Race Report – Barossa Marathon 24 May 2015

This is my first race report (one of many to come!), written 2 days after the Barossa Marathon. Hope you enjoy it!

This time last year I completed my first ever marathon in Liverpool UK. It was an amazing experience – there were 2307 finishers and I placed 562nd overall in a time of 3:42:56 – well beyond my expectations. (I had expected sub 4 hours, and HOPED for sub 3:45. I was stoked!) It was quite surreal because I was in my hotel getting ready for bed on the Saturday night, reading all about my friends and training buddies’ experiences at the Barossa Marathon, knowing that my big moment was yet to come! Although on the day I didn’t see anyone I knew cheering from the sidelines, I had met a group of runners the day before on a Beatles walking tour, who I met up with again before the start of the race. I also knew that a lot of friends back home were following my progress online, so I really did feel like I had friends there with me! And of course, as with all big races, the crowd lining the streets were more than happy to give me, a random stranger, a big cheer! (I did get quite a few comments on my stripey arm warmers… aka socks I had bought the previous day!) And I did get a SWEET medal that no-one else I know has!

Fast forward 12 months and I’m standing at the start line in Tanunda – this time among many familiar faces. This time, instead of the civilised 9am of last year, we started at the ‘ungodly’ hour of 7am (albeit with the backdrop of an incredible sunrise). I was so prepared this year. I had put in all the training. Well, I had also done that last year, but unlike last year, I started the 16 week programme with a lot more running under my belt, and with the knowledge that I had already completed one marathon and of course I could do it again. (Last year I started behind the eight ball without having even done one half marathon. This year I started having already completed not only one full marathon but 4 official halves, one unofficial half and countless training runs of over half marathon distance.) I have been fortunate too… other than a number of falls during training, only one of which was serious enough to stop me running for ANY length of time (that being 2 days), I have (touching wood as I write this) been remarkably injury-free. I wonder if it’s just luck or if it’s partly smart training… even though I love running and am often tempted to run more than I should, I hold myself back, keeping my ‘eyes on the prize’. If I’m a bit sore I’ll skip a run or just take it easy. Maybe it’s a physio thing? Anyway, whatever it is, I didn’t think I could have been better prepared for the 42.2km (or 26.2 miles as I ran last year in Liverpool) that lay ahead of me.

I had my kit sorted days before. The only difficult decision was which lululemon skirt to wear… the decision was eventually made to go with the black and white rather than the plain black, because the black skirt had been worn for the only race I’ve done that I would describe as ‘terrible’ – the 2015 Clare Half (nothing against the race, just the way I ran it!). I’d purchased a SWEET new pair of stripey socks to wear as arm warmers – a somewhat brisk 7am start made those a necessary part of my kit. I’d prepared drinks – bottled water and slightly watered down Gatorade (tried and tested in training – I wasn’t about to take any chances with a different brand of sports drink) and had them placed at the drink stations with bright pink tape around them to make them easy to spot. I also had a handful of emergency Lifesavers, some energy pills (nothing dodgy!) and a couple of Voltaren for ‘just in case’ (I had needed them last year around the halfway mark due to hip and knee niggles, and was taking no chances). I’d spent ages making up pace bands based on the same formula I’d used last year (I used an app called ‘FeelRace’ which works on the principle of starting slower and gradually increasing the pace throughout the race. No better feeling than passing people near the end that had passed you earlier!) I had 3 pace bands: one for 3:40 (sub 3:40 would qualify me for the prestigious Boston Marathon which would be amazing), 3:42 (which would be a PB) and 3:45 (although not a PB, still a respectable time if things didn’t go according to plan). The idea was that I’d aim for 3:40 initially, and if that became implausible I’d move on to 3:42, etc. If it all fell apart I’d just go by feel, the bare minimum of course being to finish and get my hands on a medal!

There was nothing left to do but run…

All was well at the start. I started running alongside a few of my training buddies but soon realised I was running way faster than my plan. Stick to the plan, I told myself. I’ll catch them eventually! I forced myself to slow down, as hard as that was! Along the way I ran with Neil for a few km (who had only entered at the last minute and wasn’t even sure he could run the whole distance – he did!) and also Chris who seems to run a marathon every few weeks so his goal was just to finish (he did, but not without injury problems). Eventually I caught up with Kay with whom I’d done quite a lot of my long runs, both this year and last (although this year I hadn’t run much with her, she was far too quick for me!) We ran together for quite a while, past the halfway mark. The 2 lap course did my head in a bit! I said to Kay, “OK that’s over, let’s run a half marathon now!” (It always helps to break a race into manageable chunks!). Everything was going according to plan. The drinks worked well, I had Gatorade just when I needed it, and more water than I could have possibly used. Bottles work for me better than cups, that way I can hang onto my drink for longer, potentially even until the next drink station. For some reason, just after 22km, I decided to ditch the plan altogether. Maybe it was the energy pills I’d downed just after the halfway point. Maybe it was the confidence that comes with having done it all before. Whatever it was, the plan was out the window and I was now running by feel. A scary and unfamiliar place to be! I left Kay behind (she didn’t end up finishing that far behind me, and she ran a PB, so I didn’t feel too guilty!) and just went for it. I was averaging 5:10 per km on my Garmin so I figured I’d just try to stick with that and maybe try to take it up a notch right at the end (no matter how crap a run I’ve had, I always try to do a sprint finish… looks great in the photos!). I was too scared to look at my overall time, lest I discover that my desired sub 3:40 was off the cards. No, I was going to run blind. Around this time my left hip started to niggle a bit so I quickly got out the Voltaren and downed them. Within a few km all was good again.

I thought I hit the dreaded ‘wall’ at 30km but that turned out to be just a speed bump. By about 34-35km I was feeling great and still maintaining my 5:10 pace. My only real drama was that 2 of my 5 Gatorade bottles went missing along the way (I was assured they were there pre-race!) so when I really felt I needed some sugar/electrolytes etc, they weren’t there! Thank f*** for my emergency Lifesavers… they really were a godsend!

I found the course in one way was a bit of a headf*** – 2 laps with multiple turnarounds – but it was mercifully flat and I LOVED passing other runners coming the other way (in all events – 5km, 10km, half and full marathon). It was so good to see so many friends running along the way and be able to give them encouragement. It was especially great to see my friends who were tackling their first half and full marathons. They were all looking strong and like they were having just the best time. Awesome!

The last 5km were a bit of a blur. I was constantly checking my watch, interested only in the ‘Average Pace’ which continued to hover around 5:10 (at one point it dropped to 5:11 but I had enough left at that stage to bring it back up to 5:10). The legs were really starting to hurt by then (which was not really surprising). My calves were the biggest issue… nothing that would stop me finishing, but even now, writing this 2 1/2 days later, they are still letting me know they’re not happy with me! The calf compression sleeves I wore definitely helped – whether placebo or actual science, I wouldn’t run more than 20km without them! I’d worn compression bandages on both knees as a precaution, but thankfully had no real knee issues during the race.

And now to the best bit… the finish! I guess it was just before 42km I heard the cheering and started to lift. The street was lined with people, many calling my name as they recognised my stripey arms! It was such a great feeling. It definitely made me run faster! I didn’t have time to soak up all the glory though because I had a race to finish, a PB to beat! I yelled at a couple of people who walked across my path as I approached the finish chute to “Get out of my way!!!”. They did. I hope they realised it was good-natured! I saw the finish line and I went for it! Through the timing gate, past the person with the paddle, stopped the Garmin, got my medal, and a big hug for Karen in the tiger suit she had borrowed from me the previous day! I looked at my watch and could hardly believe it… I had achieved my sub 3:40! 3:39:26 to be precise, a good 3 1/2 minutes better than a year ago! (The official results were better yet, 3:39:21). Overall, I finished 84th out of 245 finishers (13th out of 82 women) and 6th out of 19 in my age group. So that means 5 of the top 12 women were in the very tough 35-39 age group!

I’m still in recovery mode – I took Monday off (I was incredibly sore – I don’t remember being that sore last year!) and had a nice cruisy beach walk (including walking in the water for about 10 minutes) which I’m sure did me a lot of good, and this morning I managed an easy ‘jog’ with my regular Tuesday group and did a BodyBalance class this evening.

Now I’ve got the Gold Coast marathon coming up in less than 6 weeks, so I can’t take it easy for too long! I’m yet to decide how I’ll tackle that one but one thing is for sure, I won’t be trying for another PB. That took way too much out of me and 6 weeks is nowhere near enough time to get me back into PB shape!

Overall it was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget, thanks to all who made it possible and so memorable!

If you’re thinking about running a marathon, and you have the time to commit to training, stop thinking, and to plagiarise a popular sports brand, JUST DO IT!