Monday, 29 January 2018

Things I learnt from my first marathon

My first marathon was Canberra in April, 2014. Long before I actually planned to run a marathon, someone told me you could estimate your time by doubling your half marathon time, and adding either 10 minutes or 10 percent. I thought I could run a 90-minute half, and went with the 10 minute option, which gave me the goal of 3:09. I wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it on my mirror.

I was already a member of a running club, so my training was based around their sessions. I didn’t follow a specific plan. My first long run was towards the end of December, but training really stepped up after the Maui half marathon in mid-January. That race was about 700m short, but I ran it in 4:15/km pace, a big PB and confidence boost. After that, I had 12 weeks to get ready.  

I had a block of about a month where I did over 60 kilometres each week, which was more than I have ever run, and my parkrun time came down. On race day, I finished in 3:09:32, and couldn’t have been happier.

It is often said that you learn more from bad races than ones that go to plan, but there are quite a few things I learnt from my marathon.

So much of it is mental – I started feeling tired at around 27km, and 10km later was just hanging on. There is a hill at around 39km in Canberra, which lots of people were walking up. I was so tempted to join them, but knew if I did, I wouldn’t start running again. It was definitely mental strength that got me up it.

Simple training worked – my training for my first marathon wasn’t overly complicated, in part because I didn’t know what I was doing. Prior to the days of a GPS watch, my training usually consisted of a 10-12km run on Tuesdays, intervals on Thursdays, and sometimes a longer run (12-17km) on Sundays. When I started training for the marathon, I added parkrun on Saturdays, a few midweek 15km runs, and extended the Sunday runs. I didn’t do tempo runs, fast finish long runs or race pace training (at least not intentionally). Some of those things, I have added in since. But the thing I think I got right, was that what I needed most to prepare for a marathon was an endurance base, so lots of solid running was important (and still is today).

Having a goal helps – marathon training is exhausting, but the thing that kept me going was knowing what I was trying to achieve. Whether you are training for a specific time or to get the finish line, it’s good to remind yourself what it’s for when the going gets tough.

Sometimes things don’t go to plan/it’s important to be flexible – I had planned to do a 30km race as part of my training, which was three laps of an out and back course. On the way back on the first lap, a guy I was running next to realised something was wrong when the leaders hadn’t come out again. We got back to discover that work needed to be done on the power lines overhead, and the race had to be called off. I was frustrated because I needed the training, but nothing could be done. I drove home and ran another 20km there. It wasn’t ideal, and sometimes missed sessions can’t be made up, but a flexible approach is always needed when life gets in the way of training.

It pays not to start too fast – this one isn’t new, but it is important! Lining up in Canberra, I had no idea what I was in for having never run 42.2km before. I was excited and wanted to see how fast I could run. The start line announcer gave a good piece of advice, aim to have your last kilometre take the same amount of time as your first. My pace went up and down a bit during the run, but both my first and 42nd splits were 4:35. When I was starting to fade over the last few kilometres, I was definitely glad I had gone out at that pace!

The feeling at the finish line might be different to what you expect – The marathon requires you to push yourself to your limits, and the finish line is usually a rush of emotions. In Canberra, all I felt was exhausted and relieved to stop. After sitting down, having some sugar, and cheering my friends home, it finally sunk in that I had achieved my goal, which was a great feeling.

The marathon is scary – before my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect. I even thought I might be able to run 3:05 (luckily I didn’t attempt it). In the couple of months after the race, when I thought back about how much I was hurting in the last 6km, I had no idea how I got through it. I started to wonder if I would be strong enough, not only to deal with it again, but run faster. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter a second marathon, I did. But it can be a different feeling when you know what you are in for. It could help you prepare better, or it could take a few more lessons to master the distance. For me, it was the latter.

Things I learnt from my second marathon coming soon!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Recapping the Amsterdam marathon


The road to Amsterdam started while on holiday in the UK last year. When we found out there was an opportunity for another visit to England, I went searching for races that were around the same time. And just like that, the idea of running Amsterdam was stuck in my mind! 

The goal

The lead up to the race was very up and down. I was on a huge high from running sub 80 at the Gold Coast Half Marathon. At the same time, I wasn't running comfortably in the month following the race because of an issue with my quad I picked up the week of GC.

It had me wondering if I would be able to put in the training for Amsterdam, and if Gold Coast was actually my A race for the year. Eventually the quad issue subsided, and I was able to get a good block of training in. By the end of August, I felt great. By the end of September, I felt like my body was starting to break.

This time, the niggle was in my calf, and a few kilometres of hobbling to start my runs had become the norm. Each time I did a hard session, I struggled to run the following day. But as long as the physio said I could keep running, I did. The prognosis was basically that was body was complaining due to heavy training. For next time, I need to get stronger. But for this time, I started to wish that I was racing a half instead of a marathon.

It was a very different feeling to Berlin. Last year, I was nervous, but confident. I knew I was ready. I also knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, and felt like I could definitely do it.

This year, I didn't have a very specific goal. I wanted to run a PB. I definitely wanted to run sub 2:50. I really wanted to run sub 2:48. And if I was feeling great, I wondered if I could get anywhere near 2:45. Basically I wanted to run as fast as I could, without really settling on specific time.

In the peak of my training, I did two half marathons as part of longer runs, one just over 82 minutes and one just under. They both felt very comfortable, and helped me set some plans for the marathon.

I decided to go out around 4 minute/km pace, which I expected would feel comfortable at half way in about 84 minutes. If I felt good, we would try to pick it up in the second half.


Despite positive reviews from multiple people I told about this trip, we didn't make it to any of Amsterdam's cafes.

We landed early on the Thursday afternoon, and went for a run straight off the plane, a 10km loop around a lake. I felt good, but the first thing we noticed was the gusty wind, which lead to obsessive checking of the weather for the next few days. The forecast for Sunday was predicting slightly better conditions, 19-22km/h winds as opposed to 40km/h on the day we arrived. I hoped it stayed that way!

The second day, we walked from our hotel to the expo, which was very close to the start of the race. We had heard that getting to the start on public transport could be tricky, so opted to be somewhere in walking distance.

We picked up our bibs and shirts, got some merchandise and checked that our bibs worked. Next stop was a canal boat tour, then lunch. I had soup, which might not have been the best decision when my stomach was sore on my run later.

The wind was still very gusty, and seemed to pick up later in the day. Not a good sign for the half marathoners, who would start running at 1:30pm!

On Saturday, we woke up earlier and went for a run at about 8:30am, hoping to beat wind. The conditions were much calmer, and I was crossing my fingers the next day would be the same.

The downside was that I didn't feel that well - I had a bit of a headache and my neck hurt. I don't think that I slept very well. We went to cinema to relax and distract ourselves from the race! 

We ordered our traditional pre-race dinner, pizza, which was delivered late, not helping my increasing anxiousness. We ate, went back to the room, did some stretching, and tried to wait until 9:30pm to go to bed. Race day had almost arrived! 

The morning

There are a few main things I recall from the morning of the race:

Bathroom stops - at the moment, I'm waking up, rolling out of bed, getting dressed and leaving for a long run in about 20 minutes. Granted, I can stop at any time on a normal Sunday run, but it's in definite contrast to marathon morning. On those days, I need to be up several hours before the race starts to fit in multiple nervous bathroom visits. In Amsterdam, I went for the "last" time before leaving the hotel, then lined up for the port-a-loos at the race precinct, and still wanted to go again at the start line. One of my biggest marathon nerves is needing to stop mid-race to use the bathroom. Luckily it hasn't happened yet!

Breakfast - despite bringing oats from Australia, I was too nervous to eat much more than a few bites of my porridge. Similar to the point above, I'm sure I would eat it all on a normal Sunday run. But this was not a normal Sunday! Note to self, next time, bring less.

European race start times - it's weird waking up on race morning at 6am, and thinking it's too early to get up. With a 9:30am start time, we had time for a short run, some stretching, breakfast, several bathroom stops and the walk to the start - all before we would have reached half way if this was an Australian race. I guess the downside is, a lot more time to get nervous.

Chaos - okay, this is probably an exaggeration, slightly fueled by pre-race nerves, and having high expectations after Berlin, but after we left the toilet queue to find the start line, it seemed like no one had any idea where to go. The race started inside the Olympic Stadium, but there wasn't much signage pointing to the entrance. People were walking in and out of various entrances, maybe just to have a look, but no one really seemed to know where they were going. Eventually we worked out the entrance was around the corner, and followed the crowds, which eventually turned into a traffic jam as everyone tried to funnel through a small gate. We made it in with 15 minutes to spare, but my nerves had risen again!

No chaos - I had read that the start areas weren’t very organised or well enforced, but they seemed fine to me. The stadium was set up with the start groups staggered around the track, each one labelled by colour. Temporary fencing was set up at the entrance to each area. I can’t remember how closely anyone looked at our bibs, but I didn't see anyone in our group with a different colour.

Atmosphere - The stadium was full of activity. People were in the stands watching, hanging around on the grass, the elite runners were on the track warming up, music was blaring. There were warm up areas set up on the track next to each start group. Dozens of people were running around in each in small circles, it almost looked like something from a mosh pit. The countdown was on, nervous energy was buzzing around the stadium, and we were only a few minutes from running.

The mindset

I was feeling weird.

Even now two months later, I can't really explain it. In some ways, it didn't feel real. In all of the time we had that morning to think about the race, I didn't really feel connected to what I was about to do. At the start line, I was there physically, but it almost felt like I was watching from outside.

On top of that, I was definitely nervous. I think that came down to having lofty goals that I wasn't sure were achievable. Last year, I did have a 'realistic' goal, a 'back up' goal, and an 'if everything goes perfectly...' goal, but I was really only focused on the realistic one. I achieved what I set out to, but did wonder afterwards if I could have gone faster.

This year, I really wanted to test myself and run as fast as possible. But without settling on a specific time goal, I ended up feeling unprepared. Marty told me to think of it as a Sunday long run. A very long one!

The marathon

We were in the second start group, which was based on a sub 3 hour expected finish time. The group ahead of us had a sub 2:40 expected finish time. Ahead of them, were the elite runners.  

We were much closer to the start line than we were in Berlin, it looked like we are about 50m back. Last year, it took us 3.5mins to reach the start line, I was hoping it would be less than that this year.

The elite runners were introduced, the gun went, and they were off. We started moving straight away. It took us just over 30 seconds to cross the start line, but like last year, we were off to a slow start.

A few narrow sections and tight turns out of the stadium meant we ran a 4:30 first kilometre, already about 30 seconds behind where we wanted to be. I’d rather start a bit too slow than too fast, but it’s frustrating because it is a lot of time to make up. Our second kilometre was better, right on 4min pace, but it is still crowded and we are dodging around people. 

When went went through 5km, there were still a lot of people around, but it was getting easier to get into a rhythm. Our split was about 20:30.

Crowds early in the race, spot the pink headband!
By the time we reached 8km, which was near our hotel, we had run through a few windy bits. It didn't feel like it was slowing us down, but I did feel like I was working harder than I expected to be. We were running a pace should have been comfortable at only the 8km mark. It wasn't uncomfortable, but I expected to feel like I was cruising, and I definitely didn't. 

Despite that, things were on track, and we went through 10km in just over 40 minutes.

The course took us through a bit more of the southern part of the city, before we started to head out of the city, along the river. The turnaround was at about 20km, which meant we had about 6km to run out along the river. If it was windy, I was hoping we would be running into it on the way out, and have it behind us for the return.

It was windy, and we could definitely feel it going out. We ran with a few groups to try to keep the pace ticking along. The course changed from road to a bike path, and I noticed a windmill - we were definitely out of the city!

There was still some support on the course, with people in nearby houses cheering us on. There were boats on the water playing music, and people in the river being propelled up out of the water, which Google tells me is a sport called flyboarding.

Definitely not me during the race!
Heading out, I thought I was falling slightly behind Marty. I began to wonder if I could hold the pace the whole way. I still felt like I was working harder than I expected, which I was a bit concerned by, because at 16, 17 or 18km, 4 minute pace should have been relatively comfortable. I was running slower than the two half marathon training runs I did, and much slower than half marathon PB pace.

I told myself there was no way I had gone out too hard, and to see how I felt on the other side of the river when the wind would hopefully be behind us. I also told myself not to worry if I couldn't pick the pace up - I would be happy just to hold it for the rest of the run. 

We finally got to the turn, and the wind was definitely behind us. I didn't get a good look at the half way split, but it was over 84 minutes. I wasn't sure if we would be able to run a negative split to break 2:48, but wasn't ready to give up.

We maintained our pace along the river, and could see runners streaming along the other side. I was very glad to be in the second half by that point. Marty told me we were doing well, and to aim to hold this for another 10km.

The 25km mat was in a shady section of the course off the river path, we were heading back into the city. Our 5km split was about 20 minutes, and I actually didn't feel too bad for the first time in the race.

We passed one of the music stands that were scattered along the course. It was playing Nirvana Smells Like Teen Spirit, and it felt like a bit of party. When I looked at my watch for the next split, I saw we had slowed down marginally. Maybe that’s why I felt more comfortable all of a sudden!

I told Marty, and he told me not to worry. Then to my surprise a few seconds later, he was telling me to go on by myself. This wasn’t part of the plan!

I tried to tell him to stick with me, but he was having none of it. I felt another wave of tiredness as I realised I was going to be running the last 13km on my own. It must have been mental though, because my legs felt differently. I ran a few of my fastest kilometres for the whole race around the 30km mark.

I was torn between knowing there was still a long way to go and not pushing too hard too soon, and trying to go for the negative split. As I passed 32km, my watch read about 2:07:30 - another 40 minutes of running would get me sub 2:48. In the blur of marathon maths, I probably thought it was roughly possible, but it does pay to remember when counting down kilometres - they all have a '.2' attached to them.

I reached the 35km mat with about 2:20 on the clock, which was gun time. I definitely got a boost from the fast split, which was under 20 minutes for 30-35km. By this point, I was counting down the time to go – 7km, 28minutes. Proper tiredness was starting to set in, but I told myself to keep going, I had done the training.

There was a hill at about 38km. At about 8km I would have called it a rise, but at this late stage of the race, it was definitely a hill. Going up it, I honestly thought I was done. My legs were heavy and it felt like I was barely moving. I had visions of slowing down to 4:20s, 4:30s for the last few kilometres.

A quick glance at my watch showed me it was actually 4:10 pace, and as it flattened out I got back into it and was surprised when my watch beeped for another 4min/km.

Like last year, things get a bit blurry from here. I remember my breathing getting really loud, and the feeling of slowing down never going away. Despite the heavy feeling, my watch kept giving me splits of just over 4 minutes. I just needed to hold on.

40km mat
Late in the race - exhausted

By this point, I knew I had about 10 minutes to run 2.2km to come in under 2:50, and was calculating if that gave me enough time to have a short walk. Luckily the other half of my head saying 'no' won the battle.

“Don’t waste the last 40km by walking now."

“This last 2km IS the marathon."

"This is where you have to finish it off.”

Soon enough I could see the stadium ahead. I ran out onto the track with about 200m to go, and wondered if someone would take my bib to the finish if my legs gave out.

Who is feeling worse?

They didn’t, and carried me around the corner until I could see the finish. It was a long last stretch, but I eventually crossed the finish line with 2:48:58 on my watch. I managed about two steps across the line before I sat down to wait for Marty, so glad it was over. 


When I finished this race, the only thing I felt initially was exhaustion. After Marty finished and we made our way out, I started to feel disappointed that I didn't run a bit faster. As the afternoon went on and we got ready to leave, I was definitely glad to have got the result I did.

I still can't really explain why I didn't feel as great as I expected to during the race. I thought I was in better shape than when I raced the Gold Coast half, but looking back I would say that was a better result.

I kept thinking about the two half marathon training runs I did in around 82 minutes. I felt a lot more comfortable in those than when I reached half way of the marathon in 84 minutes. I definitely don't think that 82 minute half marathon pace was realistic for the marathon. But I had hoped to feel comfortable than I did at 84 minutes, and perhaps have something left for the end of the race.

Looking back on the race and the days prior, I don't think I was ever completely relaxed while we were in Amsterdam. I've been asked if jet lag was a factor, I didn't so think, but who knows. It's also been suggested that stress could be a factor. Those two half marathons had nothing riding on them, no PB attempts and no goals. There was no pressure, no nerves. Perhaps it meant I was free to run more comfortably.

Maybe I wasn't quite in the shape I thought I was. Or maybe that is just what happens on the day sometimes.

The funny thing is, all of this sounds like the race was a disaster, when in fact, it was a good result.

Last year in Berlin, I ran such a big negative split (1:27:24/1:24:30), that I couldn't help but wonder if I could have run a faster time if we had started faster.

This year, I got that answer, going out in 1:24:40 and running the second half in 1:24:19.

It was almost a 3 minute PB, an evenly paced run, and I was able to hang on in the end when I got tired. It wasn't quite sub 2:48, but it wasn't far off.

I definitely couldn't have run any faster on the day!

There are a few areas that stand out for me to improve. Getting a better start would be one! Plus hard work, developing endurance and strengthening my body to avoid niggles. I am sure I can still run faster.

Until next time!

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!