The big dance. The final exam. The Granny or just the GF. Or even just THE Final. Every sport has them. The final match of the season where the result matters a lot more, not a little more, a LOT more. The Pichi Richi Marathon fit the bill for my GF for the first six months of the year and capped off almost 12 months of embracing the Quorn dream. I’d gathered a lot of ducks in between first toying with the idea of moving to Quorn, to then actually doing it, to then actually toeing the line in full race mode at the town’s only footrace. Those ducks were officially in a row on Saturday night and come Sunday morning at 7:30am it was time for them to meet their fate…so who are these Mighty Ducks?
Duck #1, the Quorn Origin Story duck:
Twelve months ago Brodie-san and I enjoyed a climbing trip to Devils Peak, Quorn in early July. Originally planned as a 2-day visit, it turned into almost 4 days. Thus the dream was born. If we hadn’t taken that climbing trip, I mightn’t be living in Quorn and if I wasn’t living in Quorn, I wouldn’t have been running as much as I am this year and I wouldn’t have entered the Pichi Richi…
Duck #2, the Return to Running duck:
After focusing on climbing for most of 2020 and 2021 my hiatus from running came to an end in 2022. New Years Day had me running to a banger playlist I had created along the streets of Quorn. I was in my own world, the day was warm, the music was loud and life was good. Damn, I was back into this running caper thing and it felt terrific. I wondered how I would go in a few races close to my Eden Hills residence and whether it would be a quick or slow build to get back to my peak form…
Duck #3, the Guess Who’s Back duck:
First race I entered in 2022 was at Belair and I came first. I’m not pulling your leg here but the first comment I heard when I finished was ‘You’re back!’ by a runner from another mother. He could’ve meant ‘You’re back!’ as in, welcome back to the start/finish line area. But he didn’t, he recognised me from a race or two a few years ago which was nice and a good example of the welcoming feel in the running community. But more to the point of this duck, I was back. Back to peak running form which meant of the 6 races I had entered prior to the Pichi Richi I was pretty happy with my effort and the outcomes in most of them (four 1st’s and two 2nd’s) but had learnt something valuable in all of them. All those key lessons and experience were going to be put to the test on the final exam.
Duck #4, the Local Knowledge duck:
I’ve written before about how good it is to do a race on home soil or terrain that I’m familiar with. I was hoping to use that magic with the Pichi Richi. But that was familiarity I had to build over the course of 12 months. Every time I drove through the Pichi Richi pass I’d visualise running through there. I involved myself in the community by working at the Pool over summer so I had a stronger attraction to finishing at Quorn. Making acquaintances and friends I began to learn about who lives where in town and wave at familiar faces. I hung out at the Oval kicking the footy all by myself so my subconscious brain knew where the finish was. Early on in the piece, around October, I was at the oval with a mate who teaches at Port Augusta and we joked about if I would even enter the Pichi Richi… that’s the same oval I was going to finish at. Heck, I even went walkabout to the top of Devils Peak in the week of the race just so I could see the whole course in a birds eye view. Like all the physical preparation, I had to collect this duck slowly over time. And boy it was good knowing I had a fair amount of local connection with Quorn that the other runners did not…
Duck #5, The Road Runner duck:
The final piece of the puzzle was turning my focus from ‘Outdoor Athlete Fraser’ into one that is capable of performing on a road. Road running involves settling into one rhythm and holding yourself there for as long as possible. Trails have a lot more change in tempo, you exercise different muscles as you work your way through obstacles and they go for a lot longer meaning you have the luxury of making small mistakes without major consequences. I had to get my body and mind ready for this by just pounding out more km’s than usual on the roads around Quorn and try and work out the pace I could hold. I hadn’t done a marathon since my first one in 2017 so there was quite a lot of unknowns going through my head. Having done as much road running prep and pacing work as mentally possible I had to rely on analysing my past race results compared to other runners times on trails and roads to know roughly what I was capable of. But knowing what you are capable of and actually performing to that level are two different kettles of fish…
Now not only was I confident that I’d appropriately collected and organised my ducks I was also confident in my actual training. Consisting of 26 documented weeks of running from New Years Day-ish to Race Day, I had a pretty graph to show for it all.
The peak of the training block from Week 10 onwards was characterised by an average of 140km’s a week which included on average one long run, one or two medium long runs with one of these being over hills or on a trail, at least one interval type session (commonly it was a set of 5, 5 minute intervals with 1 minute recovery) and other light jogging to fill in the blanks. I hadn’t tapered fully since the start of the year except for a very light week post Alpine Challenge, so the final two weeks of prep were a welcome gradual taper to get my body right. If my body were a car, by Week 24 it felt like it had done Perth to Sydney and back again and everything needed to be greased and oiled again. The final two weeks of tapering were like a badly needed tune-up. By calling the Pichi Richi my GF I had even negotiated with myself a break from ordered training for at least two weeks following the race, ensuring I left everything out there on race day.
But let’s get on with the race…Off we went, no 3,2,1 countdown, just a 10 second warning and then bang you’re off. Running under full police escort through Port Augusta was a very cool novelty for the first few km’s. I settled into 3:40/km pace with the same playlist in my ears as I had on New Years Day. My strategy was to hold 3:40/km pace on the flat 15km lead in and then hang on through the next 20km over the hills before rolling downhill from 35km onwards with whatever was left. If I held 3:40 all the way that’d be the course record and from my analysis of the start list I didn’t see any names I knew that were capable of that, but you never know with these things. So I knew that this pace I was setting over the first few km’s was pretty quick. I had company from two other runners who had come 2nd and 3rd the year prior through the first 5 or so km’s before last years second place dropped off. He was an older and wiser runner, who funnily enough rudely (in my view) told me to slow down in my 2017 marathon when I told him it was my first. He was taking his own medicine and he was thinking ‘Good luck with that pace boys, I’ll see you when we hit the hills…’
At the 10km mark I took in my first gel and had a drink. I still had last years third place runner for company who was stuck in my slipstream. The nutrition plan was for a gel and some sports drink at 10km, 20km, 30km and 36km. So far so good was my general thinking at this stage and I clicked skip on to the next playlist I had set up for the 10-20km section. This was probably the toughest section mentally because running through Port Augusta and Stirling North was interesting and from 20km onwards we were going to run through the Pichi Richi pass but between the 10km and 20km marks this section is just open and straight with the sun beaming right at us. Still I’d rather get this part done now as opposed to later on. At the first hill around the 15km mark, old mate snapped. When you’re following someone it’s like there is an imaginary rubber band between you and them and as you slowly drift apart there comes a point where the gap is too big and the rubber band figuratively snaps. It was good to be on my own now that had happened but a Negative Nelly can look at a moment like that and go, oh shit, maybe I’m about to blow up, maybe I’ve gone too hard…
That wasn’t me though. I was trying to believe in myself as much as possible. Sounds funny but as someone who probably over thinks things too much it can be easy to let the doubts roll in. So, for something different I was believing in myself and the process as much as possible whilst also trying to remain careful. A fine line. Coming into the 20km mark I was ready for my second gel and bottle combo and swooped it up like a seagull to a chip. I’ve been critical of races in the past where I’ve had to jolt the aid station into life as I come through. Not these volunteers though, they had everyone’s kit all spaced out, cups ready to go and were organised at every single one. Take a bow organising committee.
I clicked the playlist through once more and got ready for the next 10km stretch. As a bonus booster, the crew at the Half Marathon start all gave a big cheer as I ran past too. I was finally into the hills of the Pichi Richi Pass and could relax and maintain my pace for the next 15km as planned.
Now I was into the hills my body appreciated the change in tempo as I fought gravity up and then let it bring me down. I concentrated on not getting too lactic as I crested each hill but also tried to maximise the downhills. I had slipped off the 3:40/km pace just before the 20km mark but was still trying to aim around the 4:00/km pace. The temperature was heating up slightly so as I came through 25km I grabbed some water and threw it over my head like they do in the big races for a bit of fun. I probably could’ve done with another gel here because by the time I was getting to 27km I was thinking of hitting skip on the playlist already… So I did it at 29km, one kilometre earlier than planned. I was out here to have fun and enjoy myself as I ran fast, so if that meant breaking a rule to only do it every 10km well then it’s fun to break the rules sometimes! It meant that as I flew into the 30km station I was already psyched up for my next carbohydrate intake which was great.
The music I had chosen for the last stretch was all individual classic songs as opposed to the long electronic dance mix stuff I had on for the first 30kms. I’m talking songs like; Killing In the Name, Burning Down the House, Whole Lotta Love, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Mind’s Eye just to name a few. With every run though there’s at least one song that really gets me going, sometimes it’s the same one, sometimes it’s different. On Sunday, as the 30km carbohydrate combo hit my blood and I cruised past the 10.5km runners I Will Survive came on and it was THE song for the day. The scene from The Replacements, great sports movie, was in my head as I sang along and bustled my way through what I believe was the 10.5km walkers who were now sharing the road with me.
After finishing my solo performance I remained on a high. The checkpoints were coming thick and fast at this stage of the race. Only a few km’s to go before I hit the final hill then a kilometre after that I hit the final drink station I had gear at, then a kilometre after that it was past the 5km start and then I was on the home straight.
I really started to enjoy things from here. I reflected on all the conversations I had had with people about what I was training for and especially those that had sent message of good luck (Brodie-san, Rob the Scotch Guru from Mt. Misery and Abrupt, Michaela and Darcy the Port Augusta teacher). Plus others that had either been there in person for the journey (Mum and Dad obviously plus Guangyi) or I knew were thinking of how I’d go (Dalby, Craig, Chad, my siblings and other family members). I had considered the result a lot prior to the race and how it would be great as a base level to be proud of my effort and performance. I had ticked that box. But what would be the icing on the cake is if I won the damn thing. BUT there was a voice in my head, coming from a great Jamaican Bobsledder*, ‘if you’re not enough without the gold medal you never will be with one’ *Cool Runnings reference. So yeah I know that winning isn’t everything and especially in these races where anyone like a Steve Moneghetti in their prime (who was there!) could turn up and blow me away, but everyone also knows winning medals is a form of currency. It’s like how countries are measured on their GDP or how people rate GOAT’s of each sport by how many Grand Slams, Brownlows or centuries they’ve made. Once you win something, it’s your medal forever and something that people will easily remember and bring up in passing conversation… ‘Hey did you hear that Fraser, the guy who works at the Pool, won the Pichi Richi on the weekend?’ That type of stuff. It’s not my biggest motivator to do well but it’s there. As I hit the final kilometre I turned off the music in my headphones and soaked up the fact that I was:
a) Having a bloody good Sunday long run in nice weather
b) Running into the final stretches of a race that only comes around once a year and is on roads I drive or walk on every day I’m at home
c) Turning the page on the final chapter in Part 1 of this years running efforts and means I can move on to getting back to the trails!
d) Going to win the fucking thing!
2 hours 41 minutes and 57 seconds after I started I crossed the line and was relieved. All those ducks I had lined up, all the visualising of what a successful race would look like… it had all turned out as well as I could have hoped for. It was really nice to have some local familiar faces chat to me after the race to congratulate me, plus it was cool to chat with Stevey but it was even better to jog HOME post race for my cool down. The last time a Quorn resident won was supposedly, according to the only source I asked, back in 1983. So yeah, it felt pretty nice and unique to go home, go through my usual post long recovery process of some stretches, a shower and some oats before I headed back to the finish area to embrace the festivities. I quietly sat and watched as runners came through and enjoyed seeing all these people who love running or just like a challenge come into the Quorn Oval. The energy at the end of the race was really good with food trucks there, people chilling out on the grass of the Oval and everyone wanting a photo and chat with Steve (who looked as comfortable as a gazelle in the lion enclosure). A course record would’ve really topped off the morning but for my first time at the event, and first marathon since 2017 (with a new PB) I was pretty happy and content with life.
The Flinders dust has started to settle back into place once more though and having built this race up in my head for the last six months it’s nice to have it cleared out of my head and drop some of the pressure…
Now I don’t have to focus on the road anymore I’m keen to hit a few trail running races I have planned over the next couple of months in between a two week ski trip (my winter hibernation) and some more outdoor work in August. The aim of the game here is to maintain my fitness through till September before I have time for another big training block in preparation for my other Grand Final race this year, the Heysen 115km. It’ll be the first time I run more than 70ish km in a race and is one step on the way to becoming a proper Outdoor Athlete. A nice thing about ticking the Pichi Richi box is that it’s another confidence booster to know my approach and execution when it comes to races works. There’s always ways to improve it but it’s nice to know for the next part of the year that things are heading in the right direction. It’s also good vindication of decisions I have made along the way this year to focus more of my time on running as discussed here (all outcomes have been met).
Finally, thanks again to those that have said good luck, congratulations or just shown some general interest and care in my running this year so far. I appreciate it and use it as fuel to keep my legs ticking over. Also thanks to Snowys for providing me with Gels and electrolyte supplements for the race, that literally was fuel that kept my legs ticking over. Also also, thanks to Tarkine who put the shoes on my legs and the hat on my head. Without shoes, I wouldn’t be ticking those legs over…