I have lost count, but counting is not that important. I am heading to 20 marathons in total, which has included New York (twice), Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Big Sur, Sydney (pre Olympic, and on the actual Sydney Olympic Marathon Course), a marathon at the back of the New Zealand Ironman, and 8 or 9 local Gold Coast marathons. Still to do, Paris, Berlin, London, Comrades (90 k, the biggest ultra Marathon in the world), Great Wall.
I am not a fast runner. I could have been if I had of wanted to do the really hard work to break through to a different level. I chose instead to enjoy my running and not push too hard. Life and work has been where I have focused breaking barriers, running was the equivalent to most people’s couch and TV after a hard day. Instead of couch and TV, I chose very early mornings, daily training, and early to bed. Almost no TV.
My best marathon was the Sydney pre Olympic marathon. I had not done the training, I had decided instead to enjoy the experience. Running across the Sydney Harbour bridge, which was closed to traffic, through Centennial park, and then finally, into the Olympic Stadium, the big screen, my name being called, the crowd cheering. And a PB. Wow! It was an incredible day. I was so relaxed, which seems to be my formula for success.
I entered the Gold Coast Marathon 2011, which was held on July 3rd, on Friday, July 1st. I have done this before, when I ran Honolulu. I just happened to be in town, and thought I might as well. Again no training.
To put this in proper perspective, I have been continuously running for 16 plus years now. And many of my events have been endurance. Marathons or ultra’s. So I have years of running in my legs, and quite a lot of experience. The learning is continuous to this day, and ongoing.
I have not been very motivated with my running this year. Motivated enough to continue to get up at 4.10 am for a 5 am run start 4 times a week. But not motivated to do speed work, tempo work, or long runs over 18 k (11.18 miles). No injuries, body feeling good. No races to train for. Not the big Kokoda Challenge this year (96k, 60 miles), after fours years of participation. The retired runner who runs.
But I like the Gold Coast marathon. Its my local. Its a great event. Over the weekend 25,000 people participate in everything from a junior dash to a 5 k, 10 k, half marathon and marathon. I know the course. I know the people along the way. I know some of the runners.
More than this though, I like the opportunity to get into motion, over several hours, and disappear inside to the simplicity of mind, body and running, and the conversation between self and the immediate now.
I decided earlier in the week, registered on the last day, and did no preparation at all. Except eat something on Sunday morning and drink a sports drink prior to the event. All week I ran as usual, swam on my non running days.
The plan was to enjoy it, finish, and maybe, if I was lucky, to scrape in under 4 hours. This, on a maximum of 60 kms (37 miles) a week, of total training and no run over 18 kms, was a very acceptable time for someone in the second half century of life. I had my headset, money, some gels, a hat, phone (for audio) and my garmin for pace.
In the first few kilometers, the hardest thing is to not get caught in the adrenaline rush and go out too fast. Slow down, slow down. I had planned to hold about 5.30/km pace, but that was too slow. My body seemed to slot right into the ‘just right’ pace of 5.15 to 5.20. One of my skills, which is a strange skill, is to intuitively know how fast a pace I can run and for how long. It is one of the reasons I have been so good at ultra endurance events. I can pretty much hold the same pace for as long as the run is. 96 km, 42 kms, 70km? 5.15 felt about right. I could hold this for 42 kms. How does my body know this? I have no idea, but I have learnt that when I trust it, and let go of my ego, it is spot on. Hmm…what if it were really true that our bodies do not lie..only our ego bamboozles the messages …we want to hear something else, but below the surface of the ego screaming for attention is the truth. Always.
The hard work in the first 15 kms is to keep the pace in check and not go faster. You pay for it later. Yep…big time. I have paid that price more than once.
One of the great things about the Gold Coast Marathon course is that you get to see the elite runners coming back at about the 12 km mark (18 km for the elites). Even better if you know some of them. You get to see them, yell out, cheer. And if you are quick enough, you also get to see some of the sub 3 hour runners in their last few kilometers.
Went through the half way mark still feeling strong. Had to stop and go to the toilet, which is usual for me, and a bit of a bugger, as you do lose up to 2 minutes. Started consuming gels from the half way. I take them in the version of soft jellies, and hold them in my mouth for a slow release. The only problem with this is your mouth feels like sugar soaked yuk (highly technical term) when you finish, and the cloying stickiness is very nasty. In my alter ego as an athlete, I can spit with the best of them. (And do pretty much anything else that ultradistance athletes do…you have to be there…kind of like an inside joke. I occasionally think about this when I am in my corporate mode, the extreme paradox of my archetypes)
It was hot and in full sun for about 5 kms, between 21 and 26 which was no fun. Happy for the hat, and sunscreen. I did not have my timing chip in the right place on my shoe and it was hurting. Should I stop and retie it? This was a question that occupied my thinking for quite a lot of time, off and on. In the end decided to ‘suck it up princess’ and ignore it. Funny how that works, I can’t remember feeling it for the last 7 k. Maybe because of this, and because I was running slightly differently on that foot, the same foot was cramping. Again, I chose to ignore it, but did make sure that I downed a full cup of sports drink at the next aid station to try to get those electrolytes in. I am someone who sweats, and I lose a lot of salt. My arms were completely crusted in salt when I finished, as would have been my face except for the amount of water I threw over it.
At the 30.5 km mark we run past the finish line. If people pull out, this is where they do it. The temptation to stop is great for many. Must confess I didn’t even think about it. It was great to see one of my training buddies running into the last section before the turn into the finish, his goal to run under 3 hours well and truly achieved. He looked shattered, but I knew that pain would be forgotten in an instant when he crossed the finish line. And this was the guy who two years ago regularly said…’you marathon runners are all crazy.’ I guess hanging out with so many marathon runners has a way of getting under your skin.
There was a tough section somewhere in the last 10 k. I think it must have been around the 32 to 37. When I ran my marathon debut, back in 1995, I was given some very good advise. A marathon doesn’t start until 37 kms. (23 miles). You can be feeling fantastic at 30, and somewhere between 30 and 37 a hole can develop in the bucket. If you are feeling Ok at 37, then even if a hole does develop, there is only 5 k to go, and anyone can do that. I knew with 10 km to go that as long as I didn’t dip under the 6 min kilometer pace I would come in under 4 hours. I also knew that I had a fair bit of wriggle room. There were a few sections where I was getting into the 5.40 to 5.45 range, but not for long.
I was concerned I needed to go to the toilet again (I am prone to runners diarrhea), but I was determined to not give into that. My foot cramping was playing up a bit in the final stages, but again, run it through. Hit the 40 k mark, where the day before on an easy jog I had taken a photo for my Facebook page…with the caption, when I reach this point it will be a heavenly sign. 2 kms to go. Now is the time to dig, and increase my pace. I am not sure I have ever been able to do that at the end of a marathon. I have always gone out too hard, and died too early. Not today. Dig, and dig I did. Back to 5.15 pace.
41 km, one and a bit to go. The crowds screaming. There was a women in front of me in a red top. Pass her. (At this stage the brain function is reduced to lizard. Not much coherent thinking going on..just…lady in red top, pass her. We had been playing cat and mouse for about 5 k. I try not to focus on anyone else until the very last section, run my own race, not get caught up in anyone else’s.) Into the finish straight, which is still about 400m. Lined with crowds of people. Open up, go hard. Catch the big guy with the bald head. Looks like a truck driver. Oh god, I think I put my foot on the throttle a little too soon, stay with it, don’t let up. Keep going, just around the corner. Go hard. There is the finish. Nothing else exists. Cross, throw arms in air, smile…stop…wobble…wobble. Get support, yes I am OK. Bit wobbly, but OK.
Yay…3 hours 48 mins. One of my best runs in years. Only 9 minutes off my PB. Qualifies me for Boston, Comrades, and 6 Foot Track. 8th fastest in my age category, 272 female to finish, 1,448 out of 4,549 to finish. Gotta be happy with that.
Happy, I am delighted. Thrilled, over the moon. I’ll lose 2 toenails, but that always happens, otherwise, feel remarkably well. No muscle soreness. Walking quite normally. My average pace, even with toilet stop, was 5 mins 21 per kilometer.
After a shower, a feast of Max Brenner (chocolate dessert, guilt free) with my daughter, a beer and some veggie chips (for the salt, not my usual diet), it was time to hit the couch.
Today, no pain, no soreness, remarkable. My usual morning swim squad indicated muscle fatigue, which was expected. A swim post run is great to roll over muscles, work out the kinks.
Tomorrow, back to running.
People think running a marathon is a big deal. Almost anyone can do it. They can walk it, wheel chair it…blind runners can be guided to do it. Like anything in life, it starts with the decision, and continues with the action that backs the commitment. There will be obstacles, sometimes big ones. This year I was lucky, I had few. Have had had big ones, stress fractures, nausea, vomiting, heat stress, have run through them all and finished, sometimes slowly. The point of a marathon is to finish. You start with that. How fast you do it becomes secondary. Many people confuse the finish time with just finishing. They are so attached to a time that they quit if they are not on target.
A marathon teaches humility. And respect. It is a metaphor of a life journey experienced in a few hours. A marathon demands truth, it will challenge you to face the soft underbelly of your spirit. It is quite beautiful.
Give it a go…why not?
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