It's a couple of days after the running of the Sydney marathon and I am hobbling on the outside but floating on the inside.
Like the golfer who dreams of that once-in-a-career hole in one - Sunday for me was a rare day where it all came together and gave me a great result.
I ran, I suffered, I focused.
And I crossed the finish line in a time of 4 hours 53 minutes. 29 minutes better than my previous best time. Chuffed is one way to put it...
So, the race plan. I had my regular pre-race Skype call to Coach Dave and relayed my intentions for the day. There were really only two goals (besides getting in before the 5 hr 30min cutoff!). Firstly I thought if I could maintain a pace of around 6:30-7:00 min/km then that would be the ultimate achievement. My recent races had me targeting a 6:00 min/km pace and so I figured this should be achievable. My second goal was to practice the nutrition and get that nailed. A good supply of gels and then taking on the Powerade on the course.
It was all good in theory but my head was doing double-time silencing the doubts. There was my perceived lack of running in the build-up. No 25/30/32km runs in training for me. No 4-5 run sessions per week. I was strictly on a swim/bike/run/bootcamp regime (with two runs per week) and Coach Dave was more than confident that he had it all under control.
And, afterall, in Coach we trust....
My other doubts were over my previous two marathons. Both completed with the help of significant stretches of walking and much distress. While I was extremely proud to finish both, they were both definitely a case of triumph over adversity and it would be an outright lie to suggest I actually enjoyed either experience.
And then, of course, there's that nagging voice that continually brings me back down to earth and puts this all into perspective - I'm not a runner. My legs aren't built for running. I'm a plodder. What the hell am I doing running a blasted marathon?
Well, I'm proving that anyone can run a marathon. Hell, if I can then anyone absolutely can.
So, Sunday. St Pete and I had had a pretty good build up to it. A quiet taper week, with the only thing threatening to rain on my parade being a cold that reared its ugly head the weekend before. I managed to stomp it out, though. Some great drugs from the pharmacist and lots of fluids and rest, and that pesky virus was out the door by Saturday morning.
Sunday morning dawned fine and we enjoyed the luxury of being able to eat breakfast and then watch the half marathon runners go past our balcony before we made our way down to the start line, just 200m away. I was feeling good and not too nervous. St Pete and I wished each other luck and he headed off to his starting group, which would get away just before our group.
I had the plan sorted out in my head. Start out slow and steady, especially for the first kilometre which would be uphill to the apex of the harbour bridge. I didn't want my heart rate to get high right at the start as that would put me right on the back foot. Then walk through the aid stations and think about just getting to the next aid station.
The gun started and the first two groups headed away and then it was our turn (we were the "finish time longer than 4hr 30min" group). Off we went, starting the climb up the bridge, and I was feeling good. First km was ticked over in 6:11. Faster than I had anticipated but, more importantly, my heart rate wasn't through the roof so I was happy with that. Feeling comfortable and over the other side we went, through our first U-turn and then down the corkscrew onto Cahill Expressway before turning right and starting the climb up to Hyde Park. Halfway up to Hyde Park we got to the first aid station, at the 5km mark and my km splits had all been sub-6:30. A good start and I was feeling fine. Not pushing it, just focusing on staying relaxed and enjoying the moment and the people around me.
At Hyde Park we turned left and headed downhill to Mrs Macquarie's Chair by the botanic gardens. Again I was feeling relaxed and had gotten into a good rhythm which continued past the U-turn and for the climb back out of the gardens back towards Hyde Park. This stretch included the short sharp steep bit that I referred to in my previous blog and I remembered this as I chugged my way up this section with no worries.
By this time we were approaching 10km and at this point we left the half marathon course and turned left into Hyde Park and headed south through the park before climbing up Oxford St and continuing onto Centennial Park where we would do several convoluted hairpins and circuits. This would keep us occupied for a half marathon before we found ourselves back down at the end of Hyde Park to rejoin the half marathon route for the final 10km section.
First of all, though, I had to conquer the middle half marathon!
First on my mind was the grind up Oxford St. This is a section about 600m long and a steady gradient of 4-5%. I remembered struggling my way up there when we first moved to Sydney a year ago. This time I chugged my way up no problems and my split for that kilometre was only about 20 seconds slower than previous splits. In and around Centennial Park was interesting with hairpins, undulations and the course going in all sorts of directions. There was plenty of tree cover and lots of people around so not much chance to get too hot or bored. Rather, I simply focused on maintaining a steady pace and thought only about the next aid station.
While in the park we crossed over the half way point and my time check for the half marathon was 2:19 - a time I was well happy with. I immediately calculated a 4:40 finish time and then pushed that out of my mind. That was way too ambitious and I couldn't see how I was going to hold it together as well as I had for the first half. Even so, all was going well and I had few concerns at that point.
We headed out of Centennial Park and it was easy to think we just had to run back down Oxford St and into Hyde Park. However before that there was still about 4km of straight running with a couple of U-turns thrown in as we worked our way slowly across to the far side of Anzac parade and finally heading back to Oxford St. It was during this last section I finally succumbed to the will of my bladder and, at around 26km, took a quick loo stop - and suffered a 2 minute deficit on my split for that kilometre!
Never mind, felt much better with that out of the way, although lesson learnt - always make sure you have a final loo stop before the start...doh!
Heading back towards Oxford St and the downhill to Hyde Park, muscles were starting to make themselves well known and it was time to employ some psychology.
- almost at the downhill, which you love
- along Hyde Park, flat
- then another downhill towards Circular Quay, by which time you'll be into the final 10km
I was mentally focusing on the downhills because they are my favourite. However by the time I got to the bottom of Oxford St I was well over running downhill and then the second stretch down to Circular Quay was starting to become agony.
At Circular Quay I had to ignore the runners who were heading to the finish line and instead focus on the fact that there was less than 8km to go. The last section started to get a bit ragged and my focus became not so much the kilometre splits (which were increasing to the 7:00 mark) but on keeping moving and not walking. By this stage everyone was walking (except me!) and I actually managed to gain mental strength from those that I was able to plod my way past. (If you were one of those people, sorry!!!!).
The last 8km section is an out and back, towards and past Darling Harbour, a couple of small loops around and then back the way you came, around the waterfront under the harbour bridge, around Circular Quay and the finish line by the Opera House. There are a couple of good climbs on it, just enough to finish you off if you've hit the 32km wall, but again I was able to maintain momentum and keep going past countless people as they trudged (walked) their way to the finish.
My legs were starting to really complain with about 3km to go but by this point I had come down off the last downhill and knew it was flat all the way to the end - and it was only 3km to go! I tried to keep it steady and, with 2km to go, looked at my watch and saw I was at 4hr 39min. At that point I realised I could finish inside 5 hours and so tried to pick up the pace a little with the hope of having a strong finish.
At 1km to go there was the final aid station and I grabbed a cup of water and decided to see what I had for the finish. Off I went, as strongly as I could in the conditions and with about 500m left we turned left slightly onto Circular Quay and stacks of supporters lining the course making heaps of noise. There were some girls just ahead of me and I managed to get around them and ran hard to the end, wondering if they would try and get me and, knowing my luck, pip me on the line. I stayed strong, though, and didn't see them again, powering to the end and crossing the line with a gun time of 4:56.
Knowing my net time would be less than that, I looked down and stopped my watch - 4:53 - and slowly walked to the recovery area, gasping for breath but absolutely elated with my achievement.
As I got to the recovery area I looked up and the first person I saw was St Pete. Doubly amazing that we would find each other so quickly! Turned out he had finished only a couple of minutes earlier and, with net times had beaten me by a mere 30 seconds. Phew, his day hadn't been so perfect, but his honour was intact!
Lying, exhausted, on the grass in the botanic gardens, my reflections on the day were that it was pretty much the perfect race. Everything I had anticipated had gone as it should - I had executed my plan perfectly - and I was therefore satisfied that I had received the best result that I could on the day.
Which is all we can ask of ourselves.
Some post-race stats and reflections...
- I did the first half of the race in 2:19 and the second half in 2:33. First half faster than I had anticipated but not too bad in terms of trying to maintain an even pace throughout.
- In the second half of the race I picked up 188 places so, relatively speaking, had a strong second half.
- My pace for the first half was 6:36/km and 7:17/km for the second half with an overall average pace of 6:56/km (inside my "ideal" race scenario of 7:00/km).
- If I were to be nit picking, I could have saved almost 2 minutes if I had avoided the loo stop (didn't pay as much attention to this as I should have prior to the start) and probably another minute if I didn't hang around walking while consuming a handful of jellybeans at the 32km aid station (they seemed like a good idea at the time!).
- I have no doubt that bootcamp has contributed to my hill strength these last couple of months. While my climbing has improved since our move to Sydney, I was surprised with the way I coped with the climbs over a full marathon distance.
- Coach Dave rocks. Once again I slap myself for ever questioning or doubting his plans for me. Some have asked whether I would change to a Sydney-based coach following our move and my question is always unwavering, "no way". While it may seem logical to have a coach nearby, when you find one who understands your strengths and weaknesses, understands your motivations and goals, and believes in the Irongirl legend as much as I do, then you need to foster that as well as you can. Thank goodness for Skype is all I can say!!!
- St Pete rules. Enough said :)