Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Volksläufe, Michigan - July 4, 2015

Anyone who has been following this blog for the past 12 months or more will remember this unique running festival that takes place in Michigan every year - I ran the 20K/5K double last year and was excited to sign up again when we discovered that once again I would be in America at the appropriate time. It's always such fun to be in the USA on July 4th and spending the day trying to win the coolest racing swag ever (in the form of enormous German beer steins - which you can then get filled with free beer) is pretty much my ideal situation all-round.

There's Frankenmuth right near the middle of the pic

The Training
The what? I never seem to train specifically for short distances, but somewhat unexpectedly I find myself training pretty hard in the 3 weeks prior to leaving for Detroit. I manage to clock mileage more appropriate for the marathon, though, hitting the mid-90s each week and with some reasonable quality in there as well. Having been off-plan for so long and with Benita busy as an Ambassador for the Gold Coast Marathon (and associated shorter events), we really never came up with much of a strategy for Volksläufe, but after almost 2 years of working together I think B knows when to just let me do my own thing.

Accordingly I make good use of an 8-hour layover in Los Angeles by finding the nearest gym, where I pound my jet lagged brain into shape by running 9 miles on a slightly dodgy treadmill. Thunderstorms in Houston conspire to make this trip probably my longest ever between Wagga and the USA (36 hours door-to-door) but despite arriving in Detroit at 3am (another personal record, this one for the most unsociable arrival time ever) Joel manages to drag me out for a very pleasant 11 mile run late Sunday morning. 96 miles in an 8 day week! Not bad at all.

The Clinton River trail provides quite the contrast to a 24-Hour Fitness treadmill.

Race Weekend
The winters in Michigan are fairly dreadful - I am yet to experience one in person, but I clearly recall a day during the Polar Vortex of 2013/14 when it was colder in Detroit than at either the North or South Pole - so many fun activities that would normally take place outside have evolved to be indoors there. Think golf driving ranges, sporting complexes - and also water parks. In Frankenmuth both the major hotels - the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder's - have indoor splash parks and water slides that operate all year-round; Joel and the kids have never been to Zehnder's before, so everyone is looking forward to a new experience when we head up there on July 3rd.

Stomping up staircases and sliding wildly down dark and twisty tubes all afternoon - or floating feet-up in a lazy river - is probably not the best way to prepare for a major day of racing. But it sure is fun! We finish the day off with a spectacular fireworks display to celebrate July 4th and head back to the hotel happily exhausted.

Silliness and pyrotechnics. Usually not a great combination, but in this case YES!

Saturday morning sees us all up early and heading over to Heritage Park to start the day's activities. As is usual with children around, it takes so long to get organised and settle them in with the babysitter that we only have time for a single mile warm-up run; and after all the travel and waterpark craziness my legs feel wooden and stiff. Uh oh, now I'm really doubting whether I will be able to run any sort of decent pace today. Oh well, all I have to do to win a stein is place in my age group - that shouldn't be out of reach even with how I'm feeling.

Milling around at the start I see last year's winner, Dani, who is now a professional runner with the Hansons Olympic Distance program. She's going for a course record today, or so I'm told - I decide to leave her alone and hopefully catch up later - because there's zero chance I'll be catching up during the race. Hahaha! There are a good few other people around whom I already know and this makes the time pass quickly until it's time to line up....and we're off!

Miles 1-4:  6:25, 6:26, 6:18, 6:20 (pace in min/mile)
As usual the first 400m or so of this race are over grass, and with very little warm-up my legs are not happy at all about having to go fast. It seems like at least 10 women shoot out in front of me and I have to squash down a feeling of panic at this: focus, relax, HAVE FUN, I tell myself firmly. Up we go onto a gravel trail and I'm barely hitting marathon pace, but at this point, whatever.

After the first couple of miles my legs predictably wake up and suddenly things start feeling easier. One of Joel's friends, Dave, pops up alongside me and we chat  briefly but then I spot two women ahead. Assassin mode, activate! I speed up - one of them has greyish hair and could definitely be in my age group - and in doing so leave Dave behind.

That's Dave (1885) and the two shirtless guys who will soon be in front of me...for now.

Miles 5-8: 6:14, 6:25, 6:32, 6:21

Mile 5 is my fastest on account of my irrepressible competitive nature; I've now picked off all the women I can see at this point and I'm fairly certain that only Dani is ahead - way, way ahead. I slow down only slightly as we pass through a slightly bizarre refreshments station that is set up as a 1950's diner. There are boards advertising ice-cream - are they really passing out ice-cream?? Briefly I consider if ice-cream would be good at this point, before realising that it most definitely wouldn't,

Because I've just remembered that after mile 6 things are going to get hilly - and of course my pace takes a hit in mile 7 as we round the corner to head back into town and hit the first of a series of rolling hills. Press on, you're more than halfway there, I tell myself, and am rewarded for my efforts with something that often happens for me late in races: I start overtaking guys who are fading fast. Ooh, I love this part!

Miles 9-12.4: 6:36, 6:21, 6:31, 6:15, and 6:04 pace to the finish

During mile 9 there's a straight stretch and I realise I am gradually catching up to a posse of blokes who have all been slightly ahead of me since passing by during mile 2 or 3. There are 3 of them running abreast: two without shirts and one wearing blue. I didn't expect to be able to catch them really but when mile 10 starts suddenly here I am, hot on their heels! I can't be bothered detouring to run around them so I wait for an opportunity and then surge past by inserting myself neatly between two of them.

I chirp out a cheery "Good morning!" as I zip through the small gap, and the reaction is hilarious: they do a massive collective double-take and one gasps out "Where did YOU come from??" The only possible answer - although a fairly cheeky one - is "Behind you!" so that's what I say and we all burst out laughing. They, like several of the other men I've just passed, speculate that I must be the leading female runner, but I quickly set them straight. They sweetly tell me "Great job!" as I put my head down and go.

The final miles are through downtown Frankenmuth - many sights are familiar from last year - and by this stage I'm quite ready to be done. I've got enough left to speed up the final mile and then a touch more for the last bit (helpfully it is mostly downhill) before finally I'm dashing across the grass towards the finish. I hear Joel yelling at me from the river side and the announcer calling my name: he sees "Wagga Wagga", takes a guess and announces "Rachel Glasson, our 2nd female, from Ontario!" But I don't even hear that part because I'm too busy hitting my watch and gasping for air.

Finish time: 1:19:19 (6:22 pace)

Placement: 2nd OA female, 1st in AG (F45-49)

Red-faced and happy but I'm not from Ontario

There's not a lot of time until we have to get ready for the 5K - I know from experience that a decent showing here might easily get me another AG win and a stein to match - and I also know that the first mile is going to suck. Somewhat reluctantly I allow myself to be marched over and lined up, and before I have a chance to whine too much, the starter's gun goes off again and I press my unwilling legs into action again.

Mile 1: 6:37
It's a bloody good thing that this race is only 3 miles long, because there's pretty much nothing that I enjoy about this first mile. Joel has gone ahead somewhere and even assassin mode isn't keeping me happy at this point. Gah, whose idea was this again? Oh, mine? Right. I officially hate myself.

Mile 2: 6:32
Ok, well this is a decent pace I suppose, and I'm not *actually* dying yet, so keeping it up for another mile shouldn't be too difficult. I catch a few more women and can see at least 2 more ahead; one looks like a contender for my AG although of course I myself look nothing like I belong in it.....let's just get that straight.

Mile 3, final 0.15: 6:28, 6:05 pace to finish
There are a few spectators along this final mile who know me and later every single one of them will tell me that I looked extremely unimpressed at this point. The AG rival (who is wearing pink) has given me some trouble but I've finally caught her as we swoop down the hill towards the park, so that's good, but I just want to be DONE.

Still running but sporting a king-sized frown
I know I've put a fair bit more effort into this 5K than I did into last year's, and I can only hope this will be rewarded with a nice stein, because there's no real reason I'd be doing it otherwise! I charge across the grass (my legs have finally warmed up, which is pretty funny really) and through the finish to where my sweaty, grinning husband is waiting. As usual he's beaten me but I don't care in the slightest - I'm just very happy to be done. Well, almost. There's still the kids' 2K run in half an hour....

Finish time: 20:42 (6:39 pace)

Placement: 11th OA female, 1st in AG (F45-49)

There's no time to reflect because the kids' fun run is almost upon us: we march over as a group and pair up, me with Chloe and Joel with Zak. The gun goes off and I'm fine with the gentle jog that we settle into over the first 1K - my legs are utterly fried now! We stop for a few drink breaks on the way back towards the park; the boys have shot off in front and are no longer in sight. As we round the tree I say casually, "We can see the finish line now, it's time to run fast, ok?" and am utterly taken by surprise when she takes off at 6:00 pace to cover the final 250 yards to the finish. My brain tells my legs to GO WITH HER!! but my legs are having no part of it, and so it happens that I am out-sprinted by an 8 year old in my 3rd race of the day. Hooray!

When I finally do get around to checking the results from 2014 it's very gratifying to realise that I have run both 20K and 5K faster than last year - maybe I'm not completely ancient and washed-up yet after all?

Joel has also placed in both races again so by the time the awards ceremony finishes we have enough steins that each family member gets one, filled with the beverage of their choice.

Steins all round!

Craft beer and root beer to go with the free bagels and pancakes - more reasons why I keep coming back for Volksläufe - oh and happy birthday, America!

Friday, June 12, 2015

SMH half-marathon, May 2015

The SMH half-marathon was my first ever race of this distance, way back in 2001, and for some obscure reason has always been one of my favourites. Not because it's fast or flat (trust me, it's not) or easy to run (hairpin turns, anyone? Thanks, I'll take a dozen) but because somehow it's so very Sydney. The city where I grew up is without a doubt in my mind the most beautiful city in the world - despite being hilly and congested and therefore not exactly a running paradise - so running a big race there is always something I enjoy.

See?? It's gorgeous!

I've raced the SMH half quite a few times now - my worst outing being 2010 (coming back from years of injuries and babies), my best 2013 (narrowly beating 2014, both years following a sub-2:50 marathon at Boston) - and while I knew that 2015 was very unlikely to be a fast year, it presented the perfect opportunity to show Joel around my hometown. So I signed us both up!

Past results

The Training
Well, not so much training as recovery, really, after our Boston 2 Big Sur extravaganza. Both Joel and I were very surprised to discover how good our legs felt the morning after Big Sur - I'm still not sure how that happened, although I suspect it was the vast quantity of food that I ate in the hospitality tent immediately after finishing at Big Sur - so it wasn't much trouble to run 44 miles the week after, and kick straight back up into the 70s the week after that. All easy jogging, no workouts (I've given Benita the month off, or perhaps it's the other way around?) and all very relaxed and fun. Apart from last weekend, ahem. But that's another story.

We head up to Sydney with the kids in tow and spend the days leading up to the race doing touristy things, which is a lot of fun but of course involves a lot of walking that probably isn't too advisable with a race coming up. Dad comes to stay with the kids overnight before the race, as he has done several times before now, and it's only a mile to the start so we don't even have to get up all that early, really. Both of us are in the preferred start group and I've even managed to score myself a seeded bib this year (after being rather miffed at never having one the past 2 years when I was probably much more deserving!) so we jog a short warmup, wave hi to Neil and then insert ourselves into the crowd forming behind the start line. I have seriously NO idea what my legs are capable of today, but here we go!

A demented spider crawling on my map? No, it's the half-marathon course.

Miles 1-4: 5:59, 6:15, 6:36, 6:07 (pace in minutes/mile)
As usual everyone takes off like a pack of maniacs and we all tear down the first mile to Circular Quay - I'm a bit surprised that the end of the mile now seems to have an uphill in it somehow - but whatever, this is fun, wheeeeee! I slow down without realising it during mile 3, however, and Joel appears grinning beside me once again. Oh no you don't, I think, and take off again like my shoes are on fire. He's going to have to work for it if he thinks he's going to beat me this weekend too!

The usual story: I'm all laser-like focus while he's having way too much fun

Miles 5-8: 5:58, 6:18, 6:16, 5:59
We wind our way out through Pyrmont and I'm astonished to see some really inappropriately fast mile splits popping up on my Garmin - sub-6:00 pace this far into a half marathon? Really?? But I feel good, surprisingly good actually, and I can't see Joel anymore (heh heh) so I might as well go with the flow. Liam Adams heads past in the other direction and he's waaaay ahead of the guy in 2nd; the flow of runners coming back starts to increase as I see Neil storming past in 7th place, then it's around the turn and ooh, there's Joel about 30 seconds behind me. Let's chuck another sub-6:00 mile in there just for fun!

Near halfway, working my way past an unhappy gaggle of blokes

Miles 9-12: 6:10, 6:38, 6:15, 5:59
The course heads back through Pyrmont and so far the blistering pace doesn't seem to be hurting me -  I hit the 10K mark in around 38:30 which is a fairly remarkable split considering what I've put my legs through in the past month. But the short, sharp hills that greet me on the way up to the Cahill Expressway are a nasty shock and I slow down enough for Joel to catch me again - just as the mile 10 split beeps he eases up alongside me, waves cheekily and accelerates past.

Ugh! All I can do is watch him pull ahead as we burn through the tunnel and out along the Expressway above Circular Quay....our mutual running buddy Tony is standing on the left and yells out "Watch it, Joel, she's catching you!!", but he has it completely the wrong way around. Oh well!

Being caught again inspires me to speed back up again and even the painful hill up Macquarie St doesn't slow me down too much; what's more surprising is that I've got enough left to really pick it up on the final downhill mile around Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Another sub-6:00 mile, whoopee! But I know what's coming.....

Is she catching me? Oh god, she's catching me!!

Mile 13-0.1: 6:32, 6:47 pace to finish
The final mile is uphill. Seriously, whoever thought this out needs a stern talking-to. I round the turn at the end of the point and Joel is about 10-15 seconds ahead, but I've given today's race everything I've got and there's not much left with which to battle. I'd love to catch up more - I'm catching all the people between us, in fact - but it's not going to happen. The only pleasant surprise at the end of the very painful slog back up Art Gallery Road is that this year they've eliminated the final, soul-destroying out-and-back along College St (must have been that extra hill at mile 1-2, hmm)  so when I hit the top the course pretty much makes a beeline for Hyde Park where the finish line awaits. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Rounding the corner to the finish, I look up to see the clock just turning over 1:23. Good grief, that's a lot faster than I was expecting! I throw myself at the line with every ounce of energy I've got left and pull up where Joel is standing, very pleased but also rather unpleasantly close to throwing up. Ooog.

"Wheeeeee!!" vs "Uurggghhh"

Finish time: 1:23:19 (6:15 pace)

Placement: 14th female, 1st in AG (F40-49)

He's beaten me by 13 seconds, a much narrower margin than at last week's 10K and this reflects what we already know is true: the longer the distance, the better I get! It's been suggested to me that I should try ultras, and as soon as a day contains 30 hours instead of 24, I'm sure I will have time for that.

Less than 60 seconds slower than last year! It's comforting to know that I apparently haven't lost all that much in terms of fitness, despite the random training and of course being a year older. And maybe I *was* in shape for 2:50 or so at Boston - bloody Weather Curse, I can't wait til that one wears out.

Joel declares the race "the hilliest and toughest half I've ever run!" but agrees it was a great way to check out Sydney, and I'm rather excited to find out that although the field was stacked with fast young things, I'm officially the fastest old chick of the day. My first AG win in this race, hooray!! And probably a guarantee that even though it's hilly and tough, we will both be back next year.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mother's Day Classic 10K, Canberra 2015

In the true spirit of May madness, I've decided to follow up the Boston/Big Sur double with another race just 2 weeks later. What could possibly go wrong? And it presents the perfect opportunity to show Joel our national capital - so it's off to Canberra we go, for a relaxing weekend away and my fourth time at this event. A quick review of previous results just makes me nervous - I've managed to win trophies at every attempt but I'm quite sure my legs are not going to be able to pull anything similar off tomorrow - my usual trick of putting my head in the sand and pretending I'm just off for a nice morning jog with a thousand or so of my running buddies will come in very nicely, thanks.

Previous Mother's Day races in Canberra:

2012: I ran the 5K - 19:17 for 3rd OA female.

10K 2013: I ran the 10K - 39:19 for 3rd OA female.

10K 2014: I ran the 10K - 38:36 for 2nd OA female.

There's no getting around it - this course is a tough one. In the presence of a headwind it's MUCH tougher, and in any case there are two bridges that each need to be crossed twice. My times here have always been slower than in other 10K races and it seems that 2015 may be the slowest yet.

Up, over, down, around, up over, down, around. Repeat.

And did someone mention a headwind? Because the Weather Curse is apparently still in effect: a glance at the forecast has both Joel and myself rolling our eyes and preparing for the worst. The wind is going to be blowing at gale force straight out of the north-west, which will mean a handy tailwind for one side of the lake and a gargantuan headwind for the other. Similar, in fact, to 2012 - only worse. Sigh.

Race Day
We wake easily and have established (by means of an easy afternoon jog the day before) that it's only a mile to the start line from our hotel. Neither of us has any throw-away clothes and we're a bit in denial about how cold it might be, so we put on our race gear with only very light extra layers and head off for an easy warm-up jog. Sure enough the wind is howling across the lake - we run a mile with it behind us and everything seems fine, then we turn back to find ourselves being blown practically to a standstill. Yuk! Our 4th race in a row with a stinking headwind - the only advantage is that perhaps we're a bit immune to the mental side-effects of headwinds, having run over 78 miles in them now, ho hum.

I'm so bored of running in headwinds that I'm actually asleep

We bump into Ewen near the start area; he's running the 5K and we commiserate briefly about the wind, not to mention the temperature which is a chilly 8C/46F. Then we jog up to drop off our thin overshirts at the baggage area, and wander down to the starting line. Might as well get this over with! 

There are a few familiar faces amongst the 4 or 5 women lined up around me, two of whom I know are faster than me, so this is going to be interesting for sure. Rob de Castella shows up and gives a nice speech about the Indigenous Marathon Project, for which he is now almost as well-known as for his 2:07 marathon PR, then hefts the starting gun and prepares to fire.

First lap: miles 1-3: 6:24, 6:32, 6:29  (pace in min/mile)
Whoosh! Off we all go with a gale-force tailwind at our backs. At least 6 women shoot out ahead of me, possibly more - as predicted, today is not likely to bring a podium finish. Oh well, I'm just going to do the best I can in the situation, I guess. Joel is behind me for now; we speed towards the Kings Avenue bridge and by the time I'm on the bridge I've already caught two female runners. 5th place sounds good enough to me at this point.

But oh my god, the wind is insane - I'm being blown sideways towards the guard rail and a few times I'm having trouble staying on my feet. Then as I finally hit the first mile point, another Garmin beeps just behind me. What? Someone else here works in miles?? Ohhh - come to think of it there's a familiar shadow beside me - and then sure enough, my husband appears to my left, grinning and surging ahead.

I guess he's going to make me work today after all; I sigh and step things up a touch to stay close. As the course turns into the wind we both pass a man pushing - of all things - a very large stroller. He remarks as I pass "It's like hitting a brick wall, isn't it??" and yes, the headwind is truly impressive today. At least the equal of New York and probably a fair bit stronger actually. I'm surprised that my pace doesn't take a massive hit;  then again, I'm probably putting in enough effort for 6:10 min/mile but am barely making marathon pace.

The second mile is interesting; I'm distracted somewhat from the wind by the sight of Joel, slowly but surely catching the two women that are now in sight ahead. As he goes to pass the first he glances back and gives me a look that says "If I can catch them, YOU can too!"; come to think of it, he's probably right. Heading up onto the Commonwealth Avenue bridge they are both noticeably closer. And I'm fairly certain they are currently in 4th and 3rd places - if I catch them both, I'll be on the podium after all!

As usual he's looking chipper, I'm looking half-dead.

The wind is still relatively awful on the 2nd bridge, but finally I'm down the other side and can take advantage of the tailwind for as long as it lasts. I make use of the situation to chase down 4th place woman and we go through for the second lap neck-in-neck.

Second lap: miles 4-6.2: 6:16, 6:32, 6:34 then 5:47 pace to finish
Almost as soon as we head back down to the lakeside path, the girl in front slows for a drink and I shoot straight past her. Her breathing indicates that she won't be passing me back - I quickly refocus on my next quarry, who is wearing a pink singlet and black shorts (in fact she's next to me in the photo of Joel and myself above).

She's slowing down or perhaps I'm speeding up, but whatever it is, I catch her on the uphill that leads back onto the Kings Avenue bridge again. Joel is maybe 30 seconds ahead now; all I really need to do is hold of Pink Girl and I'll finish in 3rd, which would be way more than I was expecting today!

The only problem really is this ridiculous wind, which somehow seems to have increased in intensity since the last lap. Running along Queen Elizabeth Terrace is an utter joke - it's so exposed that at one point I feel like I'm not actually moving anymore. The wind has me running on the spot! It's all I can do to hold onto a pace that is WAY slower than even marathon pace, and hope like mad that Pink Girl is suffering the same fate.

Up and over the final bridge, it's tailwind time again and I'm too much of a coward to look behind me. Mile 6 beeps and I throw myself into the final stretch with total abandon - there are slower runners and walkers all over the path around me but I'm coming through like a bat out of a windy version of hell, and there's nothing that can stop me. A bloke is running up the finish chute as I approach and from the side I hear "Don't let her catch you!" - oh god, are they talking to HIM or to ME??

I redouble my efforts and sprint for the line like a madwoman. There are 2 volunteers there, struggling to hold up a tape but the wind has other ideas and it smacks me in the head as I dash across to finish- as 3rd place woman, quite clearly the fastest old chick in the place too - and I've managed to hold off Pink Girl by just 15 seconds. Phew!!

Finish time: 40:15 (6:28 min/mile)

Placement: 12th OA, 3rd female and 1st in AG (F40-49)

Joel stands by the line grinning - he has beaten me by almost a minute and has also won his AG! We shiver in the cold until the presentation finally starts, collect my trophy and then run straight back to our hotel to get warm. Another successful Mother's Day Classic, another race that despite the headwind was quite a lot of fun, and Joel's first race on Australian soil. What an excellent way to spend a weekend!

Photo credits (all but the last one) to Ewen Thompson, with thanks.

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 canapés 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!