Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Harbour Capital Half: A few more thoughts

Well, the shoes have dried off now and I'd like to mull over my race once more. I'll try to keep this short!

It seems funny to think now that only a few years ago this whole race thing used to completely terrify me. I was intimidated by all the 'real' runners, struck down by a sense of duty to achieve some self-imposed goal. These days I enter at the last moment. I sleep well the night before, and my pre-race nerves have finally been conquered by a well-rehearsed routine and honed sense of self-awareness.

So it was this year. I went out to dinner at a friend's the night before. A highly spicy Thai curry with lots of coconut cream would not have been my choice of pre-race fuel. At least I stuck to orange juice and water! I went to bed early, but not excessively so. I slept well and woke half an hour before my alarm, lying in bed until it went off. As always I listened to the news. I got up and, as I always do, I dressed in the clothing I had left out the night before. I went through my usual preparation, including a warm porridge breakfast. My stomach felt a little queasy, but nothing too major. I put on my timing chip and race number, added my usual pre-race layers for warmth.

The weather forecast had been pretty grim. It was supposed to be wet, cold and blowing a gale. At 7a.m. the sky was black, bar a red sunrise over the mountains to the East. My first thought after getting out of bed was that it was remarkably warm. I had been considering turning on the central heating and getting in the shower if it had been really cold, but ended up not feeling the need.

After breakfast I got a few minutes down the road before realising I'd left my Hydrocortisone behind, so I quickly turned around and raced back down our steps to grab it. That also enabled me to pick up the face-plate of our car stereo off the kitchen table. It started raining as I was driving into town. Now that it was light the wind was picking up as well and the weather was looking distinctly unpromising.

The queue to get into the stadium carpark was shorter this year, but it was difficult to find a park once I was in there. It was really starting to rain by the time I made it under the cover of the stadium concourse. It was packed full of runners togged up in thermals and various rain jackets. I had elected not to wear a thermal but had donned my grey and orange Adidas windbreaker, thinking that it would be good to keep the rain off my arms. Underneath I wore a short-sleeved black technical t-shirt.

I had been thinking about doing a few warm-up exercises, but with noone keen to move outside there wasn't really any room. It took forever to locate the two hour pace runner and I never managed to find Sarah or any of the other Les Mills runnners. Everyone waited until the last possible moment before moving outside.

Finally we were waiting near the starting line. I had already decided that I wasn't going to worry about pushing for two hours. I didn't feel that the conditions were right and I wasn't feeling in the mood to fight for it. However once the race started things changed. The start was horrifically congested, even worse than last year. There were the usual walkers being shoved from side to side as they were passed by hundreds of runners.

I had harboured vague ideas about sticking with the pace runner, but he was running way too slowly. I checked my Garmin to make sure I wasn't racing off too fast, but was happy that I was sticking to my goal 5.30 to 5.40 pace so left him behind. I knew that I would quickly be able to feel whether I was going to run strong or not. By the time we were running along the Quay I already knew this was going to be one of my better days. I started to think about aiming for two hours again.

Within minutes I spotted Sarah running in the crowd ahead of me. I considered whether I should try to catch up and run with her, but I fully expected her to take off so decided I would just aim to keep her in my sights. I didn't want the pressure of trying to keep up with anyone else. I stayed about ten metres or so behind her all the way around the waterfront.

In one of my blog-posts in the lead-up to this race I reminded myself that I would probably feel nasty at around the five to seven kilometre mark and that when that happened I would just have to push through. I expected to get the stitch at around the twenty minute mark. Well, neither of those two events came to pass. I felt strong the whole way to the turn-around, and the stitch never eventuated. It seemed that just knowing I could run through a rough patch helped me to avoid the rough patch all together.

I was slowly creeping closer to Sarah but was content to remain anonymous. My cover was blown however at Freyberg, where Duck and co cheered the both of us on. Darn! I drew level and stuck more or less just behind her shoulder all the way to Miramar. I felt a bit guilty. It must have been annoying to have a shadow. I wasn't intentionally sitting in that exact spot, it just happened to be were I ended up.

I also feel a bit guilty about my rant about runners not paying attention. To be honest, I was a real idiot and managed to spectacularly demonstrate my own lack of attention. Wellington runners will know that, around Pt Jerningham, there is a low white post-and-rail fence separating the footpath from the road. Well, I was so distracted by my Garmin that I managed to run right into the end of it. Smack, bang, ouch! True to form I never even paused to dust myself off. I reassured everyone that I was fine and kept on running, ignoring the pain in my quad.

The rest of the first split is a bit of a blur. I do remember being passed at a rapid pace by the two hour pacer. The woman next to me and I checked our wrists. We commented that, having started out too slow, he now seemed to be running waaayyyy too quickly. There was a small pack of green-banded runners trailing in his wake.

I'd skipped the water stop at the 5km mark but thought a little Peak Fuel at the 8km might give me a little boost. I made myself run through the drink stop, sipping as I went. My memories of this part of the race are a little hazy. I remember thinking I'd gotten here rather quickly. I remember there being a lot of water on the footpath and I remember there being a nasty headwind on the approach to the Miramar cutting. I remember seeing the guy who ran in a suit and thinking that he looked like he was having some chaffing issues. I was a little frustrated to note that I'd hit the turnaround in almost exactly the same time as last year. I was less than a minute off pace, but I knew I'd be running into a headwind on the return and that I would probably tire over the last few kilometres. I knew it would be a push to hit two hours.

In what felt like no time at all I was back at the drink stop - eight kilometres to go. I drank a little more Peak Fuel. Now the headwind was having a bit of an impact. I was slowing and my aim switched to trying to surge through the wind then pick it back up to goal pace or less in the shelter. It was a tough strategy. Psychologically however, this was not a particularly difficult part of the race. Never has 21 kilomtres felt like such a short distance. Familiarity can sometimes be a good thing and being able to check off each landmark made a huge difference to my morale. It was also a lot of fun to be able to run along the edge of the road rather than on the curb.

At this point I would, again, like to acknowledge the many, many people who cheered me on during the race. I'm embarrassed to say that I missed seeing most of you until you called out to me. Don't take that personally. I was in my own little headspace! It was fantastic, however, to have Les Mills staff out on the course. I was thrilled to have Duck and co cheering me on again at Freyberg. I had overtaken Sarah not long after the half-way mark and was happy to be able to point that fact out (sorry Sarah). However I was also glad to have her behind me because I was convinced she was breathing down my neck and about to fly past at any moment. Every now and then I would take a quick glance backwards to check for a speedy smurf. She kept me moving!

As previously noted, my longest training runs have been 15km long, and I've only been running at most three times a week thanks to a dodgy ankle. I fully expected that this would come back to haunt me over the last six kilometres, and to a certain extent it did. I was a little slower than I would have liked and my legs were hurting a bit. I was trying to stick to a pace that would enable me to make two hours, but it was getting harder.

Around Te Papa and past the two kilometre marker. A guy next to me turned to his buddy and said "come on, we can still do under two hours if we pick up the pace". He took off, leaving his friend behind. Duck's advise to me had been to push it for the last five kilometres. I was trying - hard. Before the race I'd been nervous about pushing it with over 25 minutes to go, for fear of crashing and burning (or vomiting). Now I was giving it as much gas as I could. With that two kilometres to go I checked my own wrist and saw that I would have to run at a five minute pace to get there. Oh dear, I wanted it so badly but it was soooo not happening.

I wondered whether I could make 2.02. I remembered reaching Queens Wharf Events Centre last year and being thrilled to be nearly finished. This year there seemed to be almost no distance between the Centre and the Stadium. Suddenly I was there. I wanted to run strongly up that damn ramp, but it just wasn't happening. I remember last year putting on a spurt down the concourse to make it to the finish in under 2.08. This year there was a spurt to get under 2.04. I made it, just.

I hadn't really been feeling nauseaus when I was running, but I got hit with a big wave once I stopped. I had to hold onto the fence and bend over for a couple of minutes. My quads cramped up immediately. I shuffled into the stadium and smiled at a random volunteer, who rewarded me with a spot prize voucher. I was feeling too queasy to contemplate any more Peak Fuel, but I thought I should try some water. Unfortunately the water tasted badly of plastic so most of it got binned.

I spotted Sarah in the queue behind me as I was picking up my goodie bag. I picked up my spot prize then walked back to meet her. We chatted while she picked up her bags. I'd slipped my wind parker off my shoulders at Oriental Bay on the return leg, because I was starting to get a bit warm. Now though I was starting to feel as wet as I was, and rather cold. I ducked down to my car (walking sideways down the stairs), threw on some warm clothes, and then we limped off to Les Mills for a much-needed shower and stretch.

Never has a shower felt soooo good. So hot, so powerful. Afterwards, changed and waiting for Sarah, I started feeling very cold and shaky. I'd had a Replace drink, but it wasn't enough. Another running friend and half-marathon finisher, Jo, practically forced me to eat a couple of her gummy lollies. Within seconds I was feeling warm and recovered. I suspect my blood sugars were bottoming out. The same thing happened to me after the Grape Ride. I don't think it was low cortisol (I'd doubled my usual morning dose). After the lollies and a Subway chicken fillet sub I felt fine.

After the walk back to the stadium for prize giving it occured to me that it wasn't my quads that were sore as such, it was my quad. Specifically it was my right quad, exactly where a huge red and black bruise was now forming. The next day I continued to feel very sore where my leg had impacted with the fence, but the rest of my quads felt fine. By this morning my right ankle and the bottom of my left hamstring were a bit niggly. Otherwise, I've been very pleased with my recovery. I would have run a short recovery run yesterday had it not been for the atrocious weather and a deliberate decision to leave my running gear at home.

In summary then, I expected to know within minutes whether I'd have a race on my hands, and I did. I knew I could make it to the turn-around at my goal pace or less, and I pretty-much did. I theorised that a little energy-drink would help give me a boost, and I'm fairly certain it did. I expected to slow down on the return leg, and I did. I expected to start to crash a bit after an hour and a half, and I did. In retrospect, some jelly-beans or similar would have been good here. I knew that if I could cut down on last year's positive split I would pretty much be guaranteed of a PB. I managed to cut four minutes off last year's return leg, and that was how I achieved the PB. As mentioned earlier, the first 10.5km were run at almost the exact same pace as last year.

In conclusion then, I know I am definitely capable of going sub-two hours. A little more training (including a few more long runs and some speed-work), and slightly more favourable conditions and I'd be targeting 1.55. One day I might even be as fast as my mother-in-law! A quick look at the results today showed me as finishing 49th out of 99 women in my age group. So my place as a mid-pack runner has been firmly cemented. Given that I've spent my whole life finishing last I'll settle for top 50! As life returns to normal this race is doing a lot to boost my confidence in my own abilities.

This morning I got up and did Dee's 6a.m. RPM class. My legs felt ok, though I didn't push the dial too hard. In fact, they felt rather strong. A lunchtime Body Balance was a little more telling though. My hips were very tight and sore and this seemed to lead to a weakness through my core in the ab track and a general decline in my balance poses. It was good to be able to stretch out though.

In the morning I'm getting up early to work out with a colleague, Murray. He teaches Impact at Les Mills, so I know I'm in for some kind of boxing training. I'm looking forward to it. He's intrigued with my reputed pull-up and push-up capabilities, so they may also both be tested. I'm meeting some of my Les Mills running buddies for lunch and I may try to run tomorrow night. I feel quite ridiculously full of energy and I think the race may have led to a little surge in my fitness levels which I'm keen to capitialise on.

Gearshifters starts again on 1 September, at which point it will all be about the bike again. For the next couple of months I want to really push my leg weights to maximise my leg strength. Once I start riding I'll have to ease off again. There are a couple of half marathon options in August, both on fairly flat, fast courses.

Speaking of bikes though, this little darling is currently sitting in Penny Farthings, on sale for just over $1400. How badly do I want her? Oh Lola, I'm ashamed to admit I'd leave behind your big-boned, arthritic Sora componentry behind for this extremely light-weight little baby. Give me some carbon-forked niceness and a little female-specificity! How tragic is it that I lust over a narrow pair of handle-bars and a padded saddle? Plus how sexy is that cream and gold colour scheme? And how cool is it to have a 'genius' bike? I want my bike to have a high IQ ...

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