Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Sydney Marathon Clinic Road Race Series 2012, Race 2, 21k

Perfect weather for a half marathon in Fairfield.
As a hundred pairs of shuffling feet settled calmly before the starting line, three runners shifted nervously as they made their way into the back of the pack. What does an aspiring triathlete, a road cyclist and an average runner have in common? A love affair 21 km long.

You come early, you get to help.
18 November 2012, Sydney Marathon Clinic (SMC) Race Series, Race 2, half marathon road running under race conditions.

The journey began a few months back as 3 blokes who happen to enjoy running decided to run the half distance, each one battling their own demons to prove a point.
Runners off to a very fast clip at 5-5:30 race pace.

Allan, a road cyclist all his life, decided it was time to try the grueling distance of the 21k; Erwin, a triathlete, needed the race volume to augment his training for the half ironman; and yours truly, a one-time ultrarunner decided it was time to renew his age-old 2:21 personal best in the 21k.
Eating hills for breakfast.
We arrived at Rosford Street Reserve earlier that morning still debating whether to join the 6:30 gun start for the 21k (for slow runners finishing 2:15 or more) or just join the regular run at 7:00. But looking at the array of starters for the 6:30 gun start (senior runners), we knew we had to check in with the regular run—if only to keep our sanity intact.

The SMC, being run by club members and volunteers, is a no nonsense type of race. What it lacks in festive running atmosphere it gives back by way of expert race organization, race timing, safety precautions and accurate distance markers measured by a Jones Counter.

Runner too fast, need autofocus!
It was a subdued countdown and immediately runners were off to a very fast start along the Reserve’s neat cycleway cutting through an immaculately trimmed landscape and overhanging trees. The pace was a sickening 5-5:30 min per km, a 10k race pace for me, well above planned pace. I had to restrain the other “musketeers” (more on that later), who had armed themselves with a small water bottle (Allan) and a sports drink (Erwin), to slow down. I armed myself with a digital point and shoot instead. Come to think of it, I was the only one running and taking photos at the same time!

Joan: 58' PB in the 10k.
The photographer in me was just at awe at all the sights and great scenery that runners had to run through-- the early morning light shining through patches of tall leaf-covered pines, the spring-blossomed flowers lining along footpaths, the sloping uphills reflected by the morning sun, and the lush greenery that was just waking up to the sights and sounds of Fairfield. Even the uniformly lined water cups, sports drinks and jelly beans seem to align perfectly in a race where the light footfalls of the road, the steady breathing of my lungs and the pounding of my heart was just music to my ears.

The bike enthusiast enjoying his first half marathon.
With the course looping around a 5k distance which was all uphill, the km walk breaks was a welcome relief. But having started (and maintained) an easy back-of-the-pack race pace while chatting aimlessly amongst ourselves, a race marshal dutifully called us “the three musketeers”. All for one, one for all!

Mucking around at the turnaround.
At each of the provided water stations, volunteers gave us encouraging words while prodding us on. At the end of the loop, we turned around and headed back clearly surprised by the absence of race marshals at this end of the loop. Back home, race marshals are a necessity to deter runners who might make shortcuts. Such is the honest display here of making your own race count.

We made good headway by utilizing a revised Galloway method—15 second walk break per kilometer at 6-minute pace. We were hitting 32 minutes per 5 km despite the harshness of the sun bearing down our caps and the sweat pouring down our backs.

But by the 18th km, my quads were beginning to tighten up. So did Erwin’s and Allan’s that we were increasing our km walk breaks from 10 seconds to 15-20 seconds. We managed to close in the gap, though, by increasing our running pace that by the km 21, we were just astounded as we crossed together the finish line at 2:14:50. We were running at an even pace between 6:15-6:17 per km.

The official time placed Erwin 23rd and me 24th out of 25 in our age group while Allan placed 24th out of 25 in his respective age group. Overall, our time ranked us 94th, 95th and 96th over 105 runners for the 21k (the last runners to come in was a 60-year old female at 2:46—10 minutes faster than my first half marathon over 2 years ago!). 

Sure we finished at the tail end of the pack but I gather our finishing time was not bad at all given that we were physically undertrained but immensely confident.
Finishing 2:14 in an 'all for one, one for all' fashion.

Good race nevertheless. We achieved what we came for—Allan, his first half; Erwin, a long run; and as for me, a gauge of my current fitness level. That sub-2-hour half marathon will have to be taken at a stepwise approach. I have ran the half previously in 2:55, 2:31, 2:30, 2:24 and 2:21. Since finishing 2:14, it would be prudent to aim 2:05-2:10 by January or February.
Getting ready for the next race!
Not in a hurry but can't wait!