Pounding the pavement

WAMC Perth Marathon 2015

Marathon #10

Sunday 14 June 2015

A few weeks ago, I ran the HBF Run for a Reason Half Marathon and despite not feeling well I ran a PB! I finished in less than 100 minutes, I’m finally into double digits. That run didn’t feel like it took too much out of me, so my “taper” to the WAMC Perth Marathon was close enough to being on-track. I was still mentoring Renee and her training program, so I decided I’d pace her to a four hour finish; this would be a massive PB for her and a good last long run for me before Gold Coast Airport Marathon in three weeks. A few others said they’d hitch a ride on my 4-hour pace “bus”. All was set for a great day.

The Course

My first ever marathon was this event two years ago; the course was from Burswood to Attadale and then back. That course had to be changed last year due to works on the paths. This year we’d run the same course as last year; two laps from Burswood to Crawley and back. Last year, I ran my marathon PB on this course. It’s not the most intriguing course but it is scenic enough, running along the South Perth foreshore overlooking the city of Perth and along Mounts Bay road overlooking Melville Water, and with the exception of the four trips across the Narrows Bridge, it’s completely pancake flat! The problem for me, the paths; they are all concrete or asphalt. In the UK I had been running almost exclusively on soft trails and since arriving home a month ago, all of my running had been on hard surfaces. I wasn’t sure if my feet were going to hold up; doing more training would cause injury, but not doing enough training would mean my feet would “give up” before the finish line. Had I done too much or not enough for this event?

Getting there

I had a pretty good sleep, but was awake before the alarm. My well-tested routine started: a pot of instant porridge for breakfast, taping my feet, applying anti-chafe to everywhere not taped, and coffee. I was ready very quickly, it was still dark, so made a second cup of coffee. I had planned on leaving home at 06:00 but was already on my caffeine buzz and was ready so I headed out the door almost 15 minutes early. I drove to Renee’s house and waited, and because I was early, waited some more! Finally, my coffee high subsided, and then Renee appeared, right on time. We headed to Burswood and parked, there were quite a few people already in the carpark. We grabbed our stuff from the car and meandered down to the WAMC clubrooms to see what was going on there. I ran into a few people I knew and everyone made the usual pre-race small talk, there were a lot of familiar faces. I remembered how I felt two years ago when I stood in this same place looking around to only recognise a few people; now it seemed I could recognise almost everyone, even if I didn’t know their names. We left the clubrooms to walk to where the Rogues and parkrun had set up their tents, this was to be the meeting place for everyone on the bus. There wasn’t as many people there as I was expecting but this didn’t worry me as my primary goal was to get Renee to her four hour finish.

First Leg – Start to Crawley

We started towards the back of the field, but not completely at the back. I’d learned from previous events this tactic would allow us to find some free space pretty quickly, it worked like a charm. From the time we crossed the timing mat at the start, our little bus had a pretty clear path so it was reasonably easy to get into stride early. The pace required was 5:41/km so I had my virtual pacer set at 5:40/km and alerts set at 5:45/km (too slow) and 5:35/km (too fast). We cruised along the shared path, chatting and supporting each other. I had told Renee not to get caught up in the banter, although some runners might be able to run and talk at the same time, she should conserve her energy and concentrate on the task at hand. The weather was perfect for running, cool in Perth terms but warm for me, 7°C, dry and calm.

There were supporters scattered along the route who clapped and shouted out encouragement. The volunteer marshals were at their posts and the water stations (every 2.5km, approx) and also cheered everyone as we toddled by, it was a nice atmosphere. Before we got to Mend Street Jetty (about 4km) we could hear the unmistakable clanging of cowbells, which only got louder as we approached Didi, Michelle, clan Harris and the rest of the cheer-squad stationed there; they had bells, signs, hi-fives and shouts for us, it was awesome.

Chris, Renee and me
Chris, Renee and me

Just after passing through my fast-pace alert started sounding; the cheers had made us run faster! I slowed back into pace just as we approached the Narrows Bridge for the first time, but the pace increased again as we were distracted by the “bat signal” hanging from the bridge; I was hoping that Clinton would see it. I almost wet myself laughing when we approached the Narrows carpark where an ambulance had parked right behind the sign, “Shut up legs!” It was nice to run over the Narrows and use a few different muscles even for a few minutes. Renee seemed to do the “hill” with ease as she had done a few repeats over this bridge during her training, although on the other side of the bridge, she started to drop off the back of the pack by a few metres.

Shut up legs
Later, an ambulance was parked behind this sign!

As we approached the Old Swan Brewery (8km), Renee looked like she was starting to struggle. She’d not had the best lead in to the event and had been feeling a little off in the last couple of days; she’d also been suffering “maranoia” and I think she was now starting to get overwhelmed. Her training was good, she was strong, but I don’t think her head was in the right space today. I kept popping to the back of the bus to check on her, she’d give me a smile and say she was ok, but I knew she was already starting to hurt.

I kept a pretty close eye on the virtual pacer and shouted out the score every kilometre or so. Our pace was quite consistent and on target. We reached the first turn (10km) about 10 seconds ahead of schedule and everyone was looking strong and still smiling, except Renee.

Second leg – Crawley to Burswood

After the turn, Renee started to drop a little further behind, so I dropped back to drag her onto the pack. She dropped off again, then caught up only to drop off again. By the time we got back to the Brewery (12km) she was struggling and had a little spew, or two. I said to the others on the bus that my primary concern was for Renee, so bid them farewell and dropped back. Although she wasn’t feeling well, Renee’s pace was still very good; she was only a few seconds per kilometre behind the four hour pace (and miles ahead of her previous PB pace). As we crossed the Narrows for the second time, I suggested to Renee that she maintain this same effort to make it back to Burswood where she could stop in the Rogue’s tent, recuperate and gather her thoughts again. I reckoned she’d do about 2h03m for the first half marathon (a very respectable time on its own merit) and could rest for ten or even twenty minutes before heading out to run a similar pace for the second half of the marathon and still completely smash her previous PB time.

After we got over the Narrows and on the South Perth foreshore again, we were still moving well and overtaking people who had started way too hard and were struggling after only 15km, Renee was sick and was still running better than some of them! I used this as encouragement for her, but I’m not sure she was listening to me any more? We passed through the Mend Street cheer-point together and I think this buoyed her spirits, but it was only briefly as just as we got out of ear-shot of the cowbells, Renee said for me to cut her loose and enjoy the rest of my day. At that point, the tone of her voice and the look on her face told me there was nothing I could do or say to change her mind; she wasn’t completely defeated, she was going to make it back to Burswood but she wasn’t going to finish today.

Awesome Didi
Awesome Didi

I was just under two minutes behind pace so I hatched a plan to regain this time before arriving back at Mend Street on the third leg; I had to set a pace of about 5:30/km. I increased my pace to find my bus again. Having to leave Renee made me a little melancholic, I was distracted and felt a bit angry with myself that I hadn’t prepared her well enough for the event or supported her enough today. As I rounded the Fisheries Department sheds I saw the bus just in front of me, I had made up the two minute deficit in just two kilometres or so! I hadn’t noticed that one or maybe two runners had dropped off the bus and I had passed them since leaving Renee, but I was happy to see Randy was still in the pack.

Just two weeks before this event, I watched Randy just beat the cut-off time in the Kep 100km Ultra Marathon. His determination to finish that event was inspirational, his smile even more so! To turn around and run a four hour marathon so soon after Kep was an amazing goal, but unfortunately he dropped off the pace just after I got back to the pack. Not long after that, a few more fell off the pace until there was just myself and a new friend, Trevor, as we approached the end of the leg at Burswood and the halfway mark.

My virtual pacer showed us 2 seconds ahead of schedule.

Third leg – Burswood to Crawley (again)

As we rounded the turn, Trevor mentioned he had personalised nutrition at the aid station. He stopped and I kept going but just eased off the pace a little to allow him to grab his stuff. After a short while, he hadn’t come back to me and I couldn’t see him behind me? I kept going “slowly” hoping he’d catch up, but by the time I went under the Causeway there was still no sign of him; I could see a couple of people that might have been Trevor in the distance but they weren’t gaining on me.

I started an argument with myself. Everyone I was pacing earlier had dropped off and I was on my own, so, do I give it some stick now and see what time I can salvage, or, do I keep running in accordance with the plan I had from the start? Eventually I rationalised the argument like this: I said I was going to run a four hour time and although there was no-one with me now, it doesn’t mean that someone won’t get a second wind and catch up later, after-all running negative splits is how “great” marathoners break world records right? Even if they don’t catch up to me, a runner behind might still be able to see me in the distance and use me to judge their own effort, right? I decided to keep on my steady four hour pace. (Interestingly, looking at the post-event analysis, my pace during this phase was all over the place! Obviously I lost concentration whilst deliberating the pros and cons of pacing! Being a pacer isn’t as easy as some people might think.)

The kilometres ticked over and my current pace was pretty good although I was a little ahead of schedule, I wasn’t going to intentionally drop back. I still wasn’t feeling particularly jubilant; my bus was empty and Renee had stopped.

Back at Mend Street, the cheer-squad were still full of beans and this made things better again. As I crossed over the Narrows for the third time, I cast an eye over Melville Water to see the wind had increased and I’d have a cross-breeze along Mounts Bay Road with maybe a slight tailwind which I had to use to my advantage. Just after crossing the bridge I saw Dan running ahead of me. He was running with a friend and looked he was cruising. I tried not to increase my effort just to catch them, but before I knew it I was running on his shoulder. We had a brief chat and I moved on by as we came onto the Mounts Bay Road path again. I asked for a water from the aid station at the Brewery but was shocked when I gulped down a cup of sweet Shotz sports drink. Oddly, I would soon start to cramp in my legs, so I’m not sure if the inadvertent consumption of the electrolytes helped or hindered? I was glad I didn’t splash the remainder of the liquid over my face as I do sometimes with a cup of water. I chuckled to myself.

My virtual pacer showed I reached the turn about 50 seconds ahead of schedule.

The final leg – Crawley to Burswood (and the finish)

This was the final time I’d see the runners heading in the opposite direction, so I tried to keep a lookout for Trevor, Randy, Dan, Paul, Phil, Renee, Clinton, Julie, Sarah and everyone else I was trying to track. I saw some of them, but didn’t see others. I started wondering what happened to them: did I simply miss them, or, had they stopped, or, had they come passed me and I not noticed?

I made sure to grab a cup of water as I came through the Brewery aid station for the final time, but maybe this time I should have grabbed a Shotz drink? Just afterwards I started to feel the first twangs of cramp in my hamstrings and calf muscles. I recalled some advice an experienced ultra-distance runner in the UK gave me; as soon as you feel the twinges of a cramp, stop running and walk, stretching as you go. You’ll not lose much time and you’ll lose less time than keeping running until your muscles seize completely. At the time, we laughed at the premise that some runners employ, to run out a cramp! If running causes the cramping on the first place, how do you rationalise that more running will alleviate the condition?! With about 5km to go to the finish I started a run/walk strategy dictated by my cramping muscles. I kept a close eye on the virtual pacer to ensure that I maintained the correct average pace, so I’d have to walk fast and run even faster to regain any lost time.

As I came down from the Narrows, I caught up with Matty who was struggling with a knee issue. My advice to him was similar to my advice to myself, walk before you cannot move at all. As I got to Mend Street for the last time, some of the cheer-squad had already left to go to the finish area. It was a little quieter but still boisterous. Tracy had made it there too, so I felt a bit better again. Matty and I went through with smiles on our faces, although we were both hurting now.

Matty and me
Matty and me

Matty and I alternated our own run/walks but eventually he dropped behind too. As the cramp was taking hold, each time I walked I got slower but I couldn’t sprint either, so the average pace started to ebb away. I had some “time in the bank” at the last turn, but this was slipping away. Eventually, I could see the finish just a couple of kilometres ahead and dug in. I wont say the last ten minutes were fun, but I was well pleased with myself when as I entered the finishing chute I looked at my virtual pacer and it showed I was 20 something seconds ahead of schedule. As I crossed the finish timing mat and stopped my watch, it showed a time 47 seconds behind schedule. (Later I’d remember the virtual pacer works against the distance it measures, not the measured distance of the course. Duh!) I was pretty happy that I’d come in “on pace and time.”

My official net time : 4:00:49.50

Before the event, I had said to Clinton that after I’d finished, if I was in the right condition I’d come back out onto the course to run to the finish with him. I grabbed a drink and a brief rest, my legs regained their strength and the cramp subsided with some gentle stretching and massage. Stupidly, I removed my shoes to give my feet a rub and then couldn’t get them back on again! Four hours of pounding pavement was all my feet were going to allow me today, they’d not let me go find Clinton.

By now, all of the cheer-squads which were scattered around the course were starting to converge at the Rogue and parkrun tents. Runners proudly wore their finishers medals and everyone shouted when they could to the runners who were in the final few hundred metres to the finish. Some of the runners visibly buoyed as they came through the tunnel of noise on their way to finish. Between runners, sometimes we’d cheer for random cyclists, dog-walkers or anyone on the path when no official runners were in view! The atmosphere was electric and the noise at times was deafening. Renee was there; she hadn’t completed the course and was still feeling poorly. Matty was about five minutes behind me, Trevor came through after about 15 minutes, Randy was a further ten minutes behind (awesome effort!) Eventually, all the runners had come through and the race was officially finished, so plans were made to retire to the Windsor Hotel for the obligatory post-race beers and hot chips.

Shirt. Beer. Bling.
Shirt. Beer. Bling.

Aftermath

I went for a swim with Didi and Michelle on Monday. It wasn’t easy but then again, I did run a marathon the previous day, so I guess I was in pretty good shape. My feet still felt a little flat but swimming a few laps of freestyle helped. On Tuesday I got a massage with Andreas and later that night went for a light shakeout run at darkrun; running on the grass felt great, but my feet really didn’t enjoy the 6km run on the concrete path.

As a last long run before GCAM in three weeks, I reckon I did pretty well?