With the Boston Marathon just finished and London Marathon just around the corner, it got me thinking about the running part of the run.ride.roam that I do. I like to get out and run. Sometimes I run marathons. Why do I do that? I have no idea. I certainly don’t race and try to beat anyone or anything, I’m not a fast runner and I don’t enjoy discomfort, so I really don’t know. It’s just something I find myself doing. I was wondering those things yet again last year as I rocked up to the start of the Melbourne Marathon. That marathon was my fourth, the first since returning from the long cycling trip and my first as a vegan runner, so I was having to test if those plants were going to do their stuff and fuel me through training and through the 42.2km of a marathon. So there I was, heading to the start line… and so the story unfolded…
“Why am I doing this? Why do I do this to myself.” [Insert hand wringing and worried, furrowed brow].
Those are the words that I always find myself saying while trying to loosen the tightening knot and calm the frenetic butterflies that invade my stomach in the hour before a marathon. Darn it, fly away you fiends, I need you not! Go and flutter hither and thither somewhere other than my churning stomach! I wasn’t too fussed about the run itself, because I wasn’t shooting for a particular time and I sure wasn’t there to race, I would just be happy to run along and take in the event, but the nervousness about plodding along for 42.2 km, still struck and those words came once again, as I looked at Steve for an answer, “Why am I doing this?” To which Steve threw his hands in the air and replied, “I dunno!”
So there I was. Training done. Drink in hand. Dates in the pocket as my fuel for the distance. No gels or anything real-deal like that, just real food for this low key runner. Dates and some grape juice will do me. Sticking with the low-key theme I had adopted, I was determined not to worry too much about pace and time and just see this as another run and enjoy the moment. I stood in the crowd at the start. The gun went bang. We were off! I made my way through the sea of runners, trying not to clip heels along the way, which would have seen me sprawl into a tide of bodies that would have gone down like dominoes if I didn’t keep an eye on the feet in front of me.
Steve was my support crew. Because I was carrying my own drink, I didn’t plan on stopping at the drink stations, so we’d arranged for Steve to meet me at the 14km mark and then 30 km, because those places on the course were almost across the road from each other because the course doubled back on itself, so Steve would just have to ride his bike to 14km and then pop across the road to meet me again when I reached 30km. In the first 10K though, I found myself drinking a lot more than usual and didn’t think my second bottle would last me to 30km, so as I came up to 14km and saw the Big Fella there on the side of the road with bottle in hand, ready to pass me my DIY drink, I changed plans on the go.
“Can you meet me at 25km instead of 30km.” I said to him as I swiped a bottle from his hand and passed him my empty.
“Umm, yes,” he replied. I thought at the time he sounded a little hesitant but didn’t know why, since I was the one doing the hard graft slogging around on foot and he had the luxury of a couple of free-wheelin’ tyres to get around on. I kept plodding, smiling at the clapping spectators, looking out at the water along Port Phillip Bay and feeling pretty OK. The 25km was now up ahead, the newly arranged meet-up point for Steve to pass me another drink. I scanned the side of the road looking for my solo support crew. Bless his gigantic fluffy cotton socks, there he was, with drink in hand. I, however, seemed to have lost the rampant thirst that struck me in the first few kilometres and still had a near-full bottle.
“I’ll be right until 30km,” I said breezily, shaking my near-full bottle, as I plodded past. On I went. The spectators were fantastic, holding up signs of encouragement and clapping as we trudged past. Did Steve pull a face at the unnecessary change of plan and he could have just stayed where he’d been and activated the original plan of popping across the road? I don’t know because I was off and plodding on.
I kept drinking and kept plodding and kept chewing on dates and then the 30km was nearing. By now I was ready for my support team comprising of one large, lone cyclist.The quads were starting to talk to me and I’d finished my drink, the morning was warming up and I was hanging out for my fluid. I scanned the people on the side of the road and I ran hard up against the barriers so I could see Steve, who at least would be head and shoulders above everyone else. I passed the 30km sign. No Steve. Where was he? Thirst begone! Along came 31km. No Steve. The 32km sign came and went. The Big Fella was AWOL. Another thirsty slog for a kilometre and at 33km there was still no Steve and I was getting desperate. I saw a man on the side of the road talking on his mobile phone and I nearly shouted out, “Can you call my husband and tell him I’m heading for 34 km and need my drink!” But, civility prevailed, that and the fact that I couldn’t remember Steve’s mobile phone number to have told anyone anyway (darn those automatic contact lists that play havoc with our memories for such things as phone numbers). Then, up ahead, all of a sudden…there he was. THANK YOU. I thrust my empty drink bottle at him, uttered a desperate, “Where have you been?!” grabbed my drink from his hand, as he replied, “Huff…puff…huff…puff…I missed you.” And I plodded on, sucking down my drink as fast as I could. Did he sound like he was puffing and out of breath? No, surely not. What’s he got to be puffing for? I’m the one who gets to do the puffing, not he of the luxury two wheels! On I went.
This is the time in a marathon where it truly is mind over matter. The legs started to talk to me. The quads started to talk a bit louder. It’s just a matter of counting down the last kilometres and that’s what I did…in song. Once I hit the 33km mark, it was only single digit kilometres to go and I started singing them down in my head to the tune of “Here We Go”. “Nine to go, nine to go, nine to go, nine to go, nine to go, nine to goooooo…“Six to go, six to go, six to go, six to go, six to go, six to goooooo…”
As we ran into the Royal Botanic Gardens, we were confronted with a bit of a slope and some fantastic spectators. “Come on, I know this hill is tough, but you can do it!” cheered a lady as we climbed the “hill”. It really wasn’t a hill at all, just a slight upward slope but it felt like a hill at that point of the course. People were handing out icy poles to the runners and cheering encouragement and kids were holding out lollies, which was fantastic support.
Once we were out of the gardens, it was back along St Kilda Road, through a tunnel and then up Flinders Street and I could see the MCG in the distance. Nearly there! C’mon legs, let’s get this done, there’s doughnuts at the end of this! That’s one of the things that keeps me going in a marathon, my chosen post-marathon treat. I decide this before the run and fantasise about it when the going gets tough. I had discovered a doughnut shop in my searches of vegan eateries in Melbourne and this particular place always had two vegan choices, so that was going to be my prize, a fair dinkum, calorie bomb doughnut and I was heading towards its sugary depths right now. I saw the 41km mark and people started shouting, “You’re nearly there!” and then we were at the tunnel into the MCG and I was on the turf and the red mat that would take me around the ground to the finish. I put on a bit of a spurt, passed some other runners, looked up at the big screen so I could watch the elites being presented with their medals and then turned to look straight ahead at the finish and…done! Over the line, watch stopped and that was it, fourth marathon in the bag.
As I navigated my way through the bowels of the MCG and back out into the daylight to find Steve at our meet up point, I chugged on a bottle of water and reflected on the fact that I didn’t feel too bad at all. After my first two marathons I could barely walk and couldn’t bend my legs to go up and down the kerb as I walked back from the finish, but this time…nope, nothing hurt, I felt fine, just a bit tired in the legs but I guess that’s OK after 42.2km. I eventually looked at my watch to see my time and got a surprise, a PB at 3:45.
When I met up with Steve and we began the postmortem of my experiences along the course and his experiences along the course, I discovered why he was puffing when I finally met him to do the final drink change. Because I’d changed plans mid-course and asked him to meet me at 25km, it turned out that instead of just virtually hopping across the road, which he would have done if we’d stuck to the original plan, with me changing things, he’d had to pedal quite a bit further to get from the 25km to the 30km mark (5km surprisingly enough!) and when he got there he saw one of the pace runners approaching and he thought I’d be behind them but soon realised he’d missed me and set off frantically pedalling again up the course to try and catch me. When I saw him and grabbed my drink, he had literally just arrived at the spot, just in time to hand my drink over. So I had given the poor fella a stressful turnaround, a frantic pedal that left him totally puffed out and literally screaming up with a screech of brakes and much heaving and puffing just in the nick of time to finally hand me my drink, all because of my change of plan. Sorry support crew. He managed to make it back to the MCG in time to see the finish though, so all’s well that ends well.
We strolled back to the hotel on a brilliant sunny Melbourne morning and stopped off at…the doughnut shop! Mmmmm, sugar and fat and calories and jam and…a deadset ridgy-didge, very welcome, once a year treat. I stuck my nose into the bag and sucked in those sugar fumes with a dreamy look on my face. Mmmmmm. Back at the hotel, I had a little sit and a little rest and then a bite of that doughnut. Then another bite and…that was it. I pulled up. Was it worth the build up? Nah, actually not. These things always taste better in the anticipation than they do in reality. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great doughnut, cake-like and light and lots of oozy jam in the middle, but I just don’t ever eat that sort of food and while I thought that would make it all the better, being such a rare treat, it actually didn’t. I had a couple of bites and that was enough for me, so Steve polished off the rest, along with his own. Steve maintained his support crew role right until the end!
So my first vegan marathon was in the bag and I was content. It only took two days for me to feel completely back to normal again, with nothing sore or tired, everything felt completely fine. Now I just have to plan to do another one, so I can say again, “Why am I doing this?” Well I may ask…why would I be doing it? Hmmm….post marathon pancakes! Or…cupcakes…or…bagels or…well I’ve got some time to decide what it will be, but whatever it is, the thought of that treat makes it all worth it! Will Steve be up for it or will he go on strike after being led astray and forced to power-pedal through the streets of Melbourne to find a plan-busting, plodding wife? We’ll see. I might have to entice him with the promise of pizza and beer at the end. Oh well, we all have our incentives I suppose. Whatever it takes. Power to the pedal. Power to the plod.