Monday, 18 May 2015

Red Deer Marathon

The Red Deer Marathon wasn't really on my agenda for this year, but having received a phone call from the organisers a couple of months ago inviting me back to defend my title, I decided to go ahead and register despite the race being just 3 weeks post London. Although in the past, I would happily run a marathon followed by a 100k a month or so later, I don't recover as quickly as I used to do and I have creaks and groans in the old body that just take a little longer to iron out following a good hard race. Saying that though, since I completed the London Marathon at the end of last month, I've been taking it relatively easy running wise as I knew that Red Deer was coming up, and I have to say that the effects of London seemed to be in the distant past when I stood on the start line on Sunday morning.

Last year, I won the marathon in a time of 3.11 and in all honesty, all I wanted this year was to run a little quicker just to prove to myself that I was fitter and faster than I was 12 months ago. I knew that a faster time could possibly bring a top 3 placing if not the win, and with not being a target race, I would be happy with that outcome.

Unlike last year's event, the rain came on the Saturday rather than race day and by Sunday morning, things had dried up considerably with clear blue skies, although temperatures in Red Deer had dipped below freezing overnight, giving us a chilly but manageable -1 degrees when we started at 8am. I knew things would soon warm up though and opted for the vest and shorts rather than leggings and long sleeved tops that many other people had gone for.

Lining up on the start line, I started to feel extremely nervous about the race for some reason - far more so than I have done for a long time. Maybe I was putting pressure on myself, maybe it was the expectation of others with me being the defending champion, maybe it was something else, but I was extremely relieved when we eventually started and I was able to release that pent up nervous energy and utilise that adrenalin.

Start of Red Deer Marathon 2015
There seemed to be more faster ladies in the race this year, particuarly in the half marathon, and within the first kilometer, there were something like 8 ladies ahead of me, 1 of which was doing the marathon. The marathon runner went off at a fair old pace, and by the 5km mark, she already had a good 500m lead over me. I wasn't too concerned as we were very early on in the race so I stuck to my race plan and tried to knock out 4.15-4.20 km splits.

The Red Deer Marathon course is absolutely beautiful. There is no traffic whatsoever and it meanders along the pathways beside the Red Deer River giving an almost rural appeal to the entire course. It isn't a flat course either, and whilst you could hardly call it extremely hilly, there are some steep sharp inclines as well as sections that follow woodland trails beneath towering pine trees. You get to hear the birds singing in the trees, you get to see the Canada Geese and their chicks on the banks of the river and nesting beside the lakes, and you pass through the local dog park where numerous dogs stop in their tracks and watch as the runners pass by. There  are regular aid stations and the volunteers are absolutely amazing, and whilst the volume of spectators is very small, the few that do line the route are extremely encouraging and very vocal!

With the half and the full marathons starting together, I found I had company for the first part of the race and I was running in a small group of 5 men. It wasn't intentional and with me generally prefering to run on my own in races rather than having somebody matching me stride for stride, I found that I was speeding up at various intervals to get past them, eventually passing the last of the men in our little group just before the half way mark. 

I was hoping to go through half way faster than last year and with a time of just under 1.32 at the 21km marker, I figured that I was on for a 3.06 ish finish based on how much I tend to slow down in other marathons in the latter stages of the race. I was still in 2nd place in the ladies race with the gap at half way being over 4 minutes, but as I headed out to the golf course past the Three Mile Bend dog park, I was getting told that I was catching the leader and she was now only about a minute or two ahead. I tried not to think about it too much and just tried to keep my momentum going, but my legs were feeling heavy and starting to tire and despite my best efforts, I too appeared to be slowing down.

Riverbend in Red Deer - 28km in and feeling very heavy legged here!
Around about 28km, I was really happy to see Andy. It's always good to see a familiar face in a race and as ever, he said all the right things to keep me focused and to help me stay strong. He too informed me that the lead lady was now only a minute or so ahead, and with 14km still to go, I really thought that maybe I could catch her. The problem was that due to the nature of the course, I couldn't actually see her and yet she could only have been 150 to 200m or so ahead of me. I pushed on through the woodland trail section and overtook a couple of men, and yet I still couldn't see her despite being so close. 

By now, things had defintely warmed up and not only was I feeling heavy legged, I really needed to drink. I'd been taking drinks onboard every 3km from the small paper cups provided, but I never find those cups to be enough and I needed more fluids. As I approached the next aid station, they accidentally dropped the drink as I went to take it which was extremely frustrating, but I didn't stop for another as I was in chase mode. Unfortunately, my pace gradually got slower and having looked back at my splits over the last 12km, I'd only been doing 4.45 pace which meant that the gap between me and the leader was getting wider. With 5km to go, I was once again told that I could catch her - she was about 2 minutes ahead - but whilst 2 minutes doesn't sound alot, when you only have 3 miles remaining, you really would need to come up with something miraculous in order to make up that time!

The hardest climb in the entire race is at around 41km, and as I shuffled up the hill with the finish in sight, it was only then that I saw the leading lady. She was indeed only a short distance ahead of me, and although she looked to be finishing strong, I honestly believe that had I spotted her so clearly earlier on, my racing instinct would have kicked in and I would have caught her in that last 12km - but then I guess that's easy to say in hindsight!

The last km is downhill to the finish and I pushed as hard as possible, still wanting a faster time than last year, and with extremly heavy legs and tightening glutes, I crossed the finish line as 2nd lady in 3.09.10 - 2 minutes quicker than last year but still very happy with how I'd ran. The winner had finished just over 2 minutes ahead of me in the end and having looked at the results, she had slowed far more dramatically than I had, losing 10 minutes in the second half compared to my 5 -  I know it's just numbers, but those numbers can make a huge difference when racing and sad as it sounds, I do actually find it interesting to see how other people's races have gone in that respect.

Almost finished and pushing for home :-)
Red Deer Marathon really is a fantastic event, and I'm so pleased that I got to go back again this year even though it was never in my plans. It's not a fast course but it isn't a bad course either, and I thoroughly enjoyed racing there again. I'm more than happy with my run - 2nd lady, 8th overall and 1st in my age group resulting in yet more bling, a $200 cheque, and this wonderful hand made tile that shows a section of the course along the river - yes, it was worth the drive, and definitely more than worth the effort.

Beautiful hand made tile showing a section of the course
and medals to match ;-)

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