Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gold Coast Marathon, July 2012

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon has been on my radar since well before I actually started running marathons. It is one of Australia's premier running events and is billed as being fast and flat - I was aware of it and had even signed up for the half-marathon there in 2002, as I remember, but of course was still in plaster with a titanium rod holding my right leg together in July of that year. Not exactly PR-running shape.

Therefore it was the logical choice for my first sub-3 attempt after I ran 3:05 at CIM in December 2011 - because at that time I really thought my chances of running sub-3 at Boston were fairly slim. Accordingly, when that race went so well, Gold Coast assumed even more importance on my racing calendar. My Boston time qualified me for a seeded start, so the race loomed large in my mind for the entire 11 weeks between Boston and July 1, 2012: what if I crashed and burned wearing my seeded bib? How embarrassing would that be?? It did not bear thinking about - so I put my head down and trained as hard as I could.

The training
11 weeks between marathons left me with 2 weeks of post-Boston recovery, 7 weeks solid training and a 2 week taper. I loosely followed a Pfitzinger multi-marathoning plan, but added miles to average 79 miles per week during the solid phase and 69 if you include the other 4 weeks. I was pretty happy with how it all went, and targeted 6:41 min/mile for my marathon pace, which would see me finishing somewhere around 2:56.

I have to admit this felt ambitious, and in training I often found myself defaulting back to the 6:51 I trained at for Boston; even just 10 seconds per mile seemed like a lot more effort. And I felt positively foolhardy when I realised that the ODDyssey HM I ran in Philadelphia in May 2011 - a PR at the time, at least since 2007 - was run at 6:44 min/mile. Just over a year later I'm planning to run faster than that for a FULL marathon? Ooops, perhaps I am.

I was encouraged by my SMH HM time in May, which officially predicted a 2:56:06 marathon, so perhaps 2:55:xx wasn't impossible after all. I'm something of an oddity among runners, in that my performance in the marathon is better than predicted by my shorter race times; this suggests that either I'm a total sandbagger at short distances, or I have something about me that is particularly suited to the marathon. Personally I believe it's a little of both, but my shuffling gait probably is the main factor. It's very efficient for the marathon but I look like an idiot trying to race a 5K - and there is video evidence out there to prove I'm right. But anyway, I digress. Back to the Gold Coast!

The travel
As always, I travel with 2 highly demanding small children in tow, but this time my Mum comes along to help keep them in check. We fly to the Gold Coast via Sydney - where we hang out in the Qantas Club and between them the kids eat enough free lunch to justify our membership for another year - and once landed we drive to our digs in Southport in our snazzy hire car.

We make 2 trips to the Expo for various reasons and on Saturday I run a quick 3 mile shake-out, then accompany my 5 year old son who is running the 2K Junior Dash, his first ever proper race! I'm fully expecting this to take 15-20 minutes so I am thrilled when we cross the line in 11:22, and with only one short stop to take a quick drink. At one point he did clutch his chest and moan "MY HEART IS HURTING", but in true Doctor Parent style I told him to suck it up and keep running, and he did! I'm very proud of my little fledgling runner.

He did it!

Race Day
I wake up relatively easily at 5am and wash down a blueberry muffin with some chocolate milk, then set off at 6am for the race precinct. It's an easy walk and the main challenge is finding the Elite Athlete tent, where my seeded number means I'm entitled to hang out and keep warm before the start. It's not particularly cold but it's lovely to sit under cover and not have to queue up for the porta-loos - well, not when I get there, but a bit later I look up from my iPod to see a bit of a line forming, and for goodness' sake it's full of Kenyans! They are intimidating in a way, all tall and lanky in their professional-looking warm-up suits, and I don't even attempt to talk to any of them. But then Steve Moneghetti appears, does a double-take when he sees me sitting there, and comes over to say hi.

We chat briefly and I tell him how I did in Boston (he's impressed! well probably not really, but he congratulates me and that's good enough for me), then it's time to get ready and suddenly everyone is stripping off and waving sticks of BodyGlide around. I consider ditching my singlet and just running in a sports bra (a la Boston) but it's still reasonably cool and besides, I can't be bothered re-pinning my bib.

The seeded and preferred runners are herded into the area directly behind the starting line; I subtly fade backwards as much as possible and bump again into Steve, who now has a balloon tied to the back of his singlet - he's pacing sub-3:00, as I remember him telling me when we met at Port Macquarie. Then we shuffle forward, the gun goes off and it's ON!

Miles 1-3: 6:32, 6:34, 6:32 (pace in min/mile)
Off we go and instantly every other seeded female runner seems to be ahead of me. Whatever - I'm here to run my own race and the last thing I need to do is start stressing out about placement. My Garmin beeps the first mile and oops, that's a little too fast. I consider slowing down but realise suddenly that Steve Moneghetti, his balloon and the ENORMOUS pack of mostly male runners following it is RIGHT behind me and tearing along at the exact same pace that I am. That's right - I've been told that last year he did something similar, went out at 2:55 pace and slowed down later in the race - so I decide okay, he's pacing me for a while then maybe!

Wheelie to the right,  irritating balloon and huge pace group behind.

I move over and again we exchange greetings. I remark, casually, that he's going a bit fast if he's aiming for 3:00, and the priceless reply comes back: "Oh, shit, really?" Yeah - I tell him my pace band is for 2:56 and we're currently ahead of that - and the second mile beep goes off right then to confirm it. We speed onwards regardless, so I figure I might as well make the most of this, and we talk a bit about Boston and the Newton hills, his pace group and the balloon tied to his singlet. It's giving him the shits, apparently, but it's better than whatever he had last year.

Miles 4-6: 6:42, 6:35, 6:35
During mile 4 we're still debating as to whether we're going too fast or not. My auto lap goes off again and I say "Ooh, that one was right", but I'm referring to my own goal and definitely not 3 hour pace. We just ran a 20:14 first 5K, although apparently the balloon was aiming for 21:00. Finally during mile 5 Steve starts to drop right back, and I find myself pulling ahead of the 4-time Olympic marathoner.

As if to make the moment even more memorable, he and the guy next to him now start a conversation about my stride and how efficient I look. I yell over my shoulder "It's called SHUFFLING, guys!" - Steve laughs and says well it's perfect for marathoning - the other guy complains that it's not fair (huh??) - and the last thing I hear is Steve say is "Especially when they're running away from you!" Suddenly I don't feel quite so silly about my road-runner gait.....

Miles 7-9: 6:43, 6:38, 6:35
I'm mildly distracted in the next mile by two guys who in succession now ask me how fast I'm planning to run, both saying they are aiming for 3 hours and just trying to stay ahead of the Moneghetti juggernaut/balloon. I tell them both in no uncertain terms NO, you need to slow down, he's been going out too fast. One bravehearted fellow hears me say "2:55ish" and declares he's going to stay with me anyway, then promptly tells me he just did an Ironman 6 weeks ago. He ran a 3:40 that day and figures it can't be too hard to knock off 40 minutes, given he hasn't swum or cycled today. Ok then! On we go - and before very long he is gone.

Piling weirdity upon idiocy, now I get passed by a guy who appears to be carrying a plastic shopping bag full of GU and protein bars. WTF?? And he's pulling something out of it every minute or two, or so it seems in the short time we're running close together. A few miles later I catch up to and pass him back, and in the process look down - he's wearing Vibrams. A barefooter?? Of course!

Miles 10-12: 6:38, 6:34, 6:34
During mile 10 I see the leading mens' pack coming back on the other side of the road. It's a tight bunch of mostly Kenyans and Ethiopians, and they're floating along like they're just out for a stroll beside the beach, although I know they're on pace to break the race record of 2:10:01. Just seeing them brings a huge smile to my face and once again I'm thrilled to be back and competing in the sport I love so much, after all those years in the injury wilderness.

And now we're close to the turnaround - I count women coming the other way until I get to 15, then I deliberately stop - better to focus on holding my goal pace than to worry too much about what position I'm in, I think. Coming back the other way I hear a few yells of "GO RACHEL!!" from the other side of the road: one of them is a friend from Wagga who I realise must be going for sub-3 (even though he only runs 30mpw and I warned him a few weeks back not to be too aggressive), one other is probably Tony from the 3:20 thread on MRT, and the rest - I'm not even sure. But thanks! I always try to wave and thank people when they encourage me from the sidelines, but this race I really feel like I'm giving my all and it's starting to get hard to respond in time.

Miles 13-15: 6:37, 6:36, 6:36
Through the half in 1:27:05. I'm ticking off the miles like a metronome, and running right alongside a guy in a white and blue shirt. I consider saying hi but decide my breath is better saved at this point, so we pace along together in silence. At mile 14 I take my second vanilla GU and a small amount of water from one of the marked bottles that have been placed on the elite tables every 5km for me - they have been great until now but I'm starting to feel like I don't want to take on much at all - so in memory of Boston I dump a fair amount of water on my head and back. It's very sunny now and although the breeze is still cool, the sun is starting to bother me.

Miles 16-18: 6:42, 6:33, 6:30
Finally I'm starting to see women ahead of me again, and the idea of Assassin Mode slips into my head. Someone jokingly called me a shark on MRT recently, and we're running right along the beach still - it's time to smell the blood and start reeling in my victims. My silent running partner inexplicably offers me a pep talk at this point, telling me I'm looking really strong, and these factors combine to speed me up as we head closer towards the start/finish zone and the final out-and-back. I pass at least 3 women in this stretch.

Miles 19-21: 6:35, 6:42, 6:43
The course turns back onto the Gold Coast Highway and I head past the apartments where we've been staying - this is the point where I was expecting to see Mum and the kids, but they're not there and after a bit I decide maybe they didn't make it or something. But then - SCREAMS of "Mummy! Mummy! GO MUMMY!!" come from the other side of the road - and there they are, all 3 of them waving and jumping up and down with excitement. I manage to wave and scream back with enough enthusiasm to satisfy them, and that's just the thing I need right now because there's a HILL coming up in this so-called "flat and fast" marathon, and I absolutely do NOT want to run up a hill right now!!

But up the hill I go, and in the process pass another 2 women with seeded bibs on. Hah - maybe I wasn't such an imposter in that elite area after all - but man, passing the turn-off to the finish chute whilst still having almost 6 miles to go is a tough mental hurdle to conquer. All I want is for this to be over, but I have to hold 6:41 for another 6 miles. Can I do it?

Almost there, and digging deep.

Miles 22-24: 6:42, 6:40, 6:41
It's taking every ounce of courage and determination that I have to keep this up. I see photographers but I'm not smiling or flashing peace signs anymore - these are going to be the ugly-suffering-in-pain running photos that I've *mostly* avoided in recent times. There's nothing going through my head but a chant of KEEPITGOINGKEEPITGOINGKEEPITGOING, and my stomach did NOT like that last mile-21 GU at all. Somehow it was mint chocolate not vanilla, and I only took the tiniest sip of water to wash it down; last thing I want here is to have to emulate my friend Jim E and puke whilst running sub-7:00 pace.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:46, 6:47, 6:28 to the end
The wheels are finally starting to come off, but very gradually, and at least I have a tiny little kick left for the finish chute, which seems to go on FOREVER. As I sprint (well that's how it feels) down the final stretch I hear the announcers hoping I'll be the first Queensland woman to finish; I am vaguely wondering how to motion to them that I'm NOT a Queenslander when I hear "oh, no, she's from Wagga but we'll take her anyway" and then I'm over the line. I get to stop now! Awesome!!

Finish time: 2:54:51, 6:41 pace (Garmin reads 26.39 miles and 6:38 pace)

Placement: 14th OA female, 2nd AG F40-44

I grab a plastic vomit bag from one of the volunteers waiting just across the line and refuse the offer of a bottle of water - I'm seriously nauseated and I'm fairly sure I'm going to throw up. But after about a minute the feeling passes, thank goodness, and I'm able to straighten up. I lurk around until Tony shows up - he's run his sub-3 and is happy but just as exhausted as me - together we head for the grass and collapse in the shade of a palm tree. Mona walks past pulling at the evil balloon, and tells me he ran 2:58:something. I ask how the pace group held up and he smiles enigmatically.

Walking back to rejoin Mum and kids, on top of the world (and the Gold Coast apparently)
The Analysis
I'm obviously extremely happy that I managed to hold my goal pace for the entire 26.2 miles (well, a small fade but nothing like my first 2 marathons). Again it's all down to RUN MORE - the best piece of marathon training advice I've ever been given.

The big question now is, how much (if any) faster can I go? I've always felt that as a runner I have a fairly limited speed range - again I think it's probably due in large part to my odd gait - and my pathetic attempt at racing a 5K in March provided some pretty solid evidence supporting that theory.

I'm not quite giving up yet, but I think some serious speedwork is probably in order, and finding the right combination of quality and quantity to my training - whilst obviously avoiding getting injured - is going to take some thought. Maybe I need an online coach to get the most out of my next marathon cycle, or maybe I'll just kick back and take it easy in New York, since I'm registered there already. But whoops, I have sub-elite status there too, and it might be silly not to take advantage of that and go for yet another PR......I guess time will tell!


  1. Congratulations Rachel! Enjoyed the report. Sounds like Mona started out too fast (cool that you got that photo with him - and beat him ;) - he had a massive group with him at 9k but not many at the finish.

    Yep, might as well go for another PB at New York, although the course is hilly compared to GC, but so is Boston eh? If you're looking at online coaching I reckon Amy Begley would be a good fit - she's just started coaching - seems like a very knowledgeable, helpful and giving person (wouldn't be confused by miles either ;) http://amybegley.com/

    1. Ooh, thanks Ewen! I'll check her out. Funny about Mona, I knew he would do that - and that most of the group would blow up. The two I met were certainly heading that way.

  2. Great report, Rachel! Your journey to become faster is so incredibly exciting and the best part is, there is more to be had for sure. Here's to the next collection of tricks you pull out of that little pink bag of yours. I suspect your shorter race PRs are about to become history. :) Congrats again, speedy!

  3. Great report Rachel, and thanks for the mention (never mind the context). +1 to GIM on more to come!

  4. Hi, there! I discovered your blog somehow through the kind folks to the right. I used to post on RW a few years ago. I'm so inspired by your racing and performances!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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