Sunday, 20 September 2015

Sydney Marathon 20 Sept 2015 - the quest for sub3

Setting the scene:
I had always said to myself I will do a road marathon once and probably only once. I generally just didn't find the idea that appealing. Plus maybe there was a touch of everyone is or has done one so it is much easier for comparisons to be made and for targets/pressure/expectations to be set and potential disappointment.... That said I had done two ironmans (2011 & 2014) and an off-road marathon (the six foot track) earlier this year - I think I will do more off-road / trail runs but probably still maintain i have no strong desire to run another road marathon.

So early in 2015 my younger brother set out to run a marathon and there was lots of banter and tips and advice passed via what's app. Given my IM run times of just over 3:42/44 I had always thought (without any science that I should be able to go 3:15 and therefore the target would be as far under 3:15 as possible). Then Matthew (pretty sure he wouldn't take offence at this) out of no-where set a 3:05 marathon time!!! Ok so he had put down one or two fast halfs in the build up but still a fantastic effort for a first attempt. The gauntlet had been thrown down! I had the SMH shortly after his mara and set a 1:24:04 to take back the Cook crown (having lost the 1:29 I set at last years Blackmores). This meant that I was now getting advice / goading from Duncan/Simon/Terry that with that half and the sub 5hr 6ft I should be going for a sub 3 mara. I thought on it for a few weeks and then decided that it may as well be now given the amount of run training had already put in this year. So three months out I entered the Sydney marathon and set the target of sub 3 (sub 2:59 to be exact and beat my bro, Kman and Jamie). A couple of weeks of transitioning and then it was 12 weeks of training until the big day.

My training worked to the plan below but basically after a lot of tinkering amounted to run home Monday and back into work on Tuesday. HurtSquad Tuesday lunchtime. Medium long run Wednesday morning. HurtSquad Thursday lunch. Run in Friday and then maybe a long run on the weekend as the weeks ticked by and I dropped the weekend rides. I was still commuting by bike on the other days as well as tying to get in a weekday morning ride in. Obviously the above was in a perfect week but there probably wasn't one of them so was always shifting things here and there. Taking my kit on all work trips - Auckland, Wellington and Melbourne and getting some awesome runs in places i wouldn't have bothered with if the mara hadn't been fast approaching on the horizon.

My most frequent long run location was Iron Cove aka the bay run. I must have lapped that a fair few times....initially I didn't like running there because of the elevation gain to get there and wanted to run on the flat to see what my pacing was like (ie drive there and run round). But in the end most of my runs were straight out the front door and up the hill to the cove. It saved time and also worked with the mantra of train heavy, race light.

I ran on heavy legs and fresh legs and heavy legs again, in fact mainly felt like heavy legs... But that is what it is supposed to be like. I did suffer with a very sore Achilles about 8 weeks out and went to see a physio (thebodymechanic) but he reckoned that all was ok (after a run gait analysis) and I had just kicked up my km's to quickly - 40/50/60/70 in the previous weeks. He also abused my old trainers (Nike free v3s) but was much more positive on the brooks pure connect I had just started using.

Most memorable runs were:
35k before work: to iron cove, 3 laps and back again. Had to squeeze in the long run ahead of going to Fiji on hols. Meetings at work that day was tough.
Half mara to iron cove the week before the marathon when I completely hit the wall. Ran 14k at sub 4:15 pace and was feeling great and then smash hit the wall and was crawling at 5+min kms back home. Not the run I wanted 7 days out.
The enforced training also meant runs in pretty inclement weather in Auckland and Wellington (but some pretty special sunrises too). As well as across the harbor bridge closer to home.

Classic training run - Iron Cove and Woolwich Pier

Advanced mara training plan

Intermediate mara training plan

Race week:
Having hit the wall with 7 days to go I wasn't a picture of calm come race week. I also had to contend with the kids being ill and the huge fear that illness was going to take my chance away from me and waste the previous 12 weeks (just as gastro had done to western Sydney the previous year). I was popping pills left right and center - vitamin c, immune boosters, multi vits, cold and flew tabs. I also pulled back on all training bar the runs that were in the plan and I pulled it back to intermediate over the advanced training plan. I tried to get as much sleep and ensure I was as recovered as possible. In the end I probably tapered better because I was that worried about the illness.

With 48 hrs to go I was still not 100% but was that now nerves? Had I done enough training? had I done enough at pace? Had I done enough distance at pace? Was my target achievable or was it too much? I could only get as much rest as possible and trust in the training I had done. i very much relied or appreciated calming words of advice from the three amigos (Tezza, Duncan and Simon) as well as of course Matthew - who was likely to lose his Cook Mara crown. Albeit I expect he was confident of winning it back.

Race day:
My alarm was set super early and this time (unlike for the half the previous year) I made the c5:45 bus down to North Sydney. I was there early but this allowed me to grab a coffee in milsons point and queue for the toilet without stressing about being short of time.

I made my way to close to the front and kept an eye out for the 3 hr pacers. My plan was to set out with the Pacers and see how it went. I also had the times for 4:14 and 4:15 written on a card bracelet I had made. With that and my Garmin I felt I had sufficient information to not be reliant on the pacers. 

The gun went of and we were away. The key, everyone had told me, was not to go too hard too early. Heading up over the bridge I found myself ahead of the pace bus. I hadn't gone too hard but it kind of felt silly to sit up and let them catch me so I just carried on going. Admittedly they never seemed to be that far behind, probably 20-50 meters. 

My first gel was due to be c1:10 and then every 25mins. However, I went early and took one at c1hr. My first support came outside our old flat in Paddington and a high five was had on way out and back on Moore park road. It was great to see Em, Amy and Henry out on course. I had been fully accepting that I might have to run without support and was prepared to do so, but it was brilliant to see them out on course. Em had only decided to try and bring both of them down to support the day before - I was stoked. The idea of doing the race without support was a fair bit more daunting but i didn't mention this as didn't want to put pressure on. Also they had vested a fair amount of time and effort into my prep as well and was only fair they were there to see how it all paid off and share in the potential upside.

Sydney Marathon route

I was feeling good going round the domain, hyde park, oxford street and moore park etc. The gel hit the spot and as I was getting to centennial park i was feeling good. On the way into centennial park the bus got really close and couldn't work out why it oscillated so. I felt i was pacing nicely. I was planning to increase the pace at c30 or the way down oxford st if i had anything spare. However, going round CP i was feeling good and with over 20k done. I was on track and it was clear that if there was any illness left it was minimal and wasn't an allowable excuse. So I started to increase the pace and pulled away from the bus slightly. We aren't talking a huge increase just that each km was under target pace etc.

I was taking water on at every aid station, not stopping just taking a cup and taking a sip or two. Then taking a mouthful and holding it there for a while and swallowing slowly. This helped to calm my running and breathing as well as ensuring i retained more moisture in my mouth. I have to say i didn't like the stop start i saw others doing. The idea of stopping and then trying to start again did not sound appealing.

i was feeling good between the 25-35km marks and saw Em and Amy for another 4 high fives (a total of 6). Rolling down oxford street I was harboring delusions of really kicking. However, this didn't eventuate. The going started to get hard dropping down to Circular Quay. That sharp descent really put the quads through their paces and i suddenly started to feel it with c7 k to go. 

Luckily I had done the half the year before so I knew what to expect wrt Hickson road and round Pyrmont - ie shite. A rubbish end to a mara, feels like you are running around an industrial estate/motorway akin to doing the Wembley Nike 10k ie massive misselling as you ran round a carpark for the most part. You have to go up over the flyover and hickson goes on for ever (both ways). On the way over to Pyrmont (and for a few k before) I started to note people struggling and going backwards. I also noticed the lead pacer of the bus come passed?!?!?! He was destroying a lot of people's hope so was trying to reassure that he was ahead of schedule. I was running on about 2:58:30 time at that point. He seemed content pacing the one strider he had left with him. On the way back over Pyrmont I heard him say "come on guys, tuck in behind me". He obviously hadn't looked behind him for a while the two others had dropped a k back and the one remaining guy tucked in and way hanging on for dear life. I went with him for a bit but was happier with my own pace. 

Coming back up hickson was tough as I knew it would be. My legs hurt and it felt like I was going real slow.....but the k's kept ticking by at the required rate in the required time. It was wierd to be feeling the dull ache/pain and feel to be so slow and yet still covering the ground quickly. It wasn't cardio issues (although my heart rate was indeed increasing as i put more effort in) it was distance issues. I was beyond the distance I had trained for and i was running out of time and road.

But I calculated rightly or wrongly that I had enough room to drop a few 5min/ks and still get in under 3hrs. So I carried on pushing and maintaining pace but not killing myself. I didn't want to blow up and there were reminders everywhere as I passed people walking with 2 k to go....

At the end of Hickson i was back onto home turf. This was now HurtSquad territory, albeit no PRs were being set on this run.... As i came round under the bridge and passed the international ferry terminal I knew it was done barring disaster. I started to realise I would get a sub 2:59 if I kept the pace up. I started to try and enjoy the last k or so, look around, take it in, smile for the photographers and wave and say thank you to the crowd. I didn't manage all that as I was knackered but I did inside ;-). 

Round the Quay and the finish shoot was in sight. No sprint required just maintain pace and I was done in 2:58:49! Everything I had wanted I had done and worked like clock work :-). I saw Em as I was crossing the line. I stopped the clock and walked to the siding and as soon as I stopped running the walked turned into a hobble. I was so pleased to see her - I had done it and it first proper road mara in sub 3. I categorically would not have been able to do it without her support and it was awesome to see her at the finish.

Hobbled all the way up the hill to the bag drop and then across the domain to Woolloomooloo to the car. We made it home, quick shower and change and then up to The Diddy for some food and beers. My inlaws took the kids back for their naps and we stayed and had a few more drinks it the sunshine with Sally and Alex. It was the perfect way to celebrate and 'recover' from the run.

Post race:
Basically it went perfectly to plan. everything worked as I had hoped. All targets achieved. Pacing was very consistent and didn't vary a whole deal. I felt fine for 35k and then sucked it up for 7 - exactly as I would expect. The training did what it was meant to do and despite not doing extended time or distance at race pace I had managed to maintain race pace for the entire 42k. 

Thrilled to bits to have achieve the sub3 on first attempt. And equally happy to leave it there and not go out again and try and better it (even after my bro beat my time 6 weeks later with an amazing 2:51). I am done and much like my boxing career i am retiring after one go having got what i wanted. That said as i reflect on this race through writing this report i have the entry page for the Mt Solitary 45k open - but much like 6ft if i do it i will be taking my camera and trying to enjoy it more. Like my bro said "can we stop all this competitiveness, I want to get back to enjoying my running...." here here I say.

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