Bluestone Classic 15km
I skipped a couple of days training this week. The first day I thought I was simply soft, on the second I realised I was fighting some bug off. Nothing major, and the two easy days seem to have made the difference. The kids have been dealing with some snots and croup too. Instead of having me feel fast and rested, the time off seems have my legs feeling extremely flat. This has been carried into race morning. Not that I'm too concerned. An extended warm up and the style of race should have me right back where I should be.
Onto the race, The Coburg Harriers Bluestone Classic. Since I first started into fun runs about 15 years ago, I had always intended to do this race. Surprisingly this is my first time toeing the start line. It used to be held on Saturday afternoons, but this year it fills the more typical Sunday morning time slot. It is a bit different to a standard race. The total distance makes 15km, which is broken up into 3000m on the athletics track, 4km on concrete bike path and the final 8km being a fairly heavy cross country course.
Not having raced the event before, I was a bit reluctant to put down much of a race plan. So I scanned through previous results and linking some times with names I knew, it was clear this isn't a fast course. For 15km, not many run sub-60min. That became, kind of the bench mark to work from. This wasn't a time trial, this was a race about position, and I wanted to see if I could get to the top of the podium. Winning was a very big ask, especially not knowing who else would turn up. Add to this, I am sure my top-end race speeds have been knocked down a bit as I try to re-establish by fat-burning pathways. Still, I wouldn't be happy if I didn't try.
Lining up at the start, my race plan was as follows:
- Position myself back a bit from the front, and settle into a rhythm over the first two laps of the track. I usually do well with the initial pacing of races, but on the track there is an extra tendency to go too fast.
- Over the first 3000m I will be able to watch my competitors. For about 10 minutes everyone will be in sight, and I don't have to worry too much about pushing just to keep the others in view. No surges, just gradual adjustments to pace and see how things unfold.
- Next my aim will be to stay with the front runners by the end of the 4km bike path. This will either require some really hard running, or if I'm lucky I might even be able to ease back a little. Whatever the case, I want to be with the top guys going into the cross country. If I look like running ahead of the field, then I will sit in.
- The 8km cross country is where I expect the race to sort itself out. It is likely to be suicidal to try for a big break at the start of this section. Preempting the race, I am assuming this section will see some spectacular slow-downs. Might be wise for no hard moves until past 13km.
Plans are all well and good, until they have to be acted upon.
A quick explanation of the course, which had been broken up over two maps. Track, path, cross country (follow the flags). How hard could it be...
"We make no apologies about how the hard the course is. It is the hardest 15km race in Australia"
"It's very slippery there, if you fall or when you fall, it's only mud and grass. Just get back up."
"Then up the hill, well it's really just vertical."
7.5 laps went by very quickly. I held back, and was surprised to see a lot of position changes around me. The first 1000m was covered in minutes flat. At this stage I was in third place, with about another 150m to the first two spots. I felt comfortable, but apprehensive about the rest of the race. I decided to stick at this level and use the 4km of bike path to catch them up.
My 3000m split was 11:55. Still in third place, but the first two runners had definitely put in a lot more distance on me than I wanted. Chatting after the race, they told dropped the pace down 3:30/km and held it.
2km out, then 2km back over a very familiar section. All the other Coburg Harrier races I have run in over the years has included this section. It incorporates a hill, that usually plays a role in the race, but in the Bluestone Classic, this hill just doesn't feature.
I picked up the pace a little. It felt roughly 3:45/km-ish. Still I felt relatively comfortable, but did want a good amount left in the tank for the cross country. As I planned the race out ahead of me, I was sure it would get me close enough to the two front runners. At the turnaround, there was about 80 seconds gap. At the end of the bike path, this had moved out to 90 seconds. Some doubts about how I ran the first two sections crept in.
This is a two lap affair of loops, turns, ups, down, slants, mud, water, thick grass and basically anything that doesn't involve bitumen. In training I make a point in running uneven, naturally surfaces, so it didn't come as a complete shock in the race. However it was hard going. Quite simply it is a very tough course. Even when hurting, I was thinking this is one of the best races I can enter.
My technique on the terrain was good. Quick light steps, I felt relatively quick over a course that tried desperately to sap any semblance of speed out of your legs. My heart rate climbed, my legs burned and I just couldn't close the gap on those in front. It was clear I had made a mistake by going too easy in the first two sections. There is ceiling on how fast I can cover these final 8km. With hindsight, I don't think starting it after a hard first 7km would change that time too much.
That 90 second gap blew out to over 2 minutes over the first 1km of the cross country, and I don't think it changed much from there. On the other side, I opened up the gaps to those behind me. This left in the company of the race marshals and the slower lapped guys as I completed the second lap. It was good racing something different to mass fun runs. Soon enough I was back on the athletics track for the final 200m. Crossing the line in 3rd place with a time of 1:03:06.
I am reasonably happy with the result. I know I ran the cross country section very well. There is substantial room for improvement on the track for me. Plenty of lessons to take away and hopefully put myself in with more of chance next year. Am I on track for the marathon in October? I don't think this race really gives me any idea where I stand. That will have to come later. In the mean time I plan on hitting the trails again next Sunday for the Salomon Trail Run, 10.8km.