I have a relatively long history with this event (relatively long insofar as I only started running in late 2012), and plenty of reports to show for it.
My very first ever half marathon was at Clare in 2014 (pre-blog!) and I have also run the half in 2015, 2016 and 2018 (as a pacer). 2015 was memorable for being probably one of my least enjoyable halves (well it certainly was my least enjoyable at that point, but has now been well and truly superseded by the debacle that was City-Bay 2019!). I won’t forget it, I went out too fast trying for a PB and by the second half when I was supposed to be able to pick up the pace (because it is allegedly downhill) I had nothing left and did even resort to walking at times!
In addition to this I have also gone all the way to Clare just for 5km a couple of times – in 2017 (not wanting to run a half only 2 weeks out from the Boston Marathon but not wanting to miss out on the event altogether) and 2019. (There was definitely wine involved on those occasions though, so they weren’t wasted trips!)
In case anyone reading was not aware, the Clare Valley is a famous wine region, most famous for its Riesling. The event itself is held almost entirely along the aptly named ‘Riesling Trail’ which connects dozens of cellar doors – you can hire bikes and ride from winery to winery. I’m not sure why I have not yet done this, every time I go there I think I must do that, and yet every time I just end up running along the trail and not even stopping at any wineries!
Having not run the half here since 2018, and not run it ‘properly’ since 2016 (with all due respect, running as a pacer, while not without its challenges, is not a physically challenging exercise – in fact if you’re working hard when pacing, you’re doing it wrong!), I was super keen to get out there this year. It was also an ideal stepping stone towards my one marathon for the year (and first one in 3 years) Pichi Richi in June.
I’ve done 2 half marathons since my return from injury, Murray Bridge in 2020 and Leconfield in 2021, the latter being almost a year earlier. Those 2 events I trained specifically for, and it showed in the results, my times were way better than I had predicted, and then I realised that I’d never trained properly for a half before (all my previous halves had been as part of a marathon training programme)
This one was also going to be another one of those ‘training’ half marathons, although I did also want to do a good time (as I always do if I’ve paid good money for an event!) I worked out a rough 16 week marathon training plan, and then extended it back so I could be in a good place for Clare in April, so eventually my combined training plan was 20 weeks long. I’d used a similar 16 week plan for my first few marathons, which incorporated ‘easy’ and ‘tempo’ runs, but given that I have now done a few marathons and also I’m not expecting a PB at Pichi Richi (it’s a tough course, so I’ve been told), I’m not too worried about the weekday runs, the main thing I am trying to do is gradually up my long run, eventually getting to around 35km.
I decided to make a weekend out of it, driving to Jamestown (via the Clare Valley) and staying there Friday night, visiting Jamestown parkrun on Saturday and then motoring back to Clare to stay Saturday, and then head home sometime on Sunday after the run. I booked accommodation well in advance, because in past years, even having booked several months ahead, I still couldn’t get anything in Clare! I think COVID may have helped this year, with people perhaps being a little more reluctant to make long-term plans!
Having not done a half in a year, and having not written details of my taper in my last race report, I was kind of winging it a bit. The Sunday before Clare I really wanted to do an ‘easy’ 21km, because I am a bit behind where I had planned to be at this point in terms of long run distance, and I’d missed my long run the previous week due to the Cleland Summer Series event. Ordinarily you wouldn’t run a half marathon the week before a half marathon. Well I certainly wouldn’t. But I managed to get it done and at just the pace I’d hoped for, and most of it with other people (the last 7km on my own). I’m finding as the long runs get longer I am enjoying running them on my own less and less! I know when I did my first marathon I only ever ran with a group, but as I don’t have any other training buddies training for the same marathon it’s hard to find people wanting to run the same distance, so I think my best option is to try and find some buddies for at least PART of the runs!
During taper week I had a ‘drop down’ week, which I’d never done pre-injury but it had become quite a big part of my running routine once I got back into running again (every 4th week I’d drop my running distances back a bit). I probably haven’t done it in about a year but I thought I would try to do it right for once! Instead of the usual Tuesday and Thursday run of around 1 hour, I mapped out a shorter version of the run which should take about 45 minutes, give or take. I skipped my regular Friday run.
I was a bit undecided about parkrun on Saturday – on one hand I didn’t want to go into Clare having not run for 3 days, and I’d also spent a fair bit of time in the car (Jamestown is about 3 hours from home) so I felt like I needed a bit of a ‘leg loosener’. On the other hand, I’m not so good at the concept of an ‘easy’ parkrun. The Event Directors put me down as a second barcode scanner which meant that I could still run if I wanted to, but could decide on the day what I wanted to do.
In the end I decided to go hard and somehow ended up with a course PB – there were a few factors involved there. Firstly, I had been ‘encouraged’ by a running buddy (who sometimes gives good advice) to go hard – what could possibly go wrong? Secondly, I’d had an energy drink that morning – I had a new one for Sunday that I’d never tried before so I wanted to road test it before the day (it seems that it was effective!) Thirdly, local footy season had started and the footy players that I had been able to follow at the launch event, were not there (the attendance was only in the 30s as opposed to over 100 at the launch meaning I didn’t see so many people out on course to know I was on the right track – there was only one guy in front of me and he was a sub-20 runner, and I was desperately trying to keep him in sight for as long as possible! I’m still not sure if it helped or hindered my performance at Clare on Sunday but I guess we’ll never know!
Going back a step, because it is an important part of my reason for being there, Friday’s journey to Jamestown via the Clare Valley involved a couple of stops along the way, firstly to stock up on my whites at Taylors (given that I was driving I had to be selective about tasting, so I opted not to do a tasting there) and then to one that had been recommended, Jeanneret which also happens to be the home of Clare Valley Brewing Co. What a delightful place that was, I had a tasting sitting on a comfy chair in the sun, listening to nice chilled music and ended up going home with a lovely Botrytis Semillon. I will definitely be back!
After parkrun I checked out of the caravan park and had coffee at the ‘official’ parkrun coffee place, the intriguingly named ‘Ek-Wi-Tee’ with fellow tourist Mark, and because the rules state that if the parkrun coffee place has vegan cakes/slices, it is mandatory for me to have one, I also had a delicious lemon slice. It’s a really cool café which also doubles as a bit of a foodie store.
En route to my motel at Clare I did another winery stop, this time at Sevenhill, where I had stopped previously on my way to Jamestown but didn’t have a lot of time, and I’d planned to come back and explore a bit, including the church and the cemetery, such a lovely place, and so much history there! It didn’t hurt that it was another glorious day!
Now one of the downsides of an ‘away’ event (meaning one where I have to spend at least one night away from home), is that you have to be prepared well in advance and if you forget anything it can be problematic. Also I hadn’t done a half in a year so I’d kind of forgotten what my usual prep was. On this occasion I forgot to bring a drink bottle and Gatorade, and also layers for the morning, as it can often be cold in Clare at this time of year! Other than buying a new drink bottle just for this one event, and buying additional layers, I would just have to go without. As it turned out it was another stunning morning on Sunday and I didn’t even need to wear a jumper to the start, so I needn’t have worried about that! Possibly having some carbs on board during the run may have helped, but grabbing cups of water from the drink stations was not a drama and I am sure did not cost me any significant amount of time.
Saturday night I caught up with regular running buddy Sarah and her Ironman mates Mel and Peter for a pub meal and some sparkling shiraz. I was impressed that the pub had a separate vegan menu and I was tossing up between the tofu burger and the pasta. The pasta didn’t really excite me so I ended up going for the tofu burger which was substantial (a LOT of tofu in there, and a side of chips – plenty of protein and carbs!) but maybe could have been a bit more flavoursome – but again, if a pub has gone to the trouble of having proper vegan items on the menu, I am not going to complain!
Daylight saving ended on Sunday morning meaning an extra hour’s sleep which was ideal leading into an event (even more ideal for those who were driving up from Adelaide on race morning!). Many people I know prefer to sleep in their own bed the night before an event but I find that I sleep way better when I’m NOT in my own bed! Interestingly I vividly remember dreaming that I ran the half in 1 hour 42 which may have been a good omen? (1:42 was my PB for this event). My goal was sub-1:45 which equates to roughly 5 minutes per kilometre. I wasn’t convinced that it was going to happen – I hadn’t run at that pace for anything longer than 10km, for a good 12 months, but I had done my two most recent halves in under 1:45 (albeit with proper training) so it was not out of the realms of possibility! Still, I was confident I could do sub-1:50. I just needed to remember DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST!!!
Given that check-out time for my motel was 10am, it was going to be a bit impossible for me to run the half (with an 8am start), get back to the motel, have a shower and be checked out by 10, so I packed up the car (with all the wine and beer I’d accumulated over the past few days!) and drove the 1km to the start line. (Yes, I could have walked and a 1km stroll probably would have done me good!)
As I mentioned earlier it was a beautiful morning, I put my hoodie (which I was intending to wear to the start but ended up not needing) and thongs in a drop bag for the finish. I also left my phone in there as I didn’t want to carry it. I caught up with Beck, Kate, Sarah and a whole bunch of other regular running buddies who had also made the trip.
The finish line was at a new location this year, at the primary school instead of the main oval, due to renovations at the oval. The oval was an ideal location, firstly being very close to the main street, but most importantly because we had access to the gym changerooms for a post-run shower! It was a bit of a walk to the start but it was a good way to get the legs loosened a bit more! There were plenty of toilets – the school toilets as we came in off the street, and then 2 lots of portaloos, one at the finish area and more at the start line. From what I can remember the start line was at the same location as previously, just a little bit more of a walk from the school than from the oval.
The start was seeded, my understanding was that there were 4 waves, with the sub 1:40 and podium contenders in the first wave and 1:40-1:55 (where I planned to be) in the second. In the end the waves sort of morphed into one so we were away before I knew it!
The one thing I told myself I must to, was the one thing I failed to do: DON’T GO OUT TOO FAST!
The course is mostly uphill on the way out, with the high point coming just before the turnaround so it’s a little bit downhill heading into the turnaround, then a bit up on the way back until you hit the high point and then down from there. So to run an average 5:00 per km, given that the idea is to run a little bit faster in the second (‘easier’) half, you’d be wanting to run 5:05-5:10ish in the first half, to conserve energy for a fast finish. My first 2km were 4:38 and 4:50. No matter how much I try I never seem to be able to avoid going out too fast, but as long as I can pull myself back quickly, it’s fixable! I was really happy with my consistency in the next few kilometres (5:08, 5:07, 5:08, 5:06) and in fact I had a guy Mitch pacing off me for a little while there – normally I’m the one pacing off someone else so it’s nice to know I was doing something right! (Mitch and his buddies had also made the same mistake of starting too fast!)
Looking at my Strava splits, it looks like I started to pick up the pace around the 9km mark which happened to coincide with a nice little flat then downhill section. I was looking for the marker that indicated the high point (which I’d noticed for the first time in my last half there) but didn’t see it, but I knew when I’d passed it. The turnaround point came, I sang a few lines of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ and then kept going, hanging out for the high point sign (which I did see on the way back!) after which it was theoretically all downhill!
I was sitting on around 5:00 average pace at the halfway point, which was faster than planned but I still felt relatively comfortable so I thought I probably hadn’t cooked myself! If I could sustain that pace (and being downhill, ideally go a bit faster and neg split it) I would definitely be able to get sub 1:45!
Once I passed the high point on the way back, I kept an eye on my splits, knowing that anything under 5 minutes would put time in the bank. In the end, in the last 9km, I had 2 splits of exactly 5:00 and the rest of them were (mostly well) under. So I had no idea what my time was going to be but I knew that, barring disaster, it was going to be under 1:45 (probably not 1:42, mind you!)
Everything went smoothly, the finish was a bit brutal though, once coming off the Riesling Trail we were on road for a while and it seems that we did an entire lap of the block before finally arriving back at the school. By the time I got to the last 500m, I literally had nothing, my legs felt like lead! But I didn’t have to sprint, by that stage I knew for sure I was going to get the time I’d hoped for, and if it was only in the last few hundred metres that I had absolutely nothing, I’d take that!
My official time was 1:44:15 – so very happy!
After having a coffee and catching up with some friends at the finish, Kate’s husband Bill arrived with a bag of goodies for us including Coke and chips – I may or may not have professed my love for him at that stage! (It would have been good to be able to get a Coke at the finish line – I didn’t see any outlets selling any) and after refuelling/rehydrating we had the difficult decision of which winery to go to for a post-run celebratory wine? I suggested Paulett’s, primarily because I wanted to get some sparkling red piccolos to take home, and everyone was on board! It was a great choice, although we arrived at lunchtime with a full house, they were very accommodating and let us sit out on the deck with a glass of wine – and it was glorious!
What an awesome weekend, topped off with personally a very nice run, shared with a great group of people! Congratulations to SARRC for putting on a very successful event, well done to all the runners/walkers and as always thanks to the volunteers! I hadn’t planned to do any more halves before Pichi Richi but after Sunday, I’m 75% across the line for Barossa half!