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.
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.
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.
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.