Sunday, May 17, 2015

Doing the Double

I typically run only half a dozen or so races each year, more or less spread out through the seasons, giving me a good amount of time to recover and prepare for each one. So when my friend Roger told me he wanted to run the Puffing Billy Great Train Race on the same day that I had already committed to doing the new Wings for Life World Run I had a dilemma. As it turned out the dilemma wasn't which one to do – but whether to do both! Nervously, I chose to do the double which would mean a race in the morning and a race later that evening.

My preparation had been strong for eight weeks through February-March as I did some long runs in training for the Run for the Kids where I ran a good time but a poor race. Minor arm surgery at the end of March meant a week of no running followed by a fortnight of very slow runs; all of which added up to a good base to my ‘cake’ but no ‘icing!’

Overall I was happy with my form, though not expecting to be in top shape like last year where I had run strong chasing Dave the whole way. Unfortunately, just to mix things up, I strained my right thigh on Wednesday night whilst leaping around for photos at run club. Aargh! My Friday run was absolute pain, but ice and ibuprofen were enlisted to help and I felt ok, if a little unsure, on race morning.

Puffing Billy – The Great Train Race

With the weather pattern in Melbourne during autumn being typically up and down I was very happy to see a perfect day dawn for the race. It was cool, but not cold, with no wind or rain. Race start is at 9.30am but we left home by 7.15 to arrive before 8 and avoid the crowds fighting for limited car parks. This worked a treat and we were parked and pooped before the crowds arrived en masses ten minutes later.

Roger and I walked up the hill to the fire station and found a seat on a wall where we could relax and watched the assortment of runners go by. An hour before race time and people were already warming up and stretching, taking last drinks and depositing their clothes on the truck. We just sat and talked. No hurry just yet!

My race plan here was to run comfortably hard, hopefully with a time of under an hour. I wasn't sure if my thigh would be ok and I knew I needed to keep something in reserve for my second race that night. It was an ambitious but achievable plan, or so I thought.

We assemble pre-race in assigned groups. Once again I was in the second group. It doesn't seem to matter how fast I run or how high I place here the organiser won't put me in the front group and I see Adam on the front row with me just like at Run for the Kids. He is in amazing form and this race is on home territory for him and I know he will be minutes ahead of me.

After the national anthem sung by Mike Brady – another tradition – we’re off! I am running almost from the gun having snuck up towards the front and my thigh feels ok which is good as it is immediately under pressure on the steep downhill which comprises most of the first kilometre.
500m down the road I run up beside Tristan Miller (52 marathons in 52 weeks) and say hi for the second time this week after he was our guest run leader at run club on Wednesday. We go through 1k in 3.45 and I let him go, backing off into a more comfortable pace as we go under the trestle bridge and up the first incline to the small Selby township. In the distance I hear the toot toot of Puffing Billy - I am ahead for now but he sounds close!

After Selby is a long downhill to the first of four level crossings. These are the critical moments in the race to beat the train and, in normal circumstances, to beat the train you must be ahead at each of these points. Rolling down the last couple of hundred metres to the one and I can hear the train is very near. I don't need to, but a quick glance over my shoulder confirms that it will be touch and go whether I make it through or not. 

I am disinclined to sprint a few kilometres into an hour-long race, but with only 20m or so to the crossing the bells and lights start up and officials begin dragging the barrier across the road. I sprint through on the right side in the mud just off the road, in the last three through this crossing and am pleased I did not need to stop. The train is obviously on a fast one this year and I know from experience there will be little point trying to run hard to beat it from here.

Since forever the first aid station has been at the bottom of the “big hill” right on 5km, but this year is moved to a better place a bit earlier at the 4km mark. In any case I skip this one and continue at my moderate pace. I know I am not running fast here and other runners begin to disappear ahead. My quads don't feel supple and each step is an effort. I'm running at 95% effort for a 90% return and when I hit the bottom of the Selby-Aura Road climb at 5km this fact is made even more stark.

I have no real strength up the hill and so I plod along, getting to the top comfortably and through the crossing although there is no sign of the train which is long gone. Around the corner and I grab a sip of water at the aid station. Running downhill my legs are not very happy and when I come to the really steep part I find I am blocked by runners going in slo-mo which only shortens my stride and increases the pounding. I elbow my way through and pass about 10 people in 100m.

Around the corner and through the third crossing where I hear an official say the train is about 3.5 minutes ahead, and it is back uphill. At this point I go past an unusual lady who has set up a card table by the side of the road with what looks like a tea party going on. I decline to sit down and join her though I am intrigued by this oddity!

Finally I am running strong and I go past the Paradise Valley Hotel – an inappropriately named establishment if ever there was one – to begin the long drag up to Emerald city. The feeling I am having now is that I am running in control and whilst not overly fatigued my legs are sore. The crowd at the Emerald crossing, the fourth and final one on the course, are amazing. There are lots of people here clapping and cheering and I give several kids a high five as I go past.

Once through the township and having avoided the temptation to stop by the rather wonderful bakery there, I crest the top of the final incline and begin a steady 3km of descent to the finish. Most of this is on a trail beside the railway and is just beautiful, especially in autumn with the red, brown and yellow leaves carpeting the ground.

Whilst I haven't been running to a time goal and know I will be slower than last year, I glance at my watch and do some rough calculations. I am currently on 4.33 pace and so need to run about 4.20’s to get this to a 4.30 average which would be nice. Even better, if I ran stupendously quickly I might just sneak in under an hour for the race.

There are two final tricky points to negotiate here, the first being another steep downhill section of about 150m where, until last year, there was a u-turn to head to the finish. At least now you continue straight on which makes slowing down a little less abrupt. The last challenge has always been there, a small but significant rise about 100m from the finish line. I'm not sure I've ever been a “sprint to the finish” kind of guy, but I always slow down a bit here then kind of stumble to the line.

I cross the line, press the stop button on my Garmin (can't forget to do that!) and look at my finish time. It is an hour and nine seconds; about a minute slower than last year and just shy of my aspiration of less than an hour. That said, when I could hardly run on Friday I would gladly have taken this as my finish time and with another test looming that night, I had the additional “excuse” of saving myself for that one.

I grabbed a Gatorade, found my bag then headed off to get a massage. The team of students here double up on each recipient and on one side I had Mr Gentle, with Miss Strong on the other. Needless to say within about ten seconds they had me levitating off the table and writhing in pain! But, suspecting this would be good for me, I tried to bear it (no grinning).

From there it was off to the finish line and in time to see my instafriend Gina and then Roger cross the line. The look of joy on their faces and the others near them says that this was a great event and that their efforts had been rewarded!

The last exciting part of the race experience is the Puffing Billy train ride back to Belgrave and we thoroughly enjoyed his journey on a lovely morning. After some treats from the Belgrave bakery (yum!) it was off home and try to recover for the night run.

Wings for Life World Run

Backing up for a second race is something I've done only a few times. A couple of times it was a swimming race and a triathlon. Only once was it two runs (morning and evening) but those were only 8km events . I've also done several 12- and 24-hour running relays which, whilst being a series of individual efforts with recovery bouts in-between, were largely back to back. So here I was with the hardest run (physically) I do each year under my belt looking to do a half marathon later in the day. 

Ideally in this situation you'd do nothing more strenuous than lie down and have a sleep, but as a dad I had a fun filled afternoon walk and play at the local park with my daughter to look forward to. So I spent a lot more time on my feet than I might have wished.

Arriving at the race venue in Elwood around 8pm I was amazed at the size of the event. It was pitch black, save for the lights and huge video screen, but the place was abuzz.

With athletes in their mandatory safety vests and headlights it was somewhat like a miners convention but the weather was kind to us, so whilst cool, it was not raining or windy.

About 20 minutes before the start I wandered up to the start area to find it mostly empty. So I took up a spot on the second row and waited for the show to begin. Within 10 minutes it was full up with runners stretching all the way down the starting straight and around the corner.

Just in front of me was two-time Olympian triathlete Courtney Atkinson and all around were smiles as big as could be! My legs are sore, there was no way around that, but I hoped that I could maintain my “easy” 5.10m/km pace which would see me complete a half marathon before the pace car caught up.

At 9pm exactly (11am UTC) Melbourne and 34 other locations around the world began! We blasted around the corner and within a few hundred metres were onto Beach Rd. Almost immediately a runner beside me careered into a traffic bollard and hit the deck. His mates roared with laughter and he was derided as he got up and made his way back to the field.

I think it was the adrenaline that got to me and I ran the first km in 4.30. Much faster than I had planned but not a suicidal pace in normal circumstances. I did a quick body check and I felt ok. If anything, running felt easier on me than walking. Go figure! 

The next few kilometres continued at this pace and I took in the great crowds along St Kilda Street, including many kids in their pyjamas who had come out to cheer. For the second time today 9and third time in a week) I said g'day to Tristan Miller who I saw standing by the roadside at Brighton. Beside Brighton Baths, at the first aid station, I saw my run club colleague Nicx and we high-fived as I grabbed a cup of Red Bull. For the second time that night I thought in retrospect that this was not so great a decision!

My pace was very even and I got to 5k in 22.30min. Right on the 5k marker near South Road a woman ran up beside me and sat just on my left shoulder. With two wide lanes of road to use and not many runners near us I thought it was odd that she would stay so close, but it didn't bother me as I thought she was just going to pass on by.

After a kilometre of running side by side I realised she wasn't going anywhere – and she perhaps came to the same conclusion about me. And so we ran. Step by step, breath by breath, no more than a foot apart from each other yet neither saying a word. This continued through Sandringham and up the steady incline towards Black Rock. We definitely weren't racing each other but it was an odd kind of silent support we were providing. 

Five kilometres later we were still together, centimetres apart on a wide open road. We passed others and occasionally they passed us. And still no words were spoken. Going through the next aid station I'm not sure if neither of us wanted a drink or if neither were prepared to slow down for one lest the rhythm of our motion be interrupted.  And so we kept on.

Past the Black Rock clock tower and the road begins a series of small rises and falls. They are not hills, but you certainly notice them as your pace changes. Our pace had slowed somewhat, now averaging 4.40min/km and I was starting to notice that my legs were rather tired, the strong pace we had been keeping finally catching up with me. I half suspected that I may slide off the back here but this did not happen. We continued to run lock-step, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but never drifting apart. 

Almost 15 kilometres into the race and after nearly nine of running side by side like a silent Buddhist Monk I could see the next aid station just ahead beside Charman Road. I needed a drink and with overwhelming fatigue starting to set in I decided to stop and bring this duet to a close. For the third time this night I took a cup of Red Bull and, no great surprise, for the third time this night I almost immediately regretted swallowing it! That stuff is potent and deep into this race it was a bit much for my stomach which began to swirl.

By this stage I had run hard for 28.5km on the day and I was so tired. My target of a half marathon looked well in reach and so I backed the pace off dramatically and began to jog along. I could see at every car park along the route were buses waiting to take runners back to the start once the pace car had caught them and wondered if I should just get on one right now!

I also wanted to take a ‘nature break’ as they say in cycling but wearing a high-viz vest and a headlight doesn't help you to blend in if you stop by the side of the road. Aargh! A little further down the road at Mentone I ducked into some proper toilets and found relief for my gurgling stomach and intestinal tract. And so my slow jog restarted with my next focus of getting to Mordialloc.

A small but boisterous group of men greeted me at the 20km mark having just exited a local bar. I'm sure they were surprised to see me and the many other runners dressed like Emmett from the Lego Movie making our way along the road in front of them. But they cheered (or yelled something at me, it's hard to be sure!) and that made a difference. A hundred metres further on, just as the road turns to meet the Nepean Highway was an aid station.

I'm pretty lucky as many of my Nike+ Run Club run leader friends were working at this event and it was Monique who greeted me here with an enormous smile and welcome cheer which she co-opted her fellow drink station helpers into amplifying. It was great and gave me another lift. 

Straight after the aid station we left the road to go under the bridge on a narrow pedestrian footpath. It occurred to me to stop here, thinking that the catcher car would not be able to find me – ha, ha, clever me! Until I remembered that I actually wanted the car to catch me up as I was so exhausted. I crossed my fifth and final train crossing for the day here, thankful that I had avoided having to stop at every one!

Onto Station Street and the final stretch. I was running real easy along here, stopping to walk every now and then or to take a photo. I was also on the lookout for the next bus to take us back and as 20km turned into 22km it occurred to me that I had not seen one for a while. My Garmin watch soon ticked over 21.1km and I gave myself a little woo hoo for achieving my goal. Unfortunately the catcher car was nowhere in sight so I continued on.

Finally, at 22.5km I saw a bus. A single lonely bus. So I stopped running and just walked as I knew the car would soon be here to end my race. Other runners, more in keeping with the spirit of the event to keep going as fast as they could until caught, sprinted past me, encouraging me to keep running! But I was well beyond that and at 22.7km, with over 36km of racing for the day in my legs, the catcher car drove past and I was done.

I turned and walked slowly back to the bus I had seen and waited with a group of other runners in the cold night air to get on. Eventually we boarded and I sat beside another run club regular, Linda, and we shared stories of our runs. We headed back to Elwood and I learned that one of the other buses nearby had broken down, stranding runners who had to wait for a replacement. The most we had to endure was a five minute wait at Elwood to get off whilst the bus driver negotiated a place to park. Getting off the bus we were given a neat WFLWR lapel pin, something different from the more common medal.

Photo credit Instagram @nicxnick

I returned to collect my gear bag and was greeted by more run club leaders: San, David, Debbie and Nicx who had returned from aid station duties. It was so good to see familiar faces at near 1am whilst I changed from running top into cycling top for the ride home. 30 minutes of riding later I arrived home and I “blacksnaked” into bed without showering, too exhausted to stand any longer.

Five hours later I was up for work and I struggled not only to walk, but to stay awake. I made it only to 3pm before leaving to go home and sleep. Which I did. For a long time. And it was good!

Days later I feel mostly ok. A week of easy running and good sleep will see me back to full training next week. I'm not sure I'd sign up to “do the double” again, but I'd certainly love to do the WFLWR again. It's a unique event with a cool twist. And if the weather was as kind as we had this year it would be a winner!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gold Coast Marathon

Gold Coast Marathon 2014 Race Report

Hi. I am guessing if you are at this page it is because you wish to read the long, detailed version of my Gold Coast Marathon race. If so, read on down below! If, on the other hand, you thought you were coming for the brief version then here it is:

Travelled to the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Up early on Sunday and began the race at 7.20am.
Started out faster than planned, but held on well despite the usual setbacks.
Finished in an all-time 'PB' for me of 3:15.47 hrs.
Am completely wasted now, but really happy :-)

The Day Before ...

On Saturday morning I travelled up to the Gold Coast from Melbourne, arriving at 1pm and heading straight to the expo to register and collect my race number. There were only a few people in the queue for so that was really easy and I had a look around the stalls.

This was the usual affair - lots of things to look at but little that tempted me to buy anything (which is good). Of most interest to me was the Pat Carroll stand where I met Nick who, coincidentally, would be pacing the 3.15 group I was most interested in. When I asked him about his approach, he said he would go a bit faster at first to catch up to gun time then maybe run a minute quicker first half (~1:36.30) to allow for some slow down. That sounded good to me so I said I would see him soon after the start!

I walked to motel, about 3km away, via Woolworths where I stocked up on bananas, rolls, Gatorade and treats I ended up carrying the whole way home. For the latter part of the afternoon I just put my legs up and relaxed.

For dinner I went across the road to Milano's Pizza & Pasta where I ordered a gnocchi with Napoli sauce. The sauce was nice and the gnocchi a bit rubbery, but the big bonus was in a bag I thought must contain some garlic bread. But no, inside were four hot cinnamon donuts. So much for eating well!!!

I set my alarms on the iPhone for 4.00am and the iPad for 4.15am and went to bed around 9pm.

Race Day

After a good sleep my alarm went off and I checked the time ... 5am! Aaargh!!!! How did that happen. I'm still not really sure but I had managed to screw up two alarms. Thankfully I had left plenty of time to get ready so this was an inconvenience more than a disaster.

I had a nourishing (?) and tasty (?) breakfast of cold gnocchi, a Gatorade, bread roll and a banana before a quick shower and out the door. Angelo at reception got me a cab which arrived pretty quickly and I was soon at the Exhibition Centre ready to catch a shuttle bus to the race venue. I got a seat and settled in; taking in the delicate aroma of Tiger Balm and Dencorub.

We arrived at Southport by about 6.15am and it was a short 5 min walk to the race precinct. The Half Marathoners were all on the road except for a few stragglers. The venue is a big place, really well set out with great facilities. I make toilet stop number two for the morning, take a few photos and then am off to put my bag into the compound.

On the way to start line I make a last detour via the loos for what I hope will be the last time for the morning! After this I head over to my start corral which was "A" and the first one after the seeded/elite runners. Sweet! I went straight in and found a spot beside the 3.15 pace sign. It was not crowded and a really relaxed atmosphere.

The temperature was very pleasant now, perfect for running, though the sun was starting to come up and I figured it could get warm later. The half marathon starts first at 6am so they definitely get the better of the conditions.

Just prior to race start, marathon legend Rob De Castella gives one of his patented (scripted) rousing pre-race speeches. I'm not sure that reminding us that Pheidippides gave his life for the marathon had the desired effect but he certainly implores us to work hard when the going gets tough later in the race!

Right on 7.20am the gun goes and we shuffle off. The start area and much of the course is quite narrow but it takes only 20 sec or so to cross the start line and I get my Garmin going. I am just in front of the 3.15 pacer and use the first part to get into my stride.

Through the first few km people are sorting themselves out and there are lots of folks going forwards and backwards establishing the pace they hope will take them to a good time. Somewhere on the bridge I am caught by Nick and his large pace group. I settle in near the front, trying not to get whacked in the head by his balloon.

We set a very even pace, even if it is a little faster than I had planned to run. The Garmin, as expected, measures a little long and it is noticeably getting ahead of itself with each kilometre. So I use the course markings to help assess pace. So where Garmin says we have done 22.45 for the first 5k, the course markers say we've done 22.56. Both of which are ahead of target pace which was 23.40 for each 5k.

When I had talked race tactics with Rob O'Donnell we had agreed that I should stick with this bunch and if the pace was too hot to drop back. It is now that I realise we didn't really agree what 'too hot' was and I cannot help but wonder if this is what he meant! In any case, it feels comfortable - and not suicidal - and so I stick with the group.

By now I am well warmed up and do a quick head to toe body check: my left shoulder is a little tight (I stretch it out) and my left achilles doesn't feel very good. Not super-bad or anything but I worry that in another 25k it may be problematic. On the positive side, both my popliteus' are in good shape. I figure this is probably a balanced scorecard and I should be happy at this stage.

One thing that has been fantastic the whole way so far is the crowd. They are everywhere and are cheering like crazy - including a fellow at about 7k in who is convinced we are 'nearly there' now. The other thing I was expecting, and am finding troublesome to manage, is the camber of the roads. I am trying to stay towards the middle of the road to avoid this but the narrowness and size of our group is making this difficult.

The kilometres continue to tick off as we head south towards Burleigh Heads. Just out of Surfers our pacer darts off for a toilet stop. It feels odd running without him and we joke about making a break on him! Soon enough he is back in our midst and we we continue on. We go through 10k just near Broadbeach in 45.58 (official time, not Garmin) which means the last 5k was 23.01 - only 5 sec slower than the first 5k.

By now, despite several evacuations prior to the start, I need to go to the toilet again. Aargh! I just keep running and hope that the sensation will pass. We are right down at the southern end of the course now and the crowds continue to build. Conditions remain good for running; the sun is out but there is good shade along here. We get down to Miami and turn right past Robbie McEwen's Piccolo Cafe (no Robbie in sight!).

We get to 15k just before the turn at Burleigh Heads. I am feeling ok, but not as good as I had hoped. The last 5k was 22.54 so we are running a very even pace of 4.35m/k so far. I know that to drop off the pack will probably be harder than staying with them at this pace as so continue on. We make the first u-turn on the course and begin the long road north to the finish line and beyond.

The next 5k is more of the same except instead of watching the faster runners going back the other way, we are now the 'quickies' and we get to see the enormous mass of humanity heading down to the turn. I am not sure how they all fit on the road in places as it is only 3-wide and there are thousands of people here. Lots of folks in dress-ups, most looking good, some looking really ordinary which is not so good for them.

It is worth mentioning the aid stations they have here. It is really good with stops every 2.5k or so alternating between water and sports drink (Endura). The hardest part is working your way over to make sure you get a drink. As expected, you get the odd one down the back of your shoe from the guy behind but generally it works well. I had my first gel at ~12k and have been taking sports drink wherever possible.

Soon enough we are at the 20k timing point and go through slightly quicker in 22.47 for the last 5k. More significantly, we soon cross the half way mark in 96.43min meaning we are still right on 4.35m/k pace. (Compared to Nick's target time of 96.30 which he told me about at the expo on Saturday we are right where he wants us to be.)

Time to take stock ... with a target time of 3:17, running even splits would be 98.30min per half so this pace is quick but not stupid-fast. (As a comparison, 'stupid-fast' is running 4.29m/k which I did back in 2009 when I suffered a spectacular second half slow down en route to a 3:18.38.) I feel ok, not really tired; legs are still strong. My stomach is starting to grow tired of the sports drink so I monitor this, especially as I have just taken my second gel. Oh, and I still need to go to the loo. All in all, this is an acceptable position. Not as 'great' as you could hope for but 'pretty good' which is what you normally get!

By the time we get to 25k we are almost back in Surfers. Our pace continues at the same metronomic level with another 22.56 for the last 5k. By now I am looking for a loo and know there are some along here which I have used before. At just after 26k near Elkhorn St I dash across the road and in for a pit stop. 46 seconds later I emerge somewhat lighter and feeling refreshed. Of course, by now my pace group is nearly 200m up the road and I have an important decision to make: do I chase to get back on or do I just run my own race from here on. When I look at the road ahead I can see my 'mob' still 20 or so strong and there are only a few people in between.

I decide the only course of action is to get back with them. My bike riding background has shown me that life in the bunch is infinitely easier than life on your own and I expect it will be worth the effort to bridge across. Of course, I knew this wouldn't be easy. They were, after all, running 4.35 km's so it was going to take some real work. (To be honest, at that point in the race I was not sure if I could do it, but I ramped it up and had a go.)

Suffice to say I ran the next 2k @4.15 m/k and was very happy when I tagged back into the front of the bunch. Thankfully the pace here had not shifted at all and I was back down to 4.35m/k to recover my breath. Though I wouldn't have planned to take a toilet stop it was pleasing to know that at 26k into the race I could actually lift the pace significantly for a sustained effort. This has never been the case in previous marathons where normally by this point I am running steady and trying not to slow down. So a positive in there for me!

We soon round the bend at Southport and are back onto the bridge over the Nerang River. It is here that we cross the 30k marker and, oddly enough, we've done another 22.56 for the last 5k (although I had a fair variety of pace in there).  Our pace is amazingly even and that is the third 5k split we have done at exactly 22.56. The other three have been 22.47, 22.54 and 23.01 so pacemaker Nick is doing a fantastic job and we are still bang on 4.35m/k for the race so far.

A couple of km later and we pass the start line, reaching the only real incline on the course. This hill goes for all of 50-100m and is not very steep, but it is a rise and is enough to slow us down a little. Our pace through this km is about 4.49 which is the slowest of the day so far and the next few km are in 4.42 to 4.40 so we are definitely slowing just a little. We go through 35k with a split of 23.51 so have conceded nearly a minute of our previous 5k pace for this leg.

At this point I am doing another body-check and still feel ok. I remember agreeing with Rob a strategy of trying to push the pace at 32k if I was feeling good. I had consciously held back at 32k as our overall pace was quite a bit quicker than I had imagined I would be running which is to say I thought I'd be running 4.40's and try to lift to 4.35 or so. After the last few 'slower' km I decide it is time to see if I can pick it up.

I go off the front of my bunch and it feels like I am flying along. I am conscious of passing people and am also aware that the sun is now starting to feel quite warm. Within a km I have been caught back up - so much for my audacious plan - and I slot back into the now diminishing group. The second and final u-turn is just ahead at 36.7km and I have now fallen 5m behind the pace leader. When I make the turn it becomes clear that our once large group has exploded somewhere in the last 5k. There is no noticeable pack any more, just a pace leader and his balloons and a few of us trying gamely to stay near him.

After a solid 4.38 for the 37th km my pace starts to waver and I drop in a 4.48 followed by a 4.40 then a 4.46 through to the 40km mark. I am desperately trying to rise for the run home but am really struggling to maintain any form or even pace. I am noticing the heat now and am generally feeling pretty ordinary. The 5k split here is 23.45 which is quicker than 30-35 but slow once again. Race time is 3:05 hrs and I figure if I can hold it together for the last couple of km I will get my 3:17 target time.

The 41st km is my worst. I stop at the aid station to get some water, having long ago ditched the sports drink that I was chucking up in any case. It is 5.10 for this km, fully 20 sec slower than for any previous km of the race. The wheels have suddenly loosened and if I do not get it back together they will fall of completely.

Thankfully the end is very near and we turn back onto the Gold Coast Highway where the crowds are amazing. I nearly run into a couple of folks crossing the road as I get tunnel vision along here and am only peripherally aware of people nearby as I focus on the finish. I am now lifting and my pace gets back to the low 4.30's for the final 500m to the finish line.

Around a couple of bends and I can see the finish line just ahead. I glance at the clock which indicates a 'gun time' of just over 3:16 but my watch tells me a 'net time' of 3:15.47. I raise my arms in triumph and yell a shriek of delight as I finish the race having surpassed my wildest dreams! And, just like I did at Melbourne Marathon back in 2009, I soon collapse to the ground in a crying mess of emotion. After focussing on this one goal for 14-weeks, training like a madman and never missing a session, it is all a bit too much. I am exhausted. I am ecstatic!

When I review the splits (below) there are two things I am really happy with. The first is that even though I was slowing down in the last 10k I was still passing people. My 'race rank' climbed at each point, from 666th at 5k to 544th at 30k and 425th at the finish. It is such a buzz not be be going backwards and seeing everyone pass you. The other stat I like is that the drop off between the first half and second half (96.43 to 99.04) is only 2.5% which is pretty good and testament to how strong I was at the end of my long runs. It is also pleasing given that the early pace was much faster than planned, so to hold onto this is great.

When I finally sit down on a chair I can begin to assess the 'damage' from the race. The first thing I notice is that my face is completely caked in salt. I cannot believe how bad it is. Clearly the heat took a real toll. And then I notice that my toes are not feeling so good. On the right foot one has got an ugly blister right on the tip (mega-ouch) and on the left I can see blood right through to the top of my shoe. To be honest, I was not really aware of either of these things during the race - obviously had some bigger problems to deal with! Suffice to say I ain't walking anywhere fast for a few days.

So there it is, another marathon program done and dusted. Despite having done many marathons I consider this only the second one that I have really trained specifically for. And to run an all-time PB is just incredible. When I did 3:18.38 in 2009 I thought that would be my lifetime high-water mark. To do 3:15.47 at my age (46) is just fantastic and is another Boston Qualifier time, substantially ahead of the 3:25 required standard.

But I cannot rest on my laurels. City to Surf is in 7-weeks and I have a goal to run under the hour there - something I have not done in over 20 years. But first, recover!

Strava File:
Official Stats


split pointsplit times/rankrace timer/rankactivitydistancepacespeed
Five Kilometre Splits
Half Way Splits
Half Way01:36:4359901:36:43625RUN21.1004:3513.09

Friday, July 4, 2014


Gold Coast Marathon - Race Week

This week is the calm before the storm that is race day. All that can be done has been done. There is no getting fitter or faster. There are no 'last minute sessions' to tune up. It is all about making absolutely sure that you stand on the start line ready to wring every last piece of value you can from what you have done over the last few months. It is time to focus.

Tuesday 1 Jul

Today was the last of the 'harder' runs though, to be honest, it was not very hard at all. More like a steady-easy run with six 90-sec (400m) 'lifts of pace' spread throughout. It felt, as you would hope, pretty comfortable. The weather, thankfully, whilst overcast was quite pleasant for running. Not cold or overly windy; and it was good to get out. On the niggle side, everything seemed to be good to go today and once I had warmed up for a kilometre there were no problems. I have been wearing my racing shoes this last few runs and they are all good; along with some heel-wedges to offset any achilles problems I might have.

As has generally been the case this prep, the six intervals today were not run on a track and so were a little more organic in actual distance, ranging from 410-430m, depending on when I noticed my watch. Consequently, splits ranged from around 1.27-34. On average, probably all less than 1.30 so right on pace, no issues there.

I took my phone with me today (I don't normally do so) and took a few photos as I ran along the river. This was a bit of fun, especially when I got to my third fast rep and was promptly stopped by a barrier across the path so the Parks Victoria barge could 'escape' from its mooring. This was no big deal for me today as I just turned around and started to rep again heading in the other direction ... but on many of my other training runs this might just have done my head in!

This afternoon also saw a last-minute visit to my physio Rob O'Donnell. A cancellation meant that I could be squeezed in this afternoon and - bizarrely - when they rang to let me know I was just starting my run and had my phone on me! Rob has been a great help - not just with physio treatment but with running advice and help with race day strategies and general mental prep. Thanks Rob!

Only Nike Run Club tomorrow and an easy 5k at marathon pace on Friday to go now!

Wednesday 2 Jul

After my visit to the physio yesterday I must say "things" are a bit tender. The rigorous massage to my calves really woke them up and today they are letting me know what they thought of it. All will be good in a couple of days, but today!!!!!! And, being race week, it is time for every other part of my body to get in on the 'niggle act.' Today it is my groin. Just a twinge here or there - and it did not bother me running - but a reminder in any case.

As for my run, tonight was the last session of this 12-week season of Nike Run Club and I was leading a 5k group at 5.30m/k pace. In practice, we ran a bit slower than this as the faster folks went off the front early on and the slower folks wanted to run closer to 5.45. Which was all ok by me and I ended up running with Danielle and Marvin from Telstra for the last few km's. All easy, all good.

As a side note. Today I stepped on the scale and it was 77.7kg which is just fantastic. This is about as low as I have weighed in a very long time and is 4kg lighter than when I raced my PB at Melbourne Marathon back in 2009. I am excited about this as less weight = faster time! It's the small things which add up!

Friday 4 Jul

It is done! Every session is complete. When I started on this journey I created a training plan. It had 58 sessions (including the race) and over 750km in 98 days (14 weeks). I have not missed a session. I have not been sick. I've had only minor injuries - though in 'hypochondriac week' (aka race week) these seem to have multiplied a little! Everything that I set out to do in preparation has been done. I have felt strong in my long runs and I have gotten progressively faster for all my efforts. I have even been so brave as to increase my target pace by 10 sec/km.

Today was a very easy 5k run at marathon pace which I did without issue at lunch time along the Yarra River. I felt good, no niggles, and my heart rate was low even in the strong wind. Pace was right on target. Just what I wanted it to be.

Tomorrow I fly to the Gold Coast and on Sunday at 7.20am the race starts. I plan to run 3h 17m (4.40 min/km) or better. All that remains to be seen is how I execute my plan. I just want it to start now!

Training Program:

Full session details for my whole training plan are here.

Strava links for the week:
Tuesday - Last Sprints 7.4k @4.31; 6x 400m with 400m recovery
Wednesday - Nike Run Club 5.7k @5.47; easy lap of Tan
Friday - Marathon 5 5.1k @4.37; easy 5k at marathon pace

Weekly Summary:
Week 14 (this week): 3 runs, 18.2 km, 1 hrs 29 mins
Week 13: 4 runs, 43.7km, 3 hrs 37 mins
Week 12: 4 runs, 46.0 km, 3 hrs 45 mins
Week 11: 4 runs, 61.2 km, 4 hrs 59 mins
Week 10: 4 runs, 55.8 km, 4 hrs 28 mins
Week 9: 4 runs, 66.4 km, 5 hrs 39 mins
Week 8: 4 runs, 57.7 km, 4 hrs 37 mins
Week 7: 4 runs, 60 km, 5 hrs 10 mins
Week 6: 4 runs, 54 km, 4 hrs 36 mins
Week 5: 4 runs, 46.3 km, 3 hrs 57 mins
Week 4: 5 runs, 71.7 km, 6 hrs 24 mins   (biggest week ever!)
Week 3: 4 runs, 57.7 km, 5 hrs 9 mins
Week 2: 5 runs, 48.6 km, 3 hrs 51 mins
Week 1: 4 runs, 41 km, 3 hrs 28 mins
Total: 57 runs, 728.3 km, 61 hrs 09 mins

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Gold Coast Marathon - 2 Weeks to Go

With just two weeks to go till race day it is time to start thinking and making my final preparations. Everything from travel and meals on the weekend through to race day nutrition. What I will wear (before and during) and - most importantly - how to get my body into tip-top shape. All the hard training is done. I just need to make sure I get the most from it.

For most of this training block I have battled either minor injury (popliteus) or borderline sickness (touch wood, I've still avoided this). In the last week and a half it has been a new nemesis - the achilles tendon. When I run it has (thankfully) been mostly just a niggle; but at times during the day I can hardly walk - it is really diabolical. My home remedies (stretching, ice, tiger balm, compression socks) are not getting this one any better so time to get some help. Physio Rob here I come!!

Tuesday 24 Jun

It is hardly possible to describe the conditions that I ran in today. In one sense, the fact that I actually did anything at all is very satisfying. That it wasn't really what I wanted is not great, but hey, who cares! The program was 5x 1km (sub 4.00min, hopefully sub 3.55) with a 400m rest interval. The first time I tried this run, way back on 8 April, it was a disaster. "Street Speed 1" was on a rainy night and I was molested by tree branches as I tried to go fast on the streets near home. I wanted redemption!

This time I ran at lunchtime (to avoid the dark) and planned to run along the Yarra (to avoid the branches). Unfortunately the weather was horrendous today. As the ABC news said, we were hit by a "weather bomb" which is not quite anyone's idea of fun! When I made my way down to the river I could see there was no way I'd be running there. The running path was inundated in numerous places. Forget the Nike's, I would have needed flippers to go along that path.

So I made a last minute decision to run the upper path. Which kind-of worked, except there wasn't really a 1000m stretch to run along. So my first interval was a bit up and down, across a bridge, then along a bit more ... until I realised I'd run 1.1km ... and, oh heck, who cares; it is pi$$ing rain, wind at 10-million knots and my achilles hurts.

Another change of plan and I headed over to Westpac Centre track to run there. This would mean 2-laps (just over 1km) with 1-lap (just over 500m) recovery. I ran the hard reps in 4.15/19/19/18 - so a very slow pace, but it was a hard slog. At times it felt like I was jogging on the spot. I could not go fast enough to raise my heart rate above 160. This was "ugly running" but I completed the session (or at least completed "a" session) and am pleased with that.

Of course, my achilles tendon is now in revolt. Not such a good day!

Thursday 26 Jun

Two days have passed since my run in apocalyptic conditions. My achilles tendon (did I mention it was the left one) has varied between "I feel good" and "I can hardly walk."At run club yesterday I asked to lead one of the 5k groups and was lucky enough (thanks Dean) to get the beginner group so 7m/k it was which is about as stress-free as a run can get. So that was good. After the achilles warms up a bit it seems to settle down somewhat so that is promising. Hills are not so pleasant but flats (lots of those at Gold Coast) are ok. I ran with some 'heel raisers' in my shoes too to take some of the pressure off the tendon.

Of course the real question is why am I running at all??? I don't really have a great reason for this. I am suffering a classic case of "I'll just monitor this one and if it gets really bad I will stop" which of course means "I am just going to run through it." To find out how the story ends ... keep reading this blog!

Oh, and of course, as of this afternoon I can feel a chest cold coming on. Waaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

Friday 27 Jun

This morning I fronted up for a massage - my first in very many years. Ryan down at Southern Suburbs Physio got a quick briefing from Rob and away we went. Obviously the focus was on my legs, calves in particular and anything to get this achilles back in business. Suffice to say Ryan is good, my calves were like rocks and now my legs hurt from the process. In a few days I will be all the better for this (thanks Ryan)!

A lot of thought was given on whether to run today or not. With my dodgy achilles, a full-strength massage in my legs and wind blowing-like-crazy it would have been an easy decision to pass it up. Of course, I ran.

The main session today was 5k at short tempo pace (4.13m/k) and with a warm-up of 3k I thought at least I could see how I was feeling and skip the hard effort if needs be. With a 30-50 kph north wind blowing it was easy going at first and I felt pretty good so decided to up the pace when 3k rolled around. Even so, I took the first 1-2k of this at a steady tempo to ease into the work and make sure everything was ok. Whilst I could 'feel' my achilles it was not overly troublesome so I worked through the remainder of the effort into the wind and feeling strong.

I am very happy with the time for this 5k (20.55) as it is right on target @4.11m/k and did not feel super-hard at all. There is a Strava segment of ~4k along here that I had previously run (quite hard) in 16.49 and today I did 16.11 so I think this is a great indicator of just how good my form is right now.

Feeling good. Just need to keep it going and get my body strong and healed.

Sunday 29 Jun

As I look back this has been an unusually hard week. Tuesday's lunchtime run in horrendous weather signalled the start of winter in Melbourne and didn't bode well for me. A dodgy achilles but then a massage (it felt ok again) and a good run Friday followed by another ordinary run today. It has been one step up - one step back for quite a while now. I felt sick earlier in the week, ok in the middle, and no good again now on Sunday afternoon. Everything is a bit of a crap-shoot for me right now and I just hope the gods smile on me come next Sunday!

Apart from running, today was the annual Melburn Roobaix bike event which I do on the tandem with Brooke. We were entered and looking forward to this one for quite a while and even though the weather forecast for today was miserable we were committed and going to start.

All of which meant that I needed to do my 16k run early if I was going to get it done at all. So at 7.30am I was out on the road and running! I had not eaten since last night and I think the lack of energy, cold temperature, wind and a little rain conspired to take away whatever oomph I might have expected to have. It was a genuine slog and I had absolutely no rhythm at all. Compared to last weeks long run which felt beautiful and controlled, this one was all over the shop.

Although when I look at the splits it doesn't seem so bad - a slower first kilometre then reasonably even splits through to 10km, then another bizarrely slow kilo then some faster splits to finish. In the end I finished right on target pace (4.40m/k) though slower than I had run this twice before in recent weeks.

In any case, this run - and the riding event in the afternoon - certainly took it out of me. I am quite tired now and will need to have a good start to race week!

Training Program:
Full session details for my whole training plan are here.

Strava links for the week:
Tuesday - Horrendous Weather 11.5k @4.42; 5x 1000m with 4-500m recovery
Wednesday - Nike Run Club 5.7k @7.07; easy lap of the Tan
Friday - Yarra Tempo 10.4k @4.36; brisk 5k in the middle
Sunday - Ragged Run 16.1k @4.40; rough and ready 16k at marathon pace

Weekly Summary:
Week 13 (this week): 4 runs, 43.7km, 3 hrs 37 mins
Week 12: 4 runs, 46.0 km, 3 hrs 45 mins
Week 11: 4 runs, 61.2 km, 4 hrs 59 mins
Week 10: 4 runs, 55.8 km, 4 hrs 28 mins
Week 9: 4 runs, 66.4 km, 5 hrs 39 mins
Week 8: 4 runs, 57.7 km, 4 hrs 37 mins
Week 7: 4 runs, 60 km, 5 hrs 10 mins
Week 6: 4 runs, 54 km, 4 hrs 36 mins
Week 5: 4 runs, 46.3 km, 3 hrs 57 mins
Week 4: 5 runs, 71.7 km, 6 hrs 24 mins   (biggest week ever!)
Week 3: 4 runs, 57.7 km, 5 hrs 9 mins
Week 2: 5 runs, 48.6 km, 3 hrs 51 mins
Week 1: 4 runs, 41 km, 3 hrs 28 mins
Total: 54 runs, 710.1 km, 59 hrs 40 mins

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