Three years later I lined up again. The training cycle leading into it had been filled with self-doubt after some poor health but I'd gotten all the runs done. Just before the race there were a series of unfortunate events which led to a really tough day at the office and again no sub-4. But I was incredibly proud of the run - that I'd finished despite nearly everything going wrong.
Then I lined up at Gold Coast earlier this year after a training cycle that went better than I could have expected. I was running well and I knew that the sub-4 I'd been after was well within my capabilities. And it may have been if my ITBs hadn't given me grief. A new PB but still no sub-4. Still I was so proud that I'd run the entire way and not walked like in my previous two marathons.
I really had no expectations of time leading into Melbourne on Sunday. Running three prior marathons without achieving what I knew I was capable of made me a little leery of getting too caught up in goals and times. If there's one thing that running marathons has taught me is that it can expose all your physical and mental flaws. It is a humbling, pitiless master that must be respected without being feared.
In my first marathon I was a little cocky with my expectations and went out too hard and that led to the stomach issues. In my second marathon I was so nervous that I'd hardly been able to eat beforehand and ran out of fuel before halfway. My third marathon exposed my lack of attention to other areas of my fitness - namely strength. For this one I just tried to fix what I could - the strength, the anxiety and overambitious expectations - and show that I'd learned from all my mistakes. I had a plan and I was going to try to stick to it.
So 5:45 found me standing on a dark corner in Melbourne city with a couple of friends ready to walk to the start. There's nothing better for calming pre-race jitters than to be amongst fellow crazies. I had slept okay but woken up with an adrenalin rush that I'd had to do a bit of mental self-talk to get under control. I'd managed to subdue the butterflies kicking up a storm in my stomach so I could eat. By the time I was dressed there were no nerves at all - just a determination to run smart.
|Ready as I'll ever be|
We met up with some more friends, did the last-minute toilet visit (and for the first time I picked the right queue), obligatory pre-race photos and then made our way over to the start line. While I was standing there I pondered whether I should have visited the loo just once more for good measure but decided that the queues were too long and it was probably all in my head. I got my watch ready. Then finally we were off.
The first kilometre was slower than my pace plan but I wasn't worried in the least. A few seconds lost at the beginning can be made up over the other 41.2k. And at the beginning of a race there's usually a fair amount of traffic to navigate. Melbourne has the added joys of tram lines that you have to be aware of so a 5:49 start wasn't an issue. By the second kilometre that was down to 5:29 and I wanted to keep it around there or maybe just a smidge slower.
We headed down St Kilda Road towards Albert Park and somewhere along there one of my running friends caught up with me. Tracey had contacted me during the previous week and had said she wanted to run a similar pace but I hadn't seen her before the start. She fell in beside me and I'm pretty sure that's why the race went so well. She stuck with me from before Albert Park and kept my mind from the unhelpful chatter that it can sometimes go on with.
"Only three k done. You've still got 39 to go. And don't forget the point 2. Are you feeling tired already? Yeah, I think you're feeling tired. You might as well just turn around and go out for breakfast.Whose stupid idea was this anyway??"
Yeah, I'd gone through all of those thoughts in the first couple of kilometres. And a couple more that were bladder-focused. I was pretty sure that I was going to have to find a toilet before I was finished. And I'll admit that I had penis-envy seeing the male runners lined up in the bushes in the park. But once I had Tracey's company I seemed to forget about my bouncing bladder.
Our pacing was pretty good. Any time it crept down to the low 5:20's we'd ease back a little. It concerned me a little that my watch was beeping kilometres before the marker and the distance between the beep and the marker was getting further and further apart. But Tracey was wearing a pace band and was able to check when we passed the markers so we knew we were on track. We'd even banked a little margin.
We got to the halfway point feeling pretty good. A couple of minutes ahead of Tracey's pace band time but nothing to be alarmed about. The next goal was to make it to 30 still feeling okay and then to 32 where we could start counting down the kilometres in single digits. We were down in St Kilda along the waterfront at this stage. It was cool and a little bit breezy. There were a couple of rises but I didn't find them too tough - they were actually a pleasant change from running flat. We got to the turnaround and back to St Kilda Road still feeling okay. Yes, we could feel the 30 kilometres that we'd run in our legs and feet but we were both feeling strong and it was about then that I really started to believe that my sub-4 was going to happen. Finally!
But I didn't want to get too far ahead of myself. In my first marathon I'd been on sub-4 pace up to 35k so I knew that it wasn't over until it was over.
We got to 32k and I was so excited to start counting the kilometres down. We were reaching the spot where I'd had to find a toilet immediately and lightning struck again - but this time it struck Tracey. We scoured the route for potential toilet stops and she managed to make it to the same Arts Centre that I'd stopped at in 2010.
All of a sudden I was running alone. And that wasn't good. Somehow without my pacing buddy I'd picked up some speed - not smart when you're heading into the 'Tan and you know that there's a bit of a nasty hill ahead. But also ahead I could see Jess and I knew that she was within reach. I might be able to catch her before the end. I caught her without even realising. She was ahead of me one minute, I got distracted at a water stop and all of a sudden I heard her voice from behind me. I had company again.
The hill in the 'Tan took its toll on my now-very-weary legs. My pace dropped a little but it was still within my 5:30-40 window. It was hurting and I was wanting it to be over but I knew that it wouldn't be long until I could finally stop. The crowds were getting thicker and we could see the MCG. Then we ran past where the squad had set up and I saw my husband, son and his girlfriend. Just a little further and we were in the MCG running that last lap. And it was done. 3:53:53!
Jess had finished about 30 seconds ahead of me but we found each other. Tired, sore but oh, so happy!
A bit later on I caught up with Tracey for a sweaty, salty hug. She'd managed her sub-4 too despite the toilet stop.
|The effort it took for some of us to get up for this photo was unbelievable - you'd never know it from the smiles.|
So how many minutes did I cut off my PB? Just count the fingers and you'll see why my smile's so big.