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SYDNEY HALF DONE AND DUSTED, NOW FOR THE GF (2 weeks after the real one)

September 21, 2015

Training runs are a necessary evil of the marathon runner, but often the lonely 4:45AM starts can take a toll. There are a few who in my mind get a little carried away and do 35km runs in training, others try to wing it and not do a lot more than 15km figuring that they’d be able to walk the rest of the way. Personally, I love to throw in a couple of event runs to vary my training regimes, which is why I landed in Sydney last weekend.

Like the Gold Coast event in July, the Sydney Marathon has been granted Gold Status by the governing body of Athletics, the IAAF. Unfortunately for me I’ll probably never cover the full distance at this event. It’s not because the course is dull and boring, or that I’m camera shy with the event live on free to air TV in Australia. The fact that this marathon is within a month of the Melbourne Marathon realistically prevents me from tackling the full distance and recovering sufficiently whilst finishing the final training load in a short time frame. To be honest doing the full marathon in Perth at the end of August already meant that it was an uphill battle to get the conditioning right for Melbourne, although that could very well act as the longest training run I’ve had.

But enough of the sadness, moaning and groaning, for this event actually was better than I had anticipated. Sure I have a grudge against Sydney as a city ever since I lost my Game Boy in 1998 (I was 13 folks, give me a break!), and I’ve always preferred Melbourne as a big city, but I didn’t think the course would be as nice as it was. Incorporating the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the first couple of kilometres of the route was a winner with the marshaling area under the bridge adjacent to the North Sydney pool and a stone’s throw from Luna Park providing more than enough room for warm ups. The finish line for the longer events (Half and Full Marathons) were at the Opera House which again provided the iconic setting to attract many a traveler. It was in between that was a pleasant surprise, mixing botanical garden roadways with inner city streets. There were enough elevation changes without having the grueling hills on the half marathon course to discourage those who may struggle with any course that isn’t pancake flat. There were some narrow sections of the course, particularly in the last kilometre in the finishing chute which disrupted the finishing kick as the traffic became as congested as what would be found on Sydney’s roads in peak hour.

Personally the run exceeded what I had expected, anticipated or planned. What I had in mind when running this event was to try to stick as close to the plan for Melbourne in terms of pace per kilometre, knowing that many like minded runners would be attempting to run consistent 5:20 kilometre splits. The plan very quickly flew out the window upon the first check of the timing mechanism after the second kilometre. Instead of 5:20 splits I was churning out 5:00 per kilometre splits, give or take a few seconds. Pride dictated I didn’t slow down from this pace, although if success is to be gained in Melbourne I’d need to be able to vary the pace when the need arises. Perhaps this is a training exercise that I’ll undertake this week!

It actually also felt good to pass a number of slower runners this time as opposed to a number of events this year where I’ve been the one overtaken. With the separation of start waves being effective at the start line (it took close to 4 minutes for me to cross the start line), there was a little incentive to go quicker, especially as the dedicated pace runners were all located in wave A as they were running to gun time as opposed to chip time. Naturally I also passed several at the drinks stops which as usual were deliberately skipped. I always cringe a little when a recommendation in the pre-event guides and at the start briefing comes to drink plenty of fluids, for to me it gives a wrong impression that you are obliged to take a drink at every station. I only used 3 stations in total, and only took on board a little water at each stop using the second small gulp to wash the mouth out. A similar strategy will be used in Melbourne, with personal drink stations being used in the latter stages. Importantly the thirst I felt was so minor at the end of the run that I only consumed a minimal amount of the bottle of water provided at the finish line.

If you are in a hurry to get in and out of the recovery zone, then this race ISN’T for you. Understandably there was a lack of space around the opera house precinct so runners had to walk another kilometre to accept the finisher’s medal, and to gather their belongings at bag drop….which brings me to another gripe I have with organisers these days. I understand that they want to reduce on road traffic prior to the event taking place, I understand that they don’t want runners having to worry about dropping gear off earlier than anticipated on race morning, I even get why they want runners to drag their behinds through the race expo even though they may not want to (I had to this time, needed another running top). But I don’t understand why they are encouraging runners to drop their gear off at the expo up to 24 hours before race day. I always want to leave personal belongings in my clothing that I wear to the warm up zone on race day. Why should I be forced to run with my phone and wallet when my race gear has no pockets? Why should I have to purchase bum bags and extra armbands if I want to reduce the weight I’m carrying on course? Besides dropping off my gear on race morning is generally part of my pre-race routine as it generally is the last thing I do before the dynamic warm up, so why would I change that part just to satisfy people who have little idea of how runners think?

The new "weapons" I'll be wearing in for the final lead up to Melbourne!

The new “weapons” I’ll be wearing in for the final lead up to Melbourne!

Anyway, after a free 8 minute massage where I got decent treatment on the calves and hamstrings (they haven’t felt this good in ages, thanks fellas!) and a $12 pork roll which tasted rather ordinary, getting out of the precinct proved to be an exercise in frustration. The most obvious route out (a gate leading out of the gardens) was blocked off by barriers for other events which was fine. So why then wasn’t there signage signifying this rather than having a loud mouthed female volunteer having to yell and treat those trying to go the right way with little respect? Anyway after wandering out of the area having backtracked through the recovery zone, I was able to catch a few of the full marathon runners heading past as I wandered back to my accommodation. The racing prior to Melbourne is done and dusted, there is only now a couple of hard weeks on the training track before the taper period to what I regard as my running Grand Final.

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