The thought of running a fast time for a 100 km road race has popped into my mind over the past couple of years. As a target it rates a lower priority than my trail running goals but it persistently remains in the periphery.
When I realised that I would be in Australia during the running of the Gold Coast 100, a 100-km road race held in Queensland the peripheral target returned into focus. But luckily reality stepped in before I got carried away. Whilst I have run great times over the marathon and half marathon this year my mileage has been too low to allow me to convert that speed into a good time over ultra marathon distances. In the end I decided to attend the race, but without big targets in mind.
When the race started with first light I took off at my target pace of 4:48 min/km. That is the pace required to achieve a sub-8 hour 100-km time, and the target I would like to conquer at some point. I had decided to use the race as a gauge of my ultra marathon fitness, setting my starting pace and seeing how long I could maintain it.
As a small race involving minimal interaction with other runners I had decided to use music for my first-ever time in a race, and one of the very first times in all of my running. I settled into a rhythm, and just under an hour after starting I found myself at the turnaround point for the route, which involves four out-and-back laps of 25 km. Reversing direction along the route I found myself back at the start/finish line in just under two hours, with one lap complete, exactly on pace and feeling comfortable.
I had placed an energy bar in a drop bag to consume at the start of lap two, as I commonly use them in trail races but I realised that it wouldn’t go down well at the pace I was doing. Even after many races I still need to work out the best nutrition for a fast and flat road ultra marathon.
As I approached the turnaround point for lap two I noticed that I was quickly gaining on the runner ahead, and we chatted briefly as I went past a short while later. I had been taking 30-second walk breaks just before the turnarounds every 12.5 km, and as I approached the end of lap two I decided to take a slightly longer 1-minute walk. Before the race I had considered the halfway point as a possible place to stop if my legs felt tired, but I was still on pace and feeling in control, completing the lap for a total time of just under 4 hours.
After looking at my watch quite a few times during the first lap to settle into my pace I had continued to run by feel once it had become comfortable. As I approached the aid station at the 10-km point of my third lap (i.e. the 60-km point) I looked down at my watch to realise that I had slowed slightly and would arrive approximately one minute behind schedule. My legs still felt relatively good but I could sense that I was tiring.
Many thoughts and possibilities passed through my mind, but in the end I am glad that I had the self control to make the correct decision for my circumstances. I eased back and ran out the rest of lap three, completing the lap for a distance of 75 km in 6:11. I informed the race officials that I would not be continuing and went back to my accommodation to shower before returning to watch runners cross the finish line.
I was feeling quite sore and initially a bit disappointed, but by the next day I was already walking quite well and was planning my training for the following week. I had completed a great long training run, gauged my ultra running fitness, and enjoyed a relaxing week in Queensland.
Now I will complete some big training weeks to prepare myself for my main target race of the year in August. After that, maybe a fast 100-km road race might come back on the agenda.