May 08, 2008

Vancouver Marathon

I didn't finish in the time goal I had in mind. In fact I didn't even better my marathon time.

My training had been going well. Since June 2005 Australia's Pat Carroll has been writing my programs, and with great success. When I joined him my best marathon time was 3:24, set at the Gold Coast in July 2004. He helped me take more than 10 mins off that time when I ran my next marathon, again at the Gold Coast, in July 2006. I finished in 3:13.

In the Canberra marathon in April 2007, I ran another big PB, finishing in 3:08. Three months later I did the Gold Coast again, but I had to settle for 3:15. That was OK, as I knew the time between the two marathons was a bit short.

After setting a 10km PB of 40:24 in December 2007, I began my preparations for the Vancouver marathon on a high note. And I was even more excited when I broke that elusive 40-min barrier for the 10km in January 2008, when I ran 39:51 in a race in Langley, winning my first 10km in the process.

My marathon training went well. I run five days a week, and usually about six hours or 80km.

At the Sunshine Coast half marathon at the end of March I shaved a minute off my best time for that distance, finishing in 88:13. I was right on target for my goal for a 3:05 marathon (or even a bit better.) Or so I thought.

My race pace was 7:03 per mile, with a target range of 6:58 to 7:06. I hit the first mile spot on at 7:02 and it felt easy. It got harder after that, even though I ran the next three miles in 7:07, 7:08 and 7:18 respectively. I had to pick up my pace slightly and it should have felt comfortable at that stage in the race.

But it felt like hard work already. And after running eight marathons, a couple of ultras as well as five Ironman triathlons (which finish the day with a full marathon) I know you feel relatively good until at least 25km. This time, I got halfway - a bit behind my goal pace - and I was struggling and I didn’t understand why. From about 25km it was getting really hard, mentally and physically. The 3:10 pace group had run by me and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn't even have the energy to stay with them for a little bit.

I reached 30km at 2:14:24, a solid 10 minutes behind my goal. By then, I was in survival mode. I desperately tried to avoid giving in to an overwhelming desire to stop and go home. It just felt all hard. I thought I’d be lucky to finish in 3:20, instead of my 3:05 goal time. I realised my PB of 3:08:48 would remain my best marathon time a bit longer. I remained focused on making sure I kept running, no matter how slow. I no longer checked my mile splits as they were too disheartening.

All I could do was focus on getting to that finish line. By mile 23 my spirits lifted a bit as I was proud of myself for not giving in, and by mile 24 I was actually picking up my pace. But it took a lot of effort, and in the final 500m I was desperately trying to stop myself from throwing up.

Three women passed me in the homestretch, but my protesting stomach prevented me from caring. The four of us finished within 5 seconds of each other. I crossed the finish line in 3:12:26 and was completely spent.

My calves were concrete, and it was hard to walk. It felt like one of the hardest marathons I have run, not the course but just the way I felt compared with how I should have felt or have felt in previous marathons. In the end it is the second-fastest time I have run one so I'll take that. But I find it a bit hard to think about how the time compares to my expectation of 3:05 or even at least a PB, let alone my dream goal of running closer to 3hrs.

As my always-positive coach said to me, ``You had a go and a true fighter will bounce back for another chance at the title.’’ So I will first take his advice of chilling for a week or two, and then decide on some races over the next few months. I'll definitely do another marathon because I am convinced I have a sub-3 hour marathon in me.

I guess it wouldn’t be as much fun if it was all so easy, would it?

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