"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Friday, March 22, 2013

Teaching an Old Dog a New Trick: Chasing Bikes

After my pre-race withdrawal from the Coburg 6hr on the 7th, I spent the next 48 hours on a google hunt. I was like a possessed woman.

I needed a replacement race.

I spied a few trail races around Oz and abroad. I even sent a message out to my TNF100 crew from last year - Paul Charteris, the race director of the Tarawera Ultra in New Zealand. It was slated to be run on the 16th. He was still accepting entries. My partner encouraged me. It was tempting.

And then reason - ahhh, precious reason - slapped me across the face and brought me out of my daydream. I wasn't trained for a 100km technical trail race. Although I'd been running distance and hills, I hadn't been honing the technical skills. In fact, I was running the downhill technical bits a little cautiously the past few weeks. My goal was a 6hr track race, so spraining my ankle on a trail would have been a silly thing to do. If I wanted to run that race and be pleased with my effort, I'd have wanted to have been hammering the descents over the past few weeks, really strengthening the neural connections that guide me spatially and the stability tendons in the ankles. Plus, I'd be an idiot not to have my own crew there.

Matilda Bay - around to the yachts for the turn-around point
Back to google.

But the answer was staring at me the whole time - taped to my wall above my monitor. The local marathon club's calendar of events. The "Perth 32." A strange distance. That pleased me. It was weird. It was also a 10 minute drive from home and was run alongside the pretty Swan River. My mates suggested I could run it twice. Ha ha.

So I had a not-quite-right taper, as I'd tapered the week before already. I ran a 3k solo race around my little lake on Tuesday when the track turned out to be closed for a junior meet. Then I ran my usual 15k of hills on Wednesday. Why not. The taper was a bit mucked up, anyway. Thursday and Friday I rested from running again. Saturday I did my normal pre-race 3k/3min sprint regime.

Sunday morning beetroot juice broke the fast. At the start line I didn't know which of the girls to keep an eye on. And there was a 10k race starting at the same time. So until the 10k turn around point, I wouldn't even know which race what girls were in. I saw 4 or 5 take off in front of me, but knew there could have been more in the pack out front.

A good running mate got in beside me and started with the abuse (he's one of my best "psychological" trainers, due to his penchant for heaping abuse on our trail runs!). I don't know if he knew I was a no-talker during races, though. So he got lots of abuse in over 5k before he finally dropped off, wishing me well.

Early temps were around 20 degrees, which was fairly pleasant, but it was also fairly humid. And I was running under a 4.30 pace (the plan). Actually, according to Garmin, because it's so bad for overestimating distance, I ran a lot of "4min23sec" kilometres. Not really, but by Garmin's account. I knew from experience that I had to keep the pace about 5 seconds lower by Garmin to give me an accurate near 4.30 pace.

Pointed back towards the finish line. Past the CBD. Don't look that far ahead!
Based on predictions, I should be capable of something between 2hr24m30s and 2hr25m30s. I figured I'd aim to hold just under a 4.30 pace and if I thought there was too much still in the tank with 5 or 10km to go (ha ha, but let's be optimistic), I'd pick it up a wee bit. Just in case there was a 2hr20 in there somewhere ;)

Well, there wasn't!

But back to the race....I did pass a few girls who made the 10k turn-around. But I knew there was at least one more in front in the long race and probably two. At 12k, I caught sight of one. I got to within 70 metres of her and - perhaps for the first time - she glanced back and saw me. She picked up the pace a bit. I stuck with my pace and let her to do her thing. It was too early to start a sprint for the finish. She only made about 10 metres on me, then faltered a bit. I got within 50 metres. She picked it up. And so it went for 3km. At 15k, I finally reached her, as she could no longer keep making the little pushes. I tried to be a bit decisive about my pass and she sent out an encouraging "Well done." I wanted to say something, but didn't know what. If I'd been passed, I would have said the same. But it seemed that there was nothing I could say that would sound respectful to a person racing hard when passing them. The most respect thing I thought I could do was to not say anything that might seem patronising like "Same to you" or "Good job."

Near the turn around (which was actually the 18.5km mark, as the course wasn't a complete out-and-back), a bloke on his way back called out to me - "First Lady!" Shit. Seriously? No, don't believe that. Run your race, Bernadette. A few more cheers. At the turn-around a girl on a bike says to the marshal, "See you later" and rides out in front of me.

I HAVE THE LEAD BIKE! Oh my dog. I'm 43 years old, running a bitumen "short" race and I have the lead bike! I pass two girls on their way to the turn-around too close for my liking. I want to keep putting the distance between us. But there's a long way to go yet.

The girl on the bike seems to go so fast. I can't keep up to her and I start getting mad. Then I have a little wake-up call and realise that she's going to attempt to stay 100 metres in front of me no matter what pace I run. If I kill myself trying to catch her, I will succeed in killing myself. I remember her job is to help me find the way and warn other users I'm coming. At least I think that's her job. I've never been with the lead bike.

Privileged to get my medal from AUS marathon champ Lauren Shelley
As I approach each aid station, roughly 5km apart, I play my usual game of trying to divvy up one cup of water between my head, the front of my chest, and down my back, leaving a few drops for the throat. I'm carrying a 200 ml handheld, but it's running dry. It's getting hot. We're into a headwind now, which provides a bit of a breeze, but the sweat rate is high.

With about 6km to go, I take 15 seconds to have a volly refill my handheld. My pace is suffering now because I am so bloody thirsty. Whatever level of dehydration I can go to without a performance hit, I've reached it. Joyously, with less than 2km to go, there's another aid station I wasn't expecting. I dump water on my shirt. Suddenly, it weighs a ton! I feel like I've just added a kilo of weight - so, am I running faster because I'm cooler now or slower cuz I'm heavier?!? Argh! I wring out some water from the front of my shirt with one hand and keep chasing that bike.

To motivate myself, I imagine a girl coming up from behind, taking the lead, and watching that lead bike pull away with her. It's a visual I refuse to allow into reality. Yet a few kilometres dip into the "4.37" on the Garmin. I see the 1km sign and flip the Garmin back to "Total Time." Throughout the race I've run just 4 minutes 30 seconds at a time. Now I see the total for the first time. It reads 2:21:05.

I cannot run a sub 4 minute km now. But I'll run as hard as I can.

2:25:25.

Time for a trail run.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

All Trained up and Nowhere to go

Melbourne's having a heat wave. The Coburg 6hr race is in two days.

28th Feb: Masters 10k State champ :-) 
According to a formula I believe was developed by Jack Daniels, that means I'll lose 5 to 9 seconds per kilometre (more as the heat climbs through the morning).

The race director even moved the start from 8 AM to 6 AM. But with a cloudy night forecast to insulate things, night time temps are staying at 23-24 degrees. Then climbing up to 32 degrees and sunny. That means I should expect to lose at least a couple kilometres off my potential 6hr distance. Agonising.

I know everyone else at the start line faces the same challenge. But my goal for this race was to attempt some 6hr records. I know I can run 70.406km in 6hrs. My personal challenge was to run more. There are already a zillion things that need to go right at an event - nutrition, hydration, shoe selection (fit, tightness of laces etc), injury prevention, toilet stop needs.... to add heat to the mix stacks the odds too highly against me.

I waited until the last possible minute last night to decide - whilst I could still change my flight booked for this morning. I stood outside under the stars and imagined this would be my start line temperature. It was a perfect temperature ... for sitting under the stars.

I sacrificed so much and trained so hard for this. The costs and time for massage and physio weekly, for the hours of training, for the bloody brutal strength training and the speed work and track races, for being careful about my diet so as to not put on weight before the event.... Filled with all the greed of "I want this race!" that clouds rational thinking and the inflexibility of "But this is the plan!", I had once again to revert to science to tell me what the emotional brain didn't want to hear.

10k State Masters - these people have taught me a lot
Yes, I'm lucky to have this simple little problem. I'm lucky it's not injury. I'm lucky it's not cancer or heart disease. I'm lucky I don't live in a war-torn country. I'm lucky my family and friends love me.

But for the evening, I just needed to let myself feel sad.

Now, I'll find somewhere to go.