Striders At Melbourne Marathon

Whilst many of our club mates made the annual trek to Toowoomba to support our fellow amateur runners at their annual event, Chris Edwards and I decided to tackle the marathon that promotes itself as Australia’s biggest.

So why run Melbourne? For me, I’ve run six Gold Coast Marathons. It was time to tackle another course. My first foray into “marathon tourism”, a weekend in Australia’s sporting capital, a flat course and some motivation to keep fit a little later into the year than I normally would meant Melbourne ticked a few boxes. For Chris, he’s run a brilliant 3:07 in his debut marathon at the Gold Coast in July, qualified and registered to run the Boston Marathon next April, and smashed his PBs in every distance from 5k through to the half marathon. Why wouldn’t he want to have another run to finish the season with lure of 3-hour marathon in the back of his mind? So the plan was hatched – let’s nail Melbourne.

Our first impression of the race precinct Saturday afternoon is underwhelming. The Gold Coast is my only marathon so it is the benchmark. Some years the Melbourne Marathon finishes inside the MCG stadium on the oval. This year it finishes outside. The running expo is a collection of half a dozen tents along with the bib collection. I’m glad it’s not raining because there’s no cover. There are no toilets open and the port-a-loos have cable ties on them.

The afternoon is spent checking for weather updates. I’m surprised Lewis and Edwards don’t crash the BOM website – like looking at the forecast is going to change it. A maximum temperature of 28 degrees is predicted. Never mind, we’ll be running so fast we’ll be finished before it warms up. It’s important to carb load so we make our way to St Kilda for pizza by the beach for dinner and to check out that part of the course.

Sunday arrives and we make the 2k trek from our accommodation to the start line. We’re ready to go. I’ve got a plan – I’m going to take it out conservatively and finish strong. Chris is going to stick with the 3 hour pace runners. These are plans based on evidence and experience; after all we’re both experts because we ran PBs at the Gold Coast.

At the start of the race the race announcer formally recognises the Spartan Legends. A Spartan is a runner who has competed in 10 Melbourne Marathons. They are given a race number for life and wear a special coloured singlet. If they’ve run 20 marathons they get a different colour. They are afforded priority treatment at check-in and the start line. It’s a great way to recognise the athletes who have supported the event. A Spartan Legend has run all 36 Melbourne Marathons and there are only a handful left. They are named and rightly applauded at the start line.

I take it out at my desired pace. The course heads towards Flinders Station, then all the way along St Kilda Road to Albert Park. We make our way through Albert Park with a few u-turns and we’ve completed about 15k. The next stretch takes us along the waterfront of Port Phillip Bay. There are two u-turns and I’m keen to see how my club mate is faring so I’m keeping a careful eye on the other side of the road. I miss seeing him at the 19k turn around. No problems – I’ll keep a look out at the 26k turn. I make the 21.1k halfway point in just over 1:40. I’m on target. At around the 25k I spot Chris running in the opposite direction. He’s somewhere between the 3:00 and the 3:10 pacer. I notice my pace is starting to slow a little from 25k to 30k. Not much but a little. It’s OK, I’ll cruise for a few ks and then power home in the last 10.

At the 30k mark I decide to walk through the drink station and have a decent sports drink and gel. In my mind this is not losing time but making an investment. It will set me up for the last part of the race. I will now digress. My family is following me on the live tracker. This innovation allows Internet stalkers to follow a runner on a map of the course. This shows that I am nearing the finish line and have run a time of 2:50. My wife tells me afterwards she could only think of 2 possibilities – the first was that Chris and I had got our timing chips mixed up in the hotel room and he was wearing mine and the second was that I had been picked up by an ambulance and driven to the finish line with my timing chip still active!

The last 12k is what separates the marathon from other racing distances. I am simply getting slower. Drinks stations are now rest points. I’m trying to break down the rest of the run into smaller portions. At around the 36k mark I’m telling myself that I might have to have a bit of a walk. And then I spot a Striders singlet and cap in front of me. What’s happened – is Chris OK? I make sure my fellow runner is not in serious trouble and he assures me he’ll survive. On one level this is good news though I’m not convinced. A part of me desperately wants him to tell me he needs assistance. That way I can play the hero and have the break I’m craving. I’ll see you at finish line he says. I feel the least I can do is jog far enough away from him so that he doesn’t see me walking.

I mentioned earlier the course is flat and for the most part it is. The only hill of consequence is in the Botanic Gardens at about 39k. I’m looking at my watch and reassessing my goals. I’ll settle for sub-3:30. I can’t get under my Gold Coast time but something in the 3:25-3:30 range will be creditable. I make my way to the finish line. To my amazement the finish line for a major city marathon doesn’t have a race clock. Most runners have watches but surely the spectators should be catered for. Also, there are no club tents lining the last kilometer. These are issues I think need addressing. The official result gives me a time of 3:28:17.

I grab a drink of hydrolyte and get one for Chris. I figure he’ll appreciate it. I’m really pleased when I see him crossing the line in 3:39:06. He’s OK but a little shell-shocked. How do people do Comrades and Ironman? He’s tough though – I tell him we need to think about how we get back to the motel – he says we’re walking. Not another 2k. The walk home takes about an hour with multiple drink stops.

Over a meal and a couple drinks in the sports bar we reflect. I can’t resist telling Chris the story of the tortoise and the hare. The metaphors don’t stop there. Chris describes his experience at the half way mark as a detonation. He even posts this description on Facebook complete with little bomb icons. I too use a fireworks metaphor – the slow fizzle. We have a laugh about it and our respect for the marathon distance is confirmed. Chris asks me whether I’d consider doing the race again. I think about it for a few seconds – of course I would. I’ve now got a PB at Australia’s biggest marathon that I can improve on.

Peter Lewis

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