This photo, of the MCG and sky in the first few moments of sunrise, was taken as we made our way to the starting line for the Melbourne Marathon. The weather was mild, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly, and in spite of the challenges that laid ahead I knew it was going to be a fabulous day.
I wasn’t wrong.
Where should I start with this story? I’ve been asking myself this for the past few minutes as I’ve sat here. Not with the alarm going off, because it never did. I was already awake, lying in bed, thinking about the amount of sleep I’d had (not much) and wondering about the day ahead. I even got up a little early (a first for me!). A girlfriend gave me a lift in her car, and it was quite a sight to see the other cars pull into the MCG, the place a flurry of activity in the early morning. I only had the necessities for the race – I didn’t even take money, and at that hour the coffee stall was extremely tempting!
Several weeks ago, my good friends Zoey and Kate offered to run the marathon with me. It was a moving gesture because I knew they would be potentially be sacrificing their own faster time, because I am slower and was on the dangerous edge at that point of not running at all, thanks to ill health. Unfortunately, by race day, Kate had an injury that put her out of marathon contention. So Zoey and I lined up, ready to run.
First of all, I couldn’t get over how quickly this got underway. At the Run Melbourne event, there’s an easy 15-20 minute wait as all the waves are set off. Here? The gun fired and we were crossing the line at something like 7.01 am.
By 7.02 am, as we climbed Batman Ave, my right hamstring started feeling a little tight and I had an inward groan and thought, “Body, don’t you dare, don’t you even dare!”
It settled down, as did the runners, and the first 10 kms were a pure delight (apart from the sight of a row of blokes peeing into hedges just before we hit Fitzroy Street). As the sun rose higher, casting its warmth, it was clear that the weather predictions for a hot day were going to be true. The sky was virtually cloudless, I only noticed a front on the horizon as we hit the shoreline at Beaconsfield Parade. A drone was being flown around down at the water, whether videoing the race or just by coincidence, I’m not sure. It’s interesting, what you notice as you run. I watched two solider birds harrass a crow three times their size on the power lines on the eastern side of Albert Park; on the western side, black swans grazed on the banks of the lake, completely oblivious to the thousands of people passing by.
I had a gel at 14km as planned and it helped keep up my energy. As I said in an earlier post, my first main goal was passing the 22km mark by 9.40am – and we did, at 9.30am (edited: actually, no, it was before that), thanks to the pace set by Zoey. Had I been by myself, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it. I ran a half marathon PB and things were going well.
Then came ‘The Wall’. Otherwise known as ‘When Your Whole Body Is Saying “Stop now, please”.’
I don’t really believe in coincidences; I like to think that things happen – good or bad – at the precise time they’re supposed to happen, to teach us lessons, remind us about others, or make connections. As often happens when I’m running, the right song comes on at the perfect time, and it’s those little jolts of happiness that can really make a difference. For example, as we passed the 22km mark, ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ came on in my playlist. It’s a significant song for me, as it was my first ‘favourite song’. Do you remember that, as a child? Making those early conscious decisions? (“THIS is my favourite, the choice has been made.”)
By 28km, as I was entering ‘unknown’ territory as that was the longest run I’d done on my training, my right hamstring and my left rhomboid muscles in my back were screaming. We’d begun alternating the walk/shuffle by then. At that exact moment we passed the 28km mark (also a drinks stand), David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ came on in my ear, and that was a boost.
My personal trainer asked me last week, “When you were training, did you get to the point when you hit the wall?” I joked and said I didn’t know, because I usually stopped while it was still hurting. As we hit the 30’s – and the sun was high in the sky then, and I was getting burned – I kept waiting for this magical point when things got easier, when I’d pushed through the wall. It never happened. The pain got worse, down into my knees. Passing the Shrine of Remembrance, I nearly fainted. The world went wonky. It was an effort to put one foot in front of the other and I tried to stay under every bit of shade I could find.
I warned Zoey that at some point along St Kilda Road I would cry and to take no notice of me, and my tears finally came as we passed the Victoria Barracks for the second time. Although we only had three kilometres to go and I could see the MCG, it seemed so far away and I was so, so done. The crowds were immense, finishers passing us by, medals around their necks, calling out encouragement. I needed to hear every single one of those.
Finally, we rounded that final corner. There was the finishing line. It was so close! So wonderfully close! Before I knew it, we had crossed. We had run a marathon. Here’s the video us crossing, taken by Keira, who was in a wonderful position to film it. Riley keeps calling out ‘Mum! Mum!’ but it was very noisy and I didn’t hear him.
Halfway up the hill, we wave to the Operation Movers who were cheering. Before that, I waved to the girlfriend who gave me a lift in and was on the sidelines to watch. There was a wonderful sense of ’roundedness’ to everything. Of completeness. It was extra wonderful to have Adam, the kids, and my mother (who flew down especially) there too. Thank you, Zoey – I hugged you and didn’t want to let go x
What happened afterwards? Well, even though we’d stopped at every drinks station, and I was drinking my own from a bottle, by the time we reached home (TMI warning) my wee had turned into something resembling apple juice concentrate. All plans of champagne were postponed while I sorted my kidneys out. I had no blisters, next to no chafing. A cut near my armpit got salt and sweat in it and stung, but apart from that and the aforementioned painful areas, I think I’ve done pretty well. Certainly better than a lot of poor, sick runners who required medicial assistance yesterday, thanks to the heat.
My official net time was 5:32.06. It’s 32 minutes more than what I was originally hoping for, but to be honest, I don’t mind.
I was amazed by the support shown over this entire journey. From notes of encouragement, to running buddies, to friends willing to share advice and wisdom, it’s been wonderful and I thank you. I said yesterday NEVER AGAIN to a marathon, and I still stand by that (I think…hee hee). This is something I’ll savour forever. Was it worth it? You bet.
Final Remarks: I’d like to thank my sponsors Budget. As we were running yesterday, I saw a lot of their vans and cars at checkpoints with Melbourne Marathon official stickers on them. Every time I saw one it gave me a little ‘pep up’ as well. Thank you for believing in me!
As of writing this post, my fundraising tally has risen to $3,473.91. If we could get to a nice, round $3,500 that would be amazing, but even so, this is $1,400 over my original goal. Thank you to everyone – I’m glad I succeeded! It’s a relief! I didn’t get ‘ice bucket’ dunked yesterday as I wasn’t feeling up for it, but I promise I will soon. Here’s the donation page if you need it.