Tonia’s (AKA Killer’s) Marathon
It’s all Geoff Evison’s fault! If he had not drawn our attention to the bargain entry fee of $42, I doubt whether many of us would have signed up. I’m just joking, of course. It was an offer too good to refuse. Geoff and Jocie put together a terrific training plan catering for all levels of ability which helped me significantly. My problem was that I had already registered for Sunshine Coast 70.3 timed for the week before the marathon, an entry which had been deferred for two years so I focused my training on that race interspersing the run training where I could. My longest lead up run was 24km. I really didn’t have many expectations of finishing the marathon. It was an unknown quantity for me, having never run a marathon before but I knew I had my determined motto of Never Give Up in my arsenal.
I had my usual “breakfast of champions” – 3 Weet Bix with banana and a cup of tea – and joined over 13,000 of my closest friends on the start line … way back on the start line. I started off enthusiastically but remembered not to go out too hard. It was a warm day and I took water at every aid station. I had 5 Maurten gels and a couple of Clif Gel Bloks which I spaced out over the run, carrying them in a Spibelt.
The ks ticked over surprisingly well for the first half of the run. It was such a privilege to run over the majestic Harbour Bridge and through the city streets. There was an electric atmosphere from the cheering and encouraging volunteers and Balance supporters scattered around the course, with lots of musicians adding to the party vibe. The run up Oxford St and Flinders St and the boring section outside the SCG and into Centennial Park were a bit of a chore, except for the enthusiastic and colourful drag queens cheering support. I grabbed a lovely big chunk of ice at the 25km mark in Centennial Park which stayed down my back for about 10km. It was a joy to see more Balance supporters at the entrance and exit to Centennial Park. I really started to slow down there and had to draw on my fertile imagination to keep my mind off the heat and stay focused on getting out of the park.
Emerging from the park was a very unkindly placed section up Moore Park Road which was a bit of a grind and then back into Flinders St and down Oxford Street. The cruelest section of the course was down into Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in the last 4km and up the other side. Even the spectacular harbour views didn’t improve the feelings of tiredness although I heard music somewhere and another lady and I started singing along – a rare feeling of camaraderie.
The welcome but seemingly endless trot down Macquarie St was so painful but improved by the cheering supporters who were there even at that stage of a big day out. I felt so grateful that I persisted and achieved another goal especially as this time last year, I was having trouble walking with a medial meniscus problem. The strength training helped to get me back to enjoying competing again. My legs felt more tired than the previous week after the 70.3 but I’m thankful for no injuries and a positive view to the future.
Kat’s Marathon Journey
Motivation and goal
My last significant race was the Ultimate at Husky in 2022. For several reasons I became somewhat obsessed training for that race. I was proud of my result on the day but crossing the finish line had been anticlimactic. It had come at a large cost to other parts of, and people in, my life so I had barely raced since.
I never thought I would run a marathon but decided to sign up for a couple of reasons. I did not get the $42 discount; it took a little longer for me to commit. As Mon pointed out, it was such a unique and special situation: so many people in the club training together – if I was ever going to do one – now was the time. I also felt ready to race again, ready for my next challenge. But the challenge I posed to myself was not about getting the best time I could, it was to train in a way that pushed me physically without letting training take over my life.
What worked: Training with this fabulous Balance community was amazing. There was so much support and team motivation to keep me going. I loved getting to know people better on our long runs: hearing about their lives, their views, and passions. I mean, how could you not enjoy running when Swales is giggling the whole time or Berto is getting fired up about waste reduction? I enjoyed running places I had never been before and taking in some amazing sunrises over the harbour. The group coffee/breakfasts afterwards were also a real treat, I liked that they were open invite, so you didn’t have to be marathon training to come along.
I did fit training around my life, which meant I chose to stop swimming and going on long weekend rides. I adapted the training plan around other things. Sometimes my long run was on a Sunday and other times a Saturday. I often swapped my short weekend run with a 40-60km ride with Rowan, my partner, so some of my training was also spending quality time with him.
My default setting is to push as hard as I can. I knew this was not going to be a sustainable approach to training for a marathon. I also knew that I had a bit of a niggle in my knee. So, I sort advice from a professional. Mike, from iMove, advised that a good way to get injured was to increase the weekly volume and frequency of runs at the same time. Prior to marathon training, I had been doing 2-3 short – medium runs a week – the training plan had 5 runs. Mike gave me exercises to do for my knee (which I did far less frequently than instructed) and he suggested that I supplement some of the running sessions with rides. I mostly cycled 3 times a week and ran 3 times a week.
I ran the City to Surf about a month out from the marathon. I got to the start line without a proper plan, so my default behaviour kicked in and I pushed as hard as I could. I listened to my music, not taking in the atmosphere, or listening to my body. I beat my PB and immediately knew it had not been worth it. I hurt my quad and had to reduce my volume of running for about two weeks, I saw a physio four times and did daily exercises in the month leading up to the marathon.
Two-week countdown: My last long run was two weeks before the race. 33 km was longer than in my plan, but I felt a bit underdone and wanted to test my quad to build up confidence for the race. It was sore on the run but not painful (thank goodness!) After that I tapered – first dropping the length of runs, then the frequency and intensity. I listened to Jocie and slept in a couple of mornings because ‘sleep is where the magic happens’. My body gets a bit stiff when I taper so in the last week, I had a couple of coffee rides to keep my body moving and the day before the race I went for a walk.
What worked: Supplementing running with cycling. Sleeping more in the week before the marathon. Coffee rides to keep the body moving.
Improvement opportunity: Have a race plan for any small events leading up to the main game.
Nutrition and hydration
My approach to nutrition before/after training was pretty lax. I tried to have protein soon after a long run and ate more on those days. I was taking iron tablets and tried to be more consistent with that, as running lots can impact your iron levels. I tested Gu gels on training runs as recommended by Geoff E because they were going to be out on the course.
Two weeks prior race: Yareni had advised that hydration begins two weeks before the race, so I tried increasing my fluids and then drank electrolytes the week before the race. I also carb loaded a couple of days before the race excluding dinner the night before.
Race day: Woke up about 2 hours before the race and had two pieces of toast and some water. During the race my plan was to have my first Gul at 45 mins (a last-minute tip from Ben ‘head of coaching’ Taylor) and then one every half an hour after that. It was going to be hot, so I also planned to drink at every drink stop.
What worked: Hydration the week leading up to the race, testing the gels on course before the race, carb loading a few days before the race and breakfast 2 hours before the race.
Improvement opportunity: Mix it up with the gels. 6 Gu gels is a lot to stomach in one race.
Mental game plan
- Run the course – I ran a bit of the course during training but was very familiar with the area. I would try running as much of the course as I can in future races. It makes a big difference when you know what to expect but is not always possible.
- Study the course – I studying the course and broke it up into 5km blocks. I considered where my head might be at when running each block and came up with something different to focus on (detailed below). This was an excellent strategy for me, and I would do that again.
- Music – I had fun pulling together my play list and getting advice from others about what songs to include. My plan was to start the race without music – to take in the atmosphere and enjoy running with the Balance crew – and then pull it out when I felt like I needed it. I would do that again.
- Watch – I changed my watch face to display heartrate, total time, lap pace, cadence, and total distance. This information was helpful to monitor during the race, as well as checking in with my body.
Before the start
Caught the train in with a big Balance crew. Met for an iconic group photo before the race. There were not enough toilets for a nervous wee – the lines were insane. I was concerned that would mean I would need a toilet stop during the race. Leighton turned up to support, which was lovely.
5 km block – mental focus – (time)
0 – 5kms – Bridges: settle in and enjoy the view – (26.30)
Was at the start line with Swales, Neil, Geoff B, Ollie and Jocie which was fun. For some reason we started before the 3:45 pacer. Swales, Neil and Geoff B started the run quicker than in my plan. I was tempted to join them but stopped myself. It was my first marathon; the plan was to settle in and enjoy the view. I ran with Jocie and Ollie. We chatted a bit and they helped monitor our pace. I took in the atmosphere running over the harbour bridge and looked over at the water as we ran past Darling Harbour. I could feel my quad was sore, hoped it would handle the distance and tried not to focus on it. There was a guy running in a cute bumblebee outfight with wings, very short shorts and tights. Jocie was concerned he would get chafing, whereas I was enjoying the view from behind – I mean it was part of my plan!
5 – 10kms – Pyrmont: you have done this before – (52:58)
We had run this part of the course so many times during training, so it was very familiar to me. There were lots of people cheering in Pyrmont. I saw Dave and James first; Rowan found me a couple of times; there was a group with Lauren; I really appreciated Matt D coming out, he had injured himself during training so couldn’t race; Shelley and Tim were there too. I separated from Jocie and Ollie in this section of the course as I got into my own rhythm. I kept seeing Swales, Neil, and Geoff B ahead on the course, but they seemed to be getting further away from me. I tried not to let that impact my pacing. There was a lot going on and the 5kms went quickly.
I had my first gel at 45 mins and was feeling pretty good, drinking three mouthfuls of water at every drink station.
10 – 15kms – Barangaroo: Berto ran this, you can too – (1:20:00)
The year before I had run along Barangaroo with Berto as he neared completing his first marathon. The route had changed this year, but I channelled the memory of him digging deep and getting it done. Ollie joined me for a little bit and then ran off to see how the group ahead were doing. I cannot believe he ran a marathon with so little training. He was such a gun pacing and supporting people the whole time. There were a couple of bands playing in some randoms spots along the course. ‘Sweet Carolyn’, got a ‘Ba, Ba, Ba!’ from a couple of the runners, which I enjoyed. A couple of volunteers along the course yelled out ‘well done, you’re almost there!’ and a man responded in exasperation “Are you kidding me? We’re nowhere near!” I found the interaction hilarious.
I had my second gel at 1:15 and kept drinking water at each drinks station.
15 – 20km – Oxford Street: You’re a Queen – (1:40:00)
This section of the course went up through Oxford Street. I wanted to feel like a Queen but also have some humility – recognising the struggles the LGBTQI+ community have faced in this place. I was merely running a marathon. I saw Blyth and Matt (or was it Brad?) near Circular Quay, Rowan at Hyde Park, Quentin and Fasong were nearby too, at some point Crocker flew past me. I decided to listen to some music as I ran out from the city and further away from the finish line. I saw a lot of people winding up and back through the ANZAC PDE part of the course: Geoff E, then Dicky, Crocker had caught up to Hughsie (I don’t know how he got that far ahead of me!), Swales, Neil and Ollie were still together and although Jocie didn’t seem that far behind me, I could tell she was pushing hard. I enjoyed waving and cheering for them all, I also saw how far the 3:45 pacer was behind me. I channelled Jocie, doing some aeroplane arms around some of the bends – it was fun but also made me feel strong. The Chariots of Fire theme song started on my playlist, which was a weirdly emotional for me. It made me take a moment and think wow, we’re really doing this! I kept checking my cadence and km splits and they were on track, for a moment I thought I wonder if I can keep this up? And then pushed that doubt out of my brain.
20 – 25kms – Gratitude for the Park – (2:13:27)
We had 15kms of running to do around Centennial Park. I had been warned that it would feel never-ending. Because of my injury and a weekend out of town, I had missed running this section of the course with the Balance crew. I was nervous about it and thought I might arrive at the park with a sense of dread. So, my mental game plan was to flip that and turn up feeling grateful for the park. I had many fond memories of cycling around and having coffee there with friends, including many from the Balance family. It is also a beautiful place, so I wanted to take that in too. I ran past Neil as we passed the SCG, the heat was getting to him, but he was still running well. I saw Rowan along Federation Way and there was a Balance crew set up to cheer as people entered and left the park, Trevor had a water mister, which was much appreciated as it was getting quite hot. At this point I was right behind Swales. She was running well, and I couldn’t work out whether it made sense to run with her; I didn’t want to disrupt my rhythm. So, like a creep, I ran right behind her without saying anything. I lost sight of her at the 25km drinks stop but she was looking really strong.
I had my third gel around 1:45 and kept drinking water at each drinks station.
25 – 30kms – Up the guts: no guts no glory – (2:39:56)
We had to zig zag up the guts of Centennial Park. The no guts, no glory mantra worked well for me on this part of the course. I saw Geoff E first, then Sean, followed by Dicky who had JT right on his heals. I waved and cheered and told JT he could catch Dicky, but JT looked far from convinced. Then running up the guts I saw Crocker up in front and Hughsie a bit behind me; I wasn’t sure when I passed him. I saw the 3:45km pacer and felt like he was gaining on me. Music really helped me through this 5kms.
I had my fourth gel just after 2:15 and kept drinking water at each drinks station.
30 – 35kms – About to beat my longest run! – (3:02:41)
The longest run I had ever done at this point was about 33kms, so I wanted to recognise that milestone. I saw Josh, who looked like he was having a rough day, Juliet, who was running strong, and Emma, who was running well but looked tired. I got support from the Balance crew as I finally ran out of the park. I was not prepared to turn right onto Moore Park Road. It was probably only a 500m stretch before we turned back around, but it was a tough 500m. Aeroplane arms around the turnaround point and a good song got my head back in the game.
I had my fifth gel around 2:45 and remember thinking, has it been half an hour already?!? I was getting over the gels and wasn’t sure I could stomach anymore. I kept drinking water at each drinks station.
35 – 40kms – Glimpse the finish line: almost there – (3:32:37)
35 kms didn’t feel like I was almost there, but I kept repeating the mantra. People were really starting to struggle here. My headphones stopped working during Elton John’s ‘I’m still Standing’, which didn’t feel like a great omen. I tried to get it working a couple of times and finally settled for having the music play through the speaker in my phone. It wasn’t too loud, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too annoying for the people around me. I ran past Crocker at some point (when he learns to pace himself, he’ll be unstoppable), saw Bri and Lucas (aren’t they cute) and got so much joy running past Mon, Kylie and Kathryn. Mon was jumping up and down – she was so excited for me – that I got excited too. I ran onto Art Gallery Rd and Rowan was there waiting for me. I got a giggle seeing his shocked facial expression, as I yelled out to him before he had seen me. As I ran down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, I saw JT. I might have been running well, but if I am catching up to JT, then he is having a rough day. I offered encouragement as I ran past and, despite his race not going to plan, he loudly called out ‘Come on Kat, finish strong!’, which meant so much to me.
It got quiet, so I could hear my music: Lose Yourself by Eminem. I was running past quite a few people at this point, and I thought to myself, this is so cliché, they must think I’m a dickhead. Lose Yourself? It isn’t 2002! But then the lyrics “So here I go it’s my shot, feet fail me not; This may be the only opportunity that I got” kept me pumping up that hill and pushing through the pain. There was a guy running next to me who, without saying anything, pointed at the Opera House. The finish line. It still felt ages away. I imagined he was saying “you’re mine!” We then ran past someone who was lying on the ground being attended to by a few ambos.
I couldn’t bring myself to have any more gels, so I drank a couple of sips of electrolyte, which was also getting hard to stomach.
40 – Finish – Opera House: Smile – (3:43:55)
Rowan was at the same spot at the top of Art Gallery Rd. He ran with me and shared a motivational chant about making a smoothy to get me to the finish line. I laughed and turned down Macquarie Street. There was probably 1km to go and it was all downhill, but it was hard. I was giving all I had, longing for the finish line. I could see the harbour, the crowd was getting bigger, a sign indicated there was 400m to go. I think I saw Tim and Leisl and I heard someone else yell out my name, but my eyes couldn’t break from the finish line. I was ready to stop. When I crossed the line, I was relieved. I didn’t have to keep running. But the race was far from over.
After the finish line
Geoff E and Sean were at the finish line, congratulating me when I arrived, which was so lovely. Sean said with excitement “You did so well! You must be so happy with your time!”. I thanked them and went to get some water. I came across Dickie, who was lying down on the ground. He said he was ok, and that someone was getting him coke. Lucky some of the Balance crew were able to help him recover and get home safely. Rowan was there and I gave him a big hug. He had been an amazing supporter. He stayed for a bit before leaving me hang out with the Balance cult. Quentin and Fasong joined me in the shade, and I had some of Quentin’s amazing baked goods. Soon after, Tim and Leisl joined with more food. I sat there eating, drinking, and watching the app to see how everyone else was doing. As each person finished, we congratulated and debriefed on how they went. It had been tough conditions. I felt for people who hadn’t achieved their goal but was also in awe of the grit and determination everyone had shown to get to the finish line, despite things not going to plan. Killer was the final Balance competitor on course, backing it up after competing at the Sunshine Coast 70.3 the weekend before, what an absolute legend!
Later that day, we regrouped at the Leichhardt Bowlo for a celebratory drink. Geoff E declared that I had race of the day. As it was my first marathon, it is hard to say how much of that was luck and how much of it was to do with me. All I know is I that I had I ball, I found the race so satisfying and can confidently say that this wasn’t just about achieving my goal time (although that certainly helped). This was about an incredible journey I went on with a group of amazing people. That I didn’t let training for this race take over my life. It was about finding the fun during the race, cheering for others and watching them dig deep. I avoided the anticlimax when I crossed the finish line because the race didn’t finish then. It finished once we all had crossed that line. This wasn’t a solo race for me, what made it so special was everyone who was part of it with me.