Following the marathon PR in the Gold Coast last year [race report], plans were made to return to Australia’s Sunshine State for a repeat. Except for a couple of events to keep the running going there wasn’t any “serious” training program in the second half of 2014. Things got going only after the first week of the 2015 Chinese New Year celebrations. An 18-week program was already drawn up based loosely on the Hanson’s plan. 18 weeks seemed a little lengthy but I wanted the initial couple of weeks to be a sort of a bedding-in period.
A more aggressive goal was plotted for GCAM15. To put into perspective, I needed to average 20 seconds per kilometer faster than GCAM14 for a 13-minute goal PR. It appeared a little far-fetched at the onset of training but on the other hand, I hadn’t been sedentary either since GCAM14. I had some fitness going into it. Chalk one up for staying active the year-round!
Other than a week off due to a mild flu in the first month of the program, I was healthy throughout which was unlike the past years. It was not easy sustaining 5:39 pace after Chinese New Year much less a 5:19, but the weekend long runs eventually brought the stamina back. Gradually, 5:30 wasn’t too much of an issue and with more miles packed into the legs, the level of optimism started to rise.
One of the contributing factors that brought about the improvements could be attributed to the group training. We’ve had the GCAM training group for 4 years but it was in this year’s group that saw a larger number of runners who joined us for the weekend workouts. Training in a group setting certainly made those 5-5:30am mornings much easier. I’m sure, from the photos above, you’d agree that we had fun too. Due to the new goals, there was a need for more variety in the workouts, from boring long runs to more exciting (and lung-busting) stuff like hill repeats, track intervals and progressive long runs. Finally, unlike last year, I raced very little this time around, with my first race of the year ran only in April in the form of the Shape Run. With 3 weeks to the race, the group ran the 26K Marathon Simulator in Putrajaya, a workout which everyone nailed. That did much good to raise the level of confidence and set things up for a good showing. The Simulator was a fantastic culmination to the months of training, double workouts and early morning runs.
Fast forward to race-eve, and with all commitments wrapped up and the shakedown run taken care of in the form of the Southern Cross University 10K, a few of us gathered for a pasta dinner at Vapiano which doubled as a meet-up with Yvonne and Bin who traveled up from Melbourne to run the Asics Half Marathon. It would be an early night for all of us. My race packing had been done on Friday so it was all very quick for me – 8 gels, the Jabra Rox, iPod Nano, Kinvara 5, compression socks and shorts, shades and cap. Disposables were 3 race t-shirts and cutoff tube socks as arm warmers for the cold start. Breakfast was a Hammer bar, cup noodles (for the salt), and a banana. I’d drank a small cup of black coffee at the hotel so I skipped the cafe at the race precinct. I stayed hydrated while waiting to check-in my baggage (600ml bottle of Powerade) before I made a visit to the loo and getting my warm up done. Finally the group took a slow walk to corral. I would be running solo as Nick’s condition was preventing him from pacing together, which was truly unfortunate for the both of us. He had trained very hard (much harder than me). We were at our fittest and would’ve benefited from running together and pulling each other along. As it was, I positioned myself in front of the 4-hour pacers (Corral C). With my pace table tucked under my watch there was no need to rely on the pacers. I was confident in keeping to my MP anyway.
The strategy was to generally run by feel. Through the miles logged, I could peg the 5:19 pace pretty easily without the need of constant monitoring of the watch. The distance was broken down to several key checkpoints – the 15.5K Burleigh Heads u-turn, the halfway mark, the 30K mark and the finish. Hydrate from my handheld bottle (High-5 Carb/Protein mix) up to the 10K station and subsequently at all aid stations with water and Endura. Gels every 5K. This was as I’d executed during GCAM14, so other than the new goal time, whatever I’ve adopted this year wasn’t a new approach. I even wore the same top, shorts and shoes.
The sun had warmed up sufficiently that I could discard my layers. All signs were pointing to a hot day. Closed my eyes to refocus and we were off. The atmosphere and energy were excellent, even greater than previous years’. I crossed the start line in 2 minutes and after a 5:34 first K, I was able to keep to a good clip. Unlike races back home, nearly everyone around you were moving at the same speed – slower runners behind, faster ones in front. So while there were many runners around you, everyone was moving in unison with little obstruction. The first 5K was to average 5:31 and no problems there.
The next 10K segment to the 15.5K Burleigh Heads u-turn was to be run at 5:19, and it went like clockwork. Heart rate was very comfortable hovering mid 150s. Legs were fine and I kept sipping at my bottle of High-5. Again, the highlight was the level of support. We’ve cheer-leading teams which made plenty of noise and there were just many more folks out watching and cheering us this year.
As the race progressed, it was becoming apparent that the day would be a hot one. The forecast put it at 23 Celcius after a 12 Celcius start. It was largely cloudless, so I felt the sun rays penetrating on my skin. The halfway mark, as always, was around the narrow Millionaires’ Row and until last year, I’ve always had an aversion to this section. The reason isn’t so much attributed to the location but rather this location was where I knew, in 2011 and 2012, that I’d started too fast! I’ve since learned my lesson by not running like a headless chicken that early on in the race. Plus, through miles and miles of running, I eventually developed a sense of pace from my breathing and how my body feels. The watch was merely there to validate what I already know. Pacing awareness can be developed by anyone.
There comes a time in every race when the runner has to make the call. Make a go for it or what army recruiters would say, “Be all you can be” or stick to a conservative plan. I held back until 37K last year. A year on and stronger, I had to decide earlier this time around. I had the honor of speaking to several elites at the Garmin Legends Lunch the day before the race during which I was seated next to Adam Gordon, elite triathlete and Garmin ambassador. I asked him, at which point of the race I should make the call to make a go for it, if I still felt good? He replied, “When you wake up and have your breakfast.”
My decision? I stuck with the plan after taking into consideration the weather conditions. With the halfway mark reached in 1:53 against the planned 1:54.55 (1.5 minutes ahead of schedule), I should just keep the proceedings up to the 35K point before hitting it hard for a strong finish. At least, that was the plan.
Despite drinking consistently I’d yet to pee (unlike last year) by the time I returned to the Surfers Paradise stretch. As progress was still on-track, I just kept going. Supporters and their kids and pets were truly out in full force rallying the runners on. There was still plenty of work to be done but it wouldn’t be long before I got to the dreaded 30K point.
The race precinct was madness – left and right, the crowd were just spectacular. There was no cloud cover and even though the temps were only hovering in the 22-23 Celcius region (no issues for us from the tropics actually), we bore the full brunt of the sun due to the absence of cloud cover. Being baked in the sun wasn’t fun and despite staying hydrated (1.5 cups every station) it wasn’t providing enough relief to keep the effort going. I truly started to struggle from the 32K mark, when I took my first walk break as I drank up. The quads and hams were misfiring, and there were indications that they were cramping up. Running the Marine Parade stretch towards Runaway Bay was so exciting last year because I was holding back before finally pushing it all the way to the finish. Things were different this time around. I was beginning to get a little antsy as the goal pace was starting to slip. By the 35K mark, I was off target by 4 minutes.
Alternating splashing water on my head and face, I was shuffling and walking with not-so-wholesome thoughts coursing through my mind. Staring at a potentially calamitous timing, the available options weren’t that appealing. Even the lyrics in my playlist seemed to suddenly turn depressing!
- Throw in the towel (more time spent in the hot sun, cramps, pain, unwholesome thoughts, etc…), or
- Fight (less time spent in the hot sun, cramps, pain, unwholesome thoughts).
Dammit, I didn’t train 4.5 months for nothing! What would my kids think of me, I thought. Thus, it came down to a lot of shuffling and walking when the tugging on the quads became worse. This went on until the final water station located before the McDonald’s outlet. With the final stretch coming up, I gritted my teeth towards the finish. Supporters were yelling my name and with that kind of enthusiasm, there was no way a runner could walk.
I’d stopped looking at my watch after 37K and was a bit surprised to find that my 29th marathon ended at 3:55:33, a measly 3-minute improvement, a massive 10-minute gap from what was targeted. I was disappointed that the body couldn’t respond appropriately to the conditions. I’m unable to put a finger to what could’ve been the cause. Perhaps there wasn’t a single factor but a combination of the 10K the day before on top of the heat on race morning. Whatever it was, the end was anti-climatic. It was a humbling experience and I’ll learn. The positives were all there – the training were good, the pacing was great, the gear performed as expected. I will not repeat the same mistakes again the next time. For 2015, I’ve PR’d in the 10K and the Marathon and the next goal will be to drop the Half Marathon timing in December.
On a much happier note, the training gang returned awesome PRs. How awesome? Think gargantuan 50-minute improvements! Even Foo, who at one stage was relegated to the role of team chef due to his injuries, ran superbly. The months of training has been made easier with their company. I’m also glad for the company of Comrades Marathon alumni, Frank and Zijill, who added some elements of hardcore-ness to many of our workouts. I’ll bet there will be a few sub-4 and sub-5s for many of them the next time around! Nick, you better get your leg treated as there’s unfinished business to attend to, on top of new green shoes to be running in!
Congratulations go out to the race organizers who yet again did a wonderful job in running the show, and to those thousands of volunteers and supporters out on the streets, thank you! Not forgetting, my heartfelt gratitude to the hardworking folks at the Tourism and Events Queensland, who took great care of me and letting me be part of the event. This has truly been a GCAM15 to remember.