We arrived in Melbourne on Thursday. I didn't run that day as it felt right to have a rest day and also we had to pack and return the campervan before flying out. By the time we got settled at the hotel it was late afternoon and it would have been a bit awkward to head out before dinner. That night we went to a Korean BBQ restaurant which was good for the first night of carbo loading as it was an all you could eat buffet.
Friday morning I headed out for a run around Melbourne which included a lap of the Tan. Basically headed out to South Melbourne and then ran back in to the Tan, a lap around and then back to the hotel. About 11km at approx 4:40/km pace. The weather wasn't that great that day so we saw a movie and did a little bit of shopping. I also found a place for a one hour sports massage. Was about the right intensity for a couple of days prior to a race and I felt better for it. My glutes had been a bit stiff after the run/hike around the gorge in Launceston and this loosened them up. That night we went to a cafe on Swanston Street and I had pizza.
Saturday we caught up with our friend Kimberley and I went to the pre race briefing at the MCG to find out about the elite athlete arrangements and to pick up my race bib. I was number 22. The arrangements are first class and the athletes are really well looked after. It was certainly a taste of the treatment that professional athletes get and was much better than than the usual preferred start that is the best that us weekend warriors can access. It took away the stress of the bag drop, warm clothing, queuing up for a toilet, warming up and getting a decent start position completely. Despite the fact that it was a major marathon with over 7000 starters, it was as easy as the Perth marathon. Saturday night we went to a restaurant called the Spaghetti Tree on Bourke Street. I had spaghetti bolognaise (with extra spaghetti) and pancakes for dessert.
Sunday morning, I was up at 5am for the usual Up and Go 2 hours before race start. I left the hotel just after 5.30 for the 15 minute walk to the MCG. Was able to get myself well prepared including a nice easy 6 minute jog out on Brunton Ave before heading back in to head off to the start. Once we got to the start, there was plenty of room at the start and we were able to warm up some more before a very easy and uncrowded assembly at the start line. I got myself a spot about 5 rows back from the start as I had no intention of going off too quick.
I wore the same Saucony Fastwitch 4s that I wore for Perth last year and Houston in January.
Despite my intentions, I still went out a bit quicker than my intended 3:48-3:50/km pace and had a couple of kms that were quicker than the 3:46 limit I had set myself. But overall, I was around 3:48-3:49 and felt like I was rolling along comfortably. Unfortunately, one of the gels I had on my race belt had worked itself loose over the first 4km and I lost one on St Kilda Rd. I had 4 on me and I have never taken more than 3 gels in a marathon but it was one of the first two that I was intending to take which were the SIS Burner gels. They contain L-Carnitine which is an amino acid which aids the fat metabolism process. L-Carnitine transports fatty acids to the mitochondria, which is where they are essentially burned as fuel.
I took my remaining SIS Burner gel after an hour when on Beaconfield Parade. Shortly after this, I started running with a guy called Ewen "Smurf" from the Melbourne Midday Milers. We had a bit of a chat and he had quite a lot of support out on the course from teammates as well as friends and family. I was getting the occasional shout out from other WA runners as well as from Raf Baugh who was out on the course on one of the European-style hire bikes that they have in Melbourne and which they are looking to introduce in Perth. The main thing holding these back are our compulsory helmet laws, or more accurately the failure of to find a solution to providing hireable helmets that won't spread head lice.
Anyway, Ewen and I were cruising along nicely between 3:48 and 3:51/km for about 10km between 16km and 26km. Just before the turnaround past St Kilda on Ormond Esplanade, there was a little detour in around a car park area where there was a drink station. Ewen seemed to pick up the pace here a little and when I checked my Garmin, it had us going at 3:44/km pace so I let him go. He was keen for me to catch him up but that pace was too quick for me at that stage of the race.
I had slowly been pegging back Kevin Matthews who had gone out quickly and had been probably a minute in front of me at one point. At the turnaround, I had got this back to about 50 metres so was anticipating catching him somewhere before the 30km mark.
I'm not really sure what happened here, whether it was breaking the rhythm that I had got going with Ewen or the fact that I was now running on my own slightly uphill, but my pace started to drop off and unlike when this had happened in Houston and in my training, I wasn't able to get back on pace. I hoped that this was just the inevitable bad patch that comes up during the later stages of the marathon and that I would get through it. I hadn't run Melbourne before and was unfamiliar with the course so wasn't really aware of how difficult this part of the course is.
By the time I got to 30km I was getting pretty worried as my overall pace was now at 3:49 or 3:50/km and I knew I had to get back onto 3:50/km pace if I was going to stick on 2:42 goal pace but I was running 4:01/km pace so well off where I needed to be and struggling. Kev and Ewen were disappearing ahead of me and while I wasn't being passed by other runners yet, I wasn't passing others which was not the situation in my previous 3 marathons (2010 Gold Coast, 2011 Perth and 2012 Houston).
As my overall pace continued to drift out, I was making mental calculations of what I needed to do to still run a PB which I hoped I was a chance of doing. The course didn't get any easier though and the section through Southbank and then back up into the Botanical Gardens had some steady uphills. Despite digging as deep as I could, my 37th km was 4:22. Funnily enough, it is this section that is providing me with some reassurance in my ongoing assessment of the race as I second guess the decisions I made at the time such as, should I have surged and stuck with Ewen at 26km and then kept with him for as long as possible (went on to run 2:42:05), should I have pressed on at caught Kev and then tried to stick with him? Maybe one or both of these may have worked, but the way I felt over the last 10km, I really don't think they would have and I may have completely blown up. The last 10km were as mentally and physically hard as any run I have done (including Rottnest 2009) and I think it just wasn't my day. Maybe I overdid it in my preparation (I certainly felt great about six weeks ago) and would benefit from a shorter 12 week marathon specific program. Or perhaps my taper wasn't the best. Driving around Tasmania and finding somewhere different to run everyday probably wasn't as good as running on flat familiar territory.
I had another gel at 1 hour 40mins and small amount of my last one at 2 hours 10 mins. I didn't feel like I ran out of carbs or that I bonked or hit the wall, I just couldn't hit my pace,
After coming out of the Tan and back on to St Kilda Road, it felt like we were finally getting some downhill but despite having a crack, I couldn't capitalise on it. I was passed by one female and two male runners in this section and by now my goal was just to stick with it at what ever pace I could muster and finish. I did pass one runner as we turned off of Flinders Street onto Wellington Parade. (He was actually someone who I had passed at around 26km and who hadn't passed me back and was running slower than me so I expect he will be disqualified for cutting the course at the Tan as he does not have a 40km split in the online results).
As we turned off Brunton Ave to go into the MCG, I was passed by the 5th placed female. I managed to pass her back just as we got onto the ground but she went past me again and y the time I had decided that it wasn't a good look to try to outsprint a female to the line, she was gone anyway.
I was pretty relieved to finish and was a bit wobbly on my feet. I must have looked average because two or three medical people asked me if I was OK. One guy encouraged me to keep walking "because then I won't have to carry you as far" but luckily it didn't come to that.
Caught up with Kev Matthews who ran a 2:43 taking 2 mins off his PB and who looked like he could almost go around again.
It was very nice to be able to make my way into the elite area, get a drink, go and get a massage and then have something to eat before having a shower and getting changed. Good to catch up with the other WA runners, most of whom had great runs, Lauren Shelley was first female in 2:36 and gained selection for next year's World Championships in Moscow, Chris O'Neill 2:27, Adam Martin 2:34, Gerry Hill 2:37 despite really struggling over the last 5km, Tim Oborne 2:49 and Jodie Oborne 3:12 both of which were big PBs.
I hadn't achieved the goal I had set myself and which all my training had been aimed at so I was quite disappointed at the finish although 2:45:39 is still my second fastest marathon by about four minutes. On reflection though, I pretty happy that I could have a bad run, feel awful over the last 14km and still run 2:45. On that basis, I am still hopeful that if I can get things right and have a good day, I am capable of running 2:42.
We flew home on Monday on a delayed Jetstar flight (you certainly get what you pay for) and since then I have done a bit of thinking about what I might do running-wise over the summer and next year. My thinking at the moment is that I think I will run the Perth Trail Series over summer to try and work on my strength, do a 12 week specific prep for the Canberra Marathon in April and then have another crack at Melbourne in October.
These are my splits from my Garmin which show quite clearly when things turned for the worse.