This one is unique as we have purposely built the business around everyone else being the hero of our story. However, I got out of the coach seat and into the vulnerable position of competitor recently and thought I’d share my experience, my first marathon.
Holy moly… 42.195kms its taken me three weeks to write about it but I’m still amazed that we did it. A good friend and long-term client Damian Brunow signed up for his first marathon about five months ago now and convinced another friend Kath Shaw to sign up to her first half marathon. Over a beer after an obstacle course race, he told me, and something inside me was scared, almost calling me out, the choice was simple then, I had to do it. Something is exhilarating and scary and humbling all at the same time about stepping up to any start line but particularly one you haven’t ever stepped up to before. You know that feeling when you have butterflies in your stomach, your not too sure how you’ll go and what the next part of your life (immediate, short or long term is going to be like) but that’s when you know you’re alive, and anytime you go through anything worthwhile it starts that way. There is also a level of vulnerability that comes along with being in the fitness game and then putting yourself up for a challenge that you don’t know if you’re up to or not. Our whole vision for Your Fit was for people to be able to climb their mountain whether that be a body goal, a physical challenge or one that keeps being redefined such as Kath’s or Damo’s. The authenticity and enjoyment that comes from that process is the very reason I felt I had to do it and the reason why the experience as difficult as it was, was so special.
12 weeks of 3-4 runs per week, ranging in distances from 5km through to the longest 36.5km run. It was pretty gruelling, and at times I wished I wasn’t a person of my word and I could back out. I remember running 24km on some ridiculously warm Brisbane September day and thinking to myself “all I have to do is sprain my ankle and I would have to pull out”, but that didn’t happen. No excuse early days presented itself, so on we went, we just kept running. As the long runs started to become more routine, and I started to enjoy the time away from the studio and my desk, I loved the freedom of the run!
The handbrake. With nearly 250kms behind us in our preparation and having run up to 26km at a time, I hit a snag, shin splints. https://www.health.com/fitness/shin-splint-video. What it meant was I couldn’t go fast, at about the 5-minute km pace I was able to manage the pain bit run any quicker, and I couldn’t maintain it. It sucked and wasn’t fun, but it meant that any illusions of grandeur I may have had about chasing down a finishing time went out the window and I certainly wasn’t going to pull out now. Turning my back on the promise I’d made Damian and Kath and all those km’s we’d done to that point wasn’t an option. So we figured out a plan with my physio Charlie Cordery, a lovely young bloke who I saw weekly in the final month of the prep. I used compression socks (which worked to reduce the calf tightness), and with a reduced running load replaced by rowing, we were confident I would get through. That meant the longest two runs prior (32 and 36.5 km) were still in front of me.
That 36.5km run two weeks before the marathon, OMG, it nearly killed me. Due to working mornings and evenings, the only time I have to run is in the middle of the day and Friday was the day I had organised in the calendar for the long runs. This particular Friday was HOT! Nearly 30 degrees and I started at 11 am, not my brightest moment but goodness me I hit several walls along the way, sore calves, shin splints, windy, hot, all the excuses in the world I kept going over in my head to stop. But when I got to the 30km mark something happened, I just started balling, I was thinking about my wife and daughters and started crying. Now, I’m an emotional guy at the best of times, but this was different, I couldn’t control it, sounds weird but I’ve only ever experienced that one time before and that was at the peak of Kilimanjaro, this sense of being somewhere else. It was almost spiritual (OMG I sound like one of those guys now aren’t I). I was accessing a part of my mind I hadn’t before. More in-depth than the noise in my head, I discovered an inner resolve to keep going. The emotion was behind me now, not a hurdle in front of me. I heard the negative thoughts but no longer listened to them; they were passing me by, like cars on a highway.
I’ve done a lot of reading and professional development throughout the year and a book suggested was Dr Russ Harris’ the Happiness Trap https://thehappinesstrap.com/free-resources/. In the book, Russ describes the concept of self, a difficult concept to explain. Still, the book describes it a lot better than I. The first self, being the thinking self or mind, a constant state of thought, analysing, worrying, catastrophising but surviving! Something essential for us to have evolved as it prevents us from getting eaten by that Sabertooth. The second is the observing self the sort of headspace you create by observing the thoughts and feelings without engaging with them; it’s almost like at the 30km mark, the observing-self now running. I’m still here, you’re good and Amy, Elsie and Grace are with you too. Those of you that have tried meditation before may be able to empathise; it’s that meditative state of calm almost looking at the thoughts/ feelings. Anyway, it was an unforgettable experience I only wish it took me fewer km’s to get there! SO… to the driver of the station wagon that drove past me crossing the Hornibrook Bridge, I promise I’m ok, I’m just a guy that loves his wife and daughters that runs in 30-degree heat on a Friday arvo?!?!
That run was harder than the marathon, I was by myself in a world of hurt, and it would’ve been easy not to finish. Having finished that run gave me confidence that I could do the marathon. Little confession, I may have miscalculated my route that day, and the 36.5km landed me 4km away from where I parked, so I got a cab the extra 4 km to my car, no judgement here (right guys :))
Race day… 7000 people take off in front of the tennis centre in Melbourne, the morning was hot, nearly 28 by the time I finished. Damian, Kath and I were frantically trying to find each other and did just before the start gun. It meant we were well back in the pack and it took at least 3.5km to settle into a decent stride without having to run around people or apologise. The plan was pretty simple. Run 4 X 10km runs with walks through water stations at each of the 10km marks with additional stops if I felt they were needed. That’s what I did, walking through 7 stations in total but it was an angel supporter at the 38km mark that was my hero. As we ran through Yarra Park onto Flinders street, mentally, I was turning from struggle street onto desperation road. Now was officially the furthest I had ever run, I was slowing. As much as I had prepared mentally, there was still 4kms to go, so it wasn’t as if the finish line was right there. It was that real ‘glass half empty or full’ moment, and I was taking the more negative approach at that point. People were dropping like flies, from 30km on it’s like a war zone with paramedics tending to people falling all over the place, the heat wasn’t helping anyone, and there were a few peeps that were probably trying to wing it. Unfortunately, a marathon doesn’t let you get away with much! As we turned onto flinders this wonderful woman, a mum of one of the runners I’m sure; changed the game for me. She held out a half of a ‘zooper-dooper’, and I know the red bull tagline, but I’m telling you that frozen pink, fairy floss flavoured ice block gave me wings! Thank you Zooper Dooper Angel, Thank you! Interestingly I never got that same teary moment that I had in the lead-up run, something in that I think.
Anyway, I was back and better than ever, I was hustling everyone, high fiving, telling people they could do it. I had three gels left in my flip belt, so I started throwing them to people stopping with cramp, I was ON. The next 3.5kms are like a blur, then the final 700m was amazing! You circled the MCG and entered the ground through the players’ race. You could hear the crowd from outside the stadium, it was surreal, I love AFL, and I was now running onto the ground like I had watched all my idols do my whole life. In amongst the crowd was my mum, dad, brother, sister in law, best mate and eldest daughter (Amy’s was still in Brisbane). I flew past those in front of me and crossed the line with a shout out from Dad. It was an unbelievable feeling, I was shocked I had completed it, but once I stopped I nearly fell over, the euphoria quickly wore off and was replaced by pain in my shin…oh o!
The main question I get asked is, would you do it again? The question I ask myself is: If you did, would you do anything differently?
1. Run with your mates. We had a fantastic bond between the 3 of us, we text every long run and in between and were so invested in each others experience I wish I had arranged my calendar so I could have physically run with the guys more. It’s so much more enjoyable when it’s not just about you. I can’t thank Damo and Kath enough; I loved being a part of our team.
2. Include calf raises in my strength training program. Strong calves prevent shin splints, mine are weak, and then they were tight and then I had to manage them. I’ve never been a massive fan of the exercise, thinking it was a bit more vein than functional, preferring more squats or box jumps in their place. Having started the rehab on my shins now, I am forcing myself to fall in love with them, and they’re working!
3. Strength train more. My cardio was excellent; I could hold a conversation; my heart rate was fine. I didn’t have enough left in my legs; the shin splints hampered the experience. Including dune running, cycling into running and swimming as well as increased resistance training would be my self-advice next time around.
1. Get closer to the start line before you start. There are pacers with how fast they will complete the marathon in, get close to the mark you are trying for. Don’t hold that too tightly but make sure you’re not hampered by a start that doesn’t allow you to get into a stride.
2. Nutrition and fluid replacement is essential, one gel every 45 minutes and plenty of water to replace the sweat your losing, the pauses in the running at water stations are investments in your post 30km experience.
3. Nipple chafe is real, band-aid up, it wasn’t an issue in training, but my wife bought me a ‘good luck’ present in the form of a 2XU singlet, and I nearly lost my right booby.
4. People = energy, I love people! In her book, The Strength Switch (an excellent read for most parents https://www.leawaters.com/) Dr Lea Waters head of positive psychology school at Melbourne University, describes strengths as qualities that energise us when used. When I talk to people and find out what’s important to them, it gives me energy. My self-advice = run at a pace where I can chat to people at least for the first 30kms and then the final 12 work hard.
4. Don’t underestimate the war zone, just how hard 32-40km will be, every squat, every calf raise, every wall sit, every run, every ice bath in preparation is worth it, you won’t regret it.
I’d like to also acknowledge my wonderful wife, with two young kids and business together; it’s a fair ask to nick off for the amount of time required to run. There was nothing but support and love, and I wouldn’t have done it without her.
So would I do it again?
In a heartbeat, its been one of the best things I’ve done for my confidence in a long time, I loved it. It was hard and tough, one of the more rewarding personal experiences I have ever had. I snuck in under 4 hours, but I want to complete one pain-free and chase down 3:30, my brother has told me he is keen to do one so stay tuned (or switch off) might not be the last time you read about me running.
Thanks for reading