Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Medibank Melbourne (Half) Marathon 2015 - Race Report

Team 2ndskin athlete Eugene Teoh finished strong in the recent 21km Mediback Melbourne Marathon Festival after recovering from back injury. Despite the lack of mileage and training, Eugene managed to complete the race by managing his pace using his experience. Read up his report here. 

A classic case of it’s alright to listen to your body and not get caught up in the hype. Two weekends ago was the Medibank Melbourne Marathon Festival, one of the largest running events (if not the largest) in Victoria, Australia. I had registered for the full marathon category for the longest time, maybe within a week of the registrations opening and I had all intentions to make it my 2nd FM run in Australia after the Great Ocean Road Marathon which I completed in May.

The lead up in my training was going well, I was putting in the mileage until end of July (sometime in mid winter) when I sustained a back injury which put me out of running for almost 4 weeks. A hell lot of trigger point therapy and foam rolling put some measure of mobility back into me and I thought I still had about 6 weeks to put in some work before the Melbourne Marathon on th 18th Oct. All that notion flew out the window when my trip back to Malaysia for 3 weeks was shrouded by haze and the conditions were just not suitable for running outdoors.
The total mileage I had logged in the preceding 2 months was probably something I could have run in under 2 hours.

Back from Malaysia on the 1st of October, I was 2 and a half weeks out to the 42km run with barely a long run of 7km in the bag. I decided there and then I would gauge my fitness over the next 2 weeks to decide the outcome of the day.
True enough, I laboured through 6-7km run sessions and pulled out a 59 min 10km longest run 5 days before the Marathon.

Obviously I didn’t have the legs for the 42km, and having done my fair share of marathons and distances beyond, I knew a lot about respecting the distance. I had friends from Malaysia coming for the run and other running friends in Melbourne also going to be there, and all of them were running the full marathon distance. It was a tough decision, but it had to be made.

The Thursday before the event, I went over to the race kit collection expo and decided to “downgrade” my event distance from the full marathon to the half marathon. Honestly as I was standing in line waiting for my turn at the counter, I was still undecided and still wondering if I could just hack the full distance but I after the dust has settled and writing this now, I felt it was the right decision.

So there I was, swapping my event category from 42km to 21km and all my friends would be starting an hour earlier than me and I’d be running alone. But I guess listening to my body and my level of fitness then was the right thing to do. Without proper mileage and training, the full distance would probably have been an injury waiting to happen. Being sidelined for 4 weeks due to injury and only recently getting back on my feet, I didn’t want to take that risk and go through the downtime again. Now I’m not saying that the half marathon distance doesn’t require the training and commitment to run it, what I’m just saying is that based on how I felt my body coping, I could finish a half marathon in a decent time but going double that distance would open up the risk of overstress and injury.

Pre-race day, I managed to catch up with some running kakis from Malaysia, William and Yi Heng and several Malaysians from Melbourne, Eugene Tan, Pearl and Yee Vien. All of them were down to do the full marathon and it was pretty agonising to sit through a carbo-loading lunch being the only one doing the half! I made sure I didn’t eat as much as they did!

The course map.

Race morning, we all managed to get together before the start together with Sing Hoe from Adelaide and after wishing them all well, they had their race start at 7am. The half marathon was to be flagged off an hour later, so I spent some time inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) stadium, soaking up the early morning revelations. My pre-race rituals were simple; I finished up a slice of bread with peanut butter which I kept in my dropbag, 2 caps Hammer Endurolytes and I brought along one Hammer Energy Gel for halfway. Laced up my Skechers GoRun4’s (in different colours no less!), took off my jacket and kept my dropbag with the volunteers and I was on my way to the start line at Batman Avenue, approximately 10mins walk away from MCG.

Race Day weapon of choice 

There were abour 11,000 runners in the half marathon event and we flagged off on the dot at 8:00am. I was hovering near the 2:00 hour pacer area at the start line and my initial target was to put in a time of 2:10 or thereabouts, taking into account my 59min 10k session a few days ago as a benchmark for my current fitness level. The weather was cool, around 12-13 deg and it took a while to warm up.

The course was dead flat, except for a gradual climb out of Batman Avenue at the start and an incline at the end back into MCG and my Garmin 920XT recorded a total elevation gain of only 67m over the 21km distance. This is definitely a PB course if you are at the right fitness level. My initial plan was to stick to a 5:30/km pace and hold that for as long as I could, which I expected to be around the 10km mark and then gradually slow the pace as tiredness and lack of fitness creeps in and I’d probably end up with a 2:10 timing as I had forecasted.

The first 5kms were pretty much getting into stride, and I was surprised to see I was averaging 5:25/km after the first 2 water stations. The crowd was still massive at this point but it started to spread out a little gradually after as pace tends to create gaps between groups of runners. When my GPS beeped the 8km distance, I thought to myself that I was still feeling pretty good at this point, and lets see if I could possibly hold this pace for another 5km (exceeding my expectations).

I hooked on to several “targets” whom I sensed had a consistent pace; a guy who was in a neon yellow shirt, a couple running together and chatting loudly and a guy in a 100km finisher shirt (!!). I distinctly remember the couple having a chat about the distance and the guy telling the girl that the last 5km is all mental and its all in the mind. That conversation had me thinking that the girl might be running the half distance for the first time, but we were going at a 5:15-5:20/km pace!

At 13km I stopped for about half a minute at the water station (in Albert Park) and downed my Hammer Espresso Gel. I could feel a bit of fatigue setting into my leg muscles and my left calf felt a bit twitchy. A short stretch and I was off, and the pit stop actually did me good. I hit the 15km marker and glanced at my Garmin; 1:20 on the clock. Hey! I could possibly slow down to a 6min/km pace for the remainder of the 6kms and finish in Sub-2 hours; way better than I expected! At that moment, bar any final meltdown (or cramp) I was pretty sure I would be doing better than I had initially expected.

The last 6kms were just ticking away at the distance markers and referencing my 920XT. Every km that ticked away and I saw I was still running in the region of 5:20s/km. I took my time at the last water station and slowly drank a cup of water, thanked one of the volunteers for helping out before I continued along. There was a last climb up the bridge before we turned into MCG and as the light emerged at the end of the short tunnel, I could hear the applause and cacophany of shouts and chatter from inside the stadium.

The 300m (or so) finish inside the stadium was one of the most memorable experiences in my running life so far. A ¾ lap around the stadium whilst supporters in the stands applauded was truly a moment to savour. I stopped my Garmin at just under 1:55 as I finished under the balloon arch. Collected my finisher’s medal on the way out of the stadium and the entire experience was over in half a morning.

Race data from Garmin Connect.

Looking back at my finish at the 21km distance, I could probably finish the 42km with a run-jog-walk routine and come back to the finish in under 5:30, giving myself 3:30 to cover the balance 21km. However, the impact may have been much greater if I had sustained more strain and pain and I was not about to risk getting back onto the rehabilitation table.

I guess there is always another marathon to conquer, another race to run, another experience to fulfill. Here’s looking forward to Melbourne Marathon 2016!!