My intention when I revived this blog at the beginning of the year was to write
more about the world of software development and delivery. Yet I find myself
writing about my relatively recently discovered pastime of running for the third
I’m not one for applying labels to people (that’s another blog post in itself)
however were I to label myself, “runner” would be one of the last labels I would
think of. At the beginning of last year, I couldn’t run to catch a train without
getting out of breath. I completed a couch 2 5k programme in the interests of
improving my fitness and keeping my body weight under control, there was
certainly no intention of running further than 5km. Why would I want to do
And then I discovered parkrun. One of the things I really like about parkrun is
its inclusiveness. At any given parkrun event, you’ll find athletes who run the
course in under 18 minutes and they start alongside the casual walker who’s
happy to wander around the course in an hour, taking in the scenery and enjoying
a social chat with the tail-runner. And there is everybody in between.
At my former home parkrun at Westerfolds Park, I met a lot of social runners who
were always pushing the limits of their achievements: working hard to beat their
own 5km personal bests and setting goals to run further than ever before and
always encouraging others to join them. Most weeks, after our run, there’d be
talk of the next big run on the local running calendar and all distances were in
the mix from 5km to ultra marathons! It was easy to get caught up in the wave of
enthusiasm for these events and this was a part of the reason I ended up pushing
my own limits and running longer distances last year, culminating in a half
marathon – a distance I never imagined I would run!
“Half marathon” is a terrible name for running 21.1km. I hear runners who’ve
worked so hard to get themselves fit enough to complete this distance say things
like, “I only did the half”. I am sure I used a similar phrase last year. I
don’t know many people who’ve run a half-marathon but it’s no mean feat, I can
tell you. When I got home from the event last October, I was so tired I
struggled to undo my shoelaces. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into
training for a half marathon and anybody who runs the distance has achieved a
whole lot just by lining up at the start line.
The “half” part was bothering me at the beginning of the year, though. If I’d
run a half, would I be capable of running a “full”? Shortly after I crossed the
line last year, I bumped into my Engineering Director and one of the first
things he said to me, after “congratulations”, was, “can you imagine feeling
this tired and realising that you were only half-way?”. I couldn’t imagine
running another kilometre at that juncture. However two of my friends who had
run marathons assured me that if I could run 21.1km, with enough training, I
could run 42.2! My friend Gary had planted the seed of a thought that I might be
able to tackle a marathon as we stood chatting at the start of October’s half
but I can’t remember the moment I decided I would give it a shot. When the day
came that the entries opened for the 2015 Melbourne Marathon, I signed up and
committed myself to taking on the biggest physical challenge I ever imagined
putting myself through.
I sat down with my friend Adrian one lunchtime and he
put together a training plan for me: 23 weeks of running 45-60km per week. I was
averaging about 20km per week at the beginning of the year, so I clearly needed
to step it up but the increases were incremental and seemed utterly achievable.
It’s good to break goals down into manageable chunks!
A number of decisions along the way to the marathon seemed like taking the
obvious option at the time although they’re not obvious to me now (such as the
decision to enter the thing in the first place). When the time came for me to do
my first long training run, a half-marathon, I decided to run four (and a bit)
laps of Westerfolds Park, a course
that I knew well (and know even better now), and a course that has a whacking
great hill! Each hill climb was harder than the last and by the fourth time I
wasn’t sure I would be able to run to the top. I went home with a huge sense of
achievement that morning but 42.2km seemed a long, long way to go!
A week later, I did the same course in reverse.
There are two shorter but perhaps more intensive hill climbs in that direction
but I thought a change of direction would keep things more interesting. There
was an unexpected benefit of running laps, though. My friend Olivier joined me
for two laps. His company (and perhaps a little friendly rivalry) provided good
motivation for me and I ended up completing the distance nearly fifteen minutes
quicker than I had the previous week. Perhaps I was on to something.
The long runs became the focus of my training and each week I’d return to
Westerfolds Park, alternating between clockwise and anticlockwise laps. Each
week I’d find myself with great company for a large portion of my run. I had
always understood long distance running to be a lonely activity but I could turn
up to a car park at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning, before the sun had crept
over the horizon, and find that I had friends waiting for me ready to run a few
5km laps before breakfast. Over the next five months I continued to take my long
runs around Westerfolds at 7 o’clock on Sunday morning and friends I’d met
through parkrun joined me, kept me company and kept me going. Thank you to
Alison, Barney (who coined the terms “Lapsterfolds” and “Lapsterfoldians”),
Chris, Dougall, Elisa, Gary, Kerryn, Lee, Martin, Matt, Narelle (who also went
on to run the marathon), Nicole, Olivier, Rohan, Simon, Scott S, Scott T, Tim
and Wendy (and anyone I’ve inadvertently missed).
Aside from my Lapsterfoldian endeavours, I would regularly run before work with
Adrian (until he got himself injured), Natalia, Ronja and Peter. These people,
too, rock! Indeed, I ran very few of my training kilometres solo.
My running buddies really helped me complete my training and I’m very grateful
to each of them.
I ran my last couple of long runs away from Westerfolds, since the Melbourne
Marathon course is predominantly a flat one.
The first I ran on my own along
Merri Creek and the Yarra River down to the City and then around Albert Park
Lake down to St Kilda Beach, where I met Kirsty and our kids for breakfast. It
was great to see them after a three hour solo run, I can tell you!
The other I ran with Scott T out
on the Marathon course.
Twenty three weeks seemed like an eternity at the start of the training
programme, but it came around quickly and before I knew it I was on my bike
heading down to Melbourne Olympic Park for my first marathon (public transport
isn’t at its best at that time on a Sunday morning). I bumped into Barney and
Simon near the start line and chatting with them really helped me relax. I also
managed to find Narelle in the heaving crowd at the start to wish her good luck.
Somebody sang the national anthem over the public address system before the
starting gun sounded. The atmosphere was sensational. It took a little while to
get moving, as large crowds tend to. I crossed the starting line about two
minutes after the first starters and kept my eye on the bouncing yellow balloons
attached to one of the four-hour pacers: it was my aim to finish in front of
these balloons! It took me about 2.5km to catch the pacers and I ran with them
for about 5km. As we headed up through Albert Park I became conscious that I
wasn’t comfortable with my rhythm and I started to speed up a little, leaving
the pacers behind. Soon after I’d broken away from that pack and found some
space on a still very crowded course one of my shoelaces came undone. I’d run
hundreds of kilometres in training and never had my doubly-tied shoelaces come
undone; I had to stop!
I hopped over the low chain fence to the left of Lakeside Drive and tied my
shoelace securely before getting back up to speed and hopping back across the
chain. Just as I landed back on the road I heard an almighty bang behind me. I
turned around to see a pair of sunglasses on the tarmac. The runner who picked
them up said that they’d been knocked off his head by a stray golf ball!
As I exited Albert Park, I saw the lead athletes from the 21.1km race entering:
these folks had started an hour after me and were only 5km behind. I couldn’t
sprint as fast as their half-marathon velocity!
There was a very mild breeze as we ran the coastal section of the course, I’d
been warned that the wind along there would make it tough, but I got lucky and it
was pleasant and cooling. I checked my watch as I passed the 21.1km mark: 1:55,
which was quicker than last year’s time but crucially I didn’t feel anywhere
near as I had twelve months previously. The training was paying off!
Around 30km in I was heading back up Fitzroy St in St Kilda. As we headed down
the street earlier I’d heard another runner comment how hard it was to climb
back up the street. I’d not really noticed that it was downhill on the way out
but his words echoed in my ears on the way back and I tried to ignore the fact
that it was a gentle climb. The next thing, I spotted Kirsty in the crowd with
Eamonn and Dara. The sight of them gave me a very welcome boost, as would the
drink and the jelly beans they handed me. Shortly afterwards I was heading north
back up St Kilda Rd full of energy. I smiled as I saw the 17km flag for the
half-marathon event… I recalled how exhausted I felt the last time I saw that.
I saw follow Lapsterfoldian Martin spectating (having blitzed the 10km event);
seeing familiar faces along the way was surprisingly refreshing for the spirits!
The next familiar face I would see was Scott T. He was entered into the race
(which happened to be on his birthday) but had to pull out last minute due to
sickness, I later learned. He was out cheering on his wife Iwona, who was
running in the 21.1km event, as well as any parkrunner or Westerfoldian he saw
along the way. I wished him a happy birthday and continued on my way.
As I ran around the Arts Centre, 35km in, I felt my pace really start to drop.
I’d be taking on honey as a DIY energy
every half-an-hour but 3 hours and 15 minutes into the run, I was really
flagging. This was the furthest I had ever run (my longest training
run was 34km and at a much slower
pace) and I was now into the unknown zone. I reached for the bag of jelly beans
Kirsty had handed me earlier, ripped the corner off with my teeth and popped a
couple into my mouth. I imagined that they gave me an immediate energy boost
and pushed hard to regain my pace. The last seven kilometres of the course are
tough physically and mentally as you come so close to the finish line only to be
guided back down around to Royal Botanic Gardens and to cover the top section of
St Kilda Rd. Again. It was along this section I saw quite a number of runners
fall by the wayside to be treated by medics. This was a sorry sight and made it
hard to focus.
I’d covered this section in my reconnaissance mission with Scott a couple of
weeks earlier and was prepared for last few kilometres. There’s a bit of a
gradient as you head around “The Tan” and somebody was holding a sign saying,
“you own this hill”. “This isn’t a hill”, I thought; having climbed to The Manor
House in Westerfolds Park up to seven times in my training runs, going up
steeper hills even when tired was manageable. I was starting to pass people once
I bumped into Scott again along Birdwood Avenue and he ran with me for a little
while. He confirmed that I was nearly there, that I was still ahead of the
four-hour pacer group and that it was mostly downhill to
The ‘G. This gave me
another boost and I managed to pick up the pace a little more. The Sun had
started to break through and after three-and-a-half hours of running, I was
getting quite thirsty. I’d been sipping water along the way but now I was
gulping down the supplies I’d carried with me all the way. I stopped at a water
station on the final section up St Kilda Rd to guzzle down a cup of the sports
drink they were handing out and then I was ready to push hard for the finish.
The crowds at Federation Square were cheering loudly and that made me smile,
just in time for a photographer to get a shot of me opposite Flinders St
The last kilometre down Batman Avenue is downhill, and my legs felt like they
were on autopilot, a stark contrast to the last kilometre of pretty much all of
my training runs. The MCG is in sight. I was going to finish a marathon! As we
entered through a tunnel and there was an almighty roar… another energy boost!
I looked out for my friends and family in the crowd but there was this strange
void on the lap inside the stadium between the mouth of the tunnel and the
finish line where most of the spectators had gathered. The first person I
spotted was Narelle’s husband, there with his camera (a familiar sight to my
parkrunning friends)! I gave him a wave and then I saw the clock above the
finish line, it started with “3:57” and I knew if I kept going, not only would I
have run 42.2km, I would have done so in under four hours and that would be the
icing on the cake. There is a video of me crossing the
line and in it you can see just how overjoyed I was
It’s still sinking in that in February last
year I went for
my first run and in October this year
I ran a flipping marathon!
Two weeks have passed since then and I’ve been letting my legs recover. There
was some muscle soreness for the first couple of days but it wasn’t anywhere
near as severe as I expected. I felt really fit for the first week and went for
a swim and cycled lots. The second week I felt really lethargic and did next to
nothing. I jogged around parkrun both weekends with Dara in the
pram, just to keep the legs moving, but it’ll be
another week or so before I risk going for a run. Going from 60+km per week to
nothing is very strange. I’ve found myself feeling grumpy (more so than usual)
and lazy but still as hungry! I imagine Kirsty will be kicking me out of the
house with my running gear before long to get the endorphins flowing again!
I’ve been asked a lot when the next marathon will be. I don’t know. 23 weeks,
3 hours, 57 minutes and 48 seconds is a lot of time out of family life and I
don’t really want to invest that kind of time in another marathon. Kirsty
breathed an audible sigh of relief when I got the rejection email from the
London Marathon for 2016 (it would have been absolutely great to run alongside
my “little” brother, but it wasn’t to be
this year). Having actually enjoyed the experience this year, I’m sure there’s
another marathon in me but just not yet! I’m very happy to stick to some shorter
runs and spending more time with the three very special people who supported me
through this wonderful experience. Thank you, Kirsty, Eamonn and Dara; I love
you and I could not have done it without you.