Sunday, May 01, 2016

O’Keefe Ekiden Relay Success.

These days, I normally focus on sprints and other shorter distance events, but occasionally something different comes along, where the value of supporting or participating makes it worthwhile venturing outside my preferred range.  Such was the case yesterday at the inaugural O’Keefe Rail Trail Marathon carnival.  This event was organised by the local athletics clubs and took place on the cycling path, which mostly follows the route of a disused railway line (hence the “Rail Trail” part) between Bendigo and Heathcote in central Victoria.

There were deveral different events on the day, including a mile race, quarter marathon, half marathon, marathon and an interesting team event called the Ekiden Relay, which was the event I took part in.  The Ekiden id a team event, where mulriple runners each run a portion of the course, which adds up to the marathon distance (42.195 km).  Yesterday, there were 7 legs, which were, in order (official distances), 2.9 km, 5.9 km, 7.3 km, 10 km, 7.3 km, 5.3 km, and 2.9 km.  As a sprinter, naturally I’d favour a shorter leg, but I’m also adaptable, and ended up running the first 5.9 km leg. 

Unlike most races, I never got to see the start, because I had to be in position to start my leg, and we left before the race started.  After some issues with the map, which I managed to sort out, with some additional location information, I was able to navigate the support driver to the drop off point, where 4 of us (from the same club, but different relay teams) disembarked to take our place at the changeover point.  With about 10 minutes to wait, I had time to do a quick warmup jog and a few stretches, before getting underway.

Our first runner came into view over a hill and around a minute later, we did the changeover (in 4th place from what I heard), and it was my turn to take over.  I started the GPS watch and eased off into a still, cold headwind up an incline.  Within seconds, the wind became a squall, complete with driving rain, which made the hill climb a bit more challenging.  The hill and squall continued for around the first km of my leg, at which time the weather eased up, though the wind remained a fairly stiff headwind for the rest of the leg.  Despite the tough conditions, and easing back to conserve energy, I still managed a good 4:40 pace, but I knew that wouldn’t last, because I was still within the middle distance range that I’ve been training and competing in (at cross country) recently.

After that first 1 km, things gradually got tougher, and I had to rely more on managing my pace to suit the conditions of the moment.  With the headwind and knowing that I had at least one one known good long distance runner not too far behind, I had to push myself to the limit, which made for a tough slog.  At least the terrain varied between flat and slightly downhill for the next few km.

By the 5 km mark, I had encountered more uphill parts of the route and was planning my run in to the changeover. However, I crested the hill, and saw not only a significant road crossing, but there were a heap of cars on the other side of the road on the next hill, which didn’t look quite right.  However, there were a lot of people and it looked like a changeover point.  Sure enough, it was!  At 5.3 km, I tagged our next runner, who continued further down the trail.  Comparing notes, all of those who I spoke to recorded distances of around 5.3 km on their GPS watches, so the leg was indeed around 600 metres shorter than it should have been.  Later, it would turn out that the 7.3 km leg after mine was actually 7.9 km, so the total distance was still right.  Anyway, my GPS logged a distance of 5.31 km in a time of 26:35, which was a pace of exactly 5:00/km, for me a PB over the 5 - 6 km distance range, especially with the tough wind conditions.  Position wise, I had moved us up one place from 4th to 3rd.

After the rest from our club finished the leg, we got a lift back to the start/finish area, where we compared notes, and also talked to some of the later competitors who were yet to go out to run their legs of the relay.  I also grabbed a ham radio, to monitor the event communications, which were being done by the local radio club.

Some 3 hours after the relay started, I had an inkling from radio traffic that the first relay runner was not too far away.  At the time, the stragglers from the half marathon were arriving, so a relatively fresh runner should stand out, and he did.  I could tell by his form and pace that he was a relay runner, who had only covered a short distance.  As he drew closer, I saw it was the last runner for my team, so we ended up winning the Ekiden relay! :-)  There was time for congratulations and a short media interview, before I had to return home for social commitments.

It was a great day at a unique event with an unexpected win.  Another one to put on my 2017 calendar. :-)

In our team, I was the only sprinter to attempt a leg longer than 2.9km, and I credit that to autism.  Firstly, that determination and persistence that is usually written off as “stubbornness” or “perseveration” by the medical profession meant I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.  Secondly, my experience and analytical abilities give me the ability to push myself right to the limit (and not too far!) for extended periods of time.  I can even compensate for my first km or so having good energy reserves and not being tempted to burn myself early.  This pace management has been built up over years of distance events, orienteering, rogaining, charity walks, cycling and other endurance based activities.  Each time, it just gets more accurate.  Those two factors enabled me to run a PB under less than ideal conditions and help set up our race for the specialist distance runners to take the lead later.

- Tony via Tumblr