A calm, sunny Melbourne morning was undoubtedly the day that the slightly built Beatrice Cheptoo had hoped for in her first visit to Australia for the Melbourne Marathon. On the streets of Melbourne, you could be forgiven for walking straight past the 25 year old Kenyan athlete without a second thought. However, on the start line of this event her determined demeaner, and unyielding focus drew attention to the race favourite without anyone having to mention her credentials. Fast forward to the halfway point which was reached by Cheptoo in a little under 74 minutes, and the accomplished 2:25 Marathon runner appeared calm and in control of the race for her maiden victory at the marathon distance. However, by her side, and looking equally comfortable at this stage of the race, Yeneabeba Ejigu looked to be the major threat. The young, but experienced Ethiopan with a 2:25 Personal Best had defeated Beatrice in Zurich late last year by proving too strong over the final kilometres of the race. Undoubtedly fixated on one another now, the African duo raced a little erratically after the halfway point in constant efforts to break the spirits of their competitor. However, little did either athlete know, this was about to be a 3 horse race. On debut, Australian athlete Izzi Batt-Doyle was about to stamp her claim on this race, and with track credentials far superior to the two African leaders, they were quickly running out of real estate to stay ahead over the fast final 2km. 

The Melbourne marathon had been a reasonably late decision for Izzi after a long European track season culminating in her first Commonwealth Games experience. Therefore, she could be forgiven for projecting doubt to friends and family gathered under the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the early hours of the morning on race day. However, the process driven athlete focussed on what could be controlled, and was joined by partner Riley, and training partner Bryn Nicholls for their usual warm up and activation routine before joining her competitors at the start line of the race. Admitting to sometimes succumbing to the pressure of the unique intensity of a track race, Izzi reflects on feeling relaxed and calm in her thoughts prior to her first attempt at the marathon distance. “You have two and a half hours out there to be thinking!” she exclaimed to me in our recent conversation about her race day experience, before further explaining the importance she placed on staying in the moment prior to the sound of the gun. 


Filled with adrenaline, the start of the race felt slow for Izzi compared to what is usually a mad dash for lane 1 on the track. She reminisces on the exciting atmosphere at the start, giving credit to the race organisers for this experience. “I could see my mum Rosey smiling on the sidelines about 100m down,” Izzi recalls. “Riley had told me to stay relaxed by taking everything in until at least 30km,” she says, before reflecting on a special wave she shared with her mum shortly after the start. Known for her unrelenting intensity on the track, Izzi is forced to admit that it wasn’t long before she slipped in to a few early watch checks, and what must have been a moment of doubt as she climbed the first hill of the course just 500m in. Watching the Afrcian duo of Beatrice and Yeneabeba run away up the hill, the competitiveness that makes Izzi such a champion on the track was always going to be tested by the patience required of marathon athletes. After all, this was her first experience. However, it was at this moment that her level headed training partner Bryn forced his way to her side and offered a reassuring word to keep them focussed on the task ahead. Immediately, they had settled in to their rhythm, and they were back on track. 

“What I quickly learnt about the marathon is that it is really just you against you, and you against the distance. You can’t control what others are going to do, and this is one of the things that draws me to this event.”

By 5km, the female race was back together! Izzi was lucky enough to be joined by a number of other male competitors and pace makers in addition to Bryn, and at this stage a few questions were asked of her.  Izzi was asked by her pacers whether she wanted to slip in behind the race leaders, or continue at the pace they were going which was currently quicker than her competitors. After her brief moment of doubt in the first km, Izzi now had no doubt about what her decision was going to be. “stick to the pace,” she quickly replied to her pacers, with her new motto: “I’m not here to play ‘racing’ games.”


As previously covered, the halfway split for the leading trio was 1:13:44. They had been in a consistent pack since that decisive 5km mark. Maintaining her race motto, Izzi was now watching the African duo, “yo-yoing,” off the front of her group while she demonstrated patience beyond her experience level. While Riley had instructed her to enjoy the external aspects of the event; the scenic Melbourne streets, and the crowds that included many of her RunAsOne teammates, the 30km mark was the time to switch to those more familiar internal motivators. “Having this mindset helped the race go by quickly,” Izzi recalls, explaining to me that it was almost as though she ran two separate events; a 30km fun run, and a 12km race! While Izzi turned her focus inwards and did start to begin to feel the effects of this unfamiliar distance, she pays tribute to the fortune of having Bryn by her side to remain focussed on those external factors that she was trying to ignore. “Bryn continued to give me words of encouragement and pointers about the course,” Izzi recollects, explaining that this was particularly helpful in the hillier sections towards the end. At this point she could have easily started checking her watch again, causing unwanted panic and distress. While Izzi did drop 5-6 seconds per km in this section, she was able to power out of the Botanic Gardens with confidence. It was the home stretch now, and she let herself get a little bit excited!


“You can catch her!” 

It was at the 40.6km point that Bryn’s eagle eye had spotted the orange singlet of the second placed athlete among the many half marathon runners also finishing their race. “I didn’t think it was possible,” Izzi recalls, “but I just followed Bryn’s lead and he began to pick the pace up substantially in order to move in to 2nd place convincingly.” 

Closing the last 2.2km at under 3:20/ km pace, a speed at which many runners can only dream of achieving without the 40km warm up, Izzi entered the MCG looking as though she had just jumped in to the race! Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to catch Beatrice who claimed the victory in 2:27:58, but Izzi’s finishing time of 2:28:10 was the fastest ever by an Australian on debut, and cemented her position as another serious contender among Australia’s growing pool of world class female marathon runners. She was quickly embraced by Riley (2:16:54 PB), Bryn, and mum Rosey in a moment of pure joy and elation at the finish line. It didn’t matter that she had placed 2nd, because that wasn’t the motto. She was now a marathon runner, and a very good one! 


The question on everyone’s lips now, is where to next? 

2:28:10 is just 10 seconds shy of the qualifying time set by World Athletics. “I would like to go under 2:28:00 in my next attempt,” Izzi states, “but with the current crop of talent in Australian marathon running I don’t think that will be enough to make a team [World Championships 2023 and Olympic Games 2024].” She throws to me a time in the 2:25’s, explaining to me that this is the bar set by the other amazing women running this distance in this country, so she has no other choice but to rise to that standard. 

I’m sure we will hear from Izzi and her marathon journey in the not too distant future, but for now it is time to reflect, learn from the experience, and take that in to the next attempt. Considering her finishing speed, and her visible condition at the end of this one, I’m personally confident of her ability to achieve anything she sets her mind to in this event. Bring on the next one!