Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wagga Wagga Trail Marathon 2012

I am definitely NOT a trail runner. A year ago I bought a pair of pink (of course) Asics trail shoes and up until last weekend I had run a grand total of 30 miles in them. But with a couple of really satisfying road marathons under my belt already this year, I was enticed by the thought of something new.

I've run the half-marathon and the 10K events in the Wagga Wagga Running Weekend before: I came 3rd in the 10K in 2009 and 2nd in the HM in 2010. With all the miles I've been running in 2012, it seemed like a pretty good idea to enter the full marathon this time, and after some encouragement from my friend Paul (the one who almost killed me in the Lake to Lagoon last year, I have no idea why I listen to him at all anymore) I signed up.

Although it would take place at the end of my first week of supposed training for NYC, I figured I could do it as a long training run.....and after googling the results from years gone by, I also figured I could possibly win the race. And thus, armed with these two totally conflicting notions, I ventured forth into the world of trail running.

The Training
Ah yes, training. Well, that would involve NO trail running of any sort; a week off followed by a tough race one week beforehand; not nearly enough sleep and practically no carb-loading at all in the lead-up (unless you count a bowl of cereal for dinner on Saturday night); and no particular taper other than an unintentional single day off the day before. The race would get me to 73 miles for the week - not exactly your usual taper scenario.

Race Day
A beautiful winter's morning greets me as I drive the short distance into town and pull up at Wagga Beach, which is not so much a beach as a small patch of sand next to the Murrumbidgee River.

It's 5C/41F so I pull on my CIM armwarmers (knee socks with holes cut in the toes and heel) and down a vanilla GU before wandering over to the start area, where runners are milling around already. It's all pretty casual so I line up right at the front next to the guy who (unbeknownst to me at that point) will end up being the overall winner. The mayor of Wagga counts down from 5 to 1 - clearly they don't trust him with a gun - and off we go along the river heading south.

Wheeee! Note Singlet Girl right behind me.

Miles 1-3: 7:33, 7:22, 7:21 (pace in min/mile)
The girl who was just behind me at the start now shoots past me and pulls ahead. She and the bloke running next to her have white/blue singlets with "BALLARAT" on the back - clearly they are associated with some running group in that town, which is maybe 3 hours drive south and across the border in Victoria.

Mexicans! I was beaten in the HM by a woman from Victoria and I'm not cool with the idea of being beaten again in the same manner. I look at the pace: 7:01. Too fast - and I'm too smart now to be tempted to go with her. Disappointment shoots through  me, but I tell myself it's early yet and I have over 20 miles in which to catch her. I settle into a comfortable pace and the miles start ticking by.

Miles 4-6: 7:16, 7:32, 7:44
We are heading out towards my home at Lake Albert and this is all very familiar running territory, so I try to relax and not worry too much about pace - I'm thinking anything between 7:30-7:45 is my overall goal. Behind me a couple of guys, one with a strong Irish accent, are discussing their previous marathons (one has run one, the other none) and their time goals for this race, which they agree is around 3:45.

I have to do it - I drop back and say casually "You guys are going way too fast if that's your goal time." They're both surprised and one remarks that he's banking time in case it gets tough at the finish. He won't believe that this isn't a wonderful idea, so I chat with them for a while, warn them again not to go out too fast, and off we go up Red Hill - the first but most definitely not the last of the big hills.

Elevation profile: ouch, ouch and OUCH.

Miles 7-8: 7:46, 7:32
Red Hill is enormous and it just keeps on going as we turn left at the top and head along the ridge. Irish and his mate drop behind and I'm running on my own for the most part as we make our way through the bush and down to Lloyd. We go through the spot where I got lost 2 years ago in the HM - this time I'm much more aware of the white arrows that someone has painted on the ground, and keeping track of them keeps me busy until it's time to take my first GU.

Thankfully there's a water table coming up, and I have to laugh when I think about the water stops at Boston or Gold Coast - this one is a small picnic table with a jug of water and about 20 cups on it, manned by somebody's lovely grandmother. She hands me a cup and says Watch your step, dear! I'm so enjoying this run that I've almost forgotten what lies ahead.

Miles 9-11: 7:58, 7:56, 7:14
More hills, more hills and more hills. OMG, they don't stop coming. I pass a tall bloke going up a very steep incline, only to have him pelt past me on the subsequent downhill. He gasps out "I always do this, I'm faster on the downhills" when I exclaim at the way he's barrelling along, and then of course I catch him once more on the next hill. I wait for him to pass again on the very pleasant downhill that finally follows, but is that the sound of retching I hear behind me? He never reappears.

Miles 12-14: 7:20, 7:12, 7:42
The downhill portion continues on a narrow single trail through trees and over the odd creek. I start catching more people now - some have "Early Start" bibs on, including an old bloke who is powerwalking dressed in head-to-toe dayglo orange - but others are from the group that shot ahead at the start. So far I've mostly avoided the mud, but now we go through a brick tunnel under a railway line (it's about 25m long and narrow enough that I'm almost doubled over) and there's water all over the place. Splash, splash, enormous jump.

Through halfway in around 1:38, I spot a pair of runners maybe just under half a mile up ahead. Both are wearing white/blue singlets - could it be I'm actually catching Singlet Girl?? This is HUGE! But I have other things to worry about now, because we're heading up the hill towards the biggest challenge of them all: Pomigalana Reserve.

Miles 15 - 16: 7:39, 7:49
Up, up, up we go on fire trail with the occasional narrower stretch. The urge to speed up is overwhelming every time I spot a white singlet ahead of me - I'm still not 100% sure if it's that girl, her male friend or somebody else- but I tell myself I've got 11 miles to catch them, and even if I go just a few seconds per mile faster than they do, it will still be enough. We head into some switchbacks and DAMN she looks close now, it's definitely her! But the path narrows further and becomes a lot more technical, so I focus on my feet and try not to freak out. There's a water stop ahead, so I down a GU and  it pumps me up for the challenge ahead.

Miles 17-18: 8:05, 8:14
I've never run Pomigalana before, so I start getting worried when small signs start appearing on trees next to the track saying "Pete's Precipice", "Dead Man's Gap" and other threatening things. After "Hell's Mouth" I figure it cannot get much worse: we're running on mountain bike track now and it's steep, twisty and rough. I pass an older runner and, distracted momentarily, trip on a tree root. My low centre of gravity and some wild arm-circling keeps me from eating the dust - thank God - and I hear the other guy yell out "That was close!" Too right it was, and the other thing that is now getting close is that Singlet Girl ahead of me.

Miles 19-20: 7:49, 7:07
We finally crest the hill during mile 19 and now I'm RIGHT on her tail. Dilemma - do I hang here and make her push the pace, or do I pass her and deal with the mental pressure of trying to build a lead? I'm definitely going to stay behind her for the next 3-4 miles, I decide, right before she suddenly slows on the descent and.......I go rocketing straight past. Oops. Careering downhill we catch and pass another two male runners, and now I feel the panic rise: she's right behind me, and building a lead that I can hold is maybe not going to be that easy.

Through a turnstile (WTF?) and onto the flat, determined now to win

Miles 21-22: 7:31, 7:29
Off we go down the road, me in front with Singlet Girl in hot pursuit. I'm holding back the panic, telling myself that she went out too fast and that I can hold her off. I'm also remembering the HM 2 years ago, though, where I led for most of the race and was passed in the final few miles. Don't give up, just keep going, don't give up -- but she's breathing down my neck.

After 2 miles we approach a water stop and she slows a lot more than I do: I pull ahead at last. I take my last GU early in an attempt to give myself enough fuel for the duration; I'm aware now that I'm running out of glycogen and mentally I am kicking myself for not carb loading properly yesterday.

The other, possibly bigger obstacle now standing in my way is the presence of 6-7 stiles on the final portion of the race, which runs along the banks of the Murrumbidgee river. They interrupt your rhythm and I hate starting and stopping during a run - but there's no way around them. Onward I go.

Miles 23-24: 7:29, 8:22
At first all goes well and as I slow to climb the first few stiles, I can neither see nor hear Singlet Girl behind me. But really I have NO idea how far ahead I am, so I shake off the thought of winning (or not winning) and concentrate on running. My shoe treads are full of dirt now and it finally happens: I slide on a patch of mud and down I go onto both hands and my right knee. There's not much damage and I hop right back up - I'm not going to let anything stop me now - and decide to discard my armwarmers. They're covered in dirt, I'm starting to feel warm, and I want to look good when I cross the line in first place. I have no idea what is coming, but ignorance is bliss, right?

So, after surviving the fall I'm buoyant, thinking I can really DO this! But then I see it up ahead - a stretch of soft sand, maybe half a mile of it. Ooooof - my pace crumbles and it's all I can do to keep moving. For the first time since the Trails of Death at Pomigalana I slow down significantly, and I feel like I'm barely moving. Ugh, it's horrible, and I can only hope that it's having the same effect on Singlet Girl....

Miles 25-26: 8:02, 7:49
Out of the sand I manage to pull myself together somewhat again, but I'm drained. An enthusiastic timekeeper/water person yells "First lady! First lady!" at me and rings a bell - I'm too wiped out to respond other than to wave and keep going - I wonder if he might ring it again when Singlet Girl comes through, so I keep my ears open, but I hear nothing. Is that a good sign? I really should look around, but I'm too scared.

Final 0.2: 6:08 pace
I can see the finish! It's not as far as I thought, so finally I pluck up the courage to look over my shoulder and --- HOLY CRAP, Singlet Girl is maybe 50m behind me!!

I put my head down and sprint desperately for the line. NO WAY I'm going to let her catch me now! No way no way no way -- and finally I'm over the line in the most inelegant and unphotogenic manner possible:

but I just WON!

Finish time: 3:19:07

Placement: 3rd OA, 1st OA female

Turns out Singlet Girl is just 26 years old, so I have not only scored a victory for local runners (the male winner is also a Wagga resident), I've also struck a blow for Old Running Ladies. And won my age group!

I decide to take an icebath in the river - 15 minutes of agony and a mild case of hypothermia ensue - and then it's time for the presentation. I get a big trophy, a medal and a cheque for $500, then it's off home and back to life as normal, but with exquisitely sore legs.

What next?
Despite enjoying the run and of course the spoils, I'm not sold on trail running as my future direction. It's hard - almost 5 days later I'm still REALLY sore - and I prefer speed over stumbling down technical trails.

But I'm not sure I want to keep racing road marathons one after the other like I have been the past couple of years. Maybe it's time to take things down a notch and stop obsessing over mileage and times, or maybe not. Looking ahead, Boston 2013 may be my next big goal marathon, and beyond that......I really have no idea. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

City2Surf, August 2012

The 14km (8.75 mile) City2Surf is Sydney's best-known running race and is also the biggest race in the world, with some 80,000 participants starting in 3 or 4 separate waves. It was my first ever race, back in 2000 when I was a brand new runner, and I ran it again in 2001 in 55:23, earning myself a Certificate of Merit and a preferred start for 2002.

We all know how THAT turned out, and time and events conspired to keep me from participating again until this year, when I somehow decided that a 14km race the day after a week of skiing (during which no running would happen at all) would be just the right thing to do. After securing a preferred runner start - to make up for the one I missed back in 2001 - not even a flat battery before the 5-6 hour drive from the snowfields could dissuade me from running the City2Surf again.

However! I am usually ridiculously healthy and can count on one hand the number of times I have been sick in the past few years. BUT -  the week at the snow had other things in store for me. Many people get sick while tapering for a marathon, their bodies seeing the sudden reduction in training as some sort of signal to shut the immune system down for a while. For me, no running whilst skiing translated into a day of gastro (thank you, children) followed by the insidious onset of a nasty head cold. During the taper for Gold Coast, I had 2 small kids coughing all over me and in my face for the entire two weeks and I was fine -- but now, I was down for the count. All together now: SIGH.

The travel
We drive up to Sydney from skiing with the obligatory stop at McDonalds, where I sneeze, blow my nose and make myself eat half a piece of banana bread in a very half-hearted attempt at carbo-loading. The kids are extremely excited to arrive at the swanky Shangri-La hotel for a very short (12 hour) stay, and one of them comments on how pretty all the city lights look with all that rain on the windows outside! Rain? Yep, rain. Awesome.

Race Day
I'm awake as usual at 5:30am and lie there feeling reluctant until 6am, when I get up and slink around in the dark getting dressed. I pull an enormous fleece top that is left over from when I was pregnant (yes, it's really enormous) over the top of my race outfit, fill my pockets with vanilla GU pouches, slip my phone into a plastic ziplock bag and set off for the train station. At least it's not raining - and fairly quickly I decide to jog to the start area rather than bothering with the train. In no time at all I am in Hyde Park, and it's fairly deserted still, so I make use of the porta-loos and then just wander aimlessly around until it's time to start warming up.

It's really quite cold, for Sydney, and I don't feel even remotely warm when I finish a few laps up and down William St in front of the start line. I haven't eaten breakfast so I remember to take a GU an hour before the start and another 15 minutes before; that will have to do me until I get to Bondi. I keep the hideous fleece on until there are so many other bodies around me that I can make do without it, and lined up in the preferred runners' area I'm totally surrounded by men who are taller than me. One of them is dressed as Superman (he has a seeded number!) and another as Spiderman (complete with mask) - I have no idea why. At least they're blocking the wind.

I shove my (plastic-bag-protected) phone in the side of my bra, but it feels weird. I stick it down the front, but that's plain strange. I try to stuff it in my shorts pocket, but it's too big. Eventually I decide to put it down the back of my bra. This is not a clever move, and I will find out why in about 7 miles' time.

It might be the cold making my brain fuzzy, but I don't even get nervous while I'm standing there. It's as if I'm just there to hang about with a whole bunch of people, and what's this about a race? Huh? When the gun goes off I'm moderately surprised (did someone get shot?) but I hit my Garmin and move forward with surprisingly little difficulty considering how crowded it is. And wheeee, I'm off down William St with 25,000 of my closest running buddies right around me.

Mile 1: 6:09 (pace in min/mile)
Immediately I don't really feel good. The downhill bit is great but the uphill towards Kings Cross is not - I feel like I'm working too hard and I can't find that "comfortably tough" gear I usually use for races. And, it's cold and windy. I'm starting to resign myself to the fact that I may not beat 2001's time after all. This is the first negative thought that enters my mind, and it won't be the last.

Mile 2: 6:21
Hmm, that's slower than I was hoping - somewhere along the line, 6:20 has become my goal pace. I know that will get me at least close to my ancient PR, so 6:20 it is. The hills just keep coming. I can't get comfortable. Man, this race really SUCKS.

Mile 3: 6:18
I haven't seen Spiderman or Superman again, but now at least I pass Chewbacca, who is loping along and not looking happy. A light rain starts - it's not too unpleasant, but it will be if it gets any heavier - and I'm acutely aware that Heartbreak Hill is coming up soon. Could I get any more disinterested in this race? I wonder.

Mile 4: 6:26
The start of the big hill slows this mile down somewhat. I'm trying to remember how long it is, and memories from 2001 flash through my mind: a fellow runner encouraging me, his words about pumping my arms and keeping my stride short. No problems with the second part of that - my shuffly gait is perfect for hills, really - and soon I'm passing quite a lot of people.

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Mile 5: 6:52
Ugh, Heartbreak Hill is TOUGH. Much longer and steeper than its parent hill in Boston - and there are no cheering people or signs to let you know it's almost over. I glance at my pace and see 7:11, which makes me seriously annoyed, and that speeds me up enough to get my average pace back up some. And then finally that goddamn hill is over....

Mile 6: 6:08
Ok, this one is a surprise. I still don't feel like I am really running well or all that fast, so 6:08 is not what I was expecting for this mile. I go through the 10K mark in around 39:30, and now there's an evil headwind, and nobody around me really to block it. Lovely - more negative thoughts crowd in and I try in vain to shut them out. My phone is sliding down from between my shoulderblades and I shove it back into position a few times without realising what is about to occur. The course is still undulating but I think that's the last hill - no, that one must be the last - no, that one is definitely it. I think.

Mile 7: 6:41
I'm zooming along past a water stop when it happens: before I can reach for it, my phone (lubricated, no doubt, by sweat and rain) suddenly slides down the back of my shirt and hits the road beside me. OMG! I screech to a stop and grab desperately for it. It takes me several goes to get hold of the bloody thing - during which time, thankfully, nobody steps on it - and some choice words come out of my mouth whilst I'm flailing around trying to keep my balance on the slippery road. Starting back up again feels HORRIBLE - I've never liked stopping during a run - and I've lost at least 10-15 seconds in the process. Bugger. Did I mention that I'm not really enjoying this run? At least there's less than 2 miles to go.

At least I don't look as bad as the guys to my left.....

Mile 8: 5:49
Downhill!!! I shove the stupid phone down the front of my bra; my boobs now look flat and square, which is fine with me at this point. A girl in a white shirt passes me then slows; I pass her right on back and keep going. The mile split beeps and I realise I just made up most of the time I lost on Heartbreak Hill and in the phone fiasco. Could it be that I'm still on track? I cannot bear to look.

Last 0.75 miles: 6:05 pace
This bit is all flat, along Campbell Parade to the roundabout and then a sharp turn onto the finish chute by the beach. I'm telling myself to just keep going, just keep going - white shirt girl passes me but I just don't care. I round the corner and make myself look up: the clock is ticking over to 54:00! I have 90 seconds to get over that line and I'M GOING TO MAKE IT!! I put my head down and sprint with all I've got left, which is not terribly much, and then I'm over the line and grinding to a somewhat wobbly halt.

Almost there!

Finish time: 54:58 (chip time, 6:17 pace)

Placement: 24th OA woman, 2nd AG (F40-49)

The Analysis
New PR! Hooray!! I cannot quite believe it. I really didn't do much right in the lead-up to this race - I got sick, I didn't carb load at all, I didn't run for 7 days beforehand and I did no speedwork at all since Gold Coast - so I'm very happy that I ended up running as well as I did. Not much about the race was fun, though, and unless the weather gods can guarantee me a perfect sunny day next time, I am not particularly interested in running it again. Yeah, I'm getting PICKY in my old age.