MY FIRST MARATHON a blast from the past.
I crouched, legs spread in the light of a beautiful Gold Coast morning, applying large blobs of petroleum jelly to my nipples and nether regions. First marathon here I come.
I knew I wasn’t the only first timer, and I wasn’t the only one having an “I want to run a marathon before I am fifty” moment. I had read through enough web sites and online forums (just ask my wife) to know I was far from unique. However, as start time got closer, these thoughts didn’t in any way lessen my nerves and excitement, or stop the chatter in my brain –“was two coffees too many”, “should I use the toilet”, “eat the whole muesli bar”, “should I have my gel now”, “should I drink more”, “are my shoes too tight”, “no one else has long sleeves”, “should I wear the drink belt” – on and on and on driving myself crazy.
Suddenly I had kissed my wife good bye, and I was on the road looking for the 4 hour pacer. He was easy to find as he had two enormous black balloons with “4:00” on them. I got in front of him, and began waiting nervously as Rob de Costella began yelling something about Phidippides and having a race plan. Slowly everyone began shuffling forward towards the start line. It appeared in the distance, we kept shuffling towards it, then suddenly everyone was running. This is it ! My race plan ? Firstly, hang around the 4 hour pacer. My training suggested I might run 4 hours, but who knew for sure. Not me!! (but I was pretty sure the last 20km would be slower..).
Keeping up with my 4 hour friend, though, was much harder than I thought it would be. I can be so slow over my first 10km, and today was no different. Suddenly I was worried about starting too hard, but I was determined to have a crack at 4 hours so I rolled the dice and kept on going. No guts no glory. Possibly no brains as well.
My race plan ? Walk through the drink stops (every 2.5km) and keep hydrated. Bam! Crunch! What was that? Oh, just missed the first drink station ! Don’t panic, every-thing still feels good, not thirsty. Where are those black balloons? Way up there! RUN !
At 5km I lunged at a sports drink, tried to slow down, and got smashed and abused by other runners who had no intention of slowing down. Obviously they didn’t appreciate my race plan. Got something down, but the sports drink was so diluted it may as well have been water.
I was still struggling to keep up with Mr Balloon Man, but in training I usually started feeling good at about 10km. I suspected I would pay for my fast start later, but knew I would kick myself if I finished in 4 ½ hours with plenty in the tank.
Approaching 10km I did start to feel good, and the brain began working. I got ahead of the bumping black balloons, yelled out to the drink station helpers “are there sports drinks”, and ducked around behind the tables. I took my time, had plenty to drink, and filled my drink bottle. Thank goodness I had decided to wear my drink belt (convinced by Hannah Sims –what a clever woman). It was easily the best decision I made for the run.
After this I had a golden patch. Training suggested this would last from between 15km to about 28km, so I decided to just relax and let the legs go at whatever felt good. I left the sound of the bumping balloons far behind and began to just enjoy the experience. The leaders came racing past; it was a goose bumps moment to see how well they were running, and all runners slowed to clap and cheer. This was easily the best part of the race. At the 15km Burleigh turn around I stopped to refill my bottle. I ate a gel and walked a bit and stretched. I had nearly caught the 3:45 hour pacer so I knew I was way ahead of schedule. My longest training run had been 38km, but not at anywhere near this pace. The great unknown lay before me. It was also starting to get seriously warm.
I loved the next 10km. Hi Fiving kids along the way. Crowds cheering. All good. Funny things begin to happen, however, after you have run a long way. Suddenly it was too hot, cute kids became annoying, people were in my way. I knew this was the beginning of something new. Low blood sugar,
lower glycogen supplies to the brain. Whatever it was, it was noticeable. Dorothy was no longer in Kansas.
At 29km, rounding a last bend before returning to the Gold Coast Highway, something began blowing up at the back of my knee. Training had me prepared with a list of possible problems and solutions, but this was new. All I could do was slow down, try walking to stretch it out. This kind of worked, and I got going again, but it was getting hard all of a sudden. It all went downhill fast. For some brain addled reason I became convinced my wife was going to be waiting at 30km. I became grumpy about having to slow down to see her. When she wasn’t there, this upset me as well. It was only post race that I realized that we had made no plans whatsoever. Yes, I had hit the wall.
I had driven the course in January, looked at maps, got it all clear in my head, but at about 34km all this was irrelevant. I was in incredible pain from my knee, I was hot, I was exhausted, and suddenly I had no idea where I was on the course. All the sums calculating distance which normally keep my brain busy were too hard. So I cried. Yes, I cried. An ugly cry. Boo hoo. I just wanted it all to stop. It couldn’t get any worse. Could it ? Yes it could –and did. Nausea began to wash over me. Then suddenly I turned around and the 4:00 Black Balloon Man was right behind me closing fast like a character from a Stephen King novel. If I slowed, the chance at 4 hours was gone forever. I knew I could finish by walking, but if I could just run a little further......
I wasn’t alone in the hurt locker. One runner careered off into some bushes and began hoicking his guts up. I passed a runner sprawled across the median strip receiving aid and speaking in tongues. Lots of groaning and vomiting suddenly surrounded me. Someone’s talking GPS device announced they were 4 seconds off target pace. Just as I was thinking “not bad” it was ripped off and flung far far away as the runner stomped to the side of the road and stopped.
The last 8 km were a nightmare of nausea, cramping, walking, recovering, and the “bomp bomp bomp” of black balloons. All that crap about the last 10km being more mental than physical was proving so incredibly painfully true. I kept having to stop to walk the cramp out, but that meant the pacer got past me and I had to catch up again. This happened over and over. Somehow he performed a mystical ninja move and was 50m ahead when I thought he was behind me. Then I began to realise that I didn’t actually know how far in front of the 4 hour pacer I had to finish to be under 4 hours, and began to appreciate that I should have started BEHIND him. Wish I could have thought of that 39km earlier!! As the last kilometres approached, I began struggling as far ahead of him as I could possibly run/ walk/ limp.
Crossing the finishing line, I had lost sight of him, but was so beyond caring. I leaned on a railing frozen in pain for about 5 minutes, but knowing I had given it all I had. Absolutely nothing left in the tank. Without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done but I had finished. Eventually I hobbled to where I had arranged to meet my wife (for real this time, not some brain addled delusion). She wasn’t there, and it took me several minutes to sit down without help. Eventually she found me, carrying the 2L of chocolate milk I had repeatedly requested for the finish. I nearly vomited.
Later that afternoon, as I was finishing the chocolate milk that my chocolate milk angel of a wife had bought me, she looked up my time. 3:59:56. Sub 4 hours. Oh yeah.