Emergency Services Half Marathon 2016

Another longish drive out to Ballarat for another go at the Victorian Police and Emergency Services Games Half Marathon. As usual I found amusement in watching the temperature gauge in the car drop the further I got from home and the closer I got to the race. As an added bonus the wind was a strong and icy southerly. A little extra cold just for fun. I wore gloves for this one.

The half marathon is an initial 3.1km out-and-back kind of loop followed by three full laps of 6km around Lake Wendouree on the Steve Moneghetti Track. This is dead flat, has a bit of bitumen, but is mostly loose gravel. Looks quick on paper, but the gravel tends to suck just a little bit out of each toe off. It is a simple course and I quite enjoy it. This year the wind was up and looked like it was going to play a role.

At the start I only spotted one person I knew to be worried about, Clarkey. We've gone back and forth against each over the years. He commented that there's always someone extra fast hidden around. My race plan was pretty much no plan. I've raced this often enough and felt I was in tune with my fitness and pacing that I could make the decisions as I went.

"Take your marks..... Bang!"

I went out relaxed. A good front group formed immediately. Tucking in on the shoulder of 1st place I let him dictate the pace. My legs seemed to be itching to go faster, but I stuck with the subdued speed over the first 1.5km. As we came around the bend of the turnaround there was a significant change. It was the winner from the last hit out here. Clearly he'd decided no one was travelling fast enough.

He moved out front and I tucked in behind. A third decided to join us in the fun. Over the next 500m the three of us opened a solid gap to the rest of the field. The pace was definitely too fast for me. It would be a struggle for a 10km race, so I eased back as we came to finish the out and back section and move into the first of the 6km laps.

Having company tight on my shoulder made it feel like this race was going to get interesting. Unfortunately his legs were travelling better than mine and we swapped positions, and the elastic band started stretching straight away. Spending the next kilometre testing my limit of sustainable speed it was clear it wasn't fast enough. The three of us in front were spreading out as though each of us was in our own individual time trail. I knew I had started the race off in a way that was going to make it hurt in the latter stages, but that was okay since it was an attempt to put myself in contention.

For most of the first lap the wind didn't seem so bad. It was windy, but I'd been in worse. Heading into the second of three laps the wind decided to rear it's ugly head. Adding plenty of sustained gusts, any advantage out of a flat course was removed. Being a loop the influence could have been over 20 seconds/km depending on which way into the wind you were facing. Your finishing time was definitely going to be worked for.

Lap two was my best effort to maintain as best a pace I could. I was hoping to stay in touch with second place, but that didn't happen. My pace for this lap was relatively more consistent if allowing for the wind factor. About 30 seconds slower over the full 6km. Still moving, but not feeling good. This brought me through the 15km mark and my legs were burning. The stiffness and diminishing coordination started here.

Checking over my shoulder, in the distance I could see Clarkey. He was a long way off, but past history has shown he's not to be discounted. I needed to maintain my pace at least. Deeper into the sufferfest I fell. My legs were beyond trying to save anything for the end. They were struggling to work now, but giving in to them wasn't going to help. As the next couple of kilometres ticked down my running got uglier. Knowing the struggle was showing didn't help my position. It gave fourth place a hint he had a better chance. I was running scared.

Only 2km remaining. This was a flat course, but even a 0.000001% incline felt like a hill. Another check over my shoulder and it wasn't the view I wanted. Each stride over the next kilometre felt like my feet were stuck to the ground. I tried to increase my cadence as much as I could. It seemed to be the only way to squeeze out any semblance of speed. Coming in with less than one kilometre to the finish there was no point in looking over my shoulder. I could hear the footsteps and breathing getting closer. My only hope was to attempt a sprint and see if that kept me in third place.

It didn't. At maybe 300m to go I was pushed off the last podium spot. Over the finish line, in a time of 1:24:12, 4th place overall and 1st in my age group (35-39). Going out too fast definitely is the hard way to race a half marathon. I'm still happy with the result. Would I have been able to hold off with a more consistent pace? I'm sure I would've had a faster time at least, but it's fun to try for more even if it doesn't pay off. Another good year at the Emergency Games done.


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