Sunday, July 4, 2010
It’s 4.45am and it’s just under 8 degrees. People are wearing various amounts of clothing, as we board the bus to the start line. One guy, just a pair of running shorts and a singlet, looks like he regrets the decision not to rug up and leave his stuff in the left luggage facility.
One thing about being advised to switch to the Half Marathon by my GP was that the half starts at 6am – at the time I remember thinking that’s EARLY – as it turned out I was grateful of the early start, as sleep proved to be an illusive commodity the night before. I woke every hour, visited the bathroom, had a drink of water and relaxed for another 55 minutes. So when it came time to get up, the alarm brought with it a sense of relief.
I had made the decision to stay rugged up until the very last opportunity, to make sure the crisp air didn’t reignite my recuperating respiratory system. 5.40am and there is just enough time to join the long queues for the toilet blocks. The queue moves quickly and as it shortens there is a pungent smell as we discover that the first casualty of the day is one of the toilets. It has filled up and backed up, lacking the stamina required to be a toilet on race day. Race preparation is so critical.
Now to find the start line. As I turn the corner and the sea of people come in to view, I am immediately aware of the bassy music. I spare a fleeting thought for those not involved in the activities who might be trying to rest. The atmosphere is electric and infectious. I find my place towards the back of the pack and take to pacing backwards and forwards to ease the tightening sensation I can feel in my gut. As I walk past the same man for the second time, we smile at each other and share a comment. “This is where the winners hang out isn’t it?’ I manage, sensing that the cold air has attacked my conversational skills. “Yeh mate, this is the beer drinkers end!” comes the reply.
8 minutes to 6am and the energy in the group cranks up a notch. The music is louder and the beat is recognizable, Chemical Brothers I think. Nerves or excitement… excitement I decide… I know this. Nearly 9,000 runners are moving stretching and merging into one fluid group about to run 21.1 Kilometers, in the predawn light.
The sensation moves from my stomach to my chest and throat as a voice announces the start. The group begins to bob up and down as one, and we inch our way forward.
I am not sure which I am aware of first, the 1 K sign or the fact that the pack is starting to thin out and we are able to relax in to our pace more without fear of knocking or stepping on someone. Next the hypnotic hum of thousands of feet striking the road. The anxiety as to how my lungs would hold up at the beginning of the race in the cold is now replaced by the familiar warm sensation of settling into my rhythm. “This is what I came for!” I whisper to myself.
My attention flits from person to person, my run nutrition plan, the fullness of my bladder, and then back to my breathing. 2K, then a drinks station, 3K, 4K, then a well placed public toilet with only a small cue outside. As I rejoin the group I have my first carb gel and feel a huge sense of relief – I must be on the outside of this virus, just take it nice and easy and enjoy the run.
I feel the benefits of having trained comprehensively for the full marathon and my legs are strong, I know I can pick up the pace, but resist the temptation so as not to tempt fate. Running is so meditative - each time I start to think about how far I have gone and how far to go, I gently bring my attention back to my breathing and just ‘be’. Each time I am rewarded as I slip back in to my being and just enjoy; the clean sea air, the promise of sunrise over the water, the incredible sensation of running with so many people, my body’s positive response to movement.
As we hit the paved area at Runaway bay, less than a Kilometer from the turn around point, I promise myself the first of my Smart 1 gels – a specially formulated carbohydrate gel with caffeine, blackcurrant anthocyanins and orange bioflavinoids – an antioxidant mix designed to improve blood flow, protect against oxidative stress and reduce cramp and muscle strain. I stop, devour and then sip some water - tastes great. As I rejoin the run, I am aware of a warm clear feeling, now more awake and refreshed. Once again I have to resist the temptation to push harder as I now feel strong, warmed up and energized.
As I have done so many times during the longer training runs for the marathon, I play a game with myself … twister… or do I? No, I pretend that each 5K segment is the only one I have run. Every time I see a marker; 5K, 10K, 15K, I say to myself, it’s just a 5K you could do this in your sleep. It works! As I get to the 16K point I am aware of slight tension in my left knee. It feels like a cramp around the knee. I ease back the pace a little and take several sips of water. ‘Breathe’ I tell myself, as I attempt to take deeper breaths than normal. For about half a kilometer, a distant thought lurks in the periphery of my awareness – ‘Be a shit if you had plenty of energy but couldn’t finish because your knee gave way?’ I push the thought away. A few minutes on, two men in their forties are standing and energetically cheering people on.
‘Mate you don’t have far to go, well done, keep going!’ I feel the urge to reach out and ‘Hi Five’ him, he enthusiastically obliges.
At 18 K, the sensation has passed and I have another gel, a little earlier than planned. Once again I focus. ‘This is only a 3K run you could run a little quicker you know!’ I oblige my inner monologue. The water in my hydration belt has run out and ideally I would love a sip of water. I reason that there should be one more water station, but as the festivities build the closer we get to finish line, I begin to wonder. Just after 19 K I am rewarded. Now I feel a combination of fatigued and strong. I pick up the pace.
As I pass the 20K sign I see a woman on my right look as if she is debating whether to stop, fall over or continue, the turmoil evident on her face. “You are doing incredibly well!” I shout. “Thanks mate, so are you!” The grimace disappears and her posture straightens. “Do you know roughly what time we are?” “Somewhere between 2:20 and 2:30.” “Really, I thought it was much later than that!” “No we are doing really well!”
The mind plays tricks. Now with the chute in sight, I satisfy myself that my pep talk has had it’s desired effect and pick up the pace again, my eyes searching the crowd for Ange and the boys. As I reach the corner and enter the chute that leads to the finish line I hear Ange and the boys yelling, ‘You go Nick!’ Ange has tears in her eyes. The sound of their voice stirs something in me, and despite having just run 21K, I now sprint for all I’m worth, pouring every last bit of energy into my legs. Immediately I feel a strong wave of nausea, but I don’t care – the road and my clothes are washable.
2 hours 29 minutes and 20 Seconds (2:27:10 net) after setting out, I have finished. I walk dazed and breathless towards the fruit and water tables and feel my phone vibrate in my waist belt. A message – it’s from my friend Rob – ‘Congratulations mate, Knew you could do it! Thinking of you!’
A huge thank you to;
Chris at Northstar Property Services
Shane at Schultz Toomey O'Brien Lawyers
and Michael at Science in Sport (SIS)
and my Dad
for all of your support, encouragement and enthusiasm! You have been incredible. In the next few updates, I would like to profile each of these people who have helped in the pursuit to raise the awareness that we are far from powerless to act, when faced with things like depression, panic, anxiety or chronic prolonged stress.
Next - Eat Your Brain!