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October 17, 2013

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS BLOG (always wanted to say that!)…..screw it, I’ve left you hanging at the start line at the time of the gun signifying race start long enough. On with the descriptions of the marathon itself, from the perspective of a first timer with a Gatorade bottle in one hand and a bag of lollies in the other in case the fuel on the course wasn’t enough.

As is the case with most other mass starts, it wasn’t a mad rush to the timing chip activation point, but after that it was very much game on. As usual there were many who were looking to go a little faster at the start than they had anticipated, while others were settling in for a long day at the office. The space between runners was cramped at the corner where Federation Square and Flinders Street train station meet, but once that corner was negotiated and runners started to use the tram lines which had been cleared of the famous mode of Melbourne transportation for the morning, it was time to find space to get the tempo that a runner wanted. The long straight run down St.Kilda Road heading towards the beach saw me keep pace with the 4 hour pace runners as I had wanted to do for the bulk of the run. Skipping the first drink station was not exactly planned but as I approached I felt this made sense, for many runners would crowd the tables looking for the first sign of refreshment. Plus I had trained to run for about 6km, or about 40 minutes of running before looking for hydration so the body was used to long periods without replenishment.

Entering the Albert Park area passing the Junction Oval saw us enter the Grand Prix circuit, a part of the course that I will revisit for the final run of the year at the City2Sea in mid November. It was hard to recognise without the walls lining the roads as they usually do when Sebastien Vettel blasts off into the distance leaving others to squabble amongst themselves. It was even less recognisable than my first experiences at the Albert Park lake as a very young tacker which were spent along the old Lake Oval (since demolished to become firstly the South Melbourne Football/Soccer Club ground, then the headquarters for Athletics in Victoria) feeding ducks with cheap loaves of bread.

It was there I started having a little chat to other runners about the weather, which is something I couldn’t think about doing if I was at an elite level. It was nice to know that there were like-minded individuals out there giving their all. Others were doing the same thing, especially to the older “Spartans” in the field for they had trodden these paths many times before and their words of wisdom would be as if they had come from a sage. After heading into the pit lane past the first personalised drink station which next year I should certainly take advantage of I decided to increase the tempo slightly to try to catch and eventually pass the 3:50 pace runners.

From there it was along Fitzroy Street adjacent to the tram lines of the famed St.Kilda tram towards the beach and eventually down Beaconsfield Parade. This area of the course reminded me of the 3rd lap of the half marathon course I ran 7 days earlier, the brain was certainly thinking about just where the 180 degree turn was! Unlike last week however I felt more confident in the conditioning and continued to run strongly, although I did half jokingly utter to the leading runners on the other side of the course to slow down so we could keep up (I doubt anyone else, let alone those runners, were listening with any intent). The split at 20km showed I was travelling on course to complete the aim of a 4 hour marathon, certainly I didn’t expect to find later I recorded a 1:47 split time at the timing mat just prior to half distance.

The 25km marker was at Elwood Park, after negotiating a path through a car park I sensed the first signs of trouble. Sadly the Gatorade wasn’t of much use and I couldn’t find a way to consume the lollies easily. After rounding the turn to head back towards the city, I felt that I needed to ease off, although I didn’t anticipate dropping to walking pace (and I wasn’t the only one). Having entered unchartered territory having run further than I had ever run before in a single running effort, the task of starting again after a short walk was increasingly difficult not because of exhaustion but because of fatigue in the upper legs (the skins on the calves meant I had no pain or even discomfort in that region, a surprise given a reasonably lengthy history of injury). But start again I did passing Luna Park (last visited on December 28 1997, externally it didn’t look as though it changed much) and relatively charging back up Fitzroy Street into St.Kilda Road. Signs were still good passing the 30km marker and a quick glance at the app on the iPod indicated I had over an hour to reach the MCG finish line before the goal time.

Sadly the body started to let me down. After trotting towards the Southbank precinct, I started to feel pain in my left big toe with about 6km to go, pain that I had never experienced before. Indeed I had felt some pain in the left foot in the weeks before the marathon, but I attribute this to wearing new work boots and this pain this still lingers only when I wear work boots given they are the only pair of covered shoes I have without some sort of extra inner sole protection. At the very least, I felt I was close enough to at least walk towards the finish following the course looping back towards St.Kilda Road. As the frustration mounted, completed with a tennis like bounce of the empty Gatorade bottle as I passed one of the many spectators, the rain that had been forecast and had been threatening for most of the morning started to fall. It made the walk long and miserable as the goal time of 4 hours passed whilst out on the road.

Fortunately the pain in the toe abated for long enough for the final kilometre incorporating the loop into the MCG. This was where a silver lining to not completing the course in the time I anticipated, for approaching the MCG I ranged alongside a spartan named Jim Hopkins who was about to finish the event for the 30th time. Thinking it would be a good thing to respect an elder statesman of the event I decided to ask him just how many times he’d finished at this finish line (4th time as it turned out), and thought that at least there may be some attention at the finish line (there wasn’t a lot that I heard). It was a slow march across the finish line, but a march across the finish line ahead of 2300 finishers and a handful of those who started but didn’t complete the journey is better than a trip to the medico without the satisfaction of finishing. As I wandered towards the tunnel I felt I needed to emulate the feat of former AFL star Matthew Lloyd and toss a few blades of hallowed MCG turf into the air, before taking in the atmosphere as I exited the arena.

Opting not to even bother looking for a post-race massage that apparently was available (there were even some asking for directions in an English accent), it was time for a quick stretch and a light refuelling consisting of sports drink and a banana. I’m sure I sat with my belongings in the bowels of the MCG where I had sat hours earlier for at least 40 minutes trying to regather my senses before I decided it was time to depart the scene. Whilst the overall winner of the race headed to McDonald’s, whose outlets obviously aren’t as plentiful in Kenya as they are in the Melbourne CBD, I comforted myself with a feed of KFC, the very food that in so many ways typified my physical appearance in the years between 2009-2011.

It has now been close to 4 days since I started and completed my first, and certainly not last, marathon. Incredibly the pain in the knees was gone by the Tuesday, and apart from occasional bursts of discomfort in the toe all pain the legs experienced disappeared 24 hours later. Perhaps constant movement that is required when sorting parcels helped in this regard, maybe it was the day that I used a bandage to cover the upper right leg assisted. Possibly it was the over-replenishment of energy in the period afterwards (blame Hungry Jacks in Melbourne and Pumpkin Soup served at the Brisbane Virgin Lounge) that made me feel like I needed to get active again to return to some sort of normality. In any case, I doubt I will be able to run another marathon this weekend, and I am content with the remaining schedule I have set in my running consisting of the Run Sydney Half-Marathon next weekend and the City2Sea in November in Melbourne, a sister event to the City2Surf and the City2South where I participated earlier this year.

What I did do on the Monday afternoon while sitting in the Virgin Lounge in Brisbane was to set out some sort of agenda for 2014. You can find the agenda I have provisionally set out for myself at which as the schedules for football and work become clearer will alter. By the time I approach the start line for this event next year, not only will I have had hopefully more experience over the distance, I will definitely improve upon the benchmark I have set following the 2013 Melbourne Marathon.

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