Half Marathon: Emergency Services Games

A more relaxed morning this year, having stayed the night in Ballarat instead of driving up in the early hours. An option that's much friendlier on the wife and kids. My liquid pre-race mix, a coffee and a bit of extra water down the hatch and I had plenty of time to spare with the kids. Eventually the clock wound down and we got ourselves to the race start. The conditions were pleasant, no where near as cold as last year. A simple warm up and I felt ready.

The Plan

Wanting to continue the trend from last week's cross country, I was again looking for the outright win. Still it is 21.1km, plenty of time for plans to go right, wrong and change. My approach this year was to have a base plan coupled with a few options that I could choose from depending on how the race unfolded.

Taking from last year's mainly successful effort, I started with a pure time trial approach.  The thinking being, that for the most part, the fastest time wins, and usually the way to the fastest time is with a time trial effort, that has minimal pace fluctuations. Early surges create lactate spikes that can never be fully recovered from within the race and lead to a higher likelihood of slow down later in the race. The course is dead flat, and after an initial 3.1km out and back section, the remainder is 3 x 6km around Lake Wendouree. I would see where the I would sit at the end of the first lap (9.1km in) and adjust from there.

Now the options I could use to try to ensure the win would be very dependent on the others racing. One possibility, which is similar to last year, would be continue with the time trial, and just give it everything I had over the final kilometers. Otherwise if I had the luxury of not running right on my rivet for the majority of the distance then I knew I had some options for potential winning moves. These included:

  • a mild, but definite increase in pace over a few kilometers, not a surge, but something that can take the sting out of my competitors legs if I feel they have a better turn of speed than me
  • one or two surges of 600-1200m where I can get the pace below 3:30/km. I was able to run about 1km at about 3:20/km in the 10km quite comfortably last week. This ability will depend on what is left in the tank.
  • sprint up to 400m with a pace down under 3:00/km, this is a one off and needs to be reserved for the final kilometer
The Conditions

Overcast. Didn't look like we were going to get any rain, but there were a few puddles after a downpour in the middle of last night. Temperature would be maybe 15 degrees Celcius. All looking close to perfect, except for one key element. The wind. A blustery 20-30km/hr that hit as a headwind on the most open section. It definitely would influence the times and maybe tactics.

The Race

A stutter start with a misfire from the starter's gun, but the back up made sure everyone was on their way within a couple of seconds. I went out very controlled. Having tested the feel for paces in the warm up, it was just a matter of findng that right feel. This put me at the front, with just two sitting in behind me. The gap to next in line was soon much bigger than I expected. Heading back over the start line after 3.1km and the start of the first of the 3 x 6km laps, it was already looking like it would be a contest between myself and one other. During the race I never knew his name, and didn't know his running background. As I found out after, his name was Todd.

We covered that first section in a little under 4:00/km. The Moneghetti track is marked every 500m. Occassionally I checked some splits, just to make sure I wasn't running anything completely ridiculous, but I never paid any attention to my overall time or worried about heart rate. This was raced almost purely on feel.

That first 6km lap showed the wind was going to play a role. Todd tucked in on my shoulder and made sure I was the pace setter. The initial plan of going out as a time trial still seemed like a good idea. So I ran at a steady state effort. I'm sure the pace varied a bit depending on our angle to the wind. In fact the wind played around with my rhythm. While picked an effort that felt as if it would leave a bit in my tank for later, the running wasn't feeling as smooth or almost easy as in the cross country last week. Coming to the end of that lap, giving 9.1km total, we had a substantial gap on anyone behind. Time to reassess and decide on the next plan.

Knowing the pace was somewhere near 4:00/km was good enough. Whether 15 seconds per kilometer either side didn't matter. Centrally I felt like good, my breathing was light, my body wasn't screaming to sow down and the legs felt good. The problem were I was having quite a few self doubt and self sabotaging thoughts to keep under control. The excuses to slow down were trying to take over. There also seemed to be a lot of justification to not pick things up when required later in the race, which mainly involved the idea I got the training wrong. My main way of combatting all this was to fill up my headspace with the objective information of the race.

At the start of lap 2, I fumbled my drink at the aid station and lost a couple of meters. This turned to be a good thing. Swapping positions I used Todd as both a windbreaker and pace setter through the open section that was straight into the wind. This allowed a bit of relative recovery, but more importantly gave me a chance to watch and assess my opponent. He looked comfortable with the pace and his running style was quite smooth. I thought he was just sticking with my pace because it was within his range and he was confident about a strong finish. That wasn't likely to go in my favour. A genuine sprint isn't my strong point.

This sit and wait approach had to change. I needed to work at turning things my way. The first step came at around the 12km mark after we had turned out of the headwind. That step was a surge. I hammered the first ten strides to make it explosive and then hold what felt like a 3:30/km pace for the roughly a kilometer. Then I planned on dropping back into the original speed we had been traveling at. What I really hoped was this would give me a gap that I could then maintain. Otherwise the second hope was it would at least take some speed out of Todd's legs. While the surge had my running feeling more natural I don't think it had the effect I was hoping for. My opponent seemed to cover the move very comfortably. No gap was opened and I think this actually increased his confidence.

On to plan C.

I had to use the best of the race craft I could think of. For the remaining kilometers I was going work on chipping away at my opponents confidence. A combination of creating doubt in his own ability while gave the impression I also had an advantage. Combined with this I would look for the moment to make that decisive move.

At about 14km I started the process. Using the mild turns I got myself on the side instead of in front and commented "looks like it's just us." Making a point of looking as relaxed as I could I slowed just a little. That had me being about a half wheel back. A set up for the aid station at the end of lap at 15km. As we moved into grab our drinks I motioned for Todd to take the front and gave him space to do so. However as he came across I sped up and closed right in on his shoulder to hopefully set the seed he dropped the pace a bit. It's not much, but more was to come. I made sure I didn't fumble my drink and ran a few steps ahead, looked behind and waited until we were side by side.

Next I started a conversation about Mark who was I third place and was making a strong effort to catch us. I emphasised he was someone we needed to worry about. With that I made sure I was always half a step ahead while we were otherwise side by side for the next 2km. Also I picked my position to hamper Todd's rhythm. This involved using that other pedestrians on the circuit and posts that marked the road crossings. I made it look like I was giving space for us to run side by side around these obstacles, but really was making sure there wasn't quite enough room. Therefore he has to change his line which then forced a few extra faster strides for him keep up. That should interrupt some efficiency and maybe have feel he's having a bit trouble keeping with me.

Next we hit the site of the surge from the previous lap. I was hurting and was sure we had been gradually winding up the speed. I made a show of relaxing my body as preparing for an upcoming move. A shake of the shoulders, arms and hands. A twist of the neck, a calming sigh couple with a smile. Then I moved in and sat right behind. Overly close so hopefully it would play on him.

Deliberately taking a couple of light kicks to my shins I hoped it looked like I was having no trouble with the speed. Adding to this I moved back up alongside and mentioned we were well clear of 3rd place and increased the speed a little.

Todd made an effort to get in front and I had to work hard to hold it together. In fact I thought I had blown the race here. The deep burn, heaviness and threatened loss of coordination was enveloping my legs. If he made a big move now it was likely to beat me. Luckily he must have been hurting just as much and soon eased up. I was very thankful for the let out and made the most of by staying right on his side but not pushing the pace for a couple of hundred meters.

This brought us into the final 2km. From here we gradually forced the speed back up. I had done what I could to eat into confidence if at all. Now I had to make it look like I had the win. So I owned the track. There are a few mild bends, some bitumen giving way to gravel plus a couple of road crossings with gutters. I ran the tangents, pushed out a wide line on some of the curves forcing my opponent wider and made sure to half wheel while gradually shifting across the track so he ran through the puddles, uneven or cambered side. This is all subtle, but can break your opponents rhythm. It isn't about cutting off or performing a bump to move them. It involves running in a place that gives you a better run and makes them have to do something to change it.

The overall pain was intense and I felt as if the limits had well and truly been exceeded. Yet, it still wasn't enough. With only about 800m remaining we were side by side. He was working hard, but just looked too comfortable. I was still convinced a short sprint wasn't going to go my way.

One last chance.

Make it count.

Now step for step. I moved side ways, opening a little space between our shoulders. This combined with a shake of the arms and a wordless look I made it clear I was going to make that sprint. There were two expected options here. The first was it would force him into a earlier sprint and I'd use him as a lead out as is common in cycling. After all the wind was hitting our faces to some degree.

Option two is what happened. I hoped it would convince him I was stronger and he wasn't going to be able to cover it. With about 600m left I launched into a sprint as fast as I could go. Todd made a comment along the lines that I had the race and he had nothing left. My sprint only lasted at most 200m before everything started failing. The gap wasn't big and I really thought I'd made a mistake. Looking over my shoulder the gap was closing. I struggled into the last 100m and managed to find some new effort for a second sprint. That final 100m was far from pretty or fast.

Breaking the tape in first place is an awesome feeling. It is even cooler when that tape is police tape. The clock gave me 1:23:58. A victory by only 5 seconds. Not as fast as my 3rd overall last year, but the time wasn't the point this year.

At the start of my training I put down I needed to be capable of running a 1:22:00 half marathon for a chance at winning. Having taken the victory I think that was spot on. I was definitely in that sort of shape. The wind and style of racing certainly added time. This half marathon will definitely be one of my most satisfying. My family were convinced during the race that I was going to be in 2nd based on the assumption it was going to come down to the sprint and my opponent was looking comfortable spending a lot of time in my slipstream. I never will know for sure, but I think he was in better physical shape at the end. I just had the mental advantage.


  1. Great race and report Jason. You had me right there riding the motorcycle camera bike ;) I didn't know how it was going to turn out. Good to have a couple of tactics up your sleeve when going for the win.


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