Diary of a Champion
My Best Run - EVER !!!
At 70 one doesn’t expect to be getting stronger and faster in a heavy duty sport like Distance Running. Yet that is exactly what is happening as I proved to myself in Blackmore’s Sydney Half Marathon last Sunday. I managed to clock up a Personal Best time by 5 minutes (2:11:35) and placed first in my age Division (F70-74). Mind you there were only 3 ladies over 70 foolish enough to be running this distance but my winning margin of 33’ really surprised me. I’ve been running only four years. So how come?
First up – at my age, probably at any age, no one runs a Marathon, nor Half-Marathon, successfully alone. My ‘Team Boyd’ is an awesome bunch of professionals and loved ones, including some special running buddies, I’ve discovered by chance since I took up this sport.
Freshly graduated from a weight management program in 2012, in which I shed about 20 kilos of unwanted fat, with initial guidance and inspiration from my 30year old athletic daughter, Helen-Louise, I ran my first 5K races in April and July, 2013, in Canberra and on the Gold Coast respectively. Disaster soon struck.
Trying to run through a water station on the Gold Coast, while drinking at the same time, reaching for a water cup, I overbalanced; as I righted myself I felt something significant tear in my left hip. My gait was immediately affected. But at 4K I wasn’t going to give up. No way! I managed to finish the race, limping and laughing. Not being able to walk properly the next day however wasn’t a laughing matter. The upside was the injury bought me into contact with the remarkable Martin Doyle, physiotherapist extraordinaire. He ordered me into the gym to start muscle strengthening immediately and a few weeks later had me safely and successfully complete the Bay Run (6K). Amazing. We built it up from there. Martin expertly coached me through the first year of my running life up to and including the 2014 Melbourne Marathon – completed in a time (5:31:55) I’ve yet to better – though I am hoping maybe next month. But that’s another story. Martin is a foundational member of “Team Boyd”.
Back to Sunday. Any race begins at the moment of commitment. Mental preparation is as important as training. Distance training works in cycles around ‘goal’ races. Sunday’s run was to be the curtain raiser for the Melbourne Marathon and an important indication of what I might expect of myself a month hence.
It had been an indifferent Start. I had woken up on Race morning at 3:30AM, too early. My alarm was set for 4AM. Helen-Louise, who was also running was doing a sleep-over. I didn’t want to disturb her. She is preparing to run in the Chicago Marathon in three weeks; her every second of sleep matters at this stage of her training.
Lying in bed is the best place to do some yoga-like relaxing breathing exercises and to get the pelvic floor into gear. Oxygen is after all the MOST significant fuel we give our bodies. Slow breathing is always relaxing. The pelvic floor supports, well, everything!
By 4AM I was flooded with energy and wishing it wasn’t still two hours to Start. Yep the gun was going off at 6AM and we had yet to get across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
On Race morning everything is planned to a tee. I always leave an additional half hour for the unforseen. Race gear is laid out the night before, importantly including the Race Bib in which is one’s all important timing chip. A light pre-race breakfast is planned: for me that’s half cup of white rice, a banana a tablespoon of organic maple syrup washed down with an electrolyte drink. I have serious runner’s gut issues so this breakfast is critical. In truth, I worry more about how my wretched gut will perform than any other aspect of the race. An early jog and visit to the bathroom is essential preparation. The jog to Town Hall Station on Sunday morning was ideal. But the performance when I got there less so. Oh dear was it going to be another of those long races hindered by an unwelcome bathroom stop?
The stuffy train and trip across the Bridge to Milson’s Point made me feel nauseous which even the reassuring company of my daughter and a carriage full of other good humoured runners did little to quell. There was no time for another bathroom stop. The queues to the Portaloos in the Race precinct were nearly 500 metres long. So I took myself into the starting chute of the Race B section. This section ,is runners expecting to complete the distance between 1:50 – 2:15 hours. Moving forward as far as possible knowing more than a thousand similar standard runners were behind me, was a deliberate race strategy.
I’ve learned that in the early stages of a race, although there is no advantage in distance as your timing chip only starts when you cross the Start Line, it is easier to be overtaken than to have to do the overtaking. This part of the race is always congested. Sunday was no exception as we turned a sharp corner to head up onto the Harbour Bridge it was runners just everywhere.
It’s always exciting after the gun sounds and the elites start out, being part of the surge heading up to the Start Line. As the crowd moves forward, adrenalin surges around the body. On Sunday as my mouth dried up, I wasn’t too sure how my body was going to perform.t’s a steep climb up onto the Harbour Bridge but a fabulous feeling to be running across its broad expanse, traffic free. My pace at 6:35/K was a bit slower than I would have liked AND my watch had somehow locked into the wrong screen: its data was confusing me. Although I was glad to be running, I certainly was not a ‘happy chappy’. I decided to ignore my frigging watch and just run – well like Forest Gump, really. I remembered, as I established my rhythm, Martin telling me to ‘run with as empty mind as possible’. Good advice. Especially when you are feeling grumpy.
I used to love to socialise on these long runs. Not any more. I zoned into the prevailing race pace, scarcely noticing the Sydney Striders 120 minute pace bus sail past me. I was in my own solitary personal space, feeling my body’s response and monitoring my effort accordingly. The downhill slope onto the Cahill Expressway was a joy. Now 3K in, I was running well; my stomach was calm and the worrying tendonitis at the top of my right hamstring had disappeared as I warmed into the run. A glance at my watch suggested I was now running a 5:23/K pace. YAY !!!
The slope up Macquarie Street didn’t feel too bad and I decided to ignore the first of the drink stations. My stomach was calm. My mouth less dry as the effects of the initial adrenalin subsided. So why risk it. There were plenty more opportunities to hydrate along the course.
As I turned around Hyde Park Fountain to head downhill to the Quay, I was flying. That part of the race showed a remarkable 4:55/K pace. It wasn’t an effort using the slope of the hill. Even at a fast pace, running downhill, I was able to steady my breathing. After Circular Quay there is a bit of climb up onto George Street but then a flat run for a few kilometres under the Harbour Bridge and out along the ‘Hungry Mile’ to the Darling Harbour Flyover.
I was still comfortable and beginning to overtake a few runners. My original race plan seemed a possibility. I was to run at a steady pace to 16K and then if I had anything left in the tank start to race. A similar strategy had served me well in City2Surf last month when I also conquered my Age group and ran a PB in 87 minutes.
I risked a drink stop at about 9K, drinking one cup and tipping another over my head as a cooling agent. I avoided the isowhey provided by the race organisers and decided to delay taking a jell until my body was screaming for some more energy. My tummy was still calm. Brilliant! I wasn’t taking too much notice of my watch: especially as the hills into Ultimo and Pyrmont started to bite. Happily another drink station presented itself strategically at the crest of the hill running up towards the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel. There was quite a lot of spectator support around this part of the run which really helps.
I was now running in familiar territory along routes that perform a regular part of my daily jogging routine. At one stage we were heading up the Star Casino Hill toward Doyle’s Physiotherapy. Happy days! I knew what goes up comes down and was certainly enjoying the downhill bits. Running steadily too but starting to tire and my feet were starting to burn a bit. The 120minute pace bus sailed past me heading in the opposite direction. Oh well not too far surely to the turn around. I managed a “Go Striders!” and was given a club cheer in return.
As we rounded the corner at Pirrama Park heading towards another nasty little hill up Harris Street, I noticed a very, very fit muscled up lady, I speculated to be around my age, sail past me. Uh oh! There was my competition maybe for the top of the F70-74 podium and, darn it, I didn't have the energy to catch her.
Time for that jell! There was still more than 7K to run. Hey, only 7K ! I looked out for any familiar faces among the spectators lining the road, after all this was my home country, but there was no one I knew. I thought of my daughter somewhere way ahead, probably about to Finish, and that was a happy thought. How lucky was I to be able to run in the same race!
Cruising back down past Pirrama Park, around Jones Bay and Darling Harbour wharves, I was starting to think about the run for home. The jell wasn’t going down too well and had formed a glutinous sweet sticky mass in my mouth which was marginally interfering with my breathing. Drat. I needed to chew more firmly and get it down.
We headed into Darling Harbour around past the I-Max theatre. There was only 6K to run and there was another drink station. Good! This time I stopped briefly, chewed the recalcitrant jell and washed down most of it with a good cup of water, tipping another full cup over my head.
I was tired now but I knew I was travelling well and this wasn’t the time to slack off. I didn’t have much left in the tank but hey there was only the distance of one more Park Run to go, a mere 5K: this was the time to race.
Um, did I say ‘race’? Where was the energy I needed? Somehow the momentum of the run carried me forward; it was really interesting heading along the Barangaroo waterfront and around the newly minted Park headland. Pretty and I noticed some birds singing in the adjacent native treetops; a narrow track for so many runners but lovely. A big bloke nearly knocked me down overtaking but I was by now a seasoned enough runner to simply growl “watch it mate”. Next time, I’ll trip him for sure.
Oops the bad mood was returning. The mental battle now began in earnest. Harbour water glinting in the early morning sun was turning from magic ripples into nasty glare. I was hurting. Why was I doing this to myself? Why wasn’t I at home, feet up reading the Sunday papers? My feet were on fire, especially the left foot. Wasn’t this run ever going to end? With just 3K to go there was no way was I pulling out at this stage; o. r even walking for a bit. But Melbourne marathon? No WAY. I was going to drop down to the Half Marathon.
Hey, but remembering this was a curtain raiser for Melbourne, why didn’t I slow a bit to Marathon pace? No harm in that. I wasn’t walking. Then the thought occurred to me; I hadn’t walked any of the way: a HUGE improvement on last year when I walked/jogged from 17K. This could be a PB. And 2nd in my age division wouldn’t be too bad.
The 20K marker reared into view as we rounded the bend back under the Bridge, down into the Rocks and across Circular Quay where I was expecting to see daughter Helen. Still the feeling, would this race ever end ? I was starting to feel sick again. Then Helen’s face loomed out of the crowd. “Hey Mum you are going great. You are well ahead. Go Mum, GO !!!”
And so I did “Go”. A fast run into the finishing chute into the full glare of the cameras. Arms upraised. Never miss a good photo opportunity. The steps of the Opera House reared upwards. Over the timing pads. Click the watch. Finish. Save. My job is done. Thank God!
Walking up into the Botantical Gardens, my watch chimes at me “Best Half Marathon Time 2:08:55”. Wow incredible! Must be something wrong with the watch. Wait for the official time. My watch history showed a distance of 21.5 and a time of 2:11:35 – exactly my official time but we had run an extra distance of 400 metres. All good. The race organisers had given us a slightly longer course. As an International Gold Standard Race they’d better get that right for next year!
In the crowd of Finishers, I spotted my would-be F70-74 challenger: I congratulated her on her strong run and couldn’t resist asking her age. Umm, she wasn’t too impressed! Turned out she was a spring chicken of 64! Ooops …
No “Ooops” this was a great run, my best ever!
Thanks to Team Boyd: awesome running coach Gary Howard RunCrew; masseuse, podiatrist and exercise physiologist, Peter Feain; Dietician, Rebecca Hay The Athlete’s Kitchen; Dan and Martin for Strength training with the merry gym buddies at Doyle’s Physiotherapy always a happy fun experience; my beloved Running Club Sydney Striders and above all the inspiration, advice, and loving tolerance for my often outrageous behaviour from daughter Helen-Louise and her boyfriend Matthew Hudson. It is this team that keeps me running and gives my exertions a special meaning. Hoping my wheels wont fall off anytime soon. There’s a Marathon to run at 104!
I LOVE to run because I CAN and it makes me HAPPY!