Gold Coast Marathon 2014: 75% fun….25% pain….

IMG_2255 It is early, the sun just poking its nose over the horizon on the kind of picture postcard winter morning that turns the tackiness of Surfer’s Paradise into something beautiful – all silver and gold, shimmer and shadow. It seems like a nice morning to go for a run. The air is cool but not cold, with the promise of warmth to come. So I join with a few others (well, 5000 others actually) and off we trot.

At first we go south, heading over the bridge at Southport before finding the waterfront at Main Beach and then turning to follow the beach 15km to Burleigh. Some charge like there is no tomorrow, running at unimaginable speeds, secure in the confidence that overflows from elite athletes who can do anything. But most of us are a little slower – just moving at a pace we judge sustainable, conscious of the many miles to go that day.

I don’t know anybody around me, but we run in comfortable companionship. The rhythm of pounding feet and beating hearts accompanied by cheering strangers and screaming kids becomes the soundtrack of a lovely morning. Every so often we find a table laden with blessed relief – water and sports drink – and there is a mad scramble (not quite panic….but not too far away either) to grab some of that liquid gold to feed dry mouths and even drier muscles.

And every so often I find a familiar face in the crowd. A wonderful friend, a son, daughter or wife. There are banners, encouraging words, lolly snakes, wide smiles. And a lift of spirits too, followed shortly afterward by a strange feeling of loss and loneliness as unknown faces once again crowd peripheral vision.

GCmarathon 2014At Burleigh the crowds swell. The noise raucous and infectious. Somewhere a band plays “Take me home, country road” as we turn to head north once again, faces set now into the morning sun. The sense of rhythm is strong, the miles pass easily by.  Surfers ride, crash and paddle. Kids play. Dogs bark. Coffee shops overflow onto the pavement serving Sunday morning breakfast.  Eggs Benedict invades my nostrils. Helicopters buzz over the fastest of all – showing the rest of us just how far ahead they really are. All is well in the world. I could do this again. This is fun. Somewhere else a different band plays “Today I don’t feel like doing anything“.  And even as we run, we laugh at the irony. It is still a beautiful morning. Everything according to plan.

Gradually, as the half-way point falls behind, as the 3/4 mark starts to appear in the distance, things start to change a little. The comfortable cadence becomes a little strained. Calf muscles start to burn a little more, knees ache, mouth just a little drier with each step. That 3/4 mark is welcome. Family to wave and smile and laugh with. Crowds to play with. A finish line to see as we pass by and continue on our way. Not long to go. Not long. Just 12 kilometres more I ponder as I run away, suddenly feeling all alone among the crowd. The knees, the calves, the thighs start to insist now. You haven’t run this far before. You didn’t warn us. You can’t ask this of us on such a beautiful morning.

The lovely morning sun starts to burn a little, the road hot beneath the feet, the water stations seem further and further apart. And still we run away from the finishing line, further and further from where every muscle, every cell wants to be. At each drinks station the temptation to walk a few extra steps becomes overpowering. Of course I want to run the whole way, every single step – but those shrill voices in my legs start to chant one word over and over “No. No. No.” I relent, they quieten down for a moment. I run again. They protest again. And so the cycle goes. A battle that plays out in my mind, just as the same goes on in the minds of those around me. The friendly banter of earlier is gone. Each locked in a silent war of will.

We turn, now just 5k from home. A distance I run without thinking any other day of the week. A light jog after work with friends. A quick rip around the block on an early morning before family preparations for the school day call me home. Only 5k. How can 5k be so far? So insurmountable? So impossible? And then it’s four. And three. And two. And the finish line seems just as far away, as if I’m running in quicksand, stuck fast to the one spot. I trudge on, now beside another. We share the agony of the moment. Agree to overcome our screaming legs, run one last time, to finish together. A thousand times in those last metres I want to stop. To lie down. To rest. To silence my muscles. A man is down at the final turn, being helped into a wheelchair by an Ambo no more than 250m from the finish line. I want to stop, to help, to cry with him. So close. But I know that if I do, I will not start again.

So my new friend and I run on – somehow he motivates me to keep going. Faces to the sun, the noise of the crowd at last silencing the complaining quadriceps. Carpet. Fences. Grandstands. People. My family. My blessed, loving, suffering, encouraging family. My friends who drove an hour just to stand there for this moment in the sun. The clock ticking. My target time a few minutes gone. I no longer care.

If I could capture and bottle those final metres. The moment of knowing it is all but over. The moment of finally being sure I will make it. The high fives from my girls and boy, and a thousand other kids I’ve never seen before. The announcer saying who knows what, his words floating away on the morning breeze.

2 1/2 years of running. A year since this stupid idea occurred to me as I stood on the other side of the fence, cheering a friend home while having no idea what he had just endured. 6 months of training. 600km of pavement pounding.  Countless early mornings, blisters, aches and pains. And it is done. Not one metre past the line I stop running, sure and certain I will never run another step as long as I live…not even for chocolate cake. My new running friend and I shake hands, wish each other well, knowing we’ll likely never cross paths again. We shared 2km. 12 minutes. It might have been a lifetime.

I wander in a daze. I wonder in a daze. Water. Banana. Orange. More water. T-shirt. Medal. Gate. People, so many people. Vision grey at the edges. Knees weak. Muscles empty, so, so empty. Mind blank. Emotions raw and beyond control. I find my 12 year old, so proud of her dad. I hold her in the middle of the crowd, tears in my eyes and on my cheeks, knowing if I let go I will fall. I’m sure I must smell terrible and look worse, all salt-caked, sweat-dried, haggard and showing each of my years and more. But I hold on. And she holds me back.  I love this girl in this moment more than ever.

And then Sheri, and Mitch, and MK (who is the only sensible one…flatly refusing a congratulatory hug as only the rambunctious seven year old can!). A chair. A drink. My family an island in the sea of people. The sun shining. Voices chattering. Laughter. Stories. Triumph. Tragedy.

The Gold Coast Marathon.

It is done.

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PS: The next day when I arrive at the office, somebody holds the lift for me as I cross the carpark. I am forced out of sheer guilt to break into a jog to get there quickly and not delay them. It hurts my legs. But it also hurts to know I have already broken my promise never to run again.  Oh well, promise now meaningless…..I may as well run on.

PPS: So many people encouraged me in preparing for this day. In the grand scheme of all that is horrible in our world, it’s just a guy going for a run. But for me it was a big deal. Thanks to my family and friends. To Tracey. To Steve. To Andrew. To Dugald. To Paul. To another Paul. To Matt. To Ben. To the GCAM14 organisers and brilliant volunteers. To strangers by the roadside.  Most of all to Sheri and our wonderful kids.  Thanks.

PPPS: You could too. If you wanted. I’ll do it with you (don’t tell Sheri I offered).

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the home run

So the end is nigh.  It’s 2 1/2 years since I first strapped on a pair of running shoes. It’s a year since I first ran a half-marathon distance, and  year since I first thought to myself “I wonder what it what would be like to run a marathon?”  It’s 5 months since I decided to actually find out and started training properly.

And it’s just now just five days until that ridiculous question is answered as I trudge power my way through the Gold Coast Marathon.

The training is done. The shoes are worn in. The eating plan for Friday and Saturday’s carb-loading is ready. The taper is well underway. Accommodation is booked. Race pack retrieved.

And now every moment of every day it’s all I think about.  Mostly those thoughts are “why?” and “this cannot end well” and “this is going to hurt”.

But occasionally there’s anticipation mixed in as well, moments I’m really looking forward to:

The energy in the field in the moments before the starter’s gun fires. Crossing the Nerang river for the first time. Running past Cavill Mall. Seeing my family at Nobby Beach and friends along the way. Turning around at Burleigh Heads to head back north again. The half-way point.  The last kilometre through swollen and noisy crowds….and so on.  I’ve played these moments a thousand times in my mind, looking forward to each of them.

I’m pretty much blocking out everything that might happen between 30k and 41k. I think that’s just going to be a world of hurt, so why bother anticipating it? 😉

There are lots of unknowns of course. Have I trained sufficiently? Have I designed my training program effectively? Will my dodgy knee last the distance? Will I get the anti-chafe stuff in all the right spots? Will I get super bored in four hours of running? Will I hit my A, B or C target times? Will I even finish?

So many unknowns.

And it occurs to me that’s pretty much how life is any time we try something new – whether it be running, starting a new job, living in a new city, becoming a parent, proposing marriage (still the most nerve wracked moment of my life….even though I was fairly confident of the answer!).

What’s your new thing? What are you preparing for that you’ve never before tackled?

We can read, we can talk to those who’ve gone before, we can surf the net and watch hours of youtube videos.  We can even train and practice, experimenting and simulating.  We can examine every possible outcome, ponder the good and the bad, mentally rehearse, get the right gear, eat the right food….and so on….ad nauseum.

We can be totally prepared.

But ultimately there comes the moment when we have to get out of bed, eat a banana, strap up the laces and run out the door.

That’s ultimately what I think I’m looking forward too the most. Standing at on the start line at 7am next Sunday morning, knowing that everything is done. Knowing that everything I can control is now controlled to the best of my ability.  Knowing that the outcomes are still unknowable. Knowing that all there is left to do is run.

And knowing that all I can do from that moment onward is deal with whatever comes my way, trusting that the preparation will give me all the tools to respond.

So here I am.

On the home run.

Thanks for reading these last few reflections about this adventure that lies ahead.  If I’m not in hospital I’ll let you know how it all turns out!

the value of training

This week I finally admitted it out loud:  I’m sick of training to run a marathon.

I woke up Thursday morning, alarm set early to head out for a mid-week run, and just did not want to go.  It wasn’t the consequence of a late night the previous evening, or too many days of running in the week, just the cumulative effect of weeks and months of running to try and get my middle-aged body in decent enough shape to run 42km.

This day, I was over it all.  I just wanted the race weekend to be here, and to be over, so that I can go back to bed. So that I can choose to run if I feel like it, instead of running to a schedule.

But, my schedule said run, and the last thing I’m going to do is let the months of training slide because of slackness in the last few weeks…so I dragged myself out the door and onto the pavement.

And I felt rotten the whole morning. I felt every twinge, every ache, every step. And I ran slow, and not very far.  There’s no question that state-of-mind has an impact on performance!

The next day I ran into a PE teacher/sports-trainer friend and was telling him my sob story. He said “You know Scott, those training miles, the ones that you do even when you most want to be at home in bed, they’re the most valuable training miles you will ever run”.

I didn’t believe him at the time, but with a week to ponder, I think maybe he’s right.  The moments when we somehow manage to talk ourselves into what we know is the right thing, even when we’d rather be elsewhere…those moments are important.  Maybe it’s the minutes I choose to spend reading night-time stories to the six-year old instead of snoozing on the couch. Maybe it’s the yard work, or time invested with the family, or volunteering at my community group….whatever the category, it’s the times we go when we’re just not motivated that really matter.

Anyway, a couple of days later I was scheduled for my longest run yet – 32km.  I think you can guess how much I wasn’t looking forward to that experience!  My previous longest at a little over 28km hadn’t ended well, with a little walking mixed in the last couple of km to nurse home some injured legs. That memory, together with the general funk about the whole project meant I was dreading that alarm bell.

What a surprise then, and a blessed relief, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the whole run.  Pace was good (still probably a little too fast for training…but such is life), the few aches and pains that popped up along the way disappeared as I plodded along, and to top it all off, the river was shrouded in fog to lend an ethereal quality to the early miles, before the sun came out to cheer me home. It was perhaps the best “long” run I’ve had, and definitely the best in weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I was spent by the time I got home, and nursing a couple of pretty painful knees – but way better than my previous long run, and way better than I expected as I headed out the door that morning.

And with my 32.7k including quite a few hills (where the Gold Coast race is almost totally flat), the whole experience gave me a much needed shot of confidence that 42km is going to be achievable.

Not easy. And not pain-free. But achievable.

I guess that’s the value of the hours and hours of training. Even when it doesn’t feel like it to me, it’s been building and conditioning the muscles to do what they could not have done before. To churn out km after km on one Sunday in July, hopefully going the distance and enjoying the journey.

On this second-last long training run, I think my brain finally caught up with my body.  Everything feels like it’s nearly ready. The training is working.  There are a couple of weeks of solid running left, one more long run (35km) and then it’s into the blessed relief of the taper and pre-race rest.

I got to wondering (as I do) about parallels.  About other areas in life in which long hours of preparation, weeks and months and years of training quietly sneak up on you, preparing you for some new experience.

Maybe it’s education and formal training. Maybe it’s on-the-job learning. Maybe it’s hours of training sessions at a sport or hobby.  Maybe it’s years of practice as a first-time parent helping to prepare you for each new stage of a child’s life.

I don’t know what the answer is for you, or even necessarily for me.

I only know that training matters.  It prepares us, equips us, enables us.

Even when it’s not fun.

Training Since Last Blog

24/5  –  20km @ 5.35 p/km

27/5 – 10.4km @ 5.36 p/km

29/5 – 10.2km @ 5.33 p/km

1/6   –  32.7km @ 5.41 p/km

4/6  – Ride 40km

Details at strava

some days are hard

strava screenshotSome days take you by surprise.

As training for the marathon ramps up, and the impact on my legs bites hard with the higher workload, I’m discovering that not every day is a “feel good” kind of day.

On Friday morning I hit the road with my brother for an early morning bike ride.  A bit of cross training is helpful and bike riding is my cross-training weapon of choice.

We went for a not-too-hilly route of around 30km with time limiting our options (and that time was limited even further when it took us 15 minutes for us to decide that yes, we could indeed ride in the rain!).

It was our first ride together for a while and I was excited to get out and about…but that quickly turned to frustration as I discovered a pair of legs that just wouldn’t do what they normally can.  An average speed nearly 15% lower than normal on a fairly short ride told the story.

It seems to me, that can be just as true in other aspects of our lives as well.  Some days things just don’t go according to plan.

We head out the door feeling fine only to run into a day that just doesn’t work. Words don’t flow, jobs don’t turn out right, the kids are even more off-the-wall than normal.

Some days are hard.

The next morning I had a longish run scheduled, but definitely didn’t feel like going running. It was early, cold and dark and that memory of dead-leg day was fresh in my mind.  I lay in bed for quite a while in the pre-dawn, arguing with myself.

I knew I’d beat myself up all day if I didn’t go, so dragged myself off the pillow and staggered off down the street.

It didn’t start much better than the day before, but over the first km or two, things loosened up and I started to find my rhythm again.

By the end of the run I was cruising, enjoying the crisp early morning air, saying g’day to the other early morning runners and cyclists, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  I can’t put a finger on what had changed, but the difference was stark. I even had enough energy for a little hard push at the 15k mark to see what speed I had in the legs.

Some days are great.

It got me to thinking that sometimes, even as we get moving in the morning and head out the door, we can’t know what the day holds.  The key for me, I think, is to breath deeply, lean into God, and stagger forth into the day, determined to deal with whatever comes my way.

Training this week:

Riding: 28km @ 23.2km/h, 362m climbed

Running: 18.1km @ 5.34 p/km, 105m climbed (a shorter “long run” after 4 weeks of 20k+)

Running: 8.0km @ 5.16 p/km, 77m climbed

Riding: 39.5km @ 27.5km/h, 257m climbed

Running: 10.1km @ 5.22 p/km, 88m climbed

The Week Ahead:

Aiming for 22-24k long run this Saturday, normal mid-week 8-10k runs, and hopefully a 40-50k ride Monday.  End of next week I’m in Cairns for work for a couple of days so might pack the shoes for some tropical warmth!

Looking forward to cheering from the sidelines as Sheri, Riley and a whole bunch of friends and family members run and walk the Mother’s Day Classic this Sunday.

The Preparation:

This week I’ve been thinking about food. What to eat before I run, what to carry with me (in the form of energy gels) to avoid going into shutdown due to lack of energy.  I’m going to start using the same brand that the Gold Coast Marathon provide…just to make sure they taste ok (well, as ok as energy gels can taste).

Body is in good shape. No trouble with feet, shins, or the eternally dodgy left knee.  So, so tired…but otherwise good.  The only real training questions are whether (a) my training plan has enough mileage in it; and (b) I can keep the feet and legs in good shape.

T-8 weeks!

you are a machine!

Recently I was in Canberra for work, staying with a friend in the foothills of Mt Taylor, to the city’s south.

With my battle against middle age continuing, I packed the running shoes, intending to get out for an early morning run before each day’s conference gathering got under-way.

My host advised a left turn from his driveway and then head up towards Mt Taylor to pick up a flat walking trail that runs all the way around the bottom of the mountain with quiet countryside and spectacular views – and a distance of around 5k or so.  Perfect.

So I headed out, turned left into the park and started up the 2-300m straight uphill section (flat!) to the walking trail.  As I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, a young bloke came around the corner at the top and headed down the trail toward me.

As we passed, him strolling downhill, me doing a good impression of a man about to have a heart attack, he spoke to me:

“Great work! You are a machine!”

I puffed my way up, and he was gone.  Never seen him before, unlikely to ever see him again.

Those words were powerful, just as I felt like slowing to a walk I found a little extra energy to complete the last of the climb to the trail.

A machine!

Now honest truth be told, I would have looked anything but.  Hunched over, almost shuffling, breathing hard, mismatched running cclothes, ill-fitting old cap.

Some machine….

But, days later, I still feel a little burst of energy when I think of his words.

They cost him nothing to utter. Just a couple of words to a complete stranger.

Such is the power of encouragement.

Further on in the run I nodded hello to a couple of retired blokes out walking their dogs. Later as I looped around the mountain I came upon them again, this time a more friendly greeting exchanged between us all.

Day two and and I ran Mt Taylor once more. How could I not? I was a machine!

Of course I saw those two same gents and their pair of pooches, out for their morning walk, and the greeting was once again a little more friendly as I continued on my way.

And then one final time as I neared my last stretch, almost out on my feet with the hills in my legs (flat!), I ran into that same pair, chatting animatedly, walking their dogs.  They looked up, saw me coming and one spoke aloud to his friend, and to me:

“Aha, we know this guy, he’s the runner! Keep it up, you are doing awesome!”

I returned the greeting, we chatted momentarily as I passed, and that was that.

From somewhere came the energy to finish out that run, standing just a little taller, striding out just a little longer.

Words are free.

But they are also priceless.

Of course just as easily words can hurt and drag down, but on this occasion, these occasions, two different people offered freely the gift of encouragement to a stranger. Words not deserved, or earned, and with nothing to be earned in return by the giver…..but given anyway, given generously.

And not only did I run a little longer and better as a result, but resolved to pass on words of encouragement wherever I can, to friend or stranger.

Encouragement might just be the gift that keeps on giving.

And it’s free.

Get better than that.