Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Tips for planning an overseas marathon

This great idea for a post was given to me by a friend, who suggested I write about some of the things you have to plan for when doing a race away from home.

After running the Berlin marathon last year and the Amsterdam marathon this year, these are the things I have found we need to plan for.

What to bring

I bring a few sets of running clothes so I can go for a few light runs before the race. My clothes for race day, as well as my running shoes and gels, go into my carry on bag.

With all the niggles I had before Amsterdam, I also packed my running survival kit of voltaren, panadol, spikey ball, golf ball and a few other bits and pieces. Some of those things I’m sure I could have picked up at the expo if needed, but better to be prepared!

We bring a small foam roller that we can take onto the plane as carry on luggage. It usually makes an appearance at the airport to pass the time during our stopover. I also bring 'the stick', which goes into the checked bags.

What to do on the plane

The most important thing for me is to book an aisle seat! I find that I need to drink a lot of water on planes, especially in the few days before a race. I also like to get up to stretch my legs and move around. Having an aisle seat means you don’t need to climb over someone and are free to move around when it suits you, which for me is a much less stressful way to fly. 

When to arrive

This can be a tricky one as you want to adjust and get over jet lag, but don’t want too long before the race. Both this year and last year, the three days we spent in each city before the race, it was constantly on my mind. The short time frame meant we only had to fit in a few light runs to keep the legs moving, which we used as sightseeing runs. The earlier you go, the more fitting in training becomes a factor.

Our flight left Sydney on Wednesday night, and arrived in Europe on Thursday afternoon, before the race on Sunday. When we arrived we planned to run, have dinner, then go to sleep.

Last year, I was falling asleep at the dinner table on Thursday and was tired on the Friday, but slept well at night and by Saturday felt like I had adjusted. I don’t think jet lag was a factor on race day.

This year, we followed the same schedule. I felt great in our run off the plane and was asleep by about 9pm. I felt okay most of Friday, but woke up with a slight headache and feeling of dehydration on Saturday. I didn’t think I was jet lagged, but I also didn’t feel quite as good as I did in Berlin. Perhaps an extra day would have been helpful.

Ultimately, this can come down how long you can get off work! I wouldn't want any less than the three nights we had each time, for a long haul flight anyway.

My main suggestion is arriving at a time that allows you to adjust to local time as quickly and easily as possible (easier said than done for some destinations), and to go for a light run or walk when you arrive to help shake out the flight and prevent you from falling straight asleep!

Where to stay

Our hotel in Amsterdam was out of the city centre. We booked it based on a tip from a friend who did the race last year. He said the trams from the centre on race day were busy and hard to get on, so booked a hotel that was walking distance to the start. Other things to consider are access to shops and restaurants, and where the expo is, as you will likely need to pick up your bib. In Amsterdam, the expo and race precinct were in the same place. If these locations are separate, it's worth considering how you will get to both.

What to do in the days before the race

I try to resist the temptation to do a lot of sightseeing activities the few days before the race. Some walking around is inevitable (and helps with jet lag), but if you are trying to see all of the city’s top attractions, you might find yourself tired on race day. Last year, we saw the Brandenburg Gate on a sightseeing run and visited the Berlin wall. This year, we went on a canal boat tour, none of which were too taxing.  

What to eat

It can also be tempting to try local food, but if you aren’t sure how your stomach will handle it, you are better off sticking to what you know. The old rule of not trying anything new is key here. Find places that serve food you have eaten before races in the past. For me, it’s a pizza place the night before the race!

When to run

Try to stick to your routine as much as possible. If your training plan included running most days of the week, try to do the same. If you trained every other day, it can still be a good idea to do some light running or walking after the flight to stretch your legs out. Ask your hotel if there is a park or running route nearby, or consult strava to search for segments or routes in the area.

What to do on race morning

I bring some supplies from home for breakfast. My marathon breakfast is a banana and a few bites of porridge. I bring the oats from home and make sure there is a kettle in the room to boil water. Funnily enough, our hotel this year didn’t have kettles. I improvised by using the boiling water from the coffee machine at the breakfast buffet.

I bought my bananas from a nearby convenience store on the Friday before the race. It turned out to be a good decision as it was closed on the Saturday. Lesson from that, plan early!

Make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the start, and try to get your bathroom stops out of the way before you get to the race precinct (again, easier said than done!). The toilet lines in Berlin were impossible. In Amsterdam they weren't as bad, and while I did line up, it didn't leave us much time to get to the start.

It's also a good idea to look up where you start zone is, and how to get there (if that information is available). In Berlin, there were plenty of signs, but it was quite a long walk. Luckily we left in plenty of time. In Amsterdam, everything was much closer, but less signage made it a bit confusing to begin with.

Get to the start early or get as close to the front of  your start group if you can. With big fields, overseas races can be crowded, so it's helpful to be close to the front of your group.

Enjoy the atmosphere! It's not very often we get to do races like these. 

What to do during the race

Be prepared for big crowds! There are some local races with big fields, but not over the marathon distance. Stay relaxed early when you will probably spend a bit of time weaving around people until things settle down.

You will also more than likely run further than the marathon distance. Big crowds make it hard to run the marathon line, and moving around other runners adds extra distance. If you are running for a time, check your progress based on the kilometre markers rather than when your watch beeps, as it will almost certainly be out. I check my overall race time at each 5km mat to see where I'm at. 

What do do after the race

Soak up the atmosphere! Get your medal, and don't forget to get it engraved if that was an option when you entered. If you have time, spend a few extra days in the city to enjoy all the food and sights you didn’t see before the race! Wear your marathon shirt and enjoy the camaraderie with other runners.

I try to get a walk in a day or two after the race. If you are having a holiday after the race, try to fit a few recovery runs in, that can double as exploration runs.

Most importantly, use the downtime (and post-race high) to research the destination for your next overseas race. The list is endless! 

Berlin sightseeing run
Amsterdam sightseeing run

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Conquering the 10km

Sport fans are probably all aware of their team’s bogey opponent; the team they probably should always beat but never seem to.

If runners have a bogey distance, mine would be the 10km.

It wasn’t always the case.

Rewind to a few years ago, 10km was my distance. I don’t remember exactly when I ran my first one. Having done cross country and a few fun runs during school, I had done a lot of difference distances, 4km, 8km and the 14km city2surf, and I might have run a 10km when I was a teenager.

When I joined Woodstock Runners in 2008, I ran a few 10km events – Canberra, Bridge to Bridge in Gladesville, Fisher’s Ghost and the Striders 10km at Homebush. I was also introduced to the Sydney Marathon Clinic races (SMC), which became a monthly ritual in the 2008/2009 series when I ran six of the nine 10km events.

My results in those events weren’t always what I hoped for, I struggled with the hills at Bridge to Bridge and the heat at Fisher’s Ghost, and in Canberra I just felt flat. But the good and the bad balanced each other out, and I didn’t consider 10km to be a hard distance.

Even when my focus started to switch from running to travel, I still turned up to some SMC events to run the 10km, confident I would get through it.

So when did the 10km become so hard?!

The first one I remember being painful was the 2013 Cooks River Fun Run, where I tried to run around 40 minutes. It was a bit ambitious on relatively light training, and I went out too hard and had an uncomfortable second half. Then there was the Central Coast 10km later that year. I had only been back running for five weeks after fracturing my foot, so I should have known my fitness was a bit down. But I had been running well at parkrun, and I went out too hard again.

My next attempt was the Striders 10km at Homebush the following year when I was more confident of breaking 40 minutes. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back at it now, this run was the first time I experienced why the 10km is so tough. At the time, my 5km PB pace was 3:49 per km. To run sub 40, I would have had to run almost as fast as my 5km pace, and hold it for twice as long!

Somewhere during the time I was struggling with the 10km, I read an article that seemed to really sum up why I found it so hard. It said that to run a good 10km, you had to be prepared to be uncomfortable at the end of the run. No matter how fit you are, when you are pushing yourself to your limit for 10km, the end is always going to hurt.

It's not like a half marathon where I might ease into it during the first few kilometres. To run a good 10km, I had to be prepared to run hard, hurt and win the mental battle. While I might have known what was required, it was a long time before I was actually able to achieve it.

That day at Striders, I wasn't quite there. I started well, got tired around the seventh kilometre, and my pace dropped off slightly.
The next time I ran 10km was the 2014 Sydney:10, and I finally broke the 40 minute barrier! It was three weeks after my first marathon, and I’d had a relatively light few weeks of running. My legs were jelly at the end of it, but I managed to hang in there and ran 38:41 (8 seconds per km slower than my 5km pace at the time).

My next three 10km races were the hilly Heart of the Lake, which is hard to compare, the Cooks River Fun Run and the Sydney Harbour 10km. At the Cooks River Fun Run, I started well, but again faded after 7km. The Sydney Harbour 10km was the week after the Gold Coast Half Marathon. Again I was feeling pretty jelly towards the end, but I managed to hang on for the time that remained by PB for quite awhile, 37:54 (7 seconds per km slower than my 5km pace at the time).

Then in a few weeks in August 2014, I ran a much faster than anticipated city2surf and a big 5km PB. All of a sudden, my 10km pace was 13 seconds per kilometre slower than my 5km pace, and only 2 seconds per kilometre faster than my city2surf pace. That definitely didn't seem to line up!

I decided to give the 10km at the Central Coast another go, hoping to bring my time more in line with the other distances. It ended up being a bigger struggle than the previous year! The recurring theme of getting to about 7km, then feeling like I had nothing left in my legs had struck again.

A few months later, I ran a hilly 10km in Orange. It probably wasn't too bad of a run, but it was so far off my other results, that I couldn't help but be a little bit disappointed. I was in a little bit of a running rut, and I was definitely convinced that I just wasn't a good 10km runner. The thought of running anywhere near my 5km pace for 10 seemed impossible. I decided that I didn't like the distance and would stick to running half or parkruns, which I seemed to be a lot better at. I could tough out a hard fourth kilometre in a parkrun, but I was lacking the mental strength to hold on for the last 3km of a 10km.

After that, I didn't race another 10km for the rest of the year, and for a long time stuck to my feeling that 10km was horrible and shouldn't be run.

That was, until someone told me that you need to run a good 10km to be able to run a good marathon. At the time, I had the Berlin marathon looming in the distant horizon, and after blowing up in my last two marathons, I knew I needed to improve if I was going to nail it.

I started to think that maybe, if I could learn to tough out the last 3km of a 10km, I'd be a stronger mental position to deal with the last 12km of a marathon.

At the start of 2016, I decided it was time to stop being scared of the 10km! I made it one of my goals to race three 10km events (and hopefully run a PB in the process).

Canberra would be the first one, then the Sydney 10, and the third was TBC. I found a program online that looked like a good base for the way I wanted to train - going back to basics.

With about ten weeks to get ready, I thought if things went well, I might be able to run close to a PB in Canberra. Once I started to get some consistent training in, my form started to improve and I had some good parkrun results.

Race day in Canberra was a chilly morning and I remember feeling cold for the first few kilometres. Despite that, I started at a good pace and felt comfortable going through about 4km. As we started to climb, things naturally got a bit harder but I still felt good at the turnaround.

Approaching the turnaround was downhill, and all we could see on the other side was how hard the speedy guys at the front of the race were working come back up it! I was actually relatively familiar with the hill - it falls at around 38km of the Canberra Marathon, and I have struggled up it before.

It was a lot easier to get up in a 10km than marathon, but I started to feel the fatigue set in going back down the other side. I could feel myself slowing down, and after a hard last few kilometres, I finished about 15 seconds outside of my PB.

I was pretty happy with the run, knowing that I re-building my training, and still had three weeks to develop the strength to finish off the last part of the run.

The morning of the Sydney:10 was a smokey one with backburning happening in the mountains. I felt good in my warm up, and really wanted to run a PB!

The race started fast, and I tried to hold myself back to avoid going out too fast. I felt good on the first lap, including going up the long incline of Olympic Boulevard, so I wasn't really expecting to feel like my legs weren't moving when we came back down it a few minutes later! At that point, a few people went past me, and some doubt started to creep in. The mind games continued as I got closer to the turnaround at 7km, my head started negotiating with itself.

"If you get the turnaround, you can stop for a drink."

"Maybe just walk for a little bit, it's okay if you walk with purpose."

"How about just slow down, the pace doesn't matter as long as you keep running."

"If you can't manage this, how are you going to handle it when it starts to hurt in the marathon."

By the time each of those thoughts had been through my head, I had made it past the turnaround and was heading back towards the finish. The runners in front of me didn't seem to be pulling further ahead, and I knew that I would be really disappointed with myself if I gave up.

All of sudden, I was making the turn back onto Olympic Boulevard, which I got up okay. Running into the stadium was another story, I'm not sure how I was still putting one foot in front of the other. I heard an announcement that the first girls had finished a short time ago and a countdown to get the people currently in home stretch in under 36 minutes. My mind was really too tired to be doing maths, but I decided that meant I had two minutes to finish to run a PB. It seemed impossible, but I ran as hard as I could around the stadium, through the marathon tunnel and onto the track.

Coming into the home straight, I thought I read 37:50 on the clock, and it was a nice surprise to realise it was actually 37:10 when I crossed the line - a PB by about 45 seconds!

Half way through the 2016 Sydney:10
I was satisfied, I had FINALLY run a good 10km, that was more in line with my other results. I felt there was probably still a bit more in it, and was probably still my weakest distance, but it had improved. I ran two more 10km races in the lead up to the Berlin marathon last year, neither as fast, but one with a strong finish that I was proud of. Of course, just so there is always something to hunt for, I also ran half marathon and 5km PBs, that once again made my 10km look a bit soft.

The Sydney:10 was my target 10km race again this year, and despite a few niggles and a half marathon the week before, I wanted to race hard. I was finally ready to embrace the uncomfortable feeling and push through. When I finished in 36:30, I thought that surely this time I had run to my potential over 10km. That was until a month later, when I surprised myself with another sub 37 on a harder course. And a month after that, a sub 80 half.

The cycles continues, and while I still seem to be stronger at the 5km, I'm looking forward to trying to run a faster 10km. I may not ever completely conquer it, but I can finally say I'm not afraid to try! 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Gold Coast Half Marathon 2017

After I finished the Gold Coast half in 2015, I asked my partner if he thought it was possible for me to train to break 80 minutes on that course.

I'd had good results there, running a PB of 82:13 in 2014, and coming in just under 84 minutes on a light training program in 2015.

In the lead up to Berlin last year, I was so focused on my marathon goal that I wasn't ready to target the sub 80, but was happy with a new PB of 81:17.

When I started thinking about my goals for this year, sub 80 was at the top of the list!

The Gold Coast was the obvious place to target it, with it's fast course, early start (6am) and plenty of fast runners to chase.

In the few months before the event, I had countless conversations about breaking 80 and how to go about it; run two 38 minute 10kms back to back, run 3:47 pace and just sneak under, run 3:45s - 3:46s to have a bit of a buffer, or simply run fast enough to get back before the marathon started at 7:20am!

I had a good build up leading into the race, with a 10km PB in May that was a big confidence boost. My plan was to aim for slightly faster than 38 minutes at half way and hold that pace on the way back. I was pretty confident it was achievable, and more importantly, I was ready to race hard!

The week of the race didn't exactly go to plan when I picked up a niggle in my right quad. I was worried about whether it would hold up, but I wanted to be on that start line. A combination of heat pack, ice pack and voltaron later, the morning of the race had arrived.

I warmed up with a friend at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre. I didn't really have time to focus on the twinges in my quad, the morning was flying by, and we had to head the start line. I tried to cram in a few last minute run throughs and leg swings to convince myself I was sufficiently warmed up, then it was time to go.

My approach to this event in previous years was to run slightly conservatively for the first few kilometres and come home strong. It was a nice way to run, generally feeling really good until about the 16km mark then putting the foot down. My plan this year was to do the same, starting out around 3:50s for the first few kilometres because the thought of holding 3:45s for the entire race scared me!

I started comfortably and thought I was on track, then saw my first split was 3:41, oops! Determined not to respond to my watch and figuring it would settle down, I kept going and was surprised when the next split was the same. It wasn't the way I usually run, but I couldn't change it at that point.

Heading towards the small out and back section just before the 7km mark, I felt like I was definitely working harder at that point than I had in previous years, but tried not to focus on 'what if's' later in the race. With a slower 8th kilometre, I reminded myself that it would be really easy to tune out and slow down, I needed to stay focused. I pushed on for a faster 9th kilometre and hoped I would still be under 38 minutes at the 10km mark ahead.

When I got closer, I could see that I would be. It was about 37:30 when I crossed, a bit quicker than I planned. A guy who was running next to me commented that I was running well, and asked what I was hoping to do. I replied anything under 80 if I could hold on, before he zoomed off ahead.

Approaching the turn around, I felt good, and ran one of my fastest splits in the race for the 11th km. If 11 felt good, 12 was the complete opposite. Running alone, I suddenly noticed we were going into a head wind. I hadn't felt anything on the way out! After seeing that the split for kilometre 12 was over 3:47, I told myself I really need to focus and push hard or the sub 80 would slip away. I'm glad my mind was switched on, because my legs were hurting!

It worked for the next kilometre, which was back under goal pace, but the two following I slowed marginally again.

Heading towards the 16km mark, it felt like we finally got a bit of a break from the wind, and I caught the guy who I spoke to at around half way. It wasn't long before we were approaching the bridge where these pics were taken the last two years:

As I got closer, one half of my mind was psyching myself up to get ready to smile, the other half was thinking, you're working REALLY hard, maybe the photo should reflect that.

I managed a tired smile as I passed the photographers, and it might have given me a slight boost, because kilometre 17 was under goal pace.

The next two kilometres felt like they went for forever as fatigue really set it. I remember expecting to see a 4 minute split on my watch, it felt like I was seriously slowing down. I got a bit of a boost when it was actually 3:48 and told myself to hold on.

Not long later, I felt a stitch coming on, and had a brief dramatic moment of thinking it was all over. Luckily it passed as quickly as it arrived, and I remember really wishing I would see one of the 3:43 splits that felt like they came so easily early in the race! I had to settle for 3:45, and knew I must be really close, but wasn't sure if I was ahead of 80 minute pace.

All of a sudden, I noticed the noise from the finish precinct - I wasn't far away.

As I approached the 20km mark, I knew there would be a timing mat and clock. I was hoping to see the time far enough under 1:16 that I wasn't in for a close finish.

I didn't check the split on my watch at 20km (it was 3:50), but it didn't matter - the clock said 1:15:30 something. It was nice not to have to spend the last part of the race wondering if I was going to get there. Unless I fell over, 4 and a half minutes was enough time to run 1.1km.

I told myself to enjoy it as I ran towards the finish, I was going to achieve my goal. The guy next to me had started high fiving people, I definitely wasn't feeling fresh enough to enjoy it to that level!

We made the last left hand turn into the finish chute with 250m left to run. As I got closer to the finish, I has a nervous moment of hoping I hadn't slowed down and was still going to make it! I could see 1:19:12 on the clock ahead and probably subconsciously picked up the pace just in case.

As I ran the last few steps towards the finish line, I heard the announcer counting down to the marathon, and for a brief moment in my tiredness I realised that I had actually managed to make it back before it started. 

I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 1:19:36, relieved that it was over and happy I had done it. When the results were posted later, I saw that I had finished in 13th place (female).

Thinking back about the race just after it happened, one thing I was sure about was that I had given 100% of what I had. Almost two weeks later, that feeling hasn't changed.

While I was really happy with my PB last year, given how comfortable I felt until about 16km, I did wonder after the race if I could have pushed harder. I will never know, and it doesn't really matter as I really enjoyed the run. 

This year, I ran the race differently - starting a bit faster, pushing a bit earlier and holding on at the end. It wasn't exactly what I intended when I thought about how to approach the run, but in more simplistic terms, I wanted to run hard and I did. It was a definitely a different experience and a different feeling pushing earlier in the race, and I enjoyed it for a different reason. I'm happy that I raced to my limit and got everything out of myself on the day. 

It will be a bigger challenge to work out how to get faster next time, but for now, onto the marathon!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Kurrawa to Duranbah 50km relay

This was the hardest race of the year! Perhaps aside from the last two kilometres of the Berlin marathon, but there were a few different factors that made K2D a tough event; fitness and heat.

Following on from the marathon, I had planned to do some training while on holiday in Europe, but the combination of wine, heat and 8am sunrises made it hard to get out of bed. Now I understand why the Spanish stay up so late and have siestas! It’s safe to say, my fitness was a little bit down on where it had been when we arrived in the Gold Coast.

The heat was also something I knew would be a factor, it was summer and it was the Gold Coast. But I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how warm it would be in the later stages of the race.

That all being said, though I knew it would be well off PB pace, I expected my fitness would carry me through in a decent time.

The race started in Broadbeach near Kurrawa Surf Club. Relay runners had to drive to the turnaround at Duranbah for the changeover with their partner.

We had decided that I would run the second leg of the 50km relay, I perhaps thought I was slightly fitter since I’d done a tiny bit more running, though Marty will say it’s because I like the glory of crossing the finish line (it is true that in all our relay efforts, he is yet to run second).

Our first hint that we may have got it wrong this time around was when we noticed all the other mixed teams had their girls lining up first.

However, the decision had been made, and after watching the start, I went back to the hotel and got ready to drive to the turnaround point, approx. 25km away.

I started to see runners not far into my trip, and passed Marty when he was about 10km in. He looked comfortable, though was quite a way behind some of the speedy girls in the relay.

When I arrived at Duranbah beach, I managed to get one of the best parking spots closest to the turnaround. That may have been my biggest achievement for the day.

This race was a little different, as no roads were closed and we ran a lot on footpaths. As the first 50km runners came in, I could see that the start of my run would be up a steep hill. Not long after the fast male relay teams flew in, Marty was approaching, and had managed to catch the girls.

We changed over, and he headed out with me for a few hundred metres with some tips for the course, like taking it easy up the first hill, which I, of course, ignored.

We navigated our way along the road and through a carpark, before approaching a steep downhill on the other side. With cars on the road, and runners coming up the hill, plus trying not to fall, I took it pretty cautiously. I was running near a few other people whose partners approached the turnaround at the same time as Marty, but the partner of the girl he ran in with was long gone.

I got into a rhythm when we hit the flat section at the bottom of the hill, and soon found myself running alone. I felt good, but seeing that I was running at my marathon pace from a couple of months earlier, suspected it was slightly too fast.

I was right, and after running about 5km on my own, I was struggling to ignore the feeling that I was already tiring. I had made my way off the path next to the beach and was out on the footpath when Marty passed me in the car with a few words of encouragement. I could see a few 50km runners ahead of me, and focused on trying to catch them up. Luckily I did, as they directed me around a corner I may not have noticed otherwise, and was back running next to the beach.

I had gone about 9km and could tell I was slowing down slightly when the first runner passed me, which again was lucky as he helped with directions. I went through 10km in about 41 minutes, which I thought was quite good, but it wasn’t long later that the hills started to creep in and I took Marty’s advice to walk.

I got up to one of the bridges on the course and was back running, but it wasn’t long before one of the guys I had started with at the changeover caught me. We chatted a little bit and he told me he was in a male team. I tried to stick with him, while a few others flew past us (including one in a mixed team).

He pressed on while I was well and truly slowing down, until much to my surprise he started walking. By this point, we were on the footpath again, and the heat was really starting to get strong. I encouraged him along, it turned out that he had a stitch, and we passed each other on and off for a little while, until we hit another hill and I decided to walk up it.

The downhill on the other side was a lot more pleasant, and I got going again, knowing from my drive down that I wasn’t far from Burleigh. I had started running at about 7am, and by this point the area was buzzing was activity – beach goers, surfers and walkers, there were crowds of people around.

With no other runners, marshals or directions in sight, I went the way I thought I was supposed to go and followed the path next to the beach. I was getting really thirsty, and hadn’t seen a drink station in a while, which led me to wonder if I was actually on the course, or if I actually should have been on the footpath. I must have just missed it, thinking it was one of the many surf clubs with a set up along the way. Instead, I stopped at a couple of taps to splash water on myself, the time now much less important than cooling down.  

I had heard about the stairs on the course, but wasn’t quite prepared for the steep hill required to get to them. I stopped at the top to pose for the photographer, then continued down the other side, getting some relief from the fact that at least the rest was flat!

My legs were heavy and there wasn’t much escape from the sun. There was only about 5km to go, but I employed a run-walk strategy to push myself through. I finally found a drink stop and took the opportunity to cool down again.

I had made it back to a familiar spot, turning onto a path I had run on when we were up in the GC for the half in July, and knew I couldn’t have far to go. At this point, I had caught up to a few people who were running the 30km. They had been out a lot longer than I had, and I knew that if I was suffering in the heat, they must be feeling it even more. This is one challenging event!

I dragged myself to the finish line, and went straight to the shade to get my shoes off to try to cool down. We ended up in 4th place of the mixed teams, I was about 8 minutes slower than Marty.

Will we do it again? Not sure, but if we do, I will definitely be happy for him to run second, deal with the heat, and have the finish line glory! 

The relief of being almost there!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The short version of the Berlin Marathon experience

The Background
Holidays usually go hand in hand with running. When we were asked to attend a party in the UK in October, an exciting thought popped into my mind - the Berlin Marathon is in September!
The marathon
My first attempt to run sub 3 was on a bit of a whim without a proper build up. The second attempt, I was lacking motivation during training. My results over shorter distances suggested I could do it, but I wasn’t confident on the start line of either run.
When we registered for Berlin, I was nervous about running another marathon. I was glad there was plenty of time, and decided not to think about it until 2016.
The build up
At the end of 2015 I decided I needed a break. When I started to get my training underway, my approach was simple, back to basics, consistency was key. By the time we left for Berlin, I felt prepared for a marathon and knew I had put in some solid training.
Meeting a marathon legend
The fun started before we even left the airport in the Berlin, where we met former marathon world record holder, Wilson Kipsang. We got a photo with him, and decided it was a good omen!
Hello Berlin
It's hard not to get excited when you check into your hotel and are given a "Berlin running map". We did a short run around the city when we got off the plane to get our legs moving after the long flight. The next day, we did a "sightseeing run", along the start of the course and through the Brandenburg Gate. The area was buzzing with race set up underway, and groups of runners taking photos at the iconic location.
The event
More than just a Sunday morning, there were a few other race related events to attend. First was the expo, which was manic. Next was the breakfast run, a free event the day before the marathon that finished with a lap around the 1936 Olympic Stadium. The only thing left to do was the marathon!
Goal time

Something starting with '2'!

The plan

Don't think, just run! I had a rough pace in mind, which I planned to use a guide along the way.


The two Bs, breakfast and bathroom. I spent a bit of time rolling my left ITB, which had been uncomfortable all week. My right hamstring, which had been complaining on and off in the lead up to the race, seemed to be okay.

We navigated our way to the start area for the "D" group (3:00 - 3:15 qualifying time). I was feeling a little bit nervous, but at the same time, ready to get underway. Even though race day can sometimes bring the unexpected, I was well prepared and knew what I had to do.

We're off!

The elites were introduced, the gun went, Wilson Kipsang set off, and we went... nowhere.

It took us almost three minutes to cross the start line. When we started running, the first few kilometres were tricky; squeezing between people, dodging around them and a few times almost coming to a complete stop.

The race was underway, our Berlin marathon experience had begun!
Memorable Moments
The three hour pace bus – After the gun went, we didn’t see the pacers again until about 16km. With the big crowd of runners on the bus, it took a while to get through them, but catching the pacers was a huge confidence boost. They were running gun time, which meant we were a few minutes ahead of them and feeling strong.

The crowd support - Around the 20km mark, I remember thinking that every runner should do this race. The support was unbelievable; high fives, bands, people dancing, cheering and offering encouragement the entire way. I've never seen anything like it.

The half way mark - I knew we were running well and kept telling myself to be patient. Going through half way was the first time it really dawned on me that we had quite a bit of time to make up on my rough goal pace, and we subconsciously started to pick it up.

Ups and downs – When I started to feel a familiar tight wobbly feeling in my right knee, I told myself to ignore it and focus on the footsteps in front of me. The tactic worked, I stopped thinking about it, and while going through the 25km mark, I noticed we had picked up the pace. I tried not to get excited, and reminded myself to wait and see how I felt at 30km.

The 30km mat - This time I did get excited as I was right on goal pace. I told myself to try to get another 5km out of my legs without slowing down. For the first time, I started to feel like I would be able to hold on.

The 35km mat – A bit less excited and a bit more tired, I gave myself the same pep talk as at 30km, to see if I could get another 5km out of my legs at the same pace. I didn't feel like I was slowing down, but was working harder to hold the pace.

The 40km mat – This one felt like it took an eternity to arrive. I looked at my watch and saw that I had only slowed about 15 seconds from the previous 5km. I just needed to hang on.

The final 2.2 - There were a few moments where I felt like I couldn't run any further, I was tired and my wobbly knee was back. Luckily, the next two kilometres went by very quickly. I could see a corner ahead, and knew the Brandenburg Gate had to be around the other side.

The finish - The feeling of relief was overwhelming. I was completely spent, but pushed myself forward for the long stretch to the finish. I stopped my watch on 2.51.54! There were a few tears, a mixture of exhaustion and achievement. I gave it everything I had.
Post race
Runners were streaming in for a sub 3 finish (about 2000 total), it was an incredible sight. Third time lucky, I was finally one of them! Next marathon goal - sub 2:50.. sometime in the future!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Berlin Marathon experience (part 2)

Part 1 here

It was Sunday, September 25 in Berlin, and race day had arrived!

A little bit different to what we are used to, the race started at 9:15am. The weather was supposed to reach 20 degrees, slightly higher than ideal for world records, perfect for targeting PBs.

I was in Berlin with Marty, his parents, Chris & Brian, and our friend Monique.

The goal

Something starting with '2'!

The plan

The plan was simple: don't think, just run!

I had a rough pace in mind, and hoped to run fairly even splits. I didn't want to start too hard, but also didn't want to be making up time at the end. And with that, I was drifting into the territory of thinking too much! I was definitely a bit nervous. It was time to "just run"!

Pre-race rituals

The first things on my mind were the two Bs, breakfast and bathroom. I had a few nervous bites of porridge and banana in between several bathroom stops, not sure if eating too little would mean I ran out of energy, or eating too much would mean more bathroom stops! Definitely something to practice more next time.

I spent a bit of time rolling to warm up my dodgy left ITB, which had been uncomfortable all week. My right hamstring, which had been complaining on and off in the lead up to the race, seemed to be okay.

After bathroom stops #3, 4 and 5, it was time to jog to the start line (with a brief stop at a port-a-loo on the way!).

The race precinct 

We arrived at the race area and navigated our way through the bag drop towards our start group. We briefly considered lining for the toilets until we noticed countless people using the bushes. If I was desperate enough, I'd follow suit.

It was a long walk to the start area for the "D" group (3:00 - 3:15), though it was well organised, with lots of help from signs and volunteers. I found a private section of trees for one last bathroom stop, then entered our start block.

I was feeling a little bit nervous, but at the same time, ready to get underway. Even though race day can sometimes bring the unexpected, I was well prepared and knew what I had to do.

We're off!

The wheelchairs and handbikes were underway, and all of a sudden, the elites were introduced, the gun went, Wilson Kipsang set off, and we went... nowhere.

In hindsight, we probably should have made sure we were at the front of Group D, but while trying to stay relaxed at the start, I didn't think too much about it.

It took us almost three minutes to cross the start line. When we started running, the first few kilometres were very difficult; squeezing between people, dodging around them and a few times almost coming to a complete stop.

We passed the 3:15 pacers in the second kilometre, and when I saw more balloons a few kilometres later, I assumed it was the three hour group. It turned out to be the second 3:15 pacers, and I remember being surprised they were running so fast. It only occurred to me later that they must be running gun time. The three hour pacers were nowhere to be seen.

Despite the dodging and weaving, I felt comfortable. We were behind the rough pace I had in mind, but I wasn't too concerned at that point.We had an exciting moment seeing Chris, Brian and Monique at the 7km mark. The race was underway, our Berlin marathon experience had begun!

Early race challenges

Going through the 10km, I could feel my left knee twinge a few times, but told myself to ignore it. We were making good progress, going through in about 42 minutes. The crowds hadn't eased, but we had picked up the pace slightly.

Getting through the drink stations was a bit chaotic as everyone tried to grab a cup. I can only imagine how the road looked as more runners came through, completely covered in cups!

We were around 13km, when we noticed how far before the kilometre markers our watches were beeping. We started to focus on sticking as closely as possible to the blue line. I had wondered if we were using extra energy dodging around people, but hadn't thought about the extra distance it might be adding.

Around the same time, I had a few brief moments where I thought I might need to make an emergency bathroom stop. I didn't want to lose any time, so mentally prepared myself for the possibility of having a Paula Radcliffe moment.

Luckily it didn't come to that, and my focus changed when I finally noticed the three hour pacers in the distance ahead. It felt like the crowd had thinned slightly on some of the wider roads, but as we approached the pace group at around 16km, it got a lot more crowded again.

I knew it was going to take awhile to get past them, but it was also a huge confidence boost. Knowing they were running gun time, it meant we were actually a few minutes ahead of them and feeling strong, though it was early days.

We had maintained our pace through the last five kilometres, and managed to hold it as we worked our way through the massive three hour bus. We were told later by someone who ran with them that there were so many people, it felt hard to breathe. I've never seen anything like it.

Finding a rhythm 

We were just in front of the pace bus when we saw Chris, Brian and Monique again, just before 20km. Somewhere around there, I distinctly remember thinking that every runner should do a major city marathon. It was crowded, but the support along the way unbelievable. There were kids waiting for high fives, bands, people dancing, cheering and offering encouragement the entire way. Once again, I'd never seen anything like it.

We had held our pace through 20km, but I remember thinking not to get ahead of myself. There was a long way to go, and I was hoping to feel as good as I did at 20km when I got to 30km.

Somewhere in the next five kilometres, I started to feel the same wobbly/tight feeling in my right knee that had come up in a few other races this year. Having got through it twice before, I told myself to ignore it and focus on the footsteps in front of me, it had held out in the past.

The tactic worked, I stopped thinking about it, and while going through the 25km mark, I noticed we had picked up the pace. I tried not to get excited, and reminded myself to wait and see how I felt at 30km.

By about 28km, I felt like I was picking it up slightly again, and decided to go with it. In the next few kilometres, the crowds thinned and there was a clear path to run for the first time in the race. For the first time in the race, I also felt like I started to work a bit harder, and wasn't sure if I was speeding up or slowing down. I told myself to be patient and see where I was at 30km - 12.2km is still a lot of running.

Towards the finish

When I reached 30km, I had picked up the pace again and felt good. I told myself to try to get another 5km out of my legs at the same pace. It was a big confidence boost, and I started feeling like I would be able to hold on.

At 32km, I had a little conversation with myself about whether I should check my watch to see where I was at with 10km to go. I decided it didn't matter, and to focus on enjoying the run. Not long after, I saw Monique and Brian for the last time.

Inside the final 10km, we were at the business end of the race! We were treated to a few sponsor fun zones, possibly as a distraction from the pain that was setting in. The first was a stretch of athletics track covering the road courtesy of main sponsor BMW, then later a Red Bull zone. The track was fun to run over, but I did wonder who would be drinking Red Bull during a marathon?!

Crossing the 35km mat, I was definitely starting to get tired, but my pace was consistent. I gave myself the same pep talk as at 30km, to see if I could get another 5km out of my legs at the same pace. I didn't feel like I was slowing down, but was having to work a lot harder to hold the pace.

The next 5km are a bit of a blur. I remember thinking, 'a parkrun to go' at 37km, and not long later, 4km to go at 38km. I noticed a large group of spectators with flares and was coherent enough to wonder if that was safe. The 40km  marker seemed to take an eternity to appear, and by that point I had started to feel like I was running on empty.

The final 2.2

I looked at my watch as I crossed the 40km mat, and saw that I had only slowed about 15 seconds from the previous 5km. I just needed to hang on.

There were a few moments where I felt like I couldn't run any further, I was tired, my wobbly knee was back, and my breathing sounded like I was hyperventilating.

Luckily, the next two kilometres went by very quickly. It felt like just after the 40km marker, 41 appeared, and though I didn't know it at the time, I had managed to speed up slightly. I could see a corner ahead, and knew the Brandenburg Gate had to be around the other side.

The feeling of relief when it came into view was overwhelming, and I think I almost started crying. I was completely spent, but pushed myself forward for the long stretch to the finish. I don't think I had much comprehension of the time at the point, I just knew that I had done it. Seeing the photographers at the Brandenburg Gate brought about feelings of elation, and I think I almost started crying again.

The final few hundred metres seemed to take an eternity, until finally I reached the finish line, stopped my watch, and went flying as the runner next to me fell over the line and landed on my feet. After a brief 'WTF' moment, I regained my balance, then realised I had run 2.51.54!

That time, there were definitely a few tears, a mixture of exhaustion and achievement, knowing I gave it everything I had.

Post race

I waited at the finish line for Marty, who was just a few minutes behind me. We were still well under 3 hours, and runners were streaming in, it was an incredible sight.

My feet were sore, my shoes were off, and I was moving very slowly. We got our medals, goody bags, and had a few photos before we found Chris, Brian and Monique in the meeting area.

If I had been less tired, I probably would have been more impressed by how organised and efficient it was. We got our medals engraved, and went back to the hotel for lunch, and the perfect post race activity - floating in a spa.


This was my first marathon major, and my first time running under three hours - it was definitely a big deal! The entire event was a great experience, the support from the crowd along the way was fantastic.

It is definitely a fast course, completely flat.

The massive number of participants has it pros and cons, the crowd can pull you along, but it was tricky in the early stages of the race trying to move through the pack. It was probably more difficult because we had a slower qualifier than our goal time, and didn't prioritise getting to the front of our group.

For runners looking for a time goal, I think it would be best to do a qualifying marathon first, as runners without a previous time start in the last group. Half marathon times are not accepted as qualifiers.

Finishing writing this about five weeks after the marathon, I am still extremely happy with my race. I did wonder if I lost much time early on battling the crowds, but the slower start probably helped my energy levels later in the race.

There are a few things I think I can tweak to take a bit of time off and target my next marathon goal - sub 2:50.. sometime in the future!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Postcards from Barcelona

Wow! What a great place! 

Our first day in Barcelona started with a walk along La Rambla and through the maze-like streets of the Gothic Quarter, then tapas and wine for dinner. 

The next day it was down to the waterfront, past the ferris wheel and wandering along the beach. I stumbled across a band, and stopped to enjoy some live music and people dancing. The walk back offered great views of Montjuic and the cable car. That night, a tapas cooking class - yum!

The next morning, we took the metro to the Nou Camp for the stadium experience, followed by the atmosphere of a live game - Espanyol vs Villa Real. 

Day 4 started with Montjuic, with a visit to the Olympic Stadium and views from the castle. Later, it was dinner by the beach in La Barceloneta, and churros con chocolate for dessert in a small restuarant hidden in the Gothic Quarter. 

A rainy day didn't stop us visiting Park Guell for fantastic city views and unique Gaudi design. 

Barcelona's farewell present was a return to Montjuic with the fountains dancing!


  • A ten trip pass for the metro is a lot more cost effective than individual tickets, and can be shared between a few people, just pass it through the gate.
  • The pass can also be used on the bus.
  • We bought Nou Camp tickets in advance, but there wasn't a line at the stadium (we visited out of summer - October).
  • We didn't buy Park Guell tickets in advance, the next available time slot when we arrived was in 40 minutes. That was enough time to wander around the free areas.
  • The Olympic Stadium is open to the public with free entry, the Olympic Museum is closed on Mondays.
  • Check out Barcelona Cooking for a fantastic tapas class!