Gold Coast Airport Marathon
“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.”
I mentioned in my post [link] prior to departing for the Gold Coast that fueling and hydration are the 2 most important factors in how my race will unravel. Less obvious was my strategy for a conservative start to avoid the wall. There’s a reason why going out slow and adopting the right fueling and hydration strategy have been harped to death by coaches, yet they’re the most common mistakes a runner commits. I’ve been guilty far too many times and thus scuppering a personal goal which I’ve always known to be within reach.
My marathon PR was a 4:03 in NYC 2008. Since then I’ve been dithering between 4:20s and 4:50s, the slower ones being more of just going through the motions and the quicker ones being failed attempts, where my training were impaired. There wasn’t really much to whine and complain given the circumstances. The enjoyable ones were last year’s PNM (4:23, then my best in 5 years) when I ran the first 21K in 2:10 and the second in 2:12. Considering 4:23 was done after a 10K training run the same morning, and a 61K event 6 days prior, it was a pretty good result for me. After PNM, I continued running some long races and training runs before kicking off my 2014 marathon with Nagano [link] where I basically raced with just one or two long training runs logged. The 4:18 of course, was no PR but I learned a lot from the race, which was my fastest since 2008. I learned that I could maintain concentration and that I had some strength and pace, and if not for the lack of preparation, I would’ve hit close to 4:08. The takeaway from Nagano was tremendous because I knew that I was on the way back.
It was fortuitous that the Starlight Ultra was postponed from May to August, which meant that I had 2.5 months to patch up any weaknesses. It wasn’t much time but since my Q1 2014 was littered with 50Ks and regular running, my legs had plenty of miles in them. I started leaning towards building intensity and strength, throwing in 2 days of doubles a week. 5:40 soon felt comfortable but that didn’t mean there weren’t roadblocks. The most accessible running spot for me, the KLCC Park saw a partial closure due to construction works and towards the end of the training phase, water rationing, heatwave and the haze returned. With the exception of weekend long runs, I was forced to do my weekday workouts on the treadmill. The positive bit was that I have access to weights and environment to cross-train and work the core. There were far greater variety in my regimen than I’ve ever undertaken. Together with fellow GCAMers Nick and CY, we started adding variety to our training routes from purely Ammah to USJ and even Putrajaya. Before the USJ track reopened, we even resorted to doing intervals on a stretch of road in Subang! We had to be resourceful .
Even so, my weekly mileage never hit the highs of pre-NYCM where weekend B2Bs were plentiful albeit at a pedestrian pace. In place of 100-110K weeks, I had to count on intensity and consistency. Even if I only had time for a 3K (whenever pressing work or family matters arose), I headed out. And hit the 3K hard. It went well enough that I thought I’d peaked too early with 5 weeks out. With 4 weeks to go, I started tiring, enough for me to urgently pull back on the number of sessions and intensity. I even gave a couple of long runs a miss and shorten another 2 32Ks to more manageable 25Ks, just so that I didn’t slide into Burn Out Abyss. Instead of a 2-week taper, I was forced into a 3-week one.
Finally, with 4 days to departure, I was hit by dizzy spells. A visit to the doc revealed an unusually low BP of 92/60. I’ve never had issues with BP but that probably had been on the boiler and explained my fatigue at the onset of the taper period. The inconsistency of my iron intake (not that I’ve ever been anemic) hadn’t been that great. Training has a way of robbing iron from the body, so runners in the midst of marathon training should supplement with iron, if FE intake from natural sources are insufficient.
This time around, I had slightly better snooze time on the red eye to Coolangatta – a grand total of 4 hours, up from 2 ! The fellow travelers also agreed that we should spend as little time as possible at the Expo in order to get back to the spacious apartment – Wyndham – to settle in before heading out to a much needed late lunch. That was an excellent plan as 1.5 hours should be more than enough to collect and shop at the Expo. We settled for teppanyaki at one of the eateries at Cavill. Nick agreed that we needed a shakeout run in the evening, which we clocked in at 6.03K (6:01 pace) towards Broadbeach and back. Besides stretching out the legs after the long flight and a day of moving around, the shakeout run was useful as it allowed me a final opportunity to gauge my likely form and if needed, reassess my race expectations and strategies. I didn’t feel as sharp as I’d like to as my legs felt sore, tight and heavy.
Dinner back at the apartment was 3 servings of rice with eggs and chicken, a mini pack of chips with sea salt, a banana and a pot of tea. By 10:15pm, it was lights out.
90% of my training had been done in the GRR3 and GR3; the GRU and Energy Boost for long slow runs; GB2 for gym and treadmill running; Hitogami for trackwork. Nevertheless, when I was passed the Kinvara 5, I felt good enough that it would be the race shoe. My backup shoe was the GRU. GCAM temps can be quite cold at the start for us from the tropics but it warms up very quickly once the race starts, so I opted for the Columbia OmniFreeze sleeveless top, Skins A400 shorts, Compressport calf sleeves, Asics socks, TNF cap and the trusty Oakley shade. I train with an iPod shuffle on the treadmill, so that came along for the very first time too, preloaded with a loaded playlist of choice. 7 gels (5 GUs @ 100 cals each, 2 Hammers @ 90 cals each) in the Salomon belt and a tiny laminated sliver of a note with my pace targets and gel intake stuck into my watch strap. 3/4 bottle of Gatorade with which to sip from until the 10K mark.
Pre Race Meal And Ritual
Breakfast was a banana, 3 bricks of Weet-Bix with soy milk (to reduce the risk of gut issues). These were consumed at 2:30am and wasn’t much but the purpose was to fill the any gap from the previous night’s dinner (7 hours ago). The coach pickup was again very early at 4:30am in order to get the half marathoners to the start. As expected, it was very cold and only the comfort of a hot cup of long black helped me contain the chill. While waiting and soaking in the atmosphere, I chowed down 3 bars and another banana. All the bars were consumed within 105 minutes of race start. It may appear excessive but the plan was modelled after my NYCM approach, and thus it worked for me.
Between then and finally heading to the start area, I visited the loo twice, did some warm up jogs and performed some dynamic stretching. The warm up jogs and stretching prepares the body and mind for what’s to come.
I entered the B corral (as marked on the bib) at 6:50am and positioned myself right at the back of it, just in front of the 4-hour C corral. I spotted the bobbing red balloons tied to the 3:45 pacers way ahead. Goes to show how packed B corral was. So many fast runners! Having shed my MPIB Volunteer top, I sought out a sliver of sun ray to keep me warm. As I stood waiting for the start, I reassessed my readiness to run in this fast group and decided rather quickly that I should play it safe and not fall into the trap of starting too fast. I ducked under the tape and moved to the C corral just behind the 4:00 pacers with white balloons. This corral was also a stacked field but I immediately felt at ease having made my decision. Being forced/drawn into the caffeine/endorphin induced pace of the B corral would’ve been suicidal.
Up ahead the Emcees were working the crowd when suddenly the race started. Not that I was anxious but we finally got things going! Although we got off to a running start, it was about 3 minutes before I crossed the Start line. Almost immediately the 4:00 pacers started to move up the crowd but I kept to my pace. Too much preps and planning had gone in for me and I wasn’t about to flush everything down the toilet by being pulled along faster than what I’ve set out and it looked as if these 4:00 chaps were going for it right from the get go.
The sunshine was brilliant and before long, the body was warmed up. There was little to no wind even as we ran along the coastal road heading towards the iconic Surfers Paradise signboard. The legs, distressingly, still felt as heavy as the night before but I tried not to dwell on the sensation but get into the music and took comfort that my breathing was easy and effortless.
Planned Race Strategy
Things were kept very simple
- Run a very conservative 5K at 5:50 pace before shifting up by 10 secs until the halfway mark
- From the halfway mark, move the pace to 5:35 until the 32K mark
- Get to Burleigh Heads turnaround (15K) fresh and not let the massive crowd sway me into a mad dash.
- Get to the Halfway Point fresh.
- Cross the Southport Bridge (30K) problem free and ready to battle it out.
- Hold the effort till Runaway Bay turnaround (37K) without speeding up.
- Hold the remaining miles at 5:38 (allowing for slowing down)
- If I’m still in with a chance at 38K, to make a go for it.
- Take in gels every 5-6K, and drink consistently.
I had the pace objectives printed out and tucked into my watch band as you can see from one of the photos below. The initial 5K had several objectives – ease into the race, loosen the legs, maintain minimal stress to the body to allow maximum absorption of fuel and fluids. A stressed body will shift its attention to other critical functions reducing the rate of carb absorption. Therefore, even if you continue to take in your gels, they may not work as effectively as you’d expect them to simply because your body has shifted its priority into maintaining a “survival mode”. Hence it’s very important to stay on a conservative pace, allowing your carb intake to work for you.
How It Panned Out
The challenge I faced in this first quarter of the race was my legs. It took me exactly 10K to untangle them and got them spinning smoothly. I was always checking my form and splits yet even with the monitoring, my pace was a little quicker than expected. You can see how easy it is to get carried away in a marathon. On our first pass, the crowd along The Esplanade was still thin, which was fine as the later stages were where we needed their support the most.
We hit 10K somewhere south of Pratten Park. The chill was no longer a factor by that time and the sunshine was not too warm and intense. I was just bobbing along to the tunes when the tight legs suddenly loosened up. Perhaps it was the sight of the elites on the opposite side that fired me up. I spotted the American, Jeff Eggleston and Arata Fujiwara amongst the lead pack but Kawauchi who received the loudest cheers from the runners, was trailing by some distance. I squeezed the 2nd pack of gel in and got on with business. My splits weren’t quite 5:40 at the start of the 2nd quarter but I started seeing some consistency after 16K. The southern part of the race course down to Burleigh Heads has always been an awesome place to run and this year was no different. The folks were out in full force and cheering and hooting like crazy. Again, it would be easy to put in a surge here but from the 5:48 you see below, it was obvious that I intentionally slowed down to avoid that. It’s still too early to pick it up with the tough sections yet to come.
Just after the halfway mark I made a decision to dash into a potty. The first 2 had locked doors, but when I yanked the 3rd door open, some was inside! Luckily it wasn’t a girl so, “All good, mate!”. I ended up in the 5th cubicle. Having drank copiously at all every station, it was just a relief to get the pee out. I felt instantly lighter and leaner. No more having the discomfort to hold it, I immediately got on with business. I probably lost about 25 seconds (6:09 split) there but I was back on pace the very next kilometer. My first half split was 2:00.36. A little slower than expected but more importantly, I was still very fresh as compared to previous years. IMHO how you feel in the later part of the 3rd quarter (i.e. 25-30K) of a marathon determines how well you’ll tackle the dreaded 4th quarter. I felt good yet apprehensive enough to harbor thoughts of hitting the wall anytime soon. According to my plan, I was supposed to start hitting consistent 5:35 splits up to the 32K mark. The watch readings showed that I wasn’t too far off after averaging the splits between 21-30K. Again, I didn’t miss a single gel intake. I was also burping which was always a good sign during a race, signs that my gut was still processing the carbs.
With the fuel line working fine, having energy on tap with the legs seemingly having a life of their own, I started passing other runners. Many runners. Yet I was very wary of what was to come, the 30K mark where thousands are waiting to scream and cheer. Unfortunately the Southport Bridge will always be the traditional spot for demise for many a runner. Tired legs and weary minds will have to make a push up the incline which isn’t steep actually but even a mole hill is a pain at that stage. I dug in and didn’t drop pace and cleared that in a jiffy. It’s important to just shut oneself from taking in the sights of suffering and walking runners just because the mind needs all the positive affirmation it can get.
Up to this juncture I’d gotten to the point where there were only 12K to go. I had to make a decision to go or hold when I remembered what the 4:00 pacer dude from GCAM2011 [race report] had stressed – “Stay with me. Hold your pace. Resist the urge to take off until you get to the turnaround at Runaway Bay”. So I bid my time and though I dropped some seconds after McDonald’s, I was still pretty good. 12K meant a 6K in and another 6K out. I felt that I could take the last 6K since I was still passing plenty of runners.
No Wall, No Problem
The Runaway Bay turnaround marks the 37K but after mentally calculating the pace I should be hitting to clinch the goal time, I knew I had to start picking things up. All the positive signs were there and I thought to myself that it was time to make a go for it and not chicken out. So I made my move at 36K and started to race. All that steady running and holding back the first half of the marathon was just to get to this stage feeling good and I felt really good.
If you’ve been running for some years, you’ll know the feeling of actually competing, not necessarily against another runner but with yourself. The feeling is that of exhilaration. Both quads were tightening up but there wasn’t going to be any cramping. Instead, there was just single mindedness in getting to the finish line.
I was astonished reading my splits which were getting faster and faster. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told Nick later that day it was easier to run fast than to slow down towards the finish. The last 3Ks just flew by and utterly felt surreal (to quote Nick). The crowd was 4 deep and as I hung left, a large sign that screamed “250m to go” was right in front of me. It was only then that I soaked it all in.
I kicked past a few more runners and crossed the line in 3:58.55, a minute slower than planned. The 2nd half was ran in 1:58.19 making it a negative split race for me. After crossing the halfway point, I overtook 967 other runners. I was ready to hug someone, but everyone seemed too wheezed while trudging off towards the refreshment tables. There was no tears of joy but in its place, an intense sense of accomplishment. I learned that many other friends ran their personal bests that morning too. After collecting my belongings I texted the wife that I’ve finally done it on my 27th marathon, 11 years after my first which was run to commemorate the birth of C1 and 6 years after my previous best in NYC. It’s been amazing, training in a group with each of us driving each other on. So, thank you to Nick, CY and Kiew for coming along for the many early morning runs. And to Frank, Julia, Piew, YL, Leong, Foo, Zane and Skyrunner Yvonne for the moral support.
It’s been such a long wait for me. And for it to come together this year in Gold Coast on a year they’re awarded the Gold Label rating just made it extra special. There’s much to work on to get the timing down and the 3:58 will be bettered. I hope more will give GCAM a go next year. Mark your calendars, folks – 5th July 2015!
In closing, I’d like to congratulate the race organizers who did a wonderful job in growing the event, and thank the thousands of volunteers without whom we runners won’t be running our best. Not forgetting, my heartfelt gratitude to the hardworking folks at the Tourism and Events Queensland, who took great care of me.