My Marathon Journey

I never dreamed of running a marathon in my early years of running…actually I never even thought I would run a half marathon!  The distance seemed so far and I just couldn’t imagine being able to run for that long.

In 2011 a friend ran her first half marathon and said how amazing the experience of crossing the finish line was.  At the time I felt that we were similar runners and thought that maybe I could do it to.  I didn’t have a training plan but learned that the idea was to build up the length of my long run, that I didn’t need to run the actual distance before race day and that I should have a taper period prior to the event to recover and freshen up.  At that time I had run 10km at a few events and was comfortable starting here for my long run.  I did all my long runs at my beloved lake as it was easy for me to measure the distance I was doing. Soon I ran two laps of the lake (12km) and then eventually 3 laps (18km).  I didn’t really slow my pace down and I knew nothing about gels or hydrating during my runs.

In October 2011, I ran my first half marathon at the Melbourne Marathon Festival in a time of 1:53:50.  My goal was to complete it in under 2 hours so I was thrilled with this result.  But it was the toughest thing I had ever done and it was a mental battle to get to the finish and I quite literally had nothing left in the tank at the end.  I swore that I would never do that again!

It wasn’t until almost two years later that I joined a local social running group and started running more challenging courses around my home town that I started to see an improvement in my running. 

There were a few in the group that wanted to do their first half marathon and in the back of my mind I wanted to do another one and not feel the way I did after my first.  So together we trained for the Geelong Half Marathon.  My goal was to complete it in under 2 hours and feel good.  I wasn’t concerned about equalling or bettering my previous time and I really didn’t think that would be achieveable and to feel comfortable and enjoy the race.

This time I learned about fuelling during the run and the importance of taking on water.  I felt comfortable and in control for the whole run and finished in 1:58:20 and I loved it!!  A couple of months later I thought that maybe a marathon might be achieveable.  But before I made the decision I wanted to see if my body would cope with a longer run so I headed out with a friend one day for a long run.  She ran with me most of the way but I added a bit more on at the end to bring it up to 26km.  I felt niggles in my legs and back but I had the fitness to keep running.  I realised that by slowing my pace down I was able to run for longer.

So I made the decision to run my first marathon at Melbourne in October 2013. 

I sought the advise from my personal trainer who had some running experience and was advised to keep my long runs capped at 20km until I was 12 weeks out from the event.  I followed a beginner marathon 12 week training plan and adapted it to fit in with my current training routine which consisted of 3 run sessions and 2 bootcamp sessions per week. 13 weeks out from race day and 1 week before my official marathon training was to commence I suffered a hamstring injury.  I immediately thought that it was over.  Complete rest for several days and then some gentle running to build up the hamstring again is what I was instructed to do by my physio.  The following week I was given permission to do a 5 km run, but of course I did 10km.  The hamstring held out but was always there.  I continued through the training and was happy ticking off the long runs.  The last long run was 33km and was a hilly course. It felt good and I could imagine being able to run that extra 9km to get to the 42.2km. 

One week prior to the big day I decided to enter Run Ballarat as a practice run to deal with race day nerves and also to support some of my running friends who were doing 12km for the first time. 

I ran at my goal pace for race day so it wasn’t demanding at all.  I had been having some twinges with my problematic hamstring over the previous couple of weeks but didn’t see any harm in running that day.  My hamstring started to pull as we passed the 10km mark and it had started to fatigue.  In the last km we increased our pace and I felt the pain in my leg getting worse.  I hobbled over the finish line and burst into tears.  I thought that I had ruined my chance of being able to run the marathon by reinjuring my hamstring.

The next morning I turned up at my physiotherapists office in tears.  It was 6 days away from my marathon and I had done all the training, paid my registration and accommodation so I wanted to do it. I did not run at all that week.  I had daily treatment on my hamstring and it improved.  But I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run.  The stress and anxiety I felt that week was so intense that by the end of it I couldn’t even sleep!  I talked to my training partner, who I had planned to run the event with together, that if my hamstring went again on the day to run her own race.

Race day came and my nerves had me feeling ill.  I warmed up my muscle as much as I could before the gun fired.  The race began and my leg worked.  We took the pace nice and slow (probably a bit slower than what we originally planned) and I thought that if I made it to 10km and it still felt ok that I would make it the whole way.  We got to 10km and my hamstring was ok but I did start to feel the niggles of fatigue in my legs.  Normally this didn’t start happening until the 20km mark but I attributed this to the fact that I had not run at all for the previous week.

The fatigue continued to build but my hamstring was behaving.  At around the 30-32km mark a cold front came through with heavy rain and we got soaked.  I think the combination of this and the fatigue I was already feeling caused my legs to start cramping.  It then became a battle to deal with the pain I was feeling.  My friend tried to distract me with conversation but knew I was struggling.  We were nearing the end and heading back down St Kilda road for the last time towards the MCG.  Up until now we had walked through our drink stations to make sure we were taking on enough fluid.  As we approached the final drink station my friend as me if I wanted to get a drink and I said that if I stopped running now I wouldn’t be able to start my legs again.  The pain was intense and my legs were stiffening up.

As we rounded the corner into Flinders street we spotted some event photographers and we smiled and waved.  I think it was at this point that we felt the adrenaline rush of being almost there.  Only 2km to go! 

Then my hamstring pulled sharply and I called out to my friend to tell her what happened.  I thought to myself that this couldn’t happen, so close to finishing I just had to be able to get to the finish line.  I kept running but it was a mental battle to get my legs to move.  We approached the entrance to the MCG and I was nervous about my footing and we crossed over some uneven ground leading into the arena.  At that moment my hamstring pulled sharply again and I really thought I wasn’t going to make it.  I called out to my friend again who had started to pull away from me in the excitement of seeing the finish line.  I felt myself limping my way to the finish line thinking about every step.  I just focussed on her in front of me.  She turned and reached her hand back for me to encourage me to keep going.  I remember reaching out towards her but I just couldn’t move any faster.  Finally we approached the finish line and I smiled and raised my arms.  I did it!! I crossed the line and we embraced.  I broke down and began to sob as we embraced.  I couldn’t believe it was over and that I did it!  I was so happy but the pain increased.  I literally hobbled off the arena.  I smiled for photos and posed with my medal out the front of the MCG as we left but the pain in my legs was incredible.  It was a long slow walk back to our hotel where we got showered and changed. 

My emotions were running on overdrive. 

I was so proud of myself for overcoming my injury and the intense leg cramps during the race but at the same time I never wanted to go through that again. Not only the pain of the day but the incredible stress and anxiety I felt in the lead up.  I felt that I had achieved that tick in the box next to run a marathon and I had nothing further left to prove.  I decided to once again focus on the half marathon distance.

A few months later some friends of mine wanted to go back to the Geelong half marathon and improve their time from the previous year. 

I trained them and ran with them on the day and am proud that they not only knocked around 15minutes of their previous time but completed the event in 1:58:40.  I remember thinking to myself how easy the pace had felt and was surprised that it was almost identical to the time I ran it in the previous year with a lot more effort.

I thought that maybe the 1:53:50 half marathon PB I set on my first event in Melbourne might actually be achieveable again.  On the back of the Geelong half marathon we decided to run the Great Ocean road half marathon. 

We wouldn’t need to do any additional training as it was only 3 weeks away and we had done a lot of hill running as part of our training so we weren’t too daunted by the hilly course.

But because of the hills I set myself a modest goal of completing the half marathon distance in just under 2 hours and the full 23km course in 2:10.  My pace leading into the event was the best it had ever been and I was feeling confident that I would achieve that goal.

Race day came and I was ready to head off on my own to run my own race.  The first km on the half marathon is a hill so I thought that it would be around a 6 min split.  When I looked at my garmin on that first km split I was surprised to see 5:20!  That didn’t feel too bad.  I found that I could hold quite a strong pace going up the hills and when I went down I gained a bit of speed but still able to catch my breath ready for the next hill.  I kept looking at my splits and was amazed to see so many under 5 min pace.

As I crossed the timing mat at the half marathon marker I looked at my garmin and saw 1hr48mins. WOW!  I couldn’t believe I had run that fast! 

I was fatigued but the adrenaline of what I had achieved pushed me to run the last 2km at my fastest pace for the race.  I crossed the finish line (23km) in 1:56!! I was absolutely thrilled! I not only achieved my goal but smashed my own expectations of what I would achieve.

After this I thought to myself if I could run that time on a hilly course how well could I do on a flat course and of course I thought of Melbourne.  So I decided that I wanted to go back to the MCG to see if I could get a faster time.

I was in good form and really wanted to go for a PB. 

I thought that without the assistance of a down hill to catch my breath that realistically I would probably still get a similar time to what I did at Great Ocean Road. So I set the goal to run a sub 1:50 half marathon.  I did my long training runs on my own this time so that I could practice my pace and deal with the mental side of training.

The day came and it was a warm one but I was ready to go.  I took off and soon settled into a pace that was a little faster than I thought but I had set the rhythm so just kept going.  I started to fatigue at around the 10km mark so thought that I would probably drop off a little in the second half.  There were a couple of splits in that second half that did creep up a bit but I managed to push that pace up again as I came to the end. 

I gave the last km everything I had a powered across the finsh line.  I was exhausted but exhilarated.  I smashed my PB from Great Ocean Road and finished in 1:45:48!  I was thrilled!  I had achieved a time that I never thought I could possibly do.

Since then I have never wanted to try and beat or even equal that time as it was mentally a very tough race and I wanted to be able to race and enjoy it.  I have however continued to complete every half marathon I have done under the 1:50 mark comfortably.

You know how I said never again to running another marathon?....well two years later and after it had played in the back of my mind, what would my result have been if I hadn’t of been injured during that time, that I decided to train for another. 

But the emotions of how I felt at that time was my biggest hurdle to overcome.  And for that reason I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to run another marathon and I just started increasing my long runs to see how my body handled it.  The plan was to get marathon ready and then upgrade my event from the half marathon to the full when I arrived in Sydney for the Sydney Running Festival.  But my nerves got the better of me and 12 days prior when I was setting out to do my final long run I made the decision to do it that day.  I took enough supplies with me to run a marathon and I ran under race conditions (not pausing my garmin for drink stops or even when I quickly got some more gels from my car).  I set out at a comfortable pace and got into a good rhythm after about 12km.  My nerves finally settled down and I got my head into a space where I could just keep running.  I had thought to myself that after 30km my legs would fatigue and probably slow down but looking at my splits that just didn’t happen.  They got tired and niggly but they just kept ticking over at the same rate.  It was after I passed 36km that I realised that I was going to be able to do this and when I hit 40km I decided to push up the pace and finish strong.  I spoke out loud to myself saying “I’ve got this” and “just do it”. I don’t know what people near me would have thought but I didn’t care.  As I passed the marathon distance I stopped and burst into tears.

I had done it and I felt great!  It was tough but I felt strong.  I finished in 4:02:50, a massive 35 minutes faster than my first marathon and with a negative split.

Now I can finally put the marathon distance to rest and be satisfied that I could go the distance without my body giving out on me.

I have since continued to run half marathons and but didn't aspire to try and beat that PB I set in 2014.  It was tough and I didn't think I had the mental capacity to push myself like that anymore. I just wanted to run and enjoy myself.

In May 2016 I ran the O'Keefe half marathon in Heathcote.  It was an out and back course along the Heathcote Rail Trail.  The conditions of the day were pretty tough but I managed to find a comfortable pace right from the start. The subsequent headwind after the turnaround point and the gradual incline from the 15-18km mark took their toll and I began to struggle mentally.  I even considered stopping and walking for the first time ever in a race, but I didn't and I kept pushing on.  I was thrilled when I was announced as second place for my division in a time of 1:48:50.  I didn't think I would still be able to run at that pace.

A few months later I decided to run the Shepparton Half Marathon.  I hadn't done a lot of preparation but felt that I had the km in my legs to be able to run the distance on the day.  I ran what felt comfortable and was surprised to see my splits on each km.  I never thought I would see sub 5 min pace during a half marathon and feel comfortable at the same time.  And the splits just kept coming...

I was on track to smash my PB from Melbourne in 2014! 

But I missed a turn around point on the course and ran an extra 600m which I knew I wouldn't be able to make up for with my time to get an official PB.  I was gutted but I just had to keep running.  When I reached the 21.1km distance I looked down at my Garmin and saw 1:44...a PB!  Disappointed that I still had to run another 600m to get to the finish line and get my official time I pushed on.  In my heart I knew I had done it and that was good enough for me.  I waited around to watch the presentations and see what times the winners had finished in and was again surprised to hear my name called out.  I had won my division and I was absolutely thrilled!

I haven't run another half marathon since that race...yet...and again I am starting to think that maybe never was too strong of a word to use about doing another marathon.

I am just enjoying my running, sharing that love of running with others and trying new events.