to turn, so I listen in and end up chatting to them both while we wait for the start. One looks fast - his name is Sam - and he imparts the unexpected news that we'll be running entirely on trails..... and in some places that will mean on sand.

Wow, time for an attitude adjustment! I really really need to stop expecting to be racing on the roads in these regional areas, and start expecting gnarly trails every single time. The RD makes an announcement that mentions mud, fences and electrocution (he's joking, although I do wonder briefly if this is Tough Mudder in disguise) and everyone laughs, but the HM has us doing 2 laps of the course and there's a good chance my sleek ASICS racing flats are not going to like any of it very much. Sam and I joke about getting lost out there: he has no sense of direction and apparently gets lost on the way to work, which sends a prescient pang of anxiety through me. I can only hope that there are enough runners around me that I can follow someone, although I did look at the course map briefly after we arrived, so hopefully my photographic memory will keep me on track.

Miles 1-3: 6:28, 6:34, 6:27
Off we go! A number of young boys take off like a pack of rabbits and I know well enough by now to steer clear of them, anticipating the inevitable slow-down-suddenly-block-entire-path manoeuvre that I've seen more times than I'd like in past races. Sam is cruising along at a good clip so I tuck in right behind him, but as we cross a small bridge and turn left, there's a sandy patch and whoops, he almost goes down. As he recovers I look at my watch: 5:37 min/mile pace so far, WAY too fast for me, so I pull it back and let him go.

We head into the bush on a well-defined but by turns sandy and rocky path. My usual half-marathon pace is going to be impossible, but if I can keep it close to marathon pace for Boston - and keep the effort level appropriate - today will be a good marathon-specific workout. The first few miles splits are promising (despite the terrain) and ahead of me now are only 5 people, all male and 3 of them quite young.

Then at the first water table all the young ones peel off to the right to follow the 5K course, leaving Sam perhaps a quarter of a mile ahead, and beyond him a guy in a "Feral Joggers Griffith" singlet; the lead bike is just in front of him. I know both of them are running the HM - can it possibly be that there are no 10K competitors at all ahead of me? That really makes no sense, but it looks to be true.

Miles 4-6: 6:45, 6:32, 6:31
I'm far too busy not tripping over rocks and tree roots to notice my 5K split. During mile 4 there's another drink station and fork in the path just where a fence line appears; from what I overheard at the start I know to turn left and follow the fence as the course loops back towards Narrandera. I'm starting to feel the effects of the terrain, plus there's a bit of a headwind and the lovely shade of the koala reserve we have just run through (no I didn't see any) is gone. It's full sun and probably around 27C/80F now, ugh, and the surface is full of big cracks too. Strangely enough I can't see Sam's blue singlet ahead of me anymore - I wonder vaguely if he's put on a big burst of speed and opened a huge gap on me - but the course demands my full attention and the thought quickly leaves my mind.

The path dips steeply down into what appears to be a dry creek bed, then back up onto a levee bank where there's yet another water table. Taken aback by the sudden incline, I decide abruptly to stop and drink a cup rather than try to keep running full-tilt and end up either wearing or choking on it. I lose maybe 10 seconds in the process, but I'm fairly sure there is nobody at all behind me for quite a long way, so whatever.

The view across Lake Talbot to the levee bank where I'm now running

Refreshed, I set off along the bank again - there is a channel and part of Lake Talbot to my right (see image above), and it's quite picturesque. Up ahead I see Feral Guy's white singlet, somewhat closer than before, but where oh where is Sam?? He's definitely disappeared.

At this point I'm beginning to lose mental focus, so I start playing the game that I invented to keep my (ridiculously fast) cadence up when I'm running speedwork: I count my footfalls in batches of four and work my way up to 60. At top speed that would equal roughly a minute, since I can easily clock 240 in that time. I know if I start daydreaming now or singing to myself (the Pet Shop Boys song "Pandemonium" is stuck in my head and liable to pop up at moments like this) then I'll instantly slow down. No, I need to stay focused. So I count and I count and I count -- as the distant umbrellas of the pool complex draw closer and closer and closer.


Miles 7-9: 6:36, 6:43, 6:42
The course loops back to the bridge, does a little out-and-back and then it's off for the second lap. The turn is hilarious: instead of a traffic cone there's an enormous bloke standing there and clearly I'm supposed to run around him......but he sees me coming and starts to get out of the way! I give him a stern look that is meant to convey the message that he needs to STOP RIGHT THERE, and apparently it works (I've been practicing it for years on my kids, after all) because he freezes and I go around - being careful not to slip in the loose gravel - and look up again to see Sam approaching. Phew, he's not lost forever!

The bad news is that he's obviously lost a fair bit of time: he's at least 2 minutes behind me now. I yell at him "Wrong turn??" and he replies "Yeah, massive" - poor guy! He looks strong but really pissed off; my goal for the next lap is going to be NOT getting caught by Sam, although he totally deserves to come 2nd. Heck, he probably should have been in the lead by now, because Feral Guy is not that far ahead.

Running alone through the bush it's harder than the first lap to stay on pace. I take another drink at a station deep in the reserve; the old bloke there exclaims "You're only 300m behind the first guy!" and I'm sufficiently distracted by this knowledge that I almost do a Sam and turn right instead of left at the fence. Oops, nope, I backtrack quickly and hit the stretch with full sun again. The headwind is stronger - I attempt to reframe this as a good thing, because at least it's cooling me down - but nope, I cannot convince myself, sorry. All the mental gymnastics in the world are not going to appease the sensible part of my brain that is yelling "Just slow down already!!" so I give up and again start to count, whereupon the OCD part of my brain rubs its hands together and chuckles insanely. Sigh.

Miles 10-12: 6:50, 6:40, 6:37
I stop again after the creek for a cup of water, and lose another 10 seconds. By now I'm hot, dusty and getting fed up. Can I really be bothered with this? I remind myself that keeping focus while running alone is very important training for Boston, and after the mile 10 split (my slowest of the race) I give myself a shake and again zero in on my cadence. Speed it up, keep it there -- it works to some extent and again I'm back down closer to goal pace. The sun is beating down relentlessly and I think with some disbelief of the very real possibility of snow still being on the ground in 5 weeks' time in Boston - could this race be any more different?

Back at the bridge we now have to do another short out-and-back, and Feral Guy is fading fast, but possibly not enough for me to catch him. At the turnaround (this time a traffic cone rather than a tubby bystander) I estimate there's maybe 60-70 seconds separating us, and it's very unlikely I can make that up. But I charge on regardless.....

Mile 13 - final 0.1: 6:27, 6:25 pace to finish
I'm giving it everything I have now and finally I pass through the gates of the Lake Talbot Swimming Complex once again. The entry way where we started is totally empty, and I have no idea where the finish line is. I debate briefly whether to take the high road on the left or the lower one on the right before deciding just to stay left and head up to the place where registration took place - until about 10 seconds later, when I hear people yelling at me from near the fence: I'm going the wrong way!

Frustrated, I stop dead, mutter something unprintable and then bellow "WHERE DO I GO??" In reply they're yelling sort of incoherently, but I get the idea I should be on the other side where they are, even though there's still no finish line that I can see. Oh -- they are motioning that I should run through a narrow gate that seems to lead into the pool complex itself. How completely freaking obscure! And why isn't there someone here to show the way, or a sign at least? Aware that I've lost at least 30 seconds in this mix-up, I leg it back down the hill and through the gate. I see Sam coming along the road as I turn, then I'm barrelling towards the finish at last.

Finish line, complete with rather-too-relaxed race officials

Finish time: 1:26:48 (6:36 min/mile pace, 4:06 min/km)

Placement: 2nd overall, 1st female

This has to be the least crowded finish area ever! I grab a bottle of water, complain to anyone who's listening about the lack of directions to the finish line, then sit down in the shade next to Mum. After a while I wonder whether a swim might be nice, but then a small child emerges from the pool wailing "It's freeeeeezing in there!!" and I decide that just getting changed out of my sweaty INKnBURN gear will be enough for me.

A proper podium is just the thing to make up for all the drama

Post-race analysis
I spend some time commiserating with Sam, who turns out to be capable of a 35 minute 10K and therefore should have handily beaten me today. Overall, I'm quite happy with how I managed to perform: I stayed focused and most of the time was only about 10 seconds off the pace I'd been targeting, which seems pretty acceptable in light of the trail surface, which after all is vastly different to running on asphalt. As predicted, the race has turned out to be a good marathon-specific workout in more than one way, and a nice medal and envelope of cash are the icing on the cupcake of a very nice day trip to Narrandera. Bring on Boston, please!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cadbury Hobart Half-Marathon, January 2015

The cooler climate of Hobart - the capital city of Tasmania, that smallish island to the south of the mainland, the one that is often left off maps of Australia - is probably the only place on the continent that could host a major running event in January (at the height of summer) and get away with it. After the fairly disappointing racing experience in New York, I laid low and sulked for a while before eventually deciding to snap out of it and find a way to redeem myself. The opportunity presented itself quite promptly in the form of the Australian Masters Half-Marathon Championships, to be held in conjunction with the Cadbury Hobart HM.

Note the sponsor: Cadbury, makers of all manner of yummy chocolate and other sweet treats. I'd never really considered a trip to Hobart (too cold) but suddenly it all made sense (chocolate) and I decided to sign up.

mmmm, chocolate

The Training
After NYC I found myself feeling draggy, tired and sore in a few spots; no doubt the mental toil of 26.2 miles in a hurricane-strength headwind also had taken its toll. I refused to even consider doing any speedwork when Benita started trying to work it back into my plan towards the end of November; fortunately she was very understanding  of my reluctance (thanks, B) and so it was mid-December when I finally started putting some effort in. I was also keen to build back my overall weekly mileage once I felt recovered from NYC, managing to clock up 110 miles in the week prior to race week in Hobart. I can't imagine that this made for the most ideal half-marathon prep, but it was certainly adequate.

The Travel
Travelling to Hobart from Wagga is somewhat tricky, but on a solo trip I have no particular reasons to worry about layovers or keeping maniac kids occupied, so it's going to be smooth sailing no matter what, really. I set off very early on Saturday morning and find myself in Tasmania just after lunch - my hilariously quaint accommodations are relatively easy to find (although I have no idea how anybody ever found anything in the era before Google maps) - and there is plenty of time to pick up race bibs, find a nice cafe for lunch, and even to relax and wander about the city centre a bit before it's time to pick up my fast friend Neil (whom I know from RunCamp in June) and head to the Best Western hotel for the official pre-race pasta dinner.

Hobart, heritage-style

At the dinner we don't officially know anybody but we land at a table with a bloke who looks very familiar. Turns out I've met him a couple of times at Gold Coast and Melbourne in the elite field - he is looking to run a blisteringly fast time in the HM tomorrow - we chat and scoff pasta before eventually wandering off in search of beer. Again, possibly not the best pre-race preparation, but it's not like I'm going to win tomorrow; Masters, maybe, but overall there is no chance. So beer, because, why not?

Race Day
I should be used to getting up at 4:30am by this point, but it's still just too darn early. Somehow, though,  I'm up and downstairs - where Neil is already waiting - when it's time to leave at 5:10am, and we make the drive to the Cadbury factory without any trouble. The roads are to be closed at 5:45am but we make it there in good time and in fact snag a great parking spot just before a massive influx sees the carpark fill to capacity.

The good news is that it's around 13C/55F out and cloudy, which is essentially perfect running weather. It definitely doesn't feel like the middle of summer, but whatever, it's all about the running today. The marathon starts at 6am, so rather than warm up we hang around and watch the marathoners get started. I usually run 2 miles with some strides before a HM, but somehow we are almost out of time and I'm not sure where to run anyway because the marathoners are busily doing loops on the only available roads.

Eventually we decide to jog on the oval near the carpark, but the grass is wet, my shoes are getting damp and it's all too much bother really. After 1 measly lap we both give up and focus on getting ready for the race. There are almost 700 starters but it's relatively easy to insert ourselves at the very front of the pack - and with very little fanfare other than a mis-firing gun, we are off!

Front row is where it's at...for Clare, me and Neil at least.

Miles 1-3: 6:35, 6:25, 6:26 (pace in min/mile)
The first mile involves a loop around the houses near the Cadbury factory, and it's mostly flat so I'm not surprised that the first 1km sign appears and I glance at my watch to see 3:52 - that's 6:13 min/mile, which is an appropriate HM pace for me. I feel good but Benita told me to take it easy the first 5-10km and I sort of intend to try to live up to that (how's that for commitment?) so I deliberately ease back on the pace and am rewarded with a first mile split that is my slowest of the whole race.

We head down a nastily steep hill next; coming back up that right at the very end of the race is going to be potentially quite unpleasant. There are two women only ahead of me - Brisbane-based pocket rocket Clare Geraghty, who is most certainly going to win today, and another girl who looks similarly young - but now a 3rd with a blonde ponytail and pink singlet goes charging past me. What?? This will not do!

The next 2 miles undulate more than I was expecting, but I catch Pink Ponytail without too much effort and focus on moving ahead of her. The sun has come out and is unexpectedly bright, but otherwise it's a perfect day and pace-wise I'm even doing what I was told for once. Excellent!

Grinning widely, probably because Pink Ponytail is behind me again

Miles 4-6: 6:16, 6:19, 6:29
Wow, already I am catching the slower marathoners and the course is gradually getting more crowded. Without realising I speed up a touch - I'm not checking my Garmin, deliberately, and am running mostly by feel. My goal for the day was to win the Masters championship, and success in that regard is virtually assured, but I still want to run a good race. That hill we just came down is on my mind, but I need to forget about it for a few miles at least.

A small group of guys powers past me at this point; among them are 2 men who are clearly in the Masters race. I wonder briefly if I'll see them again. The course turns off the main highway and winds its way through parklands right by the Derwent river - I'm distracted by the beauty of it all - and then suddenly there is a rather sizeable hill looming in front of me. Isn't this course supposed to be "fast and flat"?? Not for the first time I'm reminded that a course promoter's idea of fast and flat may not correspond entirely with my own.

I'm distracted also by the sight of the lead marathoners already powering down the other side of the road on their way back for a second lap of the course. This adds a degree of complexity to the race: not only do I have to make my way round an increasing number of slow marathoners on the left, I have to avoid an increasing stream of marathoners, and soon also there will be half-marathoners, coming back the other way. Passing through a water station is sheer chaos with people dodging all over the road; I'm certainly thankful I don't need to drink at this point.

Remarkably symmetrical out-and-back course

Miles 7-9: 6:22, 6:16, 6:06
Getting up onto the bridge is not really much fun, but things flatten out once I'm up there and it's actually not too bad. I catch back up to the group of men that passed me before, and almost at the same time Neil zooms past on the other side of the bridge. One of my goals for today is to finish within 10 minutes of his time but right now it's not looking all that good. I yell and wave - he's in 4th overall - but he's gone in an instant and I go back to concentrating on the race at hand.

Now I'm watching the other side of the road for the 2nd female (who has her name on her bib - it's Ruth) and am quite surprised that I haven't seen her yet - Clare has already gone past. Finally I see her, and glance at my watch in an effort to gauge just how big the gap is between us. To my surprise it will turn out to be less than a minute. It's unlikely that I'll be able to speed up enough to catch her....but perhaps if she really slows down I might?

Somewhat enthused, I zoom around the turning point and head back to the bridge. But what is going on now behind me?? Over the past half mile I've gradually become aware of a loud huffing, puffing noise - sort of like a walrus having an asthma attack - and several people have yelled at me "Go Andrew!" which is kind of strange, since I'm pretty sure I don't look like an Andrew. Of course: it's the bloke behind me, who was part of that group of guys but seems to have abandoned them in order to give chase to me.

My 2 fastest miles of the race come courtesy of Andrew - his breathing is really worrying me so I check over my shoulder to see that he's not actually about to collapse - he gasps out "You're setting a good pace!!" to which I reply "Thanks!" and then speed up more. One of my pet hates is being relentlessly tailed by someone making this much noise; I need to get away, and a small incline finally does the job, but only after another full mile of gasping. Phew!

That's not Andrew, it's his much quieter mate

Miles 10-13: 6:26, 6:22, 6:27, 6:24
Mile 10 has some undulations that take the wind out of my sails a little; I could push harder, but that final monster hill is still ahead and really, what's the point? Well, actually there possibly is a point: I've realised I can now see Ruth, the girl who is in 2nd place, ahead of me at last. She inches a little closer over the next mile but I'm under no delusion that I can catch her, nor do I really fancy potentially blowing myself up trying. I've got both my main objectives for the race already tied up: overall placement and the Masters win. Why risk it now?

So I don't really speed up again, but I don't slow down much either. The hill comes and is not quite as bad as I was expecting, although there is a photographer at the very top to capture the moment - and so later I find out EXACTLY how unimpressed I looked whilst grinding up that incline, and it's not at all pretty (no you may NOT see the photo!).

Finally the finish line is in sight, so I put my head down and run as fast as I can: my Garmin later shows that I managed to dredge up 6:04 pace for the final stretch, which shows I wasn't completely out of gas. And I've managed to get myself on the podium for both the overall AND the Masters race! Hooray!

Finish time: 1:24:08 (6:22 min/mile)

Placement: 3rd female overall, 1st AG (40-44).

For once a proper podium!!
Two of my dinner companions - John and Neil - are standing on the curb stretching as I walk through the finish chute in search of water. They have placed 2nd and 4th overall, respectively, and Neil has not only won the Masters division but has done so in a course record for his age group. Impressive!

We all get enormous baskets of chocolate for our achievements, and I actually get two; this is going to make for an interesting flight home and also two very happy children, who immediately call me on FaceTime to verify the photo I have just sent through of the spoils.

Best. Race. Swag. EVER!

The Analysis 
I may have won a mountain of chocolate, but today was certainly not my fastest half marathon ever. In fact, it was more than 3 minutes slower than my actual PR. Maybe I'm getting old and slow, or just maybe I did what I was told for once and ran a tactically clever race? I did in fact pretty much follow Benita's advice, although not by pure design, I must admit.

In any case, my time was good enough for what I wanted to achieve, so there's no point moaning. And on the bright side, I probably won't have to buy chocolate for a year or possibly more. What's not to love about that?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

AIRIA One shoes: test run and review.

Shortly after I published my most recent blog post about the New York marathon, I was contacted by a representative from Airia shoes. They offered me a free pair to try out, asking in return only that I report back and post a review on my blog once I have run in them.

Never one to pass up a freebie, I readily accepted the challenge. When the shoes arrived this morning, I decided to take them for an easy evening double (just 5 miles/8km) and write the whole thing up in my usual race report manner.

The Background
Airia are a Swedish company that have apparently been around since 1992. That's news to me - prior to being contacted I had never heard of Airia shoes and I doubt I had even seen a pair on anyone, anywhere. But according to the box that the shoe came in, they've been around for more than 20 years now, developing this exact shoe. What on earth took them so long?

Ah, this must be it. The first thing that jumps out when I look on their website is the somewhat audacious-sounding claim that Airia One shoes can make you run up to 7% faster. If my math is correct (which it often is not), that would turn a 2:47 marathon into a 2:35 - something that hardly seems plausible. Such an improvement for me (and my current marathon PR is indeed 2:47:57) would catapult me straight into the Australian Olympic team for 2016 and have me winning the female Masters division at Boston by at least 4-5 minutes. All this, just from switching shoe brands? I'd almost certainly have a lot of explaining to do, not to mention "random" drug tests, if such a thing was to suddenly happen.

The email from the company quotes two reviews that I might be interested to read; it's a little disquieting to read and subsequently realise that neither of these reviewers has anything very positive to say about the shoes.  I have to wonder if the people marketing the shoes have actually read the reviews - it makes little sense to be linking to negative reviews, but it seems they are anyway.

The other thing that bothers me is the disclaimer that I read on the website and again when I open the box:

So what you're saying is...they're weird and I am not allowed to walk in them? Okay then.

I'm almost scared to venture out the door - for a while I contemplate running on the TM, but I really don't want to do that unless I have to, and the kids are with their father so it's the perfect opportunity to head outside. But what if I get halfway to the lake and am in sudden agony? Something like that happened to me in early 2004, when I was in Adelaide and decided to forsake my usual ASICS for a pair of Nikes, in the misguided belief that new shoes would somehow heal or compensate for the still-held-together-with-titanium right leg that I was dealing with at that point.

After limp-running about 3km along the River Torrens I was struck down by a sharp, severe pain in my right calf, entirely different to the usual leg-still-broken pain that by now I was used to enduring. Forced to walk back to where I had started, I came away with the firm belief that changing shoe brands was a sure-fire path to injury (conveniently forgetting that colliding with cars at 35mph/60kph is also a good way to damage oneself) and an ever-increasing superstition about the Wrong Pair of Shoes.

So it is with great trepidation that I stand at the counter considering my first run wearing Airia One. The name conjures up mental images of aliens and spaceships - I think of Roswell and the X-Files and Area 51 - and the shoes themselves actually look so weird that the whole thing suddenly makes perfect sense. Alien shoes! From Area One! Let's try them on and see just how bizarre things can get.

<mysterious music plays>

The Shoes
Once on, the shoes feel light but also kind of lumpy in the soles. I'm expecting this and it's not as bad as I anticipated - the upward pointing toes also feel slightly odd, but I find I can walk in them without too much difficulty. The soles are softly spongy and really quite comfortable; I don't feel like my gait is being forced into an unnatural pattern, which is good. They do seem a bit more like a prototype rather than a finished running shoe, though - the uppers are quite flimsy and I have to wonder how they would stand up to my usual training mileage.

I grab a spare pair of shoes to drop in my driveway, figuring that if it all goes to pot I can just turn around at the end of the street and come home to change, strap on my Garmin and it's go time.

my regular easy run route

Mile 1: 8:26 pace
Ok, these shoes are not making me run any faster, that's one thing for sure. I set off down the road and the first thing I notice is that the 2nd toe on my right foot is hurting. Despite having quite orderly-looking feet with 2nd toes that are actually shorter than my big toes, I do tend to mangle my 2nd and 3rd toenails regularly during races and they're generally in a dreadful state either purple and hanging in there or purple and hanging off. That said, they've been fine lately so I have no idea why my toe is suddenly protesting - it must be the shoes.

I realise that my toes feel like they're being jammed directly into the ground - the upward tilt of the shoes is putting more pressure than normal on my toes and this makes me very concerned for what would become of my poor abused toenails if I was to subject them to a whole marathon wearing the Airia Ones. Even a half marathon might be a bit risky - let's see how they feel after just 5 miles.

Mile 2: 8:00
By now I'm down by the lake and ooh, there's a rather strong tailwind! It does nothing to speed me up, sadly, but I've run many many miles in the past 7 days and my lack of zip is definitely not the fault of these shoes. The good news is that nothing is really feeling odd or hurting at this point - save for the 2nd toe on my right foot, which is moaning away still - and in fact the shoes are turning out to be quite nice.

One of the reviewers described how their footfalls became very loud, like they were slapping their feet on the ground as they ran, but I'm settling rather quickly into the "silent stride with a rolling feel to it" that is supposed to be the desired effect. Also, my fast cadence actually feels like it is supported by the way the toes of the Airias turn upwards; it's like I'm spending less time or effort toeing off, in fact. Nice!

Mile 3: 8:08
Ugh, the headwind comes into play as I turn around the northern end of the lake and run along the far side. The good news is that my post-NYC phobia about running into a headwind seem to be lessening; the bad news, I'm still running pretty slow. As I plod up the sharp hill behind the Boat Club, I find myself trying to run on my toes and ooh, it feels very unsafe. I can't imagine how these shoes would work for a toe runner (someone who lands on their forefoot and whose heels stay pretty much off the ground when they run) - something tells me they'd be in danger of overbalancing with the upward-tilted toes of the Airias constantly pitching them forwards.

Just a bit further on the path becomes rougher and ooh, ouch, I step on a rock and realise how little padding there is between my forefoot and the ground. My toes are sort of being held up (with the exception of that 2nd one, which is stubbornly headbutting the ground still) but the ball of my foot isn't and I realise quickly that this means the Airia shoes are NOT going to be very suitable for most of the gravelly country roads where I usually train. They seem like a great racing shoe, sure - although I doubt my toes would survive a full marathon in them, or even a half - but not a good trail or even gravel-running shoe.

Mile 4: 8:05
Still not speeding up, oh well. The rolling feel of my gait in these shoes is coming along nicely though - they feel light, and fast, and springy. Lately I've done a fair bit of running in a pair of Hokas that I won earlier in the year and the difference is noticeable: in the Hokas I feel clunky and slow; in the Airias I feel springy and quick (even though I'm running just as slow in them).

Mile 5: 7:53
I try to put in some effort for the final mile home, but my legs are not very interested and I don't manage to speed up very much. That's disappointing but not too surprising; the good thing is that none of my muscles feel like they've been put through anything much different to a normal easy evening run.

I notice the strangeness of the shoes almost as soon as I stop running in them and start walking; I'm not tempted to leave them on at all, really. Despite the zippy feel it's been a slow run overall for me, but none of the expected weirdness has surfaced so I declare the run a success and add the Airias to my pile of running shoes in the corner reserved for "racing".

The Verdict

* light shoes with a zippy feel
* less effort required at toe-off
* minimalist feel but enough cushioning around heels to be comfortable
* gait pattern seemed quite natural and I didn't think my usual gait was altered by the shoes
* free!

* not much cushioning around forefoot, very minimal for toe area
* curved toe-box maximises impact on toes - very likely to be a problem for longer distances
* probably not good for the heavier runner (over 160lb/75kg might find them not cushioned enough)
* probably not good for anyone who needs a motion control shoe
* expensive ($190US according the website).

My overall impression is that these shoes have real potential as a shorter-distance racing shoe, but they are quite gimmicky and would be likely to have a limited runner type to whom they would appeal. 

This kind of person would probably be a lot like me and have the following charateristics:
- light (I am 5'3" and weigh 103lbs, which is around 46-47kg)
- neutral (not for over- or under-pronators; these shoes would likely have a negative effect on gait patterns and feel quite unnatural for those used to stability or motion control shoes)
- midfoot or heel strikers (toe runners would probably feel quite unstable)
- accustomed to running in racing flats with little to no cushioning.

My plan is to take the shoes out a couple more times for runs up to 10mi (16km) and provided there are no issues, try them out at the Australian Masters HM Champs in Hobart in January. Who knows, if I can take 7% off my usual HM time (currently around 1:22) and these shoes enable me to run 1:16, I may just buy the company! Or their entire supply of women's size 6.5, whichever works out cheapest.

In early January I ran 12 miles in the Airia shoes. I finished with a blister on my 2nd toe (the same one that was complaining on the 5 mile run) and subsequently lost the toenail on that toe also. I decided not to wear the Airia One shoes for my HM and haven't run in them again.