You’re running on empty. The voices kept telling me… Indeed, recovering from a bad fall from a bicycle, with two fractured lumbar bones and a wrist bone, and a severe strain on the tailbone area, I was not in the best of shape, for anything. And a Marathon was the last thing I would do (well, maybe the Spartan Beast is the last thing but I’ll leave that to another day).
Just slightly more than a week before the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) was to begin, I shut the voices up by signing up for it. Call it a death wish or a bucket list item. I had enough of the rather passive slow moving weeks – getting a no running advice from the doctor and advices to just do stretching exercises. I knew I was getting more depressed by the moments when I couldn’t do as much running as I could. Despite daily efforts at the exercises recommended by the physiotherapists, my pain wasn’t getting better somehow. Logic tells me that I might be too impatient.
I ran only 25.32 km in total in June just before I left for the trip. And the month before, only 72.11 km. This was not how one would train for a marathon. Still, I didn’t want to regret not doing it should I return in one piece (the wandering depressive thoughts). Nope. I wasn’t flying with that dreaded airline, recently in the news for the wrong reasons!
The more logical explanation is : My family had planned to do a short vacation in Gold Coast. So the promotional air tickets were bought in advance. Early in the year, I had entertained the idea of an overseas marathon but wasn’t able to get any sponsorship or discounts. Moreover the pain from the injury was getting worse so I had all but given up the idea. And one thing leads to another… a small miracle that in the end I signed up and the venue was relatively near to where we were putting up.
It would be my 5th marathon, but first one overseas. And … I was not a fast runner and not getting younger. My last marathon done on 25th March took me a dreadful 6:49 hr. This GCAM has a cut-off of gun-time 6:40 hr. So I imagined the officials would be chasing after me at each checkpoint as I finished each milestone.
On the flight to Brisbane, I saw a group of familiar faces, wearing red jackets with Gold Coast Airport Marathon printed on them. One of them was Coach Lexus. I figured they were mostly the F1 Runners Team. I managed to say ‘hi’ to Lexus (Tan) later who is a very friendly guy and he mentioned he was doing the half marathon. Strangely, once on the plane, a sense of peace descended upon me. I wasn’t really too worried about how I would do. Just do my best will do!
We touched down in the evening and drove from Brisbane to Gold Coast. The next morning (Thursday), I woke up early and went for a jog near the hotel area – Surfers Paradise. Felt the fresh cool air, shivered but after a few hundred metres, my body was warmed up despite me just wearing my normal tee-shirt and pair of shorts. At least, that session gave me an idea of what it was like to run in cool temperature. I did stop several times to take pictures of the scenery and the Rainbow Lorikeets though. That makes it about 30 km or so covered in June before I embarked on the marathon race in another 3 days’ time then.
On race day, I wore the Performance Series II singlet, put on a jacket, and wearing my usual 2XU tights, walked to the nearest station to catch the G:Link Tram. Runners could ride it free for the event. It was jam packed when it arrived within two minutes. I squeezed into the train. It was warm, compared to about 9 degrees celcius outside. Heard someone mentioned that the weather forecast was that it might rain. Which explained why I saw a number of runners wearing the transparent raincoat. I didn’t think too much of it too, and just felt that it would probably not rain.
On reaching the venue, I took a few pictures and then packed my phone and jacket into the bag and deposited them. I made my way to the start area, rubbing my hands vigorously to keep warm. It was definitely much cooler than the last few days.
I saw some of the local runners, and then someone moved forward and started grouping them for photo taking. I moved out of the way towards the side and back. Then the Australia’s anthem was sung and soon, the race began at 7.20 am.
I was glad that it started on time. Although the crowd was massive, it didn’t jam with bottlenecks like back in Singapore when you were in later waves. I found myself abandoning my strategy of maintaining a 9 minute pace. I did compute that I needed to maintain that pace if I were to make it within the cutoff time given and even attempt a negative split. Instead I was trying to go with the flow. This according to my watch was sub-8 min per km. I knew I was not going to be able to maintain it throughout. But carried away by the euphoria of running and the great atmosphere of the fantastic crowd cheering and the refreshing cool air, I was enjoying the pace too much to slow down. The thought did occur to me that I could make full use of the cooler temperature in the morning as I knew the sun would be too warm later.
For the first half of the race, every few 100 m, there were spectators cheering for you. I registered late so I didn’t have my personal name printed (nickname). Most had, so the folks were calling out the names and cheering them on. I felt so grateful for them being there, so I tried to give a thumbs up whenever I caught the eyes of the cheerers, especially the young kids (around 7-9 years old !). It occurred to me that this was a very good way to bring up the young to be selfless and to give encouragement and cheers to someone making the efforts to run a race. There were also small groups of Japanese folks too who cheered in their language too.
Encouragements like ‘You all are awesome, you are looking good, you are looking strong, well done, go for it.’ were freely given. And a number of folks made special boards with words like ‘Tap here for energy’ or ‘power’. Very interactive, very heart warming cheering which made me realize what a difference this encouragement could make.
And then I started to pay for my rashness when the sun decided to make its presence felt too at about the half way point. It started to get warm and then hot towards the end. I was glad that I wore my cap and sunglasses, the only sound practical tips I could legitimately give on such a race.
By then too, the cheers had reduced quite drastically. About 28 km, I started to get cramps on my left leg. I struggled a few steps, and then continued to run. (After-run analysis showed I was able to maintain sub-8 on average for first 30 km.) My pace slowed down a lot after 31 km. I started having ‘little’ conversations with God. Let me go on, cramps aren’t stopping me, I am going to do it, not going to stop.
About 32 km, a sudden cramp seized my right thigh and the left calf simultaneously. I stopped abruptly to walk for a few steps and then told myself I needed to get on with it. I carried on. The crowd had dwindled. I ran on and I felt the pain dissipated. Prayers answered, thank God.
I had stopped at almost every hydration station to get the water or Endura energy drink. It was the first time for me but my stomach was fine with them.
And then it was the last 6 km. I knew I would probably beat my last marathon’s timing by then, but wondered if I could get a new PB still. I realized that I couldn’t really vary my pace that much now. Attempting to speed up or slow down to do high 5s (or low 5s) with the good-will crowd somehow brought on the calf cramps. This happened a few times and I decided to just look ahead and focused on reaching the finishing line. I also felt some tightening of my chest muscles, initially on the left and then the right. Still, I carried on shutting down the screams from the protesting muscles. 40th km was tough, but I picked up a bit on 41st and went all out on the remaining distance with whatever was left in me.
I raised both my arms up when I saw the crossing line (in relief !). Thank God. The announcer started calling out my name and country. Wow, that reminded me of a video I watched when the participants crossed and was greeted with ‘You’re an Ironman’. Then I heard him said out my names twice again. I couldn’t hear clearly what was the rest of the sentence. Did I win a lucky draw? The dream bubble burst as I checked my Garmin.
Yes, it was a new PB, 6:07:07 by my watch and 42 minutes erased off the last marathon’s timing! Not sub 6 yet, but …that will be another day, another race…. perhaps ?! No, definitely. What the heck though, I didn’t even plan or properly train for this one !
I was happy finally. 6 hours, I was living the moments. I wasn’t worrying about any ‘current’ issues. I had done what I wanted. I survived. No doubt, I didn’t make my tailbone pain less severe after this. In fact, it was as painful if not more seated on the plane for 8 hours, three days later. My leg cramps disappeared after I stretched and rested for a few minutes after the finishing line. I paid for my rashness with a sustained right chest pain for a couple of hours. It disappeared completely by the time I went for dinner.
6 hours and 7 minutes 8 seconds (official timing) is a long time to complete a marathon. But I completed given the loaded factors against me, and as one good friend said, the important thing is to see progress. I finally beat myself in a marathon race since the first PB in 2015. I will break this PB – as long as I can still run.
Still, I will be the last person to advise someone to run with injury or run a marathon without preparation. I can only say, make today matter, treasure the moment, do things with passion, be it running or something else and tomorrow will take care of itself.
Till the next race, run happy and run safe.
Note: Running Shots went for GCAM too and credits go to them for the first 3 wonderful pictures of the Clown, Captain America & Wonder Woman and Thor.