Wow! What a way to celebrate running my home city!

I had planned to run Sydney Marathon this year even before the challenge was created, because it fit in nicely with a trip home to attend a friend’s wedding. I couldn’t wait to run my ‘home’ marathon, and I knew that a lot of running friends would be out on the course either running or cheering.

Heading into this marathon I felt like I hadn’t done enough specific training, and was basically relying on the fact that I’ve run this distance before to get me through. The plan was to take it at a leisurely pace, high-five lots of children, walk through the water stops, chat to volunteers and hug my parents along the way. I was expecting the run to take at least four hours, if not more, to fit all those activities in!

I had also decided that for the first time (ever!) I was not going to run with my Garmin beeping every kilometre to tell me how fast I was running. I would turn it on, stick it in my pocket at the beginning of the run (still wanted to track it for Strava!) and then not look at it for the whole race. I even turned off the ‘auto-lap’ feature, which stopped it from making any noise or vibrations the whole time. Without my watch, I wasn’t running to a pace, but rather ‘by feel’, which would let me enjoy the whole experience a lot more. It wouldn’t matter if I needed to stop or walk or slow down to a jog or speed up - I would just move at whatever pace felt right at that point in time.

As it turns out, running by feel is incredible, and I felt AMAZING!

My naked wrist without a Garmin watch This is as naked as I’ll get in a race

The start of the race sees you running over the Sydney Harbour Bridge - an incredible experience in itself which I live-video’d for Advent Running, my running group in London. The updated ‘flatter and faster’ course then takes you through the city centre via Hyde Park and Oxford Street out to run in squiggles around Centennial Park before coming back through Hyde Park again and running along the foreshore of the Harbour out to the Pyrmont Wharves before turning back through Darling Harbour and around to the Sydney Opera House. It gives you a great overview of the city, even if it does often do some weird out-and-back loops just to add some more distance.

Me at the start of the Sydney Marathon Me at the start line. Lots of other people at the start line too. Is something happening today?

I could not get the smile off my face the whole way around. I felt strong and in control and wasn’t worrying about running ‘too fast’ or ‘too slow’, I just ran how I felt. I barely noticed the first five kilometres at all because I was too busy chatting to people in costume and trying to find familiar faces in the crowd streaming along. With ease I passed the 4:00 pacers after a kilometre or two, and then the 3:45 pacers somewhere on Oxford Street around the 7km mark. Even the loop-backs weren’t annoying me as much as they usually do, because they gave me the chance to see if I knew anyone in front or behind me, and then to cheer loudly for them as they passed.

We entered Centennial Park circle at 11km just as the leaders were coming back past having completed 20km! It always amazes me just how fast they can move, but they are incredible to watch as they float along. I was almost annoyed to have to turn off the outside circle to criss-cross through the middle, as it meant that I couldn’t keep staring at their athleticism! Before I could think too much about it, I was completing my loops and heading to that same 20km mark, where I knew there would be GU gels waiting.

Happy running along the course I would quite happily have danced this marathon (photo thanks to Mary Botto)

I must say that the Sydney Marathon water stops were incredibly well organised. I made myself stop quickly at each one for a drink (they had either water or water + IsoWhey elecrolyte drink available), with a longer stop and a snapchat-update selfie to my family and boyfriend in London every 10km. The stops came every ~2.5km which broke the run up into super manageable chunks (if you wanted), and the volunteers at the stops were very friendly and helpful. At 20km, 30km and 35km they also had GU gels in different flavours, which meant I only needed to carry one myself. On the whole, super impressed.

I had a rough indicator of time taken for the last 10km from my phone clock (I swear it’s not cheating!), so I knew I had passed through 10-20km in ~50mins - WOAH! I was stressing a bit at this point that I had run too fast and would miss seeing my parents at 28km, but thankfully it all worked out and I was able to give them a massive hug and stop for a few minutes and chat about the race. I was still considerably in front of the 3:45 pacers despite having to have a break and walk for a bit around 26km, and knew that if I could just keep moving at a steady pace I had a good chance of setting a PB.

Hugging my Dad at the 28km mark Captured in all my grace and glory as I hug my dear papa

Seeing my parents gave me another boost, as did knowing that there was less than a third of this race still left to run. I had actually never run through Pyrmont before, which turned out to be much leafier and pretty than I had expected. The weather was starting to turn though, and soon started drizzling. This was fine, as rain tends to keep you cool, however I was slightly concerned about slipping on the tiles around Darling Harbour, and had to pay particular attention to where I was placing my feet.

It didn’t seem very long before I was once again scanning the crowd for the ‘Run Julia Run!’ sign my parents were holding, gave them another hug and took a selfie before heading off again. It’s the best thing to have support out on the course, and I’m totally grateful that they were there to cheer me on during the run.

Family selfie at the 38km mark Might need to carry a selfie-stick with me next time

The last four kilometres: the pointy end of the race. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t feeling tired or as though I was having to work harder than before or anything. From the most recent loops I knew I had some 300-400m on the pacers and just needed to maintain my pace to the end. But no - my legs were happy and I even started moving faster! I afterwards learned that the last two kilometres were some of my fastest kms throughout the entire race. I remember running past people who were clearly just trying to get to the end, but I was loving every second of it.

Coming through the last 500m towards the Opera House there was this incredible tunnel of people all cheering and calling out my name as I raced on forwards. If I could bottle that moment and relive it over and over again I would do so in a heartbeat - it was just this incredible energy and support to finish off an amazing run. I crossed the line with the clock reading 3:43:28 - I had done it! Not only had I finished another marathon, but I managed to finish with a time that qualifies me as ‘Good For Age’ in the London Marathon. AHHHHH!!!!!

At the finish line of the Sydney Marathon Try all you want, but you’re not going to get the grin off my face

I had an absolute BLAST running the Sydney Marathon. It was a great course, very well-organised and the support from the side-lines was fantastic. I definitely had a ‘home’ advantage knowing the course and the people running it, but I would recommend it for anyone wanting a city marathon.

The Blackmores Sydney Marathon medal Puuuuurdy 😍

Me face down on a massage table afterwards AHHHHHHHH so much paaaaaain… (but please, continue)