Race report – McLaren Vale Half Marathon

I’ll start by saying, I am prone to exaggeration, but that would have to be right up there with the hardest races I’ve ever done!

 McLaren Vale was my third time as a pacer. I’d locked in the gig quite early in the year, knowing that all my marathons would be done by now, and therefore I wouldn’t need to ‘race’. Pacing is a great way to be involved in an event and
volunteer at the same time! I first fell into the role at Adelaide last year when I had put my hand up to volunteer, and then saw an email asking for pacers. I thought, “So I get to run AND volunteer? Sign me up now!”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, in a marathon or a half marathon (and sometimes other events too), usually there are a few pacers who run at a particular pace, aiming to cross the line just under a particular time. My preferred
pacing time is 2 hours, as my PB is close to
1:45 so for me to be able to pace that time would be too much of a struggle. 2:15 would be just that little bit too slow for me to do comfortably. It sounds weird but running much slower than your comfortable pace
is actually really hard! A pacer needs to try and run at a consistent pace which can be hard – if you’re running significantly slower than your PB pace, it’s easy enough to go out too fast and then maybe slow down at the end to get close to the right time,
but by doing that, you will lose a lot of passengers on your ‘bus’ early. You also want to make sure you finish under (or marginally over) the set time, but not by too much. It is a delicate balance!

At McLaren Vale we had pacers for 1:30, 1:45, 2:00 and 2:15. All of us had different coloured balloons. I’d requested red because I wanted them to match my outfit (of course!). I had initially planned to wear my Luigi (as in Mario and Luigi)
costume that I’d worn when I volunteered at Mount Misery earlier in the year. But the forecast was for a warm morning, so I canned that idea, because I thought it would be too hot to run in. Especially with the hat and gloves! Plus, I had never run in that
particular outfit. Most of my other crazy outfits have at least passed the parkrun test!

So, I’d opted for the devil costume that I’d bought a few Halloweens back. It came complete with horns and a pitchfork. There was a slight problem on Saturday when I realised it was still sitting at the bottom of the laundry hamper since
last Halloween. A quick sniff test established that I could probably get away with it but I thought no, best do the right thing and wash it. Having never been washed before I had to handwash it (I didn’t really want to dye all the rest of my washing pink!)
and fortunately it was a warmish day on Saturday so I hung it out on the line for a few hours to dry. The devil dress was a bit short so I went with an extra red tutu underneath for a bit more modesty, and I also wore Skins shorts for comfort and more respectability!

I went down to McLaren Vale on Sunday with regular running buddy Jim who was also running the half, hoping to be under the 1:30 mark. Therefore it was unlikely I’d be seeing him during the race, other than those out and back sections!

The first thing that hit me when we arrived at the Hardy’s Tintara winery (the location for the start/finish – only appropriate given that we were in a famous wine region!) was how windy it was – I wasn’t expecting that! Stuff was blowing
everywhere – bollards had blown over and  marquees looked in danger of becoming airborne. This was not going to be easy!

I went into the toilets to get my outfit ready – I like to keep it a bit of a surprise so I had arrived with my tracksuit on over the top of my devil dress. I put sunscreen on because it was already getting quite warm, and although there
was no sun at that stage, I was going to be out there for, well, 2 hours! I’d forgotten to bring my toggles with which I normally attach my race bib to my Spibelt, but in the end I decided that my Spibelt (with phone inside) would be best UNDER the skirt,
and I ended up pinning the bib to the top of the skirt. I thought it would be a good idea to pin it through the dress to my Skins shorts. And it probably would have been a good idea. But I had decided to get everything organised BEFORE my loo stop. Bad move!

Eventually I emerged in my devil costume and went to collect my balloons. David had brought the balloons and all 8 of them were still there (2 for each pacer), all tied to a weight but they had become tangled in the walk from David’s car
to the SARRC tent. After a while we managed to free the 2 red balloons and I tied them to the shoulder straps of my dress – from previous experience that seems to be the best place to tie them. I did wonder how they would behave in this wind – they can be
annoying at the best of times! Probably more annoying for those running behind me though – I’ve only run WITH a pacer once before, at this year’s Gold Coast Marathon, and I remember needing to give him a fairly wide berth if I didn’t want to be eating rubber!

Then I started thinking about how I was going to pace this thing. I had my Garmin pace alerts set between 5:30 and 5:45. I wanted to run around 5:36/5:37 pace. I would start my watch on gun time, so my official time could be well under
2 hours but I was aiming to get just under 2 hours from the gun time. That way, if anyone was ahead of me at the start, and I ran JUST under 2 hours, and they were ahead of me at the finish, they would still get under 2 hours. The issue was going to be, how
on earth would I be able to maintain a consistent pace when some of it was going to be into a very stiff (40+ km/hour) headwind (and probably also uphill)?

I wasn’t even sure if I could run under 2 hours in these conditions!

Shortly before 8:00 I found my place among the 700+ crowd and waited for the gun before starting my watch. I was walking at the start – it was a bit like parkrun! It didn’t matter that my watch was telling me I was going too slow – I knew it would
take a few kilometres to get up to goal pace. I did also have to factor in the extra distance I was going to cover – normally if I’m racing I would start my watch as I cross the start line, because that will give me (close to) my official time. As a pacer
I was going off gun time but that did mean that I would be covering more than 21.1km. The pace I had set for myself was based on running exactly 21.1km which of course we know never happens! Factor in the extra distance at the start, going around people, and
the general inaccuracy of GPS devices, and I would be having to do some mental maths as well to make sure I didn’t miss the mark.

OK so as it turns out, the devil costume was not all that comfortable to run in! Firstly I was constantly trying to adjust my skirt early on, trying to preserve some modesty for the benefit of those behind me. For some reason I’d put my
Spibelt in between the dress and my tutu so it wasn’t sitting all that comfortably. The Spibelt was a bit loose so I could feel my phone jumping up and down. I kept changing hands with my pitchfork (which was already falling apart – never buy a cheap pitchfork
people!) – mostly I carried it in my right hand because I wear my watch on my left and I wanted to be able to keep a close eye on pace, but every now and then I’d swap for a while. Oh and there was also the issue of the balloon ribbons getting tangled up in
my devil horns – possibly not a problem I’ve ever had in a race before!

I think it took me about 5km to get up to goal pace, what with the crowds and also intermittently running into the wind. I was pretty happy with how I managed to maintain that pace after that.

As happens in every race but particularly those with out and back sections, I saw a lot of familiar faces. The good thing about out and backs is you get to see EVERYONE – from the front runners to the back of the pack. There were a few
people expecting to be on or around my pace (my ‘bus’ if you will) – Chantal (who had just got back from Europe), Annie (who was a last minute entrant) and David (who was confident of a sub 2 hour finish) among them. Early on I saw Sheena who had done so well
at Yurrebilla 2 weeks ago, looking comfortable on my bus (sometimes ahead of it and sometimes behind it) despite a dodgy knee. There were plenty of people who wanted to be ahead of me – Bec among them (she said she would cry if I passed her!) – when I saw
her on one of the out and back sections, well ahead of me, I threatened to stab her with my pitchfork if I got too close! I think that was a good motivator!

At around the halfway mark Sheena was with me and running well. I actually thought for a brief moment about handing over the pitchfork and balloons (if I could have figured out out to get them off) to Sheena and saying “Right, you can take
it from here!”

The worst bits were when we were running uphill into the wind. That is hard enough, but when you’ve got 2 balloons dragging behind you, you actually feel like you’re going backwards! I wonder if, in conditions like this, there is some kind
of alternative to balloons that pacers can use, because not only are they annoying for those behind and around, at times they actually slow you down! (I had to be extra careful when overtaking people to make sure they didn’t get tangled up in my balloons.)
When I was running into the wind I ended up pulling my balloons down and holding onto them which made things a bit easier but as a result I wasn’t able to swing my arms to give me a bit of a boost.

Normally as a pacer you want to try to stop your balloons from popping. On this occasion I was seriously considering taking one of the pins from my bib and popping them myself! I did try running close to the trees in the hope that they
might ‘accidentally’ pop, but no such luck – one of them did develop a slow leak though.

My preference, towards the end of a race, as I have said before, is to ‘count down’ by time rather than distance. And as a 2 hour pacer, when I’ve been running for 1½ hours, I can safely say I’ve got 30 minutes to go! I can’t say “5km,
I can do that in 25 minutes”! That would make me a bad pacer!

I slowed down a bit towards the end as I realised I was well under the 2 hour mark. The last few kilometres were a bit easier as we were running mostly downhill and not into the wind. For the last 500m or so I held my pitchfork aloft and
started yelling at people to encourage them as I knew they were all on track for sub 2 hours. When I crossed the line my Garmin time was
1:59:17. I was pretty happy with that, and I actually don’t think I could have run much faster if I’d been racing – I was
glad in that sense that I had opted to pace! (Last year I did it in
1:59 flat, so I’m getting better!)

I got some pretty sweet bling. This event was the final event in the Triple Crown series (whenever I hear that term I think of that Simpsons episode – “the 5th and penultimate event in racing’s Triple Crown”) so all those who
had completed the 3 half marathons in the series (Clare and Greenbelt being the other two) got a special Triple Crown medal as well as the also very cool McLaren Vale finisher medal. I think the Triple Crown has been very successful, so successful that SARRC
were overwhelmed with the number of entries for McLaren Vale, to the point where they thought there might be a chance of running out of medals! As a result us regulars were asked not to take a finisher medal (and we would get one later, when they ordered more)
which was not a problem for me, as long as I got it eventually! In the end I think maybe the weather put a few people off so by the time we left the start/finish area they let us have our medals. (The main thing they were worried about was that some of the
later finishers might miss out on medals and they are probably the people that appreciate them the most!)

It was great afterwards to catch up with people – most of whom had found it tough and very few of whom had run the time that they’d hoped! The wind had died down a bit at that stage so it was nice to sit in the square and hope to win one
of the random prizes (I didn’t!) and have a coffee and chat with friends.

I want to give a MASSIVE thankyou to all the volunteers and SARRC staff who made this event happen. As I’m sure I’ve said before, no matter how hard the conditions are for the runners, it is twice as hard for the volunteers – trying to
stop marquees from blowing away while constantly answering queries such as where the bag drop area was, and trying to keep the cups from blowing away on the water stations (to name just a few tasks!). It takes a lot of volunteers to make these events happen
and I am always grateful that people are willing to give up their time (and in some cases travel a fair way – McLaren Vale is about 45 minutes from the city) to allow the rest of us to enjoy what is always a fantastic event. You guys all ROCK!

If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend pacing as a great way to give back and to test yourself in a different way! It is so rewarding to hear from people you’ve helped, even those that you didn’t even realise were on your ‘bus’!

Oh and Bec did get her sub 2 hours, a massive PB and she did credit my pitchfork threat as a motivator! And Sheena just scraped in too!

Well done to EVERYONE who ran in one of the 3 events – the 5k, 10k and the half. It was a brilliant event and a fantastic day despite the tough conditions! And massive kudos to anyone who somehow managed to pull out a PB!