Emergency Services Games: Half Marathon

Lake Wendouree, Ballarat. A track, now named after and made famous by Steve Moneghetti. A 6km circuit around the lake, which now has water in it, unlike some years past. I knew each lap for the half marathon would take me considerably more time than Moneghetti's record of 16:10 for one lap set in 1992. It is a flat run. For the Emergency Services Games, we would begin with a short out-and-back to cover the first 3.1km, before finishing with three full circuits to complete the 21.1km event. I've run here a few times over the years, and have enjoyed every event. I having been looking forward to today's race for a while. There were a few competitors I knew were going to be here, including the winner of last Sunday's 10km cross country. Over the week I recovered well from the cross country. With some thought, a test run I believe I had a pretty good understanding of my strength and weaknesses going in. There was nothing complex about my race plan. The Plan Time trial for the fastest time possible, with increasing allowance as the race progresses for pace variation, in order to get a better position. The detailed explanation of the above, is that the race is too long to think too much about running hard or easy early on in order to make some sort of tactical play. That just won't work. I need to be efficient, running too hard early will run too great a risk of a large slow down later. Also, running too easy may mean I'll have too much time to catch up late in the race. I know what I should be capable of, so that is my starting point. As the race progresses, I will get to assess how I am going and hopefully develop an idea on how my opponents are travelling. As a result I may have to adjust a little. Early in the race this could involve a 2-3 seconds/km speed up or slow down. No big move. Into the final 6km lap, I might be forced to simply go as hard as I can to catch or break away. Only time will tell. If I am able to race to my strength, I hope to set an even pace, that keeps me at or near the front with the number of opponents to worry about decreasing due to attrition. Further, I expect to have a better chance of making a so-called winning move by a long and sustained moderate increase in pace that gets held for a few kilometres leading into the finish. Based on my recent racing and training history, an attempt at a sprint style win is unlikely to go in my favour. The Race It was chilly to the point I wore gloves. The warm up went as normal. A quick briefing, then we lined up. No waiting around for this event. As soon as the group looked like they were getting ready the start mumbled, "alright, go," in a real lack-of-fanfare way. A few seemed startled and took off at some pretty quick speed. I ran controlled, and yet I knew my pace was a little quick. The winner of last week's cross country soon streaked ahead. It was clear I just had to hope he was would blow later. Around the turn of the initial out-and-back I found myself in 6th place. Around me we were all kind of spread out, but it was clear some were looking towards others to set the pace for pack. With the first 3.1km down I felt like I was on track for a good day. My mind went through a quick summary on how things were shaping up:

  • I was feeling very comfortable, but was traveling a bit too quick at 3:51/km.

  • My HR was at or just below expected.

  • The race leader was going to put in a big gap early, I had to let him go.

  • Those around me would change position over the next 6km regardless of what I did

  • Best plan at this stage: stick with the original idea, time trial it
Over the next couple of kilometers I eased the pace slightly and felt like a metronome. I soon found myself in 3rd place, sitting right on the shoulder of the 2nd placed runner. Those who had been in between discovered their enthusiastic pace at the start wasn't such a good idea for the rest of the day. Halfway around the lap I we became a group of three. Joining us was a semi-regular opponent of mine, from previous years. I had yet to get the better of him on this course. He was a bit of a nemesis. Soon enough we completed the first lap at an average of 4:01/km. A total of 9.1km down, and I was still feeling good. After about 1km into lap 2 the group of three was joined from behind. We were a group of four, all with clear intentions of besting each other. The race leader had kept gaining distance on us, that it was clear he no longer was going feature for us. The only exception would be if he had a spectacular melt down. My average pace gradually increased throughout the remainder of the lap. There were a few surges made by the others, which for the most part I let be covered by the rest of the group. Instead I kept with my ever-so-slight build in pace to close the gaps over 400m intervals instead of 50m. No spikes in my lactate levels just yet. This approach seemed to work well. Eventually the group haemorrhaged it's first runner. The original 2nd place runner, failed to stick with us. In the last few hundred metres of lap 2 the was a bit of shuffling in positions as the three of us had a good look at each other. Nothing was said, but the silence spoke volumes. We were going to give each other a hard final 6km. Passed the drink station that marked the end of lap 2. An average of 3:56/km and my legs knew they were in a half marathon. My form was good, but things were getting harder. Right at that moment the a big move started from just behind me. We were less than 200m into the final lap. The late-comer to the group surged. He dropped it down close to 3:30/min territory. That was too fast for me with maybe 20 minutes left of racing. The good news was it immediately looked like to much for him as well. It was clear this was a sprint for him and wasn't going to be sustained. I let my nemesis work to cover the surge, while I just picked things up a bit to make sure I didn't lose touch. The move lasted maybe 600m before we were all back together, but it was the catalyst for the how the last 5km unfolded.

The attacker needed some sort of recovery after his last surge. It was something we weren't going to give him. We kept the speed up. it was slower than the surge, but fast enough to drop him. Now the battle for second place was between two. First place had been well and truly covered.

This is what I trained for...

A small amount of shoulder to shoulder running. I decided to drop half a step back and watch for the move. We were set up for our fastest times over the course, and I was feeling surprisingly good with that in mind. There were two key points I expected an attack. They had been tested in the second lap, so I was on the look out. He attacked at the first, which is the slightest little rise of just a few metres. On a very, very flat circuit, any little bump can have an impact late in the race. The attack was solid, but I had it covered. My cadence lifted, I kept my stride and I was definitely going faster. Unfortunately, he was going faster than I could match. This was the move I had to stay with and I did everything I could to find that speed.

The tunnel and white vision narrowed my focus to just the track and the runner ahead of me. No negative thoughts even threatened to get in my head. I was running at my best. It just couldn't close the gap the had opened. I knew he was hurting. It could be seen in his form and the breathing and grunting was a give away. The move was risky for him. It had the potential to have him crash and burn, but it also gave him a gap. With less than 2km left there was a slow down up front. From there I narrowed the margin a bit, but never enough to look like I could get in front. My legs had reached their limit. It felt almost impossible not to stop in the last 1000m. It is a rare feeling to have a such a deep and high level of burn in the legs for this distance.

The Result

Overall I came in 3rd position and 1st for my age group (30-34), with a time of 1:23:05. My fastest time on the course ever and my 2nd fastest time for a half marathon in the last few years. I got a lot right. About 24 seconds separated me from second, and the winning time was 1:19:xx. I don't think there was anything else I could have done on the day to improve my position. The racing was appropriately paced early and was right on, if not a bit over the rivet in the final third.

I've put in the heart rate file below. While I didn't race by HR, I did have a few checks early to make sure the numbers I saw match my RPE, and pace. Clearly the profile demonstrates the slightly fast effort in the first 3km, a controlled 6km lap, followed by a gradual increase throughout the second lap. The yellow section is roughly the area where my anaerobic threshold would sit. The effort over the last 6km lap is a fair way above this. In fact it is right the HR I hit in 10km events. The drop over the end couple of hundred metres was a reflection on the refusal of my legs to run.


  1. Great result Jason. I like how the non-racing time trial type of effort early turned into a tactical race. HR graph looks like you got the most out of yourself on the day. The previous race probably helped with this one too. Well done!

  2. Holy heck, that was one great race. Felt like I was there which is good cause I am never racing at the pointy end of anything. Well done. Great effort.


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