Super Sunset Series
A series of three events, offering 4 km and 8 km distances, around three iconic venues in Melbourne: the Melbourne Zoo, Princes Park (a sporting venue) and The Tan (Botanic Gardens). The event is held in February-March each year, when the weather is warm and daylight savings means it stays light until 8 or 9 p.m. All races commenced in the early evening, with most people finishing before dark.
Princes Park was the location of the second of the three races. The area mostly consists of parkland, with a football stadium and a few other sporting grounds sitting in the middle. A dirt path runs around the outside of the park. One loop of the path, with a small extra add on, is 4 km long.
The Lead Up
The first time I had ever completed 8 km was two weeks prior to this race. The first event of the Super Sunset Series was held at Melbourne Zoo, and consisted of two laps around the edge and through the middle of the hilly site. I had run the entire way, with Danny by my side, although I struggled significantly up the hills. Having Danny there to spur me on was highly motivating.
The Princes Park run was entirely flat. As I knew I could cover the distance, now was my chance to work on speed. My goal was to improve on my first time, which I presumed would be easy given the lack of elevation. I trained by running two or three days per week, but never incorporated faster running into my workouts. I didn't follow a plan or try to hit certain times; I ran purely by feel. I was lucky if I ran more than 20 minutes at a time. Usually I became bored or hot, and would give up. I was active in other ways: I visited the gym often, participating in strength and cardio classes, as well as played netball a couple of times per week. Running was not the focus of my training schedule.
My clothing had upgraded somewhat from my first race. I no longer ran in knee-length fleece shorts, and I bought a moisture-wicking top that would of course improve my speed. I had no running-specific accessories though - no watch, no compression gear, no running shoes (ashamedly, I still ran in netball shoes).
The race was held in the early evening on a weekday. This suited me fine, as I usually trained in the afternoons straight after work, although being summer it meant that there was a fifty-fifty chance of it being scorching hot. We were in luck and the temperatures stayed low. The maximum for the day was around 20°C, however the humidity was fairly high.
Being a newbie I hadn't learned what or when to eat before a race yet. Following the lead of runners I had seen in previous races as well as online advice, I stuffed down a banana about 20 minutes before the start. Bananas were supposedly easily digestible, provided quick energy and contained essential electrolytes. It seemed the perfect choice to fuel me for the race.
I started at the back of the pack in my first race and somewhere in the middle for my second, and in both I found myself overtaking a lot of people. For this reason, I thought I should make my way a little closer to the front. With around 300 runners, I didn't think it would be a huge deal. There would be less people I had to pass, so I wouldn't be constantly weaving through the crowd and chewing up valuable seconds. It wasn't the smartest decision I had ever made.
As soon as the siren went everyone shot out from the start line. I didn't want to look like I didn't belong there or hold other runners up, so I started sprinting. I ran as hard as possible but I still couldn't keep up. After a couple of hundred metres I gave up trying to chase everyone down and slowed my speed, trying desperately to catch my breath. Danny caught up to me, also panting. We agreed to stick to our normal, comfortable pace.
For the rest of the race I had no energy. I had used it all up in the first minute and was digging deep for reserves. Mentally I was struggling too. I felt as though I wasn't good enough as a runner if I couldn't keep up with the lead pack. I felt guilty for starting close to the front, making others squeeze around me on the narrow path. To see so many people pass me was disheartening.
Around the halfway point an agonising stitch presented itself in my side. I had suffered numerous stitches before in training, usually requiring me to stop for several minutes before they would disappear. I continued on, trying to distract myself from the pain. Soon after this I felt like puking. The banana-flavoured burps told me that the fruit hadn't digested like I had hoped. My pace slowed considerably. This nausea coupled with my negative mindset had me questioning whether I should pull out now.
Trying to find every ounce of energy I had to finish the race.
There were two things that kept me going. The first was my personality. I am stubborn. If I set my mind to something, I am going to achieve it. I had told myself that I would complete this 8 km event and that I would run every step of the way. Unless my leg fell off or I passed out, I was going to reach that finish line.
The second was Danny. Through all of this Danny stayed by my side. He continuously pushed me, reminded me how well I was doing, kept a countdown of how many kilometres to go. He slowed when I slowed. He could have easily run off and finished with a decent time, but he could see how body and attitude was deteriorating so he stuck it out with me. Just as I was about to start walking, Danny would encourage me to go one more step, one more kilometre. All of those one more steps and kilometres miraculously carried me to the finish line. I had made it, all eight kilometres, without walking a single step.
We finished in the middle of the pack, which is exactly where we should have started the race. Somehow we beat our time from two weeks ago by four minutes. I put this down to the hills at the zoo, which slowed me even more than the events of today. I wouldn't say I was exactly pleased with my performance, although a new PB is always nice. There were some positives to take away from the event, but mostly I collected a bunch of tips of what not to do next time.
Don't try anything new on race day, including food. I have heard this repeated again and again, and for good reason. Even if you see plenty of others doing something (e.g. eating a banana before a run), it doesn't mean it will work for you. Practise everything in training first.
Start where you think you will finish. If you think you can finish on the podium, start up the front. If you plan to walk the whole race, start at the back. If you're an average runner, stay around the middle. You don't want to get caught up with the faster runners at the beginning of the race, spending essential energy and feeling inadequate when everyone passes you. Begin conservatively, run at your own pace and you will have a much more enjoyable experience.
Every race is different, and no two are comparable. Anything can happen between races and on race day. Just because I had a great 8 km run two weeks earlier didn't mean that this race would be the same. Many internal factors (e.g. stitches, nausea, mindset) and external factors (e.g. hills, weather, terrain) can have an impact on you and affect the overall outcome.
Your attitude can make or break a run. I have been reminded of this several times over the years. Letting doubts, fears and worries take over your thoughts can cause you to drop out of a race or even give up running, despite the fact that they are often unfounded. I have frequently heard that your mind gives up well before your body does, and I believe this to be true. There are many ways to train yourself to be stronger mentally and you need to find out what works for you.
Having Danny run with me was a tremendous support, and I don't think I would have finished without him. However, I felt guilty for holding him back. It is highly motivating if you have someone to run with, but discuss your plan before the start line. Will you run the whole race side by side no matter happens, or are there times when it is okay to pull away? After this race, Danny and I agreed that next time we would run separately to see how well we could do on our own. Amazingly, we still finished together.