it was “only” a long run training session, as part of the lead-up to the Perth Marathon in June. well, that’s what I kept trying to tell myself, but the butterflies and excitement built up anyway.
intending to do some computer work on the saturday, I found that I couldn’t concentrate. so I gave in, did some reading and basically spent the entire day resting, relaxing and trying to stay as calm and serene as possible.
amazingly, I slept well.
up at sparrow’s fart
the joondalup half marathon start time was 7:30am, I awoke (as planned) about 4:30am, ate a bowl of porridge, some toast and some water.
with an hour’s drive and needing to line up for my non-member’s race number, the rest of the family were up at 5:45am, and we set off at 6.
in my mind, we were going to get to Neil Hawkins Park nice and early, so parking wouldn’t be an issue. We actually got there about 6:45, and had to park on the verge. The car park was full!
feeling out of place
unlike the fremantle 10km fun run last year, there was a distinctly more “professional” feel on the air. a distinct lack of “fun runners”. I started to look around desperately, hoping to see other “also-ran” potential.
it was wall to wall compression suits, barefoot running shoes, gel pack waistbands. one woman even had a t-shirt on proclaiming “highest marathon in the world”. it was a competitor’s t-shirt for a marathon in the Himalayas!
no time to dwell on it
one final visit to the bladder unloading station, race number attached to my shirt, runkeeper loaded on the phone and ready to be started… the pa announcer called the half marathon runners to the start.
we walked for what seemed like ages, I walked very slowly, making sure I was safely tucked away at the back. not in anyone’s way.
eventually the crowd started to move forwards – we were off. I started runkeeper, made sure the earphones were securely in place and started to shuffle forwards.
a cracking start by my standards
it didn’t take long for the crowd to disappear over the horizon, clearly I was going to be well off the pace. but I was determined to stick to my long run pace, despite the fact that the only people within sight were an elderly lady and two younger female participants.
I was stunned when the runkeeper voice informed me that kilometer number 1 had been completed in 6 minutes 50-something seconds.
That was well beyond where I had planned to be. my usual long run pace is closer to 8:30 per km.
I determined to slow down, even if it meant the elderly lady pulled away from me!
but at 2km, my average pace was still hovering around 7:00 per km! I decided “to hell with it – let’s see how this goes”.
personal best and water station overtaking
it came as a surprise to me that I held the same pace for quite some time. it wasn’t until the 12 or 13km mark that the pace started to drop. even when it did drop, it hung around my usual pace!
and so it was, at 10km distance, runkeeper informed me that I’d been running for 1 hour, 10 minutes. I had just completed the first 10km, and had done so in 4 minutes less than I had completed the fremantle fun run!
this was madness. I started dreaming of the possibility of breaking 2 hours 30 minutes!
any illusions of elite athlete status were easily shattered however – at the water stations, the ladies were stopping to drink, while I swept through, skilfully grabbing a cup as I glided through. then promptly spilling half the water down my chest as I clumsily gulped at the cool refreshing liquid.
for me stopping is bad, once I allow myself to stop even once, it becomes too easy to stop again. it also becomes much harder to start again.
in my mind this approach was going to ensure I didn’t finish last – I’d passed the ladies at least, and was sure that I might be able to overtake some stragglers later on. real “tortoise and hare” type excitement.
and then I was overtaken by the elderly lady with a shuffling style that still defies explanation – it looked such a slow style, yet it was faster than mine (which in turn was substantially faster than I’d run this type of distance before).
when I say “elderly” – I’m guesstimating the lady was in her 70s.
then the teenager tried to bring me down
it was about 13km in, I’d been left standing by the “silver tornado”, overtaken by another lady, and facing a long straight climb along the far side of the lake. I was in the middle section of the race, had run 13km faster than I had ever done before, and started to feel it a little bit.
that’s when the voice piped up. telling me that I’d started off too fast, that it was an accomplishment to have got this far and that there would be no shame in stopping now.
I named this voice “14 year old Gary”. The teenager that had never finished the school cross-country course. The teenager that had always given up as soon as things got a little bit tough.
I actually had a conversation with myself (yeah, I know it sounds crazy…) I pointed out to 14 year old “me” that we had already run 2 or 3 times the distance of that cross-country course. That I’d run further than this on training runs many times. That I was going to finish this.
I then invited the 14 year old to “either f*ck off, or sit down quietly at the back and let me show you how to actually finish something”.
it did the trick – the voice remained silent until the last few kms… but more on that in a moment…
surprisingly uneventful 5km or so
after my little schizophrenic moment, I settled into a slightly slower, but still steady pace. I mentally counted off the kms, did mental arithmetic to calculate speeds etc, listened to my music and even took in the scenery.
at about 18km I started to feel the effects of my efforts. it started to feel as though I would simply stop at any moment. not because of giving in, but simply no longer having the physical ability to take another step.
at this point I have to say, the race volunteers are bloody brilliant. whenever you come to a water station, or someone holding a stop/go sign where the path crosses a road, they give you encouragement. a little applause, a few words of encouragement, being told “stay strong, you’re doing a great job”. it really does help keep you going.
but after 18km I found encouragement from a very very unexpected source.
14 year old Gary – as insane as it sounds, that little voice had been silent since I gave it an ultimatum and now, with just a few kms to go, it was telling me to keep going, urging me on to the finish, telling me that Kian (my son) would be there to see me finish this.
and that was the kick up the arse I needed – the final 2km seemed to go on forever, were mostly uphill and I also got overtaken by another lady.
but all I could think about was what I wanted Kian to see – did I want him to see Daddy limp pathetically over the line, having given up, or did I want my son to witness his Dad finishing strongly?
Did I want Kian to have as a role model a quitter, or a finisher?
final bend and a final flourish
I turned onto the path that headed to the finish line, and my son came into view. I couldn’t really hear him with the music on, plus I didn’t really have any spare energy left to waste on things like hearing!
Kian was skipping towards me, jumping up and down excitedly, taking photos. I smiled and waved at him. This is the image I had wanted him to have.
With 100m or less to go I picked up the pace, no longer shuffling, striding out. I could see the finish line, I was actually going to complete a half marathon – officially.
I sprinted over the last 30m or so, the applause was brilliant, I crossed the line, came to a halt, and had a medal thrust into my hand.
2 hours 47 minutes. It felt amazing.