The Melbourne Marathon Experience (Part 2 of 3)
At the 10K mark I felt surprisingly good as we pounded down St. Kilda Road and wound our way around beautiful Albert Park Lake roadway. I had stuck with El Conejo with little effort and could still run for stretches with my mouth closed, one poor-man’s way to test exertion level. Hmm, how long would this last? Where should I set my sights, on my pre-race goal of finishing under 4hrs, or perhaps doing a little better? I felt it to be wiser to stay contained and measured in the approach to the midway point. There were many miles left to go and plenty of opportunity to self destruct like I did in Phoenix at the Rock and Roll marathon around mile 20. Never want to do that again. I’d battled the monster that day for the worst 10K in my life, half walking, half stumbling the last 6 miles dehydrated, frustrated, and in immense pain.
But this day, from around 14K to 22K I felt a stirring euphoria. The scenery proved positively amazing, the weather now perfect, and the crowd welcoming if subdued. It had thus far felt like a medium-paced weekend run to me, and even though I had fallen way off my training regimen in the busiest two months of my work year, I had the sense this was going to be a good run for me. My two aces in the hole have always been training at altitude – most of my training runs occur at 5000 feet or above – and my passion for the race. Perhaps I could push it a little and still not self destruct? Better stick to discipline, I thought, and I continued to walk for 45-60 seconds each time a fluids station appeared that had their electrolyte drink. This was another interesting thing about the Melbourne marathon compared to U.S. races I have run, relatively fewer stations, perhaps 18 in the 42K race, half of which just offered water. And still no clocks.
Each time I walked to take in fluids, and on two occasions to slurp down a Gu, El Conejo moved out ahead along with the pack of runners sticking to his tail. In all, it looked like a cluster of about twenty-five runners clumped around the short man carrying the pacing sign. But after each walk, I caught up very quickly and fell in step with the group. We ran along the magnificent Beaconsfield Parade, a long flat stretch of beach front boulevard that stretches along the water for many miles, with blue sky, a glowing moon, and azure Australian waters coloring our landscape. The surprising moon remained bright enough to easily dominate the cloudless sky as we ran west along the shore. At this point our pack could see the race leaders loping past us from a turnaround point, and I made out two lean Africans leading, followed by some long-legged white runners. Then interestingly, the scattering of runners ahead of and just behind the 3 hr pacer looked rather average to me, not seemingly in better form or noticeably faster than my pack. Hmmm, could I ever one day run with them?
Around 22K, I was passed by two runners I had seen at other moments earlier in the course, a beautiful feline-looking female with an effortless but powerful stride I nicknamed the lioness, and a husky muscle-bound man in his late forties I called Bruiser who appeared to be out for a morning jog – so little did he appear to be exerting himself past the half way point. Both certainly were heading for sub- 3:30 finishes I thought. I did a mental check, yes I felt that good, but I let them go. Discipline. Think of this as just a training run, there will be others to come, to build upon this one.
At 25K after nearly stumbling over El Conejo’s feet I finally said “to hell with it” and passed my faithful 3:40 pacer. For the first time in my life I breathed the rarified air of those runners that finish with times starting 3:3-. It felt exhilarating, but maybe too ambitious. I had the sense I was a Tour de France rider who had been sitting on the wheel of a team that pulled me along and now I had broken out into the full force of the headwind, my turn at the lead of the peloton. How long could I last?
The scenery only continued to improve as we threaded our way around the parks and city streets that make up south Melbourne, tree lined, flat or very gently rolling, the course maintained its true form of being smooth and easy to navigate. I decided that if I still felt this good at 32K I would put the hammer down and start seeing if I could pick up the pace a bit. The long tree-lined boulevard called St. Kilda Road led to increasing crowds and more cheers for their loved ones. I became increasingly confident that I was nowhere near blowing up in this race. And for the first time I accepted a simple notion that I had been unwilling to say out loud – but that now felt absolutely undeniable with the sun warming my brow and my feet turning over with machine-like repetition – that I am a marathon runner. And I am the happiest person in the entire world.