If you’ve been following my training at all, you know that the last month has been difficult. I peaked too early, caught a cold, and found it difficult to stay motivated as Race Day approached. I think I expected that my second half-marathon would be way easier than the first, but that was definitely not the case.
Race Day dawned unseasonably hot and windy in Melbourne. I’d had a terrible night’s sleep but still felt relatively okay in the morning. I had, however, forgotten the #1 piece of pre-race advice: Get everything you need to wear or take with you ready the night before. So I was a bit frantic trying to get ready and eat some breakfast (toast with peanut butter) before the cab arrived. Once we got to the MCG, I discovered my mistake. I’d forgotten my iPod. Crap. That meant I had no way to track my pace or keep an eye on my split times (not to mention no way to distract myself). There was no time to go back, so I just had to accept it.
There were thousands of people streaming down from the MCG to the starting line, so I rushed to use the bathroom and get ready. I pinned on my number and attached the timing chip to my shoe. I ate a Gu pack and drank some Gatorade from my water belt. I rubbed Voltarin (an anti-inflammatory gel) on my back and hamstrings. The Snook took a quick picture of me in front of Rod Laver Arena, where the Australian Open Championships are held. Then I kissed him goodbye and headed to the starting area. There were 7,700 runners in the Half-Marathon but you’d never know it by how well-behaved and orderly the crowd was. I did some easy stretches and tried to quell my nerves. Someone sang a lovely a capella version of the national anthem. And then we were off!We headed out of the park and climbed a gentle rise up into the city. I knew I didn’t want to start too fast, but it was hard to judge without knowing my exact pace. My original plan had been to take a 1 minute walk break every kilometer, but as we approached the first marker, I chickened out. I didn’t want to look like somebody who had to walk already. (Which is stupid, because the whole point of the run/walk method is starting the walk breaks BEFORE you feel the need to.) I decided to run all the way to the first water station at the 3.5km mark. When I got there, I “timed” my break by counting to sixty as I drink my water. I felt pretty good at this point.
At the 5km marker, I walked again and had another gel pack. “Hey Kris!” someone yelled out. It was knitter (and former Sydneysider) Emma! I can’t believe that out of nearly 8000 people, I ran into the one other runner I knew there. I jogged with her and her companion for a bit before picking up the pace. For the next five kilometers, I struggled with the feeling that I was going too slow. I started playing mental games with the other runners, like the ones Galloway mentions in his books. I’d use my “invisible lasso” to snare someone ahead of me, and then I’d mentally let them pull me along while I slowly, slowly reeled them in. My ultimate goal was to catch “Pinky,” a woman in a pink shirt who’d been maddeningly close to me since the very start. I decided that Pinky was my nemesis and must be defeated. Hey, when you don’t have any music, your brain comes up with weird things to occupy itself!
We’d left the CBD by this point, and we were actually running around a lake south of the city. I was now well and truly in the “back of the pack,” and the marathoners (who had started half an hour behind us) were now overtaking us in large numbers. At the 10km mark I had another gel pack. There was a timing mat to mark the halfway point, but annoyingly it didn’t have a clock displaying the time. I yelled out to a volunteer and he responded that it was 8:25. “WHAT?” I thought. “85 minutes?! That can’t be right!” I thought I’d been going faster than that. The sun was starting to come through the haze and it was getting hotter. I felt tired and depressed.. but suddenly I realized that Pinky was right beside me. I passed her! I passed my nemesis! So that cheered me up a little bit. (Of course, it was that much harder to keep going without her in front of me as a target.)
At about the 13km mark, the half-marathoners turned back towards the city while the marathoners headed on to St. Kilda. That’s the point where I suddenly realized how monumental their task really was. Every step was now taking me back towards the finish line, but they had to run another 20km to get to that point. I persevered. By this point, I was taking a walk break every kilometer. My hips and feet were aching. The trees were blowing clouds of what I thought were pale petals (seed pods, according to the Snook) over the road. At 15km I had my last gel pack. I was so, so tired, and I knew at that point I wasn’t going to come close to setting a PR. I started playing the “Just run to the next stoplight, then you can walk again!” game. My back felt stiff and I had to fight the urge to hunch over. The crowd had really thinned out by this point (since the marathoners were gone) and there weren’t as many people to lasso.
Eventually we were back to a part of Melbourne that I recognized, and I could hear music and cheering in the distance. We climbed back up St. Kilda Road and crossed the river. “Just run to the end of the bridge, then you can walk,” I told myself. I was only about 2km from the finish line. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of pink. IT WAS PINKY. She caught up with me! I wanted to take off sprinting to beat her to the finish line, but I knew it would kill me. It was time to take a different tack. We were both walking at that point, so I turned to face her. “I followed you the whole first half of the race,” I said cheerfully. “You better get me the rest of the way to the finish!” “I don’t think so,” she laughed. “You’ve got to motivate ME!” So we walked together.
Pinky’s real name was Donna and over the next 1.5km we became friends. It was her second half-marathon too. She was just as tired and achey as I was. She was also resigned to the fact that her finish time was going to be ten minutes slower than before, but she didn’t mind as much as I did. That made me feel a little better. “Downhill! Okay, time to run again.” We urged each other on as we shuffled down the hill towards the MCG as best we could. We took another short walk break. “Less than a K to go,” Donna said. “Let’s finish it.” Just as we were approaching the entry gate, we heard beeping behind us. A motorcycle with a TV camera zoomed past as the marathon leader overtook us. “Holy shit, we’re on TV!” I said as I waved. (As the Snook congratulated me later, I only got beaten by one Ethiopian. Nice.)
We ducked into the tunnel and headed for the bright green of the pitch ahead. I could hear the crowd cheering as the leader crossed the finish line. We came out onto the grass and we could see the finish on the other side. “Time to sprint!” I said. I started to push it. (Even though we were friends now, I still wanted to beat her to the mat.) There were lots of people in the stands, so I didn’t even bother trying to look for the Snook. I just put my head down and charged for that finish mat as best I could. Once I heard the beep, I slowed to a walk and gasped for breath. Donna crossed just behind me and we shared a high-five. Then it was down into another tunnel to collect our medals and turn in our chips. We were done.
The finish times were briefly available on the marathon website this morning, but they seem to be down now. My net time was around 2:47, which is about ten minutes slower than I ran in May. On one hand I’m disappointed; I knew this course was flatter and I wanted to improve my time. On the other hand, it was hot and windy, and I didn’t have the adrenaline of a first-timer to draw upon. Maybe it’s easier when you don’t really know what to expect. I also didn’t have my iPod or any other way of tracking my pace. I’ll be prepared for these things in the future.
Overall, I have to say that the Melbourne Marathon (including all the various races) is an very well run event, much better than the Sydney Running Festival. Water stations were plentiful and never seemed to run out of supplies. The start and finish areas were well-organized and sign-posted, and using the MCG meant there were plenty of toilets. The course is a lot flatter than Sydney, and it’s quite picturesque with the parks, lake, and seashore to look at. I’d recommend this event for any runner looking for their next challenge!
Anyway, that’s my second half-marathon finished. I said to the Snook afterwards, “The first one was for me. This one is for you.” I’m so, so grateful for all his support. He puts up with me during the ups and downs of training, and he cheerfully waits for hours to give me a hug at the finish line (even if he does think I get a bit stinky). I really couldn’t do it without him!