Sunday, July 20, 2008

My First "Real" Marathon - by Bethany

Yesterday was my first "real" marathon, although I have actually run the marathon distance 4 times in Ironman Triathlons, and further in 2 ultra marathons, I have never actually properly raced the 42.2km distance at an official marathon.

I don't like the idea of the big crowds of the city marathon's, so the Gold Coast Marathon never really appealed to me, despite it's popularity for fast times. So I chose a local race, the Hunter Valley Winery Marathon, even though it is a difficult and slow course (but beautiful!). The timing was also good for me for this event, although I thought I may have risked over doing it in the lead up by doing a 25km race 4 weeks out then a 32km race one week out! So much for tapering! However I played it smart during the weeks between, sticking to mostly 30 minutes runs with a few 60 minute trail runs thrown in. And it seemed to work!

I was quite nervous in the lead up. Everyone I know who is into distance running has these great marathon time bench marks, and it felt strange not to have my own. I really wanted to do well, but also to have realistic expectations. Judging from the times I had been running in training and comparable events this year I decided that to aim for 3 hours and 50 minutes was going to be a stretch on this course, but one I thought might be possible if I ran a smart race and the Running Gods were kind to me. So I lined up knowing that under 4 hours was achievable and that I would be happy with that if 3:50 was asking too much.

It was a very cold morning, with the car thermometer saying 2 degrees, but having done a quite a few cold races this year it didn't bother me at all. As long as I stay warm right up to the start and I keep my gloves on so my hands don't get cold I seem to be OK. Being only a small race with 89 entrants in the marathon, it was very relaxed at the start and it was good to chat to friends and meet new people from Coolrunning, this really stopped me from getting nervous, and I didn't even have a "race belly" that morning.

When the "Go!" was given we trotted off through some of the lovely back paths of the Hunter Valley Gardens, and out onto the course with everyone chatting away and sorting themselves into their rhythm. I went through 3kms with two Coolrunning friends, Eagle and Anth, in 15 minutes, and reminding myself that this was above my goal pace, I let them pull ahead.

Over the first lap I concentrated on setting my own pace and forgetting about other people, and worked on running the hills strongly, then relaxing down the hills an on the faster sections, few as they were, to make up time. The back section of the course, which was 2 laps, saw us head out on a long out-and-back section of rough-ish but hard-packed unsealed road. I felt strong and stretched out on the way to the turn around, then when I could see people ahead coming back the other way I decided to count the number of women ahead of me. I was very shocked to soon realise that I was actually in 4th place! With 3rd being a Coolrunner (Lakeside) who had mentioned to me before the race that she had a current ITB injury. At this stage she was looking strong, but I decided to do my best to keep her in my sights.

After the turn around point, runners from the Half Marathon event started to appear on the course, so for the next few kilometers, along the long slight uphill drag (which was going to be nasty on the 2nd lap), I did my best to look strong and keep a watch for the people I knew who were doing the Half. At around the 17km mark we joined a section of the course being used by the 10km Race, and there was a lot of people all pushing their hardest. This carried me along well and I think I definitely ran this section too hard, it was difficult not to with so many 10km racers passing, but at 2kms to go I was encouraging some men who were struggling, then as we got in sight of the finishing area, I think I discouraged them after all when I told them to go ahead and give it their all for the finish, they seemed a bit dismayed that I wasn't actually in their event, but the marathon.

I saw Hubby Brett and some friends spectating at the side of the course as I came into the race compound, passing them by I jokingly asked if it was a bad thing to set a Half Marathon PB time in the first lap of a marathon, as I had actually come through for my first lap 6 minutes faster than my goal time! I ran past the finish line at 21.1kms and onto my second lap in a time of 1:49! Which is about 3 minutes faster than any previous Half Marathon I have run.

On the second lap it was suddenly very lonely with only a few other marathon runners ahead. Instantly I started to feel tired and the legs were starting to feel heavy. I could see the 3rd placed female nearer ahead than before, but I told myself that I didn't have to catch her and pass her too quickly, as I was making ground on her as it was. I was conscious of other women catching me from behind, and was almost certain that at any time all the other women who had ran a smart first lap would suddenly come charging past me and off into the distance. Onto the steepest hill in the course the people in front of me started to walk the hill, which spurred me on to run the hill as strongly as I could, and I moved into 3rd placed female in the race! At the top of the hill the marshal told me I was 3rd female, but all I could think about was getting some electrolyte drink at the aid station.

Into the aid station and none of the volunteers were ready for me, so I had to ask which drinks were the electrolyte and stop to get them myself! After all that I ended up with water, but drank it down and set off disappointed but determined not to be cranky! For the next hour I was running in 3rd place, still with my fear that any moment I would be swapped by all the other women, but I focused on staying relaxed even though I knew I had slowed down quite a bit. When I felt bad I told myself that the others would be feeling bad too, and hurting just as much.

Out to the far turn around point and I did my best to put on a smile and wave to the runners I knew who were ahead of me as they passed back in the opposite direction. Around the turn point, and I lady who I had seen quite a way back on the first lap was all of a sudden behind me, and the next section was always going to be the hardest section of the course, the long slightly uphill slog of rough road. I had only taken 4 gels with me, thinking there would be gels provided at the aid stations, with High Five being a major sponsor, but there wasn't, and I was really feeling like I had hit complete glycogen depletion. I was determined to try and hold onto the lady behind me when she passed, in case I came good again and she hit a bad patch, but when she eventually did pass me she was moving too well, and had obviously ran a smart race. I was desperate for some sugar and wished they had flat coke on offer like they do at Ironman races, but I made do with 2 cups of electrolyte at each aid station, even though this only equated to about a mouthful each.

At the top of the out-and-back section, with about 4kms to go, I gathered my courage (or gave into my fear perhaps?) and had a look behind myself. I was really relived to see no one in the near distance, but told myself that I was in no way allowed to relax and slow down! I kept telling myself that the faster I ran the sooner it would be over. I was shuffling more than running now at times but focused really hard to lift my feet, and finally the last section appeared and I knew I was home in 4th place overall. I saw Brett and started to cry and feel like I couldn't breath, but then it passed into sheer relief as I ran down the finish slope and across the line in 3:52. 2 minutes slower than I had wanted, but not disappointed, as the course was really hard and I never dreamed I would ever finish a running race in 4th place! I had also placed 2nd overall in my age category, and received a lovely bottle of local wine as my award!


Vegan Run Amok said...

Awesome race, Bethany, congratulations! Enjoy the wine - you deserve it! :)

the little one said...

Congratulations! Great post. Sounds like you ran a good race and were rewarded by the 4th overall and 2nd in your age group placing. Fantastic!

Vaala said...

Hey congratulations. Sounds like a great result. I found your description of the race really interesting. Thanks!

Raw Eagle said...

Hey Bethany I was here for the 10km race, glad I didnt have to start when u did. Congratulations and see you at The Trailwalker - think we leave around 7am