Saturday, December 14, 2013

Central Coast HM, November 2013

One of the first few half marathons I ever entered was this Central Coast race, which I ran in November 2001 and finished 2nd in 1:25:40. I recall feeling that was a pretty good time, but also knowing I could do better - I certainly had no idea it would stand as my half-marathon PR for over a decade. I was training for my next HM when fate intervened that afternoon in Nowra and left me smashed-up on the road - it would be a full 6 years until I could race that distance again. So it was kind of fitting that 2013, my best year of running - ever - should end at the same race where I set that long-standing PR.

The Training
As mentioned in my last post, I recently started getting some online coaching with someone I met through a mutual friend from Runners' World. We started with 2 speed workouts a week and pretty conservative mileage (in terms of my usual mileage over the past year, anyway) and I was very happy to find that I was able to manage the workload without too many problems. It seemed logical that the combination of lower mileage and faster workouts, with someone to make sure I did a proper mini-taper, would set me up for a good run at The Entrance.

The Travel
It's a long drive to the Central Coast, but thanks to a new motorway bypassing the worst of Sydney's traffic, and the inventions of Steve Jobs (nothing like an iPad mini to keep children from killing each other in the back seat), we arrive in good time and relatively unscathed on Friday afternoon. I step out of the car and the first thing I notice is wow, it's windy. In fact, when we head down the road to check out the beach, it's actually blowing a gale - this better not last another 36 hours or I'm in serious trouble!

Early Saturday I run an easy out-and-back 4 miles, taking in the first part of the race course. I remember it well from not only 2001, but also a family holiday to a nearby resort in late 2011 - t's a flat out-and-back course on a bike path quite near the lake - an ideal location for a PR attempt, in fact. I certainly won't have any hills to blame if I run a pathetic time!

Saturday's weather is less windy, but no less worrying: dark clouds intermittently spit rain at us all morning, with prolonged rumbles of thunder keeping us nervously watching for lightning from the relatively dangerous vantage point of the hotel pool. Finally we give up and head off to the movies - and 90 minutes later emerge to clear blue skies and warm sunshine. Yay!

Race Day
It's relatively easy to get up at 5am, and I make myself a piece of toast to go with the chocolate milk that has become my traditional pre-race breakfast. I've realised that I forgot to pack any gels - not that they are essential for races shorter than the marathon - and so I figure I need to have something in my stomach before I head out to run.

I spend the next hour aimlessly surfing the internet and finally head out around 6am. I walk down to the park where the race will finish, pick up and pin my bib, then head off to run a 2 mile warmup on the first part of the course. It's PERFECT running weather - probably around 17C/70F, too warm for many but great for me - with no wind and clear skies, just a few clouds around the horizon really.

Eventually it's time to gather near the starting line, and interestingly enough there is one of Australia's best runners lined up near me: Martin Dent, a 2:16 marathoner who represented Australia at the London Olympics. I recognise him from the elite room at Melbourne marathon - and there are another couple of guys around who are likely to run sub-70 minutes. More pressing is the question, are there any fast women here too??

I look surreptitiously around, trying to size up any possible competition, but nobody really takes my eye. Apart from one skinny bloke, that is - he's standing behind me nervously jumping up and down, wearing a fairly ridiculous combination of skin-tight 2XU compression gear (including a triathlon-type vest and calf sleeves), a visor and heavy black-rimmed glasses. Immediately the thought pops into my mind: European. In fact he reminds me strongly of the infamous Nils, a borderline crazy German (okay, that's not true,  there is nothing borderline about him except perhaps his personality disorder) from Runners World...but anyway, enough about him because it's time to run and I probably won't see him ever again. Or will I?

Miles 1-2: 6:12, 6:18 (pace in min/mile)
The gun goes off and we charge off down the street. The usual line of blokes opens up ahead of me, but then a girl in purple blows past me like I'm standing still. Wait, what?? She looks powerful and I can't quite believe she's running 6:00 min/mile (or perhaps a bit faster), but she is. Oh well, it's early days yet, so I concentrate on trying to lock down my goal pace (6:15) as we hit the lakeside path and things get considerably narrower. So far, so good. Then another girl - this one in blue shorts with a dark ponytail - pulls up beside and then ahead of me. Ugh! This is not okay!!

Miles 3-4: 6:07, 6:19
I'm getting a bit erratic here, speeding up too much and then slowing down too far. At the 5K mark I make the stupid mistake of looking at my watch to check the split - and almost run smack bang straight into a large bollard. Ooops! I dodge it at the last second and the guy behind me gasps out "Are you alright??" Yep, I'm fine, and the split was 19:38 or thereabouts, which is also fine. Onward, and pay better attention from now on please Rachel!

Yep, that's her right behind me...
Just after the 5K I pass Blue Shorts, and realise that Purple Chick is not far ahead now. By the time mile 4 is half over, I've passed her too and moved into the lead. Excellent! And what's more, I've somehow ended up right behind EuroGuy. His tight lycra shorts aren't the loveliest of views to be following so closely, but he's running the right pace and Coach B did tell me to find some boys to run with. So I tuck in and do my best to keep up.

Miles 5-6: 6:31, 6:12
In the lead now, I somehow suddenly lose concentration - for reasons known only to some of my Facebook sub-3 marathoners friends, I get distracted thinking about Marmite sandwiches (I know, I know) and also by the process of crossing a small but steepish wooden bridge. Coming off the bridge I look up and realise EuroGuy has opened a small gap. Then my watch beeps the mile split and I realise what has happened - bugger! I focus, put on a burst of speed, and catch him again. Concentrate, concentrate, keep it going.

During mile 6 we see Martin Dent approaching from the turnaround, and he's waaaay out in front, just as I would have expected. There's water on his side of the path and I'm mystified to see him just run straight through it when he could have easily dodged around it. The reason becomes clear a short distance later - here there is ankle-deep water all over the path and this time no way around it. Splash, splash, there go my pristine new Mizunos. I hate squelchy feet - grrr.

Miles 7-8: 6:14, 6:22
During mile 7 comes the turn-around, and I'm all set to check my watch and see how much room there is between me and that Purple Chick, who must be the next girl behind me, right? But whoa, no -- Blue Shorts is RIGHT on my tail!! No more than 20-30 seconds separates us, and Purple is another 30 seconds or so behind Blue. Crap!! I've got some work to do if I'm going to stay ahead.....

Heading back there's a steady stream of half-marathoners on the other side of the path, which is sufficiently narrow that I only just avoid a collision with a solid footballer type, who is barreling along overtaking people. A LOT of people are clapping and cheering and calling out "First lady! Wooot!" and such to me -- it's sweet but also making me rather stressed -- particularly when they yell stuff like "GO GIRLS!" or "YAY LADIES!" I can understand why they're not saying "girl" or "lady", but it also sort of implies that Blue Shorts is right on my tail. And I'm too scared to look around to see if she is!

Miles 9-10: 6:26, 6:20
Now I'm in deep trouble, because I'm realising gradually that EuroGuy is starting to tire. During mile 9 it becomes clear - he's not going to drag me all the way. I'm going to have to do the work now, and it's not going to be easy. After seeing the mile split, I grit my teeth and pull ahead of him. Quickly I realise how valuable it is to have someone pacing you - all you have to do is keep up, really, and you've always got that moving target ahead of you on which to focus.

So why not focus on this?
I look ahead for someone to catch. There's another half-marathoner who has been ahead of me the whole race, but he's clearly done and dusted, and I pass him quickly. He calls out something encouraging, which is nice, but it's not going to get me through the next 4.1 miles. Mental grit is what I need, and there's a war in my brain already: do I push harder and risk blowing up, or do I coast it in and count on whatever lead I still have over Blue Shorts? That may not be enough.

Miles 11-12: 6:27, 6:31
I'm wasting energy on arguing with myself at this point - without the magnetic pull of EuroGuy and his 6:15 pace, I'm starting to fade, and I know it. I'm trying to yell at myself to run harder, dammit, but I kinda like myself too and I don't want to land myself in the medical tent. Again.

By now we are past the 10K turnaround and there are even more people around, which should be sort of comforting but in fact is just distracting. Somehow I've decided to take it easy until the final mile, which is not a clever strategy at this point, but there we go. Mile 12 is my slowest since that bridge early on, and there's someone right behind my right shoulder. I think it's EuroGuy, but am I sure?

Mile 13, 0.1: 6:13, 5:38 pace to finish
Finally my subconscious takes off the brakes and I'm back on pace for mile 13. As we approach the bridge where the start line was located I know there's about 500m to go, and I hear screams of "Mummy! Mummy!" from the left hand side - I look over briefly and try to wave, but what's happening to my right? A runner pulls up alongside me, and OH MY GOD it's Blue Shorts!

My brain is shrieking "NO!", and now finally I'm putting everything I've got left into trying to surge back - but it's not to be. She zips past; a repeat of 2001 is about to ensue (when I led the whole race but was closely shadowed by a much younger girl, who surged and overtook me in the final mile) and there's nothing I can do about it. Bugger!

The course turns a bit technical - there's curbs and stuff to watch for - how far away is that bloody finish line?? Around the side of the carousel, past the water park.....and finally I'm dashing over the grass to finish. I hear my name being announced as the female winner (oops, nope) and I'm shaking my head vigorously as I hit the mats and throw myself under the arch.

Finished, not impressed.

Finish time: 1:22:40 (6:19 pace)

Placement: 2nd female, 18th OA, 1st in AG (F40-49).

Wow, that sucked. I stop, bend down and try to catch my breath. There's Blue Shorts doing the exact same thing - so I smile and congratulate her on out-kicking me for the win. Her name is Belinda, she's 27 years old, and I soon find out she has beaten me by 6 seconds! Using my old lady handicap system, I've actually won by 8 minutes, though, so that's okay. I wander over to get some water and EuroGuy waves at me - he opens his mouth to speak and it's all I can do not to die of laughter: he has a German accent! Later I find out his name is Fritz. Oh my god, that's perfect.

The kids and Mum arrive - we dash to the hotel to shower and pack up - then back down to the park for the presentation.
A little old lady and two fast young things

The Analysis

I'm a little baffled as to why the lower overall mileage and better taper hasn't gotten me a faster time. My fastest HM remains Bathurst from May 2013, just a few weeks after Boston - clearly I was coasting on the fitness from all those weeks of 100 miles/160km and more. There's also a possible mental thing going on, too; I should have pushed myself harder during miles 9-12. Maybe I need to practice staying BEHIND the competition, shadowing them and then zooming past right near the end -- but my personal style is far more one of taking the lead when I can and then trying to hang on, running the best I possibly can rather than letting another set the pace. 

Another thought is the nature of the course; although hilly courses are undoubtedly harder, I seem to lose less time on the uphills than most people, and my marathon endurance comes in handy when things get tough near the end. Maybe flat races aren't all they're cracked up to be?

I have a few months to consider all this as I approach my next goal: the Oceania Masters Athletics in January, where I'm already entered to run the HM. Watch this space!


  1. FRITZ!!

    I also have the problem of getting passed near the end and being unable to surge by. And I also seem to do better on hillier courses; I think the lighter one is the more advantage one gets relative to others on the uphill. (Although I am way slower than you!)

    Congrats on the 2nd woman OA. Again, like you, I think it's not as bad being beaten by a much younger woman.

  2. Nice run little old lady. You're good.

    It's been proven beyond doubt that even or negative splits are the way to run the fastest time (for 10k races on up). Your fastest time mightn't win on the day though. Look at Paula Radcliffe.

    Good analysis. You're a marathoner, and marathoners need to be in marathon shape to race a fast half. 2-week taper off 100 mile weeks and you'll run fast.

  3. I've only just started reading your posts here -- I'm starting from the beginning, in theory, but am loath to leave comments on years-old postings because that just seems spammy. And I must say I find this place a delightful read. Your race reports remind me very strongly of mine, except where I would most likely drop in a minor epithet or burst of minor outright profanity, you use Australianisms to convery similarly strong sentiments. And I love the photos and the captions.

    I will say that, yes, if you can learn to follow and settle in behind others -- and as the race distance grows longer, the more difficult this becomes from a discipline standpoint because you're turning over your trust of the pace to someone else for longer and longer periods of time -- you will unquestionably reap the benefits. It's something of a paradox for go-getter, leader-in-life types such as yourself, but by surrendering the need to dictate and control the pace, you're gaining an advantage by forcing others to shoulder a greater psychological burden. It's actually quite liberating.

    As for your comment about the hills, you describe yourself as a shuffler in the extreme, and I can't tell how tall you are from your pics alone but you look positively elfin in some of them, and in the one with you postrace in the jeans shorts you can almost pass for a bloody teenager. This tells me that there are basic physical reasons why you most likely scamper up hills with aplomb while not enjoying the same advantage on descents over your fast-twitch, midfoot-to-forefoot-first peers.

    I can recommend some drills that might put a little more snap in those legs for use in changing gears at the end of a race or for more economical propulsion overall. No guarantees of anything but they aren't likely to ruin you, either, and some are fun, like a surrogate for dancing among people in the 40-and-older crowd and functionally ineligible for the club scene.