Race report – Barossa Marathon Festival

Barossa Marathon 2015 was my second marathon (a year to the day after my first), a new PB and the subject of my very first blog post. 

A year later (give or take a few days) it was back to where it all began, this time to run the half marathon.
There could hardly have been a bigger contrast between the two events.
Last year, it was the culmination of 16 weeks’ hard work which was rewarded with a PB. 6 weeks later, I managed to scrape home at Gold Coast for another PB. This year I was definitely racing the half, but the big picture was the Gold Coast marathon in 5 weeks and a Boston qualifying time, therefore it was not just a race but also a marathon training run. (A repeat of last year’s Barossa or Gold Coast time will qualify me for Boston next year)
The bigger story here was that this was Beck’s Boston qualifying race. I ummed and ahhed over the last few months about giving the marathon a crack, in the hope that I might be able to get my BQ time and then be able to relax and enjoy Gold Coast. But I knew that was unrealistic, especially 2 weeks after UTA100. So I had entered the half, partly just to be a part of which last year had been a very enjoyable event, and partly to make sure I could still run long and fast. 
Given that the marathon started at 7 and I had organised to go with Beck, it was an early start. I was up at 4:30 and we hit the road at 5. My race didn’t start until 7:45 which would mean I could have a very relaxed start once we arrived at Tanunda. We were aiming to get there around 6:00. As it gets very cold in the Barossa, I decided to pack my race gear and wear warm street clothes to the start. 
I had had most of my gear organised before going out to a comedy gig the night before. I was in bed by 10:30 so I got close to 6 hours sleep.
Beck was happy to drive up there but I would drive back. That was fair enough, remembering how I had to drive myself home from the marathon last year (I do not recommend it!) We took Beck’s car, being an SUV. I didn’t like her chances of getting out of my little Corolla after the marathon and the drive home!
You know how you never try something new in a race? Well I did several things differently this time.
Firstly, I started speed training on Friday morning. It’s something I have been meaning to do for some time but it never quite fitted in. Then UTA got closer and I focused more on that. Once I had recovered adequately from UTA I was out of excuses. A fast marathon needs speed training. The session this week was 4 x 1km reps. I was not as fast as I had thought I would be, but remarkably consistent which was a good start. And I pulled up OK on Saturday. 
Next, I ran parkrun on Saturday. I ran by myself and I somehow managed to avoid getting carried away like I normally do even when I’m trying to take it ‘easy’. Interestingly I ran almost exactly the same time I had run the week before when I was actually trying to run as fast as I could!
That afternoon I went to a BodyBalance class for the first time in probably a year. For the uninitiated, BodyBalance is a hybrid of yoga/Pilates/Tai Chi. It can be quite challenging and I have been known to be quite sore after, especially if I haven’t done it in a while.
I decided to wear my new 2XU compression socks, which I had only worn once before for a morning run (around 10km). I want to run Gold Coast in them so this was a perfect o to road test them in a longer, faster run. I put tape around my arches to prevent blisters (which I do in every race longer than 20km. I think it’s just superstition now but with new socks I was taking no chances).
Other than this I went with the outfit I plan to wear for Gold Coast – SARRC pink top and lulu skirt with Skins underneath. Given the cold start, arm warmers were also a necessity!
The drive up was uneventful except for a few erroneous road closures delaying our arrival at Faith Lutheran College until about 6:15. Still plenty of time for Beck and ample time for me. 
It was chilly, so while Beck got herself ready I went into the warm room where bib collection and bag drop were happening, and helped hand out race bibs. As 7am approached I braved the chill outside and went to watch Beck and the rest of the marathoners start the 42.2km journey. Beck was running with Jim, another regular running buddy over the last few years who had had a bad run at Boston and was hoping for a better run here at Barossa. Also in the marathon were regular Thursday running buddies John and Liam who looked to be in great form, and ultramarathon legend Andrew whose wife was enjoying the novelty of watching him in a race which would be over in just a few hours rather than taking the whole day!
They were off! After they were out of sight I quickly went back inside to the warmth and started to get myself ready. I didn’t have any sunscreen on me and I didn’t realise at the time that the first aid tent had some, but being a chilly overcast morning, and given that I wasn’t going to be out there all that long, I decided it probably wasn’t necessary. I did wear a hat as always and not long before our start, the sun came out which reminded me to get my sunnies out of the car!
I needed a warmup. My hamstring does not like a cold start so I now have to warm up for every race. Probably not the real big ultras (because I can use the first few kms as a warmup) but when I’m going for a fast time, I know a warmup is now mandatory. I ran about 800m before the hammy started to feel normal and then turned around and ran back. It was a surprisingly fast warmup! Was that an omen? I didn’t know!
I saw many familiar faces at the start, among them Nat, who was hoping for a sub 2 hour half and who had not done a race since August last year; Kate, who I had started several races with and was going for a PB; and Alison and Kay, who were pacing 1:50 and 2 hours respectively. Kay had run most of the first half of Barossa Marathon with me last year.
I was hoping for somewhere between 1:40 and 1:45, and Kate was aiming for just under 1:45 so we decided to start together. I had convinced myself that time didn’t really matter to me. 
Of the 9 halves I had raced before (I have also paced 2 but I’m not counting those), 6 of them had been sub 1:45 including the last 4. My Masters PB of 1:37:54 is so far beyond anything else I’ve ever done that I tend to discount it. I find it hard to believe that I actually did that time and harder to imagine I could ever get close to it again!
We started solidly but not spectacularly. In the first km Alison caught up with us. A rushed start meant that her watch didn’t start until about 300m in, throwing out her pacing calculations. Kate offered to swap watches with her and they almost did swap but then Alison said “No, you’re going to do a PB today!” We then moved on ahead as we needed to stay well ahead of Alison to get our goal times.
Our first 5km (according to Strava, where I am getting all my figures from) was 24:50, average pace 4:58 per km. 4:59 pace would sneak us in just under 1:45. Kate was a bit concerned we were going a bit too slowly but I assured her that if we started conservatively we would have the capacity to take it up a notch at the end.
Our next 5km was a very similar pace – marginally faster at 24:46 or 4:57. A solid first 10km, 49:36, average pace 4:58. Right on target.
I had had my energy drink as per usual, about 30 minutes prior to the start. I had forgotten whether I normally had my caffeine supplement before or halfway through a half marathon. I had decided halfway was the way to go. 10km was close enough to halfway so I took it and estimated that at current pace it would probably kick in at around 16km. This was the point at which I’d hit the wall at Greenbelt 4 weeks earlier, so it would be an ideal stage to get a boost!
My only other fuel was Gatorade in a hand bottle. I had about 500ml and estimate I only had about half or less during the race. 

Sometime in the first 10km we first saw the frontrunners in the marathon. A little later we saw some more marathoners who didn’t look like they were in the lead pack, and then we saw Paul, the 3:45 pacer. We hoped that Beck and Jim were in the pack in between the frontrunners and the pacer. Beck was going for around 3:40. She would need at least 3:42 to be confident of getting into Boston. Unfortunately we did see her and Jim, a little way behind the 3:45 ‘bus’ – things looked like they weren’t going to plan! 
Just ahead of the ‘bus’ was regular Friday and Saturday running buddy Peter, running his first marathon. He was looking strong. 
Kate and I reached 13km still on pace at 4:57. It was here that we parted ways with around 8km to go. My legs seemed to want to go faster and Kate told me it was time for us to split! I wished her well and started to pick up the pace a little.
The great thing about Barossa which I’m sure I mentioned last year, is that with the multiple out-and-backs you get to see so many of the runners! Like last year, people were commenting that I seemed to know everyone, cheering them on as we crossed paths. Well, I did know a lot of them but towards the end I was just calling out names on bibs, and many of the people I didn’t actually know. I hope it helped!
I saw Beck and Jim again one more time and they were still well behind the bus. I suspected that Beck was not going to get her BQ time and hoped she and Jim would still enjoy the rest of their run! 
I saw the frontrunners one more time too, including John who was sitting pretty in the top 5 and Andrew was also up there!
16km came. I first had flashbacks to Greenbelt and the mythical ‘wall’, but this time I decided to punch my way through it. The caffeine had kicked in and I suddenly had this amazing burst of energy. The last 5km were honestly a blur. I remember seeing my friend Tracie taking photos a few km from the end (I had seen her on the way out but too late to pose for her!) and also occasional running buddy and Instagram legend Chantel like a ninja in the bushes with her camera! 
After splitting with Kate, I did not look at my watch at all except when it vibrated to indicate another kilometre had passed. I only looked at my kilometre splits but not my overall time. Kilometre 17 was surprisingly fast at 4:22 (as it turned out, my fastest km).
On the several out and back sections I had seen regular running buddy Maxine, quite a way ahead of me. Each time she seemed to be maintaining her lead over me. I doubted I’d catch her. But then with only a few kilometres to go, I came up behind her, ran with her briefly and kept going. She was running AWESOMELY but she said she was nearly spent.
With around 1km to go I could start to hear the finish line. I remembered the finish last year and all the familiar smiling faces and people cheering for me. Unfortunately I also ran into packs of walkers, walking 3 or 4 abreast, meaning I had to go around them – not exactly what you want after running 20k! 
I reached the road leading around to the finish. I remembered to smile, knowing that David would be there with his camera, having taken some of my favourite photos from last year’s Barossa. (He told me afterwards that he was calling out to me, but I didn’t hear. I was so in the zone by then!)
I remember seeing Chantal, who along with husband Neil had run the 10k. I don’t remember much else!
I rounded the corner and hit the finishing chute. I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, got my medal from Naomi, and had a look at my time. 1:41:53 – far beyond what I had expected! That Masters anomaly aside, it was a new PB!
I had done my last 8km (since leaving Kate) at 4:35 pace and my last 5km in 22:43 or 4:32 pace. My overall pace was 4:49.

After taking all that in for a few minutes, I saw Kate finish. She got her PB! It was great to have played a small part in that story! Max ended up finishing only 10 seconds behind me and was understandably also very happy! 
I got cold really quickly when I stopped. I couldn’t bring myself to get completely changed so I put on a long sleeved top and Beck’s hoodie which I would give her when she finished. I noticed a few small issues – a hot spot under one of my toes that was probably the beginnings of a blister – served me right for trying new socks, but all in all I was happy with the socks. I also chafed a bit under one arm which was surprising considering I had run Clare half and also my Masters PB half in exactly the same top with no issues.
I got to see the first few marathoners finish. John finished 5th in 2:50 – a massive PB! Andrew also cracked the top 10 and a sub-3 hour time. 
Nat and Dave both broke 2 hours for the half. Nat later found out her official time was just over 2 hours but everyone knows Strava time is what counts. (My official time was actually 8 seconds faster at 1:41:45!)

I then went to get the all-important post-race coffee and then wine! (When in Rome…) and then see the rest of our friends finish their marathons.

I saw Mark finish, followed by Peter, who had done remarkably well in his first marathon considering his longest long run had been 27km! I missed seeing Liam finish but he had done a PB of just under 3:25.

We saw the 3:45 bus go by without Beck and Jim, and around the same time we saw Kath who had entered with not much training and had done amazingly well, along with Tina who had only entered on Wednesday and was treating it as a training run. A marathon as a training run? I couldn’t even contemplate that!
The cheering got really loud when Arwen approached – she broke the 4 hour barrier and had her own personal cheer squad! Even though her partner Vince later noticed that her marathon medal ribbon said ‘HALF MARATHON’ like mine! Oops!
Finally, not long behind Arwen we saw Beck and Jim. They had broken 4 hours but were both understandably disappointed that they had not achieved their goal times. I quickly ran around to the finish line to see them finish and (reluctantly) give Beck her hoodie. While she recovered I went to the car to get my warm jacket and her warm jacket and track pants. I put on both the jackets and went into the bathroom. People had told me my lips were blue but I was shocked when I saw my reflection – they were a lovely shade of purple!
We hung around for a while before heading back home. It was a funny drive home as I had never driven a BMW before and wasn’t used to the European indicators and windscreen wipers! I lost count of the number of times I put the wipers on or indicated the wrong way! Anyway, we made it home in one piece and a few hours later after a shower and quick lunch I picked Beck up again and we headed to the pub for the traditional post marathon drinks. Beck had had a chat to husband Steve who was already planning Beck’s next marathon, Adelaide in 11 weeks, with a longer taper. Steve was not willing to give up on the Boston dream and by the time we all headed off after drinks, the Adelaide plan was well and truly taking shape!
I was super impressed with Beck’s reaction to her race. I think I would have been a basket case! I do know now though, that if Gold Coast in 5 weeks doesn’t go according to plan, I will have a second chance at Adelaide and now I will have a buddy to run it with!