The 2015 Melbourne Marathon

It’s been several weeks since the 2015 Melbourne Marathon which has given me plenty of time to reflect on the day and its significance. Thanks to a hip injury, I’d gone into the day feeling quite apprehensive, unsure whether I’d be able to finish let alone achieve my goal time of sub-four-hours.

The day got off to a terrible start. I arrived at the start with far less time than I would have liked and promptly spent far too long waiting in line for the toilets inside the MCG. With only 15 minutes until the start, I bailed out of the line, beyond frustrated, resigning myself to the fact I’d have to stop soon after the start to use the facilities.

By the time I got to the start line I had barely enough time to stretch and my plan of starting with the 3 hour 50 minute pace group simply wasn’t going to happen. I’d got to the start too late and was unable to push my way up through the field. Instead I started near the 4 hour 20 minute pace group and resolved to work my way up through the field in the opening kilometres.

There was no time to stand around and feel nervous — I was off before I knew it and, among 7,000 other hopefuls, I made my way up towards Flinders Street station and down St. Kilda Road.

In the days leading up to the run I’d told myself to be careful of starting too fast and paying for it later. And yet, here I was, starting too fast in the hope of catching a pace group I should have started with. I figured that pace group was my best shot of maintaining a manageable pace … so long as I didn’t burn myself out before getting there.

I caught the 3 hour 50 group about 6km into the run, having run about 20 seconds per kilometre faster than I’d wanted to. As soon as I reached the pacers I realised they were going considerably faster than they should have been, and certainly faster than I could maintain for nearly four hours.

So, having pushed myself hard to reach the group, I spent no more than 30 seconds with them before letting them head on up the road as I sought a more comfortable and maintainable rhythm.

The only good news to this point was that my hip was giving me far less grief than I’d been expecting. The slight modification to my stride that I’d worked out in my last run seemed to be helping and the pain was minimal in those opening stages of the run.

Having let the 3 hour 50 minute pace group go I set about finding a rhythm I could maintain for the next few hours and ticking off the kilometres as I went.

I got through the first 20km or so feeling quite comfortable and reflected on the fact that, last time around, I was considering pulling out at that point. This time, by contrast, my hip pain was barely an issue and, best of all, I was ahead of schedule for my four hour goal.

And that’s when I realised I’d dropped the small sandwich bag I’d had in my pocket; a bag that contained two bank cards, my myki, some cash, my pace notes and, crucially, my painkillers. I didn’t need them right away but I was sure that, at some point, my hip would cause me significant grief.

After a few expletives and a split-second thought of turning around, I carried on. I texted ahead to my support crew, Sharon and my dad Ron, asking them to have some painkillers ready. I thought I might see them after 22km but busy trams ensured I had already passed that point by the time they got there …

But it didn’t really matter. I distinctly remember looking up at the 24km marker by the roadside, looking at my watch to see how far up on my goal time I was, then thinking “I’ve got this”. There were still 18km to go but I was feeling great and sub-four-hours seemed a near certainty.

I wasn’t feeling so good a few kilometres later. Such is the reality of running a marathon — one minute you’re feeling great, the next it feels as if every step is a slog.

I felt progressively worse over the next half an hour, the fatigue building and my hip starting to become quite painful. By the time I’d passed the 30km mark, I realised my earlier “I’ve got this” might have been a little premature. It was no surprise that I’d started to fall apart at 30km. This was the greatest distance I ran during training and even if I’d managed to reach 32km in training as I’d planned, it’s the final 12km of a marathon that are the hardest anyway.

I saw Dad and Sharon for the first time at about the 31km mark, grabbing some painkillers as I continued on. I waited a kilometre before taking the drugs, noting that, in my last marathon, it had been just 11km in that I’d taken painkillers. That was a good sign.

The bad sign was that my pace was starting to drop and the buffer I’d built up in those fast opening kilometres was slowly eroding. I knew I had to maintain roughly 6 minutes per kilometre until the end but every time I looked at my watch it seemed to be 6:10 or 6:15. I’d need to lift the pace but I was paying for my earlier efforts.

The long slog up Fitzroy Street and St. Kilda Road between kilometres 30 and 38 is an absolute death march. You’re in uncharted territory in terms of distance, everything is starting to hurt — if it wasn’t already — and the fatigue has long since become a constant companion.

And then the course takes you around and under St. Kilda Road before flinging you back in the opposite direction for a few kilometres. It feels like you’re going backwards just at a time where you need that motivational feeling of not being far from the finish.

I had pushed myself over the last 8km, doing everything I could to stay at or faster than 6 minutes per kilometre and I’d managed to do so. I got to the 38km mark with a a bit of a buffer still in tact and realised that, barring any major incident, I would manage to scrape inside the four hours.

I’d been listening to This American Life podcasts for the first two hours of the run before switching over to Triple J and just as I realised I was going to make it Sia’s song Alive came on. The combination of soaring, emotive vocals and the knowledge I was about to achieve my goal gave me goosebumps. I found myself on the edge of tears.

With a huge smile on my face I thought about how I was going to celebrate when I crossed the line. Would a simple fist-pump suffice? Or was a full-blown “yee haa!” more appropriate?

At the 40km mark I hit another flat spot, the adrenaline of a few minutes earlier having worn off. I willed myself on, trying to keep the pace about six minutes per kilometre. With a kilometre or so to go I passed my old mate Mark who’d come out to cheer on our mutual friend Nick and I. That brief interaction gave me another little boost as I headed down Brunton Avenur and made for the MCG.

I took my headphones out as I approached the iconic sporting stadium. I wanted to take in all of the atmosphere and the noise and the excitement. Under the MCG I went then out on to the hallowed turf, looking around at the thousands of people that had packed the lower tier of the stadium to cheer on friends and loved ones.

That final lap of the ‘G seemed to take forever but as I closed in on the finish I could see on the clock above the finish line that I had plenty of time. I finished the 2015 Melbourne Marathon with a time of 3 hours 57 minutes and 22 seconds. Despite having thought about it earlier, I didn’t celebrate as I stopped the clock. The overwhelming feeling was one of relief rather than jubilation.

After hours, days, weeks and even months of wondering whether I’d be able to achieve my goal I finally had the answer. It was a relief to know the hard work had all been worth it. The toe injury that plagued me early on in training hadn’t stopped me; being overseas for five weeks in the middle of the year hadn’t stopped me; a painful hip injury in the final weeks of training hadn’t stopped me. I’d worked for nearly a year to achieve a goal I set for myself and, despite setbacks, I managed to achieve that goal.

Thanks to my terrific support crew — Sharon and my dad Ron — for looking after me through training and for coming down on the day. Their support was invaluable. Thanks too to Mark for sticking around to give me a cheer. And a huge congratulations to my brother Brendan who, despite battling illness in the weeks before the marathon, and despite a longest training run of just 25km, managed to push through and finish the marathon in less than 4:20. A sterling effort.

Me (left) with Brendan after finishing the 2015 Melbourne Marathon.

Me (left) with Brendan after finishing the 2015 Melbourne Marathon. (Image: Ron de Neef)

I remember crossing the line of my last marathon and thinking I never needed to run again. And then I didn’t run for three years. But even in the most difficult parts of this year’s marathon, I found myself looking forward to getting out for a run again once I’d recovered from the 42.2km.

It was less than two weeks after the marathon that I pulled the running shoes back on for the first time. With a small group of mates at work I went for a fast 6km run at lunchtime and, despite finding the pace challenging, I really enjoyed it. I think I’ll try to keep up the running in some capacity, even if that’s just one run a week. It seems a shame to throw away the fitness and form I’ve spent most of a year building up.

And while I don’t feel the need to run another marathon again any time soon, the experience of training for and running in this year’s event will always stick with me. From the short, easy runs early in training, to the long, painful grinds just weeks from the event — they’re all memorable in their own way.

Mission accomplished.

 

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About Matt de Neef
Publisher at The Climbing Cyclist (http://theclimbingcyclist.com). Editor at CyclingTips (http://cyclingtips.com.au)

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