Race report – SARRC McLaren Vale Half Marathon 2017

Running. Wine country. A match made in heaven!

I learned a few things yesterday. Not the least of which was the fact that Mourvedre (the ‘M’ in GSM) is actually the same as Mataro (also often in GSM!) Mind = blown!

I also learned a few things about how to run (or not to run) a half marathon. More on that later!

This was my 4th consecutive McLaren Vale Half, making it the only half marathon I have done 4 times.

In 2014 I went into the event pretty unprepared. After my first marathon in May, I hadn’t done ANY long runs, as I had come back from my overseas trip and gone back to playing soccer every Sunday, although I had still been doing my regular weekday runs, so it’s not as if I hadn’t been running at all! I had no pacing strategy and low expectations. It ended up being a ‘personal worst’ at the time, but there would have probably been something wrong if it HADN’T been! It was still a respectable time mind you – 1:46.41 which was the PB I was aiming to beat this year!

2014-10-15 20.48.22
And I was pretty happy with that, by the look of it!

In 2015 I paced 2:00, the day after having set what is still my half marathon PB (managing to score a gold medal as well, and celebrating accordingly!) at the Australian Masters Games. You can read all about that one here.

In 2016 I paced 2:00 again, this time dressed up as the Devil for some reason. It was a Devil of a day as well, as those who were there will no doubt remember! If you want to refresh your memory, you can read all about it here.

This year I decided to run it ‘properly’ for the first time!

My friend Donna, seeing that I was going to the event (thanks Facebook!) suggested she could come down with me and we could go wine tasting afterwards. To which I replied, that sounds great, but if you’re coming down, you might as well run the 5k while you’re there! So she entered!

At the end of August, after a little over a year of mostly avoiding hills, I started running hills on Friday mornings in lieu of speedwork. And then I started doing trail runs on Sundays instead of long road runs. I decided I quite liked this, and actually felt it was making my running better even on the flat. Consequently, I decided not to do long road runs to train for a half marathon, instead I was doing long trail runs around Cleland with quite a bit of elevation. MUCH more enjoyable! (Plus, the Heysen 35k run, with 1000m elevation gain, was only 2 weeks later, so I needed to train for that as well)

I had a pretty good week in the leadup. I had 2 fast flat morning runs, a few easy hilly runs, and a trot at Carisbrooke parkrun on the Saturday. I also did my first proper ‘brick’ session on Monday – a 20k bike ride followed by a 4k run. Probably not in any way helpful for McLaren Vale but certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to my triathlon aspirations!

Sunday morning Donna picked me up and we arrived at McLaren Vale in plenty of time for the 8am half start (and WELL in time for Donna’s 9am 5k start!). It was all a bit of a blur though because I spent most of the 40 minutes in the toilet queue then I had just enough time for a 1km warmup before it was go time!

The weather conditions were PERFECT. At the start it was around 15 degrees with no wind to speak of. A far cry from last year!

I had seen quite a few familiar faces (as I had expected!) but I hadn’t seen Beck who had entered at the semi-last minute. We hadn’t planned to run together but I had expected to see her at some stage. There were a LOT of people there for the half though (well over 650 finishers which is phenomenal!) so I guess it’s not really surprising that we didn’t cross paths!

At the start I saw a 1:45 pacer which I was pretty happy about, I figured I could stick with him for about the first half, and then, all being well, take off after that. 1:45 would be just under 5 minutes per kilometre which on recent form should be very doable. I had never planned to run with a pacer but figured if he was there I might as well let him do the work so I could switch off for a bit!

We started, me trying to stick close to the pacer but even in the first few kilometres I was struggling to keep up. I then looked at my watch. After 2km I was averaging 4:44 minutes per kilometre but he was still ahead – I’m not sure quite what his game plan was but I guess he was probably factoring in a fade at the end, and/or some drink stops. Whatever the plan, I was kicking myself, this was way too fast for me to be starting and I definitely could not sustain this pace for the full 21.1! I should have just stuck with my own plan, which was to start at around 5 minute kays and try to pick up the pace towards the end.

LESSON #1 – Never rely on someone else to do the work for you!

The great thing about a course with out and back sections is that you get to see everyone, from the leaders to the back-of-the-packers. I was pretty sure I saw Beck, probably less than 5 minutes behind me, and wondered if she’d catch me! I was certainly slowing down by this point.

Early days. Happy days!

At about the 7km mark we went back past the start again, where the 5k runners were getting ready to start their race. The next time we came past here, we’d be DONE! But before then came a pretty tough out and back section. It was loooong. I’m sure that I looked pretty grumpy on the ‘out’ bit, with the faster runners coming back the other way, many offering encouragement!

Another early pic!

Around this point I made my second mistake of the day. There was a guy right in front of me with a very ungainly and distracting running style. Don’t get me wrong, it was effective! He was, after all, AHEAD of me. However, I didn’t really fancy watching him for the rest of the race so between the 8km and 9km marks I passed him. The problem was that almost immediately he tried to pass me again. I was working WAY too hard to stay ahead of him, and then eventually he passed me anyway. All that effort for nothing, and that definitely took its toll!

LESSON #2 – Don’t be too keen to get ahead (and stay ahead) of someone in the early stages! Save your energy and you’ll be reeling them in in the final kilometres!

After this it was very much ‘head down’ and ‘get it done’. My pace had dropped to slower than 5 minutes per kilometre which was going to make sub 1:45 very tough, unless I could find something at the end. I actually considered slowing down and waiting for Beck to catch up with me so at least I’d have some company!

pace chart
My pace was slowing from the first few kilometres. Around 13km I dropped below 5-minute kilometres. I was able to regain some speed and get my average below 5 min, but there were a few very slow kilometres in there!

The last turnaround was a godsend! Still there was over 5km to go, but it somehow felt easier. This was when I started to get some pace back (mostly because it was a bit downhill!) and started passing a few people who had passed me earlier. There was one girl with red shoes who had passed me a long time ago and I was surprised to see her. I did eventually pass her and I believe I stayed ahead of her!

This was pretty early on. Sorry Kathy for photobombing your shot!

A few other familiar faces were (like me) finding the run a bit tougher and slower than expected, including Claire, who had made the same mistake as me, of trying to go with the pacer early. Late in the piece I also overtook fellow SARRC Board member Amanda, who has been running really well lately so for her to be struggling as well, made me realise it wasn’t just me!

Towards the end I went back and forth with a guy called Christopher who I later realised I had met before. It wasn’t until we’d been running and chatting for a while that he mentioned this was his longest run in SANDALS! It certainly didn’t seem to be doing him any harm and he ended up finishing just ahead of me!

Working hard! Note the sandal, bottom right!

My pace quickened – but it seemed like every time I got back up to 5 min kays I’d drop back to 5:01 – I may have sworn at one point! By the end, I’d got my average pace down to 4:58.

The last kilometre or so was quite comical. I have this ‘policy’ if you can call it that, in any race where there is a medal involved, that I can’t get a medal unless I have high fived at least one kid during the race. I hadn’t managed to get any high fives in so I just needed to get one before I finished! All the kids were on the wrong side of the track though! After a few ‘false starts’ where the kids wouldn’t come to the party and the parents high fived me instead (which was nice, but it doesn’t count – has to be a kid!), just as I ran up the road towards the entrance of Hardy’s Tintara winery, finally a little girl got on board and gave me what I was after – just in time for the sprint to the line!

I like everything about this photo except my face looks a bit grim!

My finish line video! I was just a tiny bit excited!

Then I looked at my watch – I was so sure I would have gone sub 1:45 but was a bit disappointed to see 1:45:43! (Officially 1:45:39) I may have sworn again, this time in front of Christopher, his wife Rebecca and their two young kids – oops!

Oh well, at least it was a McLaren Vale PB! And the medal was pretty sweet so any disappointment was quickly forgotten!

In hindsight, maybe hilly trail runs were NOT the best prep for a flattish half! Actually, on Friday night I was running with Cherie, who is a trail runner who has done a few ultras but never a road marathon. She is planning to do one one day. I told her for a marathon you can’t really avoid doing long road runs, trail runs just don’t cut it! I guess maybe I should have taken my own advice! Hopefully though, the hilly runs WILL be beneficial for Heysen which is now less than 2 weeks away!

I was pretty sure Donna would have finished before me (and if she hadn’t, I would have passed her towards the end, as I had passed a lot of the 5km walkers in the closing stages) but I thought I’d hang around at the finish line to wait for Beck. After about 5 minutes I saw Voula (another SARRC Board member) and asked if she’d seen Beck, to which she responded that she’d pulled out at the 7km mark (when she came back past the start line) – so it was a good thing I hadn’t slowed down to wait for her to catch up with me!

Eventually I found Donna and she had done better than expected – the old competitive spirit kicked in and she ended up finishing under 40 minutes, well above expectations!

Beautiful day to kick back on the lawn! Again, a far cry from last year!

We didn’t stay long at the finish line, although the atmosphere was great and there was plenty to keep people hanging around! We had wine tasting to do!

Thanks as always to all of the fantastic volunteers and staff for putting on a brilliant event! Special thanks to Donna for being the designated driver so I could get all my rehydration in!

And especially thanks to Race Director Ben for organising perfect weather for an event – for once!

AAAAND of course last night I came home and signed up for the next SARRC event, the Glenelg Classic! It will be my 5th anniversary of running so that event is always a special one! As always I’ll be doing the 5k, that sounds pretty civilised to me!

Wine, bling, views and a beautiful day 🙂