Great Southern Runs Leconfield McLaren Vale Marathon – The Running Company Half Marathon

Official photo from Marathon Photos

Last weekend was the inaugural running of the Leconfield McLaren Vale Marathon, presented by Great Southern Runs. It seemed like an age ago that I entered, so I checked my emails and yeah it was 4 September 2020. I’m pretty sure “Early bird entries closing” and “Winery” got me over the line! It was the first event I’d entered since the stupid injury (the Murray Bridge half happened back in November, but I entered that in October).

The event took place over 2 days, with the shorter distance events being run on the Saturday (in pretty gnarly weather!) and the half and full marathons being run on Sunday.

I had entered the half marathon, with plenty of time to train. I got mixed up in the ATR Summer Series so that made it a bit challenging to fit in the longer runs, but I managed to get up to 20km a couple of weeks ago. I had never really done this before but I did a few long runs combined with parkrun (because I am rapidly closing in on 300 parkruns and I didn’t want to miss a parkrun if I could avoid it!). Because I like to socialise after parkrun, I didn’t want to have to do a parkrun and then keep running, so I decided to suck it up and start at arse o’clock to get the bulk of my long run in, and then finish it off with the parkrun. (And to time it so I had a short break between the two runs, but not so long a break as to cool down too much!). Having now done the half, and with no more events to train for for a little while, I am QUITE glad that I can go back to ‘just’ running 5k on a Saturday!

Great Southern Runs, if you recall, is the same mob that put on the Great Southern Half Marathon. Probably most memorable for its RIDICULOUS bling!

I was back in the vicinity of that very event earlier in the weekend. I have recently signed on as an Event Ambassador for parkrun in SA. There are quite a few of us now (I’m not sure of the exact number) and each one supports a number of existing parkrun events as well as helping set up new ones. This weekend the group of us were volunteering at Aldinga Beach parkrun, spending Friday night in a lovely beach house (a stone’s throw away!) for a little team bonding! It bucketed down with rain just before the parkrun start at 8:00, making me VERY glad I had opted for the half marathon over one of the shorter events, as I would otherwise be running in that! I was assured the weather would be better on Sunday!

RD Michelle multitasking like a boss!
The tail walkers are in – time for coffee!
A sea of purple!

The half started at 7:15, so I was up at 5 for breakfast before hitting the road just before 6. I didn’t put too much thought into what I would wear – in the end, because I haven’t done a lot of long stuff recently, I thought it would be safest to wear the same gear I wore for Murray Bridge. Plus, fluoro pink against an overcast sky, surely that would pop in the photos? (OK I didn’t think of that, I’m just thinking that now, but I’m definitely glad I opted for pink over black!)

After the Belair leg of the ATR Summer Series, you’d think I would have been more prepared for the cold start (and ESPECIALLY since I’d been down that way the day before!) but no. Still no gloves in the car! I did however have a hoodie and a beanie, so that’s something!

Not long before the start time, the half marathon runners were called over to the start. I had checked my bib and I was down for Wave 1 which I presumed would be the first wave. Malcolm, the timing guy, invited those in Wave 1A to step forward, the idea being that there would be approximately 50 runners in each wave (for COVID reasons, of course!). I figured Wave 1A would be followed by Wave 1, but he then said Wave 1B runners could line up behind Wave 1A. So where was Wave 1? In the end he said it didn’t matter which wave you actually started in, and I was getting cold standing around, and there was space in Wave 1A, so I decided to go. I crossed the timing mat which signified that there was no turning back, at which point I realised I may have just made a huge mistake.

What was I doing here? This was no Summer Series, with 2 waves, and me quite rightfully belonging in the first one.  In the half marathon there were 321 finishers, and with max 50 per wave, presumably at least 7 waves. I definitely did not belong in the first one! Plus, with the rest of them all being fast, I would be at the back of the pack, so all by myself! For the sake of 2 minutes (the time between waves) I could very well have waited for the second wave.

Anyway, I was committed now, so there wasn’t anything left to do but run!

I didn’t know much at all about the course. I seemed to recall someone mentioning hills, and it was cold and windy. So, I decided there was no point setting a goal time, although sub 1:45 did have a nice ring to it. I had had a shockingly good run at Murray Bridge and there was no way I was going to replicate that, so I might as well forget it! Just go out and run, and enjoy it! (I had arm warmers on, which conveniently covered my watch, so that made it easy for me to not look at my watch and ‘just run’!)

If you use your imagination it kind of looks like an emu with a really tiny head…

I wasn’t right at the back of the pack (The Running Company, the sponsor of the half, posted a video on Facebook of the first wave start. I was probably about three-quarters of the way towards the back). I was hoping that I would not end up last in the wave! I knew that I had to be relatively conservative at the start and not get dragged along by the fast ones (not that I had a snowflake’s chance in hell of keeping up with them!)

Looking back at my splits, I probably would have been a bit alarmed had I known at the time but my first 2  splits were 4:34 and 4:39. Looking closer at the analysis on Strava, they were both quite cruisy downhill kilometres so that seems about right! The 3rd kilometre brought the first uphill bit. This, I think, was when I started getting overtaken by people from the later waves. Every time someone passed me I died a little inside and it confirmed my hypothesis that I definitely should NOT have been in this wave! Looking ahead I could see Erin, who is a much faster runner than me, but I figured if I could keep her in sight on the straight bits, I would not be doing too badly! I actually almost caught her on that first hill but knowing my prowess (or rather, lack thereof) on hills, I figured there was no point as she’d only cruise straight back past me, as a lot of the other later starters were already doing!

Quite early on (arm warmers in use). Still reasonably happy at this stage! Official photo from Marathon Photos.

One of the things I really liked about this course was the multiple out and backs, where we got to see all the other half marathoners, and later, some of the marathoners!

Loved the out and back aspect! Official photo from Marathon Photos

I think it was around the 6k mark where I realised there weren’t any kilometre markers, and then I got a bit excited to see one with ‘7’ on it – had I somehow run 1km more than I thought I had! (Don’t you just LOVE it when that happens? It doesn’t happen very often, I can tell you!). No, the sign actually said ‘7km TO GO’. And it was LYING! We had at least 15km to go!!! (Turned out we’d go past that sign again, and this time it would be telling the truth!)

I actually liked the ‘to go’ markers. With a marathon being 42.2km and a half being 21.1, markers that tell you how far you’ve gone, let you conveniently forget about that pesky extra 100 or 200m!

Meanwhile I was trying to break the half down into parkruns (keeping up the parkrun flavour of the weekend!) by listening out for the beeps on my watch and trying to keep count. Until we started seeing the ‘to go’ markers at which point I started counting down the kilometres.

At the 10km mark I started to notice a light drizzle. I was weirdly hoping it would stick around but it didn’t last. I definitely remember at 15km willing it to start up again! It wasn’t exactly warm but a few light spots of rain definitely helped to cool off a bit!

I ran with my hydration vest as I had at Murray Bridge, the thinking there being that not having to stop at the drink stations should save me a little bit of time. As it turned out I didn’t end up drinking anything until after I’d finished, probably not the smartest move. Ironically, I reckon if I’d not carried hydration I would have drunk more! This time I only had water because I couldn’t be bothered mixing up any Gatorade – perhaps I may have been more inclined to drink if I’d had something other than water? Certainly it was nowhere near as warm as it had been at Murray Bridge, so hydration was less of an issue.

Towards the end there was another biggish hill (there were quite a few little ones, with two main ones, at the 3km mark and right near the end. I’m not the best going up hills. I may have mentioned that before.

YAY for hills! NOT!

I was pleased to see that Erin was still in sight, therefore I was keeping consistent. I had a bunch of people breathing down my neck and I was trying desperately to stay ahead of them, and in the process I actually managed to catch up with Erin!

Right near the end, within the last kilometre, I saw some bunting which I was sure signified the turn into the finish area, however I could also see a bunch of runners ahead of me who did NOT turn there! (You will just have to imagine the words that went through my head at that point!). Thankfully the turn was not too much further up the road (up, of course it was up) and then we were onto the grass to pretty much run a lap around the entire finish line village before finally hitting that magical finish line! (Forgive the self indulgence with the photos but the different facial expressions really tell the story!)

FInish line feels! Official photo from Marathon Photos.
FInish line feels! Official photo from Marathon Photos.
FInish line feels! Official photo from Marathon Photos.
FInish line feels! Official photo from Marathon Photos.
FInish line feels! Official photo from Marathon Photos.

My finish time was 1:42:24 (official time was 1:42:23.29 so presumably that would be rounded down to 1:42:23?) – given that I would describe it as not the easiest course and definitely not flat, I was shocked to realise it was nearly 20 seconds quicker than Murray Bridge – I’m sure the cooler weather conditions had something to do with it, maybe the fact that there were a lot more runners out there and I had people to chase/try to keep ahead of, not to mention the fact that I have an extra 5 months worth of training under my belt. Whatever, I’ll take it! This was half marathon number 26 (not counting trail halves as you can hardly compare the times!) with 7 of those being as a pacer. Of those, this was my 4th fastest (after 2015 Masters Games, City-Bay 2018 and Barossa 2016 – and all of those were significantly flatter according to Garmin. So yeah I have to be pretty happy with that!

With Kate and Tom at the end. Me looking very happy because I gots my coffee!

After the obligatory post-race coffee (because the wine bar was not open at 9am) I went to have ‘second brekky’ with regular running buddy Kate, her workmate Tom (doing his first half) and former running buddy Alison, back in town for a visit. And then of course, being in McLaren Vale, it would be rude not to stop off for a sneaky wine tasting on the way home…

OK it’s not the sponsor but to be fair, they weren’t open when we left the event – will have to come back another day!

A big CONGRATULATIONS to all the runners in all the events, especially those doing their first marathon/half/running event! And of course a huge thanks to all the organisers, sponsors and volunteers! I reckon I’d do this one again 🙂