Sydney Marathon – The 9 Things I Learnt Running in 2019
by Jamie Broom (shout out to Jamie for scoring a sub 3.10 marathon nearly and hour pb, through sheer hard work)
This year was building up to the conspicuously absent marathon distance in my Rejoov race line-up. After watching some legendary marathon+ exertions by other Rejoovers, I hesitantly signed up to the Blackmores Sydney Marathon at the start of 2019.
Race day finally landed after several months of progress but against the final few weeks of niggles and travel to disrupt training. Anyhow, marathons don’t care, it was now or never! Up at 4:30am and the nerves struck as I munched on my toast and banana. As the sun rose I boarded the train to Milson’s Point with the excited chatter of other runners in the background. I will not forget the mesmerising panorama as the train rose up over the Harbour Bridge with the half marathoners making their way in front of the Sydney CBD backdrop. Soon enough it was my turn to make that famous dart over the Bridge. I had absolutely no idea what time to aim for, but after deliberations with Greta, I landed on a target of 3:10 for my first proper marathon.
4km down and I had to double-take my watch. Time had zoomed along and I was feeling tremendous as we made our way over Circular Quay and up Macquarie St, as eerily quiet there as in the SMH Half a couple of months back. After trampolining my way over the Hyde Park scaffolding footbridge, I was on my way up Oxford St and it was feeling like a commute run I’ve done time and again.
Next up was ‘home turf’ Centennial Park where we traversed just about every road. I was feeling relaxed and buoyed by cheers from Rejoovers both racing and training. I could picture Greta standing on the corner by the Homestead willing me on. This was the perfect moment for reflection on the last year of running against the background melody of the faint thuds of running shoes slapping the road all around. So what have I learnt this year?
1) Mixing up the running with varied core-focussed exercise made a huge difference. The times when I was able to shave the most time off PBs were when I was consistently doing strength, core bootcamp or rowing classes on top of my weekly mileage.
2) Practising mindfulness whilst running got me through the long runs. If you haven’t experienced mindfulness, you’ll think I sound crazy. However, I promise you it’s worth a try. After reading some pertinent books, I’ve progressively developed a routine of 1) reviewing the environment I’m running in to notice the heat / cold / rain / wind / rough surface / etc, 2) scanning my own body and mind to think about how I feel including accepting, yet letting go of pain or negativity, 3) centring on my stride as I recurrently count to ten. I devoted extensive periods doing this in the long training runs and during the marathon itself.
3) Sydney is the most beautiful city in the world to run. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to run in something like 18 countries and plenty more cities but I still have never come across a finer city to jog in than Sydney. Pleasant conditions, parks, beaches, harbour, rivers, national parks, mountains, and just about everything else. We’re lucky to run here!
4) Listen to your body and hold off when you don’t feel right. Cliché maybe but I thought I knew better by trying to power through twinges and tiredness. However, I’ve learnt that this really is true. If I hadn’t accepted this in recent weeks, I would never have made it to the start line.
5) Doing track speed sessions is fun and helps speed up the longer runs. For some reason I didn’t have a high outlook before I tentatively attended my first track session earlier in the year. However, not only has it been awesome training, it’s also an exhilarating way to run in optimal conditions.
Back to the marathon, and as I descended Oxford Street just after half-way, the running herd was spreading out and I was channelling Greta’s strategy by fighting the urge to run quicker. I was buoyed by more familiar faces as we snaked back through the CBD and circled out to Barangaroo. The day was warm like one of the handful of summer days back in the UK and as we approached 9am I could feel the temperature rising. Sweat dripping from the forehead became a constant aide-mémoire to remain hydrated and I executed poorly the awkward cup sipping whilst running technique at almost every drinks station.
As we wound our way into Pyrmont around the 30km mark, I could tell I was into the business end of the battle. My pacing bounced around the 4:25m/km mark and agreeably inside my 4:30 plan but my legs were tiring, and each step was feeling increasingly like scampering on soft sand. The Pyrmont streets were quieter than others so it was time to ramp up the music to push me along!
The u-turn under the ANZAC Bridge was a testing moment at around 34/35km being the end point of prior runs and knowing exactly how much further was to go. However, with a focus on repeated counting to 10 of my right foot striking the ground, I wiggled my way around the Pyrmont wharves like a game of Snake on my old Nokia 3310.
The 5km run to the end was similar to the Sydney Harbour 10k course so I knew it well but I was struggling to cling onto the pace with the average time pushing above the 4:30 target.
Time for another point of reflection as I ran through Barangaroo Reserve, one of my favourite spots in Sydney to run. What else had I learnt?
6) However great you feel in the first half of the marathon, hold even more back. Both Greta’s race plan and my last-minute tips from Sammie focussed on not going out too swiftly. Of course I still went a bit quick in the first half, but without this advice, I would have gone even more rapidly.
7) The training is the real test. When I look back, it’s the dark, wet Tuesday mornings, the Weds evening when you struggle to get out of work in time for track, and the lonely 36km Sunday runs somewhere humid and hilly which were the real test of 2019. Yes, you have to run to a plan on the day and hope nothing goes wrong, but it’s ALL about the lead-up work.
8) You can do more than you think. When I signed up for the marathon at the start of 2019 I thought it would be nice to do a sub-4hr marathon. My 5k was around 20min, my 10k closer to 45min and my half marathon around 100mins. All of these came down around 15-20% this year. Who knew!?
Finally, I hit the 40km mark and I believed that I was going to succeed with my marathon plan. I looked at my watch and I had to run the last couple of kms just under the 4:30 mark to hit my 3:10 target. I’m not sure where the energy came from but a magical boost seemed to kick in! The pace went up as I ran along Hickson Road, under the Bridge and past the ferry wharves of Circular Quay. I probably looked more like a lolloping deer than a smooth cheetah but the shouts coming in from Rejoovers all around meant that I didn’t care! The fences narrowed and it felt like the cheering crowd was almost able to reach out and push me on. Adrenaline coursing through my veins as the Blackmores finish arch loomed and boom! 3hrs 9min and 46 second! 14 seconds inside my target time and I was ecstatic.
I’m sure all of my reflections are all well-known by the Rejoov crew as is the final thought I had whilst slumped on the orange pavement in the finish area under the Opera House trying to keep a banana down, grasping my water bottle and looking up at the Harbour Bridge where we set out earlier that morning.
9) 42.195km is a long way. Never again.
Well, maybe not until next year’s sub-3 attempt. Oh dear.