The blog is back – after three incredibly special weeks in Australia, I find myself once again at my laptop at home in Lincoln. It was hard to leave such a spectacular country, I loved it there, and saying goodbye to my best friend was equally as difficult, our parting embrace reducing me to tears as I really did not want to let her go. It was the trip of a lifetime for me, perfect in every way, and I ended the three weeks in the only manner I know how; the Sydney Marathon. This proved to be the absolute pinnacle of my Aussie adventure…
If I was to blog about my entire three weeks ‘down under’ this would probably turn into an essay – so I won’t. However, prior to the marathon I had already had an incredible time in Australia, running around Sydney’s streets, exploring National Parks whilst chasing waterfalls, walking in the Blue Mountains, swimming with whales in the Pacific Ocean, meeting wild Kangaroos and getting close to Koalas, celebrating my 100th parkrun, completing endless breath-taking coastal walks… the list could go on. I had experienced so much and felt a freedom and happiness which I had not known for a long time. On top of this I was with my best friend, what else could I really ask for…
A marathon – the Sydney Marathon is what I asked to be added to that list. When entering the race many months ago it was always intended to be an experience rather than a race. With two marathons already under my belt for 2018 I did not need to run another 26.2 miles, but I wanted to. How could I turn down this chance? My time in Australia leading up to race day emphasises my relaxed approach to the race; I did everything I wanted to do, no fears of saving my legs for running or preserving energy levels, I must have walked miles and eaten a lot of Aussie chocolate! My days leading up to a marathon are usually consumed by race thoughts, however this time I was completely relaxed and had no pressure on myself to meet any goal – it felt quite liberating.
My training for this marathon had been challenging at times; at the onset I said I would not push myself as hard for this block, however I found myself doing so – I think it is in my nature. I was also tested by the scorching heat of the British summer, with early morning alarms getting me out on the streets for 5.30am before work and 20 milers logged carrying litres of water on my back just to survive. Aspects of my personal life also had an impact, as I have openly documented. At times I have felt emotionally drained, hurt and as a result just not myself. Training has helped me cope with this, and I have used the emotional pain to push myself harder, which is a response I would actually utilise in Sydney too…
The day before the marathon was an absolute scorcher, 30 degrees and almost too hot to do anything. I was starting to think my seeming fate of running marathons in heat would be continuing ‘down under’. Thankfully this was not the case, and on race day I woke to a cool and gusty morning, with highs of 15 degrees forecasted, which probably felt very cold to native Aussies! My best friend was also running the marathon and her partner the half marathon; he was due to start at 6am and us at 7am. This had meant a rather ridiculous alarm of 4am in order to eat and travel to the start, which luckily for us was only a short walk from my friend’s apartment. The race begins just underneath the Harbour Bridge and as we arrived at the start it was certainly apparent it was a fresh morning – even I was cold! The strong wind meant we had to seek shelter after waving off the half marathon runners, however I was happy with the conditions, very happy in fact, and by now I was just eager to get running.
Although I was putting no pressure on myself, I also respect the marathon distance and I knew I still needed to run with discipline. My friend would be quicker than me so I did not want to try keep up with her and then suffer for large parts of the race later on. We opted instead to run over the Harbour Bridge together and then begin our own races. As the start gun fired we wound our way up and on to the bridge; it was surreal as hundreds of runners ebbed their way across the endless archway, with the sun gently rising in the sky. I had a huge smile on my face, I loved the race already and I was not even a mile in. Leaving the bridge, my friend and I then parted, and I started my own race…
The first five miles absolutely flew by; I nearly did a double take on my watch when I saw the distance I had achieved already. I was just so busy taking it all in and enjoying the moment. I had passed a fellow runner wearing an Ipswich Town Football Club shirt, my football team and birth town, and had shared a few words with him about how poor our team is currently doing – I certainly did not expect that to happen during the Sydney Marathon! More significantly, I had also passed the 3:45 pacer, not intentionally, but I had caught them up and then found they were just not running to my rhythm. I also dislike the pressure clinging onto a pacer adds to a race, so was happy to lose the group. I fully expected the pacer to catch me up later on, but that thought did not really bother me at the time.
A large chunk of the marathon course is completed in Sydney’s Centennial Park, with a few miles looped around its circumference. It was by no means horrendous, but I was pleased when we left and headed back to the main city as it gave me knowledge I had some good miles in the bag. The remainder of the course is set in central Sydney and it is not the flattest - my quads were telling me that! I feel I can be quite strong running on hills though, and whilst my legs hurt, I coped with the challenges. I could not quite believe the pace I was still holding at this point though, I felt good and with each mile that passed I thought ‘I can do a few more of this’ rather than starting to struggle. 15 miles passed, then 18, and before I knew it 20 miles were approaching.
The 20 mile mark is my big goal in a marathon – 6.2 miles left which I tell myself that in the worst case scenario I could jog in an hour, meaning I get a rough idea about what my potential finish time may be. I passed 20 miles in roughly 2 hours 45 mins and needless to say I was incredibly happy, with PB thoughts dancing through my mind. I calmed this notion though and stayed focus, 6.2 miles is still a long way to go and I knew there were some challenges left ahead. A marathon is never a given.
Short sharp climbs and exposed quayside running dominate the final 6.2 miles of the marathon course. Until this point I would say the weather conditions had been near perfect for running; I was not hot (hooray!) and the wind although strong at points had predominately been sheltered from us. The sun had risen by now though and its heat could start to be felt as I ran along the waterside; I was now pleased we started so early to avoid its building warmth. I also was really enjoying the course as a whole; it was so visual and I found there were things to constantly look at and take in – some may say distractions from the pain!
I was having to dig a little deeper by now, at 20+ miles it is to be expected, but I was buoyed by the fact my mind and body felt so strong still, the best I had felt in any marathon I had completed. It was here I felt I was starting to channel some of the pain and emotion from my training weeks. I had worked so hard physically and mentally the past fifteen weeks and more than ever I felt like I was not going to give up now. I wanted to push myself and I wanted to make myself proud – I have read a lot of books by elite runners and I started to realise how they can find that extra something at times almost thought impossible when it matters so much.
Digging into my legs and my particularly sore quads I kept my pace, hardly believing the digits displayed on my watch screen. I was passing fellow runners, a few who urged me on saying I looked strong. Tired calculations in my mind and flashes of hope saw an absolute dream finish of 3:39ish start to be a possibility. However, as 24 miles hit my legs suddenly protested for the first time. I did not slow down dramatically, but I no longer could keep my pace and a few extra seconds were added. These two miles hurt and felt the longest of the entire race, but when I turned the corner and saw the Sydney Opera House finish looming on the horizon a rush of emotion overwhelmed my body. I was so close.
Even though my legs, well mainly my quads, felt so incredibly sore by now, as I turned into the finishing straight lined with hundreds of people I gave absolutely everything, fighting back the tears already brimming in my eyes as I closed in on the archway. I pumped my fists triumphantly in the air, crossed the finish line, looked down at my watch, looked around at where I was stood and just cried tears of pure happiness. In that moment I felt all alone, the hundreds of people around me faded and it seemed as though time almost froze; it felt like just me and this moment. I remember putting my hands to my face in almost disbelief and wiping salty tears from my equally salty cheeks. I honestly could not believe it. 3:40:30 – no words can describe what that felt like; an 8 minute PB, what should be a Good For Age qualifying time for the London Marathon which has been a very personal goal of mine, and I was stood opposite the Harbour Bridge and outside the Opera House in Sydney, Australia. Unreal, absolutely unreal.
Once I broke from my moment and went to meet my friend it was instantly apparent my quads were wrecked, and I hobbled to meet her in a fashion which questioned how the hell I had been running just a few minutes ago! My friend had also logged an 8 minute PB and we stood congratulating each other in a long, happy hug. We were both so overwhelmed we nearly forgot we had not yet collected our medals! They did not seem important in that moment, I was just so proud of us both and to be able to share such an achievement together.
Surreal – that’s the only word I can seem to use to describe the Sydney Marathon. To be in Australia, to be running past such iconic landmarks, to log such a PB which I really was not expecting – it is just surreal. The marathon really was the perfect end to the trip of a lifetime, all shared with my best friend. If I am honest it feels almost like I wrote my own ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fairytale – but this was real, this was my life, and I feel so fortunate and thankful for this fact.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...