Great Ocean Road Running Festival 2017 – More than a marathon!

I guess it’s common for all runners to get to that point where, after half a dozen or so half marathons, you decide that you’d better at least try a marathon to see whether you’ve got what it takes to join that elite bunch of crazies. Then it comes down to which one should you choose? The Gold Coast seems the obvious choice as it’s a fast, flat course, well supported by our club and reasonably local. But… It also has that brutal point where you run past the finish line filled with your cheering family and friends knowing that you still have another gruelling 12km in front of you… arghhh!
When I first heard about the Great Ocean Road I decided that maybe this could be the ideal opportunity I had been searching for. With its beautiful scenery to distract you as you meander your way along some of Australia’s most spectacular coastline, surely the kilometres would just drop away almost effortlessly as you travel a mere 44kms from the sleepy townships of Lorne to Apollo Bay. Also, the fact that this beautiful road, which is used in countless prestige car advertising campaigns, would be closed exclusively for us privileged road runners to enjoy, made it seem like the perfect destination for my first marathon (even though it was a little longer than usual)!

I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great friendships within Striders and soon enough a plan was hatched, accommodation, race entry and aeroplane tickets were all booked and operation “first marathon” was on. Time to start training!!
Fast forward over the many roads run, hills sweated, lessons learnt and it was finally time to pack the bags and make this journey a reality.

Rocky Road before the Long Road

We arrived in Melbourne, collected our hire car and soon we were on our way to the Great Ocean Road. Sticking to the pre-race plan, we obviously had to include a stop at the Rocky Road festival occurring at the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie. A few hours later (and kgs heavier?) we arrived in Lorne. This was where the marathon was going to kick off from so, after checking out the start line, we dropped into the race week office to collect our festival passes and cold weather bags. Some awesome burgers (more marathon prep), some more coffee, and it was time to drive the route.

Now here’s where I’m not sure whether it is a good choice to drive the distance that you are about to run as it certainly filled me with trepidation about what lay ahead of me. Yes, it is beautiful, but you suddenly realise how far it is from one point to the next and I wanted to ask the question repeatedly: “Are we there yet?!” to the experienced “adults” in the front.
Based on the recommendations of others, it was agreed that we would be better off staying at the finish destination and we were happy to find that our apartment was located within 500m of not only the finish line but also the early morning bus shuttle. (By the way, if you are thinking of participating in this event it is a good idea to lock in some accommodation well in advance as it is growing in numbers quite rapidly and Apollo Bay is not much more than a sleepy seaside town.)

Race Morning

Race morning arrived and we rugged up and boarded the bus for Lorne – a reasonably harrowing trip in the dark on a long, narrow and winding road! Fifty minutes later we arrived and were treated to a beautiful (though chilly) sunrise. It wasn’t long before an announcement was made that the trucks had to leave so the time had come to strip off the warm clothes, secure them in our cold weather bags and hand them to the volunteers who would have them ready for us at the other end.

A last-minute toilet visit and we assembled in the starting area with around 1000 other people of questionable sanity, nervously awaiting the buzzer to sound.
The race starts with a small initial climb before you are treated to some gentle downhill running with lovely scenic views to appreciate and reflect upon what lies ahead.

A few km’s later the bubble of positivity bursts as you tackle the first of some very long uphills that seem to go on for an eternity. Each time you round a bend hoping that it will reveal a descent only to be rewarded with another climb! The downhills do offer a great chance to recover before the next hill and the views are nothing short of spectacular.

Thankfully we were very fortunate with the weather and, a little cloud cover combined with a gentle breeze, made it a lovely temperature to run in. Water stops were generally located every 5km (ish) and provided both electrolyte, water and at least 1 or 2 portaloos (though perhaps the race organisers should think about providing a couple more as there seemed to always be people waiting at the early stations).
Running along you pass through a few pretty little holiday towns before finally reaching Kennett River – the start of the 23km half marathon.

For anyone starting at this point there is little to warm up on before they are initiated on the Great Ocean Road with probably one of the biggest and longest climbs which continues for several kilometres. For the keen and observant runner there are koalas to be spotted in the trees as you slowly climb past and of course there is always the view! Once you have that hill out of the way, there are still a couple of remaining bumps but generally the elevation isn’t as bad. It is somewhere past this point though that the marathoners start to struggle with fatigue and depleting energy levels and I was certainly no exception here.

Hitting The Wall

Being my first marathon I was humbled by how hard I found this rapid change from high energy to no energy! I began to wonder if I could actually complete the mammoth task I had undertaken? Apollo Bay could be seen in the distance yet it was deceiving as the bends and turns of the road seemed to keep it forever in that same out of reach place. The hills started to become a reason to walk a little and with each stop it was harder to start again. Even the downhills weren’t offering any relief and seemed to hurt more than the ups. The support of others make this report a success story as without one of my awesome fellow teammates’ and my new “bus friend” encouraging me, I probably would have succumbed to the fatigue and pain I was feeling.

The Finish High

Eventually the 40km sign came into view and I finally started to feel that I could make this dream a reality. I swear those last kilometres were the longest 4.5km I have ever run (yes there was a bonus 500m) but eventually the finish line came into view. Overcome with emotion I crossed that line and changed something in my life forever. For me, it will always be a day to remember; a day that I went from at times thinking I could never run a marathon to a day that I finished knowing that I can.
If you’ve never run a marathon before or you’ve run many, I think the Great Ocean Road Festival provides plenty of challenges for everyone and is another great opportunity to marvel at just how lucky we are to live and run in this beautiful country.
Oh, and it’s also a good excuse for a holiday away with good friends, good food and great chocolate 😉

Submitted by Gillian Davison

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