Sunday, October 11, 2009

3h 18m 38s

I have seen many people break down in tears at the end of athletic events and often wondered why. Today I found out. As I entered the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the final 300m of the marathon I could barely hold back the emotion. And once I crossed the line it all came out. These were not tears of joy - and certainly not of sadness - but of sheer relief. Eight months of absolute hard effort distilled into a single moment and it was too much.

The clock read 3h 18m 38s. When I started this marathon journey in February I would have laughed if someone had told me such a time would be possible. And this week when I was sick and on antibiotics (still am) I thought it had evaporated. Today I cannot imagine that it is reality. It will take time to sink in.

After all of the cr@p weather (read: chronic winds) we have had in Melbourne over the last few months it was an absolute joy to have relatively benign conditions today. No wind to talk about and reasonably cool for the most part. This was one out of the box.

First 10km - the warm up
By all accounts the first 10k of a marathon should be a bit of a stroll in the park. Time to look around, enjoy the atmosphere, say g'day to fellow competitors and generally get into the groove. For the most part I did this (even bumped into Jason for the first time!), but found pacing rather difficult as the organisers seemed to be having problems working out where to put the markers. That said, I was probably going a little quick. My target pace was 4.38m/k and I hoped to run the first half in around 4.35's so 10km in 4.32's probably wasn't the best idea in the world.

To Halfway
By 10k you are running on the Melbourne Grand Prix track which circumnavigates a local lake and is a regular road most of the time. It is pretty cool running here and even the swans come out to say hi. From here you pop out onto Fitzroy Street and down to Beach Rd where you'll spend the next 15km.

I have run up and down this stretch of road more times than I care to think about in the last 20-odd years so I know it fairly well. I think that familiarity may have bred contempt - or at the least complacency - as I went through the next 10km a minute quicker than the first 10; crossing halfway in 94.47min.

Now, to put this in perspective, my time at halfway was only a minute and a half slower than my super fast half marathon time in May. And I was running ahead of the 3:10hr pace leader. I think I knew then that I had stuffed this one up. Only a few km later I knew this was the case as I could feel myself slowing.

The Premiership Quarter
I knew that the third 10km of the race would be where I needed to work really hard. It is here that fatigue really starts to set in and you can see your time goals disappear at a rapid rate. The bulk of this section was down to Elwood and back - again, a road I know well. I also knew my family and friends would be at the far turn so I wanted to (hopefully) look strong when I passed them - mostly so they didn't think I was about to expire.

By about 24-25km I was having the odd wobble and definitely wasn't feeling 100%. I knew that my pace had slowed but it was still 4.36m/k so I was actually putting more time "in the bank" which was great and what I had hoped for. So whilst I had gone out a bit too quick, I ran this 10km right about where I would have hoped. It just felt slow!

Just after the 30km mark was where the hoardes of half marathon runners joined the course (they started an hour after we did). From there it turned to crap!

The Business End
Everyone knows that marathons don't really start till about 30-32km. I had looked forward to this fact as I really wanted to explore my own character in being able to run through what would occur to me at this point.

So at the point when I most needed to be able to run my own race, concentrate on my own pace and rhythm, I found myself dodging and weaving (literally) through thousands of people running another race. For the next five km I could barely find a distance marker and could not get to an aid station because they were so clogged. For a major marathon this was a disgrace.

There was some respite for 3km (36-39km) where our courses diverged and we marathoners were once again left to ourselves. Ahhh, the serenity. It was here that I had to stop a few times and beat my thighs and yell at myself to get going. I was now running slowly (5.15-5.20m/k for a few) and was doing it tough.

As I still harboured dreams of a sub-3.20 (and a Boston Qualifier Time) I knew I had to keep going. So I willed myself to continue. With about 4k's to go a spectator yelled out "you're a gladiator" to me and that fired me up, giving me a vision and some useful theme music to play in my head. No more stopping now, must run.

The last couple of k's are quite easy. A bit of downhill, you can see the stadium in the distance, you know you are home. Just run it strong to the finish I told myself - which I did.

The last few hundred metres is like a major Olympic Marathon as you come through the "tunnel" into the stadium and run a lap to the finish line. And the MCG is a modern-day colisseum befitting a race like this. It is just sensational!

I yelled with joy as I crossed the finish line in 3:18.38hrs. Sure, a couple of minutes slower than my target time, but who cares!!!! A massive PB for me by over 12mins (and that time was 12 years ago at age 29).

All my goals were achieved:

1. Finish
2. Run the whole way (I say I did this cause I stopped a few times, but did not walk!)
3. Run a PB (sub 3.30)
4. Beat my good mate Roger's best time (3.24)
5. Run a Boston Qualifier standard (3.20)

Like most marathoners, I'll need a bit of a break to recover physically from this one. I'll also need to find a new goal or two ... anyone know which way Boston is from here?

PS - I am now walking like this:

Intermediate Splits (some of the km markers were way off!)
1-10km 45.26min (5.03/10.40/-/-/22.59/-/31.48/36.30/41.10/45.26) -4.32m/k
11-20km 44.25min (50.06/54.28/-/62.28/66.55/71.28/76.02/80.35/85.13/89.51) -4.26m/k
21-30km 46.07min (94.19/(half 94.45)98.47/103.15/107.45/112.19/117.01/121.43/126.25/131.12/135.58) -4.36m/k
31-40km 51.30min (-/147.12/-/155.53/-/165.44/171.21/176.39/182.00/?187.28) -5.09m/k
41-42.2km 11.10min (192.56/-/198.38) -5.04m/k

Course Map


  1. OMG OMG OMG!!!! A BQ!!!!
    What a sensational day for you and a great reward for your hard work. Please get some CR gear or at least come over to tansport next year and say hi :) I've really apprecuated your support this winter so thank you so much and again WELL DONE!!

  2. You trained brilliantly and you reaped the rewards. A fine tribute to the Furman program but an even more wonderful tribute to you for making sensible minor adjustments and then persevering through all sorts of adversity.

  3. Paul, I am so excited and happy for you. You trained hard, you ran hard, in spite of being sick and all! See you in Boston!

  4. Awesome run.

    Looks like you ran really well and got the most out of all the hard work leading up.

    Enjoy the recovery.

  5. I am late to the party here, but WOW. AMAZING job, Paul! You trained like a champ, and what an incredible reward! A BQ, PB by 12 minutes (smashing a time you ran when you were 29?!). That is such an awesome accomplishment! You are a rockstar . . . and you have SO much to be proud of! Heck, I am getting all weepy over here just thinking about it! CONGRATS, CONGRATS, CONGRATS! So does this mean you'll be coming over here in April to run Boston? :)


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