Guys, I’m still struggling to put this whole marathon experience into words. You all know that my posts tend to be
long-winded thorough. And that goes double for race reports. I hate to leave anything out – especially after you all told me a few months back that you really like to hear ALL the details of the race.
Just the idea of summarizing 26.2 miles (42.2 km) – almost 4 hours – of running into a single post feels daunting. GCA was super-prompt with her race report. After dinner on Sunday (race day), she napped for 3 hours, then woke up and blogged all about it – read her Perth Training Study Evaluation. I’m trying to be less than 7 days behind her. (Whoops, FAIL.) So here goes:
As I discussed in My Big Fat Goal Time post, I was aiming for a sub-4 hour race (just under 9 min/mile). Armed with this basic goal, and the elevation profile of the race, I set about drafting a strategy on the back of the paper with my flight information. Because, you know, why have more important pieces of paper than absolutely necessary?
I know the profile is small. Basically, the first major climb (~60 meters total) is at the half-way mark, and the second (~50 meters) is at about 18 miles (30 km). I still struggle to estimate what “60 meters of elevation change over 2 kilometers” looks like, but I did some rough calculations and decided that it wouldn’t be too bad. This was my race plan:
0-3 km: Downhill. ~8:30-8:45 min/mi [I know, this is counter to my “start slow” strategy – but only to capitalize on the early descent.]
3-21 km: Mostly flat. ~8:45-9:00 min/mi
21-23 km: Climb. Don’t look at watch, keep effort steady.
23-25 km: Descend. Fly by feel. [I’m good at descents.]
25-29 km: Steady. 8:45 – 9:00 min/mi
29-31 km: Climb. Don’t look at watch, keep effort steady.
31-39 km: Cruise. 8:45-9:00 min/mi if you can. Remember the slight downhill.
39-41 km: SUCK IT UP. <— Yep, that’s what the Race Plan Paper said.
41-42 km: Don’t die. Focus on the finish line. Stay steady. No sprinting. Sprinting = cramping.
Basically, I wanted to bank 3-4 minutes on the first (flat) half, if possible, so that when the hills hit in the second half (and I got tired), I could settle into a 9 min/mi pace without obsessing over a few seconds. This would also let me build in a bathroom break, if I needed one.
[The course was marked in kilometers, so I memorized the profile by kilometer. And although I’m now fluent in both miles and kilometers, I still prefer to monitor my pace in min/mile. Thus, this post will use kilometers for distance and min/mile for speed. Deal with it.]
On race morning, we woke up at 4 AM, had some Buckwheat O’s (local cereal; tested during shake-out run), and got suited up:
The weather was a bit of a concern: The predicted temperature for the day was 13-18 °C (55-65 °F), with a 40-50% chance of rain. We weren’t sure if we were going to have a dry, warm(ish) marathon, or a rainy, windy, cold marathon. We both wore tanks and capris, and donned a waterproof shell jacket for the 1 kilometer walk past the Starting Line and to the Convention Center, where we were being corralled for the start.
We quickly found the small van that would be transporting the Marathoner’s drop bags – as opposed to the enormous truck designated for half-marathon drop bags. We gave thanks again for a small field in the marathon (about 1,500 registered). Since the walk warmed us both, we decided to gamble on the day going “warmer” rather than “wet and cold”. We packed our jackets/arm warmers/extra layers into our drop bags and handed them to the volunteers. We hit the port-a-potties (NO LINE!), which were of a Singaporean style: chemical flush, running water in the sink, etc. Fancy, by American standards!
About 20-30 minutes before the start, we made our way into one of the large halls of the Convention Center, designated “Marathon”. There was a short safety video and taped warm-up, but we found a wall, plopped down, and tried to relax. There may have been some people-watching involved. At about 6 AM, we were collected and led, en mass, to the starting line.
There was a light mist as we walked the 1 kilometer to the start (we called this our “warm up”), but we remained hopeful for good race conditions. All the marathoners were led directly into the Starting Chute, and after 60 seconds of announcements (the last of the marathoners were still filtering in), the starting horn honked. And that was it: We were off! Time: 6:11 AM.
[Note: If you’re looking for a marathon with lots of pomp and circumstance, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a marathon that is organized, calm, and well-executed, you found it.]
0-5 km (0-3.1 miles)
There was less than half a mile of intense jockeying for position, after which the 2-3 lanes of road that were open to us were more than sufficient to accommodate all the runners. Of course, people were still trying to find their pace and proper position. I countered the typical “starting speed” with reminders to myself to hold back a bit.
I’m not big on mantras, but through these first three miles, I kept telling myself, “Run your own race. Run your own race!” Even in a small race, it takes everyone awhile to get sorted out, so it’s quite common for a lot of passing to occur (I was both a passer and a passee). This is too early a stage to try to find a pace buddy, so I focused on the marathon-paced running I did in London, and tried to lock into that pace again.
Mile 1: 8:31 min/mi
Mile 2: 8:34
Mile 3: 8:44
5-10 km (3.1-6.2 miles)
This section was the “out” stretch along the Swan River. The sun was rising (behind the clouds), and there was a light mist, but temperatures were perfect. I was sweating slightly, and there were no goosebumps to be found. Perfection. People were starting to sort out their paces, but there was still a lot of passing/being passed, so I opted not to latch on to anyone quite yet. I did pass a gentleman running in coveralls, a hardhat, and boots (I’m sure there was a tribute or story to this, but didn’t pause to ask him), and another wearing a fuzzy pink onesie and matching pink hair. I didn’t ask for that story, either.
I was busy soaking in the experience and the gorgeous running weather, until about the sixth kilometer, when I realized that the road ahead was quite curvy. I heard Boots (a running mentor of mine from Rochester) in my head, “Courses are measured on tangents. So for goodness’ sake, run the tangents!!” He probably would have added a few other choice words for emphasis, but I’m keeping the blog G-rated. Over ten-thousand miles away, he still made his point: Pay attention and run smart. I spent the next few kilometers dutifully easing my way back and forth across the road, on long diagonals between curves, while my fellow runners hugged the left side of the course.
Around the 9 kilometer mark, the elites (a group of 4 Kenyans) were just re-entering the “return” section along Swan River. Somehow, one of them didn’t notice that there was an entire section of road blocked off for “return” runners. Instead, he vaulted a cone (?) and nearly crashed into me. Well, it’s not every day that I nearly get plowed down by an elite Kenyan runner! Too bad I didn’t notice his bib number…one of the four won the race.
I recovered with a short stop at the 9 km water stop – a helpful volunteer used his pitcher to refill my handheld bottle, and I was off again in less than 30 seconds. Thank you, sir!
As I came to the 10 km mark, I looked down at my Garmin to see that my tangent-running work was rewarded: 6.26 miles. Awesome!
Mile 4: 8:43 min/mi
MIle 5: 8:39
Mile 6: 8:40
10-15 km (6.2 – 9.3 mi)
The first 1.5 kilometers of this section dropped a bit, bringing us to the first hairpin turn (of many) on the course. We rounded the corner and began the (mild) climb back up. A few minutes later, I passed GCA – she spotted me first, but we both managed a little shout-out. Based on the distance between us, I knew she was off to a strong start.
Soon, the course turned off for a cruise through the University of Western Australia campus (one of them, at least). I spied beakers in the window of one of the buildings, and had a brief nostalgic sigh for my undergrad days in the research lab. The rain picked up at this point, and I was working to avoid all the painted sections on the road (there were lots, on campus) – I’ve seen more than one person wipe out on rain-wet road paint. I ate half a pack of Honey Stingers at the 8 mile mark.
By this time, I’d settled in with a few “running mates” – I didn’t converse with anyone, but we’d been running near each other for a few miles. Two older men were running next to me, and from their conversation, I gathered that they were veterans of the course. They were laughing about the easy first half, and the particularly challenging second half – just in case I’d forgotten about the climbs in the second half!
The pace on my Garmin was a smidge faster than my goal, but I was mentally tired of holding back, and started to think that I should let my legs find a comfortable pace for themselves. So I relaxed my “holding back” a bit, and tried to check my Garmin less.
Mile 7: 8:34 min/mi
Mile 8: 8:37
Mile 9: 8:32
15-21 km (9.3-13.1 mi)
I knew I had built myself a comfortable 4-5 minute cushion already. My only fear was that my quads were starting to talk to me. Nothing major, but the muscles were saying hello and experiencing the first few twinges of fatigue. Experience has taught me that this feeling often subsides after a few miles, though. I decided to continue to let my legs determine the pace, hoping they knew how to run smart. Although a little earlier than planned, if I settled in to a 9 minute mile here, I was pretty confident I could still finish under 4 hours, even with a bathroom break.
Did I mentioned that I had a pee? In the month before the marathon, my body had developed the incredibly annoying habit of deciding that I had to pee the minute I started running. [No, I am not pregnant.] The first few times, I humored it, running back upstairs or stopping at the next bathroom. I soon realized, though, that if I just kept running, the urge never really worsened. So on marathon day, I wasn’t surprised to feel my bladder (or rather, my bladder nerves) talking the minute I started running. I decided I’d keep running, and if/when the urge got worse, I’d stop for a break. But even into the 15K mark: no worse. Ah, well, if that was the most annoying feeling I was having at 15 kilometers, I was doing pretty well.
I was also playing a tricky hydration game. My hydration needs in Perth were far different from my needs in Singapore – but with only a few days in Perth before the marathon, I was using my experience from pre-Singapore days/guessing/trying to listen to my body to decide what I needed. I was sipping from my bottle every 8-10 minutes, and finished a liter of water in the first 18 kilometers. [Another refill stop at 18K; I filled my bottle with a few cups from the table. Pitcher guy from 9K, I wish you were there!!!] But my stomach wasn’t sloshy, my fingers weren’t swollen and I was still feeling good, so I reasoned that I was doing a decent job with hydration. [Edited to add: Finger swelling during exercise is common, especially in warmer weather – it does not automatically signal that there is a problem – but I know that when my water/salt balance is off, my fingers will sometimes swell.]
Knowing that the first big climb started just before the half-marathon mark, I finished up my Honey Stingers around the 19th kilometer and took in some water. GCA and I had walked this several times, so I was ready. Effort steady, feet moving quickly, relax, breathe, effort steady…. Bam – at the top.
Just after this climb, the marathon route re-crossed our starting line – which was the same as the starting line for the half marathon (the half-marathon route was the same as the second half of the full marathon route). The half-marathon had considerably more entrants (10,000?), and it was about an hour before their start, so there were lots of people milling about. So as we passed through, there was music, some cheering, and a big ‘ole race clock. I came through at 1:54:XX.
Turned out that my legs were teasing about being tired, as I had clipped off three more sub-8:40 splits in the three miles leading up to the halfway mark. I crossed my fingers that this speed wouldn’t come back and bite me in the tush in another 10-15 km.
Mile 10: 8:33 min/mi
Mile 11: 8:30
Mile 12: 8:38
The cheers provided a happy little boost, but I quickly buckled down as I saw the start of the 60 meter climb looming ahead of me and realized that I’d underestimated what 60 meters of elevation looked like. It was time for the real work to start. But the truth is…I love hills, and am probably part mountain-goat. I was ready.
Want to read the rest? Tune in tomorrow! 🙂
[Sneaky, I know. But 2,000+ words is already a LOT!]
It would be fun to make you guess the ending, but I already spoiled it with my immediately-post-race-post. Anyone else dislike Choose Your Own Adventure books?
[They annoyed me to no end when I was a kid. I’m a stickler for completeness, and could never figure out how to make sure I read every single page.]
Does writing a race report ever feel like a daunting task for you?
[Apparently, YES. Although once I get started, I really get into the groove, and usually enjoy reliving the race.]
Do you run the tangents, or just go with the flow?