Run, Write, Melbourne Marathon ’16

Run, Write, Melbourne Marathon ’16

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.

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Pre-race nerves ūüėõ
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.

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Into the MCG
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.

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On your marks
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.

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The moment I saw her
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.

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The camera sees all

Heart

Heart

This weekend I took a creative writing course through RMIT, encouraged by Luana and spurred on by having the time and space to explore my creativity in a form I love, writing.  I find it difficult to not filter my words, and the facilitator, Lucy Treloar, gave some helpful tips on how to express words in the manner in which they are felt.  In this example below, I was trying to use action and motion as the setting for something bigger and more emotional.  I would love to hear your feedback.

They trotted along the freshly manicured grass, telling themselves they were priming their muscles for the race. ¬†Everyone knew, however, and it was secretly enjoyed by both men and women, that it was to show off their physiques.¬† Reminding me of stallions, the runners¬†would powerfully lift their calves to their buttocks, their thighs bulging and shining through their compression tights, as they slow-motioned their way along the practice track, laughing and exuding a pretense of careless ease.¬† Across the oval was the racetrack proper, where every few minutes there would be a hush across the entire arena. ¬†No matter where I stood, whether at the cricket scoreboard with the young teenagers flirting and romancing, to the pungent¬†air¬†of dim-sims and greasy chip food trucks, or amongst the bookkeepers who had never left the fifties, pencils in ear, visors on sweaty foreheads, scrambling to stay ahead of their ledgers; the official‚Äôs voice silenced all, ‚ÄúMarks‚Ķ Set‚Ķ‚ÄĚ <CRACK>! ¬†Smoke, pause, then a rainbow in motion as the frocked athletes thundered their paces.¬† Three breaths and it was all over, four and the crowd resumed their conversations, betting and walking along the outer circuit of the Stawell Gift.

I had just finished leaning over the barrier watching a heat, and pushed my weight back up to wander, admiring the athletes and wanting to be a part of their stable.¬† I turned my back to the track and saw her.¬† I couldn‚Äôt turn away, I couldn‚Äôt hide, although my brain tried to process how and where I might.¬† I was stuck.¬† I was close enough to see the ugly scar on her upper chest from the Hickman catheter, and felt a knot in my stomach that bordered on sickness.¬† Her hair was long again, much like when we first met but nothing like those last months, even year, we had been together.¬† And still dark, stained by the blood chemicals, not blonde as I wondered whether it may return, and as she secretly hoped it would.¬† My mouth was open, with nothing to say except ‚Äėoh.‚Äô¬† My nerve faltered and no words emerged, or maybe it was the distracting glint and blur that came my way, reminding me of a shooting star that is only visible from the corner of one‚Äôs eye.¬† I heard the slap before I registered pain and realised I was again facing towards the athletes.¬† A thoroughbred had stopped in his tracks, such must have been the surprise and sound.¬† I turned my head back towards her as my mouth closed, in time to see the blinding sunburst again, as my hand caught her wrist mid-stroke.¬† I recognised the shiny¬†gold ring we chose together, wondering why she still wore it.¬† I felt her wrist pulling my arm down as she fell¬†in a heap, shuddering.¬† I didn‚Äôt know whether to let her wrist go, or to keep her dangling by maintaining my hold. ¬†I sensed the crowds‚Äô eyes on me as¬†seconds turned¬†into hours.¬† I kneeled down, my hand damp in her trembling wrist now, as I looked at her, terrified at what I might face behind those sunglasses.

Scribe Me, San Francisco

Scribe Me, San Francisco

Writing is scary. ¬†I don’t know what will come out. ¬†I have spent a lot of years afraid to let myself write from the heart, instead writing business, MBA and work content. ¬†A lot of this came from suppressing pain and feeling, thus suppressing my heart. ¬†So when I have let myself open my heart to write, beams have come out, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely and been equally scared. ¬†But, I’ve still limited myself to writing about¬†business-related subjects. ¬†When I asked Luana, who has been incredibly encouraging, what I should write about, she rolled her eyes and said, “Anything! ¬†San Francisco, running, writing, New York, travel. ¬†Just write!”. ¬†So,¬†I’m writing about what I love.

Cool, Grey City of Love
Cool, Grey City of Love

I first visited the City by the Bay in 2006, and I fell in love. ¬†It was December, and Karl the Fog was cunning in his frequent¬†and unannounced visits. ¬†I stayed for only a few days, at the Adelaide Hostel, near Union Square. ¬†A hostel in an alley, run-down and hidden, but with the friendliest staff and vibe. ¬†I still have my journal from my first San Francisco trip, but I’m writing this from memory and feel. ¬†I explored on foot, walking the hills and the beaches towards the bridge, meeting people, trying to be a local. ¬†There are so many quotes about the allure and mystery of The City, that all fit my and others’ experiences of San Francisco. ¬†It is a city that accepts anyone and everyone, that shrouds them in love and just lets everyone be who they are and who they want to be.

“No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does. ¬†Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living.”¬†-William Saroyan

I fell in love with San Francisco, and have always longed for her. ¬†This first trip opened my heart to The City, and I have so many fond memories from my time there; meeting Danny the Australian and walking across the Bridge with him; Gabriella, the Hungarian water polo player I met through Craigslist who introduced me to the BART and East Bay; finding the Bacchus, a local pub, which led to finding The City’s gems like the best underground sushi, the Exploratorium, and the best view from a hotel lift (Westin St. Francis).

I returned in 2010, in a painful way.  I only visited SFO, San Francisco International Airport, on transit back to Australia from a work trip.  I was (telling myself I was) enjoying the corporate high-flying life, a business class ticket home after meeting executives.  But I felt pangs as I walked through the news store in the terminal, and saw the SF Chronicle, Golden Gate Bridge artwork, and artefacts that triggered my longing for a life true to my heart.  I suppressed, but looking back, knew what I felt at the time.

Then, in 2014, it was time to return with my then-wife. ¬†We booked a nice Union Square hotel and had four or five days in the Golden City. ¬†I was apprehensive. ¬†What if it¬†didn’t feel like the San Francisco that I fell in love with? ¬†What if The City had changed? ¬†What if Jacinta didn’t like it? ¬†What if I didn’t like it? ¬†I needn’t have worried about any of that, The City and I reconnected. ¬†But, I felt like she knew I wasn’t being true to myself. ¬†I was a tourist, I wasn’t myself; Alcatraz, bike touring, degustations, five-star hotels. ¬†It was lovely and luxurious, but it wasn’t me, and that is all San Francisco asks of you and encourages you to be. ¬†I left knowing something was missing from my visit, something was lacking. ¬†I felt incomplete. ¬†Photos of me during that trip show an empty smile and sad eyes, maybe just a world weariness. ¬†There was happiness, but it was heavy.

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“One day if I do go to heaven, I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.” – Herb Caen

Upon returning to Melbourne, I longed.  I read SF Chronicle articles, I subscribed to the Chronicle, I looked for San Franciscan jobs.  Then, I suppressed again.

It wasn’t until I began the painful process of remembering and letting myself feel pain, hurt, emotion, sadness, happiness again, that I lifted my gaze¬†and thought about visiting The City again. ¬†I avoided San Francisco in March 2015, in case it brought back painful memories. ¬†So, I skirted her and visited what John Lennon referred to as “the big parking lot,” Los Angeles. ¬†San Francisco was close, but I wasn’t ready. ¬†When I returned, I wanted to embrace San Francisco as the city I fell in love with again, and be true so she could embrace me.

“San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” – Paul Kantner

Luana and I prepared our trip for July 2015. ¬†We were apprehensive, particularly about pain and sadness triggers The City might bring about for me. ¬†I countered these by arranging minimal overlaps between my trip with my ex, and this trip. ¬†I think I knew I would be OK, or maybe it is with retrospect, that I see in being true to myself and going to the places I wanted to, and Luana and I wanted to, everything was OK. ¬†We even managed to time our visit with the San Francisco Marathon, where I would combine my love of running with a city I adored. ¬†42.195 kilometres from The Embarcadero, around Fishermans Wharf and Marina, out and back Golden Gate Bridge, and then slogging through Presidio, entering Golden Gate Park’s endless loops, up and down Haight-Ashbury, before swinging back past AT&T Park and The Bay Bridge to the finish line and Luana. ¬†It was a beautiful run. ¬†Compared to the Los Angeles Marathon a few months earlier, which was bold, flashy and on display; the San Francisco Marathon felt understated, cool, pure, and without all the hype. ¬†Oh, and I am very sorry San Francisco, for soiling your sidewalk pre-Marathon, post-coffee (runners will understand).

Laughing in Nob Hill, happy
Laughing in Nob Hill, happy

Our July 2015¬†trip to The City was amazing. ¬†Luana also fell in love with San Francisco. ¬†After driving from Los Angeles (which she wasn’t too impressed with, understandably), we both loved our first glimpses and experiences in The City. ¬†From feeling the cool, foggy breeze, climbing the hills, running into a coyote at Coit Tower, seeing the Transamerica Pyramid from our rooftop, laying on Ocean Beach, burying a love note capsule, finding an old map shop. ¬†Watching and interacting with our neighbours at sunset from our rooftop in Nob Hill, with a glass of wine, felt like 70’s America; communal, free¬†and without a care in the world.

Post-Marathon
Post-Marathon

A weight started to lift from from shoulders on this trip.  If my escape to LaLaLand in March was a pressure release, this trip was R&R, convalescence, an opportunity to heal.  Laughing in the streets, drinking and playing, running and laying in the sand, falling in love, being happy.

Happy, rooftop, sunset, San Francisco
Happy, rooftop, sunset, San Francisco

Now, San Francisco inhabits that place in my heart and my head that I long for. ¬†I know she isn’t perfect, and she knows I’m not. ¬†I realise that’s why I love her, and she helps me see that I need to accept and love my own imperfections.

“Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger ¬†as long as possible. ” – Walter Cronkite

California
“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.” – Oscar Wilde