race report

Triple Edge endurance triathlon and marathon 7: race report

Two weeks have passed, the post-race high has been replaced by the Christmas sugary high, and I have finally found the time to write the race report for marathon 7. As explained in a previous post, this marathon would be completed by adding up a few extra kilometers to the run leg of the Triple Edge Endurance Triathlon with a total of 4 km swim, 120km on the bike and 30 (+12)km running.

Race preparation – the gear:

After my all-pink marathon, I thought I would give a go with the Can Too colour and run an all-orange triathlon/marathon. The Can Too people loved the idea and sent me their awesome bright orange Tri top. For the shorts I had to compromise and ended up buying a black one with details in orange. Socks were easy and the only remaining item was an orange pair of running shoes. I contact Emily, a friend from the Bilbys Triathlon Club that works at The Runners Shop,  and she gave me a few options. In normal circumstances, colour would be the least important attribute in a pair of running shoes but this time was different. Luckily, Emily brought me a pair that was not only bright orange, but also comfortable. I was dressed to race!

Race day:

After a couple of months questioning my decision to add 12 km to such a long event, came race day and I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I got there early, checked-in my bike at the transition, and set two separate groups of food on my towel: one for the first transition (T1) and the bike, and another for T2 and the run. I put on my wetsuit and as I was walking to the start line, Craig Johns, executive director of Triathlon ACT and race commentator on the day, grabbed me to say a few words. An article about my marathons had appeared a couple of days before the race in the Canberra Times and Craig was kind enough to give me yet another chance to promote the fundraising.

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Talking to Craig Johns from Triathlon ACT before the race

The swim

Despite the usual mess of an open water start, I quickly found a comfortable place to swim without having to fight against other arms and legs. The conditions were perfect with a calm lake and a sunny day. It was easy to navigate towards Captain James Cook memorial in the first kilometer but heading east on the way back was much harder with the sun blinding the swimmers. I followed the instructions to use the Australian-American Memorial or the “eagle on the stick” as a guide and it was spot on: second buoy found and on with the second lap.

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Paying attention to the race briefing. Photo courtesy of Scottie T Photography *.

I don’t know exactly how, but I completely forgot about the rest of the race and I found myself enjoying those 4 km of lake swim as if they were the only physical activity that I would be doing that day. I swam solid 4 km, not too hard but not holding back either, and left the water in 1:05:46 (my Garmin watch time).

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The start.

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Getting around one of the buoys. Photo courtesy of Scottie T Photography*.

The bike

I ran to the transition taking off the upper part of my wetsuit. After removing the rest of my swim gear, I uncovered the first pile of food grabbing two slices of bread folded in half and wrapped in aluminum foil and putting them in the back pocket of my Tri top. I took my time and drank a box of Up&Go (chocolate milk) before putting on my helmet and sunglasses. In my training I would ride from work to the pool and then back home. Tired after the swim session,  I would drink chocolate milk before my ride home. It worked quite well in training, so I decided to include that in my race nutrition strategy.

I started the ride and, once again, managed to forget about the rest of the race. Ignoring the marathon that was about to happen, I focused only on the task of riding 120km. The ride was mostly flat along Parkes Way but had a tricky climb going from Glenoch Interchange to Gungahlin Drive. I used the descent from Belconnen Way to the turning point as my nutrition segment: a slice of bread with vegemite in lap 1, bread with Paçoquinha spread (a kind of Brazilian peanut butter) in lap 2, and energy bar in laps 3 and 4. In some laps this was complemented by energy gels as well. I don’t really know how many I consumed during the ride, not more than one per lap for sure.

My official splits for each lap were 54:07, 55:25, 55:25, and 58:15. l slowed down considerably in the last lap as I felt the wind picking up and started feeling my left upper glutes as well. My final official time was 3:43:12.

The only photo form my ride is this one

 

which is actually a snapshot of a movie that my friend Fiona took and posted on Facebook. Thanks Fi!

The run

Another transition and another box of chocolate milk. After five hours, this one wasn’t as cold as the first one but was still nice to drink. I emptied my back pockets and filled them back again, now only with gels and one energy bar. I put my socks and my shoes on and off I went, for the first time with the full orange outfit.

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Love this photo from Scottie T Photography*. Capturing the walking sign in the photo was brilliant!

I started strong, running the first couple of kilometers in just over 9 minutes. Four minutes and thirty seconds per kilometer is way faster than my marathon pace, let alone after one hour swimming and almost four hours riding. However, I decided not to control my pace and let the body dictate what a “comfortably hard” run would mean at that stage. I was backing this decision on how I felt the previous weekend in my last long training session before the race. This 11km run at 4:30 min/km pace after a solid 85km ride boosted my confidence and completely changed my mindset for the race. This is the magic of training: not only it strengthens your body but, perhaps even more important, it prepares your mind for race day.

Of course I wasn’t expecting to keep that pace for much longer, certainly not on the climb to Parliament House. Not even the massive cheering from my friends at the Bilbys’ aid station halfway through the climb could make me run fast uphill. In the end I manage to keep a decent pace in the first ten kilometers with a time of 49:36.

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A big thank you to all the Bilbys for cheering me up and for these photos!

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A much happier face going downhill. Thanks Trent Dawson for the photo.

I was slowed down quite a bit in the next 10km doing it in 54:22, but I was still running at a pace that would allow me to complete the marathon in under four hours. Talking about marathon, the third lap came and I started to think about the extra kilometers that I needed to do. I noticed that the course lap was slightly shorter than 10km and began to do calculations in my head to decide the best way to add the extra bit. The original plan was to do one lap and a half and complete 45 km. However, that would lead to two consecutive climbs to the Parliament House and, given that I was getting pretty tired, I decided that that was not the best of the plans. Instead,  I decided to go for an extra couple of laps around the Parliament gardens: it was flat up there, plenty of shade, pleasant surroundings and I thought I could convince someone to join me at least on that short loop. Next time I passed by the Bilbys tent I asked: “Anyone keen for a run around the Parliament to keep me company in my extra lap?” Tim Kinder accepted the invitation and I headed to the finish line with a plan for the extra 12km.

As I approached the finish line I looked for Marcele and Clara and there they were. I was so happy to see my wife and daughter waiting for me under the Triathlon ACT’s blue inflatable arch. I crossed the finish line,  kissed them (see Clara’s video below), received my medal, ate some fruit that Fiona brought me, and posed for pictures. I finished the race in 11th place with a total time of 7:23:53 but I still had some kilometers to cover so I gave my medal to Marcele and kept running.

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Waving to Clara at the finish line

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Fruits! So sick of gels at that point.

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Throwing garbage in the wrong bin. The race chip was supposed to go there!

 

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As I was about to start, Brad and Liz (the race organisers that gave me all the support to include my marathon in their Triple Edge event) told me that their daughter wanted to run with me. What a start! She was so quick that I couldn’t keep up with her. I’m serious, she was too fast for my tired legs. The funny thing is that she kept going despite Liz’s calls for her to stop. Eventually she stopped. Lucky me!

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The little Arabella outran me easily!

After this sprint start I slowed down the pace quite a lot, running at over 6 min/km. With the race over, my only worry was not to drag for too long as people volunteering at the aid stations probably wanted to go home. At the Bilbys aid station, Tim joined me. We climbed towards the Parliament House and ran around the gardens twice before going down again past the aid station. Tim decided to keep running to the finish line. It was so refreshing to have someone to talk to and share the final moments of that race, even more so with such a lovely person as Tim. As we hit the lake and approached the finish line, Tim stopped and told me he would let me enjoy the last two kilometers by myself. Two tough and slow kilometers. And after 8:54:13 I crossed the finish line for the second time, completing my seventh marathon in 3:59:16.

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Crossing the finish line for the second time: 8:54:13 for the whole thing and 3:59:16 for the marathon. Photos courtesy of the Triple Edge team and Fiona.

How did I feel after? Extremely happy and extremely hungry! It was an amazing feeling to finish such a tough race and to finish it well. Everything worked as planned, no foggy googles, no chaffing, no flat tyres, no blisters, no cramps, nothing. Just the awesome feeling of having achieved something that, until the week before the race, I feared I wasn’t prepared enough to do.

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Looking pretty relaxed after the race. Does it look like I raced for almost 9 hours? Thanks Fi for the photo.

It took me quite some to get over the post-race high and to take the smile off my face. The only disappointment was the fundraising as I couldn’t reach my goal of $3500 by the end of marathon 7. I thought that the media coverage and the toughness of this race would encourage more people to donate. The lesson is that donations from people that don’t know you is rare (in my case $0 so far) so the fundraising still relies on generous friends and family. Talking about them, I should thank them all for helping me raise $3240 for cancer research!!

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The “research dollars” vs. marathons race. To donate visit http://cantoo.org.au/fundraisers/AndreCarvalho

 

 

*Scott was very kind to allow me to use his photos. If you liked his work, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

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I’m halfway there! Marathon 6: race report

As mentioned in the post with the race preview, marathon number 6 was completed during the Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon here in Canberra. This meant a very early start for me as the first swim would begin at 6am. Since I’d be away for most of the day, I woke up at 4:30 to get everything ready: wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, running shoes, Can Too shirt, socks, running shorts, extra clothes for after the race, towel, race bib, vaseline, energy bars, gels… did I miss anything?

The (first) swim

It was still dark when I got to Lake Ginninderra. I saw Martin, a friend from Bilbys, getting ready to get in the water at 5:30 together with the other competitors in the solo category. I wished him good luck with what was going to be a long day (he ended up finishing in 13:27:32), and continued my preparation for the race.

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The brave solo competitors getting ready for the start.

I did this leg in 2011 and finished in 27:36 but I’ve improved a lot since then and my prediction for the 1500m swim was 25 min. As always, the first 100m were hard with many swimmers battling for space. I found myself between two competitors but still with enough space to swim without being hit by others. The group was pretty packed until the first buoy (at least that was my perception) but after that I found myself with plenty of space.  A quick check to see if I hadn’t gone off course and I noticed that I was alone between the front pack and another pack coming behind. I was swimming well and feeling good, despite the first signs of chaffing from the wetsuit rubbing on my neck. I’ve used that wetsuit many times and never had problems before. Well, there is always a first…

I began to breath more on the left side to avoid the rubbing and just kept going. Before the second buoy I started to get close to a guy that was getting dropped by the front pack and my competitive side gave me extra energy to chase him. We swam close together for a while but with the finish line in sight I forgot about him and focused on the beach.

I got out of the water and immediately started screaming Ben’s name. I tagged him, he went off and I finally looked at my time: 23:50, more than a minute faster than my prediction. I couldn’t be happier.

While Ben rides…

I knew that Ben would take a while to finish the first bike leg so I took my time and talked to friends while watching competitors from other waves arriving. I was enjoying the race atmosphere but it was time to drive to the next transition and get into my marathon gear, but not before making a pit stop to grab a coffee and a banana bread.

I got to the transition with time to spare and got ready to run. I met Michelle, Ben’s wife, and she asked me if I was going to take it easy on the race because of the marathon, or if I would run hard the 20km of the race and then survive the rest of the marathon. To be honest I hadn’t planned a race strategy until that point and I thought: “I’m not sure it is a good idea, but since I’m here with a number on my chest, I should go hard.” So I replied to Michelle: “I thin I’ll go hard…”

Let the marathon begin!

Ben arrived, tagged me and I started my sixth marathon. I was excited to reach the halfway mark of my fundraising challenge. It was my third marathon in Canberra and for the third time I was going to climb both Mount Majura and Mont Ainslie. The last time I met these two climbs was in my fourth marathon and it was really tough. I found it easier this time: the knee was pain free, I was in a good mood after my first swim, and I knew the course this time ;-). I just went steady uphill and then used the gentle descent from Mount Majura to make the most out of my fearless downhill style :-). The highlight of this part was running following the mountain bike course at Majura Pines. It was really cool!

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Left: Average pace and elevation per kilometer. Right: full race map. Bottom: Elevation profile and pace. First 8km highlighted in orange.

After the mountain bike course, another climb. This time was Hackett Hill. Once again a steady climb followed by faster downhill runs over a rocky surface. Tripping over is not a thought that should ever cross your mind when you want to run fast downhill. Luckily, it only crossed mine now, weeks after the run.

A sharp left turn took me to the Mount Ainslie climb. I focused on not stopping and went up, again slow but steady. I reached the summit and then dashed downhill along the walking trail, eventually dodging people and dogs walking up the hill.

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Same as in the second figure but now for Hackett-Ainslie.

The hills were over and now it was a flat run towards the finish line were I would tag Perry for his lake swim. I finished in 1:35:26, more than four minutes faster then my best time in this leg in 2011.

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Tagging Perry at the second transition. The mission now was to run the extra 22 km to complete a marathon. Photo courtesy of Emily Stacey, our friend and support crew throughout the race.

From then on I decreased the pace and went by myself to complete the marathon. I started running against the flow of competitors and got a strange look from those that had seen me at the first transition or along the course. One of the solo competitors even asked me if that was a cool down. We were both running, so there was not enough time to explain…

I ran towards the third transition at Acton terminal where I should meet Ben to get my car keys back. He greeted me with: “I found my grey bag!”. “Which grey bag?”, I replied. “My grey bag… the one you left at the beach.” In the excitement of finishing the first swim, I forgot to put Ben’s backpack in my car at the first transition! I was so embarrassed. I got my key, picked my camel back and food in the car and headed south towards Weston Park, not before apologising to Ben once more…

As I reached the Commonwealth Bridge I saw Joe (the same friend from the marathon in Rio) and Chris waiting for me. After a couple of marathons with my phone failing, this time all worked fine and they found me with no problem tracking me through the Road ID app. I had sent an invite for people to join me at the second part of the run and they were the only two to show up. I was really happy to see them as I was not looking forward to another long and lonely run. The run was much more enjoyable with someone to talk to. The only problem was that Perry and Ben were racing faster than I expected and I wouldn’t have much time to spare before meeting with Ben at the third transition. Just before the loop around Weston Park we split. Chris and I went to complete the loop while Joe was left behind. We met again and headed back to the Lake. Worried with the time, I decided to increase my pace. I thanked them for the company, apologised for splitting again, and ran the last 6 km alone.

The end of the sixth marathon was a bit anticlimactic: I finished alone at the car park, stretched for a couple of minutes, jumped into the car, and drove to the third transition. Mission accomplished! Only six more to go!

The last swim

A few minutes after my arrival at T3, Ben finished his second bike leg. A few fruits, lollies and cups of water later and we drove to the Lake Tuggeranong for my last swim. It would be a pool swim as the Lake was closed for swimming due to the water (bad) quality. My legs were quite heavy and I thought that they would sink to the bottom of the pool. When Perry arrived and I began the swim, I actually felt good. The legs were kicking OK and it felt like a recovery session. I didn’t swim very hard as my arms (surprise!) were not really responding well, but I finished in better shape than I expected. I tagged Ben for the last time and took a relaxing shower before driving to meet him again at T6.

The finish

With my two swims and a marathon out of the way, it was my time to just cheer Ben and Perry in the last two legs of the race. Perry, Emily and I were waiting for Ben to arrive at T7 but he was taking longer than expected. Another rider came and, since I had seen him chatting with Ben earlier, I decided to ask him if he had seen our team mate: “He was way ahead of me. Hasn’t he arrived?” – he said – “He must have taken a wrong turn”, he completed. Indeed Ben got lost twice in the last bike leg but still came sixth in our category.

Perry left for the last 13 km and we drove to the finish line. About an hour later we could see two runners approaching on the opposite road: Perry was about 100 m behind a runner that was clearly slower at that point. Sprint finish in such a long race? Improbable but that’s what happened. We lost sight of both as they turned left heading to the car park leading to the finish line. As they approached the last 50 m it was clear that Perry wouldn’t make it. He had given it all and finished in 1:01:51, the second fastest time in our category!

We proudly took the third place in the teams of 3 category with a time of 10:00:52, just 52 seconds over 10 hours! And here is the official team photo and all our splits:

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The Threeple Team. Photo courtesy of Emily Stacey (again).

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Our results.

The all-pink marathon: race report

Two weeks ago, on the 25th of October, I ran the fifth marathon of the series, this time in Batemans Bay, in the south coast of NSW. It was a first in many aspects: the first flat course, the first official marathon race, and the first that I didn’t run in the bright orange Can Too colour. Being my October race, I decided to support the Pink Ribbon cause and run all in pink in honour of all women that have been affected by breast cancer. The Batemans Bay Marathon was also officially raising money for Ovarian Cancer Australia, which made me extra happy for my choice of race.

Saturday: “race preparation”

We rented a house near Surf Beach for the weekend and went there with some friends. Marcele and Clara (my wife and daughter) and also Marconi and Patrícia were registered for the 6km race. Luiz and Nina were the only ones out: Nina for being only 2 years old, and Luiz because Nina can’t take care of herself 😉 .

With the whole “all pink” theme, the fun started before the race with the preparation of my outfit. I bought pink socks and shorts, had a bright pink shirt from “Outubro Rosa Niterói” (Niterói Pink October) that my brother gave me, and stained my running shoes pink with one of those coloured hair sprays. But the icing on the cake (and the moment that everyone in the house was waiting for) was the pink hair. While the others were gathered around the dining table waiting for the pasta to be cooked, Clara was in charge of dyeing my hair. Ah, on top of that there was some nail painting as well… she was so excited! Here is the result:

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Before, during and after. Whoever named this colour “Shocking pink” was spot on!

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And there was also nails, shoes, socks, shorts and shirt.

Sunday: race day

I woke up in the morning, got ready for the race, and then drove to the starting line. The others decided to sleep a bit more since their race would start only two hours after mine and their race preparation was also slightly different: while I had pasta for dinner on Saturday, they had pasta AND quite a few glasses of red wine.

I got there early and in the line to drop my keys I saw Sarah Fien, an awesome athlete that has recently won the Canberra 102 km race (the same one that I ran 49km as my fourth marathon). I did some swimming training with her a few years ago and decided to talk to her: “Hi Sarah, I don’t think you remember me but…”, and she replied “No, definitely not with this pink hair”. It was the first of many moments during the race when my hair and/or outfit would be the topic of the conversation. I didn’t mind, in fact, that was the whole point of it: raise awareness and promote the fundraising for cancer research.

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Here we go! Photo taken from the event’s Facebook page.

The race started and I was determined to put my race plan to work: I wanted to run at a comfortable 5 min/km and increase the pace only if I felt really well further down the track. I managed to keep my fresh legs under control and was close to my target pace, only slightly faster: 4:56, 4:48, 4:48 and 4:50 min/km in the first 4 km. It was only when I reached the end of the bridge over Clyde River that I sped up a little due to the gentle downhill.

A couple of km after the bridge and I hit what I thought was the only boring part of the course: running up and down following the zigzag course in the school oval. If that was the price to be able to run on the sandy beach in the photo below, then I’d do the grassy oval run again. Wait! I actually did, four times!

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An invigorating part of the course. It felt really good to run just a few meters from the water. Photo taken from the event’s Facebook page.

And it was exactly at the beach that I increased my pace again. Wasn’t intentional but I was just feeling good and happy to be running: 4:41, 4:40, 4:36, 4:38 min/km were my paces from the 10th to the 13th kilometers. I slowed down again after leaving the oval on the way back, but that was expected given the two small climbs (if we could call them that) on the way. The 5 km from the bridge to the end of the the first lap were the fastest in the whole race: all under 4:40 with the 18th km at 4:30 min/km. This was the part where we ran through town and I attribute my fast kilometers to the amazing support from all the volunteers, spectators, and fellow runners along the way. I heard a lot of “I love your hair!”, “Nice outfit”, “Go pink!”, but the best was a couple of girls that sang a song from Pink when we crossed our ways. I couldn’t stop laughing. At the turn around point I saw Laura, a friend that I coached earlier this year in one of the Can Too programs. She was there for the 14k race and ran with me for a few hundred meters to give support. It was nice to see a familiar face and have a chat halfway through the race. Thanks Laura!

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Given the smile, this photo must have been taken in the first lap! A big thank you to Suzzane Crane for the photo and for the support! Hearing a “Go Bilbys” made me ran extra fast.

But of course there is a limit to what support and mental strength can do and I ended up slowing down considerably in the second half. After km 27 I couldn’t run in under 5 min/km but I didn’t really crash. My slowest km was at 5:34 and I finished in 3:20:34, just a minute over my personal best. I was surprised by that and checked the data from my Garmin: the total distance was just under 41km. The same distance came from the watches of different competitors, and it seems that the course was indeed a bit shorter than the 42.195 for the marathon. Even taking that into account, my time would still be around a respectable 3:27.

The 6km race: friends and family

While I was in my second lap, the 6km race started. I wished I were there to see Marcele, Clara, Marconi and Paty in action. It was Clara’s first ever race and I was a very, very proud dad for her effort. She ran the first half without stopping and finished in 48:50. There she is coming to cross the finish line:

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My not-so-little-anymore girl coming to cross the finish line! Photo from the event’s Facebook page.

And a very proud husband as well, as Marcele left the others behind to finish in 42:55. There she is, cruising to cross the finish line.

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And my lovely wife running strong the 6km race. Photo from the event’s Facebook page.

Marconi and Paty were not that far from Clara and finished in 49:40. It was really great to have all of you supporting me and a great cause.

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Paty and Marconi a few meters from the finish. Photo from the event’s Facebook page.

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From top left to right: a) Paty, Nina and Luiz. Thanks Luiz for the recovery barbecue afterwards! b) Stretching the calves with Marconi. c) Almost everyone.

Is there a better way to finish a marathon?

Is there a better way to finish a marathon?

In the package it said: “lasts up to 8 washes”. Well, I have swum at the beach, swum in the pool, sweated over training sessions, been through a hair cut, and washed my hair at least three times as much as the promised 8 washes. However, as I write this post, I still have pink hair. It went from the bright pink to a somewhat purple tone and now is turning more into a “baby pink” as my white hair start to show again. Will I still have pink hair in marathon number 6? It is just one week away!

Marathon #2: race report

If there is one thing that I’ve learned after just two marathons is that there will be last minute changes to the course no matter how much in advance you plan it. It was like that in the first one and it happened again. My original plan was to run from Gungahlin to the Lake Burley Griffin climbing Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie. However, to make it easier for the runners who wanted to join me at different points of the marathon, I changed the map to the one shown on the left of the figure below.

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Left: Map made to replace the original plan. Right: What actually happened on race day. Bottom: Elevation profile of the marathon. You can check the stats of the run here.

With course updated and uploaded to my watch (after struggling for the third time, I promised to myself that I’ll write a detailed post on the tricks to make this uploading process work, wait and see…), it was just a matter of a good night of sleep before the second 42.2 km. “Frost then sunny”, said the forecast for Sunday in Canberra. Apart from the expected negative temperature in the early morning, a sunny day with a predicted maximum 12oC was looking perfect for the marathon.

It came race day and even though I had arranged for a 9:00 start, I was up at 6:30 for the pre-race ritual: anti-chaffing cream, first aid tape, filling camel back, energy gels and bars, camera, watch… On top of that there was feeding the cats, the dog, and waking up my daughter. The night before, Clara seemed excited to come along to take photos but changed her mind. I couldn’t compete with the combination of adolescence tiredness, the sub-zero temperature outside, and the cosy and warm bed. So from the original group of four (myself, wife, daughter and dog), only two of us ended up going to the meeting point at Yerrabi Pond.

The temperature was still below zero when Marcele and I met Luiz, a friend of ours, at the neighbouring lake for the first 4 km of the marathon. Just before we started, I turned the RoadID app on my phone to let people track my run. As you’ll see, this step turned out to be very useful for those joining me later. Marcele, Luiz and I began our 4 km loop around the lake under freezing conditions and lots of ice still on the bike path. They deserve especial thanks for braving the Canberra cold to run with me.

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Winter sunny days in Canberra always deceive: it doesn’t look that cold but it is! Luiz, myself and Marcele braving the sub-zero temperatures. Bottom: I still don’t know whether my wife was happy or if the cold had frozen that smile on her face 😉

After completing the loop, they wished me good luck and I headed to the least interesting part of the marathon: a solo run along the bike path from Gungahlin to Mitchell and then going along the roads to reach the base of Mount Majura. Not even the kangaroos came to say good morning, so I won’t even bother putting up photos of this part.

I reached the base of Mount Majura at kilometer 14. There I met Kylie, a friend from the Bilbys triathlon club that had promised to run about 20 km with me. She had brought with her Guy Jones, another amazing triathlete to run with us. I was definitely in good company. Another Bilby, Petra Lean, was also there to take a few pictures and wish me good luck. What a lovely friend! I should have stopped to hug you, Petra!

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From top left to bottom right: (i) Kylie, Guy and Petra waiting for me with Mount Majura at the back. (ii) Thanks for the support Petra! (iii) Up Mount Majura. (iv) I didn’t quite recognise these two but they shouted “Go Bilbys!” and talked to Kylie and Guy. I think I should return to the club’s rides…

On our way to the top of Mount Majura, I missed a left turn and instead of going up, we made an unplanned loop just to come back to the same point. The first of a few mistakes along the course (compare the planned and actual courses in the first figure). Later that day, I learned from my friend Renee that she was following me on the map when she noticed our mistake: “No Andre! Wrong way, wrong way!”, she even thought of texting me, but I guess that in the end she just decided to enjoy my path getting off the original plan.

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Does it need a caption?

I was feeling quite strong at this stage and ran almost comfortably to the top of Mount Majura. We got cheered by a couple of runners that recognised Kylie and Guy and shouted “Go Bilbys!”. I still don’t know if I never met them or if I simply didn’t recognise them. If the later is true, I’ll blame my focus on the run for that. Mount Majura conquered! Quick stop for photos, energy bar, and changing my GoPro battery.

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At the highest point in Canberra!

We went down, again following a slightly different course from the original plan, and reached the more flat part along the base of Mount Ainslie. We decided to take this path to be closer to the place where Guy had parked his car. At this stage Guy and Kylie looked pretty comfortable and it was my turn to match their pace. Guy left us a bit before the Mount Ainslie climb. Another goodbye, another thankful handshake, and from then on was just me following Kylie.

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From top left to bottom right: (i) Kylie and Guy looking good on the road at the base of Mount Ainslie. (ii) Kylie leading the way up. (iii) Here they are again! (iv) Happy to finish the last climb. It is all downhill from here!

With the change in course, we started the climb to Mount Ainslie at the 27 km mark from the south part, behind the War Memorial. The original plan was to climb from the west around kilometer 21. At least we didn’t do the whole loop around the base before climbing. It would have been a lot harder going up with more than 30 km on my legs. Kylie led the way up to Mount Ainslie and there we met the two runners again. We were not the only ones doing long runs up the hills! Quick stop for photos and down we went again.

Having changed the course after a few missed turns, we ended up doing a couple of extra kilometers. At km 33, we met Elton, a Brazilian friend that followed my path from the app and decided to meet us a couple of kilometers before the meeting point at the War Memorial. We were again three.

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Left: Elton joining us at km 33. Right: Time for Kylie to go. It was a good run!

Behind the War Memorial another goodbye, now to Kylie. It was a pleasure running with you Kylie! I enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with her pace in our last 5 km together. It was at this point that my camera ran out of battery. No photos after that until the finish line! Grrrrrr!

It was now just me and Elton, but not for long. At the front of the War Memorial Alex was waiting to join us. When we reached the Lake Burley Griffin we met Kate, a Can Too runner that trained with me for the Sydney Half Marathon in May. Again, point for the ecrumbs app! Shortly after that and we were joined by Massao and Lucas, two other Brazilian friends. “This is looking like Forrest Gump”, said Kate. Well, there were two more to join: Heather, close to the National Gallery, and Renee at the Commonwealth bridge, With the two Can Tooers joining us, the group was complete!

We ran down the bridge back to the north part of the Lake where a few others were waiting at the finish line: Louise, Luiz, Paty, Nina and Marcele. We passed by them, ran a little more to make the right distance, and came back to celebrate the end of my second marathon.

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Back row: Renee, Alex, Elton, Lucas, Heather. Front row: Kate, me and Massao. Thank you all for running with me!

During my stretching I learned that I had reached my fundraising goal for the second marathon while running. What a feeling! Again, a big thank you for all who ran with me on the day and for those who donated for cancer research!

To finish, the link to a one minute video with the group running at the 41 km mark.

Not your average marathon: race report

It took me a while to set the course but I had finally found one that I was happy with. I was so confident with my choice that I decided to post it on the blog. However, in one week things change…
So, I feel that I need to start this race report with the pre-race events.

Change of plans

I arrived in Benasque on Sunday and announced my plan to my “facebookless” friends. It was a mix of excitement and doubt. Given the number of climbs and their difficult, more doubt than anything else. I must admit that it hit me. On Monday morning, before the workshop started, I went straight up from Benasque to Cerler, a 350 m climb over 4 km, just to test my body. I ended up climbing over 600 m and running 11 km and felt awesome.

The word quickly spread and another friend, a runner that knows a lot about the trails in this region, came to me to make sure that I knew what I was doing. He was genuinely worried and I really appreciated that. Because it was coming from someone with his experience, I decided that I should put some extra thoughts on the course. I decided not to change. The plan of a steady climb for the first 21 km and running downhill for the second half sounded perfect to me.

But that was when my closest friends started to talk about how nice it would be if I could finish up in the valley, at a place that is the starting point of many mountain climbs. They could drive there, walk around the valley and wait for me at a small hut called La Besurta, where we could celebrate the end of the first marathon with beer and food. Now, this was tempting! They were excited about being part of the very first marathon of my crazy journey. The problem? Moving the end point to La Besurta would mean finishing climbing rather than cruising downhill.

For the next couple of days I would take my computer and play with maps in any spare time. I came up with horrendous courses with even more climbs than in the original one. It wasn’t looking good until I decided to include a loop from the hotel Hospital de Benasque and La Besurta. The loop wasn’t really flat, but compared with the other climbs that I would have to face, the 200 m of difference in altitude was nothing. That was it, course decided! The change came even with the bonus of a support crew in the last 12 km, and two runners to share the road with me: Carlos for 20 km and Nadja for the last 12 km.

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Final course and elevation profile.

Race day

Six in the morning and I was already awake. No need for the alarm clock that was set just as a precaution. Vaseline for chaffing, band-aid for nipple bleeding, charged Garmin watch, camel back, energy bars and gels, sunscreen, hat, mobile phone, and the camera. Wow! I usually go with the minimalist style in official races but this was different.

I met Carlos at 7 am and we headed down to Anciles, then Eriste, and back up to Benasque on what was the easiest part of the course. I met Carlos for the first time in 2003 during a summer school in Les Houches, France. We met again in many other conferences since then, but this was the first time that we had the chance to talk about family, books, running or any subject that was not physics. It was a pleasant first 9 km.

We reached the base of the road to Cerler and Carlos stopped to read a book. I know, it sounds weird but was all planned. He wanted to keep me company for as long as possible but he also knew that 30km would be a struggle for him. His idea was to run the first 9 km, have a break while I climbed up to Cerler, and then join me again until the Hospital de Benasque where Nadja would take over to run the last 12 km with me. Brilliant plan!

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From top left to bottom right: Anciles, up to Cerler, down from Cerler, Carlos waiting at the bottom.

So, there I was doing the first big climb of the day to the “pueblo más alto del Pirineo Aragonés” all by myself. I had done that climb twice in the past five days and was feeling confident. I begun strong but soon started to feel the intensity of that climb. Without my companion or music to distract me, I found myself in an anxious state of mind, wondering how many more hills like that I’d have to face.

I have always enjoyed the loneliness of a solo run, so I couldn’t imagine that being the issue. So I just focused on those few hard kilometers until Cerler knowing that I would pick up again on the way down. Many people hate running downhill. I love it! And to make it even better, my knees have never complained about it.

After a speedy downhill from Cerler, I joined Carlos again along the main road and soon we found ourselves running on a gravel road with the Ésera river on our left. I had crossed that road two years before on a bike but couldn’t remember how steep some of those climbs were. I remembered Ruynet, a friend that rode with me in 2013, complaining a lot. “Oh, yes”, I thought, “he had some good reasons to complain”.

Despite the hills, this was the nicest part of the marathon. We spotted a deer (my camera missed that), immersed our shoes in icy-cold water to cross to the other side of the river, and were chatting happily. We were both feeling great.

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From top left to bottom right: (a) Carlos by the “Embalse de Paso Nuevo”, (b) Two happy chaps, (c) On the wrong side of the river, (d) Road to Hospital de Benasque.

After a while, however, Carlos started to feel a bit tired and begun to ask about the remaining distance. I then missed one turn to cross the river again and we had to come back. That was just before we reached the very steep slope that would take us to “Baños de Benasque”. “I remember this road”, I thought, to then alert Carlos: “This is a tough one. Hang in there because after that it should be easy”. When we reached the building of Baños de Benasque, my Garmin was indicating 29 km but we were not at the meeting point yet. Carlos had been following closely my updates on the distance and was psychologically more than ready to pass the baton to Nadja.

Perdon hombre, I miscalculated and we still have a few kilometers to go.” I was feeling embarrassed but there was nothing to do but keep running. We finally reached the first car parking and no signs of the crew. “Are you OK Carlos?”, I asked. “I’m exhausted but let’s go to the next car park”, he said, “It is only 450 away”. We finally reached the hotel exactly at the 33rd km. There was no sign of the crew though. Carlos reached his final destination after 22 km and I was left alone again but, this time, feeling guilty for making my friend run extra three kilometers. He said he would wait for me there. I nodded and headed to La Besurta planning to take the path along the valley. Just before leaving the hotel car park, I faced hundreds of cows just walking towards me. I was fatigued and couldn’t really assess the risks of running towards the herd. Afraid of what their reaction would be I decided to turn back and take the road.

That was the toughest part of the race. I had reached the 33 km mark, legs were tired, Carlos had stopped and no signs of the crew. Marcelo, Terra, Ruynet, Ana, Barbara, and Nadja. None were there. The trees that protected me for most of the way were now gone and the sun was free to hit me. So it did, together with the loneliness and the ups and downs of the road to La Besurta. It didn’t take long to see the group of Brazilians walking up the road. “There they are!”, I thought, and immediately felt invigorated. I could see the smile in their faces, Barbara’s camera pointing at me, and Nadja on her bright lime green singlet bouncing on her feet ready to run. I said in Portuguese: “Tá F#$@&%*… mas tô bem”, something like “It is F#$@&%* hard but I’m OK”. My camera picked that and so did Barbara’s. It turned out she was recording a video and not taking photos at that stage. Anyway, at this point I could only think of how thankful I was to the cows that made me take that road.

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From top left to bottom right: (a) the toughest part, the road to La Besurta. (b) Finally the crew! (c) Nadja “Speedy Gonzales” way ahead. (d) Nadja’s “Do I really need to go up?” moment. Apparently “Speedy” doesn’t like climbs.

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A better view of the “crew”: Ana, Marcelo, Nadja, Terra, Ruynet and Barbara.

Nadja, the rabbit, made me increase my pace. I suddenly was running again in under six minutes per km, something that I hadn’t done since my way down from Cerler. Later she told me that she was trying to keep up with me… she was so wrong! We ran a little bit more towards La Besurta from where we were supposed to turn back to the hotel to then get back again by running on a loop. Having reached Hospital de Benasque with 33 instead of 30 km, I decided to turn back a little earlier to correct for that. At this point I realised that I left Carlos waiting in the wrong spot: it was La Besurta and not the hotel the finish line. That was OK, we had to head back to the hotel anyway.

Nadja and I ran down the road to the hotel and Carlos waved to us from the inside. “That was fast André”, he said. “I’m not done Carlos, the finish line is about 4 km away.” He told us to wait for him while he picked his backpack. The three of us ran together for the first time, I had just completed 39 km and the cows had left the valley open for us to run. Nadja was running in a solid pace ahead while Carlos and I were just cruising. “Go André”, he said, “I can’t run. I’ll just enjoy the walk and meet you there”. I pushed a bit harder to catch up with Nadja and we were together at a big rocky climb. She slowed down but I decided to keep going. I had found my strength again and was feeling as if I had just started, well, sort of. Mentally I was feeling strong but of course the legs were feeling the effect of the 1500 m of ascent until that point.

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From top left to bottom right: (a) I didn’t quite get their joke but apparently it was funny. (b) The last nasty climb. (c) Happiness. (d) Official high five.

I left the climb behind and reached a mostly flat trail. I just made sure that Nadja was not far behind and that she had taken the right path. It was 41 km and I was almost there. I probably had a big smile on my face when the watch beeped 42 km. I took the camera that was sitting on the head mount and focused on the watch: 42.2 km. YES!!! I had just done it! I stopped and waited for Nadja. While approaching she asked: “Is that it? Have you reached the distance?” A yes and a high five later, and I was apologising for miscalculating the course. We still had a couple of kilometers to La Besurta. We ran for a bit more than a kilometer when we saw the last steep incline before the goal. We looked at each other, I looked at the watch and asked “Is 43.5 km good enough?” She immediately replied “Sure!” I stopped the watch and we walked up the hill. From the top of the hill we could see La Besurta and decided to run again just to make an impression to the rest of the crew but no one was there. Marcelo saw and came running towards us. It was all celebration, questions about the race, beer, “bocata” and croissant from Miguel (the baker from El Laminero), and photos, lots of photos. Carlos arrived shortly after to join the party.

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Official group photo: Ana, Terra, Nadja, Marcelo, myself and Ruynet. Barbara was behind the camera 😉 .

Things were not over as we had to walk all the way back to Hospital de Benasque where the cars were parked. But who cares? I had just finished the hardest run of my life, surrounded by friends, and for a great, great cause. I couldn’t feel better.

The runners!

The runners!