It seems a bit strange to be doing a race report that isn't about a triathlon - I mean, a marathon is only about the running part...so there's no shivering in your wetsuit, no tri-suit toilet disasters and no bike mechanical failures to discuss. But after running my second stand alone marathon on Sunday April 22 at the O'Keefe Rail Trail Challenge Festival, I realised that "just the running part" certainly has its own story to tell and it's one that can give you all the same highs and lows as the most gruelling triathlon.
My first marathon took place at Melbourne Marathon in 2014. To set the scene, I had been running 5km most days for a year before that, then set my sights on a half marathon at Run Melbourne in July 2014. I was pretty chuffed with my effort for a newby runner - it was hard but it certainly didn't kill me, and a little voice in my head told me that OF COURSE I'd be able to manage a full marathon in October - I mean, it's only double a half marathon, right? WRONG! SO WRONG!
Admittedly, these were the days before I owned a Garmin watch, before I was coached and before Ironmums even existed. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I guessed my longest run was about 30km (looking back I'm pretty sure it was closer to 27km...but my phone died before I finished so I'll never know!) I did that run three weeks before the marathon, and then I figured I needed to taper. And by taper, I mean I stopped running completely and spent my days carb loading. Of course, I ran the race I deserved and suffered miserably in the 30 degree heat from the 25km mark onwards. I had no idea whatsoever about race fuelling and the fine art of gel consumption.... I really ought to have fallen down in a heap and been taken off in the St John's ambulance like I saw so many other similarly unprepared competitors do that day - but something in me refused to give in and I ploughed on, ugly crying and shuffling like a 90 year old until I reached that damned finish line. I swore I was done, and vowed never to put myself through another marathon again.
That was until last April, when I heard about the O'Keefe Challenge, a race which follows the O'Keefe Rail Trail from Bendigo to Heathcote in Victoria. Three weeks after Challenge Melbourne 70.3, and feeling full of good running beans, I took on the 26km course of the O'Keefe in April 2017 - running from Axedale to Heathcote. It was an amazing run and I loved it so much I knew the full marathon would be on my to-do list in 2018.
In November, 2017, I became an Ironmums ambassador and under my new coach, Naomi, I began the long, difficult training road towards my second marathon. After my last Tri for the season, Mooloolaba Tri in March, I returned home to Melbourne for some serious run training to get me race ready for the O'Keefe marathon on April 22.
In my first week back from Queensland, I saw several double-run days pop up on my program. At first I was terrified - I'd never done double run days before and I wondered how on earth I would find time to go for a run in the morning, organise my household of four school aged kids, fit in work several days a week and then somehow find time for an afternoon run as well?!?? I'm not going to lie - it wasn't easy and some days I felt as though I was literally carving time out of my day with a butcher's knife to fit it in - but my memory of my last marathon was still sickeningly fresh in my mind - there was no way I was going to suffer miserably like that again, and if double run days were what I needed to avoid that, then double runs were exactly what I would damn well do! And wouldn't you know it - I not only got used to them, I thrived on them. In my first week of "proper" marathon training, I'd run 60km in 3 days and absolutely nothing hurt! No aches, no niggles, nothing. I made sure I kept up with my YouTube yoga and pilates workouts for 20 minutes most mornings and I still did body pump at the gym 2-3 times a week to take care of my strength training.
My longest training run was two weeks before the marathon - 31.5km in the morning and 6.2km that afternoon. It was mentally hard heading out the door again in 20-something degrees (I'm strictly an early morning runner!) when I really just wanted to soak in the bath, but I felt amazing knowing I'd gotten that distance under my belt, and still without an ounce of pain. I began to believe that my ultimate goal of running a marathon under 4 hours might actually be possible.
On the morning of the marathon, I got up with plenty of time to spare and spent 20 minutes doing my favourite yoga routine to warm up and calm my nerves. A quick brekky of my usual pre-race bircher muesli and my mum drove me to the start line (thanks mum!) where I met up with some of my parkrun friends who were running the marathon as a relay team. It was a spectacular morning and apart from my nerves, I felt happy to be part of something so exciting. I had a Revvies strip (caffeine) 10 minutes before the start.
We took off at 7:45 and straight away I let everyone overtake me. I had gone out way too fast in my first marathon and I knew I had to stick to my plan to START SLOW and run my own race if i had any hope of making it to the finish line under four hours.
The first 10km flew by, nice and easy. My hamstrings had felt a little tight earlier in the week so I'd strapped my left leg hoping to ward off any cramps or pain. Luckily for me, my hamstrings settled really quickly and never gave me any trouble.
I'm not a big talker while I run but I did find myself chatting to a few people along the way as we caught up with each other and ran the same pace. Amazingly, after a couple of k's I was the one who was edging in front, with the other person dropping behind! I had vowed not to look at my pace for the first half of the race, but I caught a couple of glances at it and was really happy with how I was going.
The aid stations were plentiful and close together - most were 3-4km apart, and the longest gap between them was between the 20-25 km mark. Because I knew there was a long wait at that point, I was prepared for it and didn't find it too difficult. I religiously took a gel every 45 minutes - alternating between vanilla Pro4mance and mocha Clif gels. The aid stations only had water, no electrolytes, but again I was prepared for it and made sure I at least had two sips from each aid station even if I didn't really feel like it. The aid stations were also where the relay team members handed over to other team members, so there was lots of support and cheering which really offered a huge lift.
I did the first half in just under two hours and knew if I could just maintain this pace I'd be set to achieve my sub-4 hour goal. I knew though, that the second half was going to be tougher, and it was getting hot!
There was a long straight stretch from about 22-26k that seemed to go forever and offered no shade. It was the only point of the race where I began to doubt whether I could maintain my current pace. It was hard and I was bored. I pushed on, and just before the trail turned back into the shaded bushland, I saw that my parents had stopped along the trail on their way to the finish line and were cheering for me as I ran past. It brought a smile to my face and a little extra lift to my step.
As the kilometres climbed into the 30s, I couldn't quite believe how strong I still felt. I was overtaking everyone who had sprinted past me earlier, and I couldn't have been more grateful that I'd let them go ahead. My plan to run slow at the start was paying off.
At the 32km mark, I knew I was at the distance of my longest training run done in one single session. It did play with my kind a little, as although I knew I'd run another 6km on my double run days, I wasn't convinced I could push through another 10km without a break! I began playing a little game with myself where I told myself if I ran super easy for 800m, I would give just another 5% effort for the last 200m of each km. It worked beautifully - the next 7km flew by and my pace just got better, despite there being an increasing number of hills towards the end.
At the 39km mark, we passed the final aid station and I could almost smell the finish line. I had run past the "Welcome to Heathcote" sign and knew I was on track for not just sub-4 hour, but possibly a sub-3:50 finish. Of course, those final 3km were the absolute hardest and knowing I was so close but still so far played some nasty tricks with my mind and I had to concentrate on keeping my head calm and my stride steady. I tried to maintain my 800 easy/200 faster but right on the 40km mark I just about fell over my own feet on a dead flat piece of road and so I decided to give up on that idea and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I wasn't going to get this far only to fall in the final stretch!
The final run to 42km was downhill on a stretch of road, before turning onto the Heathcote oval for the final 200m. As I ran onto the oval, I heard so many cheers, and I cannot describe the feeling of pure joy that I felt running towards that finish line knowing I had not only smashed my 4 hour goal, but that I had actually really enjoyed myself doing it!
My husband and kids were there, along with my parents and my best friend who had made the journey from Bendigo to watch me finish. I crossed the line to find two other friends who had run the half marathon waiting for me. It was a truly amazing moment and I felt very loved. (That was until the kids came over and found me and all I heard was a chorus of voices saying , "this is sooo boring, can we go now?"(Miss 12); "oh mum, that took you so long, can we go on the jumping castle now?" (Miss 8); "it doesn't matter that you didn't win mum, at least it was a good challenge for you" (gorgeous Master 6); and Master 10...well, he was off scouting the BBQ fare on offer with his mate and couldn't have cared less). Ah kids...they really know how to make you feel special!
In the end, all I could feel about this race was gratitude. Gratitude that I had turned up to every training session and given it my all no matter how scary it seemed, gratitude that I had so much support along the way and overwhelmingly, gratitude that my body, which I had asked for so much from, had once again done exactly what I had asked of it.
In fact, I was so busy being grateful for all these things that when my husband showed me his phone and told me there were still spots open at Ironman Port Macquarie in two weeks and he could still find accommodation there, I crazily decided there and then that an Ironman race was just what I needed. A quick text conversation with Coach Naomi to get the go ahead and I was in! Amazing how easy it is to commit to one hell of a race day! And so, in less than 9 days I will be lining up for my second Ironman journey. I mean, how hard could it be, right???? Wish me luck!