This year’s Sydney Marathon was something I was undertaking for more reasons than just the personal challenge. Last year as I finished the Sydney Marathon my Grandfather passed away so this year’s motivation was to remember him in my own way. This was something I really wanted to do for a while but didn’t really commit to the race until a few weeks out as I continued to toy with how I would prepare for the bigger challenge that is completing the Hounslow Classic. This was also my first race post Lavaredo.
Coming into the race I was pretty undertrained. In terms of running I was managing around 40k a week mixed between on and off road with a longest run of about 17k. My pace was also well behind where I was last year. What I had done however was increase my cycling volume through a minor Zwift addiction.
All this meant I really wasn’t expecting much in terms of the race other than to go out and enjoy myself, harden my legs up for Hounslow and take the time to remember my grandfather.
Much like last year I was lucky to be escorted to the start by my family (who would also collect me at the finish). I set the expectation of anywhere up to 4hrs probably around 3h 30m with 3h 10m a best case.
Once in the start pen, my mind suddenly shifted into race mode and I decided to just hang with the 3h bus and see how I went. At first I thought I had completely missed it as it disappeared ahead as the race started. I finally latched on at the crest of the bridge and I actually pushed ahead on the spiral descent to the Cahill Expressway. At this point I questioned the wisdom of breaking my rule of last year and getting ahead of the 3 pacers but then I found a bunch of runners from Newcastle who seemed to be maintaining a comfortable pace and decided to just hang on behind them.
This years course had changed a little, I suspect partly out of necessity and partly out of opportunity. The first change come at this point, shortly after the Cahill Expressway, instead of turning left to Mrs Macs chair we pushed on to Hyde Park. This change took away the views of Garden Island which had reminded me of my Grandfather last year. Heading out to Centennial Park I high fived my cousin Josh on a short out and back in front of the SFS. He was looking strong and smartly placed for a 3:10 so I was expecting him to cruise on by at any moment.
The route through Centennial Park was tweaked from last year and, coming earlier in the race, it certainly seemed a lot less monotonous and taxing. I might even say I enjoyed it. I hung around the Newcastle runners most of the way until they started to skip ahead shortly before exiting the park at the half marathon mark. I still had a decent buffer on the 3hr group at this point.
By now, as the course headed back into the city I was very much expecting my legs to shut down. I had been watching my HR drift up into the 170’s and really felt I wasn’t going to be able to hold that level of effort for any period of time at all. Last year I blew out my HR early had to switch to survival mode and so I was expecting the same. To be fair my pace was starting to drift but I was still keeping up my cadence and my energy levels felt pretty good.
At this point I start to imagine my Grandfather saying “c’mon mate”. He had a certain way of saying it and I kept playing in my mind till I got it just right. It’s surprising how many ways you can say “c’mon mate”. In his case I think the “c’mon” was kind of gentle with a slight speed up in the middle, the “mate” was usually firmer but warmer and delivered a little faster. It certainly made me forget whatever else was hurting at the time.
The 3h bus cruised by as the course began its descent down Oxford St and I didn’t manage to jump on. At this point I figured I’d push on for another 5k and see how the legs were feeling. Plus, a guy racing dressed as a Blackmores Vitamin Bottle had managed to waltz on by me. Having been beaten by Santa in the IMWA swim previously I didn’t want to rack up another loss to a costume character. Eventually he did give me the slip unfortunately (and set a world record!).
Into Pyrmont I was still ticking along and with 10k to go I suddenly began to believe that I would be able to push on to the finish without any real issues. I was momentarily strolling through aid stations to make sure I took on enough electrolyte and gels as well as lowering my HR a few BPM but otherwise I felt pretty good. Finally, with 2k to go as I entered Barangaroo Reserve (another new add to the course) I had a “micro walk”. Maybe 10 seconds max. Just enough to get some encouragement from the guy passing me so I got back to it. For the last 2k I picked up the pace to make sure I finished with the tank bang on empty and, as I passed the Circular Quay wharves, my leg muscles twinged for the first time all day, I could see the finish but of course they couldn’t! With only a few hundred meters to go it didn’t matter at all and I pressed on to the finish.
I finished in 3:08:33 (3:08:22 net). That’s an 11min PB and a Boston Qualifying time! Position: 156/3467 AG: 30/427. A result I am so happy with and very unexpected.
During the race I took 6 gels and Isowhey at every aid station that had it. I was very impressed with the Isowhey particularly and even the aid station Gu was better than some of my previous experiences! (i.e the salted caramel served at Sixfoot)
The race organisation was fantastic (up a notch on last year) and the course changes also added to the event although I would like to see Mrs Macs chair added back and cut some of the contrived short out-and-back bits. The finish line experience was good too… no need to go up to the village this year (which last year basically was worthless unless you were a corporate VIP anyway), just a straight exit out from under the Opera House and a flat walk back into the City. The only real disaster was the live timing/results. Basically a halfarsed page on the Telegraph website that had a frame linking through to the real site on Multisport. Got to wonder why bother. Live tracking is a really important feature these days and if Ultratrail events can nail it even in the middle of nowhere surely a big city marathon can!