I thought I was done with marathons?
The last marathon I ran was in April 2017, that was the Boston Marathon and that probably would have been a good one to go out on.
The original plan for 2018 was to run Gold Coast and qualify for Chicago in 2019, with the ultimate goal to (eventually) do all 6 majors and get that epic medal. But 17 weeks out from the Goldie, when I was contemplating the start of the training programme and dreading the long road runs, I thought to myself, ‘Why am I doing this if I clearly don’t want to?” and consequently Gold Coast fell off the programme. If I really wanted to run Chicago I could go in the lottery or worst case scenario, pay my way in. (I justified this by thinking of the money I would save by not doing Gold Coast – flights, accommodation etc).
The idea of running Barossa came into my head in May, at the Adelaide Marathon. One of my regular running buddies, Dean, had decided LITERALLY AT THE LAST MINUTE to run the Adelaide Marathon, and had done quite well. “Maybe, just maybe…” I thought, “I could run a Chicago qualifier at Barossa!” That sounds good in theory, but you have to know that Dean is a committed road runner, and does long road runs every Sunday, whereas you’d normally find me out on the trails, or doing some kind of event. I can’t seem to commit to one kind of running! Add the multisport stuff to that, and you can see why 16 weeks of long road runs does not compute for me!
So anyway, in June I bit the bullet and entered Barossa, but for the first time ever I purchased the insurance that would allow me to get a refund if I decided running Barossa was a terrible idea. And I wasn’t going to tell anyone I was doing it, but over the coming months people somehow managed to get it out of me!
At the time I entered I was 100% focused on the Adelaide 12 hour which was my ‘A’ race for the year. After the 12 hour I had 5 weeks to get myself up for Barossa. 1 week after the 12 hour I was pacing the 10k at Greenbelt, so effectively that meant I was going into Barossa with a 4 week training programme, instead of the traditional 16. If I could make it work with a 4 week programme, maybe marathons weren’t so bad after all!
So, in other words, this was probably one of the most ambitious things I’d ever attempted!
Now I wasn’t going from ‘couch to marathon’ in 4 weeks of course. Having run over 100km 5 weeks ago, the distance was never going to be an issue. (I’d also run 3 runs over 30km in the leadup to the 12 hour). It was the speed that I was concerned about.
In the weeks leading up to the 12 hour speed was the last thing on my mind. I did all my training runs at comfortable pace and it was only the odd parkrun where I would really try to go for it.
After Greenbelt I had a chat to club coach Kent about what sort of training I should be doing for the 4 weeks (normally taper time, but it’s hard to taper when you haven’t really started training for real!) He said that I didn’t need to do anything big, just join the rest of the Marathon Mentor training group runs and do whatever distance they were doing.
The first Sunday run was meant to be 32km, but I found myself running on my own (and hadn’t thought to bring music with me) so ended up cutting it back to 30km which was plenty. I’d forgotten how different long road runs were, compared to runs around the Uni Loop where I could keep everything in my car. 2 weeks out I ran 21km with Beck (also doing the marathon, although at the time she still hadn’t entered – her goal was more around finishing and it was likely we wouldn’t be running together) and then last weekend it was a very enjoyable 16km with Kent, and 2 other runners who were doing the marathon, Lachy and Kristina.
I started doing tempo runs once a week – usually on a Thursday, as Tuesday was more of a recovery pace.
Pace wise I wanted sub 3:45, which, last time I checked, would qualify me for Chicago – even one second under would be enough. With time being of the essence, I decided to go back to what I was doing a few years back when I ran my first Barossa Marathon – I made myself a pace band, using the MARCO calculator. (Start slow, then gradually build up the pace and allow for a little drop off in pace at the end). Last time I’d used a pace band I decided to ignore it from quite early on, but it was worth having just in case it might be useful and keep me on track!
The weather was looking fine albeit cold – I would need layers at the start!
As I will always do if I am able to, I had ‘special drinks’ organised for the drink stations. It was only Gatorade, but the reason why I would always opt for bringing my own drinks, is because I can just grab a bottle at the drink station, rather than drinking from a cup and then having nothing until the next drink station. This way I could grab a bottle at the first drink station and hang onto it until I reached the next one, and have a drink whenever I felt like it! As always I also had to make my drink bottles distinctive so I wouldn’t waste time looking for them – I went with blue and yellow electrical tape. (I’d attached straws to my bottles at the Adelaide Marathon in 2016 but although that made them easy to spot, I noted in my race report that they were very annoying to carry! So I wasn’t going to do that again!) There were 3 drink stations where we could have special drinks, and we’d pass each one twice (once on each lap) so I had 6 x 250ml bottles. Given the cool weather I thought that would be enough, and there was always water at all the drink stations if I needed anything more.
Race eve fuelling was as per tradition – pizza and cider! This was my 7th marathon and every single one of them had been preceded by the same race-eve meal! The pizza was from Sonny’s Pizza Bar – highly recommended, with an extensive vegan menu!
Gear-wise I went with tried and true – from the top down, I had a white 2XU hat, Mekong ‘Vegan Beast Mode’ top, rainbow arm warmers, 2XU compression shorts with black lululemon skirt over the top, 2XU ‘Run Boston’ calf sleeves, lululemon socks and my last pair of Brooks Ravenna 6 shoes (no longer available, and the new Ravennas are all wrong for me, so after over 4 years in Ravennas I’m going to have to find a new road shoe after this!)
I kept an eye on the weather forecast, and although there was little chance of rain (excellent!) it was looking like being very cold, especially in the morning! Last time I checked they were forecasting a maximum of 13 degrees in Tanunda, and an overnight minimum of about 4. There was a real possibility I might need to wear gloves at the start. I had not quite decided whether to wear a T-shirt or singlet – I wore the T-shirt but took the singlet with me, in case I changed my mind. I had never run a marathon in a T-shirt before!
I got a ride to Tanunda with Kirsten and Nigel, Kirsten was going for around 3:45 too, and husband Nigel happened to be the 3:45 pacer! So hopefully we’d all be running together, although my plan would have me only overtaking him right near the end. But then, I rarely stick with a plan in a marathon…
It was pretty cool when we arrived in Tanunda but not as cold as I thought it might be, so I decided not to bother with the gloves, but I did stick with the T-shirt rather than the singlet.
At the start I positioned myself near Chantel, the 4 hour pacer, with Nigel and his pink 3:45 balloon in front but in sight. The plan was to run the first 3km at 5:30 pace, whereas Nigel would be running even splits, aiming for 5:20 minute kms from the outset.
I’d had a toilet stop as soon as we’d arrived at the start, and had planned on another but after I took my bag to the bag drop area, I looked at my watch and it was 7:21 and the race briefing was about to happen – with a 7:30am start, I would be pushing it to get to the toilet again and make it to the start in time! Oh well, I thought – there’s always portaloos out there if I really need it! I’d never had to stop in a marathon before but then again there were a few other ‘firsts’ in this particular marathon!
My first few kilometres were spot on pace. The first drink station was only about 2.5km in, and I didn’t need a drink at this stage but this was one of the designated ‘special drinks’ stations so I grabbed my bottle which was easy to spot! Not long after this I saw the first portaloo and decided to go for it – I’d got a bit ahead of time by now (from memory this was the 4km mark) and just passed regular running buddy Sarah. I eventually found the door (the portaloo had been positioned so the door was AWAY from the runners – which made sense I guess!) and when I checked my time afterwards it was less than a 50 second stop. Plenty of time to make that up, and definitely worth it!
I’d already passed a few other familiar faces – Lachy and Kristina, Annie, doing Barossa as a training run for Berlin and Chicago marathons, as well as Chris (doing his 100-and-somethingth marathon) prior to my pit stop so I could use that as a bit of a gauge as to when I was back on track. I was about 30 seconds behind pace at 4km, but I’d got to 30 seconds ahead by 6km. Hopefully that wouldn’t come back to bite me!
I’ve said this every time I’ve run Barossa but I’ll say it again. I love how you get to see everyone multiple times! The nature of the course means that sometimes you don’t get to see everyone on every ‘out and back’ but over the course of the marathon I reckon I saw just about everyone! A lot of my friends were doing the half marathon so I got a real boost when I started to see them!
The prize for ‘having way too much fun for a marathon’ has to go to Jenelle, celebrating her birthday (and what better way to do it?) and her running buddy Anthony. We saw them multiple times and they ALWAYS looked like they were having a ball!
Probably around the 10km mark I was starting to move further and further away from the pace I was SUPPOSED to be running. I was actually approaching 5:20 average pace, which was meant to happen right near the end. Clearly I am not disciplined enough to follow such a specific pacing plan! So I decided to ditch the plan and instead to try to catch Nigel and then let him do all the work!
By now I could see the 3:45 pace group and although I seemed to be getting faster in relation to my plan, I didn’t seem to be making up any ground! At one stage I decided to time how far behind them I was – at one stage I was 25 seconds behind, and a few kays later it was 13 seconds. My new goal was to catch them by the halfway mark. It did eventually happen around the 20km mark – Kirsten was still on the ‘bus’ along with quite a few others.
We reached the 21.1km mark in 1:51:50. Double that and you have 3:43:40 – perfect pacing so far! (And I would expect to negative split, given the time I’d lost on the toilet stop!)
What I hadn’t factored in was the wind. More on that later!
We noticed that the 4 hour pacer had lost her balloons, as had the 3:30 pacer (the latter actually before the start!). One of the other runners in our group, Bart, was asking me about alternatives to balloons to make pacers more visible, given that balloons are annoying (both for the pacer and for those right behind!) and often do pop or float away! Bart had the idea that the pacers should wear a distinctive colour, “one that no-one else wears” and we decided we needed to invent a colour, we could call it ‘Pacer’ and it would be ‘hi-vis mustard’. As well as that, to make the pacers visible to people a bit further away, in lieu of balloons, they should wear Viking helmets. So take note Race Director Ben and organiser of pacers Kent!
As had happened the last time I ran Barossa, one of my drinks somehow went missing! The special drinks were at drink stations 1, 4 and 5. After picking up my first drink at the 2.5km mark, I was never without a drink in my hand. One of the drink station volunteers, Naomi, actually had my drink ready to hand to me as I approached the drink station! (As an aside – the TOTAL amount of stoppage time I had during the marathon was 48 seconds. That would have been entirely accounted for by the pit stop. That meant I did not have to stop for one second at the drink stations – having my own bottled drinks ready to grab definitely saved me a good amount of time!) Still, I had 5 drinks throughout the race and that seemed to be enough. I don’t do gels, I did carry a Clif bar ‘just in case’ but I didn’t end up using it. My fuel consisted entirely of Gatorade. It was a bit of an adjustment from the ultra mindset where I eat when I’m walking – given that I try to avoid walking in marathons!
There were a few people ahead of us that I kept seeing on the turnarounds and seemed to be getting closer to us. One was my old ‘nemesis’ (meant in the nicest possible way!) Graham, and the other one was Leon, who had not done much running at all since the 24 hour, hadn’t run at all in the last 2 weeks, and had told me at the start he was aiming for 6 minute/km pace, and around 4 hours 15. He was WELL ahead of the 3:45 pace group for the first half of the marathon! It would be interesting to see if I was able to catch either of them!
Did I mention the wind?
So we were faced with 40km/h wind gusts for much of the second half. It seemed that we were running into it more than we were running with it. It was the only thing that was going to stop me getting my goal time, as I was otherwise still running very comfortably. Barossa is a flat course but when we were running into the wind it was like running up a really steep hill. Or into a brick wall. (You hear about ‘The Wall’ in marathons – that point where you’re running really well and then suddenly, usually around the 35-36km mark, you just lose it! Well in this particular marathon it wasn’t a metaphorical wall, it genuinely felt like we were running into a brick wall!)
When the wind hit us, I dropped back from the pack – I couldn’t seem to keep up! Thankfully there were periods where we had the wind behind us, so I was able to pick up the pace a bit and catch up with the group. There were only a couple in the group by this stage – Kirsten had dropped back, and Bart had gone on ahead.
I did eventually catch up to Leon – he said he had been running well up to about 20km but then started to feel it!
I had stopped looking at my watch altogether when I’d caught up to Nigel at the 20km mark. It was easy to do as my watch was under my arm warmer. Consequently, when I was a bit behind him, I had no clue if I was on pace or not! (He was trying to run just ahead of 3:45 pace, and he had started ahead of me, so I had a bit of a buffer, but I wasn’t sure if the wind would prove to be my downfall – the effort required to push against it might leave me with nothing left at the end!)
If there was ever a metaphorical wall for me in this marathon, it was at the 40km mark. I’d just gone past a drink station, we were still running into the wind, and Nigel seemed to be getting further and further away, and with him, my hopes of getting a sub 3:45. Even though I’d told myself (and others) at the start that I was hoping for sub 3:45 but not expecting it, I’d got this far, and it would be pretty devastating to miss out only by a few seconds! I told the people at the drink station “I’m done! I’m finished!”. Even though I had only 2.2km to go (or, in terms I understand very well, one lap of the Uni Loop!), the finish line seemed very far away…
Pretty soon after that I saw running buddy Nat, not running this time but just there to support all of us, so that gave me a little boost!
The countdown was on – less than 2km to go. And not too long after that, FINALLY, that stupid wind went away! Or maybe I changed direction. Either way – happy days!
We turned a corner, onto a bike path, where I realised I was making ground on Nigel and did eventually catch up with him! THAT was a good feeling!
Just before I caught Nigel I saw Graham, running just ahead of the 3:45 bus. I called out to him to warn him I was coming after him – I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s Tower Trail Run where I’d passed him just near the finish, then he’d chased me down! No, I was MORE than happy to let him stay ahead of me! (When I saw him afterwards he said he hadn’t heard me call out to him, but he had heard Nat call out my name a bit earlier and realised I was getting a bit too close for comfort!)
Rather than the marathon and half marathon markers, in the final kilometres I used the 10km race markers as my main gauges – when I saw the 9km marker I knew we were into the last kilometre! I reckon I got this!
The finish line was different from when I last ran the marathon – previously it was on the road, but this time it was actually in the school which was the home base for the event. As we ran along the road I saw a whole lot of familiar faces – my friends who had done the half marathon, kindly waiting for Kirsten, Nigel and me to finish our marathons before heading off for lunch!
And then I heard MC Ryley on the mic, and I heard him say “3:43” which was the time on the clock, and at that point, with the finish line in sight, I knew I had my sub 3:45!
I crossed the finish line in an official time of 3:44:07, and got my sweet, sweet bling from Oliver before going over to the baggage tent, with thoughts of my vegan donut from Bakery On O’Connell at the front of my mind. There I found Graham and decided a ‘post-marathon-collapsed-on-the-ground-in-the-baggage-tent-selfie’ was in order!
Leon and Kirsten were not far behind me, and Annie and Sarah both also finished under 4 hours. As we were getting a bit cold and the half marathoners had been waiting for us for AGES, we left just as the presentations were winding up, and headed off for a lovely lunch and wine at the South Australian Company Store in Angaston.
I was getting a lift home with Beck and James, and I asked Beck if we could stop off at my favourite Tscharke Wines in Marananga, as my stocks were getting a bit low! She very kindly obliged – thanks Beck! Although I was a bit disappointed that they had sold out of the 2016 Cab Sav, apparently the new vintage is ready for bottling so I guess I’m going to have to plan another trip to the Barossa soon – oh well, if I must!
So, after a 16 month break between marathons, nothing has changed. They are still HARD! They still kind of suck! But I was so happy with how this one went, both for me personally, but also the event in general. The wind was the only down side, but the weather overall was pretty great, making the finish village a cool place to hang out while waiting for the rest of my friends to finish (except Neil – sorry Neil, we couldn’t wait for you! Neil was the sweeper. He would be a good couple of hours behind us!)
Thanks to RD Ben and the equally awesome Sheena for a great day, as well as all of the many volunteers who helped both on the day and in the leadup. I felt a bit bad that I couldn’t help out at all on this one, but I really wanted to focus 100% on me this time, and it paid off! Well done to all of the runners – you well and truly earned your bling in those conditions! Hope you’re all recovering well and planning for your next event!
So there’s a post script to all of this. Remember how my goal was to run sub 3:45 and qualify for Chicago? (And I FREAKING DID IT!) Well, out of curiosity, after I got home, I got on the Google and looked up ‘Chicago Marathon qualifying times’. And guess what? It’s changed!
So that’s me done with marathons for quite a while – I don’t think I’ll do another one again until Chicago in October 2019. No, might just stick to ultras for a while!