Road running hasn’t really been on my agenda this year. Sure, my quick evening 5k I knock out a couple of times a week after work is on the road but other than that, I have been jumping on the trails as much as possible.
So why sign up up for the Sydney Marathon? Well for me there were a few good reasons…
- It’s 18 months since my last (and only) road marathon, so I was keen to see how I had been improving.
- The temptation of running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge is pretty much irresistible.
- There was a gap in my calendar between the Glenbrook Marathon and the Hounslow Classic and I really needed a tough hit out to harden up my legs.
Three good reasons is always sufficient justification to do something, so I signed up.
Race rolled around quickly. The lead up — post Glenbrook — had been disrupted for me. Incredibly busy at work, I’d been tired and lacking motivation. I wasn’t tackling the race as an ‘A race’ and my head just didn’t get the same focused space with respect to training like it did for an IM or TNF100. Having said that, I still had a part of me that wanted to chase sub 3hrs.
I know some people don’t like the 7:20 start time for the Sydney Marathon, but it does make for a comfortable start to race day. The family accompanied me — which was nice. We parked in North Sydney and had a short stroll to the start line in Milsons Point. After a few quick photos outside Luna Park, I headed to the start line.
At the start, I positioned myself close to the 3hr pacers, a couple of rows back from the elites. At this point I thought about how I was actually going to tackle the race.
From a running point of view I had been working on a high cadence model with shorter stride length. My plan was to focus on this as much as possible and keep my turnover rate up.
I couldn’t decide on a target pace. My 920xt flattered me during the lead in week — predicting a massively optimistic 2:49 time. All I wanted was a 3hr time. Of course the three reason justification approach came into effect again:
- My watch says I should be ahead of the 3hr group.
- How can I trust the pacers to hit 3hrs in any case?
- I am almost certainly going to fade at the end, so I might as well bag some time early.
I hung with the pacers the first few hundred meters and then proceeded to push ahead as the course headed over the bridge. I felt awesome. Heart rate was good and the high turnover rate was working a treat. This continued for the first 5k and I constantly built time ahead of the 3hr group. Things then went wrong at the first drink station. I was using my IM plan of feed early and often and as I stuffed around with my gel flask and a drink my breathing went astray and suddenly my HR spiked. At this point I really should have pulled it back under control but instead pushed on.
Into Centennial park everything felt good, but by 18k I was bored, and lost focus. Compared to crossing the bridge, Mrs Macs chair, and the Domain, Centennial park is boring. I decided to keep pushing through to halfway and then try to refocus.
It didn’t come together.
Shortly before halfway the 3hr bus cruised on by and I wasn’t able to jump on.
Epic pacing fail.
Eventually the spaghetti route through CP ended with a few short walks through the aid stations. I looked forward to the downhill back to Circular Quay. Through this section I wrangled my HR down to a good level.
The last 10k of any marathon is tough, but at Sydney it is mental torture. The finish line is only a few 100m away, but the course turns left out through Millers Point, past Barangaroo and into Pyrmont. Its mostly flat — apart for a few small hills as the highway — crosses Darling Harbour and winds through Pyrmont. With 10k to go, I still felt like sub 3:10 was possible. HR re-settled, but the engine just wouldn’t kick along the Harbour side flats. Exiting Pyrmont with 5 k to go, the 3:15 pacers cruised by. The finish felt like it was getting further away.
Eventually I headed towards the Opera House finish line. I had my usual family spotting with a few 100m to go.
Finishing wasn’t particularly sweet, but I still PB’d in 3:19:16. I also PB’d every key distance from 5k up — according to Strava.
Marathon pacing lesson learnt.
The course itself is definitely not the easiest; it’s not flat, but not particularly steep either. To me, it represents a very honest test. The only thing I didn’t like was the section through Centennial Park. There has to be better options than snaking around a run down park that is a relic of a bygone era.
I know I will remember the race for a long time.
As I headed home, I found out my Grandfather passed away in his home about 10 mins after I finished. I guess we were both struggling around the same time. Earlier in the race, I thought of him and smiled (like I always do when I run that route) as I ran back from Mrs Macs chair towards Garden Island. On race day, a ship similar to the recently retired Kanimbla –the namesake of the ship my Pardy served on in WW2 — was docked in the harbour.
My 2015 finisher’s medal, though not as hard fought for as his many medals, will serve as a great memory of him.