Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sutherland 2 Surf - Race Recap

Well, well, well.

What a day.

The Sutherland 2 Surf was just a fun run but, still, I had a plan. First and foremost, finish and improve on last year's time of 65 minutes. Based on this year's half marathon I figured I should be able to do 61 minutes, however wasn't 100% confident having had a rubbish few weeks running while recovering from this year's Ironman New Zealand and Ironman Cairns.

But while expectations weren't high I still set myself a little "awesome" goal, that I didn't share so widely, thinking wouldn't it be fantastic if I could shave a minute off that half marathon pace and get in under 60 minutes.

Could I really do it?

St Pete and I had a stress free day on Saturday - easy walks and a nice early night, getting up at 5am Sunday with plenty of time for a bowl of porridge before we headed to the train for the journey down to Sutherland.

Worst thing about the day was getting there and waiting.  We got to the start line in plenty of time but it was only 5 degrees! Yes, I know, soft Sydneysider...
 Eventually we figured out that the local hall right by the start line was open for late entries ... and that was where all the smart people were waiting - inside where it was much warmer!

Eventually, however, we had to make our way to the start line and finally the gun went off and we were into it. The conditions were perfect - no wind, clear skies, this was going to be great.

St Pete and I started out together and immediately had to start dodging and running around walkers.  While they had been given different coloured bibs, for some reason the organisers hadn't coralled them at the rear of the starting area and so they were interspersed throughout the field.  The only upside to having all these walkers to get around was that it slowed me down and ensured I didn't start too fast!  Despite the positive angle, I sincerely hope this approach was just a one-off slip up on the organisers' part - it no doubt frustrated a lot of people.

Anyway, we got going and after the first kilometre St Pete said "adios" and headed off ahead of me.  He didn't know it at the time but I had hatched a second plan.

Hang on behind him for as long as I could.

During the next kilometre I managed to stick to him pretty well - there were still a few walkers around and so that was no doubt holding him up and I made the most of it.  At around the 2km mark we hit the first aid station and I slowed down to pick up a cup of water to have with a gel (I didn't have any water with me before the start so missed taking my gel - so planned on taking it at the first aid station instead).  Although I didn't stop running, I lost touch with Pete as he simply ran through without even slowing down.

I could still see his bright yellow cap ahead, though, and so worked hard to stay in visual touch.  By the time we got to the 4km mark I had almost caught up to him and at this point we hit the first and biggest hill of the course.  It went for about 300m and so I put my head down and focused on staying strong to the top, hoping I would still be in touch with Pete at the top.  Alas, by the time I got to the top he had gone out of sight and I wouldn't see him again until the finish line.

The rest of the run, however, went better than planned.  I kept a bit of an eye on my watch and was amazed to be seeing kilometre splits all sub 5:30 and one split a 4:46!  I knew I was ahead of my target pace, then, and figured I had probably technically gone out too fast.  However as with the half marathon decided I just needed to back myself and hang on until the end, hoping like anything that I wouldn't blow up.

At the 8km mark we reached the crest of a hill and saw the ocean at Cronulla beach for the first time.  It's always a great sight, however I knew that the last kilometre of this run is always tough.  Sure enough, 1500m to go and we turn hard left at Cronulla and head parallel to the shore to the Wanda Surf Lifesaving Club, where the finish line is.

By this stage I was busy checking and rechecking my splits and average pace, which had been consistently sitting around 5:09 - a pace I never hit in training!  But I was also suffering big time and this last section is really tough.  It seems like there are never ending hills and it feels like the longest 1500m ever.  Finally we turn right into the carpark and head around the corner and downhill again to the finish line, at the same time I'm continuing to run past people and chick a few blokes.  That always feels good, but not as good as seeing my time as I crossed the finish.

No, I didn't do last year's time of 65 minutes.

No, I didn't do this year's half marathon pace of 61 minutes.

No, I didn't do my "awesome" time of 60 minutes.

I backed myself, pushed hard, and hung in there for 57 minutes 17 seconds.

Job.  Done.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sutherland to Surf - A "Fun" Run

This weekend is Sutherland to Surf weekend.

This is a great local fun run held down in the Sutherland Shire which takes you on an 11km journey from Sutherland to Cronulla. Even better, the overall topography shows it as a downhill course - although don't forget, this is Sydney and so there are some climbs to negotiate!

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun

The reactions of people when I've told them we're doing this run has been interesting, though, and the message has been universal.

At only 11km it must be pretty easy for me and why would I bother doing it?

Haha, easy? I wish!

Yes, I guess it could be relatively easy if I treated it as a bit of fun and just cruised through. However it's not, because I use these runs to practice running under pressure and these upcoming off-season runs will be all about setting better times than I did for the same event last year as a way of trying to build an overall speed increase into my general running. In order to run faster I need to get used to running at a faster pace over a longer distance and this is what these standalone events do.

Training runs don't give you that same mental focus, mainly because there are interruptions such as pedestrians to navigate and traffic lights to wait for along the way. Plus you're not mentally prepared and a training run is scheduled around everything else and so you don't tend to train from a nicely rested state.

So, the plan for Sunday's run is to come in under last year's time of 1:04.59. Despite the gains I've made this year I'm far from confident. My running since returning from Cairns can only be described by one word - rubbish. It can easily be explained and understood - it's taken a good 6 weeks to recover from doing 2 ironman events in the space of 3 months, but that knowledge hasn't made me feel any better prepared to do a good time.

But the logical side of me has emerged and, as usual, the data has been analyzed. What do we know? We know that in May I ran a pretty decent half marathon and came in under the magical 2 hours. In that I ran the first 11km in 61min 13 sec. So I know I should have that in me.

So that's become my main goal - sub 61 minutes. And that will require an average 5:34 pace, something I've not been hitting too well at training these past couple of weeks! But I also need to remember that this course is downhill overall ... and did I mention I'm still recovering?

So, we will see. A day of rest today, a good night's sleep (no trying to watch the Tour de France tonight!) and I'll be ready to do the best that I can.

Because that's all you can ever expect of yourself.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Facing Our Mortality

The last few weeks has been a time of reflecting on the risks we take in the name of living life to the fullest.

I didn't plan it that way.

Rather, it's come about as a result of a number of events that have really focused my mind on how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.

First of all has been the emergence of articles in the media lately about evidence coming to light regarding possible cardiac risks from taking part in endurance events (Over 40? Rethink your next triathlon, Endurance Training is Bad for Your Heart, One Running Shoe in the Grave).  Scientists are coming to the conclusion that the amount of training endurance athletes do can result in micro tears occurring in the heart which, if not allowed to heal properly (with adequate rest and recovery), can result in scarring and thickening of the heart tissue and lead to an elevated risk of cardiac arrest.

Then this morning we woke up to the sad news that 34 year old UK woman Susan Taylor had died while attempting to swim across the English Channel. Even more tragic, she was less than 2km from the finish.  This is similar to another issue that's raised its ugly head in triathlon recently with concerns about the numbers of athletes suffering cardiac arrest in the swim leg of triathlons. While the rates are exceptionally low, it's been enough for WTC to trial wave or rolling swim starts of ironman events in North America in order to, amongst other things, "...reduce athlete anxiety".

But this reflection hasn't been only about the heart.  Yesterday, a question came from a work colleague: Do you feel safe out there riding (...on Sydney's roads amongst Sydney's sometimes maniac traffic)?  Well, yes I do.  The simple fact of the matter is I wouldn't be out there if I didn't feel safe and, on the whole, drivers treat me with the respect that my relative size and exposure dictates.

Rather than quit swimming, ironman or biking, these examples simply reinforce for me that you can't let risk stop you from living life.  There is risk in everything we do.  While some take the risk-taking to an extreme (e.g. BASE jumping, skydiving, free climbing) for most of us the risk is really not much greater than crossing the road or driving to the supermarket.

And, with apologies to event organisers in advance (!) if I were to choose, I'd much rather have a heart attack out on an ironman course, doing something I love, than living out my life surrounded in cotton wool in fear of doing anything a little bit "risky".

When I think about those risks, though, I don't take it for granted.

A comment on Facebook this morning struck a cord and aligns so well with my thinking.  It was in response to a post by Triathlete magazine about a Caroline Steffen story (the 2013 Challenge Roth champ says she is two different people on and off the race course. Can you relate?), and the first response was: 

I sure can. When the race is going well, maybe a PR, I'm focused, nothing affects me. When I'm having a tough day, I joke around, laugh and think how grateful I am to be able to race/compete.

And being grateful is something I try to remember.

I am healthy and that allows me to be fit enough to complete an ironman event (well 5, actually, as Coach Dave reminded me last night...).
I am supported by an amazing husband who allows me to indulge in this passion.
I have a wicked coach who understands who I am and where I want to go, and shares my love of the sport.
I have fantastic parents and friends who, near or far, cheer me along the way and indulge my endless training updates.
I have a great job that gives us the financial security to afford to travel to events and buy the "essential" gear.

What's not to be grateful for?

So as long as I'm able I'll be out there enjoying life and making the most of my ability to live it to the fullest.  We don't have to be the strongest, fastest or most agile, and in fact the cardiac research seems to favour we slower athletes - the pro/elites are the guys likely to do the most damage.  (A "win" for we middle/back of the packers for once!) But that doesn't stop anyone from getting out there and doing whatever it is that brings you joy, happiness and, most importantly, a smile to your face.

Because in the end there will always be an end.  And for some, like Susan Taylor, it will be tragically cut short.  However I do sincerely hope her friends and family can take some shred of comfort from all that she did achieve with her Channel swim, knowing she was fulfilling a dream and had lived her life to the fullest.

Kia kaha.

P.S.  Susan Taylor's swim across the English Channel was being completed in aid of two charities, Diabetes UK and Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People.  If you would like to contribute to her cause you can do so via her fundraising page.