Just a walk in the park

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Perth City2Surf Marathon 2016

Marathon #15

Sunday 28 August 2016

At this event last year, I ran with Richard Back and scored a massive PB (which was bettered a couple of months ago at the 2016 WAMC Perth Marathon) so this year I decided to pace others and see if I could someone else achieve their personal best. The event also fits nicely into my Waterous Trail on Foot (WTF) 50miler preparations.

In the eight weekends before C2S, I “conducted” six training events on the course; the first two weekends were in Kings Park, the next two were running from the city to City Beach (and back), and the final two sessions combined these to run the entire second half of the marathon (and then add some extra distance by running back to the city again). Sometimes I was on my own, which might have been my fault as I didn’t really advertise the training schedule in sufficient time (if at all!). Sometimes I did manage to get the word out early enough for others to join me; on the run I’d try to offer tips-and-tricks that could be useful in their own events. Almost all of these training sessions were conducted in adverse weather; it was either blowing a gale or pissing with rain, or both! I don’t mind running in the wind (free hills session when running into a strong breeze) and I don’t mind running in the rain, but I hate running when it’s both, despite how “hardcore” it is!

hardcore_running

During the training sessions, I concentrated on my goal to pace well for the others who might be joining me on the day. I practised running up and down the hills at constant effort and even pace and closely monitored how much time could be lost on the uphill sections and re-gained on the downhill sections; I was carefully formulating my plan for the day.

Making it official

A friend picked up some work with the event organisers and asked if, instead of just pacing for friends whether I’d consider pacing as an “official event pacer”. I couldn’t remember ever seeing anything about pacers in previous events so guessed this was a new feature for this year’s event; I said ok. It took a few to-and-fro emails and calls to try and get things sorted out, but in the end I wasn’t really 100% happy with the preparation: instead of having a “proper” pacer shirt which would stand out and be very obvious, I was given a “finishers” shirt, which from previous years I knew there’d be hundreds of people running the event in their free shirt, so it would be anything but conspicuous. The finisher shirts are also a touch small for their size, especially under the arms, and in keeping with the long-standing knowledge, tried-and-tested wisdom NOT to wear anything new or untested on the day of the event, I decided against wearing the shirt and picked out the most conspicuous shirt I had in my collection, which also happens to be a favourite.

In order to be visible through the crowd from a distance pacers traditionally run with helium-filled balloons tied to the them. I was to pick up my balloons just prior to the start, but unfortunately, it (the one balloon brought for me) popped and they didn’t have any others. So, dressed in my own private attire, without balloons or any other identifying methods, I lined up in the start corral with everyone else. A few friends were on my four-hour running “bus” and word was being passed around or shouted out that I was the pacer, so a few others made their way through the corral to start with the bus.

A cunning plan

My plan was to head out from the start and try to maintain a steady pace of 5:35/km which would account for losing some ground on the hills in the second half and without having to speeding up to regain any of that time lost. If the bus could maintain this constant pace throughout, we should achieve a finishing time 3h55m35s, in other words, we’d have 4m25s in hand to lose.

The start seemed very subdued this year when compared to previous years. There was some music being played over loud-speakers and a woman’s voice as MC. There was a countdown, but I don’t recall hearing a gun; a few people asked if we had started. We shuffled our way over the timing mat to start the event, then broke into a short stride for a bit before the crowd thinned out enough to allow a proper gait. The downhill, downwind start, along with some adrenalin and enthusiasm made it difficult to reign in the pace, but as the city buildings interfered with GPS tracking, no-one really knew what pace was actually being achieved until we reached the end of St George’s Tce. It was hard to know exactly who was on the bus and who was just running, so I just kept to myself and just kept running, listening for the beeps from the pace alerts I had set in my GPS watch.

There were a few of my friends running on the bus, so there was a lot of small talk, jokes and banter amongst the fitter runners, which I assume was either going to be a pleasant distraction for runners who’d be working hard all day to achieve the 4 hour target; or really infuriating. We spent the first chunk of distance towards Nedlands discussing different methods for computing how fast Chris should run to get sufficiently ahead in order to be able to stop for yet another pee break, and other witty repartee. We laughed and joked; it was really good fun and a great distraction from the headwind into which we were running. I was keeping a close eye on what the weather was doing. There were storm clouds around us but none were immediately threatening. You could see squalls up the river towards Applecross and I hoped that if they were going to hit us, they’d hit after we’d made the turn in Nedlands to assist our return journey to the city. I kept calling out our speed versus time computations; we went through 10km in 55m13s at an average pace of 5:31/km or 40seconds ahead of schedule which was good going considering the headwind, but we had to be careful of going too hard, too soon.

As the course approaches the Nedlands foreshore, you get to see runners ahead of you coming towards you as they have already been to the turn point. I was mindful not to let the pace increase as it always does when you see others coming towards you. We reached the turn point at 12.6km in 1h09:15s at an average pace of 5:30/km so the pace did in fact quicken. As we turned, the wind increased a bit, which was great for us but no so great for those runners who were still making their way to the turn. We had to run through the protection of UWA, so the pace steadied a bit until we broke out onto Mounts Bay Road for the leg along the riverside to the city. The squalls I’d seen on the way out to Nedlands had barely moved, so I figured they weren’t going to impact us at all between now and the time we get back to the city, but they could play some part later?

The banter, jokes and giggles during the second 10km had subsided a bit from the first 10km, but they hadn’t completely disappeared. We were still having a great time, and were still doing a great time with a stiff breeze at our backs. We passed through the 20km mark in 1h50m20s at an average pace of 5:31/km. As we approached the city, I mentioned to those within earshot not to get a “rush of shit to the brains” as I had done two years ago, and sprint up William Street high-fiving everybody lined up for the start of the half-marathon. Most people listened and actually slowed as we made our way up the hill, to give and get high-fives from the waiting crowds. I glanced over my shoulder to see a lot of smiles from the group; it was a special moment. We turned onto St George’s Tce to complete the first half marathon distance in 1h57m24s at an average pace of 5:33/km, still 23 seconds ahead of schedule, so we had 4m48s in hand to lose on the hills, to the wind and to fatigue.

As we progressed up the Terrace towards the first real hill (Malcolm Street) I said to the bus that we were spot on track with regard to time, and if they could repeat the 1h58m for the first half for the next 1 hour and 58 minutes, they’d be sub-4 hour marathoners! A few runners obviously had their own race plans and took off up the road, so the bus numbers reduced. As we hit the bottom of Malcolm Street, the bus got smaller again as a few people started walking. By the time we reached the entrance to Kings Park, the bus of maybe 40 or so runners at the halfway mark was now less than a half-dozen after the first hill!

The remaining passengers on the bus ploughed on through Kings Park, chatting as we gained time running downhill on Progress Drive, but concentrating hard as we proceeded uphill on Lovekin Drive. I kept asserting that Frasers Restaurant is at the very top of the course, and then it’s downhill all the way to the finish at City Beach (with the exception of a few “bumps” along the way!). Unfortunately, a couple more runners went off the back of the bus and a couple more went off the front, so by the time we left Kings Park, I was running with just one other person, Derik. We went through 30km in 2h45m45s at an average pace of 5:32/km so had hardly lost any time in Kings Park at all; this was because we put in just a little bit more effort on the downhill to offset what we were probably going to lose on the uphill. It worked a treat!

The bus-of-two exited Kings Park and started the final stretch to the finish. Derik was worried about the uphills and the effect on his time, but if I had done my maths right, we were just in front with an allowance to slow even more than I had initially planned. The journey through Subiaco was uneventful; I mean it was boring. There were a few spectators who’d come out of their warm homes to watch us silly people plodding down their quiet street, but there was no fanfare, there was no drumming band at the corner of Rokeby Road like in previous years. (Actually, as I think about it again, there were no bands on the course at all! There were a couple of DJs in places, and an aboriginal bloke playing a didgeridoo on Kings Park Road, but that was it. Cutbacks?) We made it to the top of the “first” hill at Jolimont together, but I was alone at the top of Underwood Avenue; I kept my pace as constant as I could on the downhill after the summit and shortly later Derik was back! I offered him some support and encouragement, and told him there was just one hill on Oceanic Drive to go. At the bottom of Oceanic Drive I was alone again. I kept the pace as constant as I could. I picked up a runner who was having some difficulty near the summit as we punched into the headwind. I got him to tuck in behind me as I “dragged” him over the crest of the hill, and them prompted him to make the most of the downhill to the finish and sprint the final 800m. Although I tried to descend slowly, he didn’t get that much further in front. The final 400m stretch along West Coast Highway is normally painful, but this year I was still feeling fresh and really enjoyed this last effort. I crossed the line with the timer showing 3h56m57s. I was 3m03s under time, not having lost as much time “on the hills” as I had anticipated.

Capture

I met up with a bunch of friends who were waiting at the finish. We waited and watched as more runners finished. Some runners who were on the bus earlier made it the finish before the clock showed 4 hours had elapsed; some came in just a few minutes later. Quite a few people came up to me and thanked me for pacing them at some point during the event; I felt quite privileged to have helped some of these people achieve good results.

We made our way to the recovery tent to start rehydrating and refuelling, to tell and hear tales of glorious conquest over the marathon-monsters, and to offer comfort to a few who didn’t have a great day. The recovery area was significantly smaller this year, with no separate changing area in which to get into clean, dry clothes. Fortunately, the inclement weather held off, which was lucky as the the drop-bags were all in the open and would have got wet had it rained; there were only a few places in which to hide from the chilly wind that was still blowing. Last year, we were treated to muffins, cakes and fruit; this year the fruit was still available but there were only sweet bars which I found quite unpalatable after such a run (I’m pretty sure if I had run hard the “natural” food bar would have made me puke!) This year, there was only bottled water available and no electrolytes. Luckily, I had packed my own stash of foods and drinks in my drop bag, and after consuming these, and trying to get changed into clean clothes, we headed for the buses which were taking us back to the city, the pub, hot chips and beer.

airplane

As I look through the photos and results on the day after the event, I can see people who were on the bus, ran off the front and got a really good time. I also see people who were on the bus who dropped behind but then fought hard to come back and still finish with a really good time. I cannot help but think how much easier it would have been for other runners if they were able to spot me (or another pace runner) from a distance?