Just now joining us is Dennis Doyle, a clothing store security guard, running for the last ten and three quarter hours on basically one leg, He’s refusing to rest until this race is run, unbelievable!
~ TV Commentator in the movie “Run Fat Boy Run”
I have no idea how many people this movie has “inspired” to take part in a marathon, but I’m sure there must be a few at least. while it wasn’t the prime reason for my own efforts, it’s certainly been there in the back of my mind; this blog was very nearly named “run fat boy run”, for example.
while the “love triangle” aspect of the movie plot bears no resemblance to my own story, there are themes in there that resonate; particularly the idea of not completing things.
besides which, despite knowing this was “just a movie”, it was reassuring in some ways to think that all I had to do was keep going for 10 and three quarter hours; speed was irrelevant!
so… how did the big day actually go?
the day before the marathon was spent doing very little except relaxing, eating pasta, and using Twitter as an outlet for the excited nervousness that was building. on the outside I was a picture of calm serenity, while in the online world it was all giggly-schoolgirl-on-hash rabbiting, all day long.
on sunday morning it was more a case of stomach-churning nervous dread, fused with calm excitement. this was the day I had been working towards for 18 months, the event I had been training for specifically for the last 18 weeks. not only was this going to push me to physical and mental limits that had never before been tested, it would see the realisation of a massive goal. so yeah, I was nervous, excited and everything in between…
I ate the final breakfast of a condemned man at around 4:30am; porridge, toast & orange juice. showered, relaxed, put on my running gear, and packed a bag with essentials like ice gel, keys, wallet, change of t-shirt, towels… it was a ritual designed to calm nerves, shift mental focus and of course, ensure that I had everything I would need.
at around 6:15am, we got into the car. rest of the family dragged into the chill foggy winter’s morning, still munching on their own breakfasts, to serve as witnesses at the metaphorical execution of the old me; “mr fat guy”.
take one fish, remove from water and then place in the middle of the sahara desert
if I felt out of place at the joondalup half marathon last month, it was nothing compared to the sense of displacement this time around. there were no fun-runners, no charity runners in fancy dress; just a professional air about the whole thing, a sense that everyone was psyching themselves up, performing jedi mind focus exercises and zoning out.
of course that was mostly a figment of my own nervous state of mind. the bulk of my fellow runners were chatting, catching up with mates, being annoying chill and calm. while I tried to stop the voice in my head from saying “what the f*ck are you doing here?”
fortunately scott, a work colleague, turned up at just about the right time – an experienced runner, he was aiming to complete the course in under 3 hours. but as I am finding with the local running scene, there’s a real sense of community, of being “in it together” in some ways. no matter how fast or slow you may be.
a photo was taken of scott and I (above), and moments later it was time for us to head to the start line…
couting down in the last chance saloon
this was it, last chance to make like a catholic lover (and pull out) as if that was ever going to happen!
nope, by the time I started heading to my usual starting spot (at the very back of the crowd), I was pumped, ready to go and incredibly keen for this show to get on the road.
I spotted Brian, a guy I’d been chatting with on the Facebook page, said a quick “hello”, shook hands, and then started the pre-race preparation. Runkeeper on, earphones in, eyes fixed on the countdown clock.
When the big time display clicked down to “30” I pressed start on Runkeeper and got ready to be part of a group of mad people, about six or seven hundred idiots who were about to run 42.2 kilometres, or just over 26 miles in old money, on a crisp, cold winter’s morning…
the moment finally arrived, we were off!
a pleasant riverside jog is good for the soul
I repeated the error of my half-marathon ways. after the first kilometre, runkeeper told me I was going much faster than my intended pace. I determined to slow down, but it’s hard to fight that compelling cocktail of nerves, adrenaline, excitement and the fact that everyone-else-would-be-going-so-much-faster-than-you!
Brian and I were keeping each other company at the back – he’d previously forecast a time of 6.5 hours, so I figured I’d be OK if I was sticking with him.
but by the time we reached the 2nd and 3rd kilometre points, RunKeeper was practically screaming at me “too fast, too fast”. I let Brian drift ahead of me a little, but realistically my pace remained too high.
I convinced myself it would be OK, I felt really good. I felt strong. Perhaps, I reasoned with myself, the preparation and training were paying off; the tapering I had done in the last 2 weeks, the doing next-to-nothing in the final week, the carbs I’d consumed, perhaps they were all combining to make me a much better marathon runner that I had imagined!
so I stuck with it and started to think about the possibility of finishing in 5 hours 30 minutes or thereabouts…
eighteen clicks and all is well!
the course was advertised as being pleasant, flat, picturesque; it was all of these. I was enjoying every moment. before too long, I had successfully navigated the east perth section of the route, skipped lightly over the bridges at the causeway, and floated gently along the south perth foreshore, where I waved to my family (who had taken the easy option and driven).
after sweeping around the foreshore, through the gathered crowds at the first relay change point (of course they were there to see me really), I was soon making my way under the Narrows Bridge, and along the shared pathway next to the freeway.
everything still felt fine – the pace had slowed a little, but Brian was still just about in view (in the distance) and I was wondering what all the fuss was about. this marathon stuff was easy!
just before I reached the Canning Bridge, I passed Scott (work colleague). He was heading back to the finish, just 10km of his race left to run!
it really did feel fine though – obviously there was some effort involved, and I knew that aches, pains, boredom and mind games would build up later, but there was none of the mental bullsh*t I had experienced at Joondalup. I’d even passed a couple of people – I was not in last place!
Above all else, “14 year old Gary” didn’t try to wreck things – that demon had been well and truly dealt with.
they call it fraser road, I call it “heartbreak hill”
there was a late route diversion that we’d been told about in the week, due to boardwalk maintenance our route would miss a flat riverside section, diverting up and over a steep hill.
I had no idea what I was in for – but when I turned the corner I saw this:
While not a huge problem for the car-driving local residents, climbing up this hill, and then the slow descent on the other side, blasted my quads, emptied the fuel tank and caused me to be re-overtaken by at least one person.
In the space of a few hundred metres, I had moved from a nice location in pleasant-morning-jog-ville, to a sea of fire on the outskirts of greater muscle-pain-on-the-knee.
my marathon experience was transformed by that bastard hill. I felt every long drawn-out inch after that, my pace was cruelly decimated, my spirits trampled on.
somewhere on the other side of the hill, I was joined by two ladies (not taking part in the event) who kindly chatted to me, helped buoy my spirits. I was “running”, they were bloody walking!
but it helped, a lot, so thank you anonymous ladies-who-were-training-for-a-48-hour-100-km-walk – you are part of a small army for whom I am eternally grateful (more on that story later…)
eventually I got to the turnaround point
I can’t recall where it was now, it was about 24km or 26km, something like that. I was well and truly out of my comfort zone now.
with about 16km still left to go, I just had to keep going. there was no other choice.
as I passed through each water station I thanked the volunteers, made apologies that they had to wait for me for so long. every time I was greeted with smiles, and people saying “not a problem” or “it’s our pleasure”. The West Australian Marathon Club volunteers are *awesome*.
At some point, maybe around 28km I was overtaken – I was going to be “lucky last”, but that didn’t matter. I was damn well going to finish!
At 29 or 30km it was a return to hell – this time with a long, slow climb up, and a short, sharp, quad-crushing, excruciatingly painful downward shuffle.
I abandoned all hope of “running the whole way around” and walk/jogged up, then limped pathetically down the other side. I must have looked hilarious as I went down that hill – a casual observer would have assumed the path to be covered in shards of glass, and my feet to be bare.
that would have hurt less.
a high five and inexplicable love for an inanimate object
as I crossed back over the canning bridge I saw something that brought a small amount of wetness to the corners of my eyes.
“31km” it said.
I experienced an unexpected rush of emotion that I have experienced only twice before – when my 2 children were born.
it was amazing, I was now 11km from the dream. I was on the “home straight”. I was approximately 500 metres away from a crash-and-almost-burn moment.
somewhere between 31km and 32km, I experienced what must have been a low after the emotion high on the bridge. was it the famous “wall” that runners are supposed to hit? I have no idea really, but I do have to say I never once felt as though I couldn’t physically go on, never felt depleted of fuel (almost, but not quite).
but my positive mindset operating system crashed. I was still doing intervals, 20 seconds of jogging, 20 to 30 seconds of walking… the long straight freeway cycle path section stretching out before me, defying me to go on. tempting me to stop.
I managed to keep going just long enough…
a marathon guardian angel arrived on his trusty steed
how, why, what, when… I will never know. for whatever reason that the fates had decided, a lone rider turned up, inches before I may well have hit some kind of wall.
he’d been providing support to a mate who was taking part in the marathon, and I’m not sure how or why he was still hanging around the freeway cycle path. but he was, and I will be eternally grateful.
Chris van Dorssen is another fine upstanding member of the small army who deserve my thanks. A triathelete, iron man competitor and, above all else, saviour of my first marathon.
For 3 or 4km, he cycled alongside me, chatting, giving encouragement, taking my mind off the dull drudgery of that long, straight, boring section.
I actually jogged 2 or 3km without walking – momentum was regained, spirits were lifted. it was a case of perfect timing.
not long after the narrows bridge, we parted company. I shook his hand and warned him he’d be mentioned on the blog entry!
another guardian marathon angel from 5km to 2km
about 1km after Chris and I parted ways, the engine started to sputter, I was back to walk/jog intervals, but this time there was not any doubt about whether I would finish. When I started walking with 10km or so to go, it was questionable, but now the end was in sight.
even if I had to walk for another 2 hours I was going to make it. even if it was on one leg and took 10 and three quarter hours!
as if to make sure of that, one of the race volunteers kept me company along the south perth foreshore. As I was the last runner, each checkpoint and watering hole that I passed enabled volunteers to pack up and head off. Derryn (I hope I spelt your name correctly mate) was heading back to the WAMC clubrooms.
Then just before the 2km mark I heard a voice shouting out “what are you doing walking Gary?”
It was Chris – he had decided to jog the last couple of kms with me. just bloody brilliant.
under the narrows, 1.1km to go, a decision made
the marker said “41km”, there was just 1.1km left to go and I would complete my first marathon.
I voiced this out loud, and followed it up with “and I’m going to run the whole f*cking way”.
We could see the roof of the clubrooms, the final destination, the finishing line.
500 metres to go and I had flashbacks of the training runs – I was within sight of the traffic lights near my house, I was almost here.
I saw my son to the right of me. he was excited, he wanted to run alongside me. Bloody perfect, a major source of inspiration for this whole thing and he was going to run the last couple hundred metres with me!
100 metres to go, I started striding out, getting faster and faster.
I could taste the finish line, I could smell victory, I could…
6 hours, 47 minutes.
I was ecstatic.
I would have cried but I didn’t have the energy.
A medal thrust in my hand, congratulations from Brian (who I don’t recall seeing!), a high five and man hug from Chris, and limping back to the car with the family.
I f*cking did it.