Race Report – Clare Valley Half Marathon 2018

Clare was where it all began, sort of! In 2014 it was the site of my very first half marathon. Back in the days where you DIDN’T get a medal for a half marathon! I recall enjoying myself a lot and I even took a few selfies DURING the run!

A year later I somewhat ambitiously tried to break my all-time half marathon PB at Clare. I went out WAY too fast and as a result ended up walking much of the second half. It was the one time I recall seriously considering DNFing!

In 2016 I got my redemption, beating my 2014 time (that all-time PB is now well and truly out of reach!) and liking Clare again!

And then last year, Clare being just 2 weeks before the Boston Marathon, I opted to run the 5k – that was a bit of fun but I admit I did have some bling envy – the half marathon medals were SWEET!

This year, as I had decided not to run any marathons this year (or perhaps ever again!) I thought it was time I ran Clare as a pacer. It would be my 6th time as a half marathon pacer – twice at Adelaide, twice at McLaren Vale and once at Barossa. I’m not sure if I realised that the Five Peaks Ultra was the week before, but it’s entirely possible that at the time I volunteered to pace, I was not intending on running Five Peaks!

It was a good decision in the end – I probably would have run Clare anyway, and I would undoubtedly have been disappointed with my time. It’s hard to be disappointed with your time as a pacer (unless of course you’re way off the pace!)

After Five Peaks I had my first run on Tuesday, planning to try to run it at 2 hour HM pace (my watch was set to beep at me if I ventured outside the 5:30-5:45 minute per km range) and fellow SARRC Board member Gary ran with me. The idea was that if I couldn’t sustain that pace for around 10-11km, I would contact the club and ask them to find someone else to pace 2 hours on Sunday. As it turned out I did have difficulty sustaining that pace but I was going too fast, not too slow as I had feared!

I ran a bit slower on Thursday – still marginally too fast but as a pacer it’s natural to find it challenging to run slower than your body wants to! It’s far better than having to push yourself to your limits to run the goal time!

On Saturday I ventured down to try out the brand new Moana parkrun which is about a 50 minute drive south from my place. It was a beautiful morning for a run and the obligatory post-parkrun coffee!

After running a few errands on my way home I packed up all my gear (I’d already made a list – I love lists! They make me feel like I’m organised when I’m really not!) and started the longish drive up to Blyth, a small town about 13km out of Clare, where I would be staying on Saturday night.

I’d booked this accommodation AGES ago – Christmas Day, to be precise! Every year it seems to get harder and harder to find accommodation on the half marathon weekend! In 2014 I managed to score a bed in a cabin in the caravan park, in 2015 I stayed 20 minutes down the road in Auburn, and in 2016 I got really lucky with an AirBNB an easy walk from the Clare Oval! In 2017 I decided to drive up on the day (given that I was only running 5km that day!)

When I booked, all the cheap accommodation in Clare was ALREADY booked! From memory I think the only available accommodation was the country club, which for a place to crash, was going to cost way more than I was prepared to pay. I managed to find a room in the pub at Blyth for a fraction of the cost, and when I realised it would only take me a bit over 10 minutes to drive to Clare from there, it was a no-brainer!

I dropped off all my stuff at the pub and drove to Clare to collect my bib for the race, before heading back to Blyth (via Tim Adams winery – when in Rome!) to meet Tracie, who was one of the official photographers, who was also stayting at the hotel. While at Tim Adams doing a tasting I met a couple, Nikki who was doing the half and was hoping to go under 2 hours (so I told her to look out for me at the start) and her partner who was doing the 10k.

Tracie and I then drove back to Clare so she could scope out a few locations before dinner (and we timed it perfectly as Race Director Ben was doing some final measurements on the Clare Oval as we arrived to check it out – he was able to answer the questions she had!)

Then it was time for dinner – it seemed like Indii was where all the cool kids were! The food was delicious and they had a good range of vegan options! The waiter was pretty entertaining too, when he asked if I wanted “mild, medium or hot” I said “Mild” to which he replied “Extra hot?” and pretended to write it down! Then when Tracie ordered a wine (after I’d already ordered mine) he asked “A bottle?”. I definitely would eat there again! And most of the event team were there too – Ben, SARRC staff Cassandra, Lee-Ann, Harry and Paul, as well as super volunteers Sheena and Tracey. Definitely the place to be!

Then we headed back to Blyth so I could get my race gear all sorted and Tracie could sort out her camera equipment! Back at the pub I looked up at the sky and I’ve never seen so many stars! Wonder if it’s just because we were practically in the middle of nowhere!

In the morning I woke up before my alarm so I was all dressed and breakfasted in plenty of time. Across the hall from me were a couple of familiar faces, Naomi and Matt, both also doing the half marathon. I saw Matt in the hall and asked him to check the men’s toilet to see if they had a spare roll of toilet paper as there was literally 4 squares left in the women’s! The situation in the men’s was pretty much the same! I get the feeling the pub is not often booked to capacity as it was that night!

Anyway, Matt asked me to see if my key would open his door. That’s not a great thing to have to ask especially on the morning of what was his first half marathon, and when all your running gear is inside the room! Yep – they’d locked themselves out of their room, which in a large international hotel would not have been such a big deal but in a country pub without 24 hour reception…

Of course as well as all their running gear they’d also locked their phones in the room so we used my phone to try to phone hotel reception (not surprisingly at 6:45ish on Sunday morning the phone was unattended!) and then the after hours mobile number which also was not answering. I had to leave to go and get ready for the start, so I gave them my printed receipt which had the phone number on it, so they could try to ring it again.

I packed up the car and made the short journey to Clare, arriving at the oval around 7:10 (for an 8am start) and noticed the carpark already looked pretty full and people were parking on the street, so I parked just outside the gates of the oval. (We had a record number of registrations, smashing the previous record, with 1028 people registered across the 21.1k, 10k, 5k and kids’ fun run)

I collected my pacer bib and attached that and my race bib to my Spibelt, and collected my green pacer balloon from Lee-Ann. Then after putting sunscreen on (it was forecast to be an unusually warm day for this time of year and for Clare) I went to join the long queue at the toilet block. The leisure centre, which has ample toilets, and has always been open for us in previous years, was not open as the person with the key was running late! As a result there was a fair bit of angst as you can imagine! As I joined the lengthy queue, Beck (who had entered at the last minute with some encouragement from Gary and me – although we had been suggesting she run the 10k and she’d decided to do the 21.1 instead!) came past and told me about another toilet near the playground with 2 toilets and 3 people! Of course by the time I got there there were a few more than 3 people there! (As a few of us started heading that way we saw a group of people running – and wondered, is that the 5k or the 10k starting already – as it turned out they were just super keen to get to the toilets!)

The queue didn’t seem to be moving and time was ticking – the scheduled race start time of 8am was fast approaching! Some people decided they couldn’t be bothered waiting and made their way back to the oval. One of our ambassadors, Ryley, came past and told us about some OTHER toilets with no queue, but I’d been through that already – I was going nowhere!

Some of the others in the queue noticed my green balloon (I hadn’t gotten into my costume yet) and kindly offered to let me jump the queue, as it was going to be really tricky for me to do the 2 hour pacing if I missed the start! As it turned out it wasn’t necessary as someone came past around that time and told us that the start had been pushed back 10 minutes, to which we breathed a collective sigh of relief, and as if by magic the queue started moving!

Even so, I only made it to the start with a few minutes to spare – I quickly changed into my Luigi costume (as in, Mario and Luigi) and dropped my bag at the bag drop area, and joined the huge crowd at the start line, positioning myself just behind the 1:40 and 1:45 pacers.

This was taken at the end but I pretty much looked like this at the start, except less sweaty!

For the first time ever, while Ben was giving the race briefing, I had not one but two guys wanting to take selfies with me!

And neither of them were Gary – inf fact I hadn’t met either of them before!

And before we knew it, we were away!

As per usual I decided to start my watch on the gun, even though my official time wouldn’t start until I crossed the timing mat (as it turned out, about 12 seconds later). That way I would come in just under 2 hours on the clock, so anyone who came in with, ahead of or even just behind me, would get the sub-2.

Over the course of the race I had different people with me and at times I was running on my own, but the role of the pacer is to stick with the goal pace, and the people will come and go! It’s hard when you have to tell the people on your ‘bus’ that you have to up the pace to get back on goal pace, knowing that they may not be able to stick with you, but that is the job of a pacer!

With me near the beginning was Steve, who had run half marathons before but this was his comeback run after a year’s break, and another girl called Jen who promised to buy me a glass of wine if she got under 2 hours! (Unfortunately I think she fell off my bus pretty early on!) There was also Vienna, who was also hoping to go under 2 hours and is doing her first marathon at Adelaide next month.

My impression had always been that the first half of the Clare half (essentially an out and back course) is mostly uphill. This was the first time I’d run as a pacer, so the first time I’d actually been able to take it all in. I realised for the first time that it’s not actually all uphill on the way out! There’s a point, I think around the 9.5km mark, where there is a sign that says “You have reached the highest point” (or words to that effect). Every time I’d run Clare before, I could have sworn it feels like it’s uphill both ways, even though that’s clearly impossible! So, when it feels like it is uphill when you turn around and start heading back, it is actually uphill, you just don’t notice that as you come into the turnaround, you’re actually running DOWNHILL!

The first half is generally slower, but I was aiming to stick to an even pace – 5:35 to 5:38 per kilometre. That would mean that the back half should feel relatively easier. To try to plan pacing for a negative split was too hard and would require calculations instead of letting my watch do all the work. Forget that!

Anyway, as it turned out, that was easier said than done and I decided instead to try to get to the turnaround at 5:40 pace and speed up in the second half.

The half marathon leader, Bryn, in the red and white of the Adelaide Harriers, was a VERY LONG WAY in front when he passed us, running back while we still had a good few kilometres to go before the turnaround! I later watched the start line video and he was ahead right from the gun, and in the end he was OVER 8 MINUTES ahead of second place, and I believe also set a new Clare course record in the process!

Passing me on the way out was Steve, a friend who I hadn’t seen in YEARS, who had recently taken up running. I was amazed he recognised me in my Luigi costume with my blonde hair! He told me his brother Rob was a bit further back so I made sure to look out for him! I did eventually run into Rob who I later found out was doing his VERY FIRST RACE – as if you pick a half marathon as your first race! How about a nice 5k or 10k to ease into it! Turned out he did pretty well too, finishing not far behind me in just over 2 hours!

In the back half I gradually tried to make up time, which wasn’t too hard to do, I estimated that getting to 5:35 pace would have me sitting just under 2 hours, and then I’d just have to hold that pace until the finish. My watch was reading about 100m long (ie when I got to the 5k marker, my watch was sitting on 5.1km) so I had to factor that in when working out my pace.

I also started having wardrobe issues – I’d never run in the Luigi outfit before, and yes it was quite hot to run in (although I was glad that the outfit included a hat!) but the biggest issue was the damn right strap of the dress coming off my shoulder at least a couple of times every minute! I wished I’d had the time and the sense to pin it in place! Next time… (and let’s face it, there probably won’t be a next time for Luigi in a half marathon…)

Along the way I passed Gary who had done Five Peaks last weekend too, he had hoped to stay ahead of me but wasn’t quite able to hold on!

With about 4km to go I was able to do some maths in my head. I was sitting on around 1 hour 35 which meant I had 25 minutes left to run. 4km in 25 minutes is over 6 minutes per kilometre. I was sitting comfortably on 5:35. At that pace I would be finished several minutes too early and that just wouldn’t do! So I slowed my pace down and managed to sit on just under 6 minutes per kilometre for the next few kays.

I then caught up with Gary (different Gary!) who had been looking pretty strong when I’d seen him pass me earlier, but who had since had Achilles issues and had had to walk a fair bit. At that point a runner had collapsed (bringing back memories of the Scottish leader at the Commonwealth Games marathon last week!) and a few people were tending to him, and Gary advised me that the medical people had been called and were on their way, so there was nothing for me to do but keep running!

Gary and I ran together for the last few kilometres and he ended up finishing just ahead of me. We ran past the swimming pool, under a bridge and around a corner, a very familiar route. On the last little bit of path before we headed back to the oval and the finish line, I saw a few familiar faces including SARRC Chair Voula who assured me I was spot on pace!

I crossed the finish line in a gun time of 1:59:33 which was pretty perfect – it meant that people who were JUST behind me would also get in under the 2 hours. My net (official) time was 1:59:19 (ie starting from when I actually crossed the start line) which I was also pretty happy with although it was the gun time that I was more interested in.

Chilling (actually probably more like ‘melting’) at the end with Gary, Brandy and Beck who all did the half marathon too!

As I was a late entrant, as per the new SARRC policy, I was not guaranteed a medal on the day, which didn’t really bother me as long as I got one eventually! The three events of the ‘Triple Crown’ this year (Clare, Greenbelt and McLaren Vale) would all have medals that could be joined together to make an extra special ‘Triple Crown’ medal. So as long as I got my Clare medal by the time I finished McLaren Vale (in October!) I would be happy! The great thing this year is that the 5k and 10k also get medals, so if you do all 3 events but don’t run the half marathon at all 3 events, you still get 3 medals that link together! Very cool!

I understand why late entrants can’t be guaranteed a medal on the day. Firstly, it’s a GREAT incentive to enter events early – we do tend to get a rush of entries at the last minute, which makes it hard to get the number of medals right! We don’t want to run out of medals but nor do we want to be left with a surplus of medals that can’t really be used for anything. Also, and possibly more importantly, in previous events where we have run out of medals on the day, it’s the later finishers that end up missing out. They may have entered months ago, and other faster runners may have only entered a few days earlier and got a medal where the slower runners missed out. This way, if you enter before a certain date, you get a personalised bib and a medal on the day, and the later entrants get a generic bib which means you don’t get a medal until later. I know some people weren’t very happy about this but as I said earlier, it’s a great incentive to get in early! I for one like to have a bib with my name on it if possible!

In the later stages of the run I passed someone who kind of looked like Naomi, although she hadn’t been in her race gear when I’d last seen her back at the hotel, so I couldn’t be sure. Shortly after I finished, I saw her again, it WAS Naomi! And she’d made it just under the 2 hours too! She had managed to make contact with the after hours manager who had come and let them into their room and they’d made it to the start in time! Not an ideal way to start a race but they made it! Matt also finished his first half well under 2 hours! (And Naomi won wine in the lucky prize draw afterwards too so it turned out to be a pretty good day after a less than ideal start!)

After rehydrating and caffeinating it was time for the presentations. Voula asked me to help out with handing out the trophies for the kids’ event which was a lot of fun (as I was still dressed as Luigi, although I’d left my moustache in the car!)

After the serious presentations for the 5k, 10k and 21.1k were done (I handed over to Gary for those!) and in between a bit of packing up I went over to the pizza van where Tracie was having some lunch before we went and hit up one more winery! At the pizza van I ran into Scott and Sharlene, Scott had been going back and forth with me a few times throughout the day (and complaining every time I passed him – but in a good-natured way of course!) but thankfully ended up finishing ahead of me! Sharlene had been one of the lucky winners of a SARRC competition earlier in the week to win accommodation at the Clare Valley Motel – a definite upgrade from their previously booked site at the caravan park!

The whirlwind trip to Clare ended with a very entertaining stop at Mad Bastard Wines – I chose it purely because of the name, and the ‘Mad Bitch’ glass that Tracie’s wine was served in on Saturday night! We were greeted by the winemaker Mark saying “F*** off” but that was all part of the charm of the place! The wines were great, and the atmosphere was really cool. I’d definitely recommend it if you like good wine but don’t like to take it too seriously!

This is a thing at Mad Bastard Wines, apparently! Me with my ‘Mad Bitch’ glass – great marketing! And also note I am wearing a medal – there were a few left at the very end so I managed to get one after all!

The weather was perfect – OK maybe a little bit warm to be running in an outfit that CLEARLY was not designed for running, but such a beautiful day to be out and about! (It was around 25 degrees when I finished  – pretty warm for mid-April! The last time I ran the half in Clare my lips were blue at the start!)

The crowd was sensational, yes there were a few issues with the facilities at the start but these things happen (shit happens, if you will!) and the staff and volunteers dealt with it admirably.

Congratulations to all the runners and walkers who made this the biggest and best Clare Half Marathon festival yet! Special congrats to those for whom this was their first half marathon, or first race – you definitely picked a good one! And from a selfish point of view, extra special congrats to all those who managed to get sub 2 hours (or close to it) and I hope I helped in some way!

And I know I say it every time but it needs to be said. MASSIVE HUGE EPIC THANKS to all the event team and the volunteers. Special mention to RD Ben, timing guy Malcolm, SARRC staff Cassandra, Lee-Ann, Paul and Harry, and Sheena who was supposed to run the half but sacrificed her run to help out at the finish line. Without you and all the other amazing volunteers there would be no race for the rest of us. I’ve been running SARRC events for just over 5 years now and I have seen them get better and better, moving with the times and today’s numbers just speak for themselves! And thanks to the community of Clare for being so supportive of this event over the years!

If you’re thinking about running Clare next year, I have a few pieces of advice for you.

(1) DO IT!

(2) Book your accommodation early!

(3) Get someone else to drive so you can take full advantage of some of the dozens of excellent wineries in the region!

For those who are running the Adelaide Marathon (not me!) congratulations – by my calculations it must be just almost taper time! Enjoy it and best of luck for Adelaide!