I wasn’t going to post anything else here. Having achieved my 5 x 50 at 50 I was going to let this blog fade into internet oblivion. There is no point in me writing about my routine running, it would be Just Another Running Blog, and there are plenty of those already, most of them written far better than anything I can manage.
Then I entered the Wellington marathon, which was only 24 days after my final 50km run. I hadn’t intended to, it was a last minute decision and mostly an excuse to visit our daughter Hillary for the weekend.
I knew the distance wouldn’t be a problem, but my ultra training meant I had spent all year walking up hills and taking rest breaks. If the marathon had been another 4 weeks away I could have some recovery time, spend a few weeks doing a bit of pace work to get some (relative) leg speed, and then have a crack at my personal best time of 3:36 – which I set in my first marathon, when I was 18. But I didn’t have an extra month, so I would take what came. If I could dip under 3:40 it would be my second fastest ever, that would make me happy.
10 days before the Wellington marathon I went out after work and did a solo 32km time trial at a pace for a 3:35 marathon. I finished this right on target, but I was shattered. No way I had another 10km in me at that pace. Never mind, a second best ever time would be fine in the circumstances.
With all the long slow training and frequent rest breaks I had lost any sense of pace judgement. Compounding that, I don’t know where each km marker is on the Wellington course, and last time I ran it I went out way to fast without realising it until I got a time check at the 5km point. So I decided I would use the target time function on my GPS tracker for the first time.
The other major point I remembered from my previous time running at Wellington is that my GPS measured the course at 43.1 km. I assume that the course is the correct distance, so put that down to a combination of my GPS being built into a cheap phone, and the very twisty course weaving in and out of all the little bays. With this in mind I entered a target time of 3:40 for 43 km (about 5:07 per km), and then set the GPS to update me every 500 metres. Being built into the phone, the announcements come through the headphones, which takes a bit of getting used to.
I always have trouble drinking from a cup while running, and I didn’t want to walk through the aid stations, so I kitted myself out as if I was doing a supported-ultra. I had a squeezy bottle with 3 shots of gel in one shirt pocket, a power bar in the other, and I wore my fuel belt with 4 water bottles. This way I could sip from the bottles whenever I wanted, and wash down the gel and power bar at my convenience.
I wandered nervously around in the pre-start area doing some stretching and jogging. I was proudly wearing the 5x50km top that Olivia and Antonia had made for me. Nobody noticed. Then it was time to go outside and marshal for the start. I had a bit of faffing around with my GPS, setting the target and getting a satellite lock, and I was ready to go. Unfortunately the organisers weren’t, they were still setting up the race clock as the start time rolled around. Then, a few minutes late, we were off.
I was trying desperately not to get too carried away with the excitement of the start, as we cruised down the gentle slope to the access ramp, and then zig zagged down the steeper ramp to the street. Got a huge shout and wave from Hillary as we entered the ramp, it was great of her to come down this early to see me off.
“You.are.six.seconds..a-head” Excellent, the first of the 500 metre announcements, and I was right on target. Just settle into this rhythm and enjoy the day. A lot of people came charging past here, I guess they had got caught up in the crush getting off the ramp. It was very hard to let them go, as I was feeling so good, bit I wanted to keep to my plan.
“You.are.forty.two.seconds..a-head” Oops, I had picked up a bit of pace without realising it. Ease off slightly. The announcements were going to work wonders.
This pattern continued for several km, people would ease past, I would ignore them with difficulty, and my pace sat between 30 and 40 seconds ahead of target.
We got to the first drink station, and I happily cruised past sipping from my own bottle as everyone scrambled to get a cup and then tried to drink from it on the move. Hah, that was working for me as well.
Mindful of the extra distance that my GPS recorded here last time, I was trying to straighten the road as much as possible, cutting all of the bends (within the race rules of course). In the early part of the race this made for some interesting running, as the filed was still fairly bunched up, and I was ducking and weaving through other runners as I cut from the side of the road out to the centre line and back again. It was interesting to note that by the 8km marker the 500 metre announcements from my GPS did not line up with the km markers on the course, so I started counting steps between them to try and see how far out I was. I think I was out by about 200 metres, although mostly it was just something to keep my brain occupied.
By the 10km point the field had thinned out and I was starting to pass people. That felt great, although I had to fight the temptation to deliberately run them down. I forced myself to keep to my pace, and if I happened to catch someone, that was a bonus.
“You.are.forty.five.seconds..a-head” This was about the 13km mark. I wasn’t too concerned about this, as it had happened very gradually over the last 5 km or so.
It was here that I realised that perhaps I had over hydrated, and would need to relieve some pressure on my bladder. We were running on a stretch of road beside a bush covered cliff, that was closed to traffic and had no houses around, so the ultra-runner/multi-sporter in me took over, and I simply stood in the ditch with my back to the oncoming runners and did my thing.
“You.are.twenty.seconds..a-head” Not bad, I only lost 25 seconds. While I was stopped a group of 4 or 5 runners had gone past, so I picked up the pace for a few hundred metres and got myself onto the back of it. I was now back to 30 seconds ahead and happy with that. I worked my way toward the front of the group and settled back into my stride.
The group was being led by a young woman who had someone following on his push bike, giving her encouragement and gels. Whenever she paused to grab a gel I just held me pace, and she would work to get back up with me. I never once looked behind me, but I sensed that we had dropped most of the other runners in our little group. We carried on this way for several km, swapping out the lead every now and then. Past the 17km point we met the race leaders heading back. Man, they would have been about 7m ahead of us already, and they were flying.
I was feeling so comfortable along here that I let myself play with the idea of ignoring my GPS pace reminders from the halfway turn around, and just running with what I had left in my legs – it might be the first time I had managed to run a negative split for a marathon.
Just past the 19km mark we start up the Pass of Branda, a gentle climb that takes a kilometre to rise less than 40 metres – hardly worthy of being labelled a hill really. Although I was trying to hold myself to my target pace until the halfway point, there is something about seeing a hill rising in front of me that gets my blood stirred, and I tend dig in and enjoy the climb. The same thing happened here, I just couldn’t stop myself from attacking the hill. I must have passed half a dozen people, and the woman that I had been running with dropped off my shoulder. She can’t have dropped far though, because she came back on the downhill to lead me toward the turnaround.
The other side of the pass is a bit steeper and the course drops down to sea level quite quickly before continuing around the coastline to the turnaround. I remember the turnaround being a lot further than I expected, and unsurprisingly it was still in the same place this year. The kilometre or so seemed to take forever, and then we were turning and heading for home. Right before the turnaround we caught and passed another woman who had been slowly coming back to us for the last 20 minutes or so. Once we turned she seemed to get an enormous boost and surged away from us to build up a large lead again. Not a problem, I am just trying to run my own race here anyway.
By now I was over a minute ahead of my target pace, and over halfway, so I stopped listening to my GPS and started listening to my body. It was telling me to go and have some fun, so I did. A strong push up the steeper side of the hill and then a bit of a relaxing drift down the other side. Having turned around on the out-and-back course, we were now running toward the people behind us, and I recognised a few who I had run with or past at various stages in the first half. Some of them had dropped quite a way back, and it gave me quite a psychological boost to know that my pacing strategy was working for me.
Still swapping the lead with the young woman that I had run with since the 14km mark, we picked up a few more runners as we headed back up the Miramar peninsular, and I think there were 3 or 4 drafting off us for a few km. When we had gone about 29km I realised that we were again slowly closing on the woman we had passed at halfway. She was still three or four hundred metres ahead, but the gap was closing. Unfortunately my running companion stopped here to grab another gel and I never saw her again. We had run together for about 15km and hardly spoken. I never got her name or race number so can’t check on her result. I hope she finished well.
At the 30km marker I was over 3 minutes ahead of schedule and started let myself think about a PB. In fact I briefly thought I might even go under 3:30 – I tried to do the math in my head, but it was all too hard when I was tired. And it didn’t matter anyway, I was going to run as hard as I could until the finish and then see what time I did.
We were nearing the end of the unpopulated closed road, and I had almost caught the woman from the half-way turn around (again) when I had to stop for another “nature break”. This again cost me twenty five seconds, and let her extend her lead back out. Not much further on we hit the turn around for the half marathon, at the same time as people who are running 2 hours or more for their half marathon. Suddenly we were in amongst hundreds of people, all running slower than us. It was impossible to keep track of any marathon runners that were ahead of us, they just got swallowed in the crowd.
So now I was running alone in a crowd, with no-one ahead to focus on. I had to think a bit about working my way through the crowd of slower runners while trying to maintain my pace, that kept my brain occupied for a while. Only 10km to go, I was still holding my pace but starting to feel it a bit. I had used my three gels and eaten my power bar, I was now starting to wish I had carried one extra gel shot.
Then I realised that I could still see the woman that I had been tracking for so long, her distinctive shirt stood out in the crowd, and I was slowly gaining on her for the third time. When she stopped to take a drink at the 35km drink station I just kept going and ran past her. I was starting to tire, so it was nice to have this little mental boost. I think My GPS said I was about 8 minutes ahead of plan, I wasn’t really paying attention to it by then.
By now the km markers were counting down, so that the half and full marathon runners would not get confused. With 7km to go I glanced at my stopwatch and saw 2:57. Good grief! 5 minutes per km for 7 km, that’s another 35 minutes, I am definitely going to get a PB. And if I can push it a bit harder I might smash the old mark and sneak under 3:30 – that would be huge. Although I was excited at the thought, my body couldn’t quite keep up with my brain, and was starting to remind me that I had already run faster for longer than ever in my life before. My legs felt pretty good, but my stomach was getting gentle cramps, I was starting to run on empty.
OK, so the 3:30 dream was shelved pretty quick. It was going to be a matter of hanging on as long as possible and taking as much as possible off my previous best. 5km to go and the half way woman passed me again, going strong. Good for her, I was giving it all I had and felt like I was not getting anywhere. I was still passing half marathon runners and now some 10km walkers, although this didn’t give me much of a mental boost.
4km to go, I was really struggling as we came to the last drink station, and there is the half way woman again, stopped to have a drink. I cruise on by sipping the last from my water bottles, seriously wishing I had a gel to take with it. She passed me shortly afterward moving at an incredible pace for that stage of a marathon, and I never saw her again.
We were into the last 2km along the tourist waterfront walkways, dodging Sunday morning strollers as well as half marathon runners. This gave me more to think about, and distracted me slightly from how bad I was feeling. 3 or 4 people passed me between here and the finish, and although I couldn’t see their race numbers to tell which event they were in, I am fairly certain that they were not doing the half.
I wasn’t concerned about losing places, only that it confirmed that I was slowing down. I have had a look at my splits and the last 3km were fairly uniform, all 15 seconds slower than the previous 10km. Come on, come on, where is the damn “1km to go” marker. It finally came into sight, but of course 1km is a long way when you are tired, and the stadium took forever to come into view.
And then the steep-ish ramp up from the street to the stadium approach just killed me. All the energy was sapped from my legs, and that 135 metres felt like the hardest thing I had done all year.
Around the last corner and we were in front of the spectators all yelling and cheering, encouraging us along the final 250 metres to the finish. I was working as hard as I could to keep some momentum going, and not really achieving much. I heard my name called from among the spectators, but didn’t see who it was (pretty sure now it was Ann and Hillary), just focussed on trying to keep my legs moving. The finish line just wasn’t getting any closer, and then finally I was there and could stop. I was shattered. My friends Stu, John and Yvonne were all still waiting for me just past the finish line, despite having completed their half marathons 10 minutes earlier, which I certainly appreciated.
I was ecstatic. My official time was 3:31:21 – it had taken me 32 years and 3 intervening marathons to finally beat my previous best, and then I reduced it by over four and a half minutes. I was also a staggering 10 minutes quicker than when I ran this course two years ago. And I had run negative splits for the first time – around 1:47 on the way out and 1:44 on the way home.
To top it all off, and keep the father daughter rivalry alive, I now had a faster time at Wellington than Antonia. OK, she has run more marathons than me, most of them faster than me, and her Wellington one was her first ever. But she is so far ahead on overall points that I need to take whatever small wins I can 😉
There was a bit of beer consumed that afternoon 🙂
Then and now – the two marathon certificates that I am most proud of :
Cruising through the first few km, concentrating on the next 500 metre time check-
A bit under 3 km to go, and the strain is showing –
1,500 metres left, hang in there –
Finally, the long run up to the finish line –
A brief wave for all (both) of my devoted fans –
And just hang on for the last few metres –