There’s racing. Then there’s racing the hard way. The Victoria Police & Emergency Services Games Half Marathon 2018 was definitely the hard way.
Even though my training has been aimed at future events, I felt it would have me on track for this race. During the week I was confident in the running over the last couple of months. I thought I knew the course. All I had to do was put it all together on the day. A last minute change in venue meant I no longer knew the course. Full credit to the race director, Tamara who pulled the race together at the last minute.
Ballarat is notorious for being cold. The drive over reinforced that. The temperature started out at a nice 22 degrees Celcius at home, but when 20 minutes out of Ballarat plummeted down to 15. A few minutes later down came the rain.
Once at the race start, the rain decided stay away. The sun even snuck out from behind the clouds. Conditions were looking pretty good. The wind was trying to make its presence known. I remarked to someone, “It’s only wind, doesn’t look like it’ll be too bad.”
Today I felt ready.
A new, last minute course. The format for the 21.1km was simple.
⦁ 1.1km out and back loop
⦁ 4 x 5km circuits of Victoria Park
The track is a mixture of bitumen and gravel. All considered flat. It was pretty similar to the usual course around Lake Wendouree, just with a few more twists and turns. Other than the wind, the run should just be a matter of effort and whatever my fellow runners can deliver.
Half Marathon Time
There was a simplicity in the opening loop. No clock watching. No over thinking. Just running. It came naturally. It felt right.
Coming into the wide turn around I was in second place. Coming out of the turn I was in first. As we finished the opener 1.1km I noticed there was a slight gap behind me already. Time to start the first of 4 laps.
The wind picked up. It gave me a nudge from behind and threw an acorn at my head. Might get interesting on the other side when it would be a headwind. I could make use of this.
I increased my speed. Seeking that balance between fast enough to gain an advantage, but without blowing my race later. It’s something I don’t get it right very often. This time I had a lot of faith in my training. While it wasn’t directed at the half marathon it should have given me a solid base. I’ve strung together a few 100km weeks. That should allow me to surge and recover more than usual.
Keeping this up for the next 2km put me a good distance out in front. I guessed it was something between 20-30 seconds. From here I thought I could settle back into something a little more sustainable. The plan was now to time trial to the end and respond to any attempts to catch me. Confidence was high today.
Suddenly the gravel path came to an end.
There were two options:
1. Cross a large intersection over a 6 lane road
2. Run on the verge of the road without a path
No way would the race course take us over either of those options.
I stopped. Weighed up my options and struggled to make a decision. Checking behind 2nd and 3rd were almost with me. We all decided we had missed a turn somewhere. Behind them we could see a lot of other runners. Had everyone just followed me?
We ran down the verge of the road. It was the most likely way to get back. The three of us discussed where we may gone wrong. We weren’t sure. After some running we could make out the track over in the distance. We cut across the grass. Back on course. Looking over my shoulder the other runners followed.
Closing down the lap. The detour didn’t add much distance. Maybe a bit over 100m. It did cost me time and gave away the lead I’d built. Running over the line I let the organiser know what had happened.
Some paranoia had entered my thoughts. Looking at every possible turn or side trail I now wondered where I should go. Other than that I was pleased my thoughts were in check. Not worrying about what could have been, my mind looked ahead and focussed on the now.
Let’s Try This Again
Again I pushed the first 2km of the lap. It was less effective this time, but I still create a gap. Around the back of the course and returning into the headwind. There was no obvious turn off to me. I was running with confidence when Mark who was in second place called out to me.
I’d missed the turn off. Mark had been smarter and asked a couple of random guys who appeared to be local. They pointed him in the right direction. For the same reason, the lead was gone again. At least I knew where the course went. That would be handy in for the last two laps.
My earlier viewpoint on the wind was now null and void. It wasn’t “only wind,” anymore. This was really hard. So hard I made a point of checking the weather observations after the race. Looks like we were battling 40km/h winds. That’s why it felt so easy to let it suck the speed away. If I’m feeling it, then others might feel the same.
With that thought I came up with a new strategy. I was worried I’d used up any kick I had in my legs. My best chance was to make the most of the volume I’d been running over the previous weeks. I pushed in against the wind. Only 9km in. This was going to hurt.
Somehow that had me out in front again at the end of lap 2. A boost from the wind at my back helped me find a solid rhythm. My mind was clear. I had found flowstate. The intensity was up, but I wasn’t having trouble maintaining it. Through the trees and the wind threw another acorn at my head. I was glad it wasn’t one of the pine cones.
Around the back of the course and up to the infamous turn off. There were now some markings to make sure nobody ran the wrong way. I certainly didn’t this time. Back against the wind and across the line marking the end of lap 3. I was proud of that lap.
The final lap. 5km to go.
Now the event was catching up with me. I was able to keep my cadence up, but each step was covering a little less ground. Despite increasing the effort, my pace was down slightly.
One advantage of the twists and turns on course is it makes it easy check out what’s happening behind. Second place was a new person. He was in a bright orange singlet, making it easoer to keep tabs on him. The gap was closing at a convincing rate. With how much I was hurting, I was concerned.
The finish line came closer.
The gap behind narrowed.
Into the final kilometre. I could feel my competitor behind me. I could hear his feet and breathing. Without looking it was clear he doing everything he could to pass me.
Now about 500m out. I’d invested too much into this race to give it up now. I felt sick as I forced my legs into a sprint. They responded and I was moving faster. It didn’t seem like it was enough.
Only 300m left. Somehow I found more than I thought I had. This was outside my training. Outside my fitness. The foot steps behind me seemed to vanish. Maybe I pulled away. More likely it was just too hard to pay attention.
The Victoria Police & Emergency Services Games Half Marathon 2018 was likely the hardest half marathon I have run. Consistent training put me in a good position. Happily I got more out of myself than my fitness suggested. My mindset worked. It was a throwback to my younger days when I used to be able to race above myself. This day I achieved exactly that.
It feels great to come away with the win.