Gold Coast Airport Marathon
Now that the dust is a little settled and I’m coming to terms of resuming the humdrum haze filled days, there’s a wee bit of time to do this race report, and then some. Once I got over the initial disappointment, my 20th turned out rather well, if a little different. It has a lot to do with what the Gold Coast has lined up for visitors, the presence of many familiar faces and meeting of new friends.
Arrival and Day 1
I’ve mentioned more than a few times of my loss of training the 3 weeks prior to taper due to illness so there’s no point in flogging a dead horse. That pretty much left me with insufficient quality long runs when it mattered most. As a result I went into the race with only 1 28K, 5 24Ks, 5-6 21Ks. The flight into Gold Coast was not a good one, sleep-wise. Many passengers were either coughing or sneezing, a testament of the poor air quality in KL. Just before landing, I had my first episode of migraine. Up till that moment, I’ve been migraine-free all my life. There’s always a first time but I’m hoping that was the last too!
As was last year, I was again held up at the immigration when my visa needed some alterations to the First/Family Name data. No big issues, but as long as I visit Australia, this is something I’ve to face unless they update their visa application form. Thanks to Francis who was on the same flight, I’ve enough pain relievers on standby should the attack return. Once all the AirAsia Go (AAG) travelers were through customs, we promptly loaded up and were shuttled to the expo. True to the forecast, the rainy weather had been replaced with sunny days. At the Convention Centre, we still needed to wait a little before the doors opened. There were plenty of time to the 12:30pm shuttle pickup, so the lot of us made full use of the window to sample Endura gels and drinks, getting our feet taped up at the Rock Tape booth (KT had their own too) and I also couldn’t resist a session with the EMS device. Before we left the expo, I had a nice chat with Andrew and Sue O’Brien, of the well known Couple On The Run.
AAG’s choice of tie-up with Wyndham Hotel was excellent. Located just diagonally across the Q1, the rooms offer very nice amenities, from a fully equipped kitchen to the laundry room (you needn’t even buy your detergents!). Critically, its central location provided excellent start points to the Cavill Mall (8-10 minutes’ walk), to the Islander Apartments (where the Chap Ayam Runners stayed, 6 minutes’ walk) and a block to the beach. All my breakfasts and 2 dinners were eat-ins.
The first evening were spent loitering around the Surfers Paradise beach front, soaking in the Festival activities. There were performances, light shows and stalls. I’d done a bit of grocery shopping earlier and so I was back at the hotel by 9pm after linking up with Lynn and Pat to pass them a couple of event slingbags. Took the cough mixture and nasal spray I bought from Tower Chemist 2 blocks away from the hotel before drifting off to sleep.
The plan was for a morning run and to visit the race precinct to witness the 10K race and possibly spot Yuki Kawauchi early next morning but sleep deficiency got the better of me and I slept right through the alarm. The nasal spray worked wonders for the congested sinus but the cough was still bothersome. I’d to jump to the next agenda in the itinerary where I had Vivianne for company (Roy couldn’t be located, presumably out on a training run in preparation for his 100-miler) for the bus ride to Harbour Town. The ride took a long time as a result of road closures due to the 10K race. Bumped into Leslie at the crowded shopping centre where we found Dean Karnazes’ book going for only AUD5 at the TNF outlet. Ralph Lauren was having a 70% storewide sale and most of the other brands had plenty of good buys as well. The damage to my wallet were for a couple of Nautica shirts, 1 really nice yellow Livestrong tee for the wife (AUD30) which she said she’ll need some slimming to squeeze into, 2 white Nike Pro Combat tops, of which 1 is a regular version and the other a Livestrong edition and a pair of red surf shorts. Lunch was chicken and lamb kebab before hopping a ride back to Surfers to catch the fireworks display. The Chap Ayam Runners were there too. Back at the hotel I dug into pasta and soup I’d bought earlier from Woolsworth. A banana completed the meal before I laid out the race gear, with The Simpsons playing on TV.
2 alarms woke me up and there was no rush in getting ready. The air was expectedly chilly (but not as cold as last year) before the start. There were many signs that pointed to a hot run. Hence my gear was just the WhyMarathon vest over the Nike We Run KL tee. Bottoms were the Swift tights while a cap and a pair of sunglasses were used for sun protection duty.
Together with Chan and his wife, we strolled the race precinct and took some photos and hung around keeping warm. I even had time to join the long queue for the toilet before dropping off our bags.
There were reportedly around 5,700 marathoners yet the area wasn’t congested due to the size of race precinct. The half marathoners had been let off and the marathon start into the opposite direction helped prevent any gridlock. Based on my goal time I was assigned to the B corrall. As I wandered into the section, I saw to my horror that this section were where the 3:30 (5-minute average pace) pace group was! 3:30 was way too fast. I stood there for a moment to consider my options and strategy – do I try this thing out just for the heck of it, knowing that I’d probably crash and burn at the 13K mark or be wise and move deeper into the back. I opted for the conservative option. Located the 4-hour pacers and stood next to the 2nd pacer in that group. Together, we were just in front of the 4:15 pacer, Asian Dude (AD), who led the 4-hour group last year [read my 2011 report]. I’ve high regards for AD and I believe I heard him introduce himself as Steve. Unlike the 4-hour pacers, who were pretty aloof, Steve was rallying his brood and told them that his race plan was even splits while dispensing tips and encouragement. Very interactive and truly my vision of an ideal pacer.
After the singing of the Australian National Anthem, we were off. The start was very relaxed 5:48 pace, and more importantly my breathing was clear and I wasn’t coughing. The sun was up and it was already warming up. Even at this stage it was becoming clear that the 4:00 pacers were really hammering it. By the 2nd K, I’d hit my goal pace of 5:42 yet my pacer was already yards ahead. That’s when I spotted Mohan. The 3 following photos were taken by him.
The gap became wider by the 3rd K and that got me really confused. The Polar was showing that I was hitting the correct pace and I was running really really comfortably, like an easy run despite hitting my goal pace. Yet the dude was pulling away! I even took out the GPS pod from the SPIBelt to validate if it was functioning. There it was, the green LCD still blinking away showing sat lock. Nevermind, I thought to myself, perhaps it turned screwy like the faulty heart rate strap. I gave the pacers my benefit of the doubt and played along to their script, whatever that might be.
By the 7th K the pacers were still way ahead despite upping the pace to 5:30 the last 2Ks and I’d already just ran a 5:23 split. At that point I thought, dammit, to heck with the pacers! I’ll rely on my own breathing and timing. Luckily I was still breathing very very easily. Not a hint of panting. I was enjoying the race so far and spotted Francis in the 3-hour pace group. Nothing to report then as I lapped up and enjoyed the miles past the Burleigh Heads u-turn (15K). Like the crowds, the sun was already making its presence felt and the rim of my cap was constantly slanted to one side to prevent the glare. I checked myself every 5K and I’ve been ticking off the pace goals up to this point. 5K later at the 20K mark, my timing was to the minute, 1:53+. Another kilometre later, it was still to the minute, 1:59+. I’d been restraining and my leg turnovers weren’t even quick. And so it came to a decisive moment for me – to maintain this progress or to slow down and preserve, conserve and shuffle past the 30K. The decision was to just adopt the “come what may and deal with it when it comes”. I was enjoying the race too much and hitting the wall was already a given no matter how much I slow down, since the longest I ran in training wasn’t that long anyway. Might as well see how far I could go in the given fitness condition. I was also especially curious to see if the cramps that hit me running at this pace last year would surface again this year. It was still game on and I kept thinking that it’s only a half marathon left. I thought back to the PJ and Bareno halves and pretended that I was just running the same race.
I covered 6 more Ks when my legs stopped churning. Momentum was lost and I ground to a halt. I wasn’t even panting nor in any pain. And I realized that that was it. That was the end of my race. I wasn’t entirely surprised but it was still a blow and major disappointment. You see, despite steeling one’s mind and preparing to face the blowup, I don’t think one can ever get used to the feeling when the cogs finally stop moving. It was still a gut punch.
Yet, I was strangely relieved because there was no cramp despite the pace. The philosophy behind the FIRST method worked. I’d simply ran out of steam. My body’s energy systems were simply not efficient in managing its fuel consumption. I got to nearly the same longest distance I’d covered in training at that given pace. It was harder for me to hit 5:50 than 5:42 or 5:40 on a training run these days, such was the pace memory in my legs. So, slowing down more than a few seconds wasn’t an option. For me at least, it has come down to 5:40 or nothing.
The 4:00 pacers were long gone and I suspected they were putting in 5:15 splits (3:42 finish) from the 2nd K onwards which if true, was just too fast. I’m sure the 2 of them would’ve no issues finishing according to their timing but it would potentially ruin the runners tagging along. Roy would later inform me that his 3:45 pacers told their group that they too will be running positive splits. In contrast, Steve, the 4:15 pacer, made it clear of his strategy and that his charges would have enough time to drink at all the hydration stations. True to form, he repeated his orders for them to hold back and surge only from 37K onwards if they have enough left.
My race then involved plenty of fast walking. Runners have begun looking for shady parts of the route often taking to the far side of the road. The windless conditions meant there won’t be respite from the searing dry heat. It was at this stage when I started feeling ashamed of representing the WhyMarathon Ambassadors. The vest weighed heavily on my back. I tried looking for reasons that I should still be running marathons. Why has it been so hard to improve? Then I started slinging blames on the haze in KL and my subsequent illness. Legitimate reasons or otherwise, it all began to look like I was looking for excuses. That realization made me snap out of the self pity and to find the little blessings I can scrounge up. I was quite firm, however, that I would step away from the marathon after Osaka to rediscover the joys of training.
Anyways, it was mostly 3K of walking right up to the starting point when Steve and his group pulled up. He was still rallying his team not to dare slow down. Caught up in the energy I shuffled alongside. He grabbed some gummies handed out by spectators and even passed me one. Now that’s one heckuva pacer! But 300m later I had to drop off and watch them go ahead. 2 more K of walking followed and I spotted Tay Poh Chye on the opposite side. A little further back was Karen. They would finish in 4:03 and 4:04 respectively. The Labrador section is always tough with little support but this year was a little better. Still crampless but worn down by the sun, there was nothing more to do but to try to enjoy the cheers of the spectators and volunteers. Approaching the Runaway Bay u-turn (35.6K), I hopped off the route to the loo. Then I jogged a bit more often. I even spotted Adam the One-Arm Runner on the opposite side of the road. It was around here that Lynn and Pat caught up with me. Lynn was pacing Pat for her debut marathon and their clean shaven heads (for charity fund-raising) were already stubbly. It was such a pleasant surprise to see these two, just when I was questioning my reason of running. So we ran together, pulling each other along and I helping to snap a few of their shots.
It went this way right till the finish when we crossed the line hand in hand. Despite all the misgivings I had of myself, despite all the frustrations of wanting more, despite walking for so long, it was one of the most memorable and happy marathon finishes I’ve had in a long long while. Grinning ear to ear and urging the crowd to cheer for Pat, it’s wonderful to see how much fun one, when unshackled by the burden of timing, can have. If I can find a way to detach myself and like what Donald Sutherland’s Bowerman character said in “Without Limits“, “find the meaning in the running that you do”, perhaps I will discover the joys of training.
Finally some boring stuff i.e. numbers. 4 points stood out.
- My 2011 and 2012 timings at the 25K mark were the same to the minute. The splits from the 30K onwards expectedly saw a decline when compared to last year.
- The total distance recorded by the Polar is 43.07K. The only explanation I have for this overdistance, as in the case of the 2011 race, is the deviation on the route I took in seeking out the shady sections of the course as well as a short detour for a pee stop. Still, 1K seemed like plenty of yards.
- The Weather Channel reported the actual race day temps to be a high of 22 Celcius and low of 12 Celcius.
- A mind boggling gap between the number of entrants and finishers (see table at the bottom). The non-finishers for the marathon and half marathon were over 600 and 979 respectively! What gives?
I did mention in my Facebook update that I will take a step back from the marathon after November’s Osaka. I think it’s a good break from the distance. This will allow me to run shorter races. The marathon can be such a heart breaker and just like fishing, perhaps letting go a little will eventually reel in the objectives.