I entered the marathon at the end of July after some gentle prodding from new running buddy Anthony, who was ambitiously running the a full marathon before he had even given a half a nudge. Why muck around? I had been training reasonably steadily after a summer in NZ and a move to Sydney, however the marathon proved to be a good goal for kicking up my motivation after a lacklustre half marathon (1.26) in May. I was job searching during most of the build-up – so that gave me plenty of time to train – but can also make it hard to get motivation when I don’t have a routine.
As the marathon got closer and I got more excited I descended to a level of marathon fever and geekery that was a new level for me. I even made an excel spreadsheet of every 5k race I have ever run (over 100!) and analysed it for patterns.
This year I have started using strava to log my runs, so for the first time I had an idea of what my weekly mileage and training paces were. Previously I have only had a very loose grasp of how much training I have done, while now I am able to look at a graph and see where the effort has gone in. Over the 8 weeks prior to the marathon I averaged about 80ks per week with a couple of 100k weeks and some shorter ones such as when I did the city2surf. The mileage was mostly built around doing nike club runs twice a week, a 5k race on Saturday morning and a long run on Sunday, with some other runs scattered in. A key session was a 33k long run 3 weeks out from the marathon over most of the course where I did an easy 20ish k (5 min pace) but finished as hard as I could in under 4 min pace. Two weeks out from the marathon I broke my 10k pb from 2010 (edging it down to 35.54 from 36.06).
So this training had me confident I was in as good shape as I have ever been – but I knew that the marathon is a strange and unpredictable beast. I was in good shape in 2011 but was taught a lesson in respecting the distance. Trying to learn from that I figured that the key areas I had gone wrong in 2011 was not pacing conservatively enough at the start and having stomach problems. With pacing I knew that a GPS watch would be a helpful tool to hold myself back early and hit the right pace – but I have resisted running with a watch for a long time as having a beep and a split every km slightly ruins the purity of running. I was tempted to stick to my guns and try and run by feel again, but eventually relented and bought a bottom of the line garmin. My strategy for taking gels also consumed a lot of thinking time. My initial idea was that the less gels I take the less likely I was to have difficulties digesting them. Maybe take a gel at halfway and another at 30k. I reached out to endurance gurus Mikes Kilduff and Hale for their opinions. Both thought I needed to get carbs in earlier and Mike H strongly suggested taking more than two. My new plan was to go with gels at 13 and 25k and then see how I felt after that with an option to take another in the 30s.
Race day was a stunning Sydney morning. Cool but not cold on the start line. I got a preferred start which let me into a caged area with the African elites and a few other fast people and then we had our own alley to the front and were able to warm up in front of the course. Watching the Africans gracefully disappear after the start was a pretty cool sight.
My first few kms were a little fast, despite consciously trying to throttle back, but after 5 or 6k I had a good rhythm and I was knocking out 4.10 ks like a metronome. I was starting to steadily move through the field, even early on, but keeping my excitement in check. Mike Hale had told me that the first half would feel super easy, like a training run, and so that gave me comfort that I wasn’t being too conservative. I saw Annabelle at 13km and she gave me gel. My friend Antonio was riding a bike alongside for a while and filled me in on the America’s Cup racing, before he was stopped and told off by cops! From 10 – 30k the course is mainly in Centennial Park which is near my house. There were quite a few u-turns and the course is not very direct, so the familiarity was very helpful mentally.
At 29k I saw Annabelle again but didn’t feel like a gel. Just after this there was a 3 k downhill section back to circular quay and this was where I planned to open up. I let my legs flow on the downhill and stopped checking my watch to slow myself down. I was really catching people on this section and my pace was under 4 min ks. I kept the flow going on the next flat 3k section under the bridge but I could feel small tingles in my leg that felt like the onset of cramps. Gaaah, it was going so well, but the next aid station wasn’t until 35km. I made it there feeling strong, but with my right quad giving ominous twinges. I stopped to take a gel and make sure it was caffeine one. I picked up speed again, but it wasn’t to last. At 36k I finally found my personal wall and it came in a tricky section of the course that was mostly on a motorway overpass which heated up considerably now that the heat was up over 20 degrees. I forced myself on, but it was a battle of will to the finish. I would have mini recoveries but I had lost my on top of the world feeling and holding pace was hard. Antonio caught back up to me and urged me on. The good thing was nobody else seemed to be feeling any better than I was so I wasn’t getting passed. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, but then realised I was still going to break 3 hours if I sucked it up and did it. The last part of the course is pretty magic, coming around under the bridge and finishing at the Opera House. The last 400m were lined solid with very loud spectators and it was a great atmosphere. Unfortunately I was a bit too deep in the pain box to properly appreciate it, but managed to muster one last kick and even make a pass on the Opera House forecourt.
2.54:40 for the finish which I am very happy with, although still room to ponder the possibilities. The marathon is quite tantalising the way it shows you what might be if only … , but I think I will stick to doing no more than one per year.