My first marathon

Some of you may have seen my video about preparing for my first marathon (if not you can see it here…go on watch it…I can wait), well I’m now the proud of owner of a medal and painfully sore legs, so I feel I should tell you a little about how the marathon unfolded for me and what I learnt from it.

My time was 4hrs11mins
My time was 4hrs11mins

The marathon really begins at 30km

I heard this quite a few times in the lead up to the run “It’s really two races, from 0km to 30kms and then 30kms to the finish” or some variation on that theme. To be honest I thought that this was just something people who had done a marathon said to sound smart…but sadly for me it was remarkably accurate (give or take a few kms).
I was sitting on a really good pace for the first 32kms, I was running within myself, passing people and feeling really good. But from about the 32km mark my quads started to get sore, my hips were tightening up, my heart rate was going up and my pace was dropping significantly (I had held 5’30” pace up until then…and suddenly dropped to 6’00” pace…then about 7’00” for the last 2kms!). From 36km-39km was a very dark place.

Hurting near the finish line
Hurting near the finish line

Trust GPS not your vanity

When I train I have a Garmin that I use for my heart rate and Nike+ that I use to measure the distance. The Garmin also measures distance, but the Nike+ has a nicer user interface when you upload it, and I’ve been using it for longer so I get to gloat about having run 5,000km with it, and I don’t have to find the little ANT+ USB to upload the data like I do with the Garmin…but if I’m being brutally honest, I use it because it’s a little more generous with the distances. Run 10km with the Garmin, and the Nike+ will say ‘Great 11km run’. Go for a 15km run and the Nike+ will say ‘great 17.5km run…you’re running at 5’00″/km pace!’. Which is all well and good until you start basing your estimated run time on these speeds and start saying things like ‘I think that if I have a good day I could run 3hrs30mins!’ because you didn’t want to face the reality that you weren’t running as far as you thought you were.
In the end, my Garmin said I ran 42.67kms for the marathon and Nike+ congratulated me for running 47.5kms. If I’d spent more time paying attention to my Garmin stats than my Nike+ stats I would have known that a 4hr marathon was a much more likely goal.
So I taught Nike+ a lesson by leaving my iPod in my running shorts and putting them through the wash. Genius.

Feigning happiness with a thumbs up
Feigning happiness with a thumbs up

People are awesome

Whether it’s people who come down to see you run (like my coach Craig who had put in a lazy 50km run the day before and my family who braved the throngs of people on the finish line) or workmates who are volunteering at the event and yell out to you as you go by (like the inimitable Lauren Bruce), or the myriad volunteers who have got out of bed early and stood in the sun all day so that they can pass you a cup of water, or the complete strangers standing by the course who clap and cheer you on and tell you that you’re ‘looking good’ (when in fact you later see photos that prove the contrary), to the other thousands of runners in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities who are going through what you’re going through, and to the amazing masseuses who spend hours in the gloomy bowels of the MCG rubbing the legs of complete strangers who are beginning to understand why the first guy who ran the marathon died.
They may only occupy 3 seconds of your journey, but dear God they’re appreciated!

Into the last km of the Melbourne Marathon
Into the last km of the Melbourne Marathon

It’s hard

I know that this is stating the freaking obvious. But I spent three hours and 45 minutes of the race thinking that it was challenging but doable…and 15 minutes thinking that it was freaking hard and that walking might be a good idea…and the remaining 11 minutes in a world of mental and physical pain just wishing it would end. But those 11 minutes of mental torture weren’t just the last 11 minutes of the race, they were interspersed over the last hour. So you would oscillate between ‘this is too hard, I should just walk’ to ‘this is too hard, I should just stop!’, all the while seeing people who were doing exactly these things. People hobbling, people grabbing at cramping legs, people being attended to by St. John’s Ambulance staff.
In every endurance event I’ve done there has been a point where I’ve genuinely considered just calling it a day…but for the marathon, there were repeated points…and they felt like an eternity.

But when you reach the finish line…

…well…you reach the finish line. I don’t know if it’s because running a marathon had never really been a dream of mine…or because the reality was sinking in that in the Ironman I would have to do that 42km run having already done a 3.8km swim and a 180km bike ride…or because I had hoped to finish the race in 4hrs and had run 4hrs 11mins instead. But I didn’t feel particularly elated. In real life the footage doesn’t slow down, the inspirational music doesn’t swell up, the spotlight doesn’t fall on you…instead you are just one of a number of people crossing the finish line, and you are too busy trying to spot where your friends and family are, and working out where the medals are being handed out, and trying to get some fluids into you, that you just sort of stumble around for 5 minutes with a whole lot of other people who are stumbling around trying to process what they’ve just done.
There is a real endorphin rush that normally comes with a good run workout…and there is a real pleasure that comes with stopping doing something that really hurts…but for some reason when these two combine for me, I’m not left feeling euphoric…just dazed and light headed. If anything, the real fun begins a few hours later when my brain has processed what’s happened and I can start to get a little perspective. Of course by then, my legs are starting to scream at me for what I’ve done to them and I just have to channel my inner Jens Voigt and say ‘Shut up legs!’.

So it’s done. The guy who grew up hating running has done a marathon…and now I get to focus on the Challenge Shepparton 70.3 (half-Ironman) in early November. A big thanks to everyone who donated to my fundraising for the JMB Foundation. A big thanks to my coach Craig who got me to a stage where I could run a marathon, and the biggest thanks to my family for putting up with the constant training and giving up a beautiful Sunday morning to come and see me run.

The support crew on the train ride home.
The support crew on the train ride home.

2 thoughts on “My first marathon”

  1. I cannot say how impressed I am by this effort and achievement. On the day I was thinking “Oh today is Chris’ marathon, I hope he has a good time, gee 26 kilometres is a long way to run”. And then someone pointed out (ahem) “It’s 42k”.

    My own big achievement for the year was to ride Lake Mountain. I had looked at the profiles, planned to go really slow with lots of rests up the initial steep incline and then just have a lovely slow cruise up the easy top half.

    Well sort of. I totally ran out of fuel about 5k out from the top, and had to rest every few metres, and then scab a lift DOWN the hill. So it’s a physical thing, but it is the mental side which is the real driver.

    So congratulations Chris. I think it’s fantastic.

    1. Thanks a lot John. I think that I go into these events to try and find that place where you have to find the mental strength to push on…but every time I get to that point, I think ‘Why the hell did I come here? I’ll do anything to make it stop!’ If I ever do another marathon, I’ll be wearing headphones!

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