In the marathon wash up it all looks pretty clean

October 10, 2016

I’M WRITING this post from a laundromat in Paris and boy, do I feel useless. 

I'm pretty domesticated and I like to think I can handle a washing machine, but one with French instructions, well it’s all Greek to me. 

I feel pretty insignificant and sorry for myself as these locals look on, I'm sure thinking to themselves: “How pathetic is this fella?”

Anyway, the blog isn’t a tour of Europe’s laundromats (for those interested though I've got it working, the water’s flowing and the clothes are spinning. Just don't tell Carley I couldn't figure out how to buy the soap so I just hit the start button and took a seat before I embarrassed myself anymore).

Now I've got 36 minutes to figure out how to use the dryer and I've just counted my coins. €4.75.

My bet is it'll cost five and I'll be off to the corner store to buy something. Probably a pastry – operation weight gain is in full swing and I'm doing well.

Oh, how things can change in a week. 

Literally this time last week I'd just crossed the line in the Berlin Marathon. The race has played through my head a few times since and in this blog I'm just going to review it and let you know some of my thoughts on it.

It's more for the running die yards who like stats and more of a junking of events that happened in the race.

From the top; it is not my best work, it's more for me to look back on when I'm an old man to revisit the memories. So here goes. 

(Stop press!! I've just figured out how to buy the soap! You've gotta use the payment machine that was to get your numbered washing machine working but instead of selecting a numbered washing machine, you select the number 41 then the soap machine spits out some powder. Oh, well, too late.) 

Back to Berlin. 

Everything felt good in the days leading up and I found I was eating, sleeping and doing everything well. I got some bad news the week before from the organisers informing me that I'd been moved from the sub elite start line back to the A start zone as they enforced a sub 2.25 standard to be sub elite. 

This didn't worry me as I knew a 2.26 was nothing special in a main race such as Berlin and I was quite surprised they told me back in June that I'd be sub elite for the race. It did however annoy me that they went back on their word. 

Logistically it caused me a bit of mental stress which no one wants leading into a race. If I was sub elite I'd have a time and place to be before the race with the other elites and have our own tents, toilets and then they'd let you warm up and take you straight to the start line all with no fuss. 

Instead I had to do a bit of pushing to get to the start of my A zone, urinated on a tree (everyone was doing it!) and also had to think about how was I going to approach the first couple of kilometres.

The question was how far behind the elites would I be? Would I have to give the pack I wanted to be in a head start and then catch them straight away or would I work my way through the ruck and slowly close in on them?

Having a fast start to a marathon is not ideal and with my coach we agreed to be patient and not do anything crazy early. 

In the end it was all fine and not worth worrying about. I got into the A section and was about five people deep from the start line.

The leaders got a five second head start on me and, after all, this was the closest I'd get to Kenny Bekele, the greatest runner of all time.

The first 2.5km of the race was a long straight, split by a huge roundabout.

The elite men go through on the right side and the females on the left as this is the way they start on the road. I was running with a couple of blokes early and was keeping a good eye on the lead female pack on the other side of the road, which had another 10 males in their group straight away, signed up for the marathon ride with them.

It was quite a weird feeling as it was a massive eight-lane road running the same pace as them but being 40m on the parallel. I knew the first turn at 2.5k was a right hand one and they'd have to come over to my side of the road and when they did I tucked in at the back of the pack. 

By running with the lead females we had the lead female car in front of us which was kind of annoying.

I wanted to switch off and distract myself from the time but that was hard to do with car and a huge clock on its roof beaming the time out right in front of you. 

When it says 14 minutes you realise you've got a long time to be out running. 

During the early stages with the lead females (3-14km) everything felt so easy.

I knew the African male pacemakers for the females were doing a good time and it was all pretty even, I didn't have my watch on 1km splits but it felt like we were hovering around 3.17-3.20 pace.

I kept telling myself to use as little energy as possible through these early stages. Low arms, heel striking and using as little energy as possible were all running through my head. 

Through the first couple of the elite drink stations was absolute chaos. Being chucked back to the A section I didn't get to have my own drinks on course so through these stages I got myself to the opposite side of the road so nobody would take me out. I was so surprised with how disorganised the elite females were through them though. They missed more than they got and were all over the place.

You’d think for professionals this would be something they take extremely seriously.

It didn't seem to matter though if they missed one, they’d pass theirs around to each other which although unnecessary was a good sign of sportsmanship.

After about 15km, Kebede, the female who ended up winning, started talking Swahili and looking around to the other two females in the lead pack.

Pretty quickly after that she moved away. I could tell in the kilometres leading up to that that there were times where the pace felt a little too quick for that early in the race and I saw the clock at the 10km marker say 33.08 and already knew I was well ahead of where I wanted to be.

Looking back on the data from my watch there were some 3.10-13s in there which was too quick too early for me and when they continued to increase the pace I made the decision to stay with Dibaba, the second female, and her male pace maker.

Usually the lead females start out a bit slower and then increase the pace, so I was surprised at what I was seeing. 

Kebede got away from us, but not by that much.

I watched her group catch a male group running at 2.18-2.19 pace which made a massive group of around 20 runners with our groups of 10 about 10 seconds back. 

Through the next sections, and through to 23km, a few blokes started dropping off and our second group nearly got back onto Kebede's group.

I was 100 per cent happy as I found Dibaba and her pacemaker were still increasing the tempo, trying to get back onto Kebede.

I went through halfway in 69.31 and was happy with how I felt but was also concerned about what kind of damage that would do in the second half.

It was spot on 2.19.00 pace and although I felt good I was remembering what I was there for.

This wasn't an attempt at 2.19, although obviously I would have taken it, but it was more of a stepping stone race for me to get down to the low 2.20s, not blow to pieces and end up with another 2.26 and hate the marathon. 

At this stage I was running with fellow Australian Josh Harris and we had chat about how we were feeling.

We both felt okay and were smart in settling things down a bit and not worry about the lead females and racing them.

My thoughts at this stage were to play it safe.

I knew leading in if I could run each 5km in 16.40-16.55 I would be on for a good time. I just had to do that for three more and at that stage I was breaking the race up.

Something I didn’t expect at this stage, running in a field of 50,000, was the sense of loneliness.

I told Josh I wasn't going to run next to him as I wanted to get into my own rhythm and not feel like I had to match him.

This was good and we almost ran in sync, just with 20m between us for the next few kilometres.

Now I was starting to feel the faster earlier pace and I was getting deep into the mental game of the marathon. 

“Get to 30km”.

“Get to 35km”.

“Get to 40km”.

At this stage I was running mostly by myself – Josh was a bit in front and the second female was starting to drop off.

I could still see the lead car up the road and was probably expecting more blokes to drop off the front that I could then pick off. 

Being alone at this stage was actually great because I got the massive crowds lining the course to myself.

People were yelling and going crazy through a special BMW zone at 35km and at this stage I had my hat on backwards and felt like a rock star.

I knew my pace was slowing but I knew it wasn't dramatic and I had a massive amount of time up my sleeve already to still run a good time. 

It's a strange stage of the marathon. You are fatigued from the first 30km and are starting to fight but still know you've got quite a way to go. 

From 35-39km the wheels were really starting to fall off and I thought I was in big trouble.

It was a bit like Melbourne Marathon again and I wasn't sure I was going to make it.

My concentration was still there and I was thinking straight but I was feeling it in the legs.

They were getting heavy and I was struggling to feel a good flow, almost like I was unbalanced, and could fall over at any stage.

Some negative thoughts were going through my head and I was trying hard to remain positive.

I felt as if I was to push the pace I could have been a chance to end up in hospital as I was a bit wonky on my feet and really just tried to focus on running smoothly, even if it wasn't super fast.

I guess this is the difference in ways some people can push on and through that pain. Being able to switch off the mind and push through it when things are tough makes great runners and at that stage I didn't have it but wasn't letting it fall away.

Through 37km I had my last gel and knew that was it, there was nothing in my running short pockets to save me from then on.

I got to 40km and was happy to see it. It's almost a mental barrier when you hit 40km and know it's not long to go. When I saw the clock at 40km (2.14.12) I automatically just added 10 minutes to it and I knew if I dug deep I could run a 2.24 (Bendigo record) and that was really motivating me. 

I didn't know how many seconds the Bendigo record was so I was a bit worried that I might come really close and miss it. It sparked me in a way and made me dig deep.

At this stage I also felt I was moving a bit better and holding a quicker pace.

Things weren't as bad as they were a few kilometres back and everything seemed a bit more manageable.

It was like I’d floated a couple of kilometres and now was time to pick it up and finish it off. 

That; or the last gel I had was kicking in to save me a bit. 

I remember saying to myself it was just one end of the Campaspe bike track to the other. I spent a lot of time going up and down there over winter with the scenic washed out and at 39km I hit split on my watch (I was doing his each 5km leading up to this stage) and told myself I had 3 x 5 minutes left.

I would look down at the watch, get five minutes done and then do it again.

That way, somewhere in the third split, the race would be over.

Get them done was my mentality. It's amazing the tricks the mind brings in to push the body. 

The finish ended up rolling around pretty quickly in the end and I found myself suddenly full of running, it was completely different to how I finished at the Melbourne Marathon.

I fought right to the line whereas at Melbourne I couldn't muster up any strength.

I was focused on the clock and I knew if I finished strong I could manage a 2.21 something.

That came as quite a surprise as I really thought I was on for a 2.24 and it shows how the brain isn't quite working mathematically at 49km.

In marathons people don't tend to pay much attention to the seconds unless you're shooting for a qualifying time, so to run a 2.21.59 and say I was a 2.21 bloke was much better than running a 2.22.01 and being a 2.22 guy.

I crossed the line in what the clock said was 2.21.49, clapped my hands and gave a bit of a ‘yes’ out loud.

A few blokes gave me strange looks and were probably thinking to themselves that I was a bit over the top being so happy but they had no idea about the journey I'd been on. 

After crossing the line it was great to see Josh there and have another Aussie to share the post-race with. He ran 2.20.24 which was 1 second off his personal best but is still an amazing performance and puts him right up there with fifth in the 2016 Australian rankings. 

I didn't realise how cooked I was until I stopped and realised pretty quickly that I was in a bit of trouble. I tried to vomit a couple of times but nothing came up and then I spent a few minutes bent over leaning on a bin.

Josh was great and got me into an area where I could take a seat and get some water in.

The emotion kicked in pretty quickly and I was super happy and proud of my achievements. It was a bit of a roller coaster of a race, I thought I had it, I thought I blew it, and then somehow got it back again. I kept telling myself “that just happened”.

After the race we did the post-race hobble through the finishing area. The photo guys insisted we get about 30 done; and we picked up all the free show bags you get.

All the elites were still in the elite tent and we were really the first couple of fellas to walk through the finishing area.

It is a bit of a weird feeling as it’s set up for tens of thousands of people to go through in the few hours after us and here we were, two blokes from Australia just hooking through by ourselves.

We found Josh's partner, Laurel once we exited easily and she was in charge of getting us back to the hotel. I was still wrapped in my foil to keep me warm – even though it was pretty hot I was cooling down quickly.

Laurel did a great job getting us back as I had no idea where to go, had no money and no phone (and no energy so it was good just following on). 

We got plenty of strange looks on the train as we were the first marathon experience the general public would get for the day.

When I got back to the hotel and checked my phone it was very busy. I have a love hate relationship with social media and I was overwhelmed with where to start.

There were notifications everywhere from people tracking me during the race and putting updates up as I went.

It's great that the technology allows people to play along at home.

I had to be pretty quick to shower and then get to the 35km mark as I was planning to catch Carley there so I quickly did a status saying thank you, how happy I was and I would get back to them soon.

I'd be away from Wi-Fi for another four hours and it would continue to go off without me knowing, which was probably a good thing so I could enjoy the moment. I took a few minutes to slowly unpin my bib and just pause, catch myself in the mirror and think about what it had taken to get there, that was important for me to do in the moment. 

Then I was off. Not ideal post marathon to spend time walking and jogging around the city. I missed Carley at the 35km mark, I swear I was there but she must have been too fast for me and then made it to the finish line to greet her, pick her up and spun her around telling her how proud I was of her and that now she's a marathoner. 

It was one of those moments I'll value deeply for life.

We had a point to meet at and there were people everywhere then when you finally see the person you're waiting for, both our faces just lit up.

She didn't know at that stage what I'd run so it was good to share our stories with each other. 

On reflection I was really happy with my race. In elite terms it's nothing special but in my personal terms it's a great step in the right direction.

I'm harsh on myself and can honestly say I thought I was a no-one when I ran 2.26 and now at least I'm heading in the right direction. 

It was still only my second attempt and I'm still learning the craft of the marathon.

One of the biggest positives was getting that result and improvement when things haven't been exactly fantastic for me in recent races.

In terms of running training I had a good block but there are still plenty of elements to improve going forward.

I still need to find a few more minutes and there's things that stand out and I can identify that can help me get there. 

My official 5km splits for the race were, 16.36 (3.20 pace), 16.33 (3.19 pace), 16.29 (3.18 pace), 16.19 (3.16 pace), halfway (69.31) 3.36 (3.17 pace) 1.1km then 12.51 3.9km (3.18 pace). 16.47 (3.22 pace) 17.06 (3.26 pace), 17.59 (3.36 pace), 7.41 2.2km (3.30 pace). 

Unpacking those it’s obvious that there’s a minute to be found from 35-40km.

Although not a total hit the wall fade it was still much slower than what I had been running.

At Melbourne I ran seven bad kilometres, in Berlin it was 5km, next time hopefully I come closer to putting it all together. 

It also shows how we were a bit eager early on. I told someone before the race that I didn't want to see a kilometre split quicker than 3.20 unless it was after 35km – and then I went out and ran the first 30km quicker than that.

We always want that perfect race and looking back I would have loved it if we settled at 3.20s the first 30km and then seen what had happened. 

It's easy to look back and judge and if I had my time again I'm not sure if I would have done anything differently as it was great being in a big pack.

Maybe learn Swahili so I could understand whatever Kebede was saying to the pack at 15km. 

She probably said something like ‘look all you male flogs trying to get a free ride, I'm telling my pacemaker to increase the pace to break you’.

And here we were jogging along, going with the pace and smiling. 

Nutritionally I had three gels at 45 minutes, 90 minutes and around 37km.

Things through that stage of the race are pretty vague but I also did sip on water throughout as I was sweating quite a lot and didn't want to dehydrate.

But there have been other highlights – the washing got done, it came out alright with no soap, Carley didn't notice and the dryer only cost €1.20, so everything is all good.

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