*Please note: This post contains images that have been inappropriately screen captured from Marathon Photos, which I will soon replace with legit ones after payday (promise!).
Running a marathon feels a little bit like childbirth. Going through the long weeks of training kind of feels like pregnancy (replace nesting with gear shopping and Braxton Hicks with taper). The race is a just like labour — from both the pain and elation standpoint. In both cases, you get to the end loaded with happy hormones – endorphins in a marathon and oxytocin in childbirth. Recovery is marked by sore body parts and physical therapy. But most importantly, in both cases, you experience lapses in memory of the actual proceedings. Especially the pain-ridden ones. But even so, the victorious finish are reduced to hazy mental images, even though you may vividly remember the immense feelings of joy and relief.
Therefore, it takes a great effort on my fatigued brain to recollect everything that has happened that day.
Let’s start with pre-race hiccups:
1. Travel: Have I mentioned that I messed up my travel bookings? The original plan was to bus down– take the overnight one that leaves Friday night and another overnight one back that leaves Sunday night. That didn’t work out because I made the wrong booking and of course the busses were booked out! I had a mini meltdown as I only found out about it on Friday morning. Luckily hubby jumped to the rescue and got me early flights using his frequent flyer miles; I didn’t even have to alter my plans for Saturday!
2. Carb loading: I felt physically ill as soon as I started carb loading 48 hours prior to the race. I have cut down the amount of grain based carba in my diet to help deal with bloatedness and candida. A combination of pre race anxiety, high workload and bad advice saw me resorting to fluffy white scrolls and sweet muffins. Not only did it bring bloatedness and candida back, I was also ona constant sugar high-crash cycle. In addition to that I had massive gut distress on Saturday but that might have been triggered by the nerves.
3. Weather and gear: Days leading up to the event, facebook was filled with posts about weather forecasts and they all tell you to expect pouring rain and strong wind. Not exactly the most mood-boosting thing!
Apart from it being a downer, this has also thrown my race day outfit plans in flux. Should I wear a windproof outer layer? Should I wear capris instead of shorts or skirts? Visor or cap? I brought two sets along, but in the end decided to violate Race Day Rule #1: Nothing New on Race Day by wearing a brandnew sportsbra and running skirt. I mitigated chafing by literally coating myself in BodyGlide!
This is me putting on my game face!
Getting to the start line was easy. I stayed in an apartment just 500m away from the MCG. Bag drop and pre race loo break went without any issues. No starting waves–surprising, given this is (quoting Pat Carroll, who was announcing the event) THE biggest marathon in the Southern Hemisphere (8,000 entrants)–but there were markers helping runners group with those, who share the same expected finishing time. I oriented myself to the 4:30 marker and positioned myself a few (or more) steps away from it, which placed me 5 minutes away from the start (there was a sea of runners!).
The weather turned out much better than expected for the first half of the morning. There was a mild overcast, little breeze, the sun peeked through at some point and there were great hopes of the weather going into the complete opposite direction to the gloomy forecast (which actually happened on the Saturday–a supposedly rainy day had turned out very warm and sunny).
When the gun went off, weatherwise you could say it was perfect racing conditions.
From the Rod Laver Arena we heades down Batman Avenue to Flinders Street, then Swanston Street to St Kilda Road, passing the Melbournian urbanscape. My original plan was to keep the 4:30 pace group in sight and deep down inside, secretly, I wanted to see of I could keep up with the pacer. But I couldn’t found the group. Disoriented, I ran on my own, eavesdrop on a few conversations to distract my mind, but my mental strength frayed when I glanced at my Garmin — I was going slower than my goal pace 6:35 (for a 4:40 finish).
I debated whether I should switch on my music–but knowing myself, music in the early km’s will leave me deflated in the final km’s as my mind would have been bored by the same thumping tunes! I wound up the courage to approach two ladies, who looked like they were running of a similar pace to mine, and asked if I could run with them.
Best decision ever! We had a great time just chatting away about life, study, running! The conversation kept my mind busy but also helped me hold my race pace (faster than easy but way below lactate threshhold). We kept encouraging each other and pretty much ran as a pack until the 32km mark.
I am forever grateful to them for getting me through my mind battles as we ran around Albert Park Lake and along Beach Road. The long stretch along the beach, in particular, would have been quite mundane and boring, had it not been for the colourful company (literally, my race buddies had bright outfits on!). I generally dislike out and back loops. Although the good thing about this one was the flat terrain and the fact that I could cheer the lead pack (incredible pace!) and my faster friends as they passed me on the opposite lane.
Unfortunately, after we passed the 30km mark, the weather turned. It started bucketing down, and one of my race buddies wasn’t doing so well. We had our earphones on after we crossed the 28km, when pain started to invade our senses and the need for more powerful mental distractions arose. We parted ways when Reese (I think that was her name?) took an abrupt walking break; it happened so quickly, in hindsight, I should have memorised their bib numbers to track them down after the race and thank them in person. Ezy, a strong and forceful runner, went ahead of me but I must have slipped past her when she stopped at a drink station around the 35km mark.
At that point, we were heading back into the city. It has stopped stopped pouring and we started getting strong wind. Awesome. I was mindful of the fact that there was a chance that I would hit the wall soon. I started seeing people walking. The guy with thw CrossFit figure and posture in front of me. The woman with the lithe runner body. Walking. My mind started playing on me. I slowed down.
Then, around the 36-37km mark, I spot the MCG. Sweet, I thought, not long now. I tried not to get too excited because I know that there is deceptive detour around the Botanical Garden. But I sped up regardless–I wanted to talk walking breaks at the drink stops, so I had to run a slightly faster pace to stay within my goal time. In fact, before reaching 36km i had actually given up on 4:40. My intention, after all, was to finish and experience Melbourne. So I said to myself then, I’d be happy with anything under 5 hours. But when I got to 36, with about 6km to go, I realised that I COULD REALLY SMASH THIS! That reignited my spirit and brain–I started to be calculated about my pace and found new spring in my step.
I got progressively faster, overtook countless runners (albeit having had to walk a bit around the 38km mark–that might have been my wall but didn’t take me long to start running again) and passed the 40km mark with a triumphant feeling as adrenaline took over–I can really do this! I thought, as I was running down Flinders Street. The MCG was just around the corner. My mantra was “Keep going! You are in PB territory!”.
Then something happened. I felt a strong pull. And my left hamstring just seized. It was so agonising! I hobbled to the side of the path and did a couple of stretches. No change, still cramping. Devastated, I mourned my PB. How could this happen? I started limping. So disheartening having to limp back to the MCG! Then after walking for about a minute, I got second wind. I drank all the water I had on me. I started shuffling. The pain subsided. I picked up my pace but did it gradually as to not to upset that twinge on the back of my left leg. Then just before turning into the Wellington Parade South to head back into the MCG, I spotted a friendly face. Donny, who had just smashed a sub 2 half (PB for him! Yay!) tapped me on the shoulder and shouted words of encouragement while running a few steps alongside me. After that I just flew! I slalomed past the last drink station, weaved in and out walkers and stoppers and in the last km we ran alongside the 3km runners, I pushed myself more. I could feel blisters forming and my toe nails hurting… Who cares! I am too close to slow down!
Entering the MCG felt like a dream. I loved running around the oval to the finish. Again, overtook quite a lot of runners while trying to stay on the marathon chute. I threw up my hands and soaked in the grand atmosphere. What a feeling! Crossed the line at gun time 4:46 — a sense of massive joy and relief. Didn’t care about my time then, nothing could take away this feeling.
I will save of what happened in the aftermath and my review of the race organisation for Part 3. Watch this space!