Race Review: Jackie’s big PR at Sydney Marathon

Jaclyn Lee has run a whopping 15 marathons. She’s originally from America but is currently living and working in NZ, which is allowing her to sample some of the race offerings in our corner of the world.

Last weekend Jackie ran Sydney Marathon (well, she actually dominated Sydney Marathon with a shiny new PR!) and I caught up with her to see how the race went and whether the Sydney Running Festival is worth crossing the ditch for.

Sydney Marathon Harbour Bridge

To kick off, how did you enjoy the Sydney Marathon?
I had never been to Sydney, and so for me I actually really just enjoyed the course. Despite a fair bit of double-backing, the course was throughout the city passing by some major highlights. It started on the other side of the harbor, and within the first couple of miles you got to run across the harbor bridge. The course went through the Royal Botanical Gardens, Centennial Park, and some cool city neighborhoods. It eventually finished by the Sydney Opera House. Even with the double-backing, I found that I got to see different things the second time around, and when you got to a stretch of uphill you knew there would eventually be a downhill.

Before we delve into how you got that new PR (personal record), let’s wind the clock back a little how long have you been running and what got you into it? 
I ran track in high school to stay in shape between the soccer and lacrosse seasons, but was more of a sprinter participating in the 55m dash and 300m. I didn’t start running long distances until about seven years ago. Since then I have run 15 full marathons, and a few half marathons.

I would have to give credit to my older sister for getting me into running. I was never into running, never mind anything more than the two miles (3.2km) I had to do for soccer and lacrosse training.

I grew up 5mins from the start of the Boston Marathon; so close it was practically in my backyard, but yet so far that it took about 45mins to drive to the finish in Boston. The thought that people would run that distance always amazed me. Never did I think one day that I’d run that 26.2miles.

It was back in 2007 that after my sister found out that the woman who won the New York Marathon (and the current women’s world record holder), Paula Radcliffe, had had a child earlier in the year and still won, she thought, “Yikes, If she can do that [give birth] and still win, I gotta give a go at a marathon!” She asked me if I’d run one with her and, without really thinking about what that would entail, I said, “Sure, why not!”

To be honest, the longest distance I did during my training for my first marathon was 14 miles (22.5kms). I read a few websites on how to train, but I really had no idea what I was doing.

I was studying at the time of training, so I used what little time I had left to run, clear my head and de-stress. In fact, the race that my sister and I signed up for was the day after I had a 10-hour exam, and so during the actual marathon I think I was overcome with a mix of exhaustion, adrenaline and the desire to just finish that got me through to the end. When I finished, I thought, “Well, that was kinda hard … but now what?”

Then I decided why not make a lifetime goal of running a full marathon in every US state, plus the capital. I figured it would be a cool way to add purpose to visiting every state besides the tourist sites, and stay in shape throughout my life.

What are some of the coolest marathons or other races you have run? 
Each marathon has been a unique experience. Las Vegas started at 4pm, and so we ran the strip at night. And despite bonking through a good portion of it, it was still pretty cool.

Chicago was an unreal experience with the amount of runners and spectators. It is one of the world marathon majors and brings in about 45,000 runners. It is also known for being a fast course, and so I was really hoping to PR. In the end, I didn’t but I really wasn’t bothered by it because the experience of just being surrounded by so many other runners and spectators cheering for you the entire course, that it is one of my favorites thus far.

On the flip side, I ran one outside of Phoenix, Arizona, in the desert with only 350 marathoners. It was pretty desolate, but surprisingly the cactus and red-rock mountain formations never got old.

People often ask if I’d do a triathlon or do an adventure/obstacle run, but I have yet to delve into those sectors. I hardly deviate from pavement, so maybe first I’ll give trail running more of a chance.

So with all these other races to compare off, was there anything you didn’t like about the Sydney Marathon experience?
I thought that there would be more spectators/cheer support because it was a seemingly big event for the city. But there were hardly any except for the finish area. Fortunately there were enough runners (nearly 3500 finishers) that you were always near another runner to keep you motivated.

The last 10km was physically and mentally challenging. Physically because it was on the motorway, and so the on/off ramp and the over/underpasses were quite taxing at that stage of the race, and mentally because you ran very close to the finish area but yet you still had a quarter left.

Oh, and the plastic cups at the water stations … As if it is not hard enough to drink while running, it’s even harder when you can’t squeeze the cup to minimize the sloshing, lol.

What tips would you give to others thinking about jumping the ditch to try the Sydney Marathon?
Go if you have never been to Sydney and want another reason to go! The sights, especially through the parks, are quite enjoyable. Since it’s the beginning of spring, the weather could be a hit or miss, but I imagine it would still be a nice, warmer and drier quick getaway from Auckland.

In terms of training, I would make sure to get a few long, gradual hills in. None of them were particularly steep but think motorway ramps that have an incline and a bank.

Also be prepared for the double backs. At some points you literally just turn around a cone which can break your stride as you change directions so abruptly. Also, even though the number of participants and running events they offer are of a descent size, the expo and post-race are that of a small-town race. Hence, go instead for the experience of the sights and the city.

How big was your PR and what were you thinking when you stopped the watch?
I set a new PR by 4 minutes (3:51). I generally don’t study the courses in much detail because I like just being able to experience the here and now of them. I usually only look at my watch at the start and finish; only occasionally do I glance at my pace if I am feeling particularly sluggish (to speed up) or too fast (to slow down to prevent myself from burning out). I hardly looked at my watch during Sydney, so I really didn’t know what my time was going to be. It wasn’t until about 200m to the finish line when I saw the official gun-time clock was better than my previous PR. So still feeling good I kicked it up a notch through the line.

The last time I set a PR was five years ago, with 10 marathons in between. So I was pretty stoked when I actually saw my official time!

During the race what were some of the keys to nailing that PR?
When I started to get tired I had to remind myself to stay relaxed and be light on my feet. It’s so easy to get lazy in your form and lose focus toward the end. However, I find that that just makes the run more difficult. I kept my shoulders relaxed and didn’t reach for the next step but rather pushed the ground behind me.

Not only is being physically strong important for completing a marathon, but I also believe being mentally strong can be half the battle to a successful finish. You gotta trust your training and be confident that you can do it, whatever “it” is to you (i.e. just finishing or setting a PR).

I often come up with little mantras, like “what goes up must come down” if I am in the midst of a killer hill or on a particularly hilly course.

How about training, has anything particularly helped you out this time around? Aside from having Auckland’s beautiful winter weather to train in!
Ha, yes … Auckland’s beautiful yet wet, chilly winters … not ideal, but I suppose better than snowy winters or stifling summers that I would have to contest with where I grew up in the States.

Weather aside, I definitely give credit to the structured speed workouts that I have incorporated into my training. Speed workouts were always outlined in my programs, but I often made excuses to only put forth half the effort just to get through them. Since joining TempoFit I have become more confident that I can actually complete them while still putting in 100% of the effort.

You’ve taken part in the past few seasons of TempoFit, how has this helped your running and enjoyment of training?
TempoFit brings together runners of all abilities; from the beginners to the super fast, we all just seem to want to improve what we already enjoy doing. I have found that the 6-week-long seasons have been a good, definitive time to track my progress since it starts and ends with a 5k time trial. The technique cues that we learn have also made me aware on how to be a more efficient runner.

The non-competitive, friendly atmosphere of TempoFit also has made training more enjoyable. The only pressure to train harder comes from myself, and so just being surrounded by super fast runners gives me the extra push. It has also been really fun being a pacer on the weekend long runs because I hope to bring inspiration and encouragement to the group to go the longer distances. And one of the best perks is that I get to see different parts of Auckland that I would probably never otherwise see or know of.

What’s next on the cards?
Two weeks following Sydney, I am heading to Great Barrier Island to run the Wharf-to-Wharf Marathon and then Auckland Marathon in November.

Wharf-to-Wharf will be my first trail-like marathon, and I figured since I live in Auckland, I should probably run the city I reside in. I am not sure how long I will be living in New Zealand and so I am just trying to hit up marathons in cool places.

New Zealand sure has a lot of cool, gorgeous places to see. So maybe while I put my “50-stater” goal on a slight hiatus, I’ll run every major city in New Zealand!

Find out more about TempoFit and join our Sunday runs (free-of-charge and for all abilities). 

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