My First Marathon – The Finish

If this is the first time you have joined my story, you might want to start from Part One. Continuing on….

The race route took us back down St Kilda Road but in the opposite direction, retracing the steps I had so easily cantered down just an hour before, however now I was laboriously pushing one lumbering foot one after the other. I watched hopelessly as the 3hr 50 minute pacer passed me, my legs unable to heed the call to keep up. My body was yelling at me to stop, “Why are you continuing to run, aren’t my protestations loud enough for you?”, yet I ordered it to keep going.  

I’ve got to do this. I had to keep going.

This was my final battle cry and all I had left in me. The pain overwhelmed me every time my reluctant feet hit the hard cement. But perhaps if I could just focus on one thing…. the rhythm of my feet as it hit the ground. I will try to block off everything else.

My gaze narrowed to what was directly in front of me to help me I endure this endless torture. I cried out a more few times at the pain but it was in vain. Realising the futility of using my already spent energy in this way, I silently and stoically soldiered on.  

Being lost in my own myopic agony for so long, I had also failed to notice the scene of the race had changed. Emerging out from my zone, I looked around and noticed runners around me looked different. They were wearing different bibs, red ones. Mine was green. Red was for the half marathon, I was in the full one. They also seemed less tortured.

Had I accidentally missed a sign for my turn? Where was the rest of the group? At this point I started panicking. How do I get back into my race? How far behind am I now?

I looked around for anyone who could help but all I saw was just the mass of tired bobbing heads doggedly moving forward. I spotted a volunteer to the side and frantically pointed at my bib. Sensing my confusion, he yelled “Keep going!”

I now realised the organisers had merged both the half and full marathon race together and now we were all mixed in, running together towards the same finish line. So as instructed, I kept going. 

Further along, I saw paramedics attending to a runner who had collapsed by the side of the road. The distance. the heat and the exhaustion was overwhelming.

Just like in the Sydney Half Marathon, the route teases us with a glimpse of the MCG where the finish line located, but then takes us on a massive detour around the Royal Botanical Gardens away from the end.

I was now aware I was actually running a distance I’ve never pushed myself beyond. “Only 7kms to go!” I tried to say encouragingly to myself, while at the same time deliberately trying to ignore the pummeling of the other 35km I had just traversed.

In my delirium, I could see how, on any other day, the Royal Botanical Gardens would be a incredibly beautify place for a leisurely jog. Today, however it was the bloodied battlefield between my ragged legs and the elusive finish line and my only weapon to get through this was my dogged determination. Faltering runners around me stopped to walk, zombies plodding ahead, while others continued to be propelled forward by some ungodly force found somehow beyond the bottom of their empty energy barrel.

“Keep Running, Justin!” A volunteer shouted in encouragement. Confused as to how they knew me, I realised my name was also on my bib. It was a nice touch. “Keep Running!” I screamed back in my delirium, “Do not give up!”, “Do not give up!” I echoed. These fighting words were all I have now, as I counted down each kilometer to go at a time. 

As we ran past Federation Square, the cheers of supporters growing louder in intensity, anticipating the finish to come. The excitement seemed to inject some final bursts of unknown power into runners around me, a feat I was unable to replicate, while others took to walking, unable to take no more. I kept my pace, it was all I could muster now. Into the final kilometer, as the route turned towards the MCG, louder and louder the cheers grew, the excitement was palpable.

A surreal mix of euphoria coupled with complete exhaustion continued to propelled me forward. My finishing time was no longer important, I just needed to get to the end. My dazed eyes scanned for the finish line. Where does this end? I could not find it. All I could see was we were all heading …. oh, we were all actually running into the MCG. 

The stadium opened up before us. Roaring crowds lined the seats, a booming voice over the loudspeakers announcing our entrance. It was glorious!

The final lap was in the stadium itself. The finishing arches were visible up ahead. “C’mon!” A fellow runner yelled in encouragement, “C’mon! Let’s do it!”, I yelled back. Fatigue, pain, and exhaustion had all left me in that moment. 

I crossed the line.

Time stood still as I ran through those arches. The accumulation of all my sweat, tears and blood. I had completed a marathon in Melbourne.

Final Thoughts

My official recorded time was 3:55:49. Seeing the result had surprised even myself. Despite being in deathly crying pain the further I ran, it seemed my body had still maintained a very decent pace and never relented even up to the end.

Unfortunately, due to the challenges of COVID-19, the Melbourne marathon will not take place this year (a virtual online event is being held instead). However, hopefully this will be the first of many more running challenges I undertake in the future and who knows where I will be running to next.

When I achieved my first goal of running a half marathon in under two hours, I never imagined I would be able to do the same with twice the distance. Being my first marathon as well, it is amazing what we can achieve with determination, focus and a clear objective. This was something I knew, I’d be able to take with me in all aspects of life. Without sounding too clique, but whenever I find myself challenged or in a place of self doubt, I always am reminded of my first marathon. Nothing quite compares to that experience. 

I’m also honored to know that on the same weekend, Eluid Kipoge broke the what is known as the impossible barrier, a sub 2-hr marathon, a task no human was supposed to accomplish. I am re inspired on what consistent effort coupled with persistent diligent can achieve when you have a goal in sight and focused energy to reach it.

In Kipoge’s own words “No human is limited”

My First Marathon – Part Four

The Race

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.

My First Marathon – Part One


It has been a very long time since I have posted anything here. No good excuses really. I just haven’t. 

But since there also aren’t any actual readers here, its all good. The force is still in balance.

Last year, I wrote in my own personal journal about running my first marathon. It was a remarkable experience for me, so I wanted to document my journey. Then I thought, hey, this could be something nice to put on my blog. Soon, it became really long and was also just some badly written ramblings on a page. So, I did the only sensible thing in this situation, procrastinate. Finally, after some of cleaning up, I decided it might work better as a series of blog posts. 

So here’s goes. Hope you (my non existent reader) like it!

The Beginning

I still remember when it all began. I was running late. Like really late. Our meeting was all the way across campus. There was only one way make it. Panting and wheezing on what was actually a very short sprint, I realised, ok, all those burgers had taken a worrying toll on me. I was really unfit. 

Ever since then, I took up running, first as ‘eye of the tiger’ moment, but as I enjoyed it more, it became my go to for my relaxation. There was no better way to live than going for some fresh air, exploring my surroundings while breaking a sweat. 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to run the SMH Half Marathon. On my first attempt, I finished in 2hrs and 1 minute. Next year, I thought, I’m gonna really put in effort and finish under 2 hours. 

The next year my time was 2:05. Not quite what I had hoped for, but I also hadn’t ‘put in the effort’ I rationalised. Then the next year after that my time was 2:10. Alarmed with my gradual decline, I resolved it was the moment for some of that ‘eye of the tiger’ again. I’m really gonna get this 2 hour mark next time. For the first time, I had a goal and I wanted to meet it. 

As the race approached, I started my training with regular runs, mostly after work, gradually increasing my distance while maintaining or increasing my pace. However, it wasn’t always easy to squeeze in the time to keep my routine up. Then I had an idea: why don’t I simply run home from work. Two birds: I’d get my training in and I will arrive home. At first this seemed a bit cray cray, I didn’t exactly live close by and my normal train commute would take around an hour door to door. But what did I have to lose? After mapping out a route and leaving all my belongings at the office, I braced myself and took to the streets. 

My first attempt was hard, hobbling through the dark, I was exhausted, spent, yet it also felt fantastic when I wobbled through the door at home through the pain all on my own two legs. It felt like a momentous achievement, if I could do that, what couldn’t I do? Yet despite the distance, I was still pretty slow. I knew, if I was going to make sub 2hrs, I really needed to up my training and push myself even harder. Over the next few weeks, I continued to run home once a week, pushing as fast as I could and I could see my time slightly improving with every run. I mixed in some interval runs to increase my power and I felt confident that if I could keep this momentum up, I may just reach my goal this year. 

On race day, with my stomach full of guilt free carbs, I was ready. Huddled at the start line, with my running friend Harshi, we took in the buzzing energy of our fellow runners. The gun went off and so were we. As I heard our feet rhythmically hitting the asphalt disrupting the morning dew, I felt it was such a joy and privilege to be there. The cold air, however, was not kind to my asthmatic lungs, unaccustomed to such an early start, I had to take a few extra squeezes of my puffer as we twisted round the corner towards the Rocks. Around 5kms in, on the overpass towards Pyrmont, with the splendid view of sunlit Darling Harbour glittering to my right, I felt I had finally found my rhythm. 

I knew the route well, the same every year, but this time it was also different, I pushed myself unrelentingly through every corner, incline and step with a fierce vigor towards my goal. As we climbed the hill past the observatory, the slope was the source of my exhaustion and pain. Yet somehow, this also fueled my fire further. In a cruel joke only the organisers could find amusing, as the end approaches and you are wanting nothing more but for it all to be over, the route directs you past the finish line, with its cheering crowds and all, but does not let you cross it. It then redirects you to do a full lap of the Royal Botanical Gardens before letting you circle back. The last few kilometers were just hell. When I finally reached the finish line in an exhausted bliss, I looked at my time: 1 hr 53 minutes. I had beaten my goal by an entire 7 minutes! I was stoked.

After munching on some free fruit that was offered for recovery, a thought welled up. If I could do this, what else could I achieve. Whats next, I thought? “It’s time you did a full marathon”, Harshi, said to me as we stretched out our beaten legs on the grass. I had just been thinking the same thing… 

In the following months, the warmth of Autumn slowly faded along with exuberance of my half marathon achievement. The chilly weather provided me the perfect cover to lazily rug up under my safe blankets and ignore the cruel pavement. My wife had a spare flight ticket we needed to use. Having once romanticised about the idea of a destination marathon, I considered how awesome it would be to see a city and run a marathon while doing so, like some sort of masochistic tourist. I googled upcoming marathons around the country and they were all too soon or far into the future. I found one in Hobart sponsored by Cadbury and wondered what sort of disconcerting relationship they must have in place. The next one I found was in Melbourne, who would be hosting their marathon in October, perfect.

With my tickets booked, Melbourne, here I come. 

I will try and get theses posts up every few weeks, so stay tuned for the rest!