Well here it is, another running story.
Most of you know I had a light-bulb moment to enter the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, when I found out my surgery would be after the event. My surgery was confirmed for July 31 and I had eight weeks to train. Eight weeks would surely be enough, right? I was already back running, so I just had to run some more, right?
My saving grace came in the form of two people: Mark and Louise. Mark and Louise are training for the Melbourne Marathon and invited me to join them on a morning run. And when I say morning, I mean at ridiculous o’clock! ‘We meet at 5am at the netball courts,’ Mark said. 5AM! If only it was summer and not winter.
The first morning, as I approached the netball courts car park, all I could see were red and white lights flashing. These lights were attached to both Mark and Louise. What have I signed up for? They were both kitted out with drink belts, lights, and Mark was wearing a singlet – I was in compression clothing from neck to toes. I felt like such an amateur.
The first training run was 10km. I put my head down, ran and was very quiet, unlike Mark and Louise who chatted the whole way. At the end they asked how many weeks until the HM. It was about six. Silence. Let’s just say the next week the distance was increased to 16km! Clearly I was a little behind on a normal HM training schedule. The distance had increased and we were now meeting at 4:30 am. No messing around with these two.
Now, most people who train for a race – any distance – usually have one, secret question bubbling inside them: What time will I run? For some people, just to finish is the only goal. But dare I say, the majority of people have a specific time in mind. And everyone – your friends, family and strangers – want to know what that magic number is. For me, taking my training runs into consideration, at an average pace of 5:40-5:50, my goal was 2:00 hrs. I would have to work for it, but it would be achievable.
To have a goal, you need a plan of attack. My plan was to run as close as possible to the 2:00hr pacer. The main reason was to ensure I didn’t go out too fast. And if I felt good near the end, I could sprint to the finish. (Who sprints after running 20 km? Honestly…)
Fast-forward to Sunday: The big day. The alarm sounded at 4:00am – just like every other Wednesday. Lucky for me my sister lives 10 minutes from the start line. Unlucky for her as she was my designated support crew. We arrived at the venue at 4:45 and they were still inflating the starting line funnel. Hmmm… maybe we could have slept in a little longer…
A lot of friends were running in this event, but you never expect to find them in the crowd. With sheer luck, we found one of the girls from the tri club, bonus. It was great to surrounded by familiar faces. It was still early and my stomach was telling me the banana I had eaten earlier was not enough. I debated whether I should eat another. There’s a fine line between eating and drinking too much, or not enough. I still had 30 mins before the start… another banana wouldn’t hurt.
The voice over the speaker informed us it was time to get into position. In other words: time for one last toilet stop. With five minutes spare, we raced over to see the runners tightly packed together. We should have known better. It wasn’t a problem squeezing into the crowd; the problem was I was nowhere near the 2:00hr pacer, I was behind the 1:50 pacer. I laughed. No more pacer security blanket, I would have to rely on shiny, new Garmin, and my own intuition.
The roar of the crowd signaled that the race had officially started. We were off! And then we weren’t… and then we were … and then we weren’t. Finally, after two minuets of doing the pre-start shuffle, we were actually running. As the spectators cheered, I was overwhelmed with a wave of emotion. I had to hold back tears. Most people cry at the end of a race – I was on the verge of crying at the start. Just crossing the start, I already felt I had won. I thought back to only a few months ago (22 weeks, actually), to the bald woman struggling to run 5km. A half marathon seems like a far-fetched goal. But here I was.
Ok. Enough of the soppy, emotional stuff and back to the race… I started to think about the advice given by seasoned half marathon runners: Don’t start out too fast. Ok Rochelle, heed the advice. I looked down and checked my pace, 5:20. Wow! Easy tiger! I told myself to slow down – 5:40 was my comfortable pace. I happily let the runners go past and the 1:50 balloon bounced and fluttered further into the distance. I was going to be smart: I was going to listen to everyone’s advice.
The crowd beeped in unison. Or should I say, the Garmin’s beeped in unison – 1km done. I continued to monitor my watch only to see I was moving faster – 5:15. No! I was trying to go slower. Beep – 2km done.
The second piece of advice I was given was to have fun. At that moment I looked to my right and we were running past the Broadwater. The rising sun framed the runners’ silhouettes. It was stunning. The image is captured in my mind forever.
Beep. Beep. Beep – 4, 5, 6km done. I keep looking at my Garmin, and my Garmin kept telling me I was going too fast. It seemed 5:15 was my new ‘normal’. I felt good and didn’t feel I was pushing myself beyond my limits. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep – 7, 8, 9 and 10km. There was another strange beep, which I ignored (at the end of the race I realised it was my Garmin telling me I had set a new 10km record). I was still running a 5:15 pace. Ok Rochelle, just run with it (pardon the pun). I gave out some high-fives and yelled to anyone I recognised. I was actually enjoying this.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep – 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15km passed and I was going faster! I was now running a 5:08 pace. Yikes. It was either going to end in victory, or very badly.
Keeping in mind I have never run past 16km, I was nearing the ‘unknown’. I approached the 16km mark and was still running faster. Faster than the first 10km. Surely the last 5km would be a breeze, even if I had to slow down a little. 5km isn’t foreign to me. It’s just a parkrun, right? Everyone warned me the last 5km were the hardest. Ok. Let’s see…
Beep. Beep – 16, and 17km done.
I still felt good and was maintaining the same pace.
Beep. 18km done. I looked down at my watch and saw the pace had dropped to 5:20. Come on Rochelle, you’re nearly there. 18km – 19km was definitely a challenge. I won’t lie. Do you remember Loony Tunes? Road Runner and Wild E Coyote? I was no longer Road Runner, I had become Wile E Coyote – legs flapping around, not getting anywhere.
Beep. 19km. The crowds lined the path, I could hear music in the distance and I finally found the final gear I had been searching for.
By this stage I knew I was going to finish well under my 2:00hr target. So what do you do when you already know you’ve beaten your goal? Sprint! If you’re going to beat it by a little, why not beat it by a bit more…
Beep. 20km. Yes, I was one of those people sprinting after running 20km!
Beep. 21km. Beep. First HM.
It was done. I didn’t experience an overwhelming flood of emotions, just satisfaction (and shock) with the time I ran. I guzzled down a banana, orange and two bottles of water, and collected my medal and t-shirt.
And what do you do after running 21km? Eat everything and anything you can get your hands on. Well, that was my theory. Surely I was allowed. When asked by a friend what I ate to refuel, I replied, ‘A Yatala pie and a PowerAde.’ That was after the coffee and cookie.
So what next? A marathon? Absolutely! But not in the near future. Surgery is in a few weeks so I’ll be out of action again. I’ll have to squeeze in a few more long runs before then, maybe another half marathon.
And…special thanks to:
- My sister, Andrew and Laura for supporting me with carb loading the night before. (Apparently you’re supposed to carb load 48 hours prior to the race – clearly I didn’t get the memo.)
- My sister (again) for waking up at 4am, walking around in the cold and dark, and cheering me across the finish line. (There is a debate over why she didn’t get a photo of me finishing: she seems to think I came through with a group of people, I think it was because I was too fast.)
- The Ipswich Tri Club: for always waiting for me to catch up when running.
- All my friends and family who have given me constant support and encouragement.
And most importantly, to my Wednesday morning running partners – Mark and Louise. There is no doubt in my mind that those 16km runs set me up for success.
For the runners out there, here are the juicy details: