Now that several days have passed to digest and reflect, it’s a good moment to look back on potentially the most satisfying experience of my relatively short existence.
Having completed the past two Melbourne Marathons, the time was nigh for a fresh challenge.
What better way to mark the change than the rapidly growing Great Ocean Road Marathon, an event as much about the scenery as the running?
At 45 km (44.1 km as it would transpire, more on that later), this would also represent longest run to date.
Needless to say, a new personal best – having clocked three hours and forty minutes at Melbourne last year, even with the extra couple of kilometres, was the aim.
And then some, if we’re being honest, a sub-three hour effort was in mind, given that running had transformed from being limited event based training, into essentially a daily aspect of life over the past six months.
Any given week since New Year had the potential to comprise in excess of one hundred kilometres, with single workouts in excess of thirty kilometres an increasingly common theme.
Onto the event, with uncertain yet excited eyes abound, eleven hundred runners congregated under slightly overcast skies at the start line in Lorne at eight o’clock on Sunday morning.
A ten-minute delay kept everybody waiting, let’s just say when the belated countdown reached zero, it got hectic!
The notion of easing into proceedings lasted all of fifty metres, with my friend taking off a la The Road Runner – ostensibly keen on the parma and pint which awaited at our final destination, Apollo Bay.
Exerting myself a little more than anticipated so soon in recouping time lost amidst the scramble off the line, and in keeping up with the pace set by the eager one, the first five kilometres were about gaining one’s bearings of what lay ahead.
Learning which lines to adopt around each bend to reduce time smashing feet into concrete was the foremost concern, whilst a couple of early ascents had the body working hard.
This went quite smoothly, so came the time to make the first in a series of intended pushes forward if the targets were to be met.
From this moment, there would be no sighting until some time after reaching the finish.
By the ten kilometre mark, there was no doubting that my pace had intensified, and within the next two kilometres, I found myself ahead of the group I’d joined after making my first push.
The next nine kilometres were spent in complete solitude, the gap either side gradually expanding. At this stage, the feeling was as though the pace could be sustained for the duration.
Crossing the half-marathon checkpoint at Kennett’s River with a time of one hour and twenty-seven minutes held promising signs for meeting the three-hour target.
As it happened, this was as good as things would get.
Almost as soon as the drinks’ station which followed the landmark had passed, an unyielding rise single handedly ensured the lofty ambitions wouldn’t come to fruition.
It was a wake-up call, and what’s more, by the time of the eventual descent, I was dealing with a non-compliant right foot and knee.
With each step, it was as though the burning sensation in each were rising by a degree.
In the space of a single kilometre, the fundamentals of the run were now being conducted on an entirely different stratosphere.
The pendulum had swung from “can I do this thing in three hours, to, can I even finish?” in one relatively fell swoop.
A case of beholden to the right-leg.
One thing was certain, that if I was going to greet the finish line, the next twenty kilometres were not going to be pretty.
“Sugarloaf? Did somebody just say sugar, and loaf? A loaf of sugar, yes please!”, I pondered, as I passed, or more accurately, shuffled through the town bearing this name – boasting bed and breakfast options, the temptation was there to duck in for a brief nap and feed.
As one can see in the image below, all style and substance had gone wanting by this stage, coupled with the INSERT ANGRY WORD AND REPEAT TEN TIMES – 30km, marked on the road, translated – a third of the journey still lay ahead.
No sooner had the discomfort of the foot and knee subsided as I approached thirty-two kilometres, a large spasm ran up my calf and instantaneously I found myself almost falling over as I struggled to regain autonomy over my lower extremities.
Thankfully the cramp was an isolated incident – for now, there would be several more of these hand grenades as the finish line drew nearer!
Free at last of the leg ailments which had hobbled my charge for the best part of fifteen kilometres, light appeared to be at the end of the tunnel.
Then came Skene’s Creek, a chapter of the event best epitomised by three adjectives in no particular order
Linear. Plains. Tarmac.
The less said the better, clearing this phase alone felt like a victory in itself.
With Apollo Bay on the horizon, hopes were rising.
Followed by another calf cramp just to keep everything real.
The next five kilometres seemed to drag on for eternity, my mind entering a tunnel vision of sorts, with the sole intention of making it to that line, completely oblivious to surroundings.
Which became an impossible task as the crowds became denser, suddenly there was an external factor willing myself and those around me, to finish.
The checkpoint representing what I and ostensibly many others imagined was 42.2 kilometres, was reached – at three hours and eighteen-minutes, or so I thought.
Fittingly, as soon as the checkpoint was crossed, the dreaded calf cramp returned with a vengeance, this time determined to linger.
Eventually managing to shake that off, I was surprised to greet another checkpoint, barely several hundred metres following the last.
As it transpires – this was the 42.2 kilometre mark, the previous checkpoint representing 21.1 kilometres for the half-marathon – the checkpoints staggered just to throw everybody off guard.
The second line had been crossed – the conventional marathon distance, in three hours and twenty-two minutes, an eighteen minute improvement.
All of this was academic however, as there was still 2.8 kilometres to go. Or 1.9 as it was later revealed (event promoter IMG certainly did a good job keeping everybody guessing, with varied responses).
Regardless, the final graces went in a flash, the groundswell of support from the locals serving as an elixir of energy, to the point that some of the momentum of the first half of the race were rediscovered.
Never had there been so much relief to see a finish line, three hours and thirty-one minutes, containing as diverse, dare I say schizophrenic range of predicaments I’d known, was over.
Once that line is crossed, everything becomes a blur, everything is so raw, yet the mind appears numb, indifferent to what it has just been subjected to.
You ponder exactly how you made it here, even though you are too scrambled to dissect exactly what enabled it, but all that matters in that moment, is that you’re there. It’s over.
A photographer asks you to pose with your medal.
You oblige the photographer, naturally, assimilating what you believe to be a smile, but there is no central focus at this instant. You’ve entered auto-pilot, you’re lying by the beach with the sun shining, what just happened is the farthest thing in the mind.
And that feeling is part of the lure of the marathon, everything that goes on in between, it’s part of what makes it so special.
I’ll be back to do it all again, bring on Melbourne in October!