Thursday 25 July 2013

Run Melbourne 2013

Sunday morning at 7am was too cold and too dark to be doing anything let alone going for a run. Yet there I was, lined up with 6500 other hardy Melbournians, waiting for the start of the Run Melbourne half marathon with the temperature at 6°C. Fortunately the forecast showers had not materialised and the sky was completely clear giving us perfect conditions for a run.

Run Melbourne is a must do event on the Melbourne running calendar and is certainly one of the biggest events participation wise. The organisers also offer a 10km and a 5km option but with one eye on preparing for the Melbourne Marathon in October, the half marathon was the only option for me.

This would actually be my first crack at the half marathon distance in race conditions. I had been looking forward to this test for a while and had done some serious training in the lead up. My aim was a time of sub 1:41.00.

Runners huddled and waiting for the start.

The race started in front of the Arts Centre just before Princes Bridge. I got there a little later than I had planned after doing a 1.5km warm up jog from where I parked my car near the Domain Interchange. Already there was a huge queue of people corralled behind the start line. I was hoping to get into the wave for those attempting to run sub 1:45 but ended up well back from there.

What a view from the start line!

Luckily everyone was fairly tightly huddled together and this helped keep everyone warm. Even so, I was glad I had decided to wear an extra t-shirt on top of my running top. I'm a pretty heavy sweater, so I was conscious of not overdressing but did not want to be uncomfortably cold before the run got started. Plenty of other runners had brought old jumpers or jackets to wear while waiting and then discarded them before the start. This is a fairly common strategy and the organisers collect the thrown away clothing for charity.

How do super heroes manage to run a half marathon in those outfits!

This year there was a super hero theme and there were plenty of runners dressed up as their favourite super heroes including this guy. How they managed to run a whole half marathon in such an outfit I'm not too sure. I wonder if they trained in the outfit before the event!

The PA announcer did a fantastic job of keeping everyone's spirits up while we waited. Eventually we got going with the elite competitors starting off first. By the time I made it to the start line, the earlier runners had already completed the small loop around Flinders Street and through Southbank.

The Arts Centre in a sea of runners.

Finally, about 10 minutes after the elites had gone, my wave was through and I was running. By now, the Sun had risen over the eastern horizon and illuminated the city. Its amazing how beautiful everything looks in the soft light of dawn!

The course started off down Princes Bridge and turned left into Flinders Street. It became immediately apparent that if I was going to have any hope of clocking the time I wanted, I would have to do some nifty overtaking with many slower runners in front of me. The field was pretty tightly packed so this wasn't easy and I had to be very careful not to run into anyone.

At Queensbridge we turned left and then headed through Southbank. There were plenty of people having breakfast in the cafes watching the endless stream of runners go by. With all the street furniture in place in Southbank, trying to overtake other runners was a bit like running through an obstacle course.

In full flight on the course.

After passing under Princess Bridge we looped back onto St Kilda Road and headed south. Getting onto the wide open road of our most famous boulevard was a huge relief and made the job of overtaking much less fraught with danger. I started pushing hard to get back on track.

The PA announcer was still doing his thing but was now set up near the corner of Linlithgow Avenue and St Kilda Road. He was talking non stop, pumping up the runners as they passed by and calling out runners by name thanks to the fact that every runner's name was printed on their race bib. As I approached I pointed at my name and got a mention and a high five.

The monumental Shrine of Remembrance soon came into view as we ran alongside the familiar surrounds of The Tan running track. From here we went onto Domain Rd and then back onto St Kilda Road for a small section in front of Melbourne Grammar before eventually looping back onto Domain Rd.

I was finally warmed up enough that I could take off the extra t-shirt. My initial plan was to throw it away but I ended up wrapping it around my hand so I could use it after the finish to keep warm.

Next came Anderson St hill. It normally strikes fear into the heart of Melbourne runners, but luckily we would be tackling it going down rather than up. I accepted the free gift from gravity with joy! Going on the outside of the field, I leaned forward and overtook as many of the runners in front of me as I could. I was feeling pretty good by now and just wanted some clear space in front of me so I could really open the gas.

Unfortunately the clear space never came. Despite all the runners I had already overtaken there was still many, many more in front of me and most of them seemed to be going slower than me. I kept getting held up by slower runners blocking my path. I think I would have traveled at least one kilometre in side ways motion as I tried weaving in and out of other runners!

The course map thanks to Runtastic Pro which I used on my Android phone.

I was on a two gel strategy and tucked into my first gel heading toward the drink station on Alexandre Ave at the 8km mark. I quickly washed it down with a gulp of energy drink and pushed on.

From Alexandre Avenue we turned left onto Morell Bridge to cross the Yarra and then left again to run along the bike path that hugs the north bank of the Yarra. This part of the course was the most frustrating. The bike path was only a couple of metres wide and left no room for overtaking so I was constantly held up while waiting for a chance to pass slower runners.

Eventually I made it onto the open expanses of Batman Avenue and crossed the halfway point of the run. After crossing the pedestrian bridge between the tennis precinct and the MCG the course headed over to Flinders Street and into the city.

Running strong.

This part of the course was by far my favourite. Running on a city road which is normally full of traffic was so cool and the spectators lining the course cheering us on made it extra special. I started to rise to the occasion and upped my speed a notch. As I passed Federation Square and Flinders Station I made sure I soaked in the atmosphere and my surroundings. It was the one point in the race where I wish I could have stopped and taken some photos of the event. But I had a PB to set!

After crossing Princess Bridge the course basically repeated around The Tan. I had my second gel at the Domain Road drink station about 17km into the run. Once again I used gravity to my advantage and pushed hard down the Anderson Street hill. From about the 18km mark I was still feeling great so I opened up the gas and just went for it. For the last few kilometres I was pulling sub 4.30 kilometres.

I finally crossed the line at the finish in Birrarung Mar in what turned out to be an amazing official time of 1:39.28. I couldn't believe how quickly I had run, especially considering how congested and slow the course had felt at times.

Crossing the finish line in 1:39.28.

This was probably the first event where I had come home strong right through to the finish line. Amazingly I felt like I could have kept going which left me thinking that I should have made my final push home at least a kilometre earlier than I did. At least there's loads of potential for improvement for my next half marathon in August!

The passage out of the finish was very well organised. We got a bottle of water, Dextro energy bars and an Age branded bag with the Sunday Age inside. There was loads of tents set up alongside Federation Square, including a Dextro tent where I grabbed some energy gels. It was a beautiful sunny morning so rather than going straight back to my car I walked around soaking in the atmosphere of the race village.

Tents along the race village near Federation Square.

On reflection, Run Melbourne turned out to be a fun event although the often narrow course and the large number of runners made it a fairly slow course. The volunteers were fantastic and enthusiastically cheered on the runners and the organisers did a fantastic job with drink stations and music nicely spaced throughout the course. However I think they need to tinker with the course to eliminate sections on narrow paths. All in all it probably wasn't as enjoyable , or as scenic as Run for the Kids but its definitely a run worth doing as you don't get too events of this scale in Melbourne. You'll see me back again next year, hopefully running an improved course!

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