This was a strange marathon, my least favourite actual run, but the best experience I’ve had in a marathon. Up at 5:30am, well fuelled from the pasta dinner the night before, a good muesli breakfast, and with plenty of gels and jelly beans, I was set. Luana woke with me, and drove me to the start line. We met her mum and enjoyed the thirty minutes before the race, I had a good position near the 3h50m pacers, by the barrier. I even used the toilet without issue, and didn’t have to line up in agony a la San Francisco 2015!
A kiss to Luana, and I started with the masses. I was running down (up?) Batman Avenue, reasonably quickly (~5:00 pace) among the throngs of runners. I felt pain in my arches. It felt like a cramp, with my left worse than the right. A pain I’ve never felt before. But I continued as it didn’t feel too serious.
The pain subsided as I got into a groove and the running pack started to thin out. Down St Kilda Road and into Albert Park I was on about 5:20 average, feeling good. The wind was noticeable but not as strong as I thought. It didn’t feel too bad going into the headwind, but the tailwinds were pleasant and had me clocking around 5-minute kilometres.
Melbourne Marathon was the monkey on my back; my first marathon, back in 2012, when I had no concept of fuelling or pacing. I went out very hard very early, sub-5 minutes for the first ten, sub 5:10 for the next ten, and then onto about 5:30 (goal pace) for kilometres 20 through 25. From here, it was all
downhill hard. With only two or three gels on me, I was out of fuel and had revved too hard earlier and felt it as I climbed the long uphills of Fitzroy Street onto St Kilda Road and the Tan. I had hit the wall, felt starved of energy, in agony, and I had twelve kilometres to go. I adopted a strategy of walking, with a little bit of running where I felt I could, and then walking. My 4-hour goal was shot, and I ultimately finished in about 4:34 and in a great deal of pain. That night I felt like I was in a lucid state as I tried to fall asleep, and the next two days at work I was in a daze.
I didn’t attempt another marathon for three years. In 2015, I ran Los Angeles and San Francisco about three months apart, and felt great. I raced those marathons. Partly to conquer the sub-4 hour demon, partly as a way to revisit California, a place I love, and partly because I couldn’t explore something like that until I was with Luana. In Los Angeles I was by myself, but in San Francisco, Luana was at the start and finish line, as well as pre- and post-marathon. I kissed my ring when I crossed the finish lines, and she was with me for both 42,195 metres. Both marathons were actually quite straight-forward, with my times pretty consistently 3:55, although San Francisco was hillier. Both marathons were hard work in the last ten ks, and I found switching to sugar in the last 30 to 40 minutes worked for me. Although, there was a distinct shortage of sugar along LA’s final stretch.
Happy with my sub-four hour runs, I took some time off of looking for a destination marathon to run in 2016, but I trained and ran prolifically for enjoyment. More kilometres in the first half of 2016 than all of 2015, I was running well and fit, but I hadn’t done any specific marathon or distance training come Melbourne. I was slightly nervous the week leading to it, but was confident of sub-4 and felt that maybe my volume training and fitness would enable a 3:45 to 3:55 time.
My plan was to run a 5:15 to 5:25 pace, depending on how I felt, and see if I could ramp up in the second half of the race. I quickly accepted a 5:20 average pace, but didn’t accept a sub-4 hour time until late in the day.
Luana asked me afterwards what I think about while running a marathon. For the first 5 kilometres, I was mainly focussed on my running line, foot fall, and maintaining a pace that was in the Goldilocks zone of not too fast and not too slow, particularly avoiding being swept up with the faster runners. For the next ten or fifteen it was more or less about maintaining a fast-ish pace and being aware of my body and how I was feeling. With my foot pain gone, I was checking the time, checking my pace, and trying not to think too far ahead. Once onto Beaconsfield Parade going into the wind, it was much the same. To the turnaround point, use the tailwind and then down to Elwood. From the Fitzroy Street back point it started to become a little harder. This was about 22 kilometres in, my arches started to hurt again, and it was demoralising doing the out-and-back. I kept going, not really taking much of the course in except wondering where Elwood was. At that turnaround point it did get harder. Not only uphill, but into the headwind, with sore feet, and mentally the most difficult part.
I kept plodding, pace into the six minutes now. I told myself I wouldn’t walk. As with each marathon I’ve done, kilometres 26 through 38 are when it feels like it would be so easy to just quit, jump on a tram/bus/Uber, and go home. But it would feel awful. So instead, I focus on not walking, and taking it a kilometre at a time. My body felt good from a fuelling and energy perspective, it was my aching feet.
I remember thinking odd things, like how if I quit I couldn’t let Luana know where I was as I didn’t have my phone with me. But I remembered she had an app that showed roughly where I was, and every time I passed a distance marker chip reader, I tried to send Luana a mental message, ‘I’m coming!’ I would touch my ring, or look at Lulu’s pompom on my shoe, for a bit of encouragement. At 7 or 8 kilometres until the end, I switched to jelly beans. Earlier I had had a moment where I thought I brought too few gels for my run; thinking I had 4, one every 45 minutes would only get me to three hours. But I remembered I had another gel block with me, and was quite proud of my race planning. But, 45 minutes to go was the time I opted to switch to sugar. It helped, it gave me some boost, but didn’t cure the foot pain. I remember thinking I wished I had painkillers.
The last four kilometres I picked the pace up a bit, knowing the end was near. Melbourne is such a demoralising course, consisting of one huge out-and-back, and about four minor ones within the big course (Albert Park, Albert Park pit straight, Beaconsfield Parade / Beach Road, and Birdwood Avenue). It’s hard work when you get to about 15 kilometres left, as while that’s not far for a training run, and is easily doable, when you convert it to time still to go it is about one to one-and-a-half hours, making it feel like a long time out there. Even at four kilometres left, twenty minutes to go can feel like a stretch.
About two ks out I really lifted, back to 5:3oish (I turned my pace off about halfway, resigned to going at pain pace rather than race pace), to try to break 4 hours. I was about four minutes off, too much to cover over a few kilometres, but still went fast. Entering the MCG, I took off my hat and sunglasses, so that Luana could see me.
I saw her! She was waving and jumping and grinning in her green hoodie that I was spotting for. With 100 metres to go, I detoured off the running path and went over and gave Luana, mum, dad and Luana’s mum high fives.
This is what made it the best marathon. My family were all waiting and smiling and happy! I had blown past my target time, so I just enjoyed the experience. I felt great physically, and I was having fun. But, I’m a little annoyed with myself. I wasn’t breaking four hours or a PB, so what was another minute? Why didn’t I stay and give Luana a hug and sweaty kiss? Why didn’t I savour the MCG a little more? I’m not entirely sure, maybe my cognitive skills were bit exhausted, but I feel I should have stayed out there and hugged and thanked her and my family. I think I was still stuck on the four-hour target, however, and that got in the way of me enjoying myself more. For that, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t just let it go and savour the moment, and to show that I appreciate what they did in waiting for me, waking up early, and supporting me. Perhaps it’s good way to learn a lesson.
So, while destination marathons are more fun, I will probably be back for another Melbourne 42.2. To enjoy myself, and to give Luana a sweaty hug and kiss and let her know how much I appreciate her. For her to know I’m proud of us, happy for us, in love.
Having run the marathon, I know I ran below my capability. My body feels comfortable which is an amazing feeling after a marathon! My legs are a little sore, but in a good way. My feet were the constraint, and once I figure out the cause (I think it’s because my shoes were only run in for 20km prior) then it’s onto the next… maybe Great Ocean Road 2017.