10 April, 2013

Doing things by half

Last Sunday was that time of the year again - the first Sunday after Easter, which means it was Geelong Half Marathon time again. And yes, once again I bit the bullet, signed up and spent the week prior trying to forget what I'd done and what I would have to do.
Preparation-wise I'd done most of the right things. I trained, I tapered (I could really get used to tapering), I collected my race number, I ate carbs the night before, I had the right breakfast and I arrived at the river in plenty of time. Fearing a repeat of last year's event when they were dropping like flies in the heat (see The hotter half), the organisers had decided upon an earlier start time of 8am. So, a few minutes after the hour I, along with 918 new-found running companions, headed out from under the James Harrison Bridge, around the common and along the Barwon aiming for Breakwater before the long haul up to Fyansford and back.

Yes, I am in there!
The weather was a sunny 15.8°C and rose no more than about 5 degrees for the time I was on the course. A little too warm to be ideal, but it did mean a much more comfortable wait at the starting line. I wasn't at all sure what my pace would be, but I was aiming for a time under 1hour 45minutes, so I made sure I found the "1hr 45min bus" (the pace runner guiding anyone aiming to finish in that time) and kept him under close surveillance - a strategy which got me through the hoards during the first 5-6km of the race at somewhere near my target time and feeling comfortable.

Running with the "pace bus" to the left and wearing an Aussie flag
From there, I picked it up a little and set my own pace. So far so good. There was enough shade to keep things bearable and I managed to drink rather than inhale water at the drink stops - I've never been good at simultaneous running and drinking.

Just past 7km and heading for the drinks station
Then somewhere near the 12km mark a slightly curious thing occurred. I moved to pass a couple of slower runners. As I did so one of them - a guy - encouraged me to "push through it". In 2010 when I ran my fastest time, I was passed near the 9km mark by a quicker runner - also a male - who encouraged me to stay at a comfortable pace (or words to that effect). I did not know either man, did not see them again and would not recognise them if I did, but on both occasions, their encouragement ringing in my ears, I went on to post good times. Whoever you were - thanks! 

Having passed the halfway mark, it was a matter of trying to make the most of things before I hit the wall which I knew was likely to be waiting for me around the bend on Red Gum Island, just before the 15km mark. It's always been there in the past and this time was no different, except perhaps that things started to become a little less pleasant around the 14km mark. Knowing what I was likely to be in for, I continued to talk myself out of that particular mindset for a further 3-4km, leaving only a 4km grind to the finish line.
Around 2km to go and about to be caught by runner #712
It wasn't pleasant and it wasn't pretty (photographers should probably be banned past the 15km mark of the route) but I finished faster than I'd started and was almost a minute clear of the pace bus with a time of 1:44:07. Not my best time, but not too far off and well within the 1hour 45minute target I was hoping to beat.
Not a bad morning's work and then I was able to stand around and analyse the whole affair over a free sausage with the crew from Geelong Runners, some of whom ran and some of whom supported and all of whom had a ball.

Geelong Runners!
This year's half marathon (my 5th run in this particular race) was a milestone for the Geelong Cross Country Association as it marked the 25th running of the event for which we all received commemorative medals. When I first ran in 2009, the field totalled 495 and for several years before that, numbers had hovered around the 400 mark (if anyone knows how many lined up for the very first race in 1989 I would love to know). Last year, following progressive increases, 953 runners competed and this year, although only 919 runners completed the course, the event was sold out with a record 1200 entrants.
Before the race we were informed that around two thirds of this year's participants were from out of town - clearly word is spreading! Not surprising really, as this is a good, relatively flat course, with only a couple of kilometres round the common which are not sealed and great views of the Barwon to help keep your mind off your lungs and legs!
The best view of all - spectators at the finish line!
Which brings me to another point. I have spent many hours running and racing along the Barwon through Geelong and have even run at Barwon Heads, right at the mouth of the river, but it occurs to me that perhaps I should expand my repertoire to include some formal races along the river where I have not run before. One opportunity would be the Barwon Heads Sheepwash Classic over 4 or 8km beside and across the river mouth which run on Easter Saturday each year (guess that one will have to wait until next year), whilst the towns of Inverleigh and Winchelsea both host fun runs.
However, another rather intriguing alternative has been announced and I have the chance to get in at the ground floor with the inaugural race scheduled for the long weekend in June. Run Forrest will be raced over either a 10km course from Forrest township along the Barwon or a 21km loop course from Forrest to Lake Elizabeth and back.
The Lake Elizabeth track...in summer...
The weather would no doubt be freezing, the hills would be murder (I wouldn't be setting any PBs here!) and I haven't tried trail running before, but the scenery would be amazing and I would have a chance to run a section of the river (along the Red Carpet mountain bike trail) which I have never seen before....decisions, decisions!!

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