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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Canberra Marathon Report 2008

Just a little time out from the usual posts about Australian crime fiction. As most of you would know I’m a voracious reader of crime novels – both from Australia and abroad – however I’m also a pretty dedicated runner too. This post is a bit of a self-indulgent, bask in the glory, soak up the endorphins look at last weekend’s Canberra Marathon.

For the second time in three tries I made it to the starting line of the Canberra Marathon. The first time I competed in the event was in 2003 when I finished in 3:25:45. I’ve also had an aborted attempt to get to the starting line (2005) when I tore a calf muscle a mere couple of weeks before the race.

No such problem this year with a carefully planned training regime which included what felt like an almost exclusive banana diet - well, with some huge helpings of pasta thrown in - getting me to my 7th marathon (plus 2 Six Foot Track Marathons) feeling fit and ready to go. You’re supposed to get older and wiser but my repeated returns to marathon start lines proves that that’s a fallacy.

Anyway, this year I managed to talk my family into coming to support me in my folly – not to mention keep me awake on the drive home – and 2 out the 3 kids even came. Apparently standing around for more than 3 hours waiting for her father to finish running didn’t compete with the prospect of a birthday party at Jamberoo followed by a sleep-over at a friend’s house. Hmmph! But I was able to bribe the 2 boys into coming to watch with a promise of a visit to Questacon.

We arrived in Canberra on Saturday arvo, checked into the hotel, picked up the race pack at the marathon expo and then hit Questacon for a whirlwind visit. We got there at 3:30 and it closes at 5:00…1 and a half hours is nowhere near enough to experience everything that Questacon has to offer. But the boys had a wonderful time and are already planning their next visit.

Then it was time for a quick shower before meeting a few fellow runners at an Italian restaurant for a pre-race pasta meal. Much joking, water drinking and pasta was had by all, but I was more than a little shocked when one of the next day’s runners stepped outside to smoke a cigarette!!! He was obviously following a different training regime than me.

Early to bed, early to rise and by 5:15 the next morning I was up breakfasted and dressed waking the family so that everyone was breakfasted and ready to go by 6:15. A couple of nervous toilet pit-stops later and I was ready to head to the starting line.

Now, at this point, I should let you know that one of the locals told us that Canberra has experienced a rather dry time of it of late. You could almost describe it as a drought. So the conditions you can expect when you step outside on the morning of the Canberra Marathon? You got it – rain and plenty of it. The black clouds were rolling in across the hills. Telstra Tower wasn’t visible on top of Black Mountain and neither was a lot of Canberra. Great conditions for marathon runners, not so great for marathon spectators.

After huddling under umbrellas, trees and tents for half an hour the call for competitors to get to the start line came. It’s amazing how many hiding places there are around the Telopea Park school, 1,100 runners emerged from nowhere and jammed themselves in to face the starting gun.

Right on time, we were away.

My goal time was 3:30. A pretty reasonable time for someone who hasn’t run a marathon in 5 years and I was lucky to find myself in the pack with the pacesetter for 3:15. This was good news for me, I thought, if I could hang onto the 3:15 group for as long as possible I might be able to get myself close enough to home so that I could limp the last few kilometres if I had to.

As it turned out, the pace was very comfortable. We headed down to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin past the National Gallery and the High Courts before turning back up towards Parliament House. Up and around Capitol Hill - one of the few significant hills on the course - we went and then back towards the start - 10km over and done with, a quick wave to the family who were cheering like mad oblivious to the cold and rain (or maybe that was me).

Now for the long slog on the first of the out and back loops, the rain still coming down we climbed up onto the Kings Avenue Bridge and over the lake we went. The course took us past the Australian War Memorial for the first time but, 13km mark and I'm feeling some decided discomfort in the nipple region. It felt as though my nipples were having sandpaper applied to them every step I took. Fortunately, every drinks station also had a nipple-saving jar of Vaseline available, so a quick stop and a liberal application of the jelly and I was off again.

By the 18km mark, the rain had stopped, the sky was brightening and the road was beginning to dry. By the 21km we were headed back towards the Commonwealth Ave Bridge which would take us back across Lake Burley Griffin and towards Telopea Park where we turn around and do the out and back part all over again. It was around the Commonwealth Ave Bridge that my running partner - a friend from work - suddenly dropped off the pace. I would be running the last 20km on my own.

After the turn around, which is about the 26km mark, my friendly (and very chatty) 3:15 pace-setter was still in the vicinity and I was still travelling pretty well. So we headed up to the Kings Ave Bridge and around again. The kilometres passed slowly, a nagging pain on the end of my second toe began to develop and was beginning to resolve itself into one of the biggest, juiciest blisters I’ve ever encountered. But at the time I just adjusted my stride so it was barely noticeable.

I my past marathons, The Wall has fallen on me at around the 34 -35km mark, so as it approached my apprehension was beginning to grow. Was this where it was all going to fall apart. The weather, my pace and the fact that I had drunk half of Lake Burley Griffin to this point had me fairly confident that I was going to make it without revisiting the agonies of marathon’s past.

Coming back over the Commonwealth Ave Bridge with 4km to go, the 3:15 pace-setter gave us all one last round of encouraging advice before he gradually began to put some space between himself and me. I was tiring fast and when I tried to increase pace, I had my first twinge of a cramp in the toes of my left foot. A sure sign that it was time to back off, relax the muscles and hope the cramps don’t hit for real.

The longest 3 kilometres of the race crept by interminably. It’s amazing how far 100m is when you just want it over with. In what can only be described as a really bad practical joke, the last kilometre lies dead uphill, but by that stage there was no stopping me. The pace-setter had disappeared into the distance, but I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t cramped and The Wall didn’t visit.

I crossed the line in 3:15:43, 15 minutes faster than I was expecting to run and I was completely jubilant…in an exhausted, can barely move kind of way. Checking the Canberra Marathon website I can see that I placed 170th (interestingly, in 2003 when I ran over 3:25 I placed 172nd).

I'm still basking in the glow of complete satisfaction and pride - and it's that feeling that answers the question I'm asked so often - "Why do you run?"

Bleeding nipples, aching legs and an all-over weariness notwithstanding, I'm already planning the training schedule for next month's Sydney Morning Herald Half's an illness.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading my self-absorbed reliving of Sunday morning. I'll be talking about Australian crime fiction again soon, just as soon as the endorphin rush has completely left my body.

One of the keys to putting in a good performance was the awareness of a healthy diet to get the body into the best shape possible. Naturally, long runs every weekend helped a lot too.


Katherine Howell said...

Congratulations Damien! Well done!!

Kerrie said...

well done Damien

Peter Rozovsky said...

congratulate you on your 3:15!

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Damien said...

Thanks guys. The euphoria's only just starting to wear off, or perhaps it's just a return to sanity I'm experiencing.

Anyway, I'm about to start training for the SMH Half Marathon.

Katherine: Loving "The Darkest Hour"