It was 5.5 degrees celsius when we got up at 5:30am for the Canberra marathon. I had to make a decision whether to wear my NRG singlet, or the Mt Solitary top that has pockets and sleeves. Easy decision right? Of course I had to wear the singlet! This turned out to be the right decision and the weather was just about perfect.
Packed a bunch of gels in and off we went. Maria took a pic of most of the runners, and we lined up for the start. What did I expect? Well, I generally have 3 goals.
1. A stretch (outperform) goal
2. a ‘very happy’ goal
3. a ‘good enough’ goal.
In reverse order these were
2. 3 hours 55 minutes
1. 3 hours 45 minutes
Honestly after a bout of man flu last week I rally doubted goals 1 and 2, but anyway…..
After the gun went off I tried to settle down into a rhythm, and felt terrible. I now realise that this is normal- I don’t seem to feel comfortable until about 8-10km in. At 8.5km I felt better and proceeded to watch my pace and nutrition, slowly getting past the 3:45 pacer yet knowing that he would get past me by the end! Had a great conversation with a guy who wants to resurrect the Sydney to Melbourne Ultra, but no thanks, I’ll be happy to cheer the starters. He took one look at me and said ‘you’re a skinny bastard and I’m a fat c@nt’, but it didn’t take long for us to work out that I weigh 5kg more than him, he was just a bit more ‘compact’. At 24km I was starting to get scared of the pain when I hit the wall but seemed to be coming along quite well, still doing 5:10- 5:20 pace, until we hit the 30km mark and I was running out of people to talk to, put the headphones on at 32km and tried to pretend that it didn’t hurt. By this time my pace was getting a bit raggedy, and slipping to 5:40s and the 3:45 bus went past. Strangely enough it took them a long time to get away from me, but I’d decided to do the ultra and not kill myself in the marathon. At the back of the 3:45 bus was Leah Evans, one of the people training for The North Face 100. I was great to chat to her for a while, but I stopped to have a salt tablet, ran too hard to catch up and eventually had to let her go chase the bus. She did really well to finish in 3:45, just behind the pacer, well done to her!
By the time I finished she was just out of sight (exactly 30 seconds in front of me), and my finish of 3:46:05 put me just about at my stretch goal- actually only 6 seconds outside of a 3:45 finish. Whoa. Fantastically happy, but it wasn’t over yet……
It’s a bit weird to be hitting the ‘lap’ button on your Garmin instead of the ‘stop’ button at the end of a marathon, but that’s what I did. I was hunched over, gasping into the dirt and a medic came up to me and asked me if I was alright ‘yes I’m fine’ I replied, ‘I’m just trying to figure out if I’ve got enough energy to do the 50’. Then a few gasps later I heard the announcer say ‘and here comes Michael McGrath across the finish line’ and I thought to myself, he’s a tough bugger, I can’t let him do the 50 and not do it too. So I trotted 50m up the road while thinking ‘you could have stopped, this is the worst decision you’ve ever made. Think of the simple beauty of sitting in a freaking CHAIR right now you idiot’. An NRG runner (Brett I think?) offered me some gels which I accepted, and about 300m later I caught up with some other competitors ‘are any of you Michael McGrath?’ ‘no’ they all replied. It seems I had let my brain order my body around for no reason. Oh well, it’s only 8km, how bad could it be?
Honestly? Pretty bad.
I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do the extra 8km unless I had a good chance of finishing in under 5 hours. So I practised left, right, repeat until my rapidly dissolving brain threatened to send me sideways into nice folks walking in the park (the extra bit for the ultra is along the side of a body of water, and you share the path with walkers, cyclists etc). One of the walkers said in a hushed voice ‘look at the colour of him’ but I didn’t have the energy for a chorus of ‘bitch I’m faaaabulous!’ I started to cramp, and immediately realised that in my desire to finish the marathon, I’d forgotten a couple of salt tablets and missed a nutrition slot. One salt tab and gel later, I walked for about 1500m until the cramps went and then tried to start again. A final km of apx 5:50 and I came through the gates a very happy man in a total elapsed time of 4:42.
in case you’re interested I had gels at 8km, 13, 18, 23, 28, 33, 38, 45. Too many? Probably, but the one time I missed a slot (43km) I bonked badly shortly after.