I haven’t done one of these for a while, probably because I haven’t really had a race in a while either. Guess what! No issues, problems or stories of woe this time either. The great thing about running races is you don’t really rely on much ‘gear’ except for your shoes and clothes. This means the pesky problems I have suffered in a number of recent triathlons weren’t an issue for me yesterday. I raced the Blacktown Running Festival Half Marathon. I have now raced this event for the last 3 years and it has become a good sort of ‘start of season’ indicator as to where my fitness and ability is at. Not only that, but it is a relatively cheap race to enter which is incredibly well organised. Basically I just really like this event. I am extremely familiar with the course as I do a lot of bike riding on the path that the run takes. It is also a bit of a novelty to run the way I usually ride. I think the main reason why I like this race though is that it gives me a bit of a taste of competition at a time of year that I don’t really get much.
It is funny to admit, but despite this race being of little consequence, it is still a race. Now I am happy to admit that I am not that motivated by beating other people. I am however, incredibly motivated by beating myself. I think that racing other people is a great way to push yourself to do better than you did last year and as you train more the people you are surrounded by when you race become better thus pushing you harder as well. So I decided that I wanted to not only beat my PB at this event, I wanted to take minutes off it. I know how well I have been running this year and I was sure that I would be able to take at least 2 minutes off my PB of 1:19. So yes, despite this race being of little significance I still wanted to put my best foot forward.
Here is where I fall into that standard endurance athlete cliché though of complaining about all the reasons why I failed to do so. For me, I have no excuses, no one to blame except myself. The weekend before the race I went for a pretty long bike ride. 190km to be exact and I’m not talking about a leisurely ride through the country either. It was hard and made even harder by the fact that we were running late and had to go as hard as we could for 2 hours to try and make it back on time. This was followed up with a hard interval session the next day. Great training that I know will benefit me in the future (even if I did go a bit longer than I was meant to.) But I realised on Monday the error of my ways. One of the issues with overtraining is that you can put yourself into a ‘hole’ where it takes a long time to recover properly. I was in it. I think my coach knew it too because I had a very easy week of training (and I wasn’t told off for riding too far on Saturday.) But I did all I could to recover in time for the race on Sunday. The day before the race I went for a short ride and I could feel that I had plenty of energy to use. I was optimistic for the run on Sunday.
On Sunday morning I had no issues getting up. I didn’t feel tired and by all accounts it looked like perfect running weather. I was feeling happy and confident about the race. I knew a number of people at the event and Dez had even managed to make it, coming home early (and not drunk) from a wedding the night before. Dez signed up for the 10km – also for the third year in a row. I was happy to see my coach, Ben and his wife Brooke were both there. Benny had hurt his leg playing soccer the day before and wouldn’t be running. We had a good chat and I did a bit of a warm up. The legs were still a bit stiff but that’s pretty normal for me these days. I got ready and made my way to the start area. I squeezed my way towards the front. I saw a guy I recognise from parkrun called Tom who I know is an incredible runner and thought, well I know I cant run faster than him so I will position myself just near him for the start and waited for the gun.
Before I get into the race itself, there was something else significant about the run. I have been trying a new pair of race flat shoes from Mizuno, the Wave Sonic. It is a much stiffer shoe that my usual Hitogami race flat and I was keen to see how it felt over 21km. I had tried to use it on a long run a few weeks earlier with extremely sore legs and it had not been a wise decision. I really really like this shoe and have been contemplating making it my 70.3 race shoe as well. So I wanted to see how it performed. Now back to the race.
The race starts with one and a half laps of the athletics track before leaving the sports complex and heading up to the run path. I am notorious for going out to hard and was really determined not to do it again this year. As the gun went I went out and there were maybe 4 other people ahead of me. I picked 3 of them off without too much effort before the end of the one and a half laps and started my way out onto the path. Tom, the eventual winner had already put a few hundred metres on me by this point but he is literally classes above me which meant I wasn’t too fussed at all. The path itself is very hilly. Nothing to long or steep but just constant ups and downs which makes it quite hard to settle into a rhythm. I saw that my first km was 3:19 so I realised that once again I had gone out to hard. It was also the only km of the entire race that I was going to find easy.
I realised early on that while I was running pretty well I had no rhythm. It was also hard work to maintain the pace. I also realise that I couldn’t hear any other runners near me. I learned a long time ago to never look back. I will always wait until the turn around to see where my competitors are. I knew I was in second place and this was exactly how things went last year as well. I was waiting for the other runners to pass me at around the 6km mark as they did the year before. My first 5km split was 18:20 and then my first 10km split was 37:50. I also got a pleasant surprise to see Ben at the 7km mark on the course that helped to lift my spirit. At the turn around I saw that there was a fairly significant gap between the runner in third place and myself and an even bigger gap between me and first. Then after the turn around I saw all the other runners coming the other way, many of who cheered me on and encouraged me. Then I was by myself again.
As I passed Ben at the now 14km mark he told me to push it home now and I wanted to say “I’ve been pushing it for 14km” but didn’t have the energy. The last few kms were horrible and my pace was really starting to suffer. I saw my PB slipping further and further away until I realised I would struggle to make it under 80 minutes. I then decided to just focus on the race itself, I was in 2nd place and might be able to hold on to it. The last km I gave it everything I had and as I ran into the stadium for the last 300m I was basically sprinting. But it was pointless, the clock ticked over 80 minutes and I finished with a time of 1:20:13, 5 seconds slower than the year before. I was very tired and getting 2nd overall was pretty good but I was pretty annoyed with myself for not running better and falling apart a bit at the end of the run. I found out there was even prize money. I won money for a race for the first time in my life. I really didn’t expect it and it certainly perked me up a bit.
I think the thing that I missed during the race though was that sense of competition I had been craving. I ran solo for maybe 20.8km. The majority of that time I was completely by myself. I had no other athletes around me to push me to run faster and at times I found my mind wandering. I think that isolation coupled with the fatigue from the week before are contributing factors to my slower than expected time. Later in the day, Dez could tell I was a bit frustrated by the result and I said to her, ‘hey, at least we know it is true that when I say I would rather come dead last and go fast than win (even though I came 2nd) and go slow.’ Am I disappointed or after sympathy? Hell no! I still held 3:48 pace for 21.1km and managed to score $800 in the process. It was a novelty to race with my coach there and Brooke also managed to pick up 2nd in the women’s race too. I think if anything I am frustrated with myself because I keep making silly mistakes that I know I shouldn’t. I have gotten it into my head somewhere along the line that more is better. I need to be smarter with my training. It is also funny because we recorded an episode on my podcast about self-sabotaging where I laughed at some of the things I have done and it seems like I have gone and done it again.
Still, to run fatigued and drop a 1:20 is not something I will ever complain about. It used to take me that long to run 10km so I know things will keep improving. Congratulations to the winners of all the races and a huge thank you to Blacktown City Council for putting on an amazing event that I will continue to keep racing and trying to deliver a proper result.
I was also extremely happy to see that the Wave Sonic was a fantastic shoe to race in. I am still not sure if I will use it a triathlon because I do not know how easily I will be able to slip it on my feet in transition but I will probably test it out at a smaller race later in the year.
Do as I say and not as I do and the thing I always say is remember to TRI!