The start of the craziness…
Last year when my husband turned 40 we decided to ‘celebrate’ by running up (and down) Mt Kosciuszko – the highest mountain in Australia. It was a milestone birthday and a milestone moment.
We drove down to the Snowy Mountains in March (so no snow actually), stayed the night in Thredbo Village, got up bright and early the next day and took off up to the top. It was a beautiful day and we scaled the mountain and returned in around 2 hours. I loved it!
This little excursion got me thinking about my own 40th birthday which was looming the following year (2014) and wondering what I could do to mark the occasion. As I had recently taken up running and was hooked, of course it had to be something which involved that.
I spent the rest of 2013 entering running events with my Rachel’s Runners team and one morning on our way to another, I suggested to some of the girls that we do The North Face 50km event, held alongside the 100km event in the Blue Mountains in May the following year. As this is a trail event, involving much mountain climbing and descending I could sense that no one was too keen, even though I tried to sell it to them as a “day out bushwalking with friends”. One of my close friends even suggested that if I wanted to do this event I would have to enter as ‘Rachel’s Runner’ as no one else was eager to join me!
So back to the drawing board…I went and spoke to my physio about it (a marathon runner himself) and he suggested a road marathon would be more suitable for me at this stage and it did seem like a natural progression after completing 3 half marathons already that year. He could tell that I liked the idea of ‘ultra’ in front of my marathon and so suggested The Great Ocean Road Marathon in Victoria, Australia. This marathon is a 45km distance run, which is further than a normal marathon & hence technically an ‘ultra’. It is also held in May which is my birth month and he had already run it himself so I could get all the inside information about the course from him. SOLD!!
So next I went about ‘selling’ it to everyone else. It wasn’t long before I had convinced my training buddy Diala to join me, along with another group of our runners who signed up for the 14km and Half Marathon distances. We spent the next 6 months or so organising everything from flights, race registrations, accommodation, everything down to race singlets and Rachel’s Runners jackets. Everything in the planning ran so smoothly…until I was injured!
As you may have read in an earlier post by Diala, our training didn’t go to plan! On what was supposed to be our furthest training run (35km) I had a terrible flare up of ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome) in my left knee and I had to be collected from the side of the road by my husband at 22km in. I was still smiling and laughing, but underneath I was very worried. What if I could not run in my 40th birthday Marathon milestone event?
What followed was 6 weeks of rest, recovery and running within my limits. It was also filled with facing three things I had avoided for so long…I had to learn to run faster, more often if I wanted to maintain my fitness. I had to learn to love running laps to enable me to do distance training on flat ground. I had to learn to love running alone. For a while I had avoided all of these things, but in the end it was these three that were my saviour. It was these three ‘fears’ that got me through the rest of my training. And it was these three that helped build up my mental strength, which in the end, got me through the race!
The night before…
After months of planning and preparation, the time had finally arrived to head off down to Victoria. Our team made their way by plane, trains and automobile, all arriving along the Great Ocean Road sometime on Saturday 17 May 2014. Two of our gorgeous girls Kim and Tarnz, ran in the 14km event that afternoon and did a great job! We all came together at dinner that night – a pasta meal put on by the event organisers and complete with guest speaker, marathon legend Steve Moneghetti. It was a small gathering, but so great to listen to him and other top Australian marathon runners speak. They gave us tips on managing mental strength, nutrition and cramping throughout the race. They also said that the Great Ocean Road Marathon was a tough course, one of the toughest. At one point I said to my friend “Ok I’ve heard enough now, they’re scaring me!”
After the runners spoke, and because it was such a small event, we had a chance to chat to Steve Moneghetti himself which was great! He wished us luck and said something that I called on a lot during the last third of the race the next day “just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” It sounds so simple, and it is, but when you’re at the point when you need it, all of a sudden it’s SO hard!
We went home to get ourselves ‘race ready’ and after prepping all of our stuff, us girls sat around painting our nails in team colours and giving each other pep talks. It was just what I needed. At about 10:30pm we headed to bed for what turned out to be the WORST night of sleep I have ever had. Earlier that day I had developed what may have been a cold or virus and besides being super nervous about the marathon, I was also fighting a fever! I tossed and turned all night and popped Panadol every few hours to try and help me get some rest – nothing worked!! I crawled out of bed the next day (RACE DAY!!) feeling hung over without even having had one sip of a drink. How on earth would I run 45km?
Race Day arrives…
We had to get up early as the half marathoners needed to be on a bus to their start line at 6:15am. I went upstairs in the house we were sharing to chat to them as they got ready and try to eat some breakfast. I managed one piece of vegemite toast and an Up & Go breakfast drink. Throughout all of my training I always had oats before my long run, but this day I just could not stomach them. One mouthful made my tummy turn and so I decided to go without.
Diala and I wished the others well (including my husband, who was about to run his first half marathon) and finished off getting ourselves ready. The house was all of a sudden so empty, just me alone with my thoughts and I didn’t like it. We left about half an hour later and as soon as we were at the starting area I felt calm and ready to run.
As we lined up at the start line I looked around at other runners. People of all different ages, shapes and sizes. Everyone there with a common goal – to get to the end and finish the 45km track. I was not nervous anymore, just eager to start.
After a short delay we were away. We were running The Great Ocean Road! They had closed it for one day so that some crazy people could run a marathon along it & yep, we were some of those crazies!! It was so beautiful, the awesome sight of the cliffs meeting the coastline. The water was a turquoise blue and the sun was just coming up from the clouds in the east. The road ahead was meandering along, up and down hills. YES…HILLS!!! Non-stop HILLS!!
And so it began! During the last few weeks of my training I had been trialling my marathon pace at around 6 mins/km. Diala and I started out pretty much on track, a little bit under, but nothing too unmaintainable. We were enjoying the beautiful scenery and felt pretty special that we were among only a few thousand people that will ever get to experience such a run. We stuck together until around 15km. Diala had her plan and I had mine and to get through the rest of the race we each had to stick to what suited us best. As we had both been dealing with injuries, we had to run best to manage them and so I was alone!
My research of this marathon had told me that there were a lot of hills throughout the course until about the 30km mark. I had not previously run any further than 30km in training due to my ITB flare up so in my mind I was confident about getting to that point. From the elevation graph I’d seen on the event website it looked like it was almost all downhill from there with a bit of flat running at the end. I began to break the race down in my mind. My ‘check points’ were to be the half marathon start point at Kennett River, the 30km mark and the last 15 kilometeres, I would breakdown into 5km blocks.
I got to Kennett River pretty easily and also up and out of there without too much trouble. I made it to the 30km mark and allowed myself a little reward by walking through the drink station as I refuelled and rehydrated. From there on in, it was all downhill, right? WRONG! The last 15km were hard, REALLY hard. The balls of my feet were sore, my left shoulder was sore and the hills, well they NEVER stopped!! I kept ‘rewarding’ myself by walking through each of the following drink stations after running non stop between. My next checkpoint would be to get to the 40km mark, at which I would text my friends Kay and Bec (who’d both run in the half marathon) to tell them I was on my way to the finish.
Lovely Kay and Bec met me just outside the 42km mark. Bec went to find Diala and Kay ran with me to help me get through the last few kilometres. As we passed over the 42km finish point I said to Kay “Can I walk now?” In my mind I had done the marathon and so thought maybe I could just walk the last few kilometeres to get to the official finish line at 45km. Her answer “Well you can, but I’m pretty sure you don’t really want to.” She was right. She continued to help me break down the last few km – “Just around that bend…there’s two groups of our runners waiting to cheer you on at different points…can you see the finish line…come on, finish strong!”
As soon as I saw that finish line, and with that little bit of coaxing from Kay, out of no where I was able to start running faster. Then I saw the first of our cheer squad & they were calling out to me “Go Rach!”…somehow I picked up the pace again. A bit further along and I saw the rest of our team including my husband and their cheers were enough to see me come home strong in my traditional “sprint to the finish”. After 45km I honestly do not know how I pulled out a sprint at that point. I think I was just so happy to be finishing. I had made it in 4 hours and 42 minutes.
My husband Michael came to find me as I staggered away from the finishing area. I could tell by the look on his face (and possibly even the tears in his eyes) that he was super proud. He helped me stumble over to my friends and one of my longest and best friends Lisa (who had run the half marathon) came running over crying and hugging me and saying “That was amazing. You are amazing.” Then it was my turn to cry. After months of training, injuries, tiredness, soreness, late nights, early mornings, doubts, fears, physio and massage, I had finally made it. I had just run 45km along The Great Ocean Road and all I could think was “How on earth did I do that?” I honestly couldn’t believe I had got through it.
So here I am a week on, my husband has said to me at least daily since “I can’t believe you ran 45km! I’m so proud.” So many people have asked me about the run and I tell them the truth “It was really hard. The hardest thing I have ever done. In the end it came down to a real test of mental strength. Parts of my body were in agony and I was tired, but my mind kept saying “just keep going, don’t stop, if you walk it might be easier but you will take longer to finish, just get it done”.
Immediately after the marathon I can clearly remember saying “I am never doing that again” and “If I ever suggest something like it, please slap me!”…well somebody slap me because I’ve already got a plan for my next marathon trip away with Rachel’s Runners in 2015 and today I found myself looking at the registration fees for the Sydney Marathon in September this year. Hmm…how easily we forget!