It must also be mentioned that Yass is the hometown of Fleur, the runner who narrowly beat me in our AG in Melbourne. I did ask her in Melbourne if she was planning to run the Yass HM and she didn't sound too enthused, but I figured she might yet show up for a rematch. After Melbourne I took 2 days off and was surprised to find myself feeling much less sore than after any of my races this year (except possibly Gold Coast, when the agony of my dying big toenails probably distracted me from my sore muscles), so after a nice 11 miler the next weekend, I pulled the trigger and booked accommodation in Yass for the night before the "Run Y'Ass Off" running festival.
See above. In other words, nope.
The random motel we're staying at turns out to be lovely - clean, modern and very central. I wake up from a lovely night's sleep, check my phone and see that it's 0C/32F outside. And yep, there's a layer of frost on top of the car - suddenly I'm regretting not bringing gloves or a hat or something other than my usual racing shorts and singlet. Oh well, maybe it will warm up quickly. I prepare a lovely motel instant coffee and a mountain of raisin toast to share with the kids, then it's off to the Riverbank Park where it will all begin.
I've almost never left race registration until race day, but today we arrive at the start area just 5 minutes before it closes! I quickly sign up, jog a mile as a warm-up, and then wander over to look at the course map just as the announcer calls for a pre-race briefing. The thing that stands out is how many people are using the phrase "very hilly" when talking about the course. Then the announcer uses the word "up" far too many times when he's describing it - I'm reminded of the HM I ran in March in Orange (another NSW regional town) which was billed as "fast and flat", and was anything but that. Instantly my expectations change: I was thinking 1:25 might be a good goal time, but now the number 1:30 pops into my head. I guess we'll just see how it goes.
|Elevation profile is from my Garmin, glad I didn't see this before the race....|
And now we're walking over to the starting line, which turns out not to be a line so much as a random spot at the bottom of a massive hill. And there's no starting mat - so I position myself right at the very front. Next to me is a guy who looks like a fast runner (although I can't explain why my brain has made that snap assessment), and we chat briefly about what's ahead. His name turns out to be Jim, he's from a town not far away and confirms what I've already decided about the course profile: it's going to be tough. We wish each other luck and wait for the official start to be declared.
|And they're off -- me and Jim in front, on the far right side of the road|
Miles 1-3: 7:10, 6:43, 6:46 (pace in min/mile)
Holy mother of god. We charge off virtually straight uphill into a gradient of at least 30 degrees, if not more, and as soon as it flattens out there's another. There's a girl with a long brown ponytail off to my left and she quickly takes the lead on the first hill. She has strong-looking legs - is she going to be my competition? Nope - she slows down considerably on the second hill and I surge past her. A line of men stretches ahead of me, but no other women. Let's see if she can catch me again.
Onward we go, the hills rolling continuously upwards until finally we hit a small downhill in the second part of mile 3. I hear thudding feet behind me and am filled with a sudden anxiety about Brown Ponytail girl - is she coming to get me already? But no. A guy in a red shirt surges up and zips past - I breathe out, check my Garmin and decide that as long as the pace is sub-7:00 I'm happy - and he opens up a small lead as we head to the first turn-off.
Miles 4-6: 7:42, 6:17, 6:50
The 14K runners turn left just after the 4th mile starts, and we half-marathoners turn right to start an out-and-back that will add just over 4 miles to the course. And it's straight up another ENORMOUS bloody hill! Ugh - I'm trying to maintain an even effort so as not to wear myself into the ground so early in the race, but it's seriously tough going for the whole of mile 4. I pass 2 guys near the top, one of them holding his side and in obvious agony from a stitch. They never pass me back.....
|Red Shirt up ahead, the other two are about to eat my dust.|
There's a water stop at the turnaround and HOORAY, they have McDonalds cups that are only half-full and easy to pinch and drink from! Somebody who knows their stuff must have set this up. As I make the U-turn I check my watch quite deliberately - I want to see how far I am ahead of the women behind me. Although I'm feeling reasonably recovered since Melbourne, if there's enough of a cushion that I don't have to kill myself on this run to stay in front, then I will gladly back off a bit. And there probably is: I'm over 2 minutes ahead of the second place woman, and more than 3 minutes ahead of 3rd. Excellent!
Miles 7-9: 7:03, 6:35, 6:50
Back up to the summit of that awful hill, but it's not as nasty as the initial ascent. There's a steady stream of runners coming the other way and a surprising number of them clap, give me cheers or call out encouragement. How sweet! I'm dying a little on the relentless uphill, but the positive energy from the other side of the road is really great and keeps me smiling even when I'd much rather grimace.
For some reason I'm more cautious bombing down the other side, maybe because I'm not so scared now about getting caught by another girl. I see the final runner starting the ascent, a plump lady who is struggling along with a kid on a bike right behind her. She claps and calls out to me, and I do the same in return - I would have a very hard time starting a HM if I knew it was going to take close to 3 hours for me to finish, so I truly admire anyone with the guts to do something like that. As the course rejoins the 14K loop just after the 7 mile mark I grab some water and take the vanilla GU I've been carrying in my bra.
|A lovely Sunday long run....race? What race?|
Miles 10-12: 6:57, 6:34, 6:19
More ups and downs, and now I'm catching 14K runners left right and centre. At the end of mile 10 we pop back out onto bitumen, which to an asphalt devotee like me is an absolute joy. My pace immediately picks up and the best part is that there's only 3.1 miles to go! Or so I think....
The road winds its way back towards town and the river, and it seems like we really must only have downhills left from here -- but no. Several short, sharp uphills ensue, and to my great surprise I am now clearly catching Red Shirt guy, who has been within my sight but 150m or so ahead ever since mile 4. He's really slowing down on the inclines, and the next time the road banks upwards again, suddenly I'm right behind him. I zip past into 6th place, and oh boy, now I need to hold onto it! But who knows if I can - the next corner leads into a sharp downhill, and I can hear his footfalls pounding along right behind. I'm not super-fast on downhills, with my shuffly little stride, what if he comes bombing past me?
|Charging down the hill, throwing caution to the wind|
Mile 13 - finish: 6:32, 6:24 (13.4 miles by Garmin)
The bottom of the hill brings mile 12 to a close, and I turn sharp right to see before me -- another 2 enormous hills. But rather than dismay, the thought that pops into my head is "Oh good, Red Shirt won't have a hope of catching me now!" The mental trick I use on hills is to remind myself that even though I'm slowing down, so is everybody else, and in fact I know that I'm quite strong on hills due to my short stride and high cadence. If it's killing me, it's likely murdering everybody else too, so there's no point in panicking. Upward!
Finally we're down the other side and we drop through a small park onto the riverside path again. Turning the corner beside the water confirms that Red is far behind. And already I can see the finish, but it is still almost half a mile away. Not much further along the path, my watch chirps 13 miles -- excuse me, what?? There's no way it's 0.1 to the line, the course has to be long. I'm not too keen to bother with a finishing kick but as I hit the grass I do put in a small effort, which sees me crossing the line to minimal fanfare (nobody even seems to care that I'm the first female finisher in the HM, I have to go ask an official later if I did in fact win) and a rather groovy medal.
Finish time: 1:30:38 (6:46 pace)
Placement: 1st female, 6th OA.
We chill on the banks of the small river whilst the rest of the racers straggle in, then I run the 2.5km dash with the kids as a cool-down. It's a small loop incorporating that last couple of hills - hills in a kids' run?? Are they insane? But both children acquit themselves admirably (although I do have to more or less drag Amelia up the hills) and finish 9th overall and 7th girl respectively. Here's hoping they've inherited Mummy's speed gene!
Two days later when my legs are in worse shape than they were after Melbourne, I'm still glad I ran this race. My past experience with regional HMs has taught me to expect hills and other major obstacles, and Yass did not disappoint in that regard, but I was prepared for it this time and able to enjoy the experience without worrying about my time. It would have been nice if they would have made just a TINY bit more fuss of the winners, and I would have liked a chance to take on Fleur again, but it was not to be.
I will close with a quote from one of my fellow runners, who posted on the Run Y'Ass Off Facebook page: "Thanks for a fun day. Enjoyed the beautiful scenery, great weather, only problem was when I got to the end, looked down and my ass was still there : ("