Marathon 4/7: Melbourne, Australia – October 2012

20x30-MMAL0523 copyAfter my hardest and slowest marathon in Sri Lanka just 7 days earlier, I was heading to Australia to run another 26.2 miles in Melbourne.

When you fall off a metaphorical horse it can be easy to give up, or let the setback affect you mentally. Fortunately I had no time to think negatively.

When I arrived at Melbourne airport, I was greeted by a cousin who I had never met before. He was using an enlarged, printed photo from 15 years ago to spot me in the sea of arriving passengers, and what a good job he did.

After an Australian flat white coffee and an excellent breakfast, I met with  other family members and was shown some of the local sights and a side of Australia that I had never seen before.

Despite living in Australia for almost 2 years, it was my first time in Melbourne. I had heard people compare Sydney and Melbourne to two sisters. Sydney being the younger, sexy sister and Melbourne the more refined, cultured one. Maybe it was the weather or the fact that the architecture wasn’t as modern, but I prefered Sydney on my initial inspection.

After checking into my hotel and going to the race Expo to pick up my race packet, I decided to explore on foot, this city that I had heard so much about. What really struck me was how European Melbourne was, with it’s colonial style buildings and winding alley ways.

On my self guided tour of the city, I stopped at every opportunity at the rusticly modern coffee shops, which kept me caffeinated and jet lag free. In the afternoon, I took the elevator up the 88 flights to the top of the Eureka SkyDeck, the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, which gave me an amazing panoramic view of the city.

 

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The awe inspiring views from Eureka Skydeck

That evening I heard that Chris Guillebeau was speaking at one of the co-working spaces in Melbourne, so instead of an early night, I headed over to Hub Melbourne to hear Chris speak about his stories and travels. After a few glasses of wine, I walked back to my hotel for a relatively early night as I knew I would need a good nights rest for the day ahead of me.

The Marathon

I made a coffee and ate my banana and cereal bar as I changed into my running gear that I had organized on the chair the night before. I wondered if the deflated result from the previous weeks marathon would help or hinder my performance today.

Momentum is something that can change at a moments notice. I had completed 3 marathons in my quest to run one on every continent and I didn’t want to stop now. Things were only going to get harder from here so I knew I needed to get back into the slipstream of momentum.

It was too close to take a taxi to the start of the race, and it was also a little too far to walk. However, walking was a good opportunity to see Melbourne as I thought I might be too tired after the run and I would be leaving the following day on a long 14 hour flight for Los Angles (Something that is not advised after a marathon).

As I made my way to the starting line, people were getting ready to go to work as the cool breeze sped up my pace to a brisk walk. As I got closer to the start, I could hear the buzz of people, and rock music playing on the PA system. Despite, the large number of people the start of the race felt relaxed and well organised.

Not surprisingly with Australia being a country that bestows an outdoor lifestyle on it’s beautiful population, many of the runners were fit and taking this run seriously. Others, however were more relaxed, running in groups for various charities.

It felt a little lonely being half way across the world in a sea of people but not knowing anyone. However my cousin was in fact running the half marathon that would be starting an hour or so later, so I looked forward to meeting up with him after the race for a beer.

As the fog horn was sounded for the start of the run, I felt determined to improve on my performance from 7 days earlier. As I crossed the starting line, I knew that I couldn’t make the same mistake of starting too fast, I was going to run a more relaxed and consistent run, without stopping as I did the previous week.

The route of the marathon, went straight through downtown Melbourne. we passed the iconic train station, as the trams and other travellers watched and supported us from the sidelines, before we headed towards the outskirts of the city.

The weather was perfect, bright blue skies, without the heat and humidity that I had to endure the previous week in Sri Lanka. I thought to myself, In comparison this run was a walk in the park, as the race route started to literally go through one of the many parks of Melbourne.

I find that when I run, I sometimes experience a meditative or flow like state. I noticed this happening as we ventured out of the city. I put myself into an autopilot like mode and let the rhythmic motion of my legs take me into a relaxed state. I was focused, calm and could experience what was going on around me, but it was as if I was experiencing it more mindfully in a third person like state.

As I made my way towards the waterfront section of the run, it seemed like there was an never ending line of people in front of me, which then circled back in this longest and straightest section of the run. It was quite the contrast from the previous week where I had been running for much of the run all alone.
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At the halfway point everything seemed to be going well. I looked set to smash my previous weeks time, however something happened that started to worry me. Every 5 minutes or so, I started to get cramp like spasms in my thighs. It wasn’t a cramp, more like the shuddering feeling you get before a cramp. I kept running, but the threat of my legs cramping up, didn’t sit well on my mind and I took the time to take extra energy drinks and bananas at each of the stops to avoid this from happening.
I ran past beautiful houses which sat right on the water as people cheered us on from their balconies.  I thought to myself how wonderful it would be to live in a city like Melbourne with all the charms of Europe but without the outdoor lifestyle. The only downside would be Australia’s geographical isolation.
As we turned the corner to enter the section that took us back into the city, I could feel myself tiring. I knew I had a good few miles to go and this section would be the hardest, however now more and more people started to line the streets, giving high fives and support. The thing I loved most about the Melbourne marathon was the support of the crowd. The crowd wasn’t as big as the New York marathon, however what they lacked in size they made up for in their generosity. Supporters created their own drinks stations and handed out bananas or energy foods. One kid was holding out some Starburst candy, which I gratefully took, but looking back I hope I didn’t literally steal candy from a kid!

As the MCG stadium (the finishing point of the race) got closer and closer, it felt as if the route was going uphill. I could feel, what seemed like a blister growing on my toe and with each step it was becoming more and more painful. I started my ritual of counting down each quarter of a mile, before downgrading to 1/10th of a mile. With each step the MCG stadium was getting closer.

As the road curved around I could see an entrance into the stadium with a surge of people making their way towards the finishing line. As we entered the covered entrance, it took my eyes a minute to adjust to the darker environment. It felt, surreal almost spiritual as I continued to run towards the light in the distance that marked the opening to the inside of the stadium As I entered the stadium with hundreds of people cheering us on from the seats it was a truly breathtaking experience and the perfect way to end such an amazing run in such a beautiful city.
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I couldn’t believe how far I had come in 7 days, both in the amount of miles I had flown, the amount of miles I had run (my most in a 7 day period) and then improvement in time. I finished in 4 hours and 28 minutes, over an hour quicker than 7 days earlier.
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Now that I had ran 4 marathon on 4 different continents, I was now more than halfway complete on my challenge. The set back that I had experienced the previous week was now a distant memory, and a lesson which I can apply not just to running but also to my life.
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