Gold Coast Marathon: A personal reflection

After the devastating cancellation of the 2021 Gold Coast marathon festival, I was as grateful as anyone to arrive on the Gold Coast 12 months later without injury or illness. The weather was perfect, the work had been done with my RunAsOne team mates, and I was in PB shape! However, my first two attempts at this distance have taught me that it doesn’t care how fast you can run through half way! PB’s in this race are earned in the second half; a far less predictable territory of running than I am used to.

Sunday arrived quickly, and I don’t think I was the only one relieved to walk out of the door to slightly less humid conditions than the half marathon runners experienced on Saturday. This time of the year I wouldn’t have run in humid conditions for months in Adelaide, so that was another layer of uncertainty that I really didn’t need! I arrived at the start line in the dark; around 5:00am. With the other seeded athletes, I sat around running through my final mental checklist, before completing a short warm up from about 5:30 onwards. It didn’t take long to warm up, so I knew straight away that despite the less humid conditions than those experienced the day prior, the weather was still going to pose a challenge late in the race. At 6:00 am the gun fired to start the race! As a predominantly track runner, the start of a marathon is always an anticlimax for me. The gun in a track race jolts you in to action, and you rush to find position on the rail before trying to settle in to a comfortable rhythm. In contrast, the marathon start really doesn’t matter, and it always feels like a struggle to hold back with a body fuelled by start line nerves and adrenaline. The race quickly opened up with the international athletes setting off at 3:00/ km pace. Behind them, I settled in to the second group behind our pace maker. The pace felt very comfortable, and I just focussed on getting to my first bottle at the 5km table, and taking my first gel at 30 minutes; both went down well!

Great crowds lined the esplanade for the first 15km of the event. It was encouraging to see so many familiar faces, especially those who I had experienced so much of the preparation with. It felt like a win already just to be healthy and fit, and running along the Gold Coast beach front with so much support. The first 10km passed in just over 32:30. This was a little slower than anticipated, and probably lead me to making a slight judgement error in the following km’s. Unfortunately, our pacemaker had some issues and was off the course by 11km. I didn’t panic, but I did react to the slowing pace and start to pull away from the other two guys who had committed to this group. By halfway, I had opened up a 15 second gap on the other two as I passed through in 68:23. This felt incredibly comfortable, and I had the thought that 2:17 was a real possibility at this stage. My bottles were at 5km/ 15km/ 25km/ and 35km, and unfortunately by the 25km station I already felt as though I needed it. Fighting through the disappointment of feeling unstoppable just 4km earlier, I tried to remind myself that the marathon has its ups and downs, and bad patches aren’t uncommon. At this point, my arm sleeves came off because I was slightly overheating to go with the early feelings of fatigue. Once again, I received some more support from RunAsOne team mates at around the 25-26km mark, and so I threw them my arm warmers before forcing a smile which actually helped me to convince myself that I was still going ok.

The 30km mark is probably the biggest climb on the course. It is a bridge that takes you back in to Southport from the City. Ironically, it was on this bridge as the sun began to take a toll, and as the 15 second gap I had at halfway had diminished, that I regained some composure and thought that maybe I really could still hang on for a time around 2:17! I sat for the next 5km, excited that I was feeling a sense of revival, but not confident enough to go back on to the attack. The 30-32km mark passes the finish line, and heads further south for a U turn back to the finish. I wasn’t looking forward to this mental challenge, but the atmosphere here was electric, and I think this also contributed to my energy levels returning. Heading further South the crowds did slowly fade, but the finish line was getting closer with every step, and I think this countered the impact of the quieter roads. Unfortunately, at 35km I dropped my final bottle. I lost some ground going back for it, but I couldn’t afford to tackle the last 7km without this fluid and I told myself it was a small price to pay. As I bent down to pick up my bottle, I really felt the effects of the last 35km as my muscles did not want to deviate from the upright, straight line motion of running. At this point, I also caught a glimpse of two very bloody shoes! I was losing time now to the leader of the Oceania championships; we seemed to me to be going in opposite directions at some stages! I knew I was in for a real battle over these final kms of road.

In survival mode now, I had really lost the ability to even calculate what pace I was on, but I think this was probably a blessing. Riley was running alongside me for portions of the race now, and he assured me I would still run a PB. My feet did start to hurt now, and I wasn’t keeping my fuel down for much longer. It’s amazing what your body goes through at this stage of the race; it’s almost as though you just forget how to run. Prior to running a marathon I was aware of this “wall” effect, but I really wasn’t expecting it to be capable of making you doubt every inch of yourself and your ability to continue. I had a few random thoughts in these final stages. While trying to manage a spasming neck, and keep the contents of my stomach down, I looked across the road for inspiration from the competitors still heading out for their final 12km. Regardless of ability, I think the marathon instils in you so much respect for anyone out there pushing towards a goal time while fighting all of these factors of fatigue. I still couldn’t quite work out what time I could expect to see on the clock as I entered that welcome sight of the finish chute. As I rounded the corner, I saw 2:18 already on the clock so I lifted a little bit in an effort to achieve a time under 2:19. I just couldn’t quite muster this finish, and fell over the line in a pool of my own vomit as a result of this final effort. It’s a wild feeling to finish these; there’s confusion at just how bad the state of your body can get, drowned by pure elation that it’s over. The next thought is the result, and while I was happy this time, the fact that you can barely recognise yourself in the final kms makes you question whether you were capable of more, or whether you misjudged the event. Regardless, the most promising thought I had this time was that I can’t wait to do another one and go quicker again.

For now, it’s back to some shorter, more sustainable events. However, I’m already excited for my next 42.2km challenge!