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October 25, 2017

When last we touched base the gun had just signalled the start of the 40th running of the Melbourne Marathon. Usually this is when we see if all the training could be put to good use, but as we all know injury severely restricted this so it was a case of trusting the lessons of the past and hoping all systems hang in for the entire day.

It was the usual slowish start as everyone tried to get some sort of running room and a good position heading into the first couple of corners. It turned out that I had lobbed close to the 4:10 pace group, which would be a good place to start if I wanted this to be a Comrades qualifier. In past years being in this group would mean an ultra conservative start given I’ve lingered in sub 4:00 groups in the first half of the run. Still it felt comfortable running in a decent sized group without fearing that I might run into someone, or even something attached to the pacers themselves for in past years I’ve often channelled the inner Tim Cahill heading the balloons that this year was not present.

As usual the runners scrambled at the first opportunity to stop at the first drink station on St.Kilda Road, which enabled to me utilise my usual hydration plan. It wasn’t until the 3rd station just shy of the 9km marker where I felt the need to take on fluids, something that I often in the past have trained for. Prior to that however there was someone who managed to notice the 2016 Comrades cap that I was wearing, so I was able to have an all to brief chat to her running down the back section of the Grand Prix track. It’s always nice to be able to have a little chat to someone along the way which kind of normalises the run. For those around me it’s not so much a race against the clock but another long Sunday trot around a sports mad city.

Went through the 10km split in around 57:30, slower than some previous years but well and truly on track for what I had set out to achieve. Shortly after came an unscheduled pit stop which fortunately only required an old fashioned wee. There was no panic on my part even if it wasn’t planned, after all it happened at my first attempt at a 50km Ultra in Canberra in 2015 and I actually felt better afterwards. It wasn’t that hard to get on the back of the train through the pit lane, and as I glanced across as I trundled down the main straight of the GP track, seeing the 4:20 and 4:30 pace buses behind was satisfying.

There was a point of difference this year running along Beaconsfield Parade this year in that only one side of the road heading city bound was being used (in past years runners were covering both sides of the road). The biggest mental test of this marathon is always looking for the turning point just after 18km, but this year I wasn’t even giving it a second thought. The half was covered in just over 2:01 which again is slower than a normal half marathon time for me (1:53 in Wangaratta was a year’s best), but again with no pain in the legs and the conservative approach meaning I felt better at that stage than ever, surely keeping up with the 4:10 group would be easy enough. Yet fate again intervened as it did in Canberra a number of years ago. Once again I had to make another pit stop as some chicken chips I consumed on Friday took a couple of days not to agree with me and 5 minutes in the porta-loo was the result. Momentum was pretty much lost in terms of keeping up with the bus, particularly as I had to slightly backtrack to ensure I picked up the first of my Lucozades at the adjacent personal drink station, but everything was still on course and it was just about time to start calculating just how I would need to approach the remaining kilometres to get the goal of a Comrades qualifier.

The time had started to slow a little, although the 30km split at least showed I was still inside the 3 hour marker, leaving me on track for something well inside the mark required. I managed to remark a few times to spectators that me slowing down was as a result of a lack of conditioning due to the injury, so I was still happy enough to have gone well for this long and still not feeling any pain whatsoever in the leg. Plunging down into Alexandra Avenue is always a difficult task given the slower half marathon competitors and a number of 10km chargers are sharing the same bit of road going at a pedestrian pace, but I’m not sure if they had heard my warnings of the wheelchair athlete coming through on their inside (most of them did hear the accompanying cyclist guiding him through the traffic). He was doing it a lot tougher than I was especially ploughing up the rise towards the Shrine of Remembrance so I assume my encouragement was as welcome as the cheers for him that came from the crowd.

Big Man in Blue leading the charge to the finish….well it seemed like it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Marathon Photos

The 35km marker came and went with my time blowing out to 3:35, and by that stage I decided to walk up the hills and use the downhill runs to get momentum to make up any time loss. There was an extra uphill section this year owing to construction works that would normally see us onto St.Kilda Road a lot earlier, but the downhill was helpful and with my second Lucozade in my hands (as sticky as it was), I was able to go through the remaining drink stations without a need to pause. I was almost apologetic to pedestrians looking to cross the road beyond the 40km mark, although perhaps an overhead bridge over the tram lines linking Federation Square to Flinders Street Station could be a solution that Melbourne Council could look at in future city planning. After the usual pose for the photographers waiting around the corner, it was the quick plunge down the final hill although it was at that time that the calf and achilles started to show signs of packing it in.

With the hallowed turf of the G within smelling distance there was a slight problem as to how we could get to entering the stadium. Fearing that I went the wrong way, a volunteer at least assured a few of us we were heading in the right direction. Perhaps they should have gone to Venice to help some of their runners head where they needed to go (DON’T BELIEVE ME, THEN WATCH THIS!). I trotted into the MCG, then for some reason allowed a group of runners to go past me. If it was out on the open road I’d normally have some sort of justification for doing this but perhaps I had felt the time was in the bag and I could possibly help others to get their goal accomplished. For the first time in years I was able to jog across the line without physical impairment, and the final gun time of 4:32:53 (NET TIME: 4:31:13) was similar enough to last year. I can only imagine how well I could run if I was close to 100% in the build up and I had some decent training under my belt!

Makes for good reading, and relieves the stress of having to qualify next year.

After a short catch up with another runner who did the half marathon (bit surprised he noticed but perhaps wearing zinc helps), it was downstairs to retrieve the gear and to get a massage from an Asian lady who worked me over harder than Jeff Horn did to Manny Pacquiao. Pleasingly I was able to confirm the time later that day and on the Monday the details were gladly entered into the Comrades profile to confirm my place on the start line in Pietermaritzburg next June.


So where to from here? Naturally I don’t have to enter any marathons for the sake of getting a qualifying time nor do I have to continue to have to train right through December, as my plan is to do minimal training in that period, partially to rest, partially due to work. It means I can plan the first 5 months of the year leading up to the return to South Africa with some surety and knowing I have another “Grand Final” to run. It means I can financially plan well in advance and also I can explore options in terms of when I travel and where I may choose to camp overnight if necessary. In short, it’s safe to say that this mission was a major success that I may not have thought possible 2 months ago!

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