14 April 2016
Red Does Go Faster!
Towards the end of last year I thought I was running quite well. Dare I say it: I was nearly enjoying running. Me, the “not a runner” Cyborg. I had even managed to get what I considered to be a fairly impressive result in the Canberra Times Fun Run. I thought perhaps I should take running events a bit more seriously - starting with a decent crack at the Australian Running Festival. But this time, instead of entering in my standard “Full House” of events - the 5km, 10km and half marathon the next day - I elected to focus on one event: the half marathon. Not that I’m soft. Really. It’s just that entering all three can get quite expensive, and, you know, it’s getting just a bit too close to paying to receive pain - and I’m sure there are plenty of other places in Canberra which would help me with that.
Then, as usual, the Cyborg Curse fell. Shortly after I decide I might as well have a crack at an event, I get injured. Sure, sure, I know some people may well argue that perhaps I push myself a bit too hard once I set my mind to training, or perhaps I don’t rest enough. I think I just tend to have a bit of bad luck towards the end of the year.
Consequently I once more found myself unprepared as race day approached. I hadn’t trained enough, and I had managed to pick up a cold in the week leading up to the run. And, to be quite honest, I just wasn’t that into it. But the thought occurred to me: I could do a half marathon. Even without much training. After all, pretty much anyone can do a half marathon, it’s just a matter of pain. And how much pain you can take. Like Lance Armstrong said:
What makes a great endurance athlete is the ability to absorb potential embarrassment, and to suffer without complaint. I was discovering that if it was a matter of gritting my teeth, not wring how it looked, and outlasting everybody else, I won.
It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life
Sure we all now know it wasn’t just his ability to cop pain that helped him win, but even with chemical assistance, the Tour is still a sufferfest. So I knew I could finish. And, as late as the Sunday morning, whilst walking Max I decided I would give it a shot and, a few hours later, found myself waiting once more amidst a crowd of strangers for the gun to fire.
As with the previous few years, the half marathon raced up around Parliament House, which sort of started to thin the pack out a bit (though, there was still a bit of dancing between runners). I was running quite well, and not feeling much pain yet, when I came across a couple of ladies from Running Mums Australia running with the 120min (about my target) pace setter. Mothers. Now, if anyone could endure the pain of a half marathon - or even a marathon - it’s a mother. I had no chance against them - so took advantage of the decline back down to Old Parliament House to get out in front of them!
Then the course took us down lakeside, which was quite nice, and gave me some blocks to run and play with. I mean, really, what’s the point of doing a run if you can’t have a bit of fun along the way? Just running is, well, really, really boring. And painful. But such frivolity was short-lived, as we headed down Bowen Place and Wentworth Avenue. And this part of the course was slightly different this year, with us running on the south side!
In no time, we were about a third of the way through - seven kilometres - about as long as my normal training run (to work...) Fortunately, I was distracted from the fact that normally I’d be home by now by a pony-tail running in front of me. Sure, sure, it was probably attached to a person. But all I was seeing was a bunch of dark hair bouncing left then right, left then right. In no time at all I had forgotten pretty much everything else, and was running in time to the bobbing pony tail. As we took the turn out of Telopea Park back onto Wentworth Avenue, the tail shifted, and I came to my senses (noting, also, that my pace had dropped substantially!) So I added some speed to avoid the hair’s hypnotic effects!
Just in time to take on one of the steeper (albeit short) climbs of the race - running up to the Kings Avenue Bridge. For some reason, I climb and descend better than I run on the flat. So I found myself moving to the outside and overtaking quite a few people climbing up to the bridge, before the course flattened out again - only to rise once more after crossing the lake. There was a guy standing around with a spare bike (and helmet!) I pointed out it was a spare, and he asked me if I wanted to borrow it. I have to say, I was kind of tempted. But it was uphill. And nobody likes to start riding a bike uphill! So I continued on foot.
I consider the next part of the course, from about the 12km to the 18km mark, the most boring. It runs along Parkes Way, is relatively flat, and just road running. It’s also at that part of the race, you know, where you’re more than half way. Too far to turn back, so you might as well just push on. I was quite surprised to see some fairly nice views out across the lake to distract me. That lasted until we hit around the 14km mark, and we were surrounded by buildings, with several overpasses full of spectators (am I the only one wondering if a little Bart Simpson is up there, ready to drop a lugy?)
Shortly after the turnaround, I suffered a stitch. A bad one. I hadn’t had a stitch in ages! It was really annoying. But thus far, my pace had been good - I was actually on target to improve on previous times! So, I slowed a bit and after just three or so more kilometres, it had died down. Just in time for me to climb up on to the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge - with the end in sight!
Naturally, by this time I had well exceeded even my full running day mileage (to and from work - 14kms) and was starting to really feel the pain. I was dragging myself across the bridge, and noticed a frail old lady in the pedestrian lane - I think she was actually moving a bit faster than me. Then the thought crossed my mind - I was so slow and weak, she could probably easily push me under a bus! So I pushed a bit harder and soon found myself on the decline on the other side.
Then it was just one kilometre to the end. For those of you who don’t know, that’s about 1,000m - and with my stride, perhaps 1,500 more steps. That last kilometre was hard. Really hard. Not even the cheering crowds picked me up, it was all I could do to just keep going. By the time I turned the corner to the finish run, there was nothing left - certainly no chance for a sprint. Just a run towards the line, and stopping pretty much as soon as I crossed over it.
But I did get over it. And in a much faster time than my previous attempts. Yes, five minutes is much faster. That’s like 15 seconds per kilometre faster! Though, it’s probably much more attributable to the fact that I was wearing a red shirt than any extra training I had done. I was feeling pretty happy with myself. Until I was about 10 metres from the car. Just 10 metres. Then I began to cramp up. Calves. Quads. ITB. Toes. It all began to cramp and hurt. I stretched, and staggered to the car and, fortunately, managed to drive all the way home without my leg cramping up and locking the accelerator on!
The Australian Running Festival is a well-organised and run event, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every one that I’ve entered. Sure, you can take them seriously and all that, or you can just enjoy the fairly scenic courses on what is normally a nice day. Many thanks go to the organisers, the sponsors and the raft of volunteers that make it all such a great time.
Our thanks go out to the organisers of the event, the fantastic army of volunteers who made it happen, and everyone who turned up on the day to cheer the runners on! It all made for a fantastic event with a very enjoyable atmosphere.