Clare Half Marathon 2012
“Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.”
– Helen Keller
Sunday morning and the first day of non-daylight-savings time. I leaped out of bed at 5am with the hyperactive mindset of those who do not know what is good for them. I chugged down a few mouthfuls of one-day-old, cold espresso and grabbed some muesli bars. Two friends had kindly offered me a lift to the Clare Half Marathon and I loped with my rucksack to where their car idled in the dark street.
We drove north until strip malls and suburbs gave way to low grassy hills with sparse trees, and fields. We passed through a string of tiny towns where buildings had cosied up to the road to form a main street and not much else. The low winter sun gave everything a yellow hue and plumped up the trees, hills and buildings into voluptuous relief.
At the race start area, there was a good crowd; the usual mix of ages, builds, and a kaleidoscope of colour. On the start signal, the pack started off slowly with the usual rearrangements as runners tried to get ahead. I am still converting to thinking in kilometres rather than miles, and don’t yet have the same instinctual “feel” for running a pace in kilometres. I didn’t know exactly what pace I could maintain, but I knew I didn’t want to go out too fast and have to slow down. I had also told myself not to forget to listen to my body; I’ve found it’s easy to be seduced by The Gadget’s endless stream of numbers. For the first few kilometres I ran a 5-min/k and felt fine, so I speeded up a bit and aimed for 4.5-min/k. There was a slight upward gradient for some of the course and I promised to ease off if necessary. I overtook quite a few runners at this pace but on my own terms without getting sucked into little sprints where we’d both go too fast and regret it.
I’m not sure when the front-runners started to pass us on their way back, but Ben Hockings was in front with a good lead and gaze focused on some distant point ahead.
The course was along an old railway track lined by trees, grassy fields and low hills. Volunteers had stopped traffic at road-crossings and gave out water. Ah, water! I felt the urge to pee from the start and decided to wait until at least the half way mark when the pack had thinned out and I was tired enough to benefit from a brief stop. Over the first 10km I found myself breaking down this manoeuvre in detail: 1). How long would it take? 2). Behind a tree or off to one side? 3). The benefits of proximity to the course vs. delayed onset caused by “performance anxiety”. 4). I’m glad I’m not a woman (but if I were, would I use a she-wee or is newer technology available?) When, just after the halfway point, I found myself estimating the unnecessary extra weight of my urine (600ml = 600g) and its effect on my finishing time, I knew it was time to act. As I darted into the tall grass like an Olympic triple-jumper achieving a PB, I caught the eye of the runner behind me, who ran past, laughing.
I leaped from the bushes back into the fray. Several people had passed me, the most obvious of whom was a woman in pigtails and a baseball cap, who (as a friend said afterwards) didn’t “look like a runner”. For the whole return leg, she maintained a brutal pace, passing all the runners in front of me, and finally disappearing out of sight. Even more impressive was a male runner in a fluorescent yellow t-shirt who sped past me, passed the girl with pigtails, and was out of sight within minutes. I never figured that one out.
As we came back towards Clare, we encountered the runners in the 10k and 5k races, who had started later. Everyone was very polite and kept out of each other’s way. Most people wore their race numbers on their front, so from the back it was hard to tell who was running in which race. I found myself overtaking some of the 5k and 10k runners. I said a few encouraging words to a young guy with orange hair, who was obviously suffering and had stopped. He started running again as I approached and we chatted briefly.
In the final 4-5 kilometres it was hard to know how hard (or when) to push it. Most people were maintaining a steady pace by this stage, and there wasn’t much passing. On the way back, the same volunteers and spectators clapped and yelled welcome words of encouragement. In the final kilometre, a volunteer shouted the distance remaining. I still wasn’t sure if we had to do a lap of the oval before finishing, so I didn’t push it too hard until someone shouted “five hundred metres”. With the oval nowhere in sight, I upped the pace, hoping I could keep it going. Then I rounded a corner and the finish was right there, within touching distance. I heard a beep as the electronic scanner read my number, and it was onward to chocolate milk and bananas.
I waited at the finish line and cheered people on as they came in. You could see from the look on people’s faces how much the race meant to them. I recognized a woman in her sixties who had cheered me on earlier and made me smile. She was there for her husband but, as I told her, she should be on the pay-roll for every SARRC event. She stood for hours smiling, clapping and yelling at every runner who came in, “Well done!”, “Great job!”, “Almost there!” I didn’t get her name but that woman deserved her own Spectator Award.
I missed the friend who had run the 5k, but she did really well, despite a recent injury. My other friend finished in what I thought was a good time, and immediately started berating herself for a Friday night drinking session. I wondered how many other drinkers had survived booze, sleep deprivation, and still had enough grit to run a half marathon.
Ben Hockings won the race in 1:15. I believe he had been in the lead for most, if not all of the race. I finished in 1:34:50, which I was happy with. The woman with pigtails was second woman home. Wendy Janssens did a sterling job as race organizer, and there was a tremendous show of local support with the majority of race volunteers coming from Clare.