My First Marathon Experience*

Wednesday, 25 May 2016, By Matt Gedye

"Don't listen to your body when you're tired; Listen to your mind.

Your mind is stronger than your body" - Mark Boucher

 

I don't remember exactly how long I had been moving for when I decided I was giving up running forever. I had definitely been running for at least 2 hours and I had covered about 24km. 2 hours! And I was only just over halfway to the finish. Both of my hip flexors would cramp if I ran for longer than 300 metres at a time. If I managed to push just a little bit harder and fight the pain in my hips, I would experience a sharp, tingling pain running down my right thigh (the dreaded ITB syndrome that so many runners have to endure). It wasn't fun anymore. My legs were hurting, my feet were hurting, and my pride was hurting! I was being over taken by everyone young and old. I couldn't handle it anymore. I stopped, looked out the sea and decided that once I finished The Great Ocean Road Marathon (if I finished), that I was never going to run again…

Flash back to January 2016 when I was looking at the Australian running calendar and trying to work out which races I was going to do this year. I was running well at this point in time. Getting good times over the shorter and middle distances and feeling confident about tackling the marathon distance in 2016 for the first time. But which one to do? Obviously the Melbourne Marathon, but it was only January! I wasn't going to wait until October to tackle the sport's pinnacle distance. And besides, I was going to run Melbourne in under 3 hours. In order to do that though, I needed to do a couple of marathons before then to see how I could handle the distance. By process of elimination and factoring in time to recover and start training again, I ended up deciding on Great Ocean Road in May, Brisbane in August, and Melbourne in October. 3 marathons in 2016. Easy! Training got off to a flyer. I could easily slot in the3 training runs a week, 2 days of strength training and the weekend long run, and I improved quickly. Therefore I set myself the challenge of running Great Ocean in 3 hours and 30 minutes.

I knew that once I'd made it to the 30km mark I could grab some water. The trick was putting 1 foot in front of the other in order to get there. I still had enough in me at this point to run more than walk but I was losing energy quickly and was losing focus due to intense feelings of demotivation. In addition, the wind was so strong I felt like I was running backwards because I was moving so slowly. Then it started raining. Normally I wouldn't have minded, but because the winds were so strong, I felt like I was being pelted by hail. I kept asking myself "what's the point? Why am I doing this?" I checked my Garmin and saw that I was only 100m away from the 30km mark, but there was no drink station in sight. Was this some kind of joke? I'd been running for over 3 hours, with a consistent supply of water every 5km and now, when I needed it most, there was nothing. I had to stop again. On the verge of tears this time. I had 14km to go to finish, but in my mind I was finished already. It was time to throw in the towel. I couldn't justify what I was putting my body through anymore. But I took a deep breath, stared at the endless stretch of road in front of me and trudged on. I was going to find that water station. Only 13.9km to go…

About 6 weeks into my Mentor Program my running was at an all-time high. I'd run the Sri Chinmoy 5km in 18:18 and was smashing my speed work during the week. Not to mention the fact that I had two 30km long runs under my belt. Both completed without stopping and with minimal pain throughout. Maybe I was going to run Great Ocean in under 3 hours. Hit my long term marathon goal in the first attempt. Hmm, better not get too cocky. It is going to be a lot hillier than a normal marathon, plus the wind. Nah, I'll stick to my 3 hour 30 goal for now. I probably won't have to train as hard in that case. Don't have to worry about getting up at 6am on my day off for the long run. Easy!

The 35km drink station was a God send. In addition to water they also had lollies. Something solid that I could have in my stomach. Running was now completely out of the question. I could only walk. To run even a few metres was absolute agony. It was at this point that Tom caught up to me. He couldn't afford to stop because he would have seized up so he had to keep moving. How I envied him. At his pace he was due to finish in just under an hour. I still had such a long slog ahead of me. I was feeling physically sick by this point. Cramping in both my hip flexors, an agonisingly painful knee from my overworked and injured ITB, ridiculously sore feet from over 4 hours of pounding on the road and now I was about to vomit as well. I was recognising so many people running past me. People I'd left behind hours ago. People who had done marathons before. Who knew how important it is to pace yourself to ensure you can actually finish the run. I grabbed a little cup of water and sipped on it slowly as I marched forward. There was still another 9km to go. But I was into single digits now. Just had to put one foot in front of the other, it didn't matter how slowly. What's that story? Something about a tortoise and a hare…

The drive to The Great Ocean Road was very pleasant. The weather awesome and it really is a beautiful part of the world. I love the ocean. I always have. It's one of the reasons, in addition to the time of year, that I picked this race for my first marathon. Spectacular coastal scenery in my home state of Victoria. What could be better? Not to mention that fact that I was now a well-established member of the Vision Hawthorn Team and would be doing the run with my new teammates. The nerves were certainly settling in though. I was bending poor Courtney's ear off the entire drive down as a way of distracting myself from what I was about to undertake. My training had suffered under my new workload in the last 4 weeks, and I knew I was underprepared. Well, I say workload. I told people "workload". Really I just got lazy and a bit too overconfident. I was also going in without a proper race strategy and the nerves were really settling in as a result. My goal however, was now more realistic than previously. I just wanted to finish without stopping. The overall time didn't matter, I just wanted to run well and finish strong. That night in the house with Tom, Alex, Jim, Bec, Courtney and Alex D was so much fun. I'd never made friends at a job I'd worked at before, so to be able to hang out with my "colleagues" in that environment was amazing! It certainly took my mind off what was to come the next morning. That was until I started cooking dinner, realised I hadn't eaten enough throughout the day. Panicked because I suddenly realised how far I had to run! And ended up eating half a kilo of mince and bolognaise sauce with enough pasta to feed a small village. I don't think it comes as a surprise that I didn't sleep very well that night. I was lying awake, terrified and experiencing some seriously unwelcome intestinal distress. I looked at my watch and started counting down the hours until I finished the run. I was so far away from the start line, and I was already thinking about the finish. Big mistake! I also wasn't even slightly excited. What had I got myself into?

Standing outside the Lorne hotel on Sunday morning was the most nervous I've ever been before a sporting event ever. I was trying to remain calm, but I had so much doubt flooding into my mind. I wasn't excited. I was dreading this run. I tried to talk to Tom, but I honestly don't remember what I said. I was quietly freaking out inside my head. The gun went off and before I knew it, we were running amongst cheers from everyone who were clearly having more fun than I was. I was in trouble early. I immediately felt the previous night's dinner swirling inside my stomach and causing discomfort. I started panicking; I knew I'd eaten too much. I tried to take in the scenery, but I kept thinking about my upset stomach and how it was about to derail my progress barely 1km into the run. However, I did settle and find a bit of rhythm. By the 2km mark I was cruising at a decent speed and was confident I could maintain it until the end. I ran smart. I slowed down for the hills and made sure not to try and maintain my pace running into the wind. I didn't want to burn out. There was a long way to go yet.

Tom caught up to me around the 2km mark and we took in the scenery a bit, taking some photos and actually managing to enjoy the event. I'd finally relaxed, and was confident I was going to have a good run. It was at this point Tom said he needed to back off on the pace to make sure he finished. "See you at the finish line" I said. And I rolled ahead finally letting the enormity of the occasion sink in, that I was in fact running my first marathon.

Our official marathon time was recorded when we crossed the 42.2km mark. I'd been walking for the last 3km by this stage and willed myself into a very slow jog so I was at least running when I crossed the official marathon point. I slowed into a walk as soon as I crossed it though. I was limping badly now, barely able to move. Every step was agony. I didn't want to finish anymore. I didn't care anymore. I just wanted it to end. I wanted to go home. But then a miracle happened. I saw James running out to meet me. Shouting out to me, willing me on. I looked at my watch. 43.5km down. I was at the end. I was going to finish! Through blurred vision I could just make out the finish line. Then I heard everyone else. Alex A, Courtney, Bec and Alex D. All cheering me on. I broke into kind of limp-run. Not a full trot by any means, but I wasn't walking. Then I saw Tom cheering me on as well and because of the noise and support my Vision Team were making, everyone else around the finish line joined in. All of a sudden I was running and after what felt like an eternity I had crossed the finish line and had my medal placed around my neck. I'd finished! It took me 5 hours and 15 minutes, but I finished. I hadn't managed to run the whole way, but I didn't stop and turn around. I had to stop more than a few times, but I never waived down the passing vehicles or the first aid trucks to ask for a lift. I just made sure that I kept moving. The finish line was always going to be there. It wasn't going anywhere. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I reached it…

I underestimated my first marathon and I didn't have fun running it. I was underprepared. I didn't have a game plan. I was just going to wing it. I'd heard of people who approached their first marathon in this way and did fine. But, what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. There are plenty of people in the world who have this same approach in all aspects of life and manage to succeed. I'm not one of these people, I realised far too late into my preparation for the race that I had approached the event in the wrong way. I started training too early, and peaked too early as a result, but the biggest mistake I made was running too fast at the beginning. I'm actually laughing writing this because, in hindsight, I didn't do a lot right. In fact, I did just about everything wrong. I am going to run another marathon though. I'm not giving up on running. I made a mistake (many as it turns out), but that's only made me more determined to succeed next time. To train properly for the next one and make sure my preparation is spot on. Brisbane is 11 weeks away and I desperately want to run the whole way without stopping. That's my goal. Not to finish fast. Not to get a PB. But to finish without stopping. And if I don't manage to do that, I'll aim to run the whole way in Melbourne in October.

You have to make mistakes in order to succeed. It's a part of the process of learning, and improving. Be that running marathons, running 10kms, doing a 5km, walking for half an hour without stopping, applying for your dream job, getting high distinctions, quitting smoking or kicking a drug habit. It all comes back to making those mistakes, learning from them and doing better next time. And whether next time is a few weeks away, a few months away, or a few years away, you just need to keep going. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. After all, achieving success and chasing your dreams is not a sprint. It's a marathon…

*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.

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