I was hit with the majestic realisation that I was finally running my first marathon.
After months of hard training, my moment had come as I joined shoulder to shoulder with fellow runners, a massive wave of bobbing heads and heaving bodies, our feet together unsettling the cool morning dew, spilling into the empty Melbourne streets behind the shadows of the rising sun. It was incredibly inspiring to know, despite being from all walks of life, men and women, young and old, we had all been dedicatedly training our minds and bodies for this very moment.
As we came down St Kilda Rd, I noticed a few portaloos had been setup along the way. A few anxious runners who, like me, had missed out on getting to the toilet before the race began, tried to get in but realised the organisers hadn’t yet unlocked them. Unabashedly, they then proceeded to relieve themselves by the road side. I wasn’t prepared to commit such an indignity to such a beautiful city, so I continued to hold on.
I remembered the advice to hold back in the beginning, so I kept my cadence at an easy pace. However, it was not long before I found myself passing the 4 hour pacer as we were coming out of the MCG. After 10 km, as we rounded the corner into Albert park, I soon caught up with the 3h 50min pacer, who was a marathoning veteran in his 50s. Although I didn’t feel I was overexerting myself, when I checked my pace I was surprised to find it was 5:06, which was pretty fast for me. I figured any headway I make now would only payoff towards the end when I would be tired and slow, so I continued to cruise along at this pace while enjoying the sight of ducks waddling in the lake along the route. After finally catching sight of a public restroom, I took my chance and went for it. By the time I managed to rejoin the race, I had lost sight of the pacer and had some catching up to do. I also started feeling a mild pinching sensation arising at the back my left calf. Cautious that the discomfort could progress into a bigger problem as the race progressed, I tried to apply some plaster on it. Unfortunately it seemed to make it even worse, so I had to quickly remove it again and continued on with the race.
Exiting the park and coming down St Kilda Road towards Port Melbourne, I still at a comfortable pace, it felt amazing taking in the view of the road lined on both sides with the encouragement of cheering crowds spurring us forward. The scent of the sea was in the air as we rounded the corner to Beaconsfield Parade along the shoreline. Running beside me was also the Incredible Hulk. I don’t mean a metaphorically beefy guy or even someone wearing a Hulk T-shirt, but here was actually a man who was dressed from head to toe in a neon green novelty Hulk suit, complete with fake green muscles, face mask, Hulk feet and everything. Now normally this would seem quite amusing, but he also happened to be blazing fast (well, I guess he’s the Hulk after all), it really was quite impressive given how hot it must be under the weight of his costume. Everywhere we’d go,I’d hear calls of “Go Hulk!!!” from the crowd.
At 16kms in, I soon caught up with the 3h 50m pacer again and after staying with him a little, I picked up my pace a little and continued to pass them. Beaconsfield Parade seemed to go on forever, a never ending, completely straight and flat stretch. When I finally thought we come to the the end, we merely turned around to go back the other way. Normally at the 20km mark in my training, I’d start feeling tired and slow, but here I now felt I was truly and comfortably in my element. It felt like the time to hold back was over and I should really start pushing myself. Donning my headphones, downing a energy gel and and taking a gulp of water at the next drink station, I was ready to go. I blasted off, blazing past other runners, leaving them in my dust. It felt incredible to be finally running free!
My new found enthusiasm, unfortunately, did not quite last as long as I had imagined. After gaining on other runners for a few more kilometres, like a leaking balloon, I slowly found my energy slowly being sapped away under the weight of the beating sun, now high overhead, while the dull aches and pains in my legs also started to call out louder for my attention. By kilometer 28, the tables had really started to turn, as runners I had gleefully zoomed passed before were now easily overtaking me again and I was really beginning to struggle, regretting the surge I had performed earlier. The Hulk had long left me in the dust and I was growing ever more frustrated I could not muster the energy to keep up as I helplessly let others pass me left and right. The only redeeming thing I could do now, was to try to ignore the ever louder screams of pain in my legs and just to keep going. At kilometer 30, any trace of that feeling you get that running is so much fun had completely disappeared. The pinching sensation that was in left calf I had felt earlier in the race was barely even noticeable compared to crashing crescendo of pulsating pain tearing through my whole body as I continued to lift one foot after another.
It was now a question of whether I could survive through this.