I did it. I ran my first marathon. It feels almost surreal - there was no life revelation, no ‘I am a queen!’ feeling like I had after I ran my longest run of 38km in training - it was just another race that I ran which happened to go for 42.2km and where everything went as well as it possibly could have. That doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly proud, just that I was so exhausted by the time that I got to the finish line that I had zoned out from my emotions a bit.
Let’s start from the beginning. This being my first marathon, I planned everything down to the tee. I carried a camelback packed with GU gels, Clif Shot Bloks and water with electrolytes mixed in, and the day before wrote down a list of exactly when I would drink, what I would eat, and when I would walk. The walking was the most important part: I would walk at 12.5km, 25km and 35km for a short period of time to mentally break up the distance.
Kit flatlay: probably could have packed a few more gels
Melbourne has awful public transport, so I had to book at taxi to take me to the start line. I had laid everyting out the night before (and thought it all through 20x over in my very-little-sleep night), so getting prepared in the morning was pretty breezy. The taxi arrived (early) at 5:20, and I was at the MCG where it started & finished by 5:40. So. Early.
After ‘preparing’ myself by going to the bathroom many many times I lined up with the 4:00 section, but in the forward crush got pushed back to the 4:10 pacer. First thing to do once over the start line was to catch up to the 4:00 guy, which I did in around 2km. In fact, the road split in two landing me on the opposite side to them, and the next time I checked I was already in front.
This set off minor warning bells about ‘not going out too fast’, but I settled into my pace pretty well, even if that pace was below the 5:40 pace I needed to run to get a 4:00 marathon. I know that all the literature says not to set a goal for your first marathon, but I felt like I wanted and needed one to truly show myself what I was capable of.
Coming to the 12km mark I realised I had misread the course map, as I thought it would only be 10km in. Mum & Dad were meeting me near St Kilda station, which I thought was ~12.5km and therefore would match up my first walk break with hugging them. Instead, the 12.5km point was still inside Albert Park, so I made the decision to keep running until I saw my parents. Of course they knew my plan and thought I would have already stopped before I saw them, so when I took a few walking steps after hugging them they started yelling at me to keep running!
Melbourne marathon course map
After that came a long out-and-back section of the race along the bay waterfront. I originally chose Melbourne as because of that section - I thought it would be nice to run alongside the water, but in reality it was kinda awful. This part of the course was like the bar on a T (having just run up the stem), meaning that as you were running out to one end you crossed paths with all the people running faster than you, making it feel like forever until you turn around.
Of course then it got a bit better because you could then see all the people behind you (and there were a lot more than I’d thought!) - including the 4:00 pacers who were at least 1-2 minutes behind at that stage - a good boost. But of course there was still the other half of this section to run!
I started to get pretty hungry around 17km and had a few sips of my water to keep it at bay until 20km when I had planned to take my first GU. I could have had it earlier but I wanted to stick to the plan - I was hungry but not lacking energy or speed. It was a bit of a silly idea because it all became a big push to get to that 20km archway, and I could have made it way easier for myself.
Just after the first St Kilda turn around I met two guys and we started chatting about our common sub-4-hour goal. I kept losing and finding them again throughout the rest of the race and whenever I did see them they always had some excellent words of encourangement for me. They even saw me at the end and we exchanged fist-bumps and final times - everyone happy with our achievement.
After this photo I learned not to pull stupid faces for race photographers
As I crossed the half marathon point I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to Mum and Dad just saying ‘halfway!’. Jess had also sent me a text ~5km in which I hadn’t read yet, so I got some lovely words of encouragement from her. By that point the first half of the St Kilda T-bar-loop was pretty much done (~22km), and I got a glimpse of the front runners exiting the whole loop some 7km in front of me. Wow! Their speed is unfathomable.
I had decided to go back to the original plan and take a walk break at 25km, which meant I didn’t have long to go until I got a break. On the way I managed to catch up with someone from my Sydney running group NRG, who I’d seen just in front of me for the last 20km. I introduced myself to Gavin and we had a bit of a chat and said good luck, but then we kept running together at a similar pace so formed a commraderie. I after a while I pulled ahead and lost him until…
25km! Walk break! I started walking and pulled out my next block when Gavin ran up and told me to keep running - I wasn’t allowed to walk! During the NRG drinks/debrief later in the day he seemed truly shocked to discover my ‘planned walk breaks’ strategy - he’d never heard of such a thing. When he yelled at 25km I started running again, so there was another walk break which wasn’t after all.
There Gavin and I are again, running together and not really talking because we need our breath but sharing the experience and making the odd comment about how long it was taking to reach the turnaround (again!). But finally of course it arrived and again with it came the lightness of running faster than other people and seeing them all behind you. It creates such a lift in your mood, the kms seem to go faster again and it’s amazing how quickly things can change.
My favourite ever running photo, coming down the finish chute of the marathon
At 28km again I was starting to get hungry so decided to have a GU gel, even though it was against the plan! It really helped and I was thinking ‘Cool! only 12.2 km to go!’ which didn’t sound like that much but actually meant there was still over an hour of running to go. As a rookie, I also didn’t know just what the last part of a marathon has in store.
The worst part of the race for me started at 33km, although it was not nearly as bad as it was for many other people who I now saw stopped at the side of the road trying to stretch out their legs. The kilometre markers felt like they were so far apart, and it didn’t help that I could see my tracking app saying I was ~600m in front of what the markers read. Then at around 33.5km I saw ‘34’ spray-painted on the road - sweet! Not long until 35km and another walk break! Of course though it was another few minutes until the official 34km marker ARGH.
We’d merged with the half-marathon stragglers at this point in the race and so I did get to overtake a number of people again, which was a great feeling. But still, the distance between 33 and 35km in my mind took forever, so I knew that there would be nothing to stop me from taking my walk break this time.
… but of course once it came and I’d pulled out my next Shot Block I could see that there was a nice downhill slope, and I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to run down it! So off I went again, with a shorter-than-planned walk break once more.
Concentrating hard, just one foot in front of the other
At this point we entered the Domain/Botanical Gardens and it didn’t seem like there was much more to go at all. There were a few hills which seemed ‘scary’ when looking at them, but I barely noticed the inclines at all - it felt like I blinked and was at the top. One spectator at that point in the race saw my name on my bib and gave me a personalised shout out which was very cool!
By now I’d started drinking every 2km which became a good distraction: every even kilometre marker now was a distance I had reached in training, and every odd one was a a drink. Supposedly there was a hill at 39km going over the bridge which everyone complained about afterwards, but I didn’t even notice it.Honestly, the last section of the race is all a blur. I don’t remember much of it other than hearing people screan ‘Keep running!’ and thinking ‘well, there’s no way I’d stop now!’.
The last few hundred metres of the race takes you on a lap of the ‘hallowed ground’ of the MCG - which was not nearly as cool as I had expected. We had to run on this strip of plastic so not to harm the ground, and it took a lot of concentration to not stray off it. I think I managed a mini-sprint for the last 20m, but I was too tired to do much more.
Metres from the line. So close! SO CLOSE!
BUT I DID IT!!! I crossed the line with my arms raised up in the air, unable to run a single step more. Then I found Mum and Dad in the stands where they’d been cheering, gave them a teary hug and then hobbled away to get my medal.
I did it. I ran a marathon. I ran a marathon in 3:55:12. Sub-4:00. This is an achievement I am damn proud of and will be for the rest of my life.
I AM A MARATHONER.
No dad, you can’t steal my medal. I just earned that!
Celebratory streamers and another silly face at the pub afterwards