Despite an amazing morning for the Sydney Half Marathon, the race was much tougher than it should have been thanks to my poor choices!
A New PR for a 1/2 Marathon
Overall I’m happy with the end result – about two minutes faster than the 1/2 marathon I ran on the Central Coast of New South Wales in November. This course was not flat, while the Central Coast course featured not a single chance of elevation. Today’s conditions were perfect – a cool morning, slightly overcast but dry, with zero wind. My training had progressed well, with my practice run just two weeks ago at 1:53 (which included dodging traffic), and last week’s trial of holding 5 minute k’s for 13K went flawlessly.
So where did the run fall short of expectations? Where did I go wrong?
Pre-race was great. I had been cold two weeks ago at the same 6:45 AM start time, so I came prepared. Running top and tri-shorts under a long-sleeved tech-shirt, then robed over in heavy black sweatpants and hoodie. I was not going to be cold. I jogged enough to get more than just warm, I was almost hot – a much better way for me to start a race that was going to be cool. My legs felt loose by the time I dropped off my warm layers at the baggage drop, and at the start line I wasn’t chilled at all. My breakfast had been great – toast with PM, 16 ounces of accelerate, a banana, and a gel 15 minutes before the race started.
Paper or Plastic? Paper!
At the first set of tables with water, I laughed out loud. They had plastic cups filled with water. Please, if you ever organize a race, and you’re giving out plastic cups filled to the top with water, you’ve made two huge mistakes. Paper cups are much, much, much better – you can crush the top of a paper cup to create a funnel that makes it much easier to get the water into your mouth while running quickly, and then you can crush the cup and toss it. With a plastic cup, you can’t really crush it, or they shatter, and they litter the ground with rolling cups that runners have to dodge or risk an ankle. And you never want to fill them – half way is great, because running at speed and grabbing a full cup means one of you is getting a bath.
A kilometer by any other length would not smell as sweet
I didn’t notice any distance markers as we ran. About the 16th kilometer, I looked at my watch to realize that my watch read 16.5 kms. I was off by 1/2 a k, meaning I was 2:30 behind where I thought I was in the race. My stretch goal of 1:45 was not going to happen unless I picked up the pace. And it occurred to me that my training runs were likely shorter than I had thought. But my lungs felt good, and my stride was fine, and I had a smile on my face. And then….
Consolation prize – Mr. Pain Tolerance
My left calf started to cramp. Then my right, then my shins. One by one every muscle below my knees began to report bad, bad things. I shoveled every last bit of nutrition in a desperate attempt, but knowing it’s too late when that starts. Just a couple of days before I had wondered if I had it in me to really gut out a run through serious pain. I had finished Macca’s book, I had listed to an interview with Crowie from the Ironman Asia-Pac championships, and thought “I wonder how much pain I could take in a run.” I don’t think I have a high pain tolerance, but once the pain hit, I thought about my first nights on peritoneal dialysis, where as the machine pulled fluid from my abdomen, it felt like someone was stepping on the family jewels, and somehow I eventually learned to tolerate that, to even sleep through it. I bore down – I realized I could live with the pain, the challenge was that I couldn’t run with my natural stride, and there was some risk of stumbling with every step. But I fought off the pain – worse up hills, better on downhills, and kept begging for just a little adrenaline. At this point I got angry because I knew the cause, and I had been taught how to avoid this. And that anger got me across the finish line with a smile on my face.
The Big Mistake: Failure can start much earlier than race day
The mistake that caused the final 5K to be filled with agony came in the week before the race. Several weeks ago I had decided to make myself happy by only worrying about two things, making my life simpler and two-dimensional. Several people who checked in on the progress of “my 2-D life” heard that it had collapsed to 1-D, and that there was no work-life balance to be seen anywhere. Just work. (BTW, if you’ve never heard the song “Birth School Work Death,” it’s a favorite. Normally, the week before a race, I’d get in a light run a few days before race day, make sure I got the right amount of stretching in, roll out with a foam roller each morning, and probably do some exercise at least 3 days that week. That kind of prep doesn’t actually take a lot of time. But after my run last Sunday, work put a lock hold on me and I found myself heading home after several consecutive 14 hour days in the office, tight and not eating what I needed to eat to fuel up for the race. It’s shocking how I can screw up something I know so well – after my kidney disease and transplant, that tradeoff isn’t worth it, from any angle, and if I find myself in that situation, it’s up to me and no one else to change that situation. At least this race woke me up to that. The 2-D life is fine, and works well. The 1-D life means a shakeup is in order.
Anytime I finish a race I do so with a big smile on my face (unless it’s the Capital of Texas Triathlon, which I’ve vowed to never do again). As I head down the home stretch, I’m usually thinking how much I wish my Unclets were there to watch the race. And I witnessed some Australians actually cheering for runners, which seems to be against the DNA here. The course was so beautiful – the views of the city are all spectacular. And my mental game during the race was great – whether I was fueling myself with confidence because of my training and how good I felt, or fueling myself with anger towards work during the last painful 5 ks. Despite my watch being 500m off , my Garmin helped me see the sections of the race where I got caught in the pack and couldn’t run my pace.
And I think I realize I like Australians the most when they are running.
Of course, my favorite person I met from the race was an Irish woman who lives in Melbourne. Yes, I’m predictable.