The Sydney event was my debut race at the marathon distance. As a runner more focused on half marathons and 10kms I was more than a little apprenhensive about what was going to happen after 21k. I was not looking forward to the dead legs sensation that coach Sean had warned me to expect toward the end.
I had a rather optimistic goal of sub 2:40 and so set off just behind the leaders. I quickly fell in with the second group of runners as we went over the harbour bridge. I forced myself to take in the view then glanced up through the field and guessed I was about 25th. On each of the turns after the bridge I kept seeing the 2:45 pacer behind me. ‘Shouldn’t I be a bit further in front of him by now?’, I thought. So I pushed the pace a bit harder through the 5km mark.
After the rickety Hyde Park bridge we were soon onward to the familiar trails of Centennial Park, where I have done a few of my training runs with the SWEAT group. On the end of the last loop of the park, around 20km, I started to get an intense right-side stitch. Was that the effects of the gel I had at 15km? Or was I pushing the pace too much? This had happened once for me in a half and nearly ended that race. I tried changing my breathing and slowed a little, no longer gaining on the runner in front.
After the next drink station I risked another gel and was pleasantly surprised to feel the stitch fading. However, I was now quite a bit behind my goal pace. I tried to do some maths in my head to work out if I was still on for sub 2:50 and that distracted me for the next few kms. It’s amazing how the brain seems to slow down when racing.
A couple of runners gradually closed on me around 25km. I thought if I could match them for the next 10km that would give me a strong shot at sub 2:50. Sure enough, the 3 of us ran together til about 34km, and I was still within 20 seconds of one of them at the finish. They also pulled me past 2 other runners so I finished with a similar placing to where I was at the harbour bridge.
At the 32km mark our trio was joined by the 2:45 pacer, who cheerily announced ‘Only 40 minutes to go’. I didn’t have enough to keep his pace until the end, but I hung on to the group – now 5 of us – for another 2km. At 34km that dead leg sensation suddenly hit me and I had to drop back. 34km-40km was the hardest stretch for me by far with what felt like wooden legs that would just not move like I was used to. Thankfully, this was the waterfront section, so I got to distract myself with the view and enjoy the fact that the forecast rain had held off throughout the race.
Afterwards I looked up the splits of the 2:45 pacer. His amazingly even splits made me wish I had stayed back with him from the start. It laid the seed of looking ahead to my next better-paced marathon and a sub 2:45 time. Seems like I am already hooked! A satisfying debut – 23rd male, 9th local runner in 2:48:20.