Australian Masters Athletics Championships – aka ‘Better invest in some silver polish’


Some may remember last year I competed in the Australian Masters Games which was held in Adelaide.
If you are interested you can read about it in the below posts:

Well this year the Masters Athletics Championships were also held here in Adelaide. This was the perfect opportunity to compete with and/or watch some seriously proper athletes, with the Athletics Championships generally attracting a larger field than the athletics events at the Masters Games.

It was also one of my last opportunities to compete in the somewhat less competitive 35-39 age group. In most of my open age group events, 35-39 seems to be the toughest age group. Maybe that’s just me, but it seems like whether it be a trail race, an ultra, half marathon or 10k, the placings invariably feature at least one woman from my age group. However, maybe because they are still so competitive at an open level, women in my age group don’t tend to compete at Masters. That’s fine with me! Once they hit the 40s and 50s though, the numbers rise dramatically. So a hometown championship meet, while still under 40 – of course I had to enter!

The timing wasn’t ideal – 4 weeks out from Ultra-Trail Australia 100km. Ideally I should have been doing a long hilly trail run. But you have to take these opportunities when they arise, so what can you do?

When the final start list and programme came out, it looked something like this:

8am 10000m – just the 2 athletes in my age group. The other one was Lisa. I don’t want to sound negative but even if she’s having a bad day I cannot beat her! And I’m OK with that, she’s just too good!
4pm 800m – 6 in my age group. Lisa was the only one I knew. Anything could happen! (Well, probably anything except me winning!)

11:30 1500m – 4 in my age group. Lisa and 2 interstaters who I didn’t know (and couldn’t easily stalk, because the start list only gave first initials!)

8am 5000m – my ‘pet’ event. Only the 3 of us (one interstater and, you guessed it, Lisa!). A guaranteed medal!

An email received the day before competition started meant that I would not be walking away with ANY medals. An issue with the medal order meant that there weren’t enough, so the organisers had requested that all SA athletes return their medals to ensure that all interstate athletes got medals to take home. We would still get ours, in the fulness of time.

For once, I didn’t have to think too much about what to wear for a race. State Masters uniform was mandatory. I had opted for the lycra racerback top rather than the tech fabric singlet because I liked the way it fit better. I paired this with my old fave lululemon black skirt over Skins shorts. For the first day I decided to wear my blue Compressport calf sleeves (I usually wear them for races of 10km or more) and also strap my feet to prevent blisters. (I normally only strap my feet for half marathons or longer, but my blister experience from the 100km track race in January meant I was taking no chances.)

I’ll be honest, I was a little anxious about the 10000m on race eve. While checking my email that night to confirm race start time, I saw that registration was from 12pm – 5pm on the Friday, and from 8am each day of competition. My race was at 8am. If registration started at 8, how could I run at 8? There was nothing I could do at this point, I decided to get there early and hope that registration opened even 5 minutes before 8.

RACE 1 – 10000m

I got to the stadium about 7:15 and to my relief registration was already open. I collected my race pack including my race numbers, and asked one of the volunteers if there was anything else I needed to do. She said “No, unless your event has heats.” I said “I bloody hope not, it’s the 10000m!”

I attached my numbers (front and back was required) to my Spibelt with the toggles (SO much easier than pinning them to a top I was already wearing, especially on the back!) and went down to the track to get my hip number, an additional number required for races of 800m or above (ie races with more than one lap) so the lap counters could keep track of how many laps we’d done. My hip number was #1, which I thought was pretty cool especially since I was running in the first race of the meet. Probably not an omen though. I wasn’t expecting to be #1 in the race! (I was #1 by virtue of being the youngest in the field).

I warmed up with 2 laps of the stadium (about 1.4km). I was ready and raring to go!

In the 10000m, being a looooong race, all the women in all the age groups run together. So the field ranged in age from 39 up to 69.

We lined up at the start and we were away! I was in lane one (on account of my #1 hip number) and lane one is where everyone runs (being the shortest distance). Quickly I was overtaken by a lot of people (Lisa of course being one) but I didn’t let that concern me. This was a 25 lap race. There was a LOOOONG way to go!

I decided to go conservative for the first 5 laps. Call it a warm-up. I had 3 more events after this and there was no chance of my getting anything other than a silver medal unless Lisa DNF. There was nothing to gain by trying to race from the get-go! Even so, as it turned out, my first lap was my fastest of the 25!

I got through the first 5 laps (2km) in 8:24. Average pace 4:12 per km. If I could have kept that pace up that would have been a 42 minute 10k! But of course, as I said before, 25 laps is a long race and as it turned out (surprise surprise), despite my attempt to take the first 5 laps easy, I did not!

My next 5 laps took 8:39. During this section of the race I was lapped for the first (but not last) time! It was just after 7.5 laps (so, the 3000m mark) when Lisa and one of the 50-54 athletes passed me. I knew it would happen, it was just a matter of when. I was pretty happy to have made it almost a third of the way before being lapped!

My next 5 laps was 8:58, slower again. I passed the halfway point. Up until then I was counting how many laps I’d done (there were official lap counters, and I was wearing my Garmin watch, but the GPS can be inaccurate so I didn’t want to rely wholly and solely on that). From the halfway point onwards, I started counting down. At one point the lap counter told me I had 11 laps to go. I questioned her as I was sure it was 12. I didn’t want to get my hopes up! Sure enough, the next time I came past, she said 11 laps to go. My instincts were correct!

I managed to sustain my pace for the next 5 laps, again going round in 8:58. Although the whole race was tough, it was sometime in this section that I hit a (mental) wall. It was just after I had been lapped for the second time. Now, as I passed the finish line and the lap counters, the number showing on the board was 2 less than the number of laps I had left to go. From memory the board showed 6 and I still had 8. Mentally that got to me a bit.

My last 5 laps was a little faster at 8:50. The front runners lapped me yet again and I started to hear the bell, signifying that someone was entering her last lap. My last lap was 1:38 – as always I seem to be able to find a little something when I know the finish line is in sight! I crossed the line in 46:26 (according to my watch) – a little slower than I’d hoped, but for my first 10000m on a track, I was happy.

Overall, I averaged 1:51 per lap. My 2 fastest laps were my first and my last.

The crowd and the announcer were great. While I didn’t win my age group (predictably I finished second) I was pleasingly announced as the ‘happy champion’ because I was smiling and cheering most of the times I completed a lap! I think I was even smiling in some of my photos, even though I can honestly say that was one of the toughest races of my life!

I got my silver medal and hung onto it for a while before reluctantly returning it as per the organisers’ request. I would eventually get one to keep! And I could safely say I was the first person to wear that particular medal, who knew how many people would have that pleasure before it found its eventual owner?

RACE 2 – 800m

I’ll be honest – I didn’t like my chances. I had only ever run 800m twice before and here I was competing against 5 others in my age group.

After a busy day, I made my way back to the stadium to find the carpark was full and I ended up having to park at Bunnings. Turned out there was some big event at the adjacent netball complex and the carpark there was full, so a lot of the netball people were parking in the athletics carpark! Grrr!

Eventually I got to the track and I had plenty of time. I did a warmup with Lisa, the only time I had ever actually run WITH her instead of just seeing her as a speck in the distance, and it was really cool! She wanted to do 3 laps (2km) so I went along with her. We probably went a bit early though, because there were a number of 800m finals and there were quite a few before ours.

In our final, there were 8 listed – 6 in the 35-39 age group and 2 in 30-34. (The smaller age groups were combined to minimise the number of finals required. The larger age groups had had to run heats earlier in the day.)

Lisa and I were there, and another girl Renata from SA who I had not met before. But the 3 interstaters were nowhere to be seen! I didn’t want to get excited at the prospect of another medal, I expected one or more of them to show up at any minute! (I had seen one of them – she had medalled in a throwing event. She seemed to be primarily a throws competitor, judging by the events on her programme. Maybe she had opted to drop the 800 to focus on the throws.)

After what seemed like an eternity, it was our turn. Just the 3 of us started in our age group – another medal to come! Lisa and the 2 30-34 girls were both wearing spikes. And then there was me in my road shoes – I was completely out of my depth!

Even the start revealed my inexperience in events like this. The official told me to go to the green line. Quickly Lisa realised I had no idea what to do, so she kindly explained to me what I had to do. Start at the green line in lane 5, and not move into lane 1 until after the cones that indicated he 100m mark, or else risk disqualification. OK, I could deal with that!

The starting gun went off (a bit quieter than I was anticipating, so it took me half a second to get going) and we were away! Just a lazy 2 laps – how hard could it be?

I passed Renata in lane 8 before moving into lane 1 after the 100m mark. Lisa and the younger girls were well in front. (I had jokingly asked Lisa before the race not to lap me – quite silly really. I would have had to have been walking for that to happen in a 2 lap race!)

I went my hardest. I was aware of the cameras but didn’t have the time or energy to wave or smile – these would be serious racing photos! My first lap was 1:20 which was a 400m PB for me. (I don’t compete in 400m races nor do I intend to).

On my second lap, probably around the 600m mark, I thought I could hear footsteps behind me. I tried to pick up the pace. Although I already had a ‘so-so silver’ medal (with apologies to The Simpsons) and it would have been cool to have a ‘shameful bronze’ for something different, I was desperate to hold onto second place! This was actually the first time I had been in a Masters race with more than 2 in my age group. And I had never beaten Lisa, the only person I had ever actually competed against. So this was my first chance to actually BEAT someone in my age group!

As I entered the final straight I couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore and I focused on the clock. I had been caught out the previous week at state Masters comp when I thought I had done a sub-6 minute 1500m for the first time, only to find out afterwards that the clock was 6 seconds slow! I was sure that this was not the case here, though.

My eyes widened when I realised that I was on track for a PB! In my 2 previous 800m outings I hadn’t been able to crack the 3 minute barrier but it could happen here! AND IT DID! I screamed with elation when I crossed the line and my watch showed 2:59.60! Renata was only 10 seconds behind me in the bronze medal position. (Garmin Connect and Strava have a nasty habit of rounding up times so both of them gave me a time of 3:00. 3:00 is a lot different to 2:59! In fact, my official time was 2:58.90!)

Unfortunately Renata was not able to stay for the medal presentation so once again it was just Lisa and me on the podium. It would have been cool to have a full podium for once, and 3 South Australians for that matter!

I hung around to watch the 100m finals – wow those runners are FAST! For the second time that day I returned my silver medal and, satisfied with my day’s work, headed home for a curry, cider and Epsom salts bath!

RACE 3 – 1500m

This was a weird day. My one and only race for the day was scheduled for 11:30. Right in the middle of the day! I contemplated going for a gentle 10k run with the Sunday morning run group but thought better of it. There were 4 athletes in my age group. I did NOT want to finish last and be the only one who didn’t get a medal. (There was a good chance that may happen anyway, but I didn’t want to do anything which would negatively impact my medal chances.)

Instead, I got up at a civilised time (woken up by the sun for the first time in who knows how long), had breakfast and then headed into town for a leisurely coffee with some of the Sunday runners. While having my breakfast I put together my race plan.

I wanted to run sub 6 minutes, or average just under 4 minutes per km. I had done 6:01 before so it was very doable. 1500 is a weird distance in that the first lap is 300m and then the next 3 are the full 400. It makes it tricky to pace.

I did my calculations and worked out that I wanted to be on around 1:12 after the first 300m, then 1:36 per lap thereafter. So at 700m I should be on 2:48, 1100m 4:24, and 1500m 6:00. Assuming I could squeeze out a slightly faster final lap, sub-6 was well within my capabilities. I did plan to write the goal times on my hand but it was easy enough to memorise them.

After a nice coffee and chat with a bunch of the runners, I made my way to the stadium to watch some of the earlier races before getting ready for mine. When I arrived the race walks were in progress, an event that has never appealed to me personally, but they do go pretty fast! Hurdles were next, and of course we had to wait for them to finish and clear the track before we could start. 1500m is challenging enough without making it into an obstacle course!

I warmed up as I had the day before, with 3 laps of the stadium. My warnup was a bit too early as it turned out, because our race didn’t end up starting until closer to 12, rather than the advertised 11:36. Oh well, it was a beautiful, sunny morning so there were no issues with getting cold while waiting around.

All the women gathered at the 100m mark to get ready for the start. There were 3 races – all the 55+ women in one, then the 50-54 women (originally there were 12 on the start list, hence they had a race of their own, however only 5 actually started) and then finally the 30-49 group. The same 2 30-34 girls were back for more. There were a LOT in the 45-49 group! But where were the other 2 35-39 girls? They were 2 of the 3 girls who were entered in the 800m but didn’t show. I had thought that they might be serious 1500m runners who decided to skip the 800 to focus on the 15. I jokingly said that maybe they’d seen my name on the start list and gotten scared! Maybe they were just injured. Either way, they were not there (although I was looking around constantly, expecting one or both of them to show up at the last minute)!

It was go time. Again it was just Lisa and me in our age group. A medal assured (ANOTHER silver!), I just had to do my own thing and not worry about anyone else.

I started slowly (or so I thought), letting all the rest of the field pass me as I settled into a rhythm. When I reached 300m I was a good 6 seconds (I think – I forget the actual time) under my goal time. And I felt it too! Despite not feeling like I was going fast, I was dragged along by the fast runners and was going way too fast for me.

By the end of lap 2 (700m) I was a few seconds over where I had planned to be. But I didn’t have any capacity to increase the pace, so I decided that a PB was not on the cards. I just wanted to finish strong and get as close as I could. And hopefully not finish last out of everyone! (I was still in last place at this stage)

Lap 3 was the slowest, around 5 seconds slower than the one before it. I waved to the photographers, given that a PB was not happening, I might as well enjoy it!

I managed to increase the pace on the last lap and even passed one of the other runners, focusing on trying to pass the next girl in front of me. I didn’t end up catching her, but it was a good motivator to run a bit faster. After all, I didn’t need to leave anything in the tank as this was my only run of the day.

I finished in 6:10 – well outside my PB, which I was a bit disappointed with, but really it was that first lap that got me! Going out too fast – I don’t seem to learn!

After a hard fast race such as this, sometimes I find I can’t stop coughing for a while afterwards! This was one of those times. It probably took about an hour to go away altogether. Weirdly, it didn’t happen after the 800!

After the medal presentation (possibly the same medal again – after a quick photo I returned it AGAIN) I headed off – I had to get my mandatory gear sorted for the Ultra-Trail Australia 100k in (aargh) less than 4 weeks! It seems really weird to be running a 1500m track race and then dashing off to prepare for a 100km trail ultra!

RACE 4 – 5000m

This was my bread and butter. I think I’ve probably run this distance over 120 times (and that’s just parkruns!) so I was pretty confident I knew what I was doing. I had a track PB of just over 21 minutes which was still well outside my overall 5km PB. There were 3 listed iny age group but one of them had also been listed in the 800 and the 1500 so I wasn’t expecting to see her at the 5000 either.

I got to the track about half an hour before race start. This was a good event as I had a few friends running in it as well (albeit not in my age group). When I arrived the 55+ women had just started their event. Among them were some Masters legends including multiple world record holder Lavinia Petrie in the 70-74 age group, and Anne Young in 80-84. As someone who works with primarily frail older adults it’s great to see fit older people out there and hopefully that will be me in the years to come!

I did my 3 lap warmup again and was good to go by race start. Once again it was just the 2 of us in my age group. All I had to do was run my own race and barring absolute disaster (ie a DNF) I would collect another silver medal.

I went out hoping to run between 3:45 – 4:15 pace throughout (and had set my Garmin pace alerts accordingly). Once again I happily let a whole lot of people pass me, knowing that there was no point smashing myself early. I did manage to pass a few throughout the course of the race (as well as being lapped by multiple athletes – although I was happy that no-one managed to lap me twice!)

I passed Clare, leader and eventual winner of the 30-34 age group, within the first couple of laps, but it wasn’t long before she passed me again. She was to stay ahead of me for the remainder of the race, but it was good to have someone to chase down at the end. I think she only beat me by about 5-6 seconds so I was happy with that.  Lisa was one of the athletes who lapped me, I think around the 3000m mark, and beat me by about 1 1/2 laps.

I didn’t get the bell today! I heard it a number of times for athletes ahead of me, but when I started what I was sure was my final lap, no bell! I checked my watch to be sure. GPS can be inaccurate as we all know, but it wouldn’t be out by 400m in a 5000m race. Yes, that was definitely my last lap!

It wasn’t a PB for me today – maybe it was the combination of the 4 races in just over 48 hours taking its toll, but despite perfect conditions I just couldn’t get there. My Garmin time was 21:42 which was a good 30 seconds outside the time I did in the Masters Games last year, but it’s around the time I’ve been doing at parkrun of late so I can’t really complain!

The story of the day for me was regular running buddy Maree claiming bronze in the 50-54 age group, which was a complete surprise to her in a very competitive age group! Well done Maree! Contrast that with me, who only had to finish to get a medal (same as all of my races!)

I only need to get one photo of the medal presentations – all 4 of my podium photos look EXACTLY THE SAME! Except I wore a different hat yesterday. And in some I am wearing my runners but others I’ve taken them off. But it’s the same story every time – Lisa on top, then me in 2nd. I’m still slightly taller even on the lower podium – normally all the medallists get up on the top podium for a photo but Lisa wouldn’t let me get up there!

So after that was done and dusted I had to make my way into town to get my mandatory gear checked off for Ultra-Trail Australia 100 – talk about ‘and now for something completely different’! I guess I’d better start training…