Blackmore’s Half-Marathon Race Report (and a whole lot from pre-race too)
First of all, let’s just admit that the half-marathon distance is CURSED for me, right? I’ve entered five half-marathons so far. My first was a success, but each of the rest have SUCKED in some way. At my second one, I was disorganised and forgot my iPod. The third one I had to withdraw from three weeks before the date because I was so sick the doctor thought I had whooping cough. And the fourth one? You all remember that debacle. So needless to say, I wasn’t expecting this one to go perfectly. I just had no idea exactly what fresh hells my demons would come up with. (This is a very, very long post. I should warn you.)
Okay, so in the week leading up to this race, it’s almost like I was in denial that it was happening. I’d focussed and prepared so hard for the race in May – the one I didn’t finish – that it’s like I was afraid of setting my heart on this one too much. On Saturday, I forced myself to hydrate and eat some carbs, but it was a struggle. I ended up taking a nap for a few hours (which is very unlike me). Eventually I rallied enough to get my gear ready and work out my schedule for the day with the Snook. My race started at 6:20am, while his 9K didn’t start til 9am. We made it into bed by 10:30 and I surprised myself by getting a few hours of sleep.
At 4:30am, my alarm went off and I rolled out of bed. My gear was all laid out and I was quickly ready. The Snook got up to make me a much-appreciated coffee before heading back to bed. I also had a couple pieces of toast with peanut butter. After syncing my iPhone (OMINOUS MUSIC OF FOREBODING), I grabbed my gear and headed out the door. In my haste and the pre-dawn darkness, I missed the last step and stumbled forwards onto both knees. Ouch! I chuckled ruefully as I stood up. I was fine; just embarrassed. “At least you got the bad stuff out of the way early!” I thought to myself. I had no idea.Ten minutes later I joined the crowd at Central Station waiting for the train. I pinned on my number while we waited. On the quick journey across the harbour, I sipped from a water bottle and arranged my playlist for the run (MORE FOREBODING MUSIC). Soon we were there, and the crowd spilled out and down the street to the starting area in Bradfield Park. I felt pretty organised and calm. I sat down on a wall to rub some Neurofen gel on my foot and back. My track pants and sweatshirt went into my backpack, which in turn went into the provided plastic bag (to be delivered to the finish line). I strapped on my water belt and gripped my iPhone. (OOOOooooOOOO!) I had a good 20 minutes before the start. I headed to join the queue at the portaloos. I tweeted a photo of myself, slightly bleary-eyed and waiting patiently. I sucked down a Powergel and drank the last of my spare water. Then I did my business, not bothering to tie the drawstring on my running tights yet (because the queues were long and I didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary in a chemical toilet). It was time to head to the starting line.
As I crossed the field of grass in Bradfield Park beneath the Bridge, I was juggling my iPhone, an empty Gel packet, and an empty bottle. I stopped at a rubbish bin to throw in the trash. I am 100% positive I did not throw my iPhone in the bin. Then I realised my drawstring was still loose. I tucked my iPhone behind the elastic of my water belt to free my hands up for tying. As I walked, I was trying to figure out where my starting group (“C”) was supposed to be. I figured it out, tucked my drawstring in, and reached for my iPhone. It wasn’t there. (CRESCENDO OF HORRIFIC REALISATION) I went frantic. I patted myself all over before starting to retrace my steps. The area I’d walked through wasn’t crowded, but there were people crossing here and there all over the place to get to their starting areas. “DID ANYBODY FIND A MOBILE PHONE?” I yelled. I got curious looks. I ran back and forth over the 50m I’d walked, scanning the grass. My phone was in a bright blue wallet-like case, so there’s no way I’d miss it. It wasn’t there.
I ran to the nearest volunteers’ table, the one handing out bags for the baggage truck. “Blue phone! Did anybody hand in a blue phone?” No. They hadn’t. I ran to the next one. There were probably 8 different tables/tents set up around the area, and I ran like a maniac to each of them. I could hear the announcer counting down the minutes to the start. I was probably hyperventilating. At one tent, a volunteer had the bright idea to try calling it. She handed me her phone and I dialed the numbers. It rang and rang and eventually went to Voice Mail. I kept running. Thoughts raced through my head. Should I run without it? Should I hang back and try to find it? I wrote down my name and number for someone at one of the tents; she told me that any lost items they found would be available near baggage collection at the finish. Reluctantly, I headed towards the starting line. I begged a phone from a lady to try one more time, and still no answer. In desperation, I called the Snook. I knew he’d be looking for me on Runkeeper when he got up. “I LOST MY PHONE,” I blurted. “THE RACE IS ABOUT TO START. KEEP CALLING IT. I’LL FIND YOU AT THE END.” And that was it. I chucked my headphones in a bin. I wasn’t going to need them. We started.
I was pretty warmed-up from all that stress and running around. We climbed the hill from the park and turned onto the Bridge. I tried to concentrate on the problems before me. I had no music. Nothing to help that. No nicely timed run/walk intervals. I’d have to eyeball it as best I could, and count my steps during the walk breaks to keep them even. No idea of my current pace. I didn’t care so much about a time goal, but I didn’t want to go so slow I got pulled off the course. I suddenly spotted a group of three women power-walking in front of me. “Are you ladies planning to walk this whole thing?” I asked as we climbed the Bridge. “Yeah!” they said. “And you can maintain 7:45 a kilometer the whole way?” They nodded. “Then I’m staying ahead of you!” So that covered that. The remaining problem was the one between my ears. The voices cursing myself for being so careless; the ones arguing that runners are good people and someone would hand it in; the paranoid ones wondering if someone would use it to steal my identity; the depressed ones wondering how much this would cost me to fix; the rational ones (which always sound a lot like the Snook) pointing out that I couldn’t do anything about those things now, and that it’s only just STUFF, and that I should concentrate on where I was. So that’s what I tried to do.
The surprising thing was that I felt GREAT physically. My lower back didn’t hurt me at all during the entire race. My foot was sore, but not too bad. I hadn’t gone out too fast. I felt good at my pace. Slowly but surely, I picked people ahead of me and reeled them in. “Just get to 16K” I thought to myself. (That was the cut-off point.) Going down the spiral tunnel onto the Cahill Expressway was actually fun. I tried to smile. Soon we were heading up Macquarie Street towards the park. I was trying to take roughly 2 walk breaks per kilometer, each 120 steps (which I figured would be roughly a minute). And then we turned into the Domain… Suddenly I flashed back to last May, to the Mother’s Day Classic that followed the same route. I remembered how great I felt on that day running with my friend Miss Fee. Then I thought back to the previous year’s MDC, when I spotted the most gorgeous rainbow as I met my goal that day. The Domain has been the site of some of my best running experiences ever. I smiled in spite of everything and tried my best to recapture how I felt on those days. It helped.
We came out of the park and headed down College Street to a small U-turn. Two guys dressed as a lion and a gorilla were cheering us on in front of the Cathedral. I was coming up on the 10K mark, so I decided it was time for another Powergel. I sucked it down and had some water. A few minutes later, I started to get a stitch in my side. (Always seems to happen.) I did my best to belly-breathe and stretch it out without making myself hyperventilate (like I did in May). Then we were heading downhill to Circular Quay. It was a little depressing to see the lead runners flowing past to the finish line when I still had almost half the race ahead of me. Luckily a girl distracted me. “Was there supposed to be a Gu station?” she asked. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Only the marathoners get energy things, I think.” “Crap,” she said. “I thought I saw something about one!” I made a decision. “I’ve got a spare gel. You can have it if you want.” She demurred at first, and then she tried to offer me money for it. “No, take it!” I said. “I had a really crappy morning, so maybe this will be some good karma for me!” She took it, and I felt nice as I watched her speed away from me. We passed the Overseas Passenger Terminal and soon we were rounding the point under the Bridge. I saw the sign for 12K and got a little choked up. This, this was the point when I stopped in May. I felt tired, but nowhere near as BAD as I did that day. I smiled and mentally pictured myself tossing a monkey off my back. That sucker was GONE.
Then was the part of the race I was dreading. Hickson Road is my NEMESIS. It’s just miles of bleak boring-ness. My foot was feeling more sore at this point, and I suddenly noticed that both shins felt on the verge of cramping. I could see the 14K marker in the distance. “You can do it!” a random girl yelled. “Up there? That’s the City to Surf!” I hobbled as best I could, trying to stretch my shins during the increasingly frequent walk breaks. I decided to start dedicating each kilometer to specific people to help me focus. 13 to 14 was for JayDub, who I knew was probably slogging through Centennial Park with the other marathoners. 14 to 15 was for my Mom, who has recently met her goal of running 10K. (I’m so proud of her!) 15 to 16 was for Ted, who will soon be moving his family to Alaska. I was struggling at this point, and the field had thinned considerably. I just wanted to hit that final U-turn at the 16K mark and know that every step was taking me towards the Opera House.
I passed the 16K mark knowing that I was going to finish this race no matter what. A random guy stood cheering on the expressway. “What time is it?” I asked. “A quarter to 9,” he said. I did some math. I had no idea how late my group actually started, but I was guessing something like 15 minutes. That meant I had probably been on the road for about two hours, if not longer. Yikes! I reckoned that the last 5K would be slow, realistically 40 minutes or so. I knew it wasn’t going to beat my personal best (2:36:59). I was resigned to just finishing as fast as I could. My shins were very crampy at this point, and the outside of my quads felt like they’d been pounded with hammers. My foot wasn’t great either. I walked a lot. There were about half a dozen runners within 100m of me at that point, and we took it in turns to encourage each other to continue. Soon we were rounding the point under the Bridge again, and I tried my best to smile for the photographers there.
The last water station was at the 20K mark, just outside the Overseas Passenger Terminal. I struggled up to it and gratefully reached for a Powerade. Suddenly – and I know this is really random, but I’d been running for over 2.5 hours at this point – the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 finale popped into my head:
Angelus: Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons… No friends…No hope. Take all that away… and what’s left?
And I just about cried. No music, no technology, no GPS, no timers… what was left? Me. I pictured myself catching that damn sword. I was going to do it. I threw down my cup and roused my aching bones into a jog once more. I could hear the cheers from the finish line. I walked and shuffled and ran as best I could. And then I was there! I crossed the line and – I think – raised my arms as the announcer read my name. I was done. I gratefully accepted a water bottle and started the climb into the Recovery Village.
The next hour was a bit of a daze. I handed in my timing chip and collected my medal. Then I hobbled to the baggage claim area to collect my backpack. Along the way, I stopped at each information desk to ask about my phone, knowing it was going to be fruitless. Nothing. Resigned, I headed back to wait for the Snook. A glance at someone’s watch told me it was after 9:30, so I figured he’d be coming in soon. I put on some warm clothes and headed to the finish area to see if I could spot him. I stood there for some time watching the 9K Bridge Run folks come through. I also got to see several of the marathon runners (including the winner) finish their race. (One of the top marathoners collapsed at the line. That was scary.) Finally I spotted the Snook amongst the throng and ran to him. “You did it!” he said, noting my medal. “You did it too!” I said. His final time was 58:24; mine was 2:42:02. We made another half-hearted round of enquiries at the information desks before giving up and heading home.
I would be lying if I said the annoyance at losing my phone didn’t blunt the satisfaction of finishing the race. I have to tell myself to stop that. I DID IT. And I did it without any of my usual crutches. I did it on my own. That’s pretty amazing, right? When we got home, I proudly got out the 13.1 medal that Dan made for me last July. I finally think I EARNED IT.
But man, I really hate this damn distance. I told you, it’s cursed! 🙂