The Australian Running Festival was held over two days on the weekend of the 14-15th April 2012. I ran the marathon event, my second marathon but my first solo effort. This run was different from the first in so many ways. The most noticeable difference was the absence of my training partner and friend, Nella Magnante.
I feel so very lucky that Nella, despite not being able to run the event, ran with me for every long training run I did leading up to the event.... and that training began 16 weeks prior! My training was not everything I would have liked it to have been - I was not able to fit in the number of runs I thought were required, but a typical training week looked something like this:
MON - Rest or tempo run
TUE - Interval training with Kembla Joggers
WED - Yoga for runners
THU - Weights/Pilates
FRI - Run (between 8-12km)
SAT - Rest or tempo run
SUN - Long Run (between 18 to 36km)
It was a lot less kilometres than I did in the lead up to Blackmores but I always made sure that I ran that long run every.single.week.
I registered for the marathon early and started looking for accommodation options. There were a few places around the start/finish line but we had a free night at the Novotel so I booked a room there. My very supportive husband, Anthony said he would make the trip down with me and we decided to bring the kids with us and make a weekend of it.
Having the Blackmores marathon behind me, I was confident of being able to complete the marathon but unsure whether to aim for a time. Being unable to train as often, I had to make sure that the training I did was quality. I had a fantastic last long training run (my 36km) 4 weeks prior to the event and I decided I would go for a 4 hour finish time goal (about 5:40mins/km). So my race plan was similar to Blackmores, only with a time in mind. I would find the 4 hour pace setter, take water at every drink station, take energy gels - one before, one after an hour of running then one every half hour after that. I would re-assess my pace at every 10km, just see how I am feeling and whether I am comfortable at that pace or if I should slow down. And lastly, enjoy! Enjoy the run, the sights, the excitement.
But the marathon race plan begins before the race, it starts after the hard training is done. I tapered my training 2 weeks before the run and in the week leading up, I ran only once, went to yoga and rested. The two days before were spent carb-loading and making sure I was fully hydrated. I was determined to stick to this plan as it is so important to prepare yourself as best you can before a long run that takes such a huge toll on your body.
We took the kids to questacon on the Saturday before the race and they had a ball. One of the best things was watching them trying to fly the kites we bought them on the lawn outside in the stillness... there was no wind! Way too cute! It also helped keep my nerves away. We checked into the hotel and had dinner at the restaurant there - I had a yummy prawn penne with a side of baked potatoes for extra carbs! The kids were so tired so we put them to bed after dinner and I began getting everything ready for the race....
If you know me, you will know that I am very particular with everything and I like to be organised. So, I fiddled around for a good hour getting everything ready so I could just get up, get dressed, eat then wake the boys up and go.... it also helps me get rid of the nerves, but when I finally went to bed, I had the biggest wave of nerves pass through me. All those questions and fears: What am I doing? Why am I running so far? Why am I doing this alone? I don't know if I can handle the pain... Needless to say, I didn't sleep well.
I woke up before the alarm went and quickly turned it off, changed and ate. Nerves again so I woke Anthony 10 minutes early telling him I was anxious and that I wanted to get going. The plan was to get the boys up and for Anthony to drop me at the start line. For some reason, the marathon website had said that public transport was the best way to get to the startline but no buses were available before 8am (the race started at 7am) and I didn't trust a pre-booked taxi to show up on time. So.... we are up early, boys are dressed and we head down to reception to get the keys... to find a long line up... uh oh...
Luckily, one of the guys in the line up decides to ditch his car and get a taxi so we share one to the start. It is 6 degrees celcius at the start line, but it just feels fresh and it's a clear day with zero wind - perfect conditions for running! Yet, I'm still nervous. I wait in the long line for the (lovely) portaloos... and finally with 15 mins to spare get to do a quick warm up, set the garmin and ditch the jumper. I overhear the guy on the microphone calling us to the start so I head over and see sets of coloured helium balloons attached to random people lined up at the start.... the pace setters! I find my 4 hour pacer (purple balloons - my colour!!) and head towards him. The countdown begins and I realise I have forgotten to take my gel - damn! I quickly get one out and take it literally seconds before the gun goes... but it is a slow walk to the start line... and then we are running. The crowd and runners begin to cheer and it is actually the first time I feel psyched! Yeah!!!!
During the first few kilometres I stick close to the pacer. We make it to the first drink station - at 2.5km but the official is telling everyone it is not yet a drink station - what the? Next drink station at 5km mark and I am on the other side of the road.... I try to get across amongst the mass of runners but don't make it. Damn! Finally I get my first drink at 7.5km...
Running past parliment house.
After a while, I notice that we are running slightly faster than 4 hour pace - 5:30 sometimes 5:15 and 5:20... it starts to worry me. Then I overhear the pacer telling another runner that he is aiming to get to half way 2 to 2 & 1/2 minutes under goal time. Well, that wasn't MY plan... I am a bit peeved at him about that! I run past the 10km mark at 55 mins... wow, under goal time. I stay with the pacer for a few more kilometres but he starts getting away from me at the drink stations... and I am still running under goal time. At 18km I decide to back off and run at 5:40 pace... remembering how running too fast at the start of the last marathon really slowed us down toward the end.
At about 26km... still smiling!
Along the way, I realise I have been so caught up with worrying about pace and drink stations that I forgot to enjoy the scenery. Canberra is beautiful. So clean and fresh. Slowly it becomes less crowded, especially after the half marathoners turn off toward their finish. There wasn't much of a crowd but they were really encouraging and were cheering everyone on, not just the people they knew.
I reached the point where the half marathoners turn off and we run along the lake... I see a few familiar faces along the way running back - Peter Berry and Chris Llewellyn, fellow Kembla Joggers - I call out and cheer them on and they yell out support back to me. I run through the halfway point at 1 hour 58 mins - two minutes under goal time... too fast? I feel good but there is still another 21.1km to go. I make a mental note to try and stay at 5:40min pace. At this point I am onto my fourth gel and they seem to be sitting in the pit of my stomach. After the next half hour, I decide to wait another 10 minutes before taking a gel. Seems to work....
It's getting warmer but still not too hot and no breeze at all. My pace has slowed a little but I am still feeling comfortable. I only stop very briefly at drink stations to drink without choking! At around the 25km mark I start chatting with a fellow runner who is on his 9th marathon - his best time 4 hours and 17 mins and the only person I chat to for the entire run, although I don't mind. We run together for a few kilometres before I go on ahead after a drink station. Then somewhere between the 28 and 32km marks, I start feeling my calves cramping up. It is so painful but I tell myself to keep running. My pace has slowed considerably ... I still think that I can still make my goal time. I just need to run the last 10km in 6 min pace. So I try. Then the runner I was chatting to previously catches me and slowly runs on ahead. I struggle and my breathing starts going crazy. It really hurts. I make myself keep going. If I can just keep running and only stop at drink stations.... but those stops are becoming longer as I really need to stretch.
The look on my face says it all...
I continue on and feel a little relief when I make it to the turnaround point along the lake and there is 8km to go. I can run 8km ... easy! Ha! Not easy... the hardest 8km of my entire life. Pain in my knees, my calves, my hamstring and no Nella!! I remind myself of her support and that of all my friends... Janet, Sarah, Helen, Lisa, Alicia... what would they think if I gave up?! It takes all my strength to keep going. The cheers of the few spectators along the course help a lot. Then I am running past the car show at old parliment house for the third and last time, just after the 39km mark and after I tell myself that I am not stopping until I get to the finish. I see two little boys waving and yelling "Go Mum!!". I wave and am overcome with emotion and pain at the same time. I shed a few tears and say to Anthony as I run past, "This really hurts!"... so he takes a photo! lol...
Approaching the finish line... my legs were screaming with pain, and I was trying not to listen! haha.
The last 3km were run with my mind. My legs just so wanted to give up! I had to keep telling myself that the pain is only temporary and I will never forgive myself if I don't put in everything! The final straight seemed to go on forever and when I finally turned the corner and saw the finish, I just went for it and it really took everything not to just collapse in a heap over the finishline! 4 hours and 8 minutes!!! It was weird not having anyone to share that elated feeling of completing such a challenge.... but that self satisfaction knowing that I gave it everything was enough for me.
Finally finished!!! Yahoooooo!
I am forever grateful for the support of my husband, Anthony, my training partner, Nella and all my friends who have never stopped believing in me! This run helped raise $610 for the McGrath Foundation. Including the fundraising efforts of my previous runs, that's over $3,200 raised!! Thank you so much.
So... what's next? Well, I'll continue running with my running club, Kembla Joggers and next big one will be in the lovely town of Mount Beauty with my amazing, crazy cycling friend, Helen... followed by the Gold Coast marathon with Nella. Maybe then I will take a break from long distance running... maybe... !