Two halves make a whole… right?

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A while back I ran the Adelaide half marathon as the 2 hour pacer. I enjoyed it so much and found it so rewarding that within days I had signed up to pace again at the McLaren Vale half. I initially said I’d pace 2:15 but quickly switched to 2:00 after I was told by someone involved in the running club (who shall remain nameless) that 2:15 was a ‘BS’ time to be pacing. No disrespect intended but 2:00 was likely to be a more popular target time and therefore one more in need of a pacer.

Why pace again? I had this elusive PB, now almost 18 months old, that I couldn’t seem to break. I had come within 10 seconds in May (which over 21.1km is VERY close) and in the ensuing months had set new PBs in every other distance. Pacing would remove all possibility of breaking my PB of 1:42:43.

Well, there was the small matter of the Masters Games half marathon the previous day. Here I WOULD be targeting a PB. By all accounts it was a tricky course, being the same course used the last time the Games were held in Adelaide. It was a 4-lapper, so roughly 4-and-a-bit parkruns. My PB was set at the 2014 Greenbelt half which was an undulating but net downhill course. I didn’t really know how to pace it. I knew I should be able to get the silver medal but there was a chance that my 5000m conqueror, Lisa, might not be running. Other than tying her shoelaces together (which one running buddy did jokingly suggest) there was little chance of my beating her considering she had won the Adelaide half in a time well beyond anything I’d ever done! Only the fact that she was wanting to have a good run at the Melbourne half the following week would give me any chance.

I had initially targeted the Masters half as my chosen event for a virtual run organised by fellow runner Chris. A virtual run is a popular way to raise money for a given cause, by encouraging people to sign up to run a particular distance (anything from 5km to 150km, either in a single run or cumulative), pay a registration fee, and get a sweet medal! You know me, anything for more bling! Chris was running some ridiculous number of marathons over 24 months to raise money for cancer research. I don’t know how he does it – 2 marathons in 6 weeks nearly did me in!

The rationale behind choosing this event was because usually for a half marathon you get a finisher medal but in the Masters Games it’s only the top 3 in each age group that get a medal. At the time of entering I expected a lot of competition so would not have even considered a medal as a possibility. As it turns out, under-40 females don’t tend to enter Masters Games athletics events. (The low numbers may have also had something to do with the Oceania Masters Games being scheduled at the same time. In the Cook Islands. I have no idea why anyone would want to go there…) So a medal was a distinct likelihood.

Given that I would be getting a finisher medal for pacing at McLaren Vale, I decided to mark this unique weekend by making my ‘Virtual Run’ a marathon, run literally in two halves, across the weekend.

I always like to talk about preparation. Be it superstition or actual science (let’s face it, most likely the former) I find it helpful to review my pre-race prep to determine where I may have gone wrong or right.

My lead-up week was (appropriately) similar to a marathon week. I ran Tuesday reasonably easy (it was a hilly run so it wasn’t exactly easy but it wasn’t fast) as a recovery from the 5000m on Monday. Thursday I had a good solid hit-out. Then I walked on Friday morning because I’d entered the City Mile on Friday night. I won’t talk too much about that (because it would take longer to write about than it took to run!) but it was a bit of fun… 1600m of going hard and fast! The course was lovely, running past the Adelaide Oval to the roar of the crowd (OK so the crowd were there watching an A-League blockbuster, not us, but still…) and finishing with a run across the Riverbank Footbridge. It also included a nice little downhill (which I would grow to love) and a nasty little uphill coming out of Elder Park (which I would grow to hate. Very much.) It was a warm and muggy night and my new hi-viz yellow singlet seemed to be the favourite of every bug in the place! I did a respectable 6:19 and finished second in my age group (again, after Lisa who was also first female overall).

It took ages to get home by bus (I’d gone with public transport because I thought the football crowd would make parking difficult) and I was getting hungry so on impulse I stopped at Grill’d on The Parade for a mushroom burger on my way home.

Race morning I had my usual breakfast and wore my new pink SARRC top which had already been ‘broken in’ in the 5000m. I went with my black lululemon skirt rather than the black and white… I knew I was tempting fate here because it was the black skirt I had worn for the ill-fated Clare half, and I’d done 2 good marathons in the black and white. I had taped both feet as usual to prevent blisters.

I got to the start in plenty of time and it was great to see so many familiar faces. And no Lisa, who had told me the night before that she wasn’t going to be running the half. So now I was going for gold as well as a PB…

The start was delayed a bit to ensure we didn’t run into the Torrens parkrun which was due to start at the same time, and covered part of our course. The day threatened to be hot but it was mild and overcast as we prepared to start.

I don’t like to start too close to the front as I have a tendency to go out too fast. But hardly anyone seemed to want to start at the front (and it was a modest field anyway) so somehow I found myself right on the start line.

I didn’t have a pacing strategy as such. I just wanted to keep a consistent pace throughout. I had set my watch to alert me if I ran outside the range of 4:35-4:50 minutes per km.

Looking back at my Strava data, without getting into too much analysis, it looks like the first 2 laps were faster than the second 2. This is the opposite of what I have previously aimed for in half marathons but it makes sense. By lap 3 it had started to warm up. I also found the halfway point the hardest part of the race… getting to the end of lap 2 and knowing I still had to go around twice more!

I ran behind fellow parkrunner Donna for the first couple of laps. I knew she was carrying an injury and might slow down, I was in no hurry to pass her, quite happy to sit behind her and let her set the pace! I didn’t want to pass her until the final lap but I think it was just before the end of the 2nd lap that I realised she (and therefore I) was slowing and I needed to get past. Maybe that’s another reason why I found it hard around the halfway point – I’d lost my pacer!

I did find the 4 laps the most difficult aspect of the course. Early on there was the aforementioned downhill which I used to my advantage… I knew when it was coming up and ensured I was positioned so I could fly down and gain some valuable seconds. On one of the laps I had to negotiate cyclists going both ways, another runner and some walkers. I tucked my arms in close, called out ‘coming through on your right’ and managed to get through without hitting anyone.

The uphill out of Elder Park also happened to be where one of the official photographers was positioned so of course I had to pretend to be enjoying myself! After going past the photo-op I would plod up the (thankfully quite short) hill, cross the river via the bridge, thank the lovely volunteer marshalling on the corner and head back along the very familiar northern side of the river, part of the parkrun course.

There were a few points on the course where the spectators gave me a great lift – some of them were familiar faces, others random strangers, but all very welcome! There was the fabulous bunch of ladies in crazy hats who were there cheering on some friends in the race but gave all the competitors a great cheer as we passed. They were also running McLaren Vale the next day so I told them to look out for me! There were the volunteers under the Montefiore Rd bridge – they were volunteering for the dragon boat competition but still cheered us on. Speaking of the dragon boats, on the northern side of the river their village was set up and the crews who were not competing at that time would also give us fantastic encouragement (although they also threatened to get in our way at times – at one point I was thinking that tripping over an oar would be a very unfortunate way to go out of a running race!). Finally there were the parkrun people who always gave a great roar as I passed. (It was particularly great to see fellow parkrunners Graham and Neil come to the start to wish us well before the start, and again to see Neil there at the finish!)

I knew my previous PB pace was 4:49 minutes per km and when I got to the final lap I knew that PB was going down! The next question was, could I break the 1:40 barrier? I thought under 100 minutes was a nice mark to aim for.

On the final lap, especially after passing the dragon boat crews and parkrun friends for the last time, I got my second wind. I managed to pass one more woman, who had looked really strong. I had seen her in the distance and didn’t have any plans to pass her – not that she was in my age group so it didn’t really matter – but suddenly there she was and I found myself needing to pass her otherwise I was going to have to slow down. I thought she’d probably run me down before the finish line but she didn’t.

With 1km to go I did a quick calculation. Barring disaster, sub 1:40 was a done deal! I did contemplate pulling back at the finish to give myself a chance of beating this new PB, but didn’t. I went for the customary sprint finish – I think I passed one more woman just before the finish chute. I was glad I had a strong finish as both of my parents were there to see it!

Garmin says 1:37:54. Official time 1:37:52. That’s nearly 5 minutes off my previous PB – I finally did it! And I got a gold medal to show for it! (My gold medal has been engraved with my Garmin time as I wanted to take advantage of the cheap engraving at the Games village and I didn’t want to wait for final results.)

Saturday night I met Mum at the Village for the Closing Ceremony. After the formalities were over, an excellent INXS cover band took to the stage. I kept running into people I knew and after Mum headed home I hit the dance floor with some former soccer teammates. I’m not going to mention any names but a few friends were buying me drinks/getting me free ones despite my efforts to have a relatively quiet night! It was a fantastic night but the 5:30am Sunday alarm was not exactly welcome! I was cursing myself for letting things get out of hand but quickly got to business… breakfast, kitting up, rehydrating! I also needed to add some extra tape to my feet as I had acquired a couple of new blisters from walking through town the previous night, and then dancing the night away, while wearing thongs! (For those readers unfamiliar with Australianisms – thongs are a type of FOOTWEAR)

Sunday’s kit was, as per tradition, a costume rather than a running outfit as such. I’d gone with German beer wench (possibly ironic given the event was being held in one of SA’s best known wine regions) in honour of Oktoberfest – given the race was being held in October! I had never run in it. Not even at all.

Rule #1 of running – don’t try anything new on race day.

I made it to the start in plenty of time (I had actually thought the half started at 8 – turned out to be 8:15. Oh well – better early than late!) I was feeling the effects of the night before, continuing to rehydrate right up to the start. This of course had the undesired effect of me spending the entire 2 hours of the race counting down the minutes until I could get to a toilet!

I attached my blue balloons and positioned myself in the middle of the field. My pace alerts were set for 5:30-5:45. 5:35 to 5:38 was where I was aiming to stay.

This was a much easier course to pace than Adelaide. For one it is much flatter, meaning it was easier to maintain consistent pace than on the undulating Adelaide course. Also the smaller numbers meant my rhythm wasn’t broken up so much by needing to pass people. Finally I’d started my watch on the starter’s gun, meaning that I was aiming for sub 2 hours gun time, so anyone who finished in front of or close to me, regardless of starting position, would break 2 hours.

I had people run with me for a while and then go off alone, much like Adelaide. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I spoke to a number of people after the finish who had either been just behind me or in front and had broken 2 hours. The out and back nature of the course meant that those who were in front of me got to see where they were in relation to me. It was a great feeling to have had a small part in helping them reach their goals!

I managed to keep consistent pace except when I was chatting to regular running buddy Christine for a while before realising I’d slowed to 5:40 pace… I had to farewell Christine and go off on my own (she ended up finishing in just over 2 hours – not bad considering she only decided to enter on Friday!)

Towards the end I slowed a bit because I didn’t want to finish TOO much under 2 hours, but enough to get people who were following me, across the line in sub-2. One runner, Karen, had said to me with a few km to go, “You passed me at Adelaide… you’re not going to pass me here!” She then got away from me for a while but towards the end I closed in on her again. I think I crossed the line less than half a second behind her! In the end I finished in 1:59:00 gun time which I was pleased with. Once I got my medal it was Mission:Toilet (and not portaloo) but along the way I kept getting caught up in conversations with people! (You will be happy to know I did eventually make it!)

Happily the outfit didn’t give me any chafing or other problems. Again it was the balloons that were more annoying than anything else I was wearing! Passing barbed wire fences and going through tunnels was particularly problematic but both balloons survived the 21.1km journey intact!

So there you have it. Cumulative marathon complete. 2 medals and another to come for the Virtual Run. Ideal prep for a 105km ultra in 2 weeks I guess? Time will tell!

I can’t recommend the Masters Games highly enough. I barely scratched the surface with my involvement but I’m definitely keen to go again – especially if it involves travel! I wish I had gone to more of the social events in the evenings but it’s hard when you’re working during the day. So if you’re 30 or over – pick a sport (or 3!) and get involved!

Satisfied… and exhausted!

And now for something completely different…

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Last week was a 56km ultramarathon. This week attention turned to the 15th Australian Masters Games – ‘Australia’s greatest multi-sport festival for 30+ year olds’ (according to the cover of the Games guide!)

I had entered the Games just before the earlybird cut-off. At the time I had entered just two events, the track 5000m and the half marathon. I was later convinced to enter the City Mile by multiple Masters gold medallist Ros.

My mum, a recent convert to parkrun, had entered one event, the 5000m walk, which was the first event on the track on Saturday. She had won gold, 2 laps ahead of the second placegetter! The pressure was on…

Monday morning rolled around and it was going to be a hot one, with a forecast top of 36 degrees. Fortunately the 5000m had been rescheduled from the middle of the day to 9am, the first track event of the day. I had never run on a track before so didn’t really know what to expect.

I was up early and had my breakfast shake before heading to the stadium. I was there well ahead of my event so that gave me time to chat to some other competitors, many of whom had travelled from interstate. I realised then that I had probably missed an opportunity because most of the people I spoke to had entered multiple events. There was the steeplechase (supposedly a lot of fun), cross country, and of course the shorter track events like the 800m and 1500m. I would have had no idea how to race those last 2 distances, but at only $15 per event, you get best value for money by entering lots of events. Also, being in one of the younger age groups, there seems to be less competition. The 40s and 50s look to be the most popular age groups.

I looked over and saw Lisa, who is in my age group and seems to win everything. I wasn’t holding out much hope… she said she was sore after the steeplechase but I told her she’d have to be REALLY sore for me to have a chance of beating her!

It was about 28 degrees as we lined up to start the race. I had set the lap distance on my Garmin to 400m and we would be running 12.5 laps of the track.

I was close to the inside lane, where we would all eventually be running, to avoid running further than we needed to.

The starting gun went and we were off! I started well, with my first 3 laps being 1:32, 1:36 and 1:34. I passed 2km (5 laps) in 7:57. If I could have sustained that pace I would have run 5000m under 20 minutes for the first time EVER!

No matter what distance I’m running, I don’t like getting ‘stuck’ behind anyone. So I did overtake a few people early on so I could settle into a rhythm and not run slower than a comfortable pace. I soon found myself in 4th position overall (I’m not sure exactly how many runners were in the race), behind Lisa and 2 runners from the 45-49 age group, Frina and Sarah. They were all a long way in front of me.

The field included one runner from the youngest age group, 30-34, and two runners in the 80-84 age group. Over the course of the 12.5 laps I passed both of the 80+ ladies several times, offering encouragement all the way. In my job I do get a very skewed view of ageing and it’s quite inspirational to see 80+ athletes out there competing -I sincerely hope I can still compete at that age! (I even saw a man in the 90-94 age group – I don’t know what event he was in but I had to look twice at his bib to be sure of his age – he looked at least 20 years younger than he was!)

Unfortunately (and not really surprisingly) I wasn’t able to sustain that pace. Possibly I should have started a bit slower, and the heat may have been a factor, but my pace gradually slowed over the remaining laps.

I knew I was still in 4th overall… not that that mattered. In Masters Games it’s all about age groups. Everyone runs together but you only compete against those in your age group. Therefore, the 80+ year old who finished the race in just under an hour (to HUGE applause from all the crowd and the rest of the 5000m runners who had long since finished) still walked away with a silver medal.

I had no hope of catching Lisa, or even 3rd placed Sarah. I couldn’t actually see any of them anymore.

I had a rough idea how far I had to go, although I was trying not to check my watch too often. It wasn’t until almost halfway that I noticed the lap counter at the finish line – 7 laps. At the time I didn’t know if it was 7 gone or 7 to go. The next time around it showed 6. That answered my question!

I got to the finish line as the bell rang and the counter showed one lap to go. I was ecstatic… Lisa would be finishing momentarily and hadn’t lapped me! But I miscalculated – the ‘one lap to go’ was for her, not me. I still had two laps. And not 100m after I started my penultimate lap, she lapped me!

After cursing myself briefly I regrouped and set out to finish strongly, hold my position and avoid getting lapped by Frina or Sarah!

I heard the track announcer call Lisa across the line. Predictably, I was running for ‘so-so silver’!

I passed the start line for the last time. 200m to go. I couldn’t see the runners behind me and dared not turn around. I put my head down and focused on a strong finish.

My last 100m or so was at 2:55 min/km pace. I wasn’t letting anyone get past me! I hadn’t realised that the finish was off to the side of the main track but the marshal guided me in the right direction.

My Garmin time was 21:07. That was well outside my 5km PB but I was happy enough. It was hot, it was my first time on a track and I was just over a week post ultra. And I would have a SWEET silver medal to show for it!

It was a long wait till the medal ceremony as we had to wait for the rest of the runners to finish. Eventually the time came and I stood up on the dais next to Lisa. In the other age groups all the medallists got up on the 1st place position together for a photo op. Lisa started to tell me to get up and then thought better of it… even down in the 2nd place position I was still taller!

I really enjoyed today, it’s a great event to be involved in and I highly recommend it to anyone who is eligible (ie anyone who is 30 or over!) It’s fun and friendly, and there’s heaps of social activities too.

I’ve got 2 events left, the City Mile on Friday night and the half marathon on Saturday… stay tuned to my blog for my report next week!