Ironically inspired by taking on something BIG - I found it was the ‘little things’ that actually stayed with me in the days that followed.
That something big was my 4th Marathon – back where it all started, the Melbourne Marathon, where I ran my 1st one 8 years ago.
Those nut bags who choose to take things like this on, all go through various journeys to get there, and my lead up certainly wasn’t ideal... With about 6 weeks to go I over did it - back to back Kettle Bell sessions, followed by a quicker than usual long run mid-week, and then sprinting in gum boots over rugged ground to catch a sheep that needed a hand lambing… as you do!? (Slightly random and took me 2 attempts but I caught it! The sprint was even described as 'explosive' by on-looker Gabe).
Not such a wise week of training as it turned out… and knowing my body needs (and deserves) every bit of respect, I listened to it (and my brilliant physio Lisa) and took a few weeks off running. It would be a steep climb back to build just enough distance in time to make it to the start line.
But that I did... And there I was lined up on the 16th October 2016, ready for 42.195km that lay ahead with 6,000 other fellow runners. The Australian Anthem sung by a beautiful young voice, echoed through the nervous energy, and I held my hand over my heart feeling it’s beat, full of anticipation. I was proud just to be here, for getting to the start line, and for what I was about to take on, again. I have learnt over the years to never take my health and fitness for granted, and come race day – it’s good to stop and give thanks for exactly that.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1” we all chorused in for the count down and were away! It was pretty warm already and winds were reaching 40km/h – it would be a tough day ahead! I was already dry – having dosed up on Sudafed to help clear a head cold, so hydration would be an even bigger factor today!
My affirmation during the race was about running from my heart, and letting my legs just ‘flowing freely’… I was averaging 5min/km which was quick for where I was at, but felt ok (for the 1st half at least ;) Then it started to become more and more of a push than a ‘flowing freely’… but the idea was there!
It was great having my parents out on course – the marathon is something you can’t quite describe, so I think they have more of a comprehension of it all now. I first saw them at about 4km heading down St Kilda Rd, we followed this down then took a right into Fitzroy St and wound our way through Albert Lake. Various friends dotted all along the course was just brilliant, and made such a difference. And so many friends out there running - I wasn't alone by any means!
I found myself conveniently sitting behind a guy who was quite broad which helped shelter me from the wind a little. He had an ‘Everlast’ top on - so that gave me a bit of inspiration to sit behind!
As we wound around the lake near MSAC there was a little round-about in the middle of the road, and on approach I giggled to myself – thinking of my friend Sarah (who'd driven over a round-about in Adelaide years ago), and found myself running straight over it saying ‘this one’s for you Sarah’. It’s the little things… ;)
It was funny – in that moment I also remembered that this one, this Marathon, I was in fact doing for me. I'd been reminded of that a few days earlier... The last two big events I’d done in 2015 – Melbourne Ironman and NYC Marathon, were sadly in dedication and honour of two of my very close friends – Mads and Georgie. So it was with different emotions and feelings I ran this marathon, I was running it for me.
I remember running alongside a couple of lads in conversation “There’s James, he’ll do a 3:03 today”. I couldn’t help but pipe in with “that’s a very specific time?” to which the response came “oh - I’ve been training with him, that’s what he’ll do today”. And I thought to myself – it’s a Marathon, anything could happen!
The more Marathons I do, the more respect I’ve learnt to extend to them… Of the 6,000 runners - 13 didn’t finish that day. I saw many of them lying on the side of the road, on oxygen, with medics attending to them... A further 148 people registered but didn’t make it to the start line. It's a feat in itself just getting to the start!
Heading down beach road it was that windy my hat blew off… but I went back for it, this was my Ironman hat! I managed the 1st 21km in 1:45, probably a bit quick in hindsight but the legs wanted to go, so who was I to stop them ;) Then everything started to hurt a little more each kilometre, and I had to start digging…
I saw my good friend Simon on the sidelines, he’d been training for the marathon, and had run from one end of Ireland to the other last year - but his plans were changed when major heart surgery took priority. And there he was out supporting his friends. I reminded myself again what a privilege it was to be out here running today.
Wind the clock forward to about the 34km mark heading up St Kilda Road and I saw Mum and Dad for the last time before they’d make their way to The G. I said to Dad after grabbing a water from him - “it’s going to hurt now” and I was right…
But I held on... My legs held on. My mind held on. Despite both of them wanting to stop! It becomes a battle between mind, body and heart. The body wants to stop, the mind is convinced the best thing to do is to most definitely stop… but there’s a voice inside, a sensing, a knowing, that you can actually keep going - that you can do this! That voice, the one coming from your heart - it's often out numbered, but it is the one to listen to.
The last 7km’s were particularly uncomfortable. I was spent, my legs were smashed, I was thirsty as all hell and looking for more water... the universe must have heard me – out of nowhere appears an icy pole! A little raspberry one (my favourite flavour!) from a stranger on the sidelines. I can still taste it now... It’s effects, in sugar and cooling, might have only lasted 500m, but they were like heaven!
Hitting the 36km mark and the course had a gradual climb in it for about the next 3km… that was not pretty! Many were walking at this point – and as my head seriously contemplated it, I heard a guy on the sidelines yell out “you didn’t sign up for a walk”. So there went that idea!!
I reach the top and another icy pole finds it’s way to my hands… thank you universe! This gave me a very temporary boost of energy (combined with a downhill!). Jeff ran with me a few times in these last few km’s which was a great help. He reminded me that I’d be running past Fed Square where he and 16 others had joined me in my final day of "32 push-ups in 32 days challenge" - raising awareness for PTSD, just a few days earlier. This gave me just the focus I needed at that point. That and as I ran around Fed Square someone yelling out – "you marathoners are all incredible". I think sometimes we ‘eat up’ the inspiration we need, almost like a food - nutrition for your mind and body, and mine needed every bit of it right now!
I reached what would be the last water station – and stopped, drank a cup of cold water, and poured another one over my head. I can still feel that icy cold water cooling my crown – it was heaven in a cup!! It felt so good to stop - my legs were getting excited... Then my dear friend Mel ran past tapping me on the back “you right?”. Oh yeah... got a bit further to go... not quite there yet… so I got moving again for the final kilometre.
Around the corner and there was another good friend Andrea, she’d just done the half, put out her hand for a high 5, I missed it but didn’t have the energy to go back for it, I told her I was stuffed, she said you’ve got ¼ of a lap in The G – just keep going!
We were running around the outside of The G now, and I was eagerly looking ahead to see where people were turning in, I couldn't see the entrance point! But eventually in we went - with a stack of onlookers around the entrance making you feel pretty special, and there it was the red (rubber mat) carpet lining The G!
As I entered The G I had flash backs of 8 years earlier – that same sense of pride and somewhat disbelief was kicking in again now (although this one seemed to hurt more!) and as I ran round The G (for ¾ of a lap not the ¼ Andrea had my hopes up for!) I saw Mum and Dad in the front row cheering madly. I had my fist and arm up in the air and tapping on my chest full of pride and gratitude for their support today.
And after 3 hours, 45 minutes and 54 seconds – I crossed the finishing line!
Finally – I told my legs they could stop now, and after stumbling around a bit I found some space on the grass to crash out on. That felt good.
Then I rose to all fours - on my hands and knees I became overwhelmed with emotion. Right then, that’s when it sunk in. I shook my head with pride. Of all the challenges the Marathon, and today, this Marathon posed, I’d just done a PB. (Personal Best in running lingo).
The Marathon certainly deserves every bit of respect – that’s something that becomes clearer every time I take one on.
But what also becomes clearer is the little things... Those little moments a big day like this one holds - they're the ones I believe truly count and perhaps even outlast a medal, or a time, or a place…
Those little things, they're the ones that will stay with me from this marathon. I have many of them - but a few of the most memorable...
The words ‘Everlast’ inspiring me around the Lake
Running over the round-about for Sarah to add a bit of comedy to my day ;)
High 5’ing Simon as I reminded myself how lucky I was to be running
The icy pole that was an absolute god send and I can still taste now
Pouring cold water on my head at the last drink station - I can still feel that cup of heaven cooling me now
Seeing my proud ecstatic parents giving me the biggest of cheers on that final lap of The G
Then down on my hands and knees, shedding a tear and shaking my head, full of pride as I reflected on what my mind, body and heart - together, had achieved, again...
I think sometimes we don’t give these little things the air play they deserve. We don’t always (or often!) know how the big things will turn out, but by absorbing and embracing the little things along the way – that’s what dreams and memories are made of.
So you see... it IS the little things. And whether you make it to the finishing line or not - it's the little things that collectively make up the big things!
Without the parts, there would be no sum!
Don't miss the little things now will you?
(Originally published - 6th November, 2016)