2016 Blackmores Sydney Running Festival Half Marathon – Felicity Gamble
Race Date: September 18th Results: 2016
I ran the Blackmores half marathon on Sunday 18th September 2016. I finished in a net time of 1:24:48. My race objective was to finish under 90mins. Writing this report, I’m still in some level of disbelief as to how I managed to cross the line in that time... still questioning whether I managed to skip a kilometer of the race somehow or inadvertently digested some performance enhancing substance! But perhaps in the course of writing this report, the reasons will become more obvious.
After breaking my second metatarsal just before Christmas last year, I had found myself sidelined (in a moonboot no less, adding insult to injury) for 10 weeks. After starting back running again in early Feb, I began a gradual race distance build-up, starting with the NewRun 5k in April, followed by the Hunter Winery 10k in July, the RunNewcastle 12k in August and finally the City2Surf 14km, all of which I’d been able to maintain 4 min/km pace. Just.
So to try and tick a medium-term goal (completing a half marathon in under 90 mins) before the end of the 2016 season, I found myself left with only one option - Blackmores. Having made tentative arrangements with Reggie to drive down on the Sunday morning (as we’d done with reasonable success for another run) we then realised the race had a somewhat earlier start than initially anticipated - which would require a 3am departure. Nevertheless we registered and at the last minute I even managed to persuade the race organisers to give me a preferred start. We later found out that both Reggie and I had been considering pulling out due to the less-than-perfect logistical requirements of the race (a 3am departure is totally insane - who does that?!) but felt we’d be letting the other one down! Amazing what running company can do for motivation!
My previous half-marathon pb (1:25:25) was achieved in July 2004 (a mere 12 years ago) at the Gold Coast, when I was training seriously in Melbourne. I’d done one more sub-90 a few months later at an Athletics Victoria road event. Since then I have only done a handful of halfs - generally finishing around the 90 minute mark, including 90:00 at the 2013 Hunter Winery half and 90:31 at the NewRun half in 2015. Granted these were both hilly runs, yet I still had doubts that I could hold 4:10 pace over 21.1km. Approaching my 40th birthday, I figured this goal, let alone breaking my 2004 pb, was becoming increasingly unlikely.
So the day started with 2:30 wake-up following a restless sleep, rendez-vous with Reggie in a Belmont Caltex carpark, and an uneventful drive to Gordon station. Hopping on the 4:44 train full of runners took us to Milsons Point where we met up with Kyle (and eventually John Doyle!) to get our bibs. There was a longer than expected bag-drop due to enhanced pre-race mayhem - toilets queues were also a shmozzle requiring a necessary stop-off behind a large tree, thankful for the remaining shadows in the early morning light. I downed three quarters of a caffeine gel - something I hadn’t done before, but figured I’d need given my wake-up time. I popped the remaining 1/4 gel in my back pocket.
Then it was time to line up and before we knew it, the gun went off. So much for a warm up. In what I think it is fairly standard run-think, within the first 2km I started having a series of doubts. I’m too tired. I need a toilet. My hip feels tight. Have I drunk enough? I then noticed that one shoe felt much looser than the other. Thinking back to my Hunter Winery 10 when my lace came completely undone (on the Audrey W hill no less), I didn’t want to end up with a lace that required complete tying - very hard when your hands are a bit shaky, so I stopped to make sure the double knot was tight. It was. But the shoe still felt loose. Or did the other shoe feel tight. Which one was normal? Is it making me run unevenly? Is the tightly-laced-foot starting to feel a bit numb? A series of other unrelated and often obscure thoughts about shoes then followed; looking down at my Garmin I noted my pace had slowed with all this shoe-think, so I tried to refocus on the run and forget about my shoes.
I looked ahead to see if there were any runners with a strong and steady pace that I could slot in behind. A smallish stocky guy was not far ahead who looked like he had a similar stride to mine. I caught up and stuck just behind him for a few ks before he started to drop back and I passed him. Five minutes later he sprinted up ahead of me, and resumed his pace (Footnote 1). (I remained just behind this guy basically all the way to the end of the race.)
The first few ks had gone past pretty quickly. My pace was pretty fast to begin with - I realized, I was averaging just under 4 min ks. I covered the first 5km in 19:15 - that’s only 8 seconds off my parkrun pb! Thinking about The Flyers king-of-pace (James Staciwa, who’s had some great races of late by holding an impressively consistent pace) I decided to try and slow down a little - fearing if I didn’t, I’d blow out before the end. But each time my Gaffa-taped-Garmin pinged with another km completed, I’d look down and once again be surprised that I’d somehow done another sub 4min km. I was now at about the 11k mark and started to wonder whether I could in fact maintain this pace for another 10ks. I’m over half way, I told myself, I’m actually still feeling pretty good. Legs felt strong, breathing is slow and steady, tummy a little dicey... but perhaps I can do this.
I managed to get in a few mouthfuls of water at the next drink stop (I’m notoriously bad at drinking on the run). Most of it missed my mouth, and a bit went up my nose, but I got some down my throat. Hopefully worth the effort. Not long after this, I passed three girls who were slowing. Hmm, this water thing works I thought!
At several points in the race, when the course came back on itself I saw Reggie go past, looking strong and I estimated in the top five girls. John, Matt and Kyle were too far ahead so I figured they were on pace. As I crossed back past the runners behind me I heard a shout out from Runlab coaches Lucas and Mitch. (Footnote 2) Amazing what this can do for your spirits particularly at the ~15k mark of a half . I also noticed the 85min pacer at this point. Roughly 500m behind me. How could I still be in front of this group? Surely they should be ahead of me by now. I figured they must have gone out a bit slower, hoping to finish strong and that eventually they’d catch up and pass me.
As usual, about half way through a race, I started chanting little mantras in my head: “keep the rhythm”, “relax shoulders”, “run tall”. This, I find, works a whole lot better in races, than focusing on sore muscles or badly tensioned shoelaces.
16k, 17k, a little bit of a head wind at one point. I recalled the final 1/4 gel in my back pocket. Should I use this now? My tummy was still giving me trouble and I worried that the gel may only worsen this. I decided to wait until the 19k mark, so that if this was the case, I’d only have to hobble a km or two to the finish. Starting to feel tired now, and tummy not helping. I said to myself, just get to 20, then you’re home and hosed. Just a quick run around circular quay and you’re done.18k came and went - 4 minutes on the dot. How on earth am I still able to do this?
19k - feeling ok, so I took a punt and downed my remaining 1/4 gel. Even managed to throw the wrapper into a bin as I passed (well done me!)
At 20k I felt a bit of a boost and passed a girl I’d been gradually creeping up on for the last couple of ks. The last kilometer was a bit of a blur. I just put my head to the wind (not that there was much ~5kts) and ran. Tummy not particularly happy - but I told myself the quicker I finish, the quicker I can get to the toilet! Another great motivator. Within about 200m to go, the same girl (and another one grrr) passed me, but at this point I didn’t care. I realised I would break my unattainable pb. That’s a victory in itself.
So how did I manage 1:24:48?
- I suspect the caffeine gel played a key part, for at least the first half of the run.
- Drinking water, even a few mouthfuls was really beneficial. Mental note: make the effort to do this more often. (Footnote 3)
- Persistent training over the last seven months, even when lacking motivation - feeling tired, or weather is sub-optimal, or when feeling very unfit post-injury. But at the same time, not punishing myself with each session. Keeping training enjoyable and thinking that each session is a little step towards a future goal, even if it doesn’t feel like much of an improvement at the time.
- This one is mostly luck: remaining injury and illness free (not even one winter cold) for roughly seven months has meant a pretty consistent period of training.
- The weather on Sunday suited this ex-Melbournian... overcast, cool with the promise of rain later in the morning. (Footnote 4)
- Likely to be the over-riding factor, I believe much of the credit for this run can be attributed to Sunday morning Flyers long runs and Tuesday morning Runlab interval sessions, the camaraderie of which motivates and improves performance more than any other running strategy I know of.
So cheers to you all and I’m looking forward to many more runs in the future, maybe even a few more pbs - who knows. Now, I’m off to invest in some more caffeine gels.
- I later found out his legs had cramped so he’d stopped and downed some Gatorade and then tried to resume his position.
- Reggie and I tried to pay this forward when, on route to Circular Key station, we stopped to cheer on Damo, Mick and Arnold looking strong and steady as they went past the ~30k mark of the marathon.
- I recall I didn’t stop once for water during my 2004 Gold Coast half, thinking it would just slow me down. I wonder what time I would have done if I’d tried out a gel and some mid-race hydration!
- Apparent temperature of ~12 degrees throughout the race, moderate to high humidity and very light west-northwesterlies associated with a complex (near cut-off) low with twin troughs centred over central NSW. See image above.