2017 Great Ocean Road half marathon – race recap

The Great Ocean Road running festival feels like the kind of event you only get to do once in a lifetime so I felt very, very lucky to be heading down on Friday night to complete my second event. As always, I wasn’t undertaking this alone but was part of the usual running crew, ensuring a fun weekend ahead.

My friends and I had booked a house in Skenes Creek which was a great place to relax and get ourselves mentally prepared for the task. On Saturday, we slept in (beyond parkrun time – eeeek!) and chatted before popping into Apollo Bay to shop for GOR merchandise, wander the event village and grab some lunch which we took back to eat on our balcony with amazing views of the ocean.

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Our balcony view – just gorgeous

We spent the afternoon with more relaxing and then headed into the Apollo Bay Brewhouse for dinner. They had put on a pasta selection for those running people requiring such things and I was grateful for it – running long distances is hard enough without messing with routines and, stereotypical as it is, eating pasta the night before is one of my rituals.

Back to our holiday home and time to get all our things ready for our early start in the morning then a relatively early night. My 5am wake up call wasn’t too harsh although I’m not sure I slept that well. I wasn’t exactly nervous – I knew the course and what to expect but, as always, felt pressure from within to do ‘well’, whatever that means. I’m always my harshest critic and the one most likely to inflict judgement.

This year, we were lucky enough to skip the buses as one of our fabulous support crew drove us to Kennett River which saved me from having to stave off travel sickness in the back of a bus driving through the dark on the Great Ocean Road. We arrived before the crowds and headed to the beach to savour the sunrise – definitely a highlight of this event. Today’s sunrise didn’t disappoint although the photos don’t do it justice.

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All the usual rituals then ensued – portaloo queuing (not too long actually), photo taking and, soon enough, heading to our starting positions. It seemed a lot busier this year than last and saw us start further back and amid thicker crowds. Neither of these things were a problem – it’s a large road with plenty of room and I knew we’d spread out easily after the start.

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The fabulous running trio about to start

So we started. I figured 23km was far enough to run so I walked until I got the start line then began my run. I hadn’t really decided on a game plan other than to a) try to beat my time from last year and b) enjoy myself. Run when I felt like it, walk when I felt like it, instead of sticking to set intervals. From the start line, you head very quickly uphill and, having fresh legs, I felt ok to run a bit. In fact, I felt great. I had my Garmin on the lap screen so just tracked my pace for that kilometre and ran enough to keep it below the pace I needed. This was a pretty easy strategy for the first couple of kilometres as there were plentiful downhills to bank some time.

Somewhere around the 5km mark I had a couple of things that ate into my time – koala spotting and the large hill taking you up to Cape Patton. I still managed a respectable pace, just inevitably a bit slower, especially as the view demanded some snapshots before moving on. If you’re running too fast to enjoy the scenery in this event, then you really are missing the best part.

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The view from Cape Patton

After Cape Patton, the hills are smaller and you begin to spend some time inland, running alongside farmland. You still have undulations along the course but nothing too draining and I was able to keep my pace within my target. My biggest challenge was that, while I had trained for this, much of my training was on trails which are much softer on the feet than road. The constant pounding was starting to take a toll – on the soles of my feet, on my joints and on my knees.

I was lucky enough to be running close to one of my friends – we kept catching each other up and it helped keep me motivated and happily distracted from the task. We were also pleasantly surprised by how many other runners were around us throughout – no doubt partly a result of record numbers but also related to us being quicker than last year. The runners around us were a great bunch and definitely added to the fun atmosphere – no one taking it too seriously but also clearly pushing themselves to achieve their own goals.

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As we ran through Skenes Creek, my friend showed her consistency and determination as she went on ahead while I was finding it hard to keep up the pace. So I put my head down and power walked it out. And when I say power walked, I mean power walked. I couldn’t slow down – the finish line was edging closer and I needed to get there.

This event is an ‘ultra half marathon’ (ie, a bit longer than a half marathon) so you actually cross over timing mats for an official half marathon distance 2km before the actual event finish. I crossed the half marathon mats having knocked 18 minutes off my time from 2016. I was elated. However it did nothing to make my body feel better which was telling me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough. That I managed to keep moving still astounds me – all I wanted to do was stop and sit. By now, there were crowds starting to gather along the route which was wonderful as it gave me motivation and encouragement.

Amidst the general ‘go’ and ‘you’re doing great’ there was one gentleman who could learn the art of what to say to someone who looks like they’re struggling. He decided advise was the best thing and told me ‘You’re doing well. Push up to a shuffle so you can finish strong.’ Had I been capable of speech at that point, I would have told him that this was finishing strong, because the act of finishing at all showed my strength in that moment.

The cow cheer squad were there again this year and were just as lovely – I don’t remember what one lady said but I appreciated it and thanked her, telling her I was doing my best. She put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘I know you are. You’re amazing’ which brought on the tears that I then had to work hard to hold back.

I continued my power walk until I finally saw the finish line as I knew it was the longest finish shute in history and would take everything I had. And possibly then some. According to Strava, it was about 300metres and I ran it proudly and as quick as I could. The finish shute is lined with people, many of which were cheering for me thanks to my name on my bib and the absence of other runners at that moment. Every step I wondered if I was capable of taking another and it was an extra strain as I was fighting back the tears. I’m normally pretty emotional when I run but this was another level – a combination of pain, exhaustion and elation. I crossed the line having knocked exactly 19 minutes off my time from last year.

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Finish line in sight, I just try to get it over with quickly

This event is nothing short of epic. Epic in the way it takes over Apollo Bay for the weekend, epic in the logistics which ensure smooth running and movement of 7000 athletes and epic in the views along the way. There really is something truly magical about getting to run on this road with no interruptions or distractions, surrounded by a diverse mix of athletes and supported by a township of locals and visitors. If you haven’t done it, add it to your list and make it a priority. It will hurt but is definitely an event you won’t regret.

 

Sometimes runs are amazing. Sometimes you’re just grateful that they’re over.

Today, my training plan told me it was time for my last long run before the Great Ocean Road half marathon in 2 weeks time. ‘Last’ implies I’ve done at least one other but I didn’t end up doing last weekend’s other longest run because I had a cold and didn’t feel like putting my body through it. My previous longest run was Run for the kids and that was a while ago. So it was definitely not optional today.

I got up relatively early, packed my stuff with a smile and headed to Melbourne. I’d mapped out a course and knew what needed to be done. I could feel the ‘but I’d really rather not do this’ feelings coming on as I approached my car park but just ignored them, got my stuff and headed out.

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The first kilometre sucked. I felt like I had never actually done this before and didn’t know how to run. I couldn’t get the strap right on my hydration pack. My shoes felt weird. I’d forgotten my sunglasses and was squinting constantly. I know, none of those are huge but they just added to the feeling of not wanting to be there.

Luckily for me, I know myself quite well. When I planned this route, it was with with full knowledge of my moods and tendency to want to give up when things get hard. There was no backup plan. I’d taken a myki card with me…..but there really wasn’t any convenient public transport anywhere near me, at least until I hit about the 15th kilometre, by which time it would be too late. ‘Suck it up princess and just run’ was my mantra for quite a lot of the run.

I’m pleased to say it wasn’t all as dispiriting as it sounds. The weather was absolutely perfect – crisp and with a hint of rain on the wind, that perfect Autumn weather that Melbourne does so well. Most of the scenery was interesting and diverting enough to help me forget the fact I was running a long way. And I’d set intervals on my watch so only had to think about the next 3 minutes, not even looking at how far I’d run or how long it was taking.

Probably the worst bit of the course was through the industrial guts of Port Melbourne – kind of ruggedly interesting in its own way but not exactly picturesque. Pounding the concrete was beginning to hurt my feet and I was longing for my beloved trails. There were people around which helped including a couple of speed walking men and a guy practising his skiing technique so it wasn’t all dull. I even got a ‘great job – keep going’ from a couple out for a stroll.

The last few kilometres were a lot more walk than run, partly because of Sunday market crowds along Southbank and St Kilda Road and partly because I was tired and over it. Whatever. I’m well past beating myself up over my times and I knew today was about completing the distance and time on legs. My legs were not particularly happy about that and would have appreciated far less time but they’ll get over it.

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With a smile on my face and various aches and pains making their presence known, I swung back into Albert Park with 17km done – my furthest ever long run completed by myself. Despite not particularly enjoying it, I’m proud of that. I know I can complete further distances with cheering crowds, the promise of bling at the end and the incentive of finishing before they deflate the arch but it’s a whole different proposition to go out and run that far on your own, just because some computer generated training plan tells you you should.

20170507_115342I’m celebrating with an afternoon of sitting smugly on the couch. Bring on the taper!

Great Ocean Road half marathon – race recap

(alternative title: 1 long road, 23km of scenery and all 4 seasons)

This particular quest started about a year ago when I met a fellow five30 runner visiting Balyang Sanctuary parkrun as a stop off on her way to the Great Ocean Road half marathon. We chatted and it sounded amazing although seemed like a far off dream. I’d only done one half marathon and that had been hard enough on the flat – the hills scared me.

Roll forward a year and I found myself packing my bags and racing to meet my friends for the trip to Apollo Bay to complete my 3rd half marathon – how things change! In particular, I was proud to be running this one to raise funds for the Indigenous Marathon Project and possibly wouldn’t have made it to the start line without that motivation.

We opted to drive the Great Ocean Road itself to check out the hills for ourselves and did a bit of a running commentary as we went – “Ok, so this is hill 1. It’s not too bad. Hmm, it does keep going though. Yeah, it’s quite high actually. Eeek.” By the time we got to Apollo Bay, I was feeling mildly carsick and more than nervous. We unpacked, met some friends for dinner then slept, trying not to think too much about what we were going to do.

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A pantry of essential running items

Saturday brought glorious weather as more friends arrived for the 6km and 14km events. We started with some breakfast then took up our spots to cheer on our friends along the main street. I was surprised how emotional I was – it didn’t take much for me to tear up and, with runners giving it their best, kids & parents running and some runners clearly in pain, there were lots of cheering opportunities.

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Checking out the finish line on Saturday … and trying to picture reaching it on Sunday

While we were waiting for the 14km runners to finish, we wandered the event village and generally soaked up the atmosphere. We also chatted to some parkrun friends which was wonderful for my nerves as they reminded me what a big and amazing thing it was to be doing this, regardless of the time it took me.

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So lucky – great scenery, wonderful friends and perfect weather

We wandered back to our caravan park for some chill time then back out for dinner which was a bit of a challenge with so many runners in a small town. We opted for pizza again which was tasty enough but I can’t say I enjoyed it – I was definitely eating for fuel, not fun and just wanted to go to bed.

Back at our cabin, we sorted our things for the morning, chatted a bit then jumped into our sleeping bags. I didn’t sleep much. The wind was whipping up and making me worry about the morning’s conditions and I was in a general state of ‘why am I doing this?’. I was actually glad when the alarm went off at 5am so

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Nervous and excited as we set off for our start lines

we could get it started and I could stop worrying about it.

At 5.45am, we headed down to the buses and the nervous energy around us was intense. We said goodbye and good luck to Geoff who was heading off to the marathon bus and boarded our own for the trip to Kennett River. It wasn’t great for my travel sickness to be sitting in the back of a bus travelling along a windy road in the dark but I couldn’t really tell what was travel sickness and what was nerves.

We arrived at Kennett River to the most beautiful sight – sunrise over the ocean. If anything could help me get into my usual zen like running mood, that was it.

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Fellow runners silhouetted in the sunrise on Kennett River beach

Multiple toilet stops done and warm clothing bags dropped off, there was nothing left to do but get to our starting positions. At the back. I find the first few moments of a race are probably the worst for me as I don’t cope well with feeling like sheep in a pen and I wanted space as well as knowing I wouldn’t be overtaken by a few thousand people when the inevitable hills arrived.

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Hanging out at the start line – let’s get this done!

Standing at the back, the start was pretty amazing. Before we even crossed the timing mats, we could see people streaming up the road and approaching the first hill, all with the incredible backdrop of the ocean. We were privileged to be able to run that road and that was the thought that stayed with me throughout.

I ran with my friend, Jill and we steadily approached the first hill, careful not to go out too fast, knowing there were more to come. Surprisingly, we reached the top of the first hill without really feeling it and I felt amazing. My nerves pre-event had been about two things – the fear of being alone at the back of the pack and the fear of massive hills. We had just conquered the first hill with minimal effort, were surrounded by heaps of people who were taking it at a similar pace and were having a ball.

As we ran inland a little, Jill started scanning for koalas and soon enough found one tucked sleepily away, letting the other runners around us know and turning it into the probably most photographed koala on the course. That moment epitomised what I love about the tail end of events – the people there are working hard but not taking themselves or the event too seriously and still have time to pause and enjoy the moment. The weather was glorious – only a breath of wind, blue skies and just enough crispness in the air to keep us cool.

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Before long, we were heading up the second hill – Cape Patton. I kept picturing what this had looked like on the elevation map and comparing that to the real thing which was nowhere near as bad as I’d imagined. Again, we cruised up it fairly easily although were less than pleased at the race photographer who was perching near the top – downhill photos are much more flattering! Running down the other side, I felt fantastic and couldn’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be. We were running on the Great Ocean Road! We had lots of excited moments celebrating this fact (as well as spreading our arms wide to acknowledge all the space we had at our disposal!).

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Looking out from Cape Patton

Oddly, after the big hills were done, my energy levels dropped. It was as if I’d been working myself up for those challenges and hadn’t prepared myself for the long slog that came after them. The rest of the course is best described as ‘undulating’ with no big hills and with wonderful ocean and farmland views. We even had a kind farmer handing out jelly snakes (as well as many scattered on the road, a kind of unique roadkill) and locals scattered along for encouragement. However I was finding it harder, feeling a bit nauseous and finding various bits and pieces starting to hurt. The wind wasn’t terrible but there were a few bursts here and there and the clouds hanging out over Apollo Bay looked a bit unfriendly.

At Skenes Creek, with 6km to go, Jill & I parted and, just after that, the rain/hail hit. I love running in the rain but this came in heavy bursts and seemed directly angled to hit me in the eyes, making it hard to see. Yet still I smiled. Even though I hurt and was cold and wet, I still felt lucky and grateful to be able to do this, just kept focusing on the finish line.

With about 3km to go, the spectators were more frequent as were the marathoners coming up behind me which all provided good distractions. With the finish line finally in sight, I shuffled my way along and could hear people calling my name as they read it on my bib – very motivational and got me a bit emotional. I had friends at both sides of the course calling out as well and knew all of that would get me over the line. I gratefully accepted my medal and headed over to the water table, my mind empty and body numb. Two friends, Frank & Issy were there and were incredible – helping me with food and drink then collecting my bag and leading me to the others – all things I was rather incapable of thinking about after 23km.

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We slowly made our way back to our car to change, cheering another friend in as he finished his first marathon, then we gathered for a well deserved lunch before the long drive home.

In a word, the weekend was amazing. The event itself is nothing short of spectacular -stunning scenery, meticulously organised, chirpy and encouraging volunteers and a wonderful atmosphere. However more than that, I’m grateful, as always, for the crowd of running friends I’ve fallen in with, who turn an amazing event into weekend of happy memories. Here’s to many more!