It's a fun run, right?
I am awake at about 04.00 (nerves?). Out of bed at 04.30. A few sips of tea, get dressed (race number affixed to T-shirt and all clothing options laid out the previous evening) and leave the house by 04.47. Solid traffic from Barry Parade to the Women's Hospital car park. A half-hour wait in a queue to get on the free buses provided to take runners from the RNA Showgrounds to the Bridge: it's 8 degrees and still dark. But, hurrah, there is no icy blast of aircon on the bus; in fact it's warm; and the route is uncongested almost all the way, unlike last year. I still miss my group start, however; rather appositely, the greens.
We are dropped on Lytton Road and start walking amidst a chattering, lively crowd. I must confess, the sight of all those bobbing dots moving up and over the Gateway Bridge is inspiring. And the sun is up by now. But the walk to the start is frustratingly slow. All I want to do is get on with it. The sooner I start, the sooner it will be over, I hope.
The run up the Bridge to its highest point is more than manageable. Who would have thought that my running route years ago back home – starting with a steady climb half way up the South Downs – would stand me in good stead today, half way around the world. It is one kilometre to the top, and we do it in six minutes. On target. The run down the other side is liberating. I wish it was downhill all the way; then I'd easily run 10 km sub-60. By the 3-km marker I've got 45 seconds in hand; but unfortunately it is subsumed by the realisation that I can't maintain the pace. By 5 km I'm already off target. And I have discovered some way back that, in blindly stabbing at the settings of my iPod while on the bus (no glasses and half-light), I have inadvertently set my running playlist to repeat one track. Idiot.
By the time I reach the lovely riverside stretch of Kingsford Smith Drive I am past caring. I know the ramp up on to the ICB (Inner City Bypass) is coming up and I know it kills. It's at about 8 km and it's two slopes too far. It slows you down massively at a crucial point in the race and is probably the difference between sub-60 or not.
And then I'm at 9 km. Surely I can summon up a last big push for a final, faster kilometre? Apparently not. And there's another hurdle right at the last. All the runners are funnelled into a narrow, twisty, uneven path once they're in the Showgrounds with about 200 metres to go. Tired legs are easily tripped. And there also appears to be a human barrier. Runners ahead of me have stopped dead just the other side of the finishing line and I careen into some poor chap. I am extremely uncomfortable from over-exertion by this time, and the sudden overpowering smell of bacon cooking almost proves too much.
I don't hang around. As I walk to the car park, I develop the most excruciating cramp in both legs. Too late I realise I haven't drunk anywhere near enough liquid since last night. And I haven't done what I always do when I've finished running – drink lots of water.
As the pain eases, I begin to look forward to our special-treat breakfast, at Spicers Balfour Hotel in New Farm. And the endorphins are producing that warm, glad-I-did-it inner glow. There was little doubt that would be my lasting impression, even when I learn that sub-60 remains my goal. (My time: 61 min 24 sec.) I'll just have to do it all over again next year.