When you start running, a general Google search, forum interrogation or running magazine gives you the same standard advice. “Run your own race”, “Don’t get caught out in the rush at the start”, “fuel early, fuel often”, “don’t try anything new on race day”, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.
There’s nothing wrong with this advice, in fact, it’s actually pretty good. Like many of my running friends, I’ve religiously adhered to it.
I’d have the same meal the night before and the morning of each race. I’d lay out my clothes, kit, fuel etc, the night before so I don’t forget anything. My routine is so OCD that I had even started charging my devices, Garmin, Phone, headphones, in a particular order!
I ran my first half marathon in 2012 and I’m a little embarrassed to say that in the past 7 years I haven’t really improved. I’ve taken off a minute here or a few seconds there, but generally speaking my standard half marathon time is between 1:55 and 2:00 hours.
In fairness with the exception of the first year of running, I haven’t focused on increasing my speed and have instead steadily increased my distance and relocated to the trails.
But after my experience at the Old Ghost Ultramarathon in February and my new goal to get on the most improved list, I decided it was time to do the hard stuff and make some changes.
Unfortunately because I tend to get obsessed with things I made a few changes all at once so now I have no idea what is working and what isn’t.
Going into the road half marathon, I had no expectations. I entered late and had no race plan. I didn’t taper or change my new routines.
I probably started ignoring the rules about a week out from the race and it continued right up until I stepped into the coral.
I flew up early Thursday morning and spent the day on my feet helping my pal Sarah with her Glimmer Gear stall at the expo. I hit 21k steps. Friday and Saturday I went running in the wind and rain in the morning, hung out at the expo and ate all the foods. I hit 27k and 24k steps.
Saturday was my 35th birthday and due to a stupid rule at the Gold Coast expo, all gels and electrolytes not made by major sponsor Endura were unable to be sold so I jumped on the bus to an independent local running store to by Gu.
I had the most amazing shoe buying experience I’ve ever had (more on that later) and I walked out of The Running Shop in Burleigh Heads with a brand new pair of Altra racing shoes (zero drop and I usually wear Mizuno!) and a pair of injinji toe socks. I was so excited about the shoes that I walked out without my Gu.
I got back to my hotel exhausted with insanely sore feet, most likely due to walking around in very old and worn out shoes.
I didn’t make my usual pasta. I threw a potato in the oven and had a nap.
I didn’t lay out all my stuff ready for the next day and take a photo for the gram.
I ate and went to bed early.
When my alarm went off the next day, I had a double bowl of oats with fresh berries. My usual pre-race or long run meal, toast with avocado and tomato.
I put on my brand new, never worn before shoes and socks, slapped on some Guerney Goo anti-chafe (yep never tried that before either and the forecast said humid and rain!) and threw the rest of my shit in my bag including a block type fuel I’d never even tasted and headed for the tram to the start.
I dumped my bag and headed to the corral. Oh and I missed my pre-race poop.
The Gold Coast marathon festival is arguably the biggest in the country and until recently Australia’s only gold standard race. 10,000 plus participants across the 4 main events race over the weekend including 8,735 in the half marathon alone. It’s safe to say there were a few people in my sub 2 hour corral.
As the announcer counted down and we all shuffled forward, my first thought was “well no PB for me”. The pace was so slow and uncomfortable, the frustration in the air was palpable.
When my Garmin beeped for the first time, 6:02 flashed across the screen. Not a good start. In order for me to beat my half marathon personal best of 1:55:19 from Run Melbourne in 2015 I needed to average 5:29 minutes per kilometre. This was not a good start.
The Gold Coast half marathon is essentially an out and back course along a main road. The road is four lanes, two in each direction and for the most part separated by raised concrete traffic island.
With the exception of a few small bridges, it is also an essentially flat and fast course.
The congested pedestrian traffic in the north bound lanes, made finding my own pace and stride quite difficult. As both sides of the road were closed, I stepped over the slippery traffic island and ran north in the south bound lanes to find my stride.
The winding in and out of people was exhausting but the second kilometre clicked over in 5:27, better but not good enough for a PB.
So I pushed and I kept pushing. I took it one beep of my watch at a time. That’s something I always say I do, but being present in the moment and only running the kilometre you are in is actually really hard to do. It’s hard to not project forward and think about maintaining the pace or think about how much time you have to make up. I don’t think I’ve genuinely taken it one k at a time before. Each time my watch beeped and I looked down and saw 5:15 (plus or minus a few seconds), I said to myself “ok, let’s do that for just one more k”.
I didn’t stop for anything, not to drink (I spilt so much sticky electrolyte all over my face) or go up any of the hills.
When it started raining or hurting, I laughed and pictured Clare Gallagher in the last few miles of Western States and that great video of her “having fun” in the final stages.
If she could do that, I could most certainly do this.
I crossed the finish line in 1:52:55, officially and on my Garmin, an average pace of 5:18 per kilometre.
The struggle was so real that there is not a single attractive race photo!
I was pretty impressed with myself, even though not a single volunteer offered me a spew bag as I hobbled through the finishers area. Clearly they thought I had more to give.
So wearing my brand new shoes and hat, using never before tried anti-chafe and gels and having not a soul I knew cheering for me, I managed a 2 minute 24 second personal best.
Guess it just shows that maybe superstitions are just that, not lucky or best, just the thing you always do and if you want to see change, maybe your training isn’t the only thing worth changing.
Did I mention I even negative split the course? Told ya I was impressed with myself!
And I was pretty consistent too!
Hmm wonder what I’ll do next? A 1:45 half maybe?