Great Train Race 2014 - Race Report

Somewhat of an iconic race, The Great Train Race is a bit of local favourite for Melbourne. A race over the hills from Belgrave to Emerald where you pit yourself against the course itself, other runners and the old steam train Puffing Billy. Even the distance is different. Slightly longer by 300m this year because some of the trail was washed away in heavy rains a couple of weeks ago, giving 13.5km to cover. In typical Melbourne style the weather was a mixture of cold, sun and rain.

Last year I finished in 50:25 and had plans of going under the 50 minute mark this year. The extended distance made that a much harder ask, adding some 60-90 seconds extra of running time. The morning started well with a bit of a catch with some other runners, a warm up where it seemed easy to hit my form. That had me feeling confident, which I needed because my run the day before could only described as a dismal failure, where I ended up resorting to walking. Still I wasn't too concerned. A few flat days are expected when right in the grind of full marathon training.

Based on previous race times I got to be positioned in the front red group. The seeding seems to work well and helps prevent too much mess and falls as over 3000 runners try to fit down the road. The whistle sounded and we headed off for the first kilometre which was all downhill. In the past I have hammered the opening aiming to get well ahead of the train by the first crossing. I was confident I would do this anyway, so was a bit more conservative. My legs felt smooth and powerful, my breathing and intensity seemed well in check, but overall I felt terrible. Maybe it was just the cold and I would feel better as I warmed up more.

View from Puffing Billy as it crossing over top of the runners

Into the first climb and I moved up hill well. Even though I haven't done much specific hill training lately, it looks like I had done enough. Finally it wasn't a big ask to keep my form together. Based on this I formed the idea that I could be best served by working the up hill this year and just taking the first few descents naturally, without deliberately pushing the pace on them. The hope was that I would have a lot more into the main climb over the 9 to 10km marks and hammer the remaining kilometres from there.

Moving through the first two of four rail crossings it was clear I was well ahead of Puffing Billy. The sounds of the train could hardly be heard. It wasn't going to be an issue coming ahead this year. My attention was on my overall time. Being such a hilly course, it's almost impossible to compare each kilometre to another. You have to know the elevation profile well and I do. I know what times I need to hit at key locations to see if I'm on target. My times were not on target. They weren't too bad, but clearly behind schedule. Strangely my legs still felt good, my intensity was up as it should be but I feeling worse overall. It was hard to describe how, and I didn't get. It was almost like my body had been drained of a mixture of energy and whatever it has it to feel good. I would have called it fatigue, but my legs seemed like they had the energy they needed. It was just like I couldn't tap into the top end of what they were capable of.

My form held up. Over the climb through the 10km mark and despite my time being a bit over a minute slower than I wanted I was kind of happy. I did what I could and pushed those final kilometres  which has a good section of flat to downhill trail. It was running I loved and I happy with the speeds I could hit here. That nagging feeling that I was capable of more remained, but I still couldn't find a way of using it. A sweeping turn, a slight up hill and into the crowds across the finish. I stopped the clock at 53:02 taking 80th overall out of 3131.

Not a PB, even if I correct for the different distance. I don't have an answer to why I didn't feel great in the face of a lot of other things working well. As long as that doesn't present again at the marathon come June, I am confident I am on target to get myself in PB territory for the full distance.


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