Rounding the corner of Flinders Street Station, less than one kilometre to go, the roads are lined with enthusiastic supporters clapping, screaming and willing runners to keep putting one foot in front of the other. What should be a very basic task, is slowly becoming a complicated algorithm. At this stage, all you can really hear is just a blur of noise, something to take your focus away from the whole body pain that attempts to take control in the final stages of a marathon.
Like any marathon or marathon runner, there is always a story. A story you can share with your family, friends, postie or even write a blog about. You never know, someone might read it and it may encourage them to create their own story, a better story, a story they can share with their loved ones and give them an opportunity to brag about it at work.
The journey to a marathon is never easy, if it was, then the fascination behind it wouldn’t exist. The pure emotion you witness as people cross the finish line, hands raised in sheer elation, just wouldn’t be as spectacular.
Nor could you say the marathon is always glamorous. People curled over in pain, eyes sunken back, blisters covering their feet and unsure what day it is.
Even still, Instagram is flooded daily with pictures of people accomplishing this amazing feat of human endeavour. So then why do people do it? Well I wanted create my own story and find out for myself!
The 2014 Melbourne Marathon was my first. This choice, for me, was a no brainer. It’s close to home so I didn’t need to travel far, nor did my family and friends who came out to support. It’s a picturesque course taking in some of Melbourne’s most amazing and wondrous sights, including Federation Square, Albert Park Lake, St Kilda Beach, Luna Park, The Shrine of Remembrance, the National Gallery of Victoria and the MCG.
Another reason I made the choice, was because I could share the experience with one of my best mates, training partners and founder of Run Culture, Dane Verwey. Going through the journey together allowed us to keep each other honest, accountable and ensured we had fun. Our preparation and build up was very similar. Ensuring we nailed the fundamentals, including consistency, recovery and weekly long runs, we managed to build our fitness and our confidence.
Our coach also helped in a major way here, guiding us and holding us back if needed. We researched and trialed various electrolyte supplements, gels and caffeine, seeing what worked best for us. Constantly we were growing, not just in a physical sense but also as people.
A few days before race day, we sat down with our coach and discussed our goals and where we thought we were at. As a group we decided on a realistic goal of breaking 2.25.
When the alarm goes off at 4.30am, it’s a true shock to the system. Attempting to cook a couple of pieces of toast with jam and consume a banana, felt way more difficult than normal. Arriving at the MCG, the nerves really started flowing. I was confident in my training though, the fact I felt I had done everything I could to that point put me at ease. Not worrying about what other people were doing, I focused on myself and what I needed to do.
A quick 10 minute shuffle to the start line, a few easy strides, a gel and I was ready for the gun. Coach’s instructions were to begin relatively easy for the first 5km. Then to relax until 30km, simply treating it like a Sunday long run with your mates, then race the final 12km, giving it everything. Breaking the race into parts made it much easier to work with. Just like installing a flat pack from IKEA, don’t focus on the 83 steps you need to painstakingly get through, break it into small sections and it’ll feel much more manageable.
Surprisingly the first half of the race went by quick. Sitting in a good rhythm, Dane and I ran together, absorbing the eerie feeling around the quiet city streets and making certain we followed our nutrient plan of specific electrolyte drinks and gels.
Dane and I enjoying the lovely morning conditions around Albert Park.
As we rolled our way along Beaconsfield Parade, I downed my 15km gel, along with a cup of water. All of a sudden tragedy struck, in the form of an excruciating pain in my ribs, a stitch was threatening my chances of holding on. Forcing my fist into my chest, trying to compel this evil demon out of harm’s way, I continued on. After a few nervous minutes, the pain subsided and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Covering the first half in a tick over 72 minutes, I noticed a few other runners starting to come back to us. Some who weren't afraid to have a real crack and see what happens. Our plan of going out conservative was starting to pay off for us.
The 30km mark of a marathon is significant, it’s where the real race starts. Where the focus needs to remain positive, using the confidence you’ve gained from your weeks/months/years of training to back yourself and continue to drive forward. Unsure if this was deliberate or not, but the Melbourne Marathon organisers have set the 30km mark to coincide with the buzz that surrounds St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street, a wondrous idea. Churning up the slight incline, you lose yourself in the screaming, enthusiastic crowd. Some of which are dazed and confused, just on their way home from one hell of a late night out. Feeding off the noise, Dane jolted into race mode, leaving me to ponder my next move in his dust.
Turning onto St Kilda Road, I decided I needed to turn my emphasis onto myself and the present moment, taking my attention away from other runners. I was hurting, but still felt strong. I was breathing heavy, but controlled. I was gaining momentum and with every step getting closer to achieving my goal.
What a prick, the biggest hill of the course happens to be located with only 7km to go. This, though is where you can take confidence from your training. Having grind out many a run around the picturesque hills of Ferny Creek, made famous by the likes of Ron Clarke, Rob De Castella, Chris Wardlaw and Trevor Vincent, some of Australia’s running royalty, climbing up around the famous Tan wasn’t so bad. Having close friends yelling and screaming words of encouragement also helped push me over the crest.
With 3km to go, the gradient turns, using this to my advantage I increased my cadence and started pegging back a couple of runners. We were heading towards the crescendo and I wanted my tune to be the loudest. It really doesn’t matter where you are in the field, this is a race and racing involves beating as many people as you can. However, just as quickly had I gone past a runner, he had whisked back past me. It’s at these times that you draw on strength from your purpose and think back to all those people that had helped you get to that point. You’re now not running for you, you’re running for your friends and family, you’re running for a higher purpose.
I finished as hard as I could and gave everything I had. The feeling of finishing and pushing to your absolute limit was surreal. The pain was somehow forgotten as the significance of what you had just done sunk in, I had reached my goal of running 2hrs 24min 40sec and placed 12th, two spots and 22 seconds behind Dane. Among family and friends there were many a tear and sweaty hug given. It was now that I realised what the marathon is about and why people keep coming back to it. It’s a chance to share in a journey with those that mean the most to you, it’s a chance to see how you react when under immense pain and pressure, it’s a chance to grow and learn the importance of hard work and dedication and a chance to inspire others to have a crack.
Well, that’s my story, thanks for reading and I hope you got something from it. Now it’s time to go out and make your own. The team at Run2pb would love to work with you to help build your own story. So get in contact at email@example.com and see how we might be able to assist!