This marathon was tough. Going into it I had one goal: sub-3:45… well actually I changed this to 3:40 the day before. I’d put in the training, including introducing strength training and cross-training for a triathlon, as well as getting my long run up to 38km once again. I knew it was possible that I could achieve the time, so all I cared about was hitting the right pace. However, in doing so I spent the entire race staring at my Garmin and not enjoying the city at all. Thankfully though, I had the support of my sister, niece and nephew who live in Copenhagen (and were the reason I chose this race) to help pull me through.

I woke up at 6:20 after a pretty decent night’s sleep and had breakfast in a very leisurely fashion. In stark contrast to races in Australia, this one would only kick off at 9:30 which meant I had left myself plenty of time to prepare and get to the start line. Looked like I needed it too: as I was filling my pack up with water I realised that I hadn’t put the lid on tightly enough and so the entire pack got wet. Then as I was checking to see the damage I noticed that my pack had started to split at the bottom! With noone else awake in the morning I had to thank my lucky stars that I had brought an emergency set of safety pins along so that I could pin it together and hope it would hold the race. Never forget extra safety pins!

Pointing at my name on the wall at the marathon expo Look, it’s my name! Now I really have to run this thing…

It didn’t take very long to get to the start area and I made it with over an hour to spare, so I sat on the grass and waited until 9am to drop off my bag and have a pee. Bit of a silly move because although the start area was quiet when I arrived, by 8:55 when I looked up the toilet queue was a mile long, and I ended up only getting into a cubicle at 9:26! RUSH! PANIC!

Jumped into the start pen somewhere between the 3:40 and 3:50 balloons. Took 4 minutes to cross the start line and then we were off!

Already at this point there were some funny things going on. The first was when I saw the 3:40 pacers chatting by the side of the road some 100m past the start line. Weird. The second that my Garmin was already ahead of the kilometre markers by 1km. That was annoying because I knew I couldn’t trust the pacing and splits my watch was giving because the distance wouldn’t match up. I’d therefore have to go a little quicker to make up the difference.

Tried to settle into my pace as quickly as possible, which seemed to hover between 5:05 and 5:10. Was 9 seconds slow going through 5km but I was confident I’d be able to make it up without too much trouble. Started thinking it was maybe too fast when I dropped a 5:00 kilometre for km 8, but everything was still feeling OK so I went with it. You run this first part of the race again at the end, so it was strange seeing the markers for 30-something km in these early stages - just felt like omg still so far to go. And it was getting hotter by the minute.

Seeing Abi, Ben and Cathy at 16km was awesome - even if it was only for a few seconds. I think it was the first time I smiled… this was definitely not a ‘run happy’ race despite the mantra I had written on my wrist. It felt like tough work, and work for sure. But I was still moving fine, so my brain didn’t see any reason at this stage to slow the pace.

Looking strong while running the Copenhagen marathon

Another thing I hadn’t realised was that although I had had a t-shirt made with my name emblazoned on the front and back, no-one could read it! The back was completely covered by my pack, and the pack clip at the front went straight through my name too. Terrible! So no-one was shouting my name, not that I was paying the supporters any attention anyway: I was much too focussed on my wrist.

10 miles down, tick, feeling good (I thought). Now for the worst section of the course and the halfway mark. I remember thinking at ~19km ‘oh lord aren’t we halfway yet?’ so my struggles probably started thereabouts. I came through the halfway mark in 1:48:53 (1:07 in hand for my goal), but already knew I’d be needing that time, and probably soon.

I had caught up with the pacers at the 16km mark when they stopped for water, but they can’t have been far behind because at halfway they tag-teamed and all of a sudden we were running together. With fresh legs their 5:13 pace was much closer to 5:05 to start, but I just went with them. I tend to like running right next to whoever is pacing me, which in his case meant I kept getting booped on the head by their purple balloons. Annoying!

My cheer squad was waiting for me again at 25km, and I was really looking forward to seeing them, just so I could swear at someone! My words as I ran past were something like ‘this is completely shit!’. Cathy later told me that she was quite concerned because I looked like I was having a tough time - which I was. Every kilometre was ‘just hold on a littlbe bit more’ with only a few seconds of ‘I can do this’ intermixed with it all. It was really bloody hot and I wasn’t have fun anymore (not that I had any to begin with).

Face in pain at just over halfway through the marathon This photo taken by my lovely family clearly illustrates my love for life at that very moment

At this stage I had also run further continuously than I had ever managed before. My furthest at that stage was 22.5km, so I figured it would really be OK to stop and walk through the water station at 28km. For one moment the kilometre before I thought I could keep pushing through, but once I saw the shower and knowing that there was still 14km to go including the entire repeated section I couldn’t even stop myself from walking.

28km was my breaking point. I was actually on track for 3:40, coming through the two-thirds point in 2:26, but once I got moving after the water station I couldn’t manage much more than a shuffle, which started at 5:45 and slowed to 6mins or worse per km. And at that pace, everything takes much longer and feels much much further away. There was no way I could get my legs going quicker: although they still felt fine my mind had had a riot and refused to make them do anything more than shuffle along. At least I was still moving at some sort of speed: all around me people were dropping like flies and not moving much more quickly than I was.

32km: 10km to go, 8km to Cathy. The water stations every 4km had become my saviours, because they gave me an opportunity to walk. As slow as my shuffle was, I was still adamant I had to keep it up and keep moving between the stations. Once I was there though I could go through the shower, grab water, energy drink and fruit before running again. Then 2km later I’d have a drink from my pack to break it up.

That was pretty much how I made it to 40km. I think I took a 3rd GU at some point but there was a lot of watch staring and hoping that the kms would go by quicker. I had long since abandoned 3:40 and with my 35km split close to 5 minutes off goal time 3:45 was also not looking possible. In fact, I was really just thinking that any sort of PB would be good, and even any time under 4 hours would be fine. It was pretty dire straights, I won’t lie.

But 40km was my lifeline, because I knew my family would be there waiting again and I was going to give them a big hug to say thank you, rather than just running past. Abi had made me a big sign saying ‘Run Julia!’ and they’d all been out there for hours, moving to be in the right spots and that was so special. Abi was out on the road and I smiled so big when I saw her and hugged her, then went over to the fence and hugged Ben and Cathy too. It was wonderful! Plus, I only had 2.2km to go and as Abi ran alongside me for 50m I suddenly picked up again. The pace was closer to 5:20 than the 5:00s I started at, but it was lovely to have some speed back in my legs.

Arms up running towards the finish line Achievement face: strong. Finish line: near.

And then all of a sudden it was over. On the home straight I tried to life my tired arms to get the crowd to cheer, then saw finish line I knew I would make it under 3:50. I was over the moon! 3:49:09 - a 6 minute PB on a hot, hot (26 degrees hot) day. Gotta take that!

Couldn’t walk very fast and was swaying a bit all over the place. There were so many freebies afterwards: fruit, drinks, food, everything and somehow I felt the need to grab it all and eat it. Not sure how well banana protein drink and coke mix but I had it anyway. Wasn’t feeling great so it couldn’t really make things worse, I guess. Made my way to grab my bag, had a quick chat to Spencer from AR in London, then found my most fabulous cheer team. Over, done, collapse.

So how was it? Tough. Could I have done more? I really don’t think so. I’m surely capable of the 3:40 but today was not the day for it. The heat got the best of me, and that’s ok. I did well for holding out for as long as I did!

Having come up with my 26.2 marathon challenge a few weeks ago, I’m now looking forward to not racing these marathons, but just enjoying the distance and taking it a bit easier. The one big thing that Copenhagen marathon taught me is that this distance is not one to be scoffed at: it’s a long long way, and an incredible journey. Speed doesn’t always matter, running marathons to enjoy a new city, soak up the spirit of the people and have real fun will be just as, if not more, amazing as setting a new PB.

Collapsed at the end of the Copenhagen marathon Please don’t make me move. Ever. Please?

Crazy face selfie with beer post marathon There’s only one way to celebrate finishing a Danish marathon - with Danish beer! (also, check out my epic race nails!)