Race report – Henley to Henley

Henley to Henley is an interesting beast. Normally it is called ‘Hills to Henley’, a 30km point to point run which follows the course of the River Torrens from Athelstone down to the outlet at West Beach. It is a net downhill but undulating course, in a similar vein to the Greenbelt half marathon. This year, because of the O-Bahn works, it was not possible to do a continuous run along the river so the organisers opted to make it an out and back starting and finishing at the seafront.

Each year there are also shorter runs on offer. The distances vary from year to year, but this year there was a 15km and a 5km option, both starting a little later than the 30km but also out-and-backs following the same course (naturally with earlier turnarounds)

I had never done the 30k before. In 2013 I did the 15k which at that point was the furthest I’d ever run, and was stoked to finish in just under 1 hour 15. I remember it was a bit chilly at the start but the sun came out as the countdown to the start began!

In 2014 and 2015 I volunteered at this event – in 2014 as 5km turnaround marshal and in 2015 I was on a drink station.

This year I had opted to run the 30k as an ideal lead-up to the Adelaide Marathon in 3 weeks. The timing of the event is designed for that very purpose and I guessed most of the 30k entrants were intending to run Adelaide.

I’d never run a 30k race before. It is an awkward distance, somewhere between a half and a full marathon. Should I run at half marathon pace or full marathon pace? Or somewhere in between? 

I crunched the numbers. 5 minutes per km would be 2 hours 30. I can do a half at under 5 minute pace but not a full. Not yet. So I thought 2:30 was a bit ambitious. 3 hours would be 6 minutes per km – I knew I could go much faster than that. 2:45 would be 5:30 per km – again well within my capabilities. So I decided to aim for between 2:30 and 2:40. 

As I am thinking of wearing a small race vest for Adelaide, I decided to wear it for this event, to get used to the feeling. I had only 2 small bottles of Gatorade and some spare powder in case I needed to mix up some more. I also put a light rain jacket in there, and my energy supplement for later! I didn’t bother putting the bladder in there as I didn’t think I’d need to drink any water. I hadn’t touched any water until the 28k mark at Gold Coast and it had been quite warm there.

I’d followed my normal programme during the week but my legs felt really heavy, more so than usual – I guess that’s what a marathon, 6 hour ultra and 36k training run in consecutive weeks will do to you! I hadn’t run on Saturday and I’d had my favourite pre-race meal of pizza (a happy coincidence – I’d been to a friends house for dinner and that just happened to be what we were having!) along with a few glasses of my favourite sparkling red!

It was a cold morning. I went with my usual formula – running singlet, arm warmers, compression shorts and calf sleeves, and running skirt. The top I wore was the one I first wore at Yurrebilla and then Heysen, which is stained on the back due to the dye from my backpack running, and which therefore I only now wear under a backpack! I also had trackpants and a jacket over the top for the expected cold start! Oh, and gloves – they would be needed – and a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.

I can only remember once before racing in the rain and that was at last year’s 6 hour. It was highly unlikely that we’d get out of this race without a little rain!

I got to the start in plenty of time to collect and attach my bib and have a quick bathroom stop. I then reluctantly took off my trackpants and got my sunnies out – not that I was expecting to need them but I thought it would be worth sticking them in my backpack just in case. As I took off my trackpants the sunnies blew off the top of my car and one of the lenses fell out – I got on my knees and looked under the car but couldn’t for the life of me see it! Oh well – it wasn’t going to be sunny anyway!

It was then time for a short warmup. It was really cold but not raining at this point. I ran down to the surf club and back to the car. As I headed back towards the car, the runners were starting to head to the start line. I’d forgotten that the start line was not the same as the finish line! So I had to leg it back to the car, dump my jacket, then go back to the start, arriving about 2 minutes before the start. It was actually perfect timing as I was warm as I could have been by the time we started.

I wore my gloves for the first 2km then took them off and carried them, waiting for an opportunity to dump them at a drink station (I couldn’t be bothered taking off my backpack to put them in!) As someone who always has cold hands, this is the best thing I could have done, as I didn’t have any issues for the rest of the race, whereas others complained of cold hands throughout. 

At the start I was going back and forth with a young guy, let’s call him Charlie (because, as I later found out, that is his name!) who was alternating between running and walking. Within the first 4km I think he passed me 4 times and I passed him 3 times while he was walking! At one point I heard him telling someone else that he was using a walk/run strategy. When he passed me the 4th time I wondered if I’d catch him again!

Not long after this I was following a guy who I eventually caught up with and ran with for a good few kilometres. He recognised me and introduced himself as Gary, who I hadn’t met before but knew through Strava. Turned out he was a very new runner – only running for 9 months and doing his first marathon next month at Adelaide! We had a good chat and I eventually left him at around 11km. By this time it had started raining and I think it pretty much continued for the rest of the race!

By now I was in very familiar territory – along part of the Torrens parkrun course and past the Convention Centre and Elder Park (a regular feature of some of my morning runs but also part of the Masters Games half marathon last year). It was around this point that I saw Nat, a regular running buddy who was also the one who taught me to ride a bike with cleats, and who was out for her long Sunday run! 

The turnaround point was just past the 15km mark. Not long before this I started to see the front runners coming through. There were a few familiar faces among them – Alex, Gordon and Gary (different Gary!)

I had my energy supplement just before 15km and started the long run back, following the same route as the way out. On the way out I enjoyed the downhills without allowing myself to think about the inevitable uphills they would become on the way back. And although the uphills (such as they were) were a bit brutal, I could take comfort in the knowledge that they would be nice downhills on the way back! (I don’t have my hill legs back since UTA100 – got a bit of work to do there!)

There was a girl in front of me who had been not far in front of me for some time. As I wasn’t stopping at the drink stations and she was, I would make up a bit of ground and then she’d pull away again. I think, from looking at the photos and the results, that her name was Sam. I eventually passed her at around 18km. By now we were back on the parkrun course and after what seemed like no time at all I saw the 19km sign. Up until then my Garmin had been a few hundred metres behind the actual distance, but at the 19k sign I was somehow ahead! I guessed that maybe the strong wind had moved the sign – no way had I done 1km since the 18km mark! 20km came and my Garmin was back to being behind.

I wasn’t looking at my watch except to see my average pace. At the turnaround I was sitting on about 5:09 pace. I wanted to do a negative split. I was pleased to see my pace increasing ever so slightly.

Between 22 and 23km we passed the 15km turnaround and started to see a lot more runners. I had overtaken a few of the 30km runners between the 30km turnaround and the 15km turnaround, and it’s amazing how much of a boost that gives you! I managed to overtake a few of the 15k runners too. Also, up until I started to see the 15k runners I hadn’t seen anyone in a while, to the point that I wondered at times if I was on the right path!

Not long after this I caught up with Charlie. He had been doing a 9 min/1 min run/walk since the start and it was working well for him. Like I had with Gary, Charlie and I had a great chat and that really helped to distract the mind and legs from the running, and the rain and icy wind! Charlie is also doing the Adelaide Marathon and is a relatively new runner like me, having been running for only about 3 years. He was telling me all about the Melbourne Marathon – he recommended doing the half rather than the full, and still finish on the MCG! That sounded pretty good to me!

A bit further down the track we reached the 5km turnaround and we knew the end was in sight – less than 2.5km to go! I told him to feel free to take off if he wanted to – he said no, he didn’t want to, it was a bit early for that! He had stopped walking by the time I caught up with him, opting to run the rest of the way.

We went under the bridge and back onto the coastal path – part of the West Beach parkrun course and SO close to the finish! I saw photographer Tracie who I had seen a few times along the way and tried to do some funny poses – I did SO want to try a jump shot but was worried about falling over on the slippery path!

With just a few hundred metres to go it was time to pick up the pace (and I advised Charlie of this too!) 

With the finish line in sight, we increased the pace and as it turned out, crossed the finish line together in an official time of 2:34:50. I think that’s just about as good as I could have hoped for! My average pace overall was 5:06 so I had achieved my negative split!

Not long after we finished, Gary came over – he had finished only a few minutes behind me and was very happy with his run! (This was new Gary. The other Gary, who I caught up with later, had done a phenomenal 2:15!)

The presentations and lucky prize draw were cancelled due to the bad weather, so after grabbing an apple at the finish line I changed out of my wet singlet and cranked up the car heater for the drive home!

Despite the pretty gnarly weather it was yet another fantastic SARRC event. I am hugely thankful for all the volunteers who were out there in the same conditions as us runners, but not able to keep warm by running! Thanks so much guys and girls! You’re all awesome!

It was very satisfying to complete my first 30km race and finish strong – although my legs are well overdue for a break I am confident they will get me through the Adelaide Marathon and then I will treat them to some nice trails! I promise, legs! 3 more weeks…

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