Ticking Off the Marathon Box
NOW, WITH BETTER PHOTOS, COURTESY OF MOHAN, RUNNER/PHOTOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE!
(To ‘tick off’ something in Australia is to check it off, as in a list. It does not mean that you have just really angered someone/something, such as a marathon box, whatever that would be.)
We drove to Apollo Bay on Saturday afternoon, and stayed off our feet as much as we could. We had a pasta dinner at La Bimba’s, and went to bed early to rest up for the big day.
Sunday morning, we got on a 6am bus from Apollo Bay to Lorne for the start of the Great Ocean Road Marathon. The race starts at the Lorne Hotel and finishes 45km down (and up – it’s a hilly course) the road at the Apollo Bay Hotel. The buses are the last vehicles to pass on the two-lane road before it is closed for the majority of the race (only later in the race do they open one lane for traffic).
Here’s an elevation profile of the race:
(No, we did not know this before we registered for the marathon. We drove the course the weekend after we registered.)
The light rain that had been falling at 6am in Apollo Bay receded for lovely sunrise in Lorne, and a dry, mild (low-mid 50s/10-15C), partly cloudy/partly sunny 8am start of the race. There were about 500 runners for the full distance (about three times that many for the half-marathon, starting halfway down the course at the same time), including stars from Kenya, a big fun group from Singapore, and a Scotsman racing in a kilt. Relatively speaking, this is a ‘small’ race, evidenced moreso by the fact that there was no definitive start line — just a large mass of runners behind a certain point when the gun went off.
We started together, but it didn’t take long for M to take off with the crowd and C to plug along at her own pace. Fortunately, C found herself among a good number of the cheery group from Singapore, all having the time of their lives, joking, laughing, snapping photos (while running), and meeting everyone along the way. She ran briefly with a woman from Melbourne, also ticking a marathon off her bucket list, and then ran nearly the entire first half of the race with a woman from Brisbane, whose sister was the first Australian woman to run a marathon on all seven continents! It was great to have a running companion to chat with as the course wound its way among the hills. At M’s speed, there was less chatting and photo-snapping, but he had his iPod for company and good distraction from, well, the fact that he was running 45kms.
There were a total of 8 aid stations along the 45km course, offering bottled water, Gatorade, gummy lollies (candy), and Vasoline (thankfully not needed). They were set up at approximately every 5kms, which was a great way to keep track of the course distance and the distance remaining. For C, the distance between 30km and 35km felt like the longest 5km ever, and both of us felt like those last 5kms (2-ish to the marathon finish, and then 3-ish to the official finish) would just never end. At the aid station at 40km, one of the women there said to M as he passed, “Well, don’t you have a nice relaxed running pace!” to which M did his very best not to reply with bitter nastiness, having just run 40km. There’s a reason for that “nice relaxed pace”, and it’s called pain.
The weather stayed quite pleasant, with only a few light showers, some good stretches of sunshine and rainbows, and only a few spots of moderate headwind (on the downhills!). The hills didn’t seem nearly as daunting as they looked from the car, and the views were spectacular.
Times are clocked at the official marathon distance of 42.1km, and again at the official race finish at 45km. Unfortunately, as the road passes through largely undeveloped areas, the marathon finish was no more than a small tent with an official and a clock showing the time as you passed over the sensor pads; no cheering throngs, only the occasional honking car and cheers from drivers passing on the right. There were 3 more l-o-n-g kms before the finish line, but the crowds there were a great motivator to pick up those legs as quick as you could possibly muster after 42kms and run your way through the finish chute. It was fantastic to finish!
Our goals as first-time marathoners were primarily just to cross the finish line(s). M had a rough time goal of coming in under 4 hours, and C had a rough goal of coming in under 5:30 (or 6:30 — the official cutoff time, whichever best suited her current state). We are pleased to report our final times:
M: marathon in 3:35 & ultramarathon 45km in 3:57
C: marathon in 5:17 & ultramarathon 45km in 5:41
(official results can be found here)
This was on M’s list, but C tagged along and can now add it, and then tick it off her list too. We trained for 14 weeks, from just about the time C arrived in Geelong, and it gave a solid structure to our lives (it’s comparable to a part-time job). For those of you interested in trying for your first marathon, we heartily recommend Hal Higdon‘s Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide. This book was our training bible, providing our training schedule and so many bits of wisdom. We were frequently quoting the book to each other: “Hal says…” We also came to refer to the author as “Happy Hal” as he makes marathons seem eminently do-able, and just plain fun! (As a point of contrast, the other marathon training book we have is referred to as “the running Nazi” and it makes us feel weak and small and not worthy of running a marathon. To quote, on the topic of planned walk intervals, “This planned walk approach is appealing to runners that don’t or won’t put in the necessary time to rain properly. So if you want to take it easy for whatever reason, go ahead — walk-run the marathon. But don’t brag to people that you ran the marathon… To do that, you’ll need to race the marathon on the run.”)
Through shin splints and achey knees, we plugged through Hal’s training schedule, made it to the start line (the hardest part, Hal says), and the finish line, and it was, just like Hal said, fantastic. While C will probably be happy to stick with half-marathons in the future (the achey knees were not her favorite part), she hasn’t eliminated the possibility of another marathon (Nike Women’s Marathon, anyone??), and M thrives on training for specific goals and wouldn’t mind tackling another marathon (3:10 to qualify for Boston!).
We will have some photos to post shortly (expecting many to be emailed from Mohan, one of the fantastic runners from Singapore, and also from our little disposable camera we brought to the start and threw in the gear bag to be trucked to the finish).
There was really, only one minor disappointment of the weekend, that perhaps only Sandy and Susan can fully appreciate: the Apollo Bay Hotel kitchen closes for lunch at 2pm, whether or not there are masses of hungry runners just outside their doors. There were no best-ever chips to be had post-race! : (