I thought I should probably do a race report from the M7 Half Marathon that I ran last Sunday in Blacktown. Of all the things that I write about I think race reports are my favourite. I signed up for this race about 2 weeks before as a bit of a training day and because a few people that I have gotten to know through Instagram were going to be there too. I do a lot of my riding on the M7 so I thought it would be fun to do a race there. After speaking with my coach, he told me the timing was perfect as it is exactly 4 weeks out from Bintan 70.3.
Of all three of the disciplines of triathlon, running has been the hardest for me. I know that the swim was probably my weakest leg for a while there but I swam a lot as a child so I think there was a pretty good base. As for running, being a big guy it was never easy and it was something I associated with pain. When I started losing weight the run was the thing that caused me the most grief. I had countless injuries and even after I lost all of my weight I found it very hard to make any significant improvements. I remember the very first run I went on when I started this crazy weight-loss journey. I made it about 200m before having to walk, the next day I insisted on going further and this continued until I was running the 2km loop 2 or 3 times. But enough about my running history. To the race.
I don't know what it is about racing but I always dread it. The night before a race I am constantly having to remind myself that it is why I do all the training I do. Last weekend was no different. I went out for dinner with some friends and I just wanted to drink about 2 bottles of red wine to give myself an excuse not to run. Even though I had no expectations from the race. I did not sleep well. When the alarm went off it took me a little while to get ready. Anyway, me and Dez headed out to the start area which was about 30 minutes from home. Dez has not been doing a lot of running lately but I convinced her to try and sign up on the day. She couldnt sign up for the 21.1km but was able to sign up for the 10km. It was a pretty coldish morning and I had decided to run in shorts and a t-shirt. I had my pants and jacket on until about 10 minutes before we started then I stripped down and did an easy warm up. I was pretty sore and fatigued from a HUGE week of hard training including two 22+km runs and 2 hard 5km swims. I had also played 90 minutes of football on the Saturday. This was all part of my plan though. I wanted the race to be a bit of a struggle because I was hoping to do a bit of mental training out there. See where my mind went when I was hurting and work out what I needed to do to dig deep. The aim was to go just under 1:30.
Right before the race I started to feel very calm. There was no pressure on me to perform. But I think one of the reasons why I dread racing is because I know how much it hurts. It doesn't matter what distance I race, I race hard and it normally hurts. Running races always hurt the most. Anyway I lined up for the start which was a lap and a half of the athletics track before heading out onto the course. When the gun went off I found myself very quickly at the front of the race with maybe 7 or 8 other people. I decided to just go with it for the first lap. I straight away noticed that my HR strap was a bit tight and was making breathing hard so as I ran around the second time I took it off and threw it to Dez. As I came towards the end of the lap I looked at my Garmin and was terrified to see I was running 3:05min pace. I instantly made the decision to slow down. As we left the sports precinct in Blacktown there was a climb to get up to the M7 cycle path. I tried to maintain pace and not go too hard as I went up. When I got onto the track I really started to settle in. The first part of the race on the cycle path was a 750 metre there and back again loop. This was good because it gave me an early chance to see how many people were hot on my tail. I was surprised to see that there was already a pretty significant gap between myself and some others to the main part of the field. I was even more surprised to see my first km split at well under 3:30 pace. As we headed out onto the main part of the run I was overtaken by 4 people quite quickly. This was fine with me though as I was there to race myself and I knew I wanted to be a bit conservative at the start.
What I noticed on the course was that hills which I would not even consider hills on my bike were brutal to go up when running at sub 4min/km. I was going through all the potential hills in my mind. I realised the race was going to be tougher than I had expected. I went through the first 5km in under 19 minutes which really surprised me and I think I ran my fastest 10km too in 38:58. The most surprising part for me though was that it didn't feel hard. I will admit the hills didn't tickle but I remembered how much the 1:25 I had run at the Western Sydney Half Marathon had hurt on a flat course. I felt totally in control and it was making me nervous. I know how the back end of a race can be a struggle and I knew that every hill I was running down I was going to have to run up again. At the turn around point there was a very sharp hill which I hoped would be avoided. I got the the top and probably the only thing from the entire race which I thought was poorly organised was an aid station there. Regardless I turned around and I was on the way home. On the way back I saw a few of the people I have met through Instagram and they gave me a shout and some encouragement which helped ALOT. In fact I was surprised how many competitors were shouting support at me. It was really nice. I also realised that there was a decent gap between myself and the majority of the field and between myself and the race leaders. But hey I am a triathlete, not a runner!
At about the 17km mark we passed the turn around point for the 10km run and the race became a little chaotic with many of the slower 10km runners taking up most of the path. I didn't bother trying to move around them instead opting to shout, "passing" to get them to move. I think this is one of the main reasons I don't like to see people racing while listening to music. I saw people physically jump as I ran past some of them as they were in their own world. I noticed that between km 15 and 17 my splits were starting to slow down a little. This was when I decided to try and dig a little deeper. I was happy to see my body responded so well and I was able to go back to sub 4min kms. At the top of the hill we took to get off the M7 path I also spotted Dez who was nearly done with her 10km. I couldn't resist the opportunity to slap her on the ass as I ran past. I came into the stadium and put the foot down for the last lap. I crossed the line and my Garmin had me at 1:23:49. This was an amazing result. Straight away I also realised that I was fine. I wasn't wobbling, I wasn't vomiting. I was really ok. I sat down when Dez arrived, we talked about how the course was much more challenging than we had expected.
I came 14th overall and 5th in the 20-29 Age Group. But for me the most important factor was that I averaged 3:57/km for the race. This is something I have been aiming for and to do it on a tough course on tired legs blew me away. I waited and saw a lot of other people cross the line and then we took some photos for our ever important Instagram accounts. To demonstrate how absolutely ok I was I even went for an hour ride in the afternoon. I was sore on the Monday and Tuesday but I ran on the Tuesday afternoon. I pulled up better than I did after playing 2 games of soccer back-to-back.
Throughout the week I have had plenty of time to reflect on the performance and what it means for me. While 1:23 is not a super fast time. It has given me a lot of confidence leading into Bintan. It has also made me curious to know how fast I could run if I prepped for a half marathon or even just tapered for one. But to be honest, what I am most blown away by is how far I have come in the last 4 years. To think that the 120 something kg bloke who couldn't run 200m was now doing this bows me away. It also reminds me of how grateful and lucky I am to be able to do it. It was also amazing to meet some of the people that I talk to so often in the flesh and potentially grow my training and reading network in the future. I am stoked. Oh I almost forgot, Dez ran a 5 minute PB in the 10km and I am convinced that my slap on the ass pushed her to finish even stronger!
This week I have taken it much easier before the final little build before Bintan. I am going to give that race 100%. so thats it for this week.
Stay safe, don't give up even if it is hard and remember to TRI!