Gold Coast Marathon 2011
In January 2011 I made the decision to withdraw from what would have been my first Ironman – Port Mac in May 2011. I had a great base, having just done half ironmans in Port Mac (October 2010) and Canberra (December 2010) but getting a clear passage to train the house down through to May was going to be too hard given work and family. So it was great timing when later in January a mate in Singapore (Will) called to ask whether I would join him in the Gold Coast marathon in July.
I had been running the half marathon in Melbourne each year for a while, but had only done a full marathon twice, the most recent being Melbourne (2007, 3:14). My inauspicious marathon debut, also at Gold Coast (2006, 3:34), ended with me getting carried off to the first aid tents, the finish line photographer peeling off 20+ frames as cramps, that has caused me to walk the last few kms, became so bad at the end that both legs seized up as I crossed the line falling into the arms of the marshals, yelling in pain. Four of those photos now adorn the hallway wall at home, giving me a daily reminder me of what can happen if you ignore the basics in training and nutrition.
So, armed with these lessons, and with a strong resolve to right the wrongs of GC 2006, I called Coach Tippet to get me in shape for a sub 3 hour marathon at GC 2011.
After choosing his words carefully in reminding me that I was carrying too much weight (actually not that carefully) Coach Tippet agreed that I was some kind of chance to go sub 3 hours. Training sounded a bit scary (7 days a week running, and peaking at 120kms a week), but I bit the bullet and started the hard work. (Which begs the question why I didn’t just stay on track to do Port Mac IM … ).
As expected, training was hard and took its toll on my body. Between January and June I had just about every possible leg injury (hammy, groin, calf, foot x 2, knee) but none of them (apart from the hammy) put me out for more than a week. By the time I got to 2 weeks out from the event I was injury free and doing some good times in the interval sets. I then got a chest infection which required a full course of antibiotics and lingered for over a week, but a glass half-full kind of person would say this was a good way to ensure I got the rest I needed in the taper.
I landed in GC the day before the race, met Will who had arrived from Singapore, checked into our hotel and tucked into a feast of carbs. We are both Bombers fans so we had a game to look forward to that night against Geelong. If form was a guide it was a game the Bombers could not possibly win, but they did. Good omens …
Race day conditions were ideal. The temperature was around 13 when we started and was forecast to get to a maximum of 18 for the day, and there was lots of cloud cover. If we had to complain about anything it would have been a slightly stronger than expected breeze, but no major problem at all. After a less than adequate warm-up I snuck my way into the front of the holding pen, probably only about 10 people deep from Australia’s best chance Lee Troop and a bunch of very fast looking Kenyans. The last thing to do was to give myself a caffeine hit. From a little clip lock “dealer bag” I pulled out 3 white pills and smashed them down. Being in the vicinity of the Cavill Avenue nightclub precinct this turned a few heads.
Deeks fired the starting gun bang on 7am and away we went from the Southport start point. The race plan was to run the first half between 1:25 and 1:26, which is around 4:03 to 4:05 min/km pace. Given my positioning near the start I had a nice clear run without too much ducking and weaving and I ticked off the first few kms nicely at just under 4:00 pace. Usually the first half hour of a race for me is uncomfortable but I settled relatively quickly and whilst I never really locked in with any particular group of runners I just kept a close eye on my Garmin to ensure consistency of speed and got myself into a nice groove. I was absolutely focussed on the task at hand, my thoughts never deviating too far from pace, form, or nutrition.
According to the official times, I got through the first 5kms at 4:01 pace (my watch said 3:57 pace … must have been a bit more ducking and weaving than I thought). The next 5kms were 4:03 pace, and then 4:05 pace to the 15km mark which was near the turnaround point at Burleigh Heads. There were lots of people lining the course the whole way but a particularly strong crowd at the turnaround. A nice feeling to have a couple of people yelling my name (printed on the bib number) … I’m sure I was the only “mike” out there.
The run back up north was harder – a combination of gradual fatigue and breeze, and perhaps the monotony of retracing our steps. The 5km split between 15kms and 20kms was at 4:09 pace, and I crossed the half way mark in 1:26:09. A good feeling to be within a whisker of the original plan, and I felt remarkably fresh relative to how I would normally feel after a standalone half marathon (thankfully). There was no particular strategy for the second half of the race, so I made one up. Pretty basic in hindsight … keep running at 4:10 pace for as long as possible and then do some maths with 10kms to go.
It got quite lonely for the next little while. The field was really strung out – at one stage I had no one within 100 metres of me, front or back. I fantasized briefly that I was leading the race, but came to my senses pretty quickly when some whippet flew past me and out of sight. Not sure about his pacing strategy but I didn’t see him again so can only assume he kept going strong.
I was happy to get through the next 5kms in 4:11 pace and then 4:14 pace for the 5kms to the 30km mark. There was another big crowd in this area as we passed the race precinct. I felt as good as I could have hoped at this point, and with the carnival style atmosphere of the crowd and the DJs cranking out party tunes I got sucked into striding out and trying to look as fresh as possible. I convinced myself I was feeling and looking strong (… so I was later horrified watching back the race video of the 30km point … far from fresh, face drawn, shoulders slumped, looking more like a fast walker than a runner.)
The longest run I had done in training was only 31kms. It’s probably only natural that once I got past this point on race day doubts crept into my mind. Having done two marathons before, it wasn’t completely unchartered territory, but it makes for a tough 10kms to the end. As the body tires and everything started to hurt, the voice of doubt gets louder. I upped the intake of everything I could get my hands on … more Endure, more water, more caffeine … anything to feel good again. The reality was that the physical pain was not going to disappear – it’s a marathon, what do I expect?! So it becomes a mental battle – trying to ensure the positive thoughts are louder than the negative. I focussed on all the training I had locked away in my legs … all the hard 1km intervals I’d done on a Sunday afternoon after a long run that morning. I focussed on the fact that Coach Tippet had prepared me specifically for this event. And I focussed on how much it would suck if I had to do it all again if I didn’t break 3 hours this time round.
The next 5kms to the 35km mark was at 4:20 pace, so I was slowing down but nothing to be alarmed at. Shortly after this with 5km left to run I had more than 25 minutes up my sleeve to break 3 hours – hard to resist getting ahead of myself.
So whilst I was ‘comfortably’ ahead of schedule, I was wary that things can change fast. The general dull pain throughout my body was occasionally jolted by the odd flash cramp in my calf or quads. For a split second it feels as though my legs are going to seize up and memories of GC 2006 came flooding back. This continued to happen every couple of minutes and it was hard not to panic – it all felt out of my control. Whilst I was still running at well under 5:00 pace and absolutely on track I was conscious that a cramp could reduce me to a walk and ruin the day. As I got to the 40km mark (4:33 pace for the 35-40km split) it was all about hanging on. It felt like 100 runners passed me in the closing stages and even that close to the end I was still having to dispel thoughts of quitting. Not until the last few hundred metres could I relax knowing from that point I could crawl across the line in under 3 hours if I had to. There was a great crowd in the closing stages and I made a point of soaking in all the noise and energy, pretending it was all for me (… and not for Steve Moneghetti who was close behind heading the 3 hour pace group).
Crossing the line was a strange feeling – not complete elation as I had expected, but more one of huge relief and satisfaction that I had achieved a goal that was a genuine stretch for me. I slumped into a chair and sat for a while just thinking about how 6 months worth of training had culminated in this moment. It was a nice opportunity to reflect on it all, and think about the sacrifices, and the people who had helped me get here, none more so than Matty Tippett who was my part time coach and full time physio and psychologist, and of course my beautiful wife Jackie and my 3 kids who I know love me running big miles because it means more shoe boxes for art & craft.
My final time was 2:58:25. My mate Will had an awesome day finishing in 3:20:33 with a big negative split. Always a good sign when someone starts talking about their next marathon straight after finishing their first. I didn’t have those thoughts straight after. Six weeks have passed and I still don’t have those thoughts, which I think means I left it all out there.