The Adelaide half-marathon

‘How long have we been running for?’, I asked Brendan, who was running comfortably beside me.

‘An hour and ten minutes’.

I did the math quickly in my head: if I wanted to run my first half-marathon in under two hours, I would have to cover the final 9km in 50 minutes. About 5 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre. Certainly doable.

Adelaide's River Torrens

More on our trip to Adelaide in a moment but first, here’s a quick summary of the three runs I did in the lead-up:

Date: Sunday August 14
Route: Thornbury to Fairfield, return
Distance: 10.9km (217.8km total)
Duration: 57 minutes (19 hours 44 minutes total)

In order to save one of us driving somewhere to meet the other, Brendan and I decided we’d do a bit of a back-n-forth on this Sunday afternoon. I ran down to Brendan’s place in Fairfield, he joined me on the run back to my place and then he ran back to his.

That way we both got in a 10km run, we got to run together and we both finished our respective runs at home.

Thankfully, the Achilles/calf pain I’d experienced earlier that week stayed away throughout this run. Far from it being a cruisy, discomfort-free run though, I spent most of the time trying to find some kind of rhythm. I felt like my arms were flailing all over the place and I couldn’t get my breathing right. But by the time I’d met Brendan I’d got myself in order and I was starting to feel better.

Later that day, my Achilles/calf pain flared up again, much to my disappointment. I decided not to run for the next five days so as to give my leg a proper chance to recover.

Date: Friday August 19
Route: Fairfield and Clifton Hill loop, including Coulson Reserve laps
Distance: 10.4km (228.2km total)
Duration: 1 hour 2 minutes (20 hours 46 minutes total)

With a little over a week until the half-marathon Brendan and I were keen to get in another couple 10km+ runs. On this Friday night I met Brendan at his house and we set off toward Merri Creek via Heidelberg Road.

Before we got there though, we did a couple of laps of the Coulson Reserve athletics track — the soft surface is always a welcome relief from the unrelenting firmness of the bitumen and concrete footpaths.

Running past Clifton Hill station we made our way down to Merri Creek and did a big loop, finding our way back to the athletics track for another few laps before calling it a night.

To my delight, the Achilles/calf pain I’d been struggling with had disappeared after a week off and I managed to get through the run pain-free. Importantly, I also got through the next few days pain-free, allowing me to run again on Sunday afternoon.

Date: Sunday August 21
Route: 3 laps of Albert Park Lake
Distance: 14.1km (242.3km total)
Duration: 1 hour 21 minutes (22 hours 7 minutes)

On the Sunday afternoon, Brendan and I jumped in the car and drove to Albert Park for our second encounter with the great lake. We’d decided on three laps — 14km, two-thirds of the half-marathon we’d run the following weekend.

I’d run 14km (or more) on several occasions in previous weeks but this was probably the most challenging run I’ve done to date. Physically I felt fine — I had no Achilles or calf pain to speak of — and I found a decent rhythm, but it was probably the warmest conditions I’ve run in thus far.

It wasn’t the whole circuit that was the problem — just the “back straight” of the lake. As we turned the corner at the southern end of the lake and began the north-bound stretch, the sun beat down on us. The other side of the lake seemed to provide some kind of shelter but on this eastern side, there was little respite.

It certainly wasn’t unbearably warm, but it was uncomfortable enough that we both felt quite dehydrated by run’s end and at times it was a bit of a struggle. As we finished the run, I remarked to Brendan that the 14km run we’d just completed felt more difficult than the 18km run I’d done a few weeks earlier. In fact, I’d be willing to suggest it was more challenging than the half-marathon we’d complete the following Sunday.

Date: Sunday August 28
Route: Henley High School to Adelaide Oval
Distance: 21km (263.3km total)
Duration: 1 hour 55 minutes (24 hours 2 minutes)

The River Torrens

Brendan, Meghan and I flew into Adelaide on Saturday morning and spent the day wandering the streets of the South Australian capital, carbo-loading and enjoying the sunshine.

For some bizarre reason, a few hours walking left us all utterly drained and by late afternoon we were all lazing around (and some of us napping) through sheer exhaustion. Meghan whipped up a stellar carbo-tacular pasta dinner, which we wolfed down in preparation for the following morning’s run, before retiring nice and early for a good night’s rest.

At around 6.30am we made our way downstairs, slammed down a quick breakfast before jumping in a taxi to take us to the Adelaide Oval. The half-marathon started at Henley High School, in Adelaide’s west, but Meghan needed to pick up her bib from the Adelaide Oval.

As it turned out, her bib was at the half-marathon start and so we boarded a bus full of other hopefuls and made our way there.

At 8.15am the announcer’s countdown reached zero and the several-hundred-strong crowd of would-be-halfers set off toward the centre of Adelaide. I hadn’t run at all in the week leading up to the event — due to a mixture of enforced tapering and insane busyness at work — and so I was nice and fresh when we got started.

After a kilometre or so the bunch began to split and Brendan, Meghan and I found ourselves toward the back of the field, but content with our position. The other two had decided to load their iDevices with pump-up playlists and listened to music throughout, but I decided to go without, preferring to watch and listen to what was going on around me.

I’m glad I went without music as it gave me a real feel for the atmosphere of the event and I felt like I was really part of proceedings, rather than cruising along in my own little world. The others would probably have a different take on things.

The course took us on a rather roundabout route through the suburb of Henley Beach before coming out near the beach itself. We followed the shore for some 5km which was gorgeous on the lovely, sunny day Adelaide had provided for us. After around 9km we met the mouth of the River Torrens at which point we turned left and followed the river toward the centre of town.

It was a gorgeous route and the combination of beach and river set a wonderful tone for the day.

For the first 12km I had been feeling really strong and like I had plenty left in the tank. After the aforementioned exchange with Brendan I decided it was time to ramp things up a little.

I had gone into the event unconcerned about my finishing time, but when I had 9km to go and I was feeling like I had plenty left to give, I realised I would kick myself if I didn’t at least have a crack. I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I’d been quite set on the idea of a sub-two-hour half-marathon and so, when the moment came, that’s what I aimed for.

I started to pick up the pace, overtaking a handful of people here, a handful there, and the occasional lone runner. With every runner I passed I gained a little bit more strength and determination and as the kilometres ticked over, I began feeling even more confident of a sub-two-hour time.

Until this run, I’d never eaten any food while exercising and so when I slammed down a couple of sports gels in these last 9km, the boost I got was quite unexpected. The sugar hit propelled be on even harder, filling me with even more confidence.

With 1km to go the bike track emerged from the treeline and I could see the Adelaide Oval ahead of me, across the river. I dug deep for one last push, dragged myself up the steep pinch over the King William Street bridge, around the corner and into the Adelaide Oval.

With no timing screen at the finish line I just had to go as hard as I could and hope that I’d done enough to cross the line in under two hours. In the end I did it easily.

I’d covered the last 9km in 45 minutes — a surprisingly quick (for me!) average pace of 5 minutes per kilometre. It gave me a finishing time of a little over 1 hour 55 minutes and I was absolutely thrilled. Even more promising was the fact that I’d crossed the line feeling as if I’d had plenty left to give. Sure, my legs were hurting and I was getting tired, but then I’d gone quite hard for the best part of an hour — something that I can’t see myself doing in the full marathon.

I stood at the finish line and waited for Brendan and Meghan. Brendan crossed the line in around 1 hour 58 minutes — significantly quicker than the 2 hours 20 minutes he was expecting, and Meghan too was delighted with her time of 2 hours 5 minutes. Overall, a fantastic effort by all.

As we wandered back to the hostel we looked to the future. For Meghan and I the half-marathon is only the beginning of a very tough six weeks ahead as we prepare for the Melbourne Marathon. For Brendan, the Adelaide half-marathon was the completion of a goal he’d set himself but also the realisation that maybe, just maybe, it was worth signing up for the real deal on October 9.

All in all it was a splendid weekend and we all returned to Melbourne feeling satisfied and more than a little bit tired. For Meghan and I, the journey continues and for Brendan, well, let’s see if he can be persuaded to join us …

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About Matt de Neef
Assistant Section Editor at The Conversation

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