Race report – Greenbelt Half Marathon

Sunday was my 3rd Greenbelt Half. My first, in 2014, was my second ever half marathon and a huge PB for me, 1:42:43. Last year I missed out on a PB by only 10 I seconds. I couldn’t see where I could have gone any faster, so I was happy with that time.

Since then I somehow beat that PB during the Masters Games – 1:37:54. I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that time especially on a 4 lap course that wasn’t exactly flat. I’ve sort of discounted that time as a PB as I currently can’t see how there is any way I’ll beat that time!

My new time to beat was my 1:42:27 at Clare just a few weeks ago. Clare being a notoriously challenging course (not the most challenging ever but 10+km uphill followed by an almost undetectable downhill back half does not make for a great PB course), I was confident that anything I could do at Clare, I could do better at Greenbelt!
I had recovered well from the previous weekend’s 24k trail race at Cleland. In the days leading up to Greenbelt, my hamstring tendon issue that had been bugging me since the 100k in January, miraculously disappeared (well, temporarily at least). I did a hilly run with my UTA100 mandatory gear on Tuesday, a now traditional fast flat run on Thursday, and a gentle (somewhat soggy) ‘jogette’ on Friday morning.

Several weeks ago I had planned to make Greenbelt an ‘out and back’, running from the start at the top of the River Torrens at Athelstone, to the finish in the city at Pinky Flat, and then donning my UTA backpack and running back up to Athelstone. No, hear me out, there was method in my madness!

A fast, downhill course known for being good for PBs would be an ideal marathon training hit-out. From memory I was due to run about 30k as part of my Gold Coast training plan. I wasn’t too concerned about distances at this point as I was committed to events. Besides, a hard half marathon race is equivalent to a longer training run in terms of training effect.

However, there was something else to consider, and that was the small matter of a 100km ultra in 2 weeks. I may have mentioned that before. Well don’t worry, you’ll be hearing a LOT more about it in the next few weeks and beyond!
To get more ‘time on feet’, the run back up to Athelstone would be an ideal solution. Plus I’d be wearing my race vest, which I’ve run a few 10k runs in, but 21k would be better for ultra training. AND, I could have a bonus sleep-in on Sunday – rather than having to get to Pinky Flat to catch a bus up to Athelstone for the start, I could drive straight to Athelstone.
Apart from it being a bit insane, this plan was thrown into disarray when Adelaide United qualified to host the A-League (football/soccer for the uninitiated) Grand Final on Sunday afternoon. Running Greenbelt, waiting for the presentations, then the slow plod back up to Athelstone, would mean I’d really be pushing it for time to get home, showered and on the bus back into town for the big game.

I found a compromise. Beck was also running Greenbelt and lives near me, so I would get a lift with her to the city, leave my backpack in her car, bus it up to Athelstone, run the race, smash out a PB, see the presentation, don the backpack and then run the approximately 8km home. With a short warmup before the race itself, that would make 30km all up. A pretty good day at the office, incorporating training for both a marathon and an ultra!

I had to carefully consider my race day outfit. I wanted to run in one of my South Australian Road Runners Club singlets (as I had at Clare), as I wanted to fly the SA flag at Gold Coast and needed to train in the top I would be racing in. I also needed something that would be comfortable under the backpack on the way home, so that meant no metal bra clips (spoiler alert – this would lead to chafing and probably tears). 

Although my ‘wounds’ from Cleland had healed up nicely, the graze on my hipbone was still causing me some trouble and was in the MOST inconvenient spot, I still couldn’t wear jeans comfortably even by Friday! (On discussion with a colleague during the week we decided that rather than a graze it was probably actually a friction burn from my clothing – that would explain how it happened with no damage to my clothing!) I therefore had to pick shorts or a skirt that would not rub in that area!

During the week I had bought some 2XU compression socks which I had tried on and LOVED. And they were such a pretty shade of purple! I was SO keen to wear them for Greenbelt! However sanity prevailed and I decided not to take the risk of trying something brand new on race day. I went with the old tried and tested Compressport compression sleeves. Maybe I will wear them for UTA100 and/or Gold Coast but I will definitely be road testing them first!

On Saturday night there was some pretty wild weather, mostly strong winds with a bit of rain. Not exactly ideal conditions to run a PB!

On race day I got ready as usual as well as preparing my race backpack for the run home. Beck picked me up at 6:15 and we made our way to North Adelaide to catch the bus to Athelstone. I pointed out a girl in front of us as we walked to the bus (she ended up getting on the bus in front of ours) and said, “See that girl there? She’s gonna win it”. It was Micarla, who in the past 4 weeks had won both the Clare half and the Cleland 24k.

We arrived at Athelstone Primary School in plenty of time and had to make the tough choice, toilet first, or warmup? We decided on the former, and it was a good choice, because the toilets were already struggling to flush (presumably not used to 800 people using them in the space of an hour) and were likely to get worse as the start approached! The sky was looking pretty black and it seemed inevitable that it would rain on our parade at some point.

Beck and I did a quick 1km warmup to loosen the legs and then she peeled off her extra layers as we counted down to the 8:00 start. I got to catch up with a number of people, some of whom I had only previously met in passing, some who I had not seen in some time. That’s probably one of my favourite parts of events (well that, and of course the finish!)
Beck and I were aiming for sub 4:50 average pace. That would be a PB for her and pretty close for me. Hopefully I would have a bit left at the end to be able to increase the pace.

With 800 starters, the start line was pretty congested. I couldn’t even find Beck at first but I saw her off to the side. Within the first few hundred metres we had managed to connect! The 1:45 pacer, Rick, was a little way ahead of us (we’d eventually need to pass him to get our goal time) but we were happy to sit behind him for the first little bit, and just keep him in sight.

The first few kilometres were a bit slower than we would have liked, primarily because of the congestion and also because it was marginally uphill. As soon as we could overtake people and get a bit of daylight in front of us, we did. It meant we would have to run a bit faster to get back to our goal pace.

We hadn’t planned to overtake the 1:45 ‘bus’ at any particular stage, just sometime before the finish line! At around the 6.5km mark, the ever expanding group was starting to impede our progress. It was time to make a move. We overtook the bus and almost immediately after that, the threatened shower eventuated. It wasn’t heavy and it wasn’t long but it was enough to make the ground a bit slippery. Especially since pretty soon after that we would encounter a wooden walkway – I called out to everyone around me to be careful.

It was around this time that Beck and I found ourselves running behind two men, who she jokingly thanked for being a windbreak for us! They didn’t come with us when we overtook the bus, but it wasn’t long before one of them, Tom, was with us again. I had seen him before at parkrun but we’d never run together before in an event. We would end up going back and forth for the rest of the race. Also around us was Peter, who I had run with a bit at Clare. He wasn’t having the best day – we also went back and forth but after I passed him later in the race and then didn’t see him again, I knew something wasn’t right! He ALWAYS beats me – not by much, but by enough!

Greenbelt is an undulating course. Some very nice downhills (although with the congestion early on, we weren’t able to make the most of them) and some nasty little uphills. On the uphills I contemplated getting the whip out. This was something I picked up from another Peter. He would often give his thigh a slap to get him up hills. I thought of him as I went up the hills and wondered how he was getting on! (He later told me he got the ‘whip’ out once – he ran a pretty good time too so it obviously worked!)

I knew Beck wasn’t far behind me because at one point I heard her distinctive laugh. It sounded like she was going OK but I dared not look behind me. How does the saying go, ‘Never look back, unless it’s to see how far you’ve come.’

15km was my ‘wall’. I’m not sure why, but as soon as I passed that marker, I guess I knew it wasn’t going to be a PB for me. It was just a hard slog. (Kym, who I had seen marshalling at 2 points along the way and who is pretty much trail running royalty around these parts, said to me after the race that you can’t expect to have a great race after a tough trail race the previous week. He was probably right.)

The slow start and subsequent push to get back under 4:50 pace probably took a bit out of me and meant that my ‘traditional’ fast finish wasn’t on the cards. Then there was Cleland last week. So yeah, there were probably a few contributing factors.

Around this point I saw a few friendly faces. Chantel, who is on the comeback trail from a nasty bike accident was out taking photos because she wasn’t yet ready to run it. It was great to see her smiling face out there. Hopefully she’ll be able to join me at Gold Coast in July! Then not long after that I saw Nat, my cycling coach, on a drink station. I gave her a cheer and a thankyou – I didn’t stop at all for drinks because I was carrying my own. It was great to see her regardless.

The rest of the race was a bit of a blur. There was my friend since high school, Tracie, official photographer in Elder Park – hopefully I gave her some good shots! After passing Tracie I said to those around me (but probably more for my own benefit) “Look straight ahead. Do not, whatever you do, look right”. That was because on the right, across the river, was the finish line. We were still more than 1km away from reaching it – we still had to run up a nasty little hill, back across the Torrens Weir, and along the other side. Seeing the finish line now would be just demoralising. We knew it was there, but seeing it just made it more real!

I had stopped looking at my watch by now. “Que sera, sera”, I thought. I didn’t think I had made up enough time and I didn’t really have a whole lot left to smash out a fast final km.

When I felt my watch vibrate to signify 21km I knew I had about 200m to go. My watch had consistently been about 100m ahead of the actual distance. Possibly because I hadn’t started right at the front of the 800-strong pack, maybe the overtaking along the way, and maybe simple satellite inaccuracy, or a combination of all 3. I entered Pinky Flat and could finally see the beautiful sight of the finish line! Despite being pretty much spent by this point, I was sure I had another 200m left in me!

I picked up the pace and managed to pass a few runners as I approached the finish line (admittedly mostly 10k runners, but still…) and rounded the bend to cross the line in 1:42:47 by my watch. A little disappointing, being 20 seconds SLOWER than Clare, which most would say is a tougher course. (My official time was 1:42:44 – a lousy 1 SECOND off my Greenbelt PB from 2 years ago!)

I remembered to get my medal first before ducking under the bunting to collapse in a heap! It was not 30 seconds later that I saw Beck cross the line for a new PB! She was stoked and I was too, for having been a part of it! She said she had been able to see me the whole way – my choice of a hi-viz yellow top probably helped! We are both hoping to run Boston qualifiers this year and based on that run today she is well on track!

I then got to my favourite part of any race, getting to catch up with friends to see how they went. Greenbelt being a point to point course, after the start you don’t see anyone unless you pass them or they pass you. The fast people at the front I would not see again until the finish. That girl I said would win? She did! Not a bad 4 weeks for her – 2 half marathon wins and a state trail championship! I saw both the Peters – one had a great run, the other not so much. Another regular running buddy John (well we don’t run together that much, mostly because he is too damn fast!) had done a PB and come so very close to his goal of breaking the 80 minute barrier. Imagine. 80 minutes. At this point I’d be happy to break 100 again! (I know it is possible. I’ve done it once!)

After the presentations it was time for the hard run home. It ended up being a bit over 9km, mostly (ever-so-slightly) uphill, on tired legs with my UTA100 backpack. I was so happy that Adelaide United had forced me to abandon my plans of running 21k back to Athelstone. 9km was more than enough, thankyou very much! I was never so happy to crack open an icy cold can of Coke than I was when I staggered in the front door just after midday! I had managed to fit in a relatively fast half marathon as part of my marathon training, as well as some ultra training on top of it. It had been a good day.

And as history shows, it got better. There wasn’t time to collapse on the couch and become a vegetable for the rest of the day – I had an A-League Grand Final to get to! So I quickly demolished a pizza and got a bus into town. And my team, Adelaide United, the mighty Reds, prevailed 3-1 in front of 50000 roaring fans at the Adelaide Oval, which I had run past only hours before.

So yeah.

It was a pretty good day!