Driving out to Blacktown, as we got further out west and closer to the start the temperature reading on the dashboard got lower and lower. 4 degrees. 3 degrees. 2.5 degrees… Good conditions for running. Not so good for getting a 5.30am unheated shuttle bus for a half hour drive to the start, then spending the next hour hopping up and down huddled together in an open sportsclub breezeblock room.
We all shuffled outside at the last possible minute, just as the sky was lightening and sun about to come up. Conditions were perfect at the start – cold, clear and windless. I was thinking that anything sub 2.56 would be a new PB, but I’d have a crack at sub-2.50 from the get-go and see if I could manage it.
The first few kms were relatively flat and 4 minute kms felt fine, but around the 4 or 5km mark the course started undulating and the pace started dropping. It was hard to know how hard to push. Trying to keep that pace up the longer slopes felt like it would blow me up, but you’re still pushing to keep 4.15s. Then trying to make up for it on the way down the other side doing 3.30s to 3.40s wasn’t easy on the legs and you’re terrified that you’re going to pay for it later. I was dying for a little section of flat ground to be able to just cruise a steady pace, but it became clear pretty quickly that the whole course is either up or down, just constantly undulating.
Between 5 and 10 km my splits started to blow out and I knew sub 2.50 was never on. I tried to claw back some time between 10 and 20km by pushing a little bit harder, and passed a few people including one bloke who then sat directly on my heels for almost 10km. I didn’t mind leading as I was trying to salvage my race, and although I had upped the pace on anything flattish, unfortunately this section turned out to be the hilliest part of the whole course!
By the time I got to halfway my watch read 1.26, and I was already 2 minutes off my intended time. It was right here that I hit a major slump. I felt dreadful. My form went to hell as I struggled to hold any kind of decent pace. I felt that I’d never make it to the finish, I’m toasted, I’ve pushed too hard in the last few kms.
At the drink station around halfway I walked a couple of steps to get some fluid in and the bloke on my heels went past and got 10 metres ahead. This turned to 20metres, 50, 100, then he was out of sight and I was in a dark place. I kept waiting for it to pass, staggering along, and grinded through the kms solo until finally at 28kms I decided to take a caffeinated gel to try to snap myself out of it. I don’t know if it was the sugar, the caffeine, the placebo effect, or the normal ‘waves’ that come and go in a marathon, but thankfully the bad feeling passed and shortly afterwards my pace quickened and my mood completely turned around. Ok I was going to finish and I wasn’t going to blow up terribly.
The race is point-to-point, but the finish comes about 28 km, so you do an out-and-back section with a turnaround at 33kms. Along this section I got to see the leaders flying back towards the finish. John Binfield looked very focused, he didn’t even react to my shouting his name as I passed by about two feet away. I found out later that he’d done his achilles at 3km and somehow gritted his teeth and hammered out another 39km in intense pain to finish 5th in 2.40.25. He couldn’t even walk after the finish line and had an enormous bulge on his ankle, so it was an amazing effort.
A couple of minutes behind him I spotted Ray Wareham seemingly cruising along with a big smile, he ended up coming 6th place in 2.42.01. I also passed Marc Person doing the 2nd half marathon in a relay team, looking comfortably quick. Then I suddenly came up on, and ran past, the bloke who had been on my heels in the first half! I guess he’d been pushing too hard and blew up. Sucks for him, but it’s always a psychological boost to pass someone, especially with such a small field.
There was an uphill pull towards the 33km turnaround, and coming around that final witches hat to trot downhill pointing towards the finish line was a huge mental lift. I’m thinking “Ok, just got to hold the pace until 37kms, take another gel and reassess”. Now I saw the field behind me. Dave Casey was a surprise lurking not far behind the 3 hour pacing group. Mr “Oh I haven’t done any training, I’ll just go for around 3.10 or 3.15 and see how long I can hold on, probably fall apart at 30km…” Sandbagging. Came 26th in 3:01:24. Huge PB.
Then it was John “This is not my A-race” Bowe who also secured a handy PB of 3.13.27, even with some serious cramping issues. Shortly afterwards I saw Christian Ellis, turning out for a marathon with little training and no long runs. He finished in 3:14:53. Down the road a way another Hurts boy Brendan Wong out on a training run easily smashed his 3:30 target with 3:27:17. It amazes me how all these guys can even finish a marathon, let alone run solid times without having done any long runs or much training at all!
I thought I’d better stop waving and focus on finishing. At 37km I knew I would resurrect a decent race out of this. No more drinks, no more gels, just put your head down and smash out the last 5km as fast as possible. That hurt like hell, but also felt perversely good. The pace wasn’t any better, but thankfully no worse. The uphill stretches continued until finally I crested the freeway offramp at 41km and tried to open up on what seemed like the only stretch of flat ground in the whole race, doing 3.45s to the finish. I passed one poor bastard just coming onto the oval, then had another one in my sights that I was reeling in, but he managed to stay away on the finishing straight. Lucky 13th place in 2.53.48. Stoked. But rooted.
HuRTS Results (please post if I left you out)
5th John Binfield – 2:40:25
6th Ray Wareham – 2:42:01
13th Mike Race – 2:53:49
26th David Casey – 3:01:24
28th Chris Graham – 3:01:45
42nd Christian Ellis – 3:14:53
63rd Brendan Wong – 3:27:17
Congratulations to all who ran and big thanks to Mike for his blow by blow report.