Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blackmores Sydney Half Marathon

Another good race! I last ran the 'Blackmores Half' in 2009 as a preparatory run for the Melbourne Half. I ran 1:46:10 back then and three weeks later in Melbourne, 1:43:00. Sydney is a great course — all the races (including the marathon) start at Milsons Point, run over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, then meander through the city before finishing at the Opera House. This year I was also planning to run Melbourne as a goal race but unfortunately failed to get my entry in on time. Melbourne was to be a 'time challenge' against Canute, who is running the Robin Hood Half this weekend with the challenging goal of sub-1:40.

My preparation was less than ideal. A week after the Wagga Trail Half I came down with a bad case of flu — I was off work (and running) for five days. Jogged 45k the following week, culminating in a quite satisfying 'run by feel' Canberra Times 5k — 23:56 and 4th M50-59. The next week totalled 59k with a 13k 'long' run which ended up being quite a struggle. My goal for the Blackmores Half was to run with a similar strategy used for the Wagga Trail Half: start easy and finish strongly. I wanted the race to be an enjoyable hard training run rather than a desperate all-out effort that left me with a 3-week recovery period.

After catching the bus to Sydney I checked in at the Vibe, picked up my race pack and caught up with Fiona (Half) and Jarrod (Marathon) for a late lunch/coffee at the Metro Cafe in Hyde Park. It was a lovely afternoon! I wandered down to Chinatown in the early evening for a feed of rice and vegetables. Watched a little footy back at the hotel and set the alarms for the ungodly hour of 4:00 A.M. (the race start was 6:15). Caught a very crowded train from Town Hall and arrived at Milsons Point just before six. I queued up at the porta-loos, not too worried if I missed the start. I didn't think I'd miss it by 13 minutes! I was caught up in the 'C-corral' group so the first 600 metres before we turned onto the bridge were quite crowded.

I was running by feel and once over the 'hill' of the bridge was actually feeling quite smooth. Passing lots of slower runners is good fun! The course was crowded but I was never badly impeded and happy to run wide on some of the turns to find some vacant pavement. It was a beautiful cool, sunny Sydney morning — superb views in all directions. At 9k near the NSW Art Gallery I caught up to the 2:10 pacing group. I was wearing the cushioned Hokas and they felt great — especially on the downhills where I slipped it into the angel gear and let the shoes cushion the impact. I kept telling myself to hold back until 15k. Running a half marathon off insufficient long runs is rather daunting! There was a testing little hill running back onto the freeway following the turn in Ultimo but after that the last 5k was nice and flat. I actually felt a little stronger in the last 3k than I did at Wagga (no doubt due to the easier course). It was a fantastic sight running beneath the bridge, looking across Circular Quay to the Opera House. Finally a little ramp up to the forecourt and a modest sprint to the finish arch. 1:52:23. Fun race! My 5k splits were quite even (26:18, 26:41, 26:38, 26:51, 5:23 + 32) and after a week I've recovered well. If you get a chance, run this race — it's a good one.

Under the Sydney Harbour Bridge with 1k to go!
Sprinting to the Opera House. I may have lost in a photo to #4267

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Wagga Wagga Trail Half Marathon

 My new favourite trail race!

A week after the City to Surf I drove down to Wagga for a small family gathering. As luck would have it, the Wagga Wagga Trail Half Marathon was being held on the Sunday so I entered with the thought of using the race as my weekly long run. This turned out to be one of my best ideas ever! What a fantastic race. Loved it!

In my early running days (1980s) I ran during the week with a small Sydney group in the Lane Cove River Park. On Tuesdays we ran the road, out and back to the top gate from Fullers Bridge. Friday afternoons in summer we'd run 'both sides of the river' using an old timber footbridge to cross it at the northern end of the park. The trail was mostly single-tracks, broken by occasional grassy picnic areas (BBQ smells in the air as we ran past, with calls of "want a beer or snag?" from friendly locals). Al would manoeuvre himself to lead on the narrow rocky section, slowing things down before Steve would push ahead down by the river. Jenny would then scamper ahead over the sandstone outcrops. After an hour or so we were back at the bottom carpark. It was fun running!

The course at Wagga (from 4.5k to 9k) brought back vivid memories of Lane Cove. We were on well formed single-track mountain bike trails, zig-zagging through the woodland, up and down gullies, along contour banks, having a great time. All the runners were courteous, stepping aside momentarily to let us overtake (if we were faster). I was generally catching people and eventually fell in behind a group of two ladies and one bloke who encouraged each other along the tricky course. I followed them over the top of the hill, down along the edge of the golf course to the flat dirt roads on the outskirts of town. My steady pace took me ahead of this group (the bloke came flying back past at 17k) and up to other single runners. I was enjoying the flatter going, which at 13k switched from roads back to single-tracks beside the river. There were about five fence stiles to negotiate and one memorable section of soft sand (thankfully only 100 metres or so). My Hoka Bondis were performing brilliantly — legs were feeling good! I can only recall being passed by one runner in the last 5k — a young woman in black who said from behind "sorry, I'm a slow overtaker."

The half marathon distance is a slight stretch for me (especially on a hilly trail course), so I was happy to be back near the familiar part of the river, not far from the finish at the Wagga Beach. I heard a cheery "Go Ewen!" from Speedygoose Sarah-Jayne, who'd won the half in an incredible 1:32:38 (8th overall) as I 'sprinted' up the final bank to the finish arch. My time was 2:00:16 for 50th place in the field of 120. I'll be back next year for sure — see you there!

 Sarah-Jayne: all smiles before the start

 Half course is the second half of the marathon. Start bottom left, finish top right. My friend Rachel's full marathon report is a good read.

 Top of the hill, with most of the single-track running nearly over. What a beautiful day!