Warning: this is a running post, if you don't run (or even if you do), you may find it terribly boring. Sorry!
Sunday 11th March 2012 was the Darlington Half Marathon, hosted by the Western Australian Marathon Club. This is a race that I've been preparing for, for the last couple of months. It was my 3rd half marathon and definitely the toughest course so far, both mentally and physically.
The course starts in Darlington, about 20km east of Perth, which according to Wikipedia "is located upon the escarpment of the Darling Fault... defining what is known as the Perth Hills". This information alone should give away the fact that the course is hilly. I'd only done a little hill training so was quietly apprehensive about how my legs would handle the "undulations" (a polite word in the riding/running world for hills!). The image below shows the elevation from my GPS watch. The field was bigger than I'd expected, 333 in the 21.1km race and 82 running the 8km option, surprising for a day with a forecasted top of 39C. Thankfully the race started at 7am, before things heated up too much.
After 333 runners crammed onto a single track, the first 3kms or so followed the Railway Reserves Heritage Trail which is largely gravel. I quite enjoy trail running, so this was a nice start for me. It was a good opportunity for me to tap into the 5min/kms that I needed to run a PB. We veered back onto the road and up the first decent climb of the course, and what a beauty it was. Not long, but steep, and it certainly separated the men from the boys, or in this case the runners from the walkers. I found a seasoned Darlington runner to pace myself against early in the run and he had told me the hill was a doozie and to step it back a gear. I followed his advice a little, but I always find running on my toes and powering up short inclines the best recipe for me. Maybe it's to do with my physique, but if I knock it back too much I'll come to a stand still!
I tried to make up some time on the way down this hill as I knew we had little other than climb ahead until the 11km turn around. It was clear that while I thought I had made it up the hill ok, my quads disagreed. I was just about to hit my first mental hurdle (why am I doing this??) when my pacer - who I'd left behind up the hill - found me again and spurred me not to slow down. I once again found that 5min/km pace and held it until we started the slow, steady climb to the turn around. I had no choice but to slow down up the hill. The 7th, 8th and 9th kms were the hardest 3kms I've ever run. I was beginning to question whether I'd even finish the race, and threw all hopes of a PB out the window. My immediate goal was just to keep running. I'd take whatever time the course was going to throw at me, but under no circumstances would I walk. I found myself likening the experience to childbirth, questioning my registration for upcoming events, even vowing never to run again, if only I could finish this race! It didn't help that there was no drink station between about 3 and 8kms. It was hot, running uphill, into the sun and with no water. It's amazing what a mouthful of water can do to your efficiency and state of mind when it finally did come. And then finally, the turn around point, it was downhill all the way home (well, not quite, but compared to the first half it would feel that way).
I checked my time, I'd lost a lot getting up that climb. It was ok, I didn't need a PB, I needed to finish in a respectable time (notice the mental state improving already as we headed downhill). I managed to pick up the pace a little; 4:50min/km, 4:45min/km, I was back! I was still feeling terrible, and as the sun was getting higher, the temperature was rising, but I started calculating what time I might finish with. A sub 1:50:00 was looking possible. I didn't have much left, but I was going to get home as fast as I could. A slight uphill at the 18km point set me back a little but once I was back on the Heritage Trail I knew I was nearly there. The last 2kms were the fastest of the course. I was comfortable on gravel and started to think I could come close to my previous PB of 1:46:55. I stopped looking at my watch and just ran. I came around the corner towards the finish line and saw my training partner (who had finished in an amazing 1:35:43!) yelling "Go under 1:46!". I looked up at the clock and with about 15 seconds to spare I sprinted to the finish line and crossed at 1:45:48. The course had knocked me around, physically and mentally, but somehow I managed a PB!
The WAMC put on a great breakfast after the event, but it was all I could do not to throw up so didn't eat a bite. I was so glad it was over and really just wanted to get home to tell my family about it. I could barely walk the next day, which was satisfying as it meant I'd worked hard, but it took me until Wednesday before I could run again. My muscles had healed but I just didn't want to. I was still a little reluctant by Friday and was beginning to think the race had scarred me. Luckily though, I think it was just a post-race slump. This week I want to run again, and I'm starting to get excited about the events I wanted to pull out of mid-race during the Darlington Half. Bring on the Perth 32km!