Yesterday Smithy and I entered in our fourth Gold Coast Half Marathon. We usually use the 21 and a bit kilometre race as training for our Himalayan treks. We only ever walk the half marathon - never run it - and our goal this year was to break the 3 hour barrier. In 2003 we did it in 3 hours 3 mins, in 2004 we did it in 3:05 and last year in 3:03, so we've been close. And we went at what we considered our top pace and didn't really think we could go under 3 hours without breaking into a run. Still, we thought we'd give it our best shot this year.
So, the alarm went off at 4am and we reluctantly rolled out of our lovely warm bed into the chill, pre-dawn morning. A big bowl of porridge for breakfast, two cups of coffee and three glasses of water later, we were on the road to Labrador - an hour's drive down the coast.
Parked the car a little way from the start line and joined a number of other crazy people all making their way to the race course. The crowd got bigger and bigger as time went on. By 6.15am, we had stripped down to shorts and T-shirts, handed our bag into Left Luggage, and made our way up onto the road to wait for the starting gun, just as the sun was making its first appearance over the horizon.
At 6.30am, there were thousands of people on the road. The wheelchair athletes set off on their half marathon, sent on their way with a huge cheer from the crowd. A few minutes later, it was our turn. The starting gun went off...and we stayed put! The crowd was so big it took ages for us to shuffle off and get to the start line! Five minutes after the gun went off, Smithy and I crossed the line with more than 4,000 runners in front of us!
We always start the race by jogging the first 500 metres or so and then settle into a fast walk and this is what we did again yesterday. As the kilometres crept past neither of us felt optimal. My right leg was a bit stiff from carrying pavers and squatting to lay them the day before and Smithy complained that she couldn't get into a rhythm. Despite this, we covered the first 7 kilometres in 58 minutes - right on track! Another kilometre went past, and the first of the runners started coming the other way. After that, they just kept on coming. The sound of several thousand runners - slap of feet on tarmac, gasping breath - is quite something. By the time we reached the 10 kilometre mark, the runners were well gone and the slow joggers and faster walkers were starting to pass us going the other way. Another 500 metres and we hit the halfway mark ourselves. It's all downhill from here! At least the sun was no longer in our eyes, but we did have to battle a small headwind all the way to the finish line.
My knees and groin were feeling stiff and Smithy had a really sore toe by this stage, but we kept on going - breaking into little jogs every now and again to relieve muscles. As we passed the fourteen kilometre mark we were ecstatic to find we were still right on target timewise - we'd thought we'd slowed down somewhat during the second third of the race.
Getting to the 16 kilometre mark is a big pyschological boost - only 5 kilometres to go. But by then, I was really beginning to struggle. My right knee and groin were really really sore and walking was starting to hurt. Eventually I told Smithy I had to stop. She went on ahead while I slowed right down. That helped a bit. Then I shuffle-jogged a bit and that helped too. I sped up a little bit but couldn't catch Smithy. As the last drinks station came into view, I remembered the headache tablets I'd put in my pocket earlier. Grabbing a cup of water, I popped the two tablets into my mouth and kept going. Shuffle-jog, walk, shuffle-jog, walk. I shuffle jogged up a little hill and managed to catch up to a very surprised Smithy. We had just over 3 kilometres to go. We had to cover that distance in 25 minutes if we wanted to finish under 3 hours. Could we do it? Back at the 17 kilometre mark, we thought we'd blown it. We were taking nearly 10 minutes to complete a kilometre. Simple arithmetic told me we wouldn't finish in under 3 hours. Oh well, at least we'd finish.
On we went, as fast as we were able. Finally, the marker declaring 1 kilometre to go came up. 'We can't do it, can we?" Smithy asked. I glanced at my watch. "Yes we can! It'll be tight but we can do it!" I don't know how we did it, but we had managed to cover the last two kilometres in just 17 minutes. We had a real chance at cracking the 3 hours.
People lined the last 500 metres, cheering and clapping every marathoner that ran past (yes, we were being beaten by marathon runners who had run 21 kilometres in the opposite direction to us before turning around, running our course, catching up and passing us. And they were the slow ones - the winners had passed us with 8 kilometres still to go!) and encouraging us halfers. With just 300 metres to go, we broke into a shuffle-jog, passing walkers who had been in front of us for most of the race. One hundred metres to go and we could see the finish line. I picked up my pace a little but Smithy dropped back. 20 metres to go and I broke into a sprint (gawd only knows where the energy came from) and crossed the finish line with head held high. I looked at my watch - 9.37am. I'd done it. I finished in under 3 hours. Excited and anxious I waited for Smithy to cross. It seemed an age before she joined me, but a glance at my watch showed she had also made it in under 3 hours!
Exultant, we staggered off to the recovery area for drinks and fruit before handing in the race chip (timing device) and claiming our T-shirts and medals. To our huge disappointment, they had run out of medals and we had to put our names down to have one posted to us - but at least we came away with our official 'Finisher' shirts.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at home, stretched out on the settees, enjoying a glass of wine and watching DVDs and rugby league. Pizza for tea, then an early night for our weary bodies. Smithy woke up fine today, but my legs are really stiff. We treated ourselves to a massage, which was really nice, but if I don't keep moving I just stiffen up again.
We got onto the race website this morning to get our official times. Me: 2:59:28 Smithy: 2:59:48.