Sunday, 3 May 2009

First Great Train Race: 52:12 for 13k

Had a crack at beating Puffing Billy in my first Great Train Race. I'd always wanted to do this race since I was a kid seeing the mad people sprinting to get across the crossing on TV.

Didn't feel that great when I woke up this morning, but assured myself that I'd feel better after a warmup. Wrong..

My dad and I drove up to Belgrave, found a park (much easier than I expected) and milled around for 45 minutes until the race started. I found a few fellow CoolRunners including TigerBoy, who runs close to my times and is a bit of a veteran of the event, having run the race 5 times previously and beaten the train the last two times. He gave me a low-down of the course, including a warning about the false summit halfway up a vicious 1800m hill.

I'd had a bit of a jog around and still wasn't feeling very fresh, but when the signal came to start, I had no choice but to run fast. The first 1500m of the race are downhill and everyone pelts down to avoid getting stampeded. I went through the first km marker in 3:13 (probably my fastest split in a race ever!), feeling better now. I lost TigerBoy 800m in when I spotted a break and he missed it, so I was on my own now, with no-one to tell me to pull back or push. So as a consequence, I basically went all out for the first 5k, hitting the mark only 5 seconds off my PB (18:30).

I was feeling ok up until then, but it turned out that the mega-awful hill had chosen that point to rear up in my face. It was a relatively gentle incline, but I suddenly lost all power. My calves felt incredibly weak and I was imagining horror scenarios of haemmorrhaging time so severely that I'd find the train receding into the distance at the next crossing with nothing left to answer its challenge.

Luckily my salvation arrived in the form of a young guy with incredibly smooth form, who made it look like there wasn't a hill there at all. He was only going a little faster than me, so I latched on and attempted to match his fluidity. All of a sudden, it felt easy again. I just had to relax. The hill no longer seemed to stretch on forever, and I started passing runners back. I made a mental note to remember that lesson whenever I was struggling. Making sure to maintain good form really seems to work wonders.

I reached the false summit and being forewarned, didn't put in a big effort on the 100m of flat before we turned the corner and were confronted with even more uphill. My legs were feeling pretty cactus, but I just focused on keeping a smooth stride and then flew downhill, overtaking everyone who had passed me up the monster hill before. The jarring impact almost made my teeth rattle and I felt like I was going to lean a little too far forward and face plant into the bitumen at 20 kph, but it felt good to let it rip while everyone else was being conservative and heel planting hugely to try to slow down.

At the bottom I was spent and had another floundering moment before my saviour came past again and I relaxed and followed him up another hill. This pattern repeated itself a few times as the road undulated up and down, allowing you to smash yourself uphill before catching your breath a little on the downhill. I was quite pleased at myself for not losing many places on the hills. My legs always felt shattered, but I managed to keep up with those around me, who probably weren't feeling much better.

The last nasty hill spat us out onto a relatively narrow trail next to the train tracks. I was very grateful for this change of terrain because I was sure the unforgiving asphalt was not doing my legs any good at all. The absence of hills didn't seem to help my cause though. Heaps of people went past me and I coudn't do anything about it. Running 4:00/k was the best I could do and I was quite at peace with that until I remembered another mental note I'd saved up for the end of races: "The last bit is meant to hurt! Not just hurt but positively wrack your body in torturous waves of pain! If it doesn't feel like that, you're not going hard enough!"

So I summoned up my strength and went for it. There was 1km to go at this stage, and a very steep downhill gave me ten places easily. I felt very unstable though and nearly went off the edge of the road when the path sharply turned with 400m to go. Annoyingly, there was a narrow, gravelly, slightly uphill finish, which meant I couldn't really sprint as hard as I normally would because there just wasn't enough room. I finished in 52:10, feeling like I still had a lot in the tank. Happily that meant I didn't have the lingering dizziness/blurred vision that has accompanied the finishes of my other recent races.

Puffing Billy came in 15 minutes later, ten minutes off its average finish time (apparently the brake pads got stuck or something, lame!). A bit of a hollow victory, but I was very satisfied with the effort level I put into the race. A very hard workout in beautiful surroundings.

Went in for a blood test yesterday and will get the results on Wednesday. Have been feeling veery tired this week despite getting heaps of sleep and reducing my mileage by a lot (77k this week).

1 comment:

Lisa Kelley said...


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(o) 323-469-3052