FINALLY… A RACE REPORT! Murray Bridge Marathon Festival 2020

Hi, my name is Jane and I am a runner (in case anyone has forgotten…)

It has been approximately 420 days since my last race report (Mt Crawford Challenge 2019) and 413 days since my last event (City-Bay half marathon 2019 which was so disastrous it did not even warrant a race report – actually I’ll give you one now. Ran-limped the first 1km and walk-limped the last 20.1km then got a pretty sweet medal and didn’t run again for about 4 months)

As I said in my last post, I started this blog as a way to share my race reports so it has been a bit challenging to find remotely interesting stuff to write about in between my summer of slothdom and the year of COVID-19!

So it is with great pleasure that I give you my latest race report – from today’s Murray Bridge Marathon Festival!

(NB: Apologies for the lack of photos but I was so excited to actually be able to write about something other than my progress on the drums and the antics of my cats, I wanted to share this with you all ASAP and the official pics are not yet done. I may add race photos later as they come out!)

This was the second running of the MBMF and my first time. Last year’s event was in June which would have been vastly different conditions to this year’s event (presumably postponed due to the aforementioned ‘C-word’). I’m told, by those who were there, that it was pretty chilly, both at the start and standing around at the finish. This year the forecast was for a 26 degree maximum, which is a bit warmer than most of us are comfortable running long distances in, although the 8 degree overnight minimum would make for relatively pleasant running conditions at least in the early part of the race.

I didn’t know much about the course – I usually prefer not to study the course beforehand unless there is a danger of getting lost. All I knew was that there was a little bit of elevation and an uphill bit right near the start. There was a full marathon, half (which I was doing), 10k, 5k and 3k. They started at 5 minute intervals, longest distance to shortest. The marathon course was 2 laps of the half marathon course. I’m always happy to be doing the half marathon on these types of courses!

The elevation map. The spike at the start looks scary but it was not that bad!
The half marathon route – looks convoluted but with excellent course marking and marshals at key spots, it was actually quite easy to follow!

I had only entered relatively late, my initial plan being to run the City-Bay half (scheduled a week from today) to atone for last year, and MBMF being my back-up if, as I suspected may happen (and eventually did happen), the City-Bay was cancelled. As soon as I heard that C2B was officially off, I was straight onto my phone to register for MBMF – with COVID and social distancing etc, I thought they would probably have a cap on numbers and also that a lot of other people would have had the same idea as me, to enter MBMF as soon as they knew C2B was cancelled.

The numbers were pretty impressive – 6 days out they had 370 registered entrants. (I think maybe they had 200 last year?) I’m sure the lack of events in 2020 due to COVID had a lot to do with that! I know a lot of people had come back for more after enjoying the event in 2019.

Looking at the actual numbers on the day (because I like numbers!) we had:

  • Marathon: 46 finishers
  • Half marathon: 97 finishers
  • 10k: 98 finishers
  • 5k: 92 finishers
  • 3k: 12 finishers

Going back now, once I started running again and running 10-12k pretty consistently, I decided that before the end of the year I was going to run a half marathon. I had 3 earmarked in November – MBMF, C2B, and also the Great Southern Half which I had done last year. That was my 3rd choice for several reasons – one, that I had done it before, and two, being late in November it could be potentially quite hot. MBMF for me was a guaranteed PB which was a big attraction for me!

Prior to running an official half I wanted to run the distance, just so I knew I could, but also so if anything happened and I was not able to run an official half this year, I could at least say I had run the distance. That worked out to be 2 weeks ago. I opted to run along the River Torrens which, for those who don’t know, is a VERY popular running route in Adelaide (3 of Adelaide’s biggest parkruns – by the way I’m super excited that we’re getting our parkruns back in 3 weeks – but I digress!) and is a great way to get a long run in without having to cross any roads or stop for traffic! (You just have to watch out for bell-less bikes and disobedient doggos!) I chose to run ‘up’ the river, towards the hills, because I knew I could get an uninterrupted 10.55km without crossing the river, plus it would be uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back – perfect for a negative split!

I had in my mind that I wanted to aim for sub 1:50 for my half – which would have been somewhat easier had it been City-Bay which is a very fast and flat course and often with the aid of a tailwind (although, if the second half is aided by the wind, the first half would be running into it…) I had done one river run a few weeks before that, where I had set myself to run exactly 1:50 and the distance I ran was 20.7km (most of my running friends probably would have gone the extra 400m and made it a half marathon but I was determined to stick with the plan, which has served me very well so far. (Right from the start, my physio Beck has set my programme by time, not distance – I recall back in late January it was 20 minutes of 1 min run/4 min walk every second day, gradually progressing up to 1 hour 3 times a week, and then I was able to start increasing one of those runs by 5-10 minutes each week.

This particular day I was due to run 2 hours, but given that I’d ALMOST completed a half in 1:50, I figured for once I’d go by distance and just run a half distance, which presumably would take less than 2 hours. After all, I wasn’t going to run any further than a half anytime soon, so what would be the point in running further than that in a training run now?

In the second half of the training run I decided that my 1:50 half marathon goal might not be all that realistic, and I should probably be happy with anything in the low 1:50s. I hadn’t factored in the fact that the second half of that training run was net downhill, and when I closed in on 21km I realised that it was possible to go under 1:50 but only if I sprinted the last 100m or so. I just snuck in (Strava says 1:49:58, and my last 100m was at 4:15 min/km pace) so I was pretty happy with that, and if I wasn’t able to replicate that at MBMF, at least I could say I ran a sub 1:50 half this year.

It may not be an official half but it is on Strava therefore it happened!

In the week leading up to MBMF, I did a lovely 2hr trail run with my old buddies Beck and Kate (definitely keen for more trails now I’ve ticked off my half for the year!), then did my usual Tuesday and Thursday runs.

You don’t get to see this very often when road running!

I tempted fate and collected my bib on Thursday night at a special event held at the Nike store in Adelaide – then proceeded it to leave it in my car until Sunday, so paranoid was I that I would leave it at home!

The thought of forgetting my bib was frankly horrifying (my carpooling buddy agreed with me!)

I’d allowed myself about an hour to get there – knowing it would be closer to 50 minutes – that would get me there at least 30 mins before the start with plenty of time to wish the marathoners luck and stand in line for the toilets as per usual at these types of events (which amazingly didn’t happen – I walked straight in! Winning!)

It was pretty chilly at the start which I believe is not unusual for this part of the world (in recent times I’d only been to Murray Bridge once, and that was for a parkrun (of course!) 4 years ago which I remember most for one of the longest ‘post-parkrun coffees’ I’ve ever had!) I had a tank top and skirt, calf sleeves (which I tend to use for all long runs these days) and my awesome new Lightfeet socks which I’d won as a result of having completed the 4 ‘Women’s Run In The Park’ events his year. I had arm warmers and gloves also – my hands were numb when I got to the start line – but I was fortunately able to take the gloves off 5 minutes before we started, as I would not have wanted to be carrying them once I got started!

I’d decided to wear my small race vest with 2 x 250mL bottles of Gatorade to minimise the need to stop at drink stations, which meant I really could ditch the gloves at the last minute and stash them in my pack. The arm warmers were not really required from a warmth point of view but they did come in really handy for wiping away snot and sweat later in the race (I do paint a pretty picture, don’t I?) I didn’t have any issues with the vest – I’d packed the bare minimum (I’d cleared out the snake bandage which I always carry on trail runs – hopefully I wouldn’t be needing that!) and hardly noticed I was wearing it. Plus it allowed me to carry my phone in case I needed it, without having to have it in my SPIbelt around my waist.

In my experience, there are 2 ways to run a half marathon (or marathon for that matter).

  1. Go out conservatively, don’t try to keep up at the start, run your own race, conserve energy and finish strong – hopefully with a negative split and reeling in a few other runners in the closing stages
  2. Go out hard and try to hang on.

I didn’t really have a plan as such but I was loosely hoping for option 1.

Now the first km is slightly downhill so what would normally be considered a bit too fast, was not actually that bad. My slowest km of all was the second one which had most of the elevation in it (the big spiky bit!) I was planning to sit on low 5:00 min/km pace at least for the first bit but it didn’t quite work out that way so I decided that probably today was the day for option 2. Why not, what did I have to lose? It was going to be a PB one way or the other, and I have been given pretty strict instructions to take it REALLY easy for the next 3-4 weeks (I heard that as 3 weeks) so there was no reason not to leave it all out there. Even if I crashed and burned in the second half, it really didn’t matter! Let’s just go for it!

The first river crossing came in the 3rd km, known as ‘The Murray Bridge’. It was pretty cool to be able to run across, as the sign said at the start of the bridge, the first road bridge across the lower Murray. And to be able to run on the road part of the bridge too, not the footpath bit, which we later encountered on the return crossing.

I know the course was quite scenic but I don’t think I really appreciated it as much as I should have, getting back into old habits of just concentrating on the running! There was quite a bit of gravel and a bit of dirt which made a nice contrast with the bitumen.

The first 10km I was running just behind a guy in a blue shirt, I did eventually pass him but for the first little bit he was setting a pace that I was very comfortable with, so I decided to just stay behind him (socially distanced of course!) I later found out that another guy Neil (who ended up finishing about a minute behind me, and with a PB no less, has been doing something very similar with me!)

EDIT: I found out after initially publishing this, that the guy in the blue shirt, Adam, had used me as a pacer after I passed him, and also got a PB! So that worked out well for both of us!

Being quite a small event compared with a lot of the others I have done, and with less marshal instructions to listen out for, a lot of the runners around me had taken the opportunity to run with headphones. I normally use music for my long runs (when I run solo, which I usually prefer to do) and occasionally podcasts for the really long stuff I used to do, to mix it up a bit! However generally in a road race I prefer not to, so I can take in the atmosphere and chat to fellow runners. I didn’t really get to do that much today, so I made sure I said ‘Good morning’ to a cow drinking at a trough very close to the road. That’s probably the first time I’ve done THAT in any of my half marathons (today was #25).

Given the imminent return of parkrun in South Australia (did I mention I’m a bit excited by that?) I decided to think of this half marathon as 4 and a bit parkruns. It’s also a handy way to break it down rather than listing all my 1km splits (which would be incredibly boring and also would make my pace look quite inconsistent which is generally is).

So here are my 4 ‘notparkrun’ splits:

  1. 24:11
  2. 24:17
  3. 23:46
  4. 24:44

Pretty happy with that, looks quite consistent when you break it down that way!

Just because I like numbers, I then worked out my first 10k and my second 10k and that makes me very happy:

  1. 48:30
  2. 48:28

Ignoring the last 1.1km which makes up a half marathon, that could almost be described as a negative split! Big smiley faces all round!

OK let’s get off the nerdy stats and back to the event. One moment that was equal parts frustration and relief, was when we crossed back over The Murray Bridge in the 16th kilometre, where we were ushered onto the pedestrian part of the bridge which was quite narrow. It brought back memories of trying to run across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – although on that occasion pretty much all of the other path users were not only walkers but also tourists taking photos! At least today we were all running! Two runners in front of me moved aside to let me pass (I did not want to try to pass anyone on this narrow path – one of my running friends sustained a very nasty injury recently when someone passed her on a single track during a trail run causing her to lose concentration, and subsequently trip and fall) – thanks to those guys! Ahead there were 2 other runners, and ahead of them a woman who I was trying to keep in sight – I STILL don’t know which distance she was doing, she could well have been a marathoner! I knew I wasn’t going to get past these other 2 runners, and therefore the woman was getting a bit further away, however I think at this stage in the run it was a blessing, because it kind of forced me to back off the pace a bit, ensuring I had something left for the end! It was really the only part of the course that had any kind of congestion – despite at least the 10k/21.1k/42.2k sharing the same final part of the course, the staggered start and not too huge field made it a really comfortable and well spaced run!

As you can see my last ‘parkrun’ was my slowest which didn’t surprise me – the ‘bottleneck’ on the bridge was part of it but fatigue was no doubt a bigger factor! Also, by the last few k’s I knew that a) I probably wasn’t going to catch the woman in front, and there were no other women close behind me other than those I knew were in the 10k or 42.2k and b) I was not only assured of sub 1:50 barring absolute disaster, but I was probably going to go sub 1:45 which I had never even really considered as a possibility! So I was able to back off the pace a little bit and still know it was going to be a really good day!

Other than checking my pace every kilometre or so, and also checking to see how far I had to go (and I did check it every 100m or so in the last km!) I wasn’t looking at my overall pace too much but it seemed to sit on 4:50 for quite a while but I stopped looking at my overall time after about 1:30. So when I crossed the finish line (a sprint finish, just like my ‘training’ half 2 weeks earlier, even though I wasn’t really chasing or holding off anyone – I was literally just leaving it all out there!) and I heard 1:42:42 let’s just say I was pretty happy!

Obligatory finish line selfie – because it has been a while!

And just to express my love of numbers a bit more (I promise, this is the last one):

Today was my 5th fastest half – super duper happy with that!

It was pretty warm out there but not too bad by the time I finished. The marathoners, with another lap to do, would have got VERY warm! Another reason I was happy to have done the half!

As a bit of an eco nerd I was particularly impressed that the cups used in the event were all compostable as well as those served by the coffee van (the iced almond latte went down a treat, as did the can of Coke at the finish line – I’d forgotten how good a post-run Coke tastes!)

Even the medals (made of balsa wood) are probably compostable – but this one now has pride of place on my medal rack!)

Congratulations to all the runners especially the marathoners and especially to regular running buddy Marjolijn (who probably won’t see this but still!) who did her first marathon in a pretty phenomenal time! Well done to Morgan and team for a superbly well organised event and a great course, and thanks as always to all the volunteers who made it all possible (although I didn’t utilise the drink stations myself, the course was very well supplied with them!).

I would definitely recommend this event, it has something for everyone and I would be keen to come back again!

And may I just conclude by saying IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK!!