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.
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”