yesterday I returned to the scene of my first time.
as I wrote in the daily diary entry, it was an entirely different experience from last september.
I wasn’t nervous about “not fitting in”. I wasn’t anxious about “finishing after everyone had gone home”.
I was buzzing with nervously tense excitement. wanting to get real data on how far I have progressed.
approaching the event more like a “proper” runner. going into the thing with a GOAL.
it translated into a restless night
I was awake at about 2am, at least 2 hours before I wanted to be up.
I finally got back to sleep, and woke again around 4:40am.
what I now dare to call “my race day routine” kicked in.
a bowl of porridge oats
2 slices toast
shave (a clean face is more streamlined, making for faster run times, honest lol)
running gear on
check bag contents – dry t-shirt for later, protein bar, gels, towel, water bottle, wallet, phone, race bib
I then settled into a pattern of pacing up and down, listening to music, while waiting for my mate steve to come and pick me up
“taxi” arrives around 6:45am
steve rocked up a little later than expected, and by now I was starting to let the nervous energy get to me a little too much. having a normal conversation in the car saved the day and I was back on solid ground.
setting goals is a new thing for me, generally, and when I commit to something I do tend to obsess about it. which is a good thing overall.
but putting the “60 minute” goal out in the wild had me revved up something chronic.
it was going to happen, I was going to run sub 60 minutes, and everyone on the internet was telling me the same thing.
it was nice to be able to stop thinking about that for the 20 minutes or so it took to get to freo.
meet and greet time
this year it wasn’t just steve and I running; we were meeting another mate, tom, and his buddy john. tom being the guy who invited me to join the tough mudder team (stupid idea) and we were using this event as a kind of “find out where you are fitness-wise” thing.
we bumped into tom almost right away, started chatting. john hadn’t turned up by then.
it was great to be soaking up the pre-race atmosphere yet again – there’s something about it. people milling around, meeting, greeting. warm-up runs and stretching taking place and other raceday stuff like people lining up to get bib numbers.
even the portaloo is rapidly becoming an old friend, a part of the experience. weird shit eh?
I took a look at the route map, and was surprised to find that it was almost completely different from last year’s.
but that was fine – it would make things interesting, and the route itself was great.
it was about this time I bumped into bill, a fellow facebook resident whose page is “running from stroke”. bill’s story is next week’s shit-sorter file as it happens. we shook hands, chatted for a while – bill was running the 5km with his kids. I love meeting the facebook people in the flesh.
dump coat, eat gel, warm up
it was getting towards 15 minutes to race start. so we wandered to the car to dump our jackets.
i took this opportunity to slurp on a thick, gooey energy gel – my sweet tooth allows me to actually enjoy these. I know many people don’t.
steve was asking me about it – so i let him have the spare that i had on me. i figured i wouldn’t need it, it was only an hour’s run.
with coats dumped, gels slurped and little sip of water taken, we headed back towards the event start area. I jogged slowly to warm up.
every little ache, every little area of stiffness or soreness was reminding me that staying in bed would have been a good idea. but I knew that as soon as things started, the blood would flow, the adrenaline would kick in, and the aches and pains would be history.
a few minutes to go and I was getting excited – we were hanging around towards the back still, but I knew that this year I wouldn’t be stuck there.
countdown starts and we’re off
the 10, 9, 8…. 3, 2, 1 happened (I love it when that goes off) and the race began.
a column of about 900 people shuffling through the narrow start area. this wasn’t the pace I wanted. it was frustrating. there was nothing that could be done for the first few hundred metres.
eventually the field started to open a little, and space became available at the outer edges. we (tom, steve, john and I) shifted gears and pulled out around a few slower runners.
we turned a corner and the course narrowed again. this time we slipped off the path, onto the road, and started working our way up the field.
it felt great. i felt great. the pace was in the “comfortably hard” region and I was actually passing people.
because I don’t listen to music anymore, I wasn’t plugged into phone. so I had no idea how we were tracking on runkeeper. tom said something about the pace being bang on.
when I looked at the splits later, I went out too fast AGAIN. hitting 5:45 per km for the first couple of kms.
on the flip side – that’s massive progress for me personally – being able to run 2km at that pace.
the others started pulling ahead
I was in my “zone”, I was comfortable, but the pace wasn’t one I could hold. after the first couple of kms, it was time to let the others go. the plan for them to “drag me around the course” to hit the 60 minute target wasn’t going to happen.
i was still confident the 60 minute goal was going to be met though. knew that the pace the others were setting was ahead of what I needed.
they started to drift off into the distant horizon.
I was holding my own pace, running my own race. exactly how I like it.
the thought crossed my mind that it was good that I wasn’t relying on someone else to set the pace – that doing it that way would be an “old gary behaviour” – giving responsibility for something to someone else.
funny the things that go through your mind when running…
I was still overtaking occasionally, still reasonably comfortable, but I later realised I was also overestimating distances. not having runkeeper in my ear was throwing me off. I didn’t have the data, didn’t have the numbers to process mentally and predict times / adjust pace.
when we started running behind the start/finish area, I could see the time on the clock – about 20 minutes I think. I figured we were about a third of the way round, so I was in a good place.
do it all over again
it didn’t seem too long before we were at the point where the signs pointed one way for 5km runners, and another way for 10km runners. it was lap two.
I couldn’t see the time on the board as we went past this time – I think they were blanking it out to create an element of surprise for the crowd – because the 10km front runners had started to come home.
I started to feel the effect of my efforts. started to flag a little. my pace had definitely been down since the 2km mark, but I felt as though I was starting to drift towards the same pace as last year; about 7:30 per km (I wasn’t – turns out I didn’t drop below 7:08 and actually held a pace under 7:00 for 9km out of 10)
this was where I had to start digging in – unlike the “digging in” that had to be done in previous events (10km, half marathon and marathon) this wasn’t about digging in to keep going, to keep plodding and just finish.
this was digging in to try and keep a certain pace. to dig deep and find what was needed to achieve a goal.
and I sort of succeeded overall.
“hold this pace then finish strong, hold this pace then finish strong”
that was the mantra in my head, the words that were keeping my legs moving, my feet striking the ground at a required rate.
things would slip from time to time, I’d feel the discomfort of pushing myself, then I’d get second, third or fourth wind and it would become “comfortable” again for a while.
it’s amazing how that can happen actually – if you get in the right place mentally, it really does become “comfortable” – but most definitely NOT comfortable if you slip slightly from that place.
the final 2km that wasn’t
we passed a sign. 2km it said.
wow, only 2km to go!
I was excited, I was going to smash the 60 minute barrier. even at a long slow run pace, I had enough time left – this was in the bag!
but it wasn’t.
the sign was the 2km mark for the 5km run.
I had 3km left to go!
but mentally I had now shifted into “just 2km left to go” thinking – and when I realised there was an extra km, it was soul destroying.
I started to hurt a little, I felt dread at doing the long straight section out and back to the finish.
for the first time I started to feel disappointment that the 60 minute dream was over.
but this wasn’t the time for that. no time to give up.
I dug in again – “dig deep, finish strong, dig deep, finish strong”
you’ve got about 1.5km to go!
that was bill – having finished the 5km, he was there as I started on that final section, the final loop up and back.
it was great having someone there, cheering, supporting. I had just switched back into a good place mentally, which explains why bill later described me as looking “comfortable”.
you should have seen me a few hundred metres earlier mate!
I started latching back onto the 60 minute goal – this wasn’t over. in my mind’s eye I could see that the clock would say 59 minutes and something when it came into view. I would have a number of seconds left to go, and a sprint finish over 100 metres or so would squeeze me in.
it was going to happen. i knew it.
“finish strong, finish strong, finish strong”
I wasn’t in pain, but I WAS in a world that I had not visited before. a place where I had to find real grit and determination from within. a place where I truly had to dig deep and keep a pace for the final km.
there was no way I was going to pick the pace up with 1km to go – but I did start getting a little faster, building up very slowly.
with 500m to go I was truly digging in, driving myself forward with a determination I never knew existed before,
the last 100m or so I finished strong. sprinting, or as close to sprinting as I can muster. the effort was surely etched on my face at that point. there was no way that anyone was going to be able to accuse me of not giving it my all.
1 hour 6 minutes 21 seconds.
a personal best. the goal will be reached next time.