The Melbourne Marathon Experience (Part 3 of 3)
An aid station came along, and I took a good long walk to hydrate, slurp down some carbs, and take it all in. I smiled like a kid whose just been told a secret, and ran on under the Melbourne sun. In my mind I still thought I was ahead of the Conejo and might have a shot at finishing in the 3:30s, way ahead of any goal I could have set before this race. It felt good to think of goals; at our best we to challenge ourselves the way I challenge these kids and their parents to do something they had not thought possible.
In the last 10K I had the impression I was kicking it up a notch because I began passing runners at the rate of over a hundred every kilometer. I also heard their breathing more loudly and watched their slumping heads and shoulders. I felt not the slightest twinge of pain in the knee that had plagued me in training when I’d pushed up the mileage a few months earlier. The forced reduction in mileage due to my work and the advice of my orthopedist to abandon any further hills training seemed to have done the trick. Oh, and I had popped a few ibuprofen at around the halfway point just as a precaution. At 43 years of age, I figure running a marathon without ibuprofen is like summiting K2 without oxygen; no thanks.
Around 36K, I knew this would be my best race yet, and I just wanted the experience to last. By the time my iPod hit the Jane’s Addiction set I love, I had strains of electric guitar and a runner’s high spurring me onward. We turned and headed back into downtown, and the crowds grew louder and larger. I even reeled in the lioness and Bruiser, passed them in sequence and moved on, heading through the Gate C Tunnel that leads into downtown, lots of gas in my tank.
In the last kilometers, two more aid stations popped up, and I dutifully slowed to a walk and took in fluids at each, staying true to my plan. At the last one, my engines were revving and I could not walk more than 15 seconds before the sight of the runners passing me spurred me to toss the second cup of water and rejoin the run.
In a gorgeously designed finish, the runners find a long lead up a central boulevard and then a turn across the picturesque William Barak Bridge affording every runner a stunning view of the iconic Melbourne architecture, its cultural landmarks and the river. A gentle down slope before entering the Melbourne Cricket Grounds and then a magnificent stadium finish, complete with the sounds of a cheering crowd that overcame the music in my earphones. For a moment I thought I glimpsed the Conejo across the stadium, at the finish line already before my last lap, but no matter, just a look-alike I hoped.
I took in the majesty of the stadium finish, the crowd noise, the feel of the infield grass under my feet, and the sense that I have completed this marathon and could turn around and run halfway back at this point. I saw families in the stands cheering, including some profoundly overweight kids who I hoped saw something inspiring today. Yes, you can be out here or wherever you want to be one day soon, with some new thoughts in your head and a little encouragement.
As I rounded the last turn and headed for the finish line, I squinted to make out the numbers on the first and only timer I had seen during the race. Exhilarated and a little disappointed all at once, I saw in red numerals 3:42 with the seconds counting quickly upward toward sixty. The Conejo had slipped past me! No matter, I was pleased to finish in this time, and most importantly, feeling this strong. I’d never even seen the monster this day, nor heard a single of his approaching footsteps. I raised my arms in victory for the finish photo.