Melbourne Marathon - 42.195km
As expected my first couple of kilometres were a bit slow. Yet still a fair way under 5:00/km pace, which means I was on track. Post race discussions and forums suggest the 2km marker wasn't exactly where it should be. With hindsight, knowing my training/racing speeds and how GPS can differ on race courses (distance run is often different to course measurement even when certified), I can't see how the marker was wrong.
I wasn't running based on heart rate (HR), but I had set some wide limits. (150-167bpm). If I was outside these limits and my pace wasn't right, then something would definitely be wrong. I expected to be within these limits for about the first 35km. Exactly what my HR was didn't matter too much, there were too many factors to influence it. So going throught the 2km mark, in the 150's then hitting 5km on race pace near 160bpm suggested things were right on track. More importantly I was feeling exceptionally comfortable.
Running with a natural rhythm. Nothing forced. It all seemed more than sustainable at this stage. I was feeling so good, I made the decision to use the slight downhill of Fitzroy street to gradually recover the seconds lost over the first few kilometres.
Against the Metronome
Pre-race I set the metronome at 21 minutes for every 5km split. During the race my brain could handle working with these numbers. 5km 21, 10km 42, 15km 63, etc. Hitting these exact splits would result in 2:57:13. Running beyond 21:15/5km would be the limit to be able to stay under 3hrs.
Against this plan I had the realities of the race to contend with. These provide the races ebb and flow. While a very flat marathon course, there were still slight rises and falls throughout that affect the pace per kilometre by a few seconds. Then there would be how I was running. My sense of pace is very good, but it isn't perfectly calibrated.
Over the first 30km I ran to this plan. My effort level felt even. My muscles gradually needed some increasing encouragement, but for the most part the race was comfortable. The 5km splits varried between 19:57 to 21:50. Hitting 30km in 2:06:14 gave me an average 5km time 21:02. Perfect execution so far.
Just beyond 30km I was feeling better than expected. There was a deep ache within my major muscle groups, but nothing over the top. I was in a rhythm, I was running light. All I had to do was ensure I kept the legs turning over.
At this point the half marathoners joined the marathon course. For the sub 3 hour marathoners, this created quite a few problems as we had to navigate our way through the 2 hour half-marathoners. Running at about 4:12/km through crowds of people travelling around 5:30/km or slower is difficult, especially when most are not leaving space for the faster runners to get through. It's a common problem at events where they have different distance, but a simple solution would be to divide the road and have the marathoners on one side and the half runners on the other. Naturally the effort level was increased to maintain my times because I was no longer running in a straight line.
From 35km the marathon splits away from the other runners again. Near the Tan Track, along the moderate rise of Birdwood Avenue the marathon became real. My heart rate monitor began beeping, telling me I was beyond the 167bpm upper limit. I turned the alarm to silent. I knew I was working hard. It was now taking an enormous effort to simply maintain my previous pace. As a reminder of where things could be going a runner a few metres in front, stopped and then crumpled to the ground. He was conscious and being tended to by bystanders as I passed him.
Some talk about the wall, but this wasn't quite the same as I've experienced before. I had gotten my nutrition right, it wasn't running out of fuel that were making things hard. It was my muscles, my legs were at their limits of speed, strength and endurance. My speed was slipping (down close to 4:30/km in hindsight, but my maths wasn't any good in the race at this point), and I had thoughts of the 3 hour barrier being blown in only the last 4km. I ran through a quick checklist:
- nutrition: okay
- hydration: very good
- technique: adequate
- legs/feet: no injury
- speed: slipping -> need to pick it up
- pain: enormous, but it's the marathon
I was in relatively good shape. I just had to man up and hurt. So I did. We merged into the half marathoners again. As a result I could hear the 3hr pace group trying to make it's way up behind... "marathoners on left, please stay right!" was the call. Many didn't move aside. One lady even turned around and yelled at the marathoners to "fuck off!" Strange reaction. At least my head was clear enough to plan my path through the crowd.
At 41km I had 6 or so minutes up my sleeve. With the realisation I was going under 3 hours the pain in my legs dissipated. Onto the grass of the MCG I simply enjoyed my finish.
The official results are in:
First half covered in 1:29:02, and the second in 1:29:42. It doesn't get much closer than that. A personal record by 10min 26sec.
A big thank you to everyone who helped, inspired me, put up with me, allowed me to train, gave well wishes and congratulations, made me think, and simply allowed me to get the most out of myself.