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TCS New York City Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

TCS New York City Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

The New York Marathon was the final Abbott World Major Marathon in the series of six that I ran. Both Craig and I had applied for an entry through the ballot but were unsuccessful. We contacted Travelling Fit, the Australian-based tour operator we had used for Berlin and Boston, and gained two of their places in the marathon, as well as booking for Verity to come along as a spectator. She had well and truly earned her spot on this trip, having run the Wellington Marathon in June 2019 as the qualifier for our family excursion!

I was unsure of what to expect from New York. It’s a mega city and the sheer volume of people and things to see was quite daunting when I was researching the ins and outs of travelling there. The tour operator had arranged for three nights in an hotel not far from the finish line, right near Central Park, and I booked three additional nights in another hotel closer to Times Square for the days following.

Training for New York commenced the week Verity and I ran Wellington, meaning Craig ran the Wellington Half Marathon as his first long run of the program; and of course I ran the Marathon. After that effort things eased back to our usual 18 week training plan, with four runs each week. We trained right through winter, with long runs Fridays before work (for me). I was also well into training in my single scull for the regatta season and tried to take a balanced approach to both with no stronger focus on one or the other through the winter.

Gorgeous sunrise on Newcastle Harbour

Craig had a week or so away motorcycling and also had a week or so off with an injury and thus missed the 29km run; and then I missed the 32km run because I was in Sydney competing as coxswain in the Iron Cove Classic with the Abbottsford Women’s 8+. Psychologically I guess it’s not great to miss the longest run, but at the same time I’d run 27 prior marathons and knew I could get to 42.2km anyway. For Craig it was a good opportunity to run the 32km on his own at his own race pace and feel confident that he could get it done.

Racing the Newcastle International Half Marathon – testing the run singlets.

After Boston I felt really bad, as I’d not performed overly well there and this impacted Craig’s experience. Boston had been difficult both physically and psychologically for me, and I recall at the time saying to Craig that he should run New York by himself. Nothing much more had been said following that comment until about two weeks out from the marathon when Craig indicated that he thought he would run alone this time. I considered the idea and decided it was good – I could run at my own pace and my cadence would be my own cadence and not Craig’s – when running with someone else you sometimes fall into their cadence which for me is too slow (his legs are much longer than mine) and leads to foot pain. Any concerns I had about who would be with Craig if he became injured were alleviated as there were going to be 55000 people there who could look after him.

So the last two weeks of running – really just the taper – I ran by myself at a somewhat faster pace than that at which we had trained. Psychologically it was good to go out a little harder and faster for those final training runs. I think Craig also enjoyed the last two weeks as it gave him more of an opportunity to experiment with race pace.

Our wonderful friends Anne and Steve whom we had met for the first time in Punta Arenas, and again in Chicago last year when both Anne and I ran the Chicago Marathon, were coming to New York for the marathon. They were going to volunteer on a water station but this plan fell through, and they instead planned to be in the Blue Line Lounge at the finish of the marathon. They kindly agreed to have Verity keep them company at the finish and so I arranged an adolescent-sitter to take Verity in the morning from the hotel to MoMA and then onto the Blue Line Lounge in the afternoon to meet them.

Starry Night at MoMA

We flew Sydney to San Francisco; overnight there; and then onto New York the next day, arriving around dinner time. We found a great Thai restaurant next to the hotel for dinner. Next morning Verity and I went for a 5km run in Central Park.

Together in Central Park

Central Park was filled with runners and I could see the blue line on the roadway in the park that we would be following the next day – it was getting very real now!

All the touring runners stopped here for a photo!

The Expo was in the Jacob K Javits Centre in the Hells Kitchen, Manhattan area. Although I had originally thought to get there around 9am when it opened to avoid the crowds, in reality we didn’t arrive until around 11am. After the queues and searches at the Boston Expo I had thought with even more people we would be stuck in line for hours, but on arrival it was really pleasant to just walk straight in – up to the bib collection point – and then off into the Expo. So simple and fast!

The Expo was not huge like Boston but still had all the stalls one would expect.

I guess it’s a souvenir opportunity!

We spent around 2.5 hours there, looking at different stalls and listening to a talk about the course.

Cool idea!

Craig bought a pair of Altra shoes and I found the Abbott stall and had a quick chat to the staff about the process for collecting the Six Star Finisher medal I’d get the next day when I finished the marathon.

In Boston the Travelling Fit people had arranged a pasta dinner for runners the night before the marathon, but in New York, I guess because they had a group of 400 runners, it was find your own pasta meal. Not having realised this until the day, I was concerned initially that we would not find an Italian restaurant with availability, or certainly not anything decent. The Open Table app proved invaluable, showing different restaurants with free tables and I booked Valbella, in the Midtown area. This was an easy walk from our hotel, complicated only because the American President had made a decision to come to town for the fight night, and the tower in which he was staying was cordoned off and heavily patrolled by NYPD and others, which resulted in more traffic and pedestrian congestion. Valbella was a wonderful restaurant and we had an excellent meal there. I chose the squid’s ink pasta with octopus and it was delicious.

Outside Valbella

Sunday morning, marathon day, we woke super early, and even more early because daylight savings ended, giving us another hour. The little café downstairs in the hotel opened at 4:30am and we got there just as it opened (I had imagined 400 runners just from our group, let alone the three other groups, all trying to use the elevators at once). The offering for the morning was a coffee; bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter; and a banana. We got those and went back upstairs knowing we had to be back in the lobby by 5:45am.

Kissing Verity goodbye we made our way back to the lobby and posed for the group photo. I was sure the tour operator at this point said the spectators and kangaroo mascot would be at mile 20, but more on that later. Coaches were outside and it was quite seamless getting onto the coach and finding a seat. Unlike the bus to Boston, filled with excited youthful American men, these coaches contained more restrained Australians who chatted quietly among themselves.

The trip to the start was uneventful and took around 50 minutes. We saw the sun rise over New York and watched crazy drivers thrashing their vehicles over footpaths and taking exits that did not exist as the traffic became more congested near the start line. The bus dropped us about 1km from the start with an instruction to “go left”. No-one really had any idea of where we were or where to go, but Craig spied some other runners walking down an on-ramp and we followed them through long grass and weeds, just as the Police were closing that part of the road to vehicular traffic. It was probably the only poorly organized aspect of the whole day and I am sure this was more about the coach driver than the event organisers.

We approached security at the edge of the athlete village. This was airport style security with metal detectors. We got through easily as it was still quite early, and then walked further to the village. On the way we saw other coaches arriving and their occupants alighting to join queues to be searched by teams of perhaps eight Police Officers at around 10 entry points. The walk continued as we entered the village – we were Green start – and our part of the village was furthest away from the entry point.

The weather was fairly chilly – I think it was about three degrees Celsius with a slight breeze. The villages were identical, equipped with water, tea, coffee, bagels, biscuits and fruit. Dunkin Donuts, a sponsor of the event, was there with donuts and free beanies for runners, and Craig gladly took one of those. We walked around the village and found a spot in the sun against a temporary fence, and sat down on the plastic bags we had with us. It was 7:30am – just over three hours to wait before our start!

Wearing everything we had with us!

In truth the time went by quite quickly. People-watching, ever a favourite, proved entertaining with plenty to see. The event bag contained a disposable raincoat and we put those on over our running gear and our throw-away Kmart cloths, keeping the breeze out. I was actually wearing my running gear and track pants and jacket, with a last minute addition of the Qantas pyjama shirt obtained on our flight to San Francisco. It was cold enough to need all of that.

But back to the people-watching – clearly others had done this marathon waiting game before, and perhaps the most elaborate set-up we saw was a woman who brought what looked like an inflatable boat – something you’d see in a backyard swimming pool. It was more fancy than that though as she inflated it by pulling a string. She then got into said boat with the pillow and blanket she had tucked into her bag, and took numerous selfies.

Nearby was a group of three men whom you would think were professional runners. They too had blankets they put on the ground, and then from their bags emerged more apparel and more powders, gels and snacks than you would see in a running store. One guy in particular mixed several powders into one bottle. In the bags these guys also had their marathon shoes so when the time was right they took off their “disposable” runners and put on what we then recognised were none other than the new Nike runners worn by Eliud Kipchoge only weeks ago when he broke the two hour marathon time. Who would have thought – weekend warriors in world record shoes!

Toilets were plentiful and queues came and went as the start groups went out. While we were in the Green start, there were four groups within start waves, and within those waves, numerous corrals. The three guys must have been in group one as they disappeared with all of their gear maybe an hour before we were due to make a move. I had time for a little walk around the village, taking in the sights and even coming across the assistance dogs brought by owners to give comfort to anxious runners. The Americans think of everything!

It was when the three guys set off that I re-checked our start wave and discovered that we were actually in wave three and not in wave four as I’d thought! This meant we were due to start running at 10:35am rather than 11am and of course this made a difference to our preparation plans – lucky though we had a substantial amount of time to make this adjustment. We gathered up our rubbish and I thought about peeling off some of my clothes, but changed my mind when I made half an effort – it was too cold!

We started the walk to the corrals – Craig was in Corral D and I was in Corral F – no idea why as we both had the same expected finish time, however as we were running separately it made sense to say goodbye at the corral – and then he was gone! By now I had the track pants off and I sidled up to other runners to stay warm – no-one notices me as I’m smaller than most – it’s a strategy I’ve used for years.

Unlike the rolling start in Boston, this start was a proper start. The national anthem was played. There was a cannon fired for each start (they gave warnings all the time in the village (“do not be alarmed by the sound of the cannon”), and ticker-tape was sprayed over the top of the runners. It was awesome. I’d seen some people jumping a barricade to join the Blue or Orange start group and wasn’t sure why, finding out later that the other groups ran over the top level of the Verrazzano Bridge, while our start group ran the lower level. People said they wanted to know if the view was any better up there and apparently it isn’t! As we ran over the start Frank Sinatra was playing “New York, New York”.

The Verrazzano Bridge is a long, fairly steep incline, multi-laned roadway. It was packed – so packed that it was almost impossible to get through. I dodged in and out, not exerting myself too much, but pushing enough to run up the slope to the top of the rise. People were walking; taking photos; taking selfies – I was pretty cold, with frozen fingers and my feet were a little numb, and I wanted to run enough to warm up properly. I came to the top and started the descent, still cold, but pleased that section was done – I think it said one mile at the top, so I think the bridge was about 3km. Partway down the bridge I saw a 6 min 30 per kilometre pacing group with a familiar head sticking out above the crowd – it was Craig! This was the moment when I had to either slow down and run with him with the plan to separate again as the need arose; or keep on running. I decided to keep on running, and with a yell of “Craig” we waved to one another and I was gone.

At the bottom of that bridge was sunlight and at that point I finally warmed up. I was feeling pretty good. There were thousands of people all around me and while I recalled the talk at the Expo saying “if you’re running past more people than are overtaking you, slow down”, my assessment was I was doing fine and that I just needed to stay relaxed. I was running about 5 min 40 per kilometre and it felt pretty easy.

Green group merged with Blue group around 5km. By this time I’d run through a couple of drink stations and decided at the next one, for the first time in many years, to grab a water and not to stop running. I finally mastered the grab, squeeze the cup, and take sips from the spout formed in the squeeze! We merged with Blue and it was more congested for a while, but then people seemed to find more space in which to run which made things a little easier. We ran then in parallel with the Orange group before the groups merged again around 13km.

I’d decided to try to stick with the blue line painted on the road. In most other marathons I run further than 42.2km and I was quite motivated not to run any further than needed, so I knew the blue line would not only take me to the finish line quickest, but also back to Verity the quickest. There was something about her being in the Blue Line Lounge too that made it more meaningful. There were clearly other runners with the same idea, as one would expect, but still plenty of space for us all.

Cameras were on scaffolding overhead in parts of the course.

Often in a marathon my psychological state fluctuates from very positive to very negative, and back again. I was pretty determined this day and kept imagining not only Verity and our friends at the finish, waiting for us, but also the medal I knew I’d get from Abbott when I finished. This medal is coveted by many and has only been achieved by 3440, including 112 Australian runners, and I was super excited to be getting it that day. I also thought a lot about rowing to keep my mind in a more neutral state, and especially about the words my rowing friend Osamu tells me – “strong position” which equally applies to rowing and marathon running.

The course runs off Staten Island, through Brooklyn, before going onto Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan. Brooklyn went on forever! It was very scenic and had wonderful crowd support, with the course undulating over those kilometres.  There were bands, drums, rock bands, and DJs, both official and unofficial all along the course. Aid stations were every mile or two, and I settled into a pattern of a gel each 7km with a drink of water in between.

There was an epic bridge from Brooklyn into Queens. I thought that bridge would never end – I think it was the bridge to Long Island – but honestly it just went on and on. People were walking but I was determined to keep running. Coming off that bridge and then around into Queens is something I’ll never forget. I could hear the crowd before I could see the crowd, and as I ran down the off ramp and onto the main street the roar of the crowd made it very exciting. I am sure the people were several deep for the length of that section of the course. The encouragement was phenomenal and made this section of the race so uplifting.

Back to that kangaroo. I was sure Traveling Fit staff had said to be on the right side of the course around mile 20. I veered from the blue line to the right – no kangaroo! I don’t know if the kangaroo packed up and went home, or if I missed it. It was a little disappointing but at the same time I’d spoken briefly with at least six or seven other runners from our tour group on the course. It’s always nice to speak to other Australians when racing as you’re sure they speak English and the accent is easy to understand.

I was also wearing the Abbott “Cheer me on, I’m going for my Sixth Star today” sign on the back of my running singlet. Again perhaps ten people congratulated me on running the six marathons and frequently gave a little story about their own efforts. It was lovely.

I was starting to think about Verity making it safely from the adolescent-sitter to the Blue Line Lounge and it was around here I took the time to walk through an aid station at 36km, phoning Verity to check where she was. She said she was just about to go into the lounge and I knew then I had only a few kilometres to go before I’d see her.

The crowd support did not waiver as we continued to run through Manhattan. I realised suddenly that Central Park was on my right and that I was coming to the home stretch. I was so excited. I had a burst of speed along that part of 5th Avenue, but slowed again on entering Central Park as I still had 3.5km to go. I would have liked to have picked up here and run faster, but I just couldn’t manage it. I was still overtaking people and running around 6 min 20 per kilometre, but I wanted to run it faster! We swung out of the park and onto the road, before re-entering the park for the finish line.

By now I was getting impatient – where on earth was that finish? A sign had said 800 metres (I picked up the speed to 5 min 56) and here I was still running!

Along a bit, down a little hill and around a bend, and there were grandstands. I knew Verity, Anne and Steve were in the western stand so I ran to the left of the course thinking this would be the stand closest to the lounge. There they were! Giant waves and smiles!

Racing to the finish!

I was at the finish mats. I was momentarily confused as the finish arch was along a bit further, but the mats were the place to be. DONE! 4 hours 27 min – fastest marathon I’ve run in a couple of years and in fact only 53 seconds slower than Berlin from 2017.

The finish area was very congested, as one would think. Again everyone seemed taller than me but I had known I had to look for the Abbott tent just after medal collection. I was handed the event medal – in Boston they put it over your head, but no matter – and then came upon a guy with an Abbott sign.

As I walked to the Abbott tent a fellow said “Anne?” and put their medal over my head. Yay!!

I posed for a few photos, and one of the many staff gave me an Abbott pin which was nice.

This guy asked me why I wasn’t crying – he said he would cry if he had finished all six marathons!

The people at Abbott could not have been nicer.

I walked on, eager to get to Verity whom I had arranged to meet with Anne and Steve in the family reunion area. I knew they would still be waiting in the stands for Craig but I was unable to check on his whereabouts as the cell network was on overload and Find My Friends was not working.

There was a really long walk out of the park. They said it was a mile at the Expo but by the time I made it to Verity it was well over two miles. We had selected “poncho” rather than bag check as the finish option and I followed the poncho signs for what seemed like forever. There was a foil blanket to wear in the interim. The poncho option was supposed to be the short way out…..

The foil blanket

Fortunately the finisher bag had a protein beverage in it that I drank along the way. When we came to the poncho collection area there was a near riot when one volunteer refused to hand over the ponchos, making the crowd continue to walk to the other end of the zone.

Same poncho, but from 2015

I walked another few hundred metres and found Verity, Steve and Anne. They told me that Craig had finished around 10 minutes behind me. We agreed to meet up for dinner that evening, and then Verity and I sat in the gutter waiting for Craig. I was concerned that he would find the going very tough getting to us as his finish time at 4 hours 37 was an unbelievable 30 minute PB for him and I imagined he was completely spent. Nonetheless he appeared in good time but was clearly done.

The walk back to the hotel was again very congested as the route we would have taken was actually part of the course and was closed. We walked on for around 15-20 minutes before getting back to the hotel, where there was a 15 minute wait for the elevator. This was probably the only down side of staying in this hotel, as three elevators for all of those people really couldn’t meet demand.

That night we had a wonderful dinner in the Chrysler Building with Anne and Steve, and the next morning I walked back to the finish area for the Abbott photo. We wore our medals around that day (as did everyone else) while visiting the sights and had plenty of people congratulating us. One man checked it was me who had run the six marathons – clearly I didn’t look the part in his eyes, but I can’t imagine why he may have thought I’d be wearing a medal belonging to someone else – I’m not four years old.

Newly minted Six Star Finishers.

So what made this marathon special? I’m sure it was determination on my part that made a huge difference this time. I was determined to get to the finish, see Verity, and obtain that medal. I made the decision early in the run not to walk any of it until at least 28km, and by the time I got to there I’d decided not to walk at all if I could help it. Around 20km I developed pain in one of my glutes that pinged every time I pulled my leg forward, and I did stretch the muscle twice, leaning against a power pole. As I said earlier I walked one aid station to phone Verity, with the call lasting 12 seconds. What else? Well I wanted to finish the Abbott series well – not running badly like I did in Boston. I wanted it to be positive and by focusing on positives and neutrals I was largely able to keep negatives out of my head. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have some negatives – of course I did, but I tried hard to wipe them out as quickly as I could.

And of course the other significant factors were the crowd and atmosphere. I am sure this was the best crowd I’ve experienced for racing these World Marathon Majors. Tokyo had an amazing crowd but I couldn’t understand what they were saying; Berlin had quiet pockets; Chicago the day was wet and the crowd was more packed to one end of the course; Boston I just had a bad day so the crowd could have been great but I missed it, although I do think there were some quiet spots; and then there was New York – best crowd ever.

I highly recommend the New York Marathon. The city is amazing with plenty to see and do. Hotels and restaurants are plentiful making the city ideal for spending some time either side of the event. I had the best time.

TCS New York Marathon was #28.

Wellington Marathon

Wellington Marathon

Late in 2018 knowing that we had entries in the Boston Marathon for April 2019 our attention turned to the final Abbott World Marathon Major I needed to run – New York. We thought it could be nice for our children to come to New York to be there for the finale of the challenge – this was offered to them with the provision that they trained for and also ran the marathon! Alexander and Emily had other plans, but Verity, then aged 15 years jumped at the chance. She had never really embraced running and had been on a mission for around four years to finish a parkrun in under 30 minutes which was always going to be difficult when she only ran about twice a year. Flights to New York via San Francisco became available in early January 2019 and we booked for three – New York here we come!

Verity started running in December 2018, working her way from 3km to 5km over around six weeks. She was very anxious about running, but also very determined, with her eye firmly on the prize.

I had a sudden thought just after we grabbed the flights (and just after Verity ran 8km without stopping while we were on holiday in Port Macquarie – she was so pleased with herself that day) – were there age restrictions on New York? I checked – runners had to be 18 years old! Disaster.

So pleased in Port Macquarie

I started looking for another marathon that allowed adolescents. There aren’t many. After a bit of searching I came upon the Wellington Marathon, held in late June. I’d done the 10km there in 2018 in howling winds and rain – I hadn’t expected to ever go back, but there were no age restrictions and it was at the very beginning of Verity’s school holidays meaning we could have a week in New Zealand afterward. The marathon was also 18 weeks from the date I found it which was the length of the beginner training program.

We purchased a Garmin watch, lights, shoes, spi belt, socks, crop tops, running tops and tights, calf sleeves, sun glasses, a visor, and initially a little hand held water bottle – she needed all of this gear as she had never really run before. As the weather became colder we purchased long tights, long sleeved tops and a running vest, with ear warmers and gloves.

Verity applied herself marvellously to the program. The program entailed running four times each week, while she continued rowing three times each week. Midweek she and I would run from our home towards the rowing club, with Craig picking us up en route, or we would drive into rowing and while I rowed, Craig and Verity would run. Long runs were generally weekends with Craig meeting us for breakfast afterward. While we were in Boston for the marathon Verity did her long run with Emily on her bicycle for company; and both Alexander and Emily went running with Verity some mornings and afternoons to keep her company.

We entered three races to get some racing experience. These were BBBRun (10km), Newcastle Running Festival (10km) and Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. The medal collection was underway! Excitingly too she came first in her age at the Newcastle event and received a second medal.

BBBRUn – a great little 10km in Wentworthville
Newcastle 10km – 1st in age!

Around week 12 we ran from home to Warners Bay via Glendale – 24km. She complained of a sore foot and unfortunately this pain worsened in the weeks to follow, meaning Verity ran very little for a number of weeks although she still managed 25.5km and the SMH half.

SMH half – hard core with tendonitis

Around week 16 she had some Physio treatment and the pain resolved but she was very underdone in terms of time on her legs and any experience above 24km. I started suggesting that perhaps the marathon could be a little too much and that as she had done the training, she could still come to New York without doing Wellington. We ran the last long run of 13km one week prior to Wellington and when we asked her at breakfast following the run what she was thinking, Verity said “of course I’m doing the marathon – I always was”. We were GO for the marathon!

We flew with Craig to New Zealand on the Friday night. Thursday night Verity said she had a sore throat and by Friday her nose was stuffy. Saturday in Wellington she was quite unwell with a head cold. We went to bib collection and did a little shopping, and she slept for the afternoon. That night at dinner there was further deliberation about the wisdom of running. The cold was only in her head – the rule of thumb is if it’s below the neck, don’t run. We knew there was no cut-off time for the marathon – the organisers would wait at the finish until the last person arrived, no matter the time – last year someone took over seven hours. So we decided we were still GO!

Sunday morning her nose was still stuffy but she was feeling positive. Verity and I caught a cab to the start, leaving Craig at the hotel. He was running the half marathon, starting at 8:45am. We had elected to start with the marathon walkers at 7am with the rest of the field starting at 7:30am. I had deliberated for ages about what gear we would need, thinking we could be on the course for over seven hours ourselves. The day prior had been very cold and very windy, and I had my Saloman trail vest packed with food, tape, bandaids, sunscreen, sunglasses, visors etc. In the end I ditched it as the forecast was for a sunny, mild day. We wore throw away K-Mart tops over our running tops and running vests. I chose to pack some of the supplies into the multiple pockets in my vest.

In New Zealand in winter the sun doesn’t come up until 8:15am. As such 7am was very dark! There was a race briefing and then the field of around 30 people headed off into the dark. Street lights lit the area but it was still quite difficult to see at times as we ran along the road near Westpac Stadium. We had only gone around 2km when Verity said she wanted to use a bathroom – lucky there was a McDonalds right there! We got underway again and ran steadily to around 10km when the first runners of the marathon field caught us.

Just prior to this we had overtaken a marathon walker. This fellow was clad in what I would call scungies (the pants girls wear under netball skirts). They were rainbow in colour and fortunately I only saw them from behind. He was wearing an old hydration pack with sheepskin covers over the straps. I said a nice Hello to him as we passed and as it turns out he was up for quite a long chat! Eventually we wished him well and moved ahead, seeing him again later when he overtook us. We spied him again at the finish, this time clad in rainbow long pants and a similar cardigan. He said he was going to the medal presentation and then off to dancing! What a character.

The course at Wellington is interesting in that it goes out to 16km, then you run back to around 22km, then back out to the 16km again which by then is 28km, and then all the way back to the stadium to the finish. There were wrist bands to collect at the three turning points.

The entire course is on the waterfront, around three bays. Beautiful. Flat. Honestly, there was a slight rise somewhere but nothing else except for a 200 metre on-ramp up into the stadium at the finish. The weather was perfect with 14 Celsius temperatures and no wind. There were drink stations every 3-5km stocked with water and electrolyte drinks. Runners were also able to have their own drinks taken out to those stations.

The race organisers and volunteers were all awesome. So many people were on the course volunteering – someone on every street corner and witches hats everywhere. Sections of the course began to re-open as we progressed through the 15km section back to the finish but there were wide footpaths on which to run if needed. Once back to the wharf area there were heaps of people out enjoying the winter sunshine but again there were volunteers everywhere ensuring our path was clear.

Verity had planned to run to the first turn around. I’d told her we could get the marathon done in under six hours if she ran 15km and we walked the rest. This was fair enough except she was running really well. We were sticking to about 6:30 min per kilometre which is what she had trained at and I thought she had it in her to go a little further. We struck a deal to walk one kilometre and run the next and so on. The walking was quite brisk at around 9 min per kilometre. This plan worked really well and we kept it up until around 28km.

After the second turn around while running I spied a garbage bin on the lake foreshore. We were running on the right side of the road and the bin was way over off to the left. I zoomed across the road and ran to the bin. There was one female runner around 150 metres away, coming toward us, with no-one else around. She started shrieking at me “Keep to the left (of her). Keep to the left”. This did not cease even when I held up the rubbish in my hand and said I was going to the bin. Today was not the day to take me on. I firmly suggested to her that she had the whole road to run on and that she should do just that rather than focus on me. She didn’t seem to have an answer for that.

By 28km at the final turn the lack of training and the head cold started to take a toll. Verity said her lungs were hurting when she took any breath under force (when running). We ditched the K-Mart tops we had tied around our waists earlier, knowing from this point the day was only going to get warmer. We walked 2km and ran another, and I could see she was done with running. We then walked briskly, continuing to average low 9 minute kilometres, and I was really pleased with how we were going. Craig phoned us about then, having finished the half marathon which was great considering he hadn’t been running for some weeks either.

Around 34 kilometres things started to fall apart from a physical perspective. She was not used to walking that far or for so long, and started to get panicky.

We used Facebook Messenger to contact Emily for a pep talk, and for the next 4km Emily played music that Verity loves over Messenger! We sang and there was some dancing; the dog and the cat at home featured in the conversation and singing; and there was generally a musical love-fest for getting this marathon done for Verity.

Conrad Sewell – “Healing Hands”- a song for stressful occasions, featured quite loudly

We hung up from Emily with about 4km to go but I kept playing music on my phone on Spotify. Ordinarily I’d never play music out loud while other people were walking past but I was up for anything to get us over the line. Telstra loved me that day. Craig phoned again with more supportive words and to say he was about to get in a cab for the airport as his flight home was not long after. We were all sorry not to see one another again that day.

We knew we were going to make the finish but it was hard. Verity had worked out a while back in the race that she could finish in under six hours if we could keep pushing.

With 1.5km to go she wavered and we phoned Emily again who kept up the pep talk for 500 metres when Verity pulled it together, and with the sniff of the finish in her grasp, fluffed up and ran the last 200 metres to the finish, overtaking another competitor!

Our time – 5 hours 56 minutes.

At the end there was fruit, water and electrolyte drink. Showers were available, and there was a coffee van. I bought Verity an event technical shirt to mark the occasion. We sat for a while with hot chocolates and then got an Uber back to the hotel. What an achievement! Our family is so proud of her and she has stunned herself with what she can manage to do. In true form the “Never again” at the finish was replaced within a few hours by “If I ever run another marathon….”.

Wellington Marathon was #27.

B.A.A Boston Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

B.A.A Boston Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

For many marathon runners the Boston marathon is the Holy Grail of all things marathon. It’s the oldest continuously occurring marathon in the world, with tight qualifying times and a kind of whispered reverence people display when talking about it. Many runners train hard for their perfect race at which to achieve their BQ (Boston qualifier) and then sit nervously at their computer come application time, as even having a BQ does not necessarily get you a spot – competition is fierce and those with faster BQs typically have the edge on spots in Boston.

The BQ for my age group is four hours. I think I could achieve the time with considerable commitment to training and especially speed sessions, however time is not something I have in excess and I had resigned myself to entering Boston on a running tour or through charity.

We applied for entries through Travelling Fit in September and learned we had been unsuccessful in October, which was a real blow as we had done quite a few of their events and had really enjoyed the atmosphere. I set about over the next week applying for a USA charity entry and sent off in excess of 20 applications, eventually being offered a spot that would see me giving the charity around USD8000 to run on their team. That same day Craig had rung Travelling Fit, explaining how close I was to the Abbott Six Star medal, and by some freak chance that day Travelling Fit had been given an additional 10 spots in the marathon – we were in!

Craig hadn’t really run since London in April 2018 as his hip had been really sore. He had a slow trot at parkrun in Helsinki when we visited in October after Chicago and then completed another few parkruns to the end of 2018

Helsinki parkrun – course explanation in three languages!

January 2019 saw our 18 week training program commence again, happily while away in Port Macquarie with our girls. The good news was that Craig’s hip seemed fine!

In something of a brain snap we had told our children that we would pay for them to come to New York in November 2019 provided they ran the NY marathon. We had thought it would be really special to have them all there for when I finished the Majors. Alexander and Emily weren’t able to commit due to work and Uni however Verity, at the time 15 years, leapt at the chance. Verity had never been renowned for her commitment to running and had been on a five year quest to break 30 minutes in a parkrun, which is tricky when you refuse to run more than once a year!

We figured Verity could start small and train with 5km trots, working up to maybe 10km by June and then into a program for New York in November. She was clearly terrified of running and the first few weeks were marked by panic attacks and seven minute kilometres, but she stayed strong. I had a sudden horrible thought that there may be an age restriction on New York and when I looked into it there was – 18 years! Thinking creatively I researched more marathons and eventually found Wellington, NZ, set for 30 June 2019. I’d done the 10km there in 2018 in gale force winds and rain. It allowed children under 18 years to run the marathon, and actually coincided with school holidays, and thus the week I would have taken off work to spend with her anyway. As a result we were in for Wellington and then a week on the south island!

Long run early in the program – Verity joined us for some.

As such our training plan for Boston was then overlaid with Verity’s plan for Wellington. And let’s not forget rowing, being the peak of the regatta season! I really don’t know how we did it, but we bought Verity some good Ay-Up lights like our lights and little trooper that she proved to be, she would get up at 4:30am to leave at 5am to run 5-6km to Hamilton for Craig to pick us up to go to rowing, where he’d undertake his run for the day while we rowed. Thursday was long run day for Craig and I, and I’d do Verity’s long run with her on a Sunday. Other days Craig and Verity would run together while I rowed. We managed but it was pretty tough in terms of time each morning.

Beautiful sunrise while out with Verity

Craig and I got through the training really well. He was strong and remarkably niggle free, and missed only one run while away on a motorcycle ride. We had generally hot weather – around 26 Celsius at 4am some days, and then just one day of torrential rain. Most often we were home before the sun came up. The worst day for heat I followed Craig up the Fernleigh track and with each step he took there was a wet shoe print on the pavement – sweat, not rain!

Pre-dawn run at 26 Celsius

I probably overdid things a bit trying to run myself, with Craig, with Verity, and row as well, and my sleep suffered, but I wasn’t sure what else to do! The long run Craig had to miss I did myself, leaving at 3:59am for 29km, including Nobbys breakwall at 5:15am in the pitch dark with gale force winds and waves breaking over me. Probably not my smartest move that day but I got it done.

Last long run 32km

We left Sydney Wednesday 10 April. I packed the night before. We flew to Singapore with an hour at the terminal, and then onto Helsinki, Finland. We had purchased around the world fares knowing flying at the pointy end of the plane was less arduous and giving us increased status credits at an incredibly cheaper price than flying direct. We love Helsinki and had a wonderful 36 hours there, generally sitting in a little coffee shop – Robert’s Coffee, by the harbour. Helsinki in the Spring was -9 Celsius! We left Australia at 30 Celsius! It was so cold!

Monitoring the weather for Boston there were multiple alerts to torrential rain on marathon day and likely temperatures of 4 Celsius. Ordinarily neither would frighten us off but a marathon is a long way to be wet and cold if you’re walking. Officials had pulled around 2500 people off the course the previous year during similar conditions and almost 10000 people had abandoned the race. These things could not happen for us – we weren’t going back – and we went to the big shopping centre in Helsinki and purchased Nike running rain jackets.

We left Helsinki Friday 12 April and arrived in New York 10 hours later, on that same day. We had a short time to get from JFK to La Guardia airport and in true form the Border control section at JFK was a nightmare of long queues and angry rude staff. We were directed into a line that snaked for ages before being essentially told we were stupid and to get into a shorter line. We found our town car transfer outside the airport and the driver took us to La Guardia where our flight to Boston had been delayed by four hours. Security screening at La Guardia was possibly the rudest and ugliest I’ve encountered and not helped by fatigue and jet lag on my end. We found an earlier flight and it was smooth sailing from there all the way to our hotel in Boston.

I woke up Saturday feeling off from jetlag. It was pouring. We donned our rain jackets and headed out for the Boston 5km. I’d entered this race back in January. The entry opens and sells out on minutes and I’d woken at 2:30am that day in time to grab two entries! The morning was wet and cold but a great opportunity to try out the jacket. I ended up with the sleeves pulled up and half unzipped as I heated up during the run, but it was excellent being dry at the end and especially for the 15 minute walk back to the hotel. Craig ran well and I felt sluggish. It was only the next day when I woke feeling good that I realised having the run is an excellent way of reorienting the body clock and I probably should have done the same in Helsinki except I didn’t have anywhere near enough warm gear for that!

Trying out the rain jackets at the BAA 5km

After breakfast on Saturday we went to bib pickup and the Expo. Again the queuing was huge. We found the end of the queue halfway along Boylston St, moving slowly. Fortunately we were redirected via the shopping centre to a tiny queue where it was evident the hold up was security – screening people and bags, but without bags we zipped through. Bib collection was simple and fast, and then into the Expo.

Expo photo – an important part of bib collection!

The Adidas gear section was first in the Expo and was a scene from another world. So much gear and so many people! We knew of course we had to get the celebration jacket, as this is “the thing” people wear around after, and to subsequent marathons. People were everywhere in celebration jackets from past years. We also bought a few running singlets and shirts as Adidas is a brand that we both love for running due to the fit and texture of the fabric.

Craig preparing himself for the Expo throng

The second part of the Expo is general exhibitors. We purchased some magnetic race dots, not wanting to puncture our new rain jackets with safety pins attaching the race bib. Altra shoes were a little disappointing without Craig’s shoe size, and we sampled some race nutrition offerings at other stalls. Essentially the third part of the Expo was the line to pay and leave. This was the queue of all queues, snaking maybe 500 metres minimum around the Expo. Things moved reasonably quickly and as always the Americans were faultless on customer service. It was quite a pleasure being there.

We did the tourist thing Saturday afternoon and Sunday, attending the Travelling Fit pasta buffet Sunday night where we chatted with the group of 40 runners fortunate to be in attendance.

Monday. Race day! The weather had been slowly improving and the forecast was for early rain and then increasing sunshine with a tail wind, and then showers later in the afternoon. This was in fact spot on. We awoke to torrential rain. We could see the finish area below our hotel window in Copley Square and things looked awful. Craig turned on the TV coverage which began earlier at 4:30am and was continuing throughout the day. The elites were starting at 9am and at that time were sheltering in Hopkinton high school. The buses that left the city with wave one runners were stopped on the freeway because of safety concerns in the rain. The reporters were digging deep for positive commentary!

Off go the elites!

We popped downstairs for oats at the restaurant. Our bus was leaving from 8:55-9:30am and our wave was starting around 11am. While Travelling Fit were escorting runners to the buses at 8:15am we knew where to go and didn’t want to be standing in the rain any longer than needed after the 10-15 minute walk to the bus location. We left around 8:40am and by then had elected to leave the rain jackets behind. We wore our throw away KMart track pants, long sleeved top, track jacket, and plastic clear poncho.

The bus ride seemed very long and much further than 42.2km! The contingent on our bus was happy and very very loud. There was a group of exuberant young American men telling loud stories and fist-pumping one another for the entire journey. There was collective cheering at intervals from many on the bus. Such excitement!

On arrival it was drizzling but not cold. We found our way to the Clif tent and picked up some protein bars, and joined the toilet queue. Toilets were plentiful and well stocked including hand sanitizer which was nice. Our wave was called and we slowly stripped off layers before eventually deciding to go with shorts and singlet. All that angst about cold, wind and rain and here we were in our typical Australian run wear.

It was quite cold & wet at the start

We walked out of the athlete village and kept on walking until we saw people start running. Turns out it was a rolling start for us, not in our assigned corrals, but rather as you came to the mats the race began. It was a bit anti climactic however the organisers had done so to limit the opportunity for runners to get cold standing in corrals. It was a lesson learned from last year.

Everyone else starting

The first 10km went by in less than an hour. The atmosphere was lovely and there was plenty of room really to run your own race. The race starts in the rural New England town of Hopkinton and passes through various towns en route to central Boston. We had the entire road on which to run and I quickly remarked how pleasurable it was to be running through the little towns rather than in among tall buildings as is the case with big city marathons. Chicago was a great event but the buildings played havoc with the GPS. In every town we passed heaps of people all cheering and encouraging the athletes. Patriots’ Day is a public holiday relating to the American Civil War, and apparently most citizens spend the day on the marathon course.

Ashland – the clock tower is iconic

For me 15km to 30km was tough. I had to go to the toilet three times and my head was all over the place. I nearly broke my rule about crying in a marathon, but didn’t! Fortunately there were aid stations every 2-3km that were well stocked with water and Poweraid; and then three Clif stations along the course. There were heaps of medical staff and their numbers swelled as we neared the end. I knew that last year the medics had been very busy with runners suffering hypothermia and they were keeping a close eye on everyone running past this year as well.

Natick, about 17 miles west of Boston

The course was quite undulating. There were some big downhills and then a massive uphill around 35km. The uphill was a challenge because it came so late in the race. Most people around us seemed to walk it and it was around here we overtook a man with a prosthetic leg and a woman running in a cam boot complete with t-shirt explaining she had broken her ankle in three places while training in snow. I thought he was a legend and she was crazy.

By 30km I felt more on the same page as Craig, who had been running very strongly, and we walked and ran the additional distance quite companionably. Heaps of times we held hands and while I found this really comforting, the Americans loved it! People went wild when they saw us, cheering and screaming our names. “Look at the love birds” and “I gotta get a picture of that” were memorable comments we overheard.

Love birds in Coolidge Corner, about 4 miles from Boston!

It rained a bit around 38km, and there was definitely a strong tail wind. We found later too we’d been sunburned around 26km which was ridiculous given the meteorological build up to the race!

Getting sunburnt!

There were heaps of runners with signs pinned to the back of their shirt saying they were finishing their sixth World Major this day. Later this year I hope this will be me and I’m looking forward to having one of those signs!

I had a rough idea of the layout of the last few kilometres and was excited when Boylston St came upon us, and we ran together toward the finish.

Home stretch

The noise of people cheering was incredible but I was thinking, as I know Craig was and probably most others, of the bombing of 2013 that marred the race and changed marathon running forever. It was the first time since 2013 that the race date had fallen on the 15th, and this had special significance for people.

We crossed the line in just over five hours – a pb for Craig and my fifth major completed.

Top photo of us crossing the finish line!

Getting the medal was such a highlight! The medals were about 50 metres on after the finish line and I don’t think I’ve ever looked so hard for the place to receive it. Further on was the Abbott tent where runners who had completed the six World Major finishers received their six star medals.

So excited to have finished the Boston Marathon!

The finish area was excellent with water on hand, and the all important foil capes that delightful young women wrapped around us while others taped the edges together. We then trudged our way back to the hotel. My back was killing me but after a warm shower I felt so much better. Craig came through almost unscathed and a warm shower certainly pepped him up as well. The hotel was absolutely packed with runners and we elected to get room service, which arrived quite quickly and was a fantastic way to end the day.

The following day we did the tourist thing again and both remarked, as did every other runner to whom we spoke, that our quads were sore. The  downhill sections clearly took a toll and the aftermath though wasn’t pretty.

Dinner in Brattle Square, Cambridge

We wore our jackets and finisher shirts to the airports on Wednesday as people had told us the ground staff were more pleasant if they knew you’d run the marathon. I think this was true as the process was slightly more pleasant and certainly there was comraderie with other runners and talking points with the public.

While we were away Verity ran 19km alone with her sister as support and safety crew on her bicycle. Would I do Boston again? No – I’ve done it! I’ve moved the focus now to Verity, and then New York in six months. If I keep running marathons after that I think the goal will be on running different countries for Marathon Globetrotters, but we shall see. I’m encouraging Craig to run alone in New York – he says he’s retiring after that race and I think he may like to take it on in his own way rather than having to think about me and my style of racing. Again, we shall see!

Boston certainly lived up to its reputation as an event. Everything about it was super professionally organised and managed. Communication by email and social media was excellent. On-course support was thorough and supplies plentiful. The 10000 volunteers were exceptional and the crowd support amazing. It really was quite faultless from our perspective and we were just thrilled to be included in the group of athletes to run this year.

B.A.A. Boston Marathon was #26.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

Bank of America Chicago Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

Applications for a ballot spot in the Chicago marathon open in November the previous year, with the outcome known just weeks later in December. Fresh from Berlin and with Craig having secured a charity spot for London 2018, I applied for the draw for Chicago for us both. The email notifying me I had been successful arrived around 1am, and yes I was checking – but nothing for Craig! Then around 4am, success for him as well, so I woke Craig to give him the good news although his level of excitement didn’t quite match mine at that hour.

Training for Chicago followed on from the London marathon, meaning there were around eight weeks of just everyday running before re-entering a structured 18 week program. I came home from our five week holiday in the UK following the London Marathon, and dived straight into rowing, focussing on NSW Masters in May and then learning to row a single scull in June. Craig had extended his trip from the UK to a further few weeks in the USA and arrived home mid June. It was fairly clear that he’d done some damage to his hip in the London Marathon and things had not been helped by several weeks on motorcycles in the USA.

Training the mixed double with David

I started training again while Craig rested and took pain meds and anti inflammatories. We found a new cafe in Tighes Hill called Equium Social and this became quite the focal point for those 18 weeks of training. Initially I ran around 7km from home to the cafe, meeting Craig for coffee and then he’d drive us home. As things progressed I found different ways to run all sorts of distances to the same venue, all the way to 25km. I had another couple of favourite routes for 5km or so but essentially anything longer than 6.5km ended up at the cafe. The staff came to know us quite well although it took time to comprehend why we came to there rather than going to a cafe closer to home.

Equium Social – place of coffee & breakfast

Training for this marathon was four days a week. I decided to keep to the lighter program because I was keen to improve at rowing, which for the majority of the program was also four days a week. Things got a bit out of hand around week 13 when I started as coxswain for an eight at the rowing club, as this entailed two mornings as well, and as such I dropped my individual rowing efforts to focus on finishing the running. There were days where I’d run first and then drive to rowing, and days where I’d run to the rowing club to row.

Another change I made this round was to do the long run mid week before work. This was the first marathon program I’ve undertaken completely alone. My schedule was fairly crazy, leaving home after 4am most days, and generally being done by 6am to coincide with meeting Craig who had dropped our youngest daughter to rowing around that time. Having to get the long run done by 6:30am at the latest meant I had to keep running and not muck around, leaving enough time then for breakfast, picking up our daughter after rowing, getting home, and then onto work. The plan worked really well for my commitments but was entirely antisocial in terms of running with others.

Nobbys at dawn – often it wasn’t even dawn when I arrived!

I churned through the program, missing one week while holidaying in Uluru, and one longer run becoming the Wellington 10km, run in pouring rain on a mini break weekend to New Zealand. I also ran the Lake Macquarie 10.5km with my daughter Emily and her friend Liz. I’d never done that particular distance in the event before as I thought the 0.5km on the end of 10km was a little silly, but the company and medal were awesome!

Success at the Lake Macquarie Running Festival

Later, there was one run of 29km I’d call a fail. I’d planned a completely different route, still heading to the cafe, but running south to Charlestown and the east to Merewether to increase the distance. I’d done this in the past but had completely forgotten the hills involved. My left calf kept cramping and as I hit Merewether beach the wind was absolutely howling. It was freezing – 2 degrees! By the time I’d run to Nobbys beach it was clear the next few kilometres out on the breakwall and back would be completely unsheltered from the wind, and I phoned Craig to come and rescue me – 21.1km – target had been 29km. I felt disappointed and disheartened.

I wanted to get the last long run, 32km, right. Trying that distance to finish by 6:30am didn’t seem achievable on a weekday and so I elected to undertake this run on an old favourite course Swansea Heads to home, one Saturday morning. Craig drove me the 40 minutes to Swansea Heads, arriving at 5am. He shone the car lights on the toilet while I used the ammenities, kissed me goodbye, and I watched the car tail lights receding into the darkness in front of me. Nothing else to do other than start running! It’s about 4km to Swansea bridge, then the start of the Fernleigh track at Belmont by 10km. The sun came up around 5km and I dispensed with my head lights into the Salomon pack I’d worn for that purpose. I’d broken the run then into chunks in my head, focussing on each one at a time, and by Adamstown I’d achieved 25km in reasonable time. Happy with that I completed a loop to Broadmeadow, and home – done! I was really pleased with completing the longest run and my spirits were quite buoyed.

Sunrise at Swansea

Two weeks later the departure day for Chicago came up quickly. We left Sydney Thursday, arriving Chicago via Dallas on Friday afternoon. Somewhere in there we lost 15 hours! We caught the free shuttle to the Marathon Expo which was one of those extremely well organised situations I’ve really come to appreciate. Picking up my bib was a breeze, as was getting the bib for the 5km fun run, and the ticket to the pre and post race Balbo hospitality tent.

Love a World Major Expo

Along the way we found the Altra shoe booth and were thrilled to find stock on the floor in Craig’s size 15! He bought two pairs of shoes and I indulged as well, buying my first event pair of event shoes – the Escalante Chicago Marathon model. I thought they were delightful!

So excited to buy an event shoe!

Saturday was the running of the International Chicago 5km. We awoke to pelting rain and then a thunderstorm! The event organisers were sending out warning colours that became yellow from green – I had to look this up and it meant be careful and stay alert for more updates. The start was delayed for about 15 minutes while the storm passed and then runners set off in various groups not determined by anything in particular. It was a nice little run – good to stretch the legs and experience the reality that the buildings interfered quite significantly with gps signal. Wearing the new Marathon runners I finished on 5.3km, with one of those kilometres at 4:05 pace – looked great on Strava but I’ve never run that pace in my life! The medal was sensational and I had a lovely chat with a British couple and two people from Austria.

After the International Chicago 5km – see the Australian flag on my bib!

Saturday Craig went to a conference so after the 5km I went shopping! Lululemon Chicago is huge and it was packed. I bought a few things and found a snazzy restaurant for a carb-loading lunch. Despite the rain I had an awesome day, and walked the Magnificent Mile back to our accommodation.

Chicago icon

I’d booked a table online for us for Saturday night at The Florentine Italian restaurant in the Marriott in Chicago. Most restaurants were heavily booked even two weeks out so when a table was free at this one I grabbed it. The food was OK. It was a buffet affair at USD$41 per person which for someone who eats like I do is complete overkill and no real value other than being assured of a meal that involves carbs. So I ate about a cup of food while Craig used his $41 worth, and somewhat underwhelmed we walked back to our accomodation.

Interesting signage in Chicago!

Our marathon friends Anne and Steve whom we’d met in South America were in the city as Anne was also running the marathon. We arranged to meet up at the Balbo tent around 6:45am where breakfast was supplied. Our accommodation had an espresso machine but no kettle, so I had a coffee with powdered whitener, and managed a few spoons of instant oats partially softened with hot water out of the tap. Sad really! Craig had day two of his conference and thus we parted at the hotel, and I followed thousands of runners to the event area. Security was easy as I wasn’t carrying anything other than the gear check clear bag, and the Balbo tent entry was quiet. Once inside the tent I found more to eat and met up with Anne and Steve. When our wave was called to make our way to the start it was just so quick and simple to use the ammenities (no queuing) and hand over my gear bag (no queuing). Money very well spent.

With Anne & Steve

I said goodbye to Anne and Steve at wave L and found my way to wave J. It was all very easy. The rain continued and I was thankful for the foil blanket I’d been given as it kept me dry and warm. The rain became much heavier just as we started but I tossed the blanket away and headed out onto the course. People were very excited and the whooping in the first tunnel was deafening. Race conditions were still yellow at this time and we were cautioned about pooling water and slippery white line markings, pedestrian crossings and turning lane arrows. Mindful of the gps issues of the day before I wasn’t surprised when I reached 4km and the distance marker indicated 3km. This discrepancy increased over the rest of the race, ending with my watch showing exactly 45km – an ultra!

Crowd shot

I knew that after weaving around the inner city, the course went north to 12.5km. This was the point where rain was heaviest and the wind strongest. I’d been busy watching the road for slip hazards and my feet seemed relatively dry. I stopped for a gel and drink around here and on beginning to run again felt a blister on my big toe. Bugger! I stomped on it really hard and that afternoon when I took off my shoes and socks could see the blister had broken. It was a risky thing to do but I didn’t want the discomfort of a blister nagging at me from 12.5km, and luckily it worked.

Another crowd shot!

The next distance in my mind was to 20km – back to the CBD. I was making reasonable time, having decided to stick on mid 6 minutes per kilometre. My head was a bit messed up by the discrepancy in distance as my watch was showing 23km by the 21.1km sign. The other thing too was there seemed to be plenty of mile signs, with fewer kilometre signs, and doing all that maths was a little hard while trying to run. Was it 13.1 miles or 21.1km or 23.7km? I’m hopeless though at not doing maths and I think that’s one of the reasons I was feeling a little off my game by this point.

The following section was out to 25km and then a turn back to the CBD. I ran for a while with the 4hr30 pacers and then decided to stop at the toilets. Gross! I know running does rubbish things to your bowel but why can’t people clean up after themselves? The portaloo was disgusting. Faeces everywhere, no soap, no water. Thank God there was hand towel as there was no toilet paper. Ew ew ew.

Around 25km

I’d worn my Marathon Maniac singlet thinking I’d have company from others in the club. Without Craig it was going to be ages with no company. I was really disappointed that I saw not one Maniac in those hours. The 15 hour time difference meant family and friends were asleep from beginning to end. I improvised by chatting with a nice young woman named Heather who said she had survived a nasty car accident only weeks earlier, and of course being thankful she was even able to participate. Heather was doing more walking than running so I said goodbye and ran on. Not much further I looked down and saw both my knees covered in blood! Horrified, I stopped and found the tape I’d used on one knee had begun to come off, chafing the other. I had some wipes with me and cleaned up as best I could. Unsettled, I ran on.

I was still making reasonable time, sticking to those mid 6 minute kilometres, but feeling some pain in my glutes. My left hip has been problematic to some extent for ages but the right side was an all new experience. I pulled to the side to stretch and as I did the pain escalated and I virtually collapsed to the ground! Omg, what was happening? I decided to abandon the stretching and instead got up and kept moving forward. The discomfort remained but was insignificant in comparison with the stretching pain and so I elected to move on and hope for the best. In retrospect I think the wet ground had caused me to change my gait and this probably caused fatigue in those muscles.

Beginning to find it tough….

Around 32km, or 34.5km by my watch, I finally came upon something familiar! A Traveling Fit shirt. I knew this was an Australian and to be honest I didn’t care who this was, I was talking to them! My subject was Chris, a 61year old fellow from Sydney who had entered the marathon with a friend and turned up to run having done no training. Such a male thing to do.  Chris had torn his calf at 10km, running up an incline. He said he’d been running and walking since that time but over the next few minutes it was clear he was now only walking. I weighed up the options in my head. I could still finish around 4hrs45 or I could stick with Chris which meant helping him and having some company at the same time. I chose the latter.

Chris and I walked together for about an hour, covering around 7km. As always it is interesting to hear the story of the companion. I educated him on “it’s all about the photo” and indeed there are some awesome photos of us together. Around 39km my back started hurting and I felt quite nauseous. I stopped to stretch and noted the collapse issue in my right glute at the same time. Messed up! I ran lightly back to Chris, feeling better for running, and said I’d decided to run ahead. We thanked each other and parted company. I later found Chris on Facebook by looking at his bib number in the photos! He finished in 6hrs16 which was awesome considering his injury.

With Chris

The last 2km were excellent. I do like a fast finish and in true form my last kilometre was my fastest for the entire race – 5:40.

Doing my fast finish!

Crossing the line was fantastic! Another major completed. I felt a bit lonely as there was no one to speak with so I sent Craig a text and headed to the Balbo tent.

Great feeling crossing the finish line

But I made sure I found a photographer to mark the moment I finished another marathon!

It is an awesome medal

People there in the tent were lovely – another runner even offered to get me a drink. Gear pickup was a snap (no queues) and not long after Steve came by, waiting on Anne to finish. We had a great chat while I had a wrap for lunch, and then I walked back to the accommodation. So easy.

I showered and spent some time updating family and friends on social media. I felt pretty good and so took an Uber with our washing to a laundrette, having a really interesting chat with the driver who was from Jordan. Craig returned and we met Anne and Steve for dinner. Anne finished in 6hrs21 which was fabulous given the obstacles she’s overcome in recent years. We had a terrific night and I really hope we will see them again in 2019 at another marathon.

A little bit on the course itself – being almost completely flat, with a few small inclines in places. There were some bridges crossing the river on which the race organisers had placed wide strips of felty carpet. The bridges were made of an open weave metal that allowed the water to drain through to the river below, but the metal was quite slippery in the rain. There were aid stations every 2.5km and these were all stocked with water and Gatorade. I stuck with the Powerade powder I’d packed in little zip lock bags, filling these with water at various intervals and then drinking the contents. I think there were toilets at the aid stations too. We wove our way through 29 neighbourhoods of the city, including Greektown, Little Italy and Chinatown which stood out for me. I spied a restaurant featured as one of The Places to take a photo for Instagram but didn’t have time to stop to do so! Crowd support was wonderful with large crowds cheering along much of the route and the volunteers were very friendly. My observation was that people were walking very early in the race and I wondered how many were locals who came along to enjoy the atmosphere. There were some charities represented but nothing like the volume of charities in London. There was also a large Police presence and many of the Officers were connecting with the runners with high-5s and words of encouragement as well.

So Chicago was another well organised World Major. It is just so nice when things work well. If I was to run it again the only thing I’d change would be the dinner the night before by booking well in advance. The Balbo tent was superb and so worth the money. If you’ve ever worried about queuing for toilets at a marathon, this is the answer to your prayers. I guess I’d have much preferred company on the course but that couldn’t be helped. Time zones were also against me but that can’t be helped either. Honestly though, it’s another World Major ticked off and that’s a really massive thrill.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon was #25.

Virgin Money London Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

Virgin Money London Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

London Marathon has always been near the top of my wish list for marathons. I’d wanted to run it for a few years however it’s very difficult to gain a ballot entry and good for age was also out of reach especially considering I’d run 16 marathons in 12 months in 2016 rather than focussing on gaining one standout time. I’d tried and missed the ballot for 2017 and had entered the ballot once again for 2018 but knew it was going to be a miracle to be chosen as one of the lucky few.

Knowing this I made an early decision to contact some UK based charities and ask about obtaining one of their guaranteed entries. I contacted perhaps 10 charities and accepted the place with the one that responded to me first – WellChild, which is the national charity for sick children. Their marathon team was around 150 people all of whom pledged to raise 1600 pounds each for the charity. I did miss out on a ballot spot in the marathon, so was so pleased I’d taken the charity entry as it allowed me to book flights and plan a longer trip around the date. Thus Craig and I were going to London for April 2018!

Craig had made some statements in Berlin about feeling a little left out, standing on the road holding my jacket, while I ran. At the same time he was looking for a new fitness goal and I suggested, quite strongly and persistently, that he consider coming out of marathon retirement and running London with me. I’ve come a long way from the days of wanting to achieve PBs in marathons and honestly these days I think of marathons as events rather than races. I reassured Craig that I’d be very keen to complete the course at a pace that was right for us both with the primary goal being to experience the event and achieve the goal together. He eventually agreed that he was willing to start training and aim to run in the event, knowing there were some big hurdles in terms of fitness and physical issues that would need to be addressed. By this time the results of the ballot for London were already known and the competition to gain a charity place was fierce. We contacted maybe 25 charities and eventually he was offered a spot with Oasis, a Christian charity delivering housing, education, training, youthwork and healthcare. This all happened by October 2017, just after Berlin, with London set for six months later! Couch to 5km by  Christmas (eight weeks), and then essentially couch to marathon in 18 weeks!

First parkrun after gaining the charity entry

Thus training for London was completely different for me than any other marathon. I broke out an 18 week Beginner marathon program and stuck it to the cupboard in the kitchen. I ran either alone or with Craig for the entire program, often going out earlier than him to run hills and then swinging by home to pick up Craig for us to run flat together.

Christmas in New Zealand

I’d taken up rowing in October 2017 and tried to fit in several sessions of rowing each week as well as the running, meaning I’d also frequently run from home to rowing; row for an hour; and then Craig would drive me home, having arrived himself earlier by car and run on his own on those mornings. Runs at times were split, with home to rowing – rowing – parkrun with Craig. Craig’s fitness returned very quickly. The problems he’d had with his ankle resolved with a change in shoe type – the Altra, and in general he was very pleased with the progress he’d made in the course of training.

First long run, finishing with parkrun

“Ice bath” post long run during the summer

I found quite quickly that the slower pace of training with Craig seemed to be compromising my running style, and I began to experience severe pain in the second toe on my right foot around 7km of every run. I’d stop and stretch the toes forward and the pain would resolve, only to return each 1km or so. It was awful and I was eventually driven to embrace the change I’d thought of making for some time, away from the Saucony Fastwitch shoes. I researched alternatives, and taking advice from an expert runner and from Craig’s experience with the Altras, I ordered the Altra Escalante sight unseen. They arrived, I put them on, and never looked back! Amazing. Wish I’d had them years ago. What’s better with them than the Fastwitch? The room in the toe box – my toes aren’t squished together on the outside of my foot and this has fixed the blister problems while at the same time the pain in my second toe has disappeared! And they don’t let the water in, which after a few years of dodging puddles in the Fastwitch is going to take a long time to get used to.

Our last long run of 32km our 15 year old daughter came along on her bicycle and carried supplies in a pack for us.

Last 32km with Verity in front on her bike

So we completed the 18 week program fairly well, only missing maybe one long run which couldn’t be helped, and as I kept saying, we were going to London to finish the event and it didn’t matter whether we ran or walked!

Last long run in Narooma during Easter

We flew Sydney to Hong Kong with a 10 hour stopover, and then on to London. As always we packed our running gear in the carry on baggage and this time wore the running shoes which was not altogether ideal but we knew the padding would have plenty of time to fluff back up with the three days of rest in London prior to the event after we arrived.

The tasks of the first day in London, the Thursday, were to get from Heathrow to the accommodation; then out to the Expo; and to Oasis to meet the charity representative. We both managed to rest quite well on the flight and inspired by our daughter Emily having conquered the London Tube, we successfully found our way to the Expo where we had a lot of fun having photos, looking around, and meeting the WellChild organisers. There was talk of a rail strike and also of course huge numbers of people registering on the Saturday so I think we did really well getting it all done sooner rather than later. From there we made our way to Oasis and had a lovely interaction with Matthew their fundraising organiser.

At the Expo there was a stand where they took a Polaroid of you and stuck it to their wall with message. I’d used #goCraig a lot during our training, so what better to use for the wall?!

Friday morning I went for a little 5km run around London which I am sure really helps with jet-lag, and on Saturday we went to Highbury Field parkrun, which consists of five laps of the park. There were quite a view visitors to the parkrun that day from all over the world. As expected parkrun runners were welcoming and friendly, and it was lovely to run a parkrun in England. We followed up a few weeks later with one in Scotland as well – Kirkwall parkrun in the Orkney Islands, only weeks old.

Highbury FIelds parkrun

We did the tourist thing the next couple of days and on Saturday night had a carb-loading dinner at Al Duca in St James which I’d booked in March in anticipation that Italian restaurants would be in heavy demand. While having dinner we struck up a conversation with Fabianna and Paulo from Brazil. Fabi was running her fourth Abbott Major, having completed the three in the USA and with plans to run Tokyo in 2019. It was a lovely evening and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. It’s wonderful meeting other runners at these events!

I’d spent some time that afternoon trying to get the iron-on transfers with letters of our names onto the running singlets. It was a fine line between not having the iron hot enough and having the iron melt the singlet. I’d assumed Craig would run under his pseudonym Wom and purchased the letters accordingly – but more on that later.

Race morning dawned with a lot of noise in the street below. Tow trucks were shifting cars off the streets around the accommodation which was only 500 metres from the finish area. We didn’t have enough time to have the breakfast at the accommodation as it started too late so instead we ate the oats we’d purchased from the grocers, donned the KMart throwaway tops, asked the concierge to take a photo of us, and headed off to Green Park to the tube station. We were staying at the East India Club in St James where the dress regulation is essentially suit and tie for every meal and every situation except entering and leaving the accommodation. Imagine the surprise of the concierge when we moseyed down the stairs wearing shorts, bright singlets and runners, and asking for a photo!

There was something really reassuring about the masses of runners converging on the station. I knew we were going the right way! Our start group was Green and we simply followed the other Green numbers off the train and then the directions of the numerous volunteers to the start area. Easy.

The Green start was in the Greenwich Park which had been really well set up with refreshment stations, plenty of places to sit, and more portable toilets than I’ve ever seen in my life. We walked to the refreshment station and I asked whether they had decaf coffee, which they did! We had a selection of toilets to use which was nice too! And there was a big screen TV showing footage of the wheelchair athletes and the Queen who started the event. She wasn’t on site but it was still pretty special.

 

There had been constant updates from the race organisers about the forecast high temperatures for the day. The forecast was for 24 degrees Celsius in a city where only four weeks earlier the temperatures had peaked at 2 degrees Celsius. We’d trained through the Australian summer and knew the importance of running in the shade where possible, adjusting pace according to the heat, wearing visors, and drinking appropriately. Our training runs were generally pre-dawn so at least the sun wasn’t making things worse, but our start group in London was set for 10:30am meaning we weren’t going to finish until the peak of the heat. Crazy stuff. Marathons in Australia often commence around 6:30am to try to beat the heat so I was a bit anxious about how we would feel starting so late and running so late as well.

Behind us

Looking forward toward the start

It was pretty clear that there were a lot of British charity runners who had no idea about how to handle the conditions despite the information being provided to them. Some appeared to be in the same layers in which they’d trained, with no hats. No shade-seeking behaviour. A lady I spoke with briefly at the start had on a tight fitting technical t-shirt with her charity singlet over the top. I asked her why she wasn’t just in the singlet as she said she was already feeling the heat, and she said she’d gone out specially to purchase the t-shirt as it was labelled “cooling” and she figured it would cool her down when she ran whereas the singlet was quite tight and wasn’t “cooling” fabric…….

So the run was hot. The organisers had brought in additional water and we heard they’d had to restock drink stations with emergency supplies. They use bottled water in the London marathon and Craig read something that said they’d used 800000 bottles of water that day! I’d drink half of each one and tip the rest over my head or on my front or back, or squirt it at Craig. We made good time at our usual training pace and it really was quite thrilling to have all of the crowd support the entire journey. People were calling out “Go Anne”, reading the name on the front of my shirt; and back to those iron-on letters saying Wom – it was funny hearing people call out “Go Wom” but if we ever do names again I’ll think I’ll make sure it says Craig.

There was a lot of fancy dress and multiple attempts at World Records in fancy dress. We saw someone running with a tumble dryer on his back!

Craig in the throng

Clearly I’m someone who doesn’t always learn by mistakes or who, when running a marathon, stops thinking. I was worried about the heat and so at one drink station I picked up their sports drink – something orange and relatively tasty. I drank the entire contents quite slowly over maybe 8km and by 21km I’d developed terrible stomach cramps and nausea. Reading back over some of these blogs I see some events where I’ve drunk the sports drink and become sick, and some, like Berlin, where I haven’t and I’ve been fine. So it was actually me who was under performing first in the event, and Craig who was supporting me. We found a wonderful toilet stop in a tunnel under a road where lots of people were using toilets and that helped a bit, but it was probably until 35km that we ran and walked with me feeling very nauseous. I sat down for a while as I started getting quite panicky and Craig was very patient with me.

Crossing Tower Bridge

7km to go I started feeling a bit better and we started running a bit more, overtaking a lot of people. Unfortunately other runners were dropping like flies in the heat and the medical people were very stretched. We heard later a younger man had suddenly died while running which was very very sad. Craig and I had a miscommunication toward 39km when he wanted to walk a hill and then thought I wanted to keep walking (and I kept walking as I thought he wanted to keep walking), so we could probably have run that kilometre, but in general those last few kilometres were really good. The crowds had not faded at all over the 42.2km and of course grew even larger toward the end. Running along the Thames with the London Eye in view I knew we weren’t far from the finish, but it seemed it would never come!

We had hoped to see William, Catherine and Harry giving out water bottles at the final drink stop as they  did in 2017 but they weren’t there, and it was only the next day she gave birth to Price Louis so I suppose she was somewhat preoccupied on marathon day.

Anyway running toward Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria statue was very special.

We crossed the line in 5hours 22min which was a PB for Craig – awesome!

The finish area was nice with heaps of photographers and provisions for runners.

We had the options of finding the Oasis tent; going to a nearby Indian restaurant to find the WellChild people; or going back to the East India Club. Craig was struggling by this time having completed the event in good form but suffering for it once he stopped running. We trudged back to the Club and he had a shower and lay down. I went out to the  grocery store and bought chocolate milk, Up-N-Go style drinks, yoghurt, and grapes, and that’s what we had for dinner. There may have been some apple cider in the mix as well.

So what did I think of the London marathon? I think it is probably the best event I’ve done. The crowd support was tremendous and probably only rivalled by Tokyo with the important difference being the former was yelling support in English which made all the difference. It really is nice having people call you by name or hold up signs in English or yell out encouraging words and making jokes. The start and finish areas were on par with Berlin in terms of excellence. The course was not hugely scenic until the last few kilometres with the exception of course of crossing the Tower Bridge! But again the crowd made up for this and I think it was wonderful. I’d go back next year to be in the crowd if we lived there. But the most special thing about the whole day was having Craig there on the course, running with me. Couch to marathon in 18 weeks! How amazing. I was super proud of him and grateful he’d committed to something that doesn’t come easily to him because of his size and injuries, so we could do this thing together.

London Marathon was number 24.

BMW Berlin Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

BMW Berlin Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major

I’d finished the 16 marathons for the Marathon Maniacs challenge in November 2016 and had struggled for a time after in setting a new goal. Eventually I’d settled on qualifying for the Half Fanatics, sister club of Marathon Maniacs, but I felt a little half hearted about it. Nonetheless I entered Pine Rivers Charity Fun Run half in Queensland in early June and two more half marathons the following long weekend.

In the week before Pine Rivers I’d been lurking on the Marathon Maniacs Facebook and become involved in a discussion about the longest distance travelled to get to a marathon. People were talking about New York to Europe or even to Australia. I think I won with Australia to Greenland, but a close second was another Australian, Sam, who wrote she’d done Sydney to Berlin and back in about six days. Sam and I exchanged a few messages about Berlin, and it was another case of plant the seed and my mind goes wild!

I researched the Berlin marathon, which was on four months later. I’d missed the ballot however some charities still had entries. Sam had given me the name of her hotel. I was poised to book a guaranteed place with a UK charity event but on a whim looked at Travelling Fit with whom we had earlier booked Greenland and Australian Outback. Their price was fairly comparable, with the added benefit of staying with an Australian group, with assistance getting to the Expo and the start. Craig had already planned a motorcycling trip with a mate and as I’d be on my own I booked with Travelling Fit, and withdrew from the two half marathons.

Now I had something for which to train! I dragged out my trusty 16 week plan, already at week 2, and with another week of limited training to come due to school holidays. Training began in earnest mid July – middle of winter. It was cold, and it was dark. My various running friends, while very encouraging, were working on their own priorities, and I had to develop a new structure around my training. Knowing hills are important for me for strength, but no longer as strong on hills as my Blackbutt Reserve friends, I found a group of ladies who run 6km of hills in Eleebana in Lake Macquarie on Tuesdays at 5:15am! This meant leaving home at 4:45am to arrive with head torches and do 2km before the hill session, and then 2km after, still getting home before 6:30am! I think I ran with these ladies for approximately 11 Tuesdays and it was not until the last two runs I could see their faces thanks to the dark winter mornings.

Sunrise over Lake Macquarie

I trained six days a week, resting Monday; hills Tuesdays; solo intervals Wednesdays at the Newcastle Rowing Club where my youngest daughter rows; running from my home to a cafe by 6am to meet Craig Thursdays; a mix of running friends and solo running Fridays; long run Saturdays; and run to meet Craig for breakfast Sundays. Various running friends were so very generous with their time on Saturdays, running parts of the long run with me which made such a difference. I’d leave home in the pitch dark around 4:45am and run about 10-15km and then do the rest with them.

Carrington – scene of intervals and the base for long runs.

10 days out from departure Craig’s motorcycling plans changed and we made a snap decision for him to come to Berlin! We matched his itinerary with mine with the exception of Melbourne to Dubai, and had a bit of a rush to get things organised. He would leave a day early and fly a more complicated route via Auckland, NZ. The afternoon before he was due to leave he became aware of the fuel shortage in NZ and that his flight had been re-routed, meaning he’d miss me and our connecting flight in Dubai by several hours. We had another mad rush to re-route Craig via Adelaide, and his departure from home was brought forward to early the next morning!

I left the following day and met him in Dubai early Wednesday. I’d had a brief catch up with Del from the Travelling Fit group in Melbourne airport before my flight, and had otherwise enjoyed the solitude of the long haul flight. Craig had been busy shopping on his layover and had purchased me a Longchamp bag I’d thought essential for our trip ? and a pair of Lululemon speed tights I couldn’t get in Australia!

Reunited in Dubai

From Dubai we flew to Frankfurt where we had a four hour tour with Stan from toursbylocals.com that took in the main sights of the city.

The Main River in Frankfurt

We spent the night in the Hilton Frankfurt Airport and then flew to Berlin Thursday morning. Our hotel was 1.5km from the Brandenburg Gate and the start of the event. We walked there and looked around before going into the Berlin Mall to buy a few groceries.

Brandenburg Gate

Opposite our hotel was the Berlin Story Bunker which is an air raid bunker from WWII – three levels of history from 1914-1945 documenting the rise and fall of Hitler. We spent several hours in there and it was, at times, gut wrenching. Together with the Holocaust Memorial and innumerable other monuments to the Jewish people and the events of the war, it proved an emotionally challenging day. This was the stuff of our adolescent history lessons.

Berlin Story Bunker

Friday was the first real opportunity to meet the tour group. There was a 5km group run at 6:30am and then a bus tour at 9am. I went on the run and chatted to a few runners, all of whom had their stories of marathons and marathon goals to tell.

Brandenburg Gate at dawn

We then hopped on the tour bus and had several hours of commentary as we traversed western Berlin to eastern Berlin. It was an excellent way to see the two parts of the city.

Reichstag

Highlights were seeing the still intact sections of the Berlin Wall, important old buildings still damaged from the bombing raids of the war, and quiet reminders of the awful things that occurred in the city.

Stretch of the Berlin Wall

There are tiny brass plaques in the cobblestones inscribed with the names of the Jewish people taken from their homes and murdered in various concentration camps.

Jewish people taken from their homes

Lines of bricks signify the location of the Wall before it was destroyed.

Bricks are laid where the Wall used to be.

Across the road from our hotel is the facade of the defunct Anhalter Bahnhof, one of the three train stations where the people were loaded onto trains. Again, gut wrenching.

Anhalter Bahnhof

The tour bus dropped us at the Marathon Expo where bib pick up went very smoothly. There was a lot of security and ID had to be shown several times. I didn’t stop to look at the Expo but there seemed to be loads of vendors. We walked about 600 metres back to the hotel and from there about 1km east toward Checkpoint Charlie where we found Johnny’s Bar (from TripAdvisor) for lunch. It was great to be out in the real Berlin rather than just staying in the hotel restaurant, even though the latter was terrific and the service excellent.

Checkpoint Charlie

We walked a few kilometres that afternoon to a waschsalon, or coin laundry, and again enjoyed a coffee in a cafe bakery while waiting. Turns out this was opposite the Berlin Airlift Memorial. June 1948- May 1949 the Soviets blockaded all supplies into western Berlin by road and rail. During this crisis aircraft were landing at the airfield every 45 seconds.

Berlin Airlift Memorial

That night we went to Mabuhay Berlin (again from TripAdvisor) for Indonesian. Clearly a very popular restaurant with locals and tourists, we had an excellent meal.

Mabuhay Berlin

Saturday I’d originally planned a day trip to a concentration camp. I have to confess I’d shed tears and felt very overwhelmed by the sights and memorials of Berlin we had already encountered. I went for a solo run, getting lost in the Tiergarten which is fairly typical for me, before returning to the hotel via the rail station facade mentioned above. More tears. I decided to change plans and hold out for another trip at another time, perhaps to Auschwitz, to tackle a concentration camp. Empathy was on overload.

Craig and I instead caught a taxi to western Berlin. He’d seen a motorcycle clothing shop there he wanted to visit and I thought I’d check out Lululemon. We wandered up the main street and could see immediately the difference in architecture between the west and the east. It’s been less than 30 years since unification and building work, particularly in the east, in massive. The whole city had already been rebuilt after the war, but now huge amounts of building continue. Western Berlin on the whole appears more established and the shops are high end.

Tree-lined street of western Berlin

By contrast the buildings and footpaths in eastern Berlin are relatively austere in appearance.

Bricks leading to another intact section of the Wall.

In the end the motorcycle shop had nothing he was after and he had to make do with a new wallet from Prada. Them’s the breaks I guess.

We did a spot of souvenir shopping, went back to our hotel and then walked up to Potsdamer Platz to see the children’s mini marathon of 4.2195 kilometres and then the Inline Skating Marathon. Both were amazing spectacles and it was quite thrilling to be in the crowd of a Germans watching their children run, and cheering the skaters.

There were around 4000 inline skaters

Unfortunately terrorism was never too far from my mind. We had seen the site of the vehicle attack on the Christmas market in western Berlin at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and were acutely aware of the bollards lining various streets and important locations. There were Police everywhere and whenever there was a siren the crowd rushed to make way. Thus it was impossible for me to relax during those exposed times when walking the streets or standing in crowds, which was a shame.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Saturday night we attended the pasta dinner in the hotel with the Marathon group. It was again a good opportunity to meet runners and supporters and there was a wonderful short talk by the Indigenous Marathon Program graduates.

Sunday – race day! It was raining but only very lightly. In fact the cloud cover meant the temperature was already around 12 degrees which was good for me and my race outfit of the Travelling Fit singlet and bike style pants. I was awake at 3am which was a tad early however not the end of the world.

Morning view from the hotel

Breakfast was 6:30am and we left the hotel as a group at 7:30am for the start. Elites ran at 9:15am followed by groups A-C; D-G at 9:35am; and H at 10am. I was in G which was finishers with a previous best time 3:30-4:15. I thought I may get trampled as it had been over 12 months since I ran 4:19 in Canberra! I thought I’d predicted 4:30 as my finish time on the entry form but from the accounts of others most people were corralled on PB time no matter how ancient.

The group walking to the start began with 80 runners and 40 spectators but by the time we stopped at the Reichstag there were perhaps 10-15 runners and 4-5 supporters. I guess everyone had their pre-race rituals to get through but in terms of group cohesiveness it wasn’t a finest moment.

By this time it was all of 8:40am. There’d been a lot of standing around but then the guides announced they were leaving with the spectators for the 6.5km mark. I said goodbye to Craig who left with the guides, and two ladies named Kris and Yolande, and a few others. Kris’ husband, also Craig, had already gone as he was in a fast start group.

Yolande’s father Peter and I walked to our start group. Peter is legally blind and we stuck close together until we reached our corral G where he knew he’d be fine.

Peter & me

I left Peter for the toilet queue and was back within 10 minutes. The Germans do their portaloos well. This all happened shortly before 9am when the wheelchair athletes left, and then we clapped the fast start group at 9:15am. This included the three athletes trying to break the World Record!

Holding the phone above my head for a photo!

Our group set off at 9:35am. I tossed the KMart shirt as the weather was fine for a singlet and I didn’t need to warm up. Being in group G out of D-G, we crossed the start at 9:45am. Group H behind us was due at 10am so it’s not hard to guess how huge the start groups were if it took another 15 minutes to get all of my group over the start. The race had 46000 people in all.

Setting off

Peter said he was right to run alone and so I said goodbye and set off at a steady pace of about 5:40.

Looking back toward the start

I knew Craig would be at 6.5km and I texted him at 5km. The answer came back “stay right” so he could get a photo. We came around a bend and a voice yelled “Go Anne” – a spectator from our group had spied my shirt and then about five metres further on was Craig ?. I called and waved but the crowd of runners was so dense there was no chance at a photo.

Conditions remained drizzly and there was a lot of water on the road. My trusty Saucony Fastwitch shoes, by now with well over 1000km on them, were letting in the water and my socks were soaked. I knew the likelihood of blisters was high but there was nothing I could do. I ran on but missed the drink stop at 9km meaning I’d had nothing to drink since 9am and it was now about 10:45am. Usually at these big marathons there are several hundred metres of aid station but the 9km one was short and I was past the water before I realised. It seemed silly to turn back for a drink but I got a bit panicky thinking I should have stopped. It was still drizzling and I thought the chances of dehydration were slim, so I had my first gel and kept going.

The next 5km were a bit ordinary. I kept up the pace but my head starting whining. I began singing my go to anti-whining song “The Wheels on the Bus” and chugged along. Around 17km a man ran past and said “Go Aussie” – he was in an Australian singlet of a different style. Recalling all the help it had been running with others in marathons gone past I caught up to him. He was Les, a 57 year old from Brisbane, running for Motor Neurone Disease with a group of friends. Les hadn’t been 100% and had let his group go. We had a great time running together from then until I let him go at 25km.

My selfie skills are even worse when running

Craig was on the course at 20.5km, and Les and I stayed on the right to see him. It was still super crowded at this point and I yelled to Craig several times before he heard and then saw me. Again too crowded for a photo and we were gone in a flash. First half done in 2:03.

After I said goodbye to Les I walked for a bit and phoned Craig. My toes were sore and I knew I had blisters on at least two. I took a few hundred metres to re-group mentally and change my focus to something new. This was a reasonably scenic part of the course and I ambled on until I reached 30km. I then had the bright idea of getting to 32.2km and counting down to 42.2km from there. This proved a good strategy and in fact I felt pretty good and actually went to 34.2km before messaging Craig again. 8km to go!

Arc de 124.5 ° sculpture – gift from France

The last 8km were also pretty good. I walked maybe 200 metres but just kept going otherwise. My pace was around 6:30 which for me was also good at this point in a marathon. I knew Potsdamer Platz was at 38km and was a bit horrified to get there at 39.1km. What could I do? Nothing except keep going.

I was feeling fairly fresh except for the toes. I had a sniff of the approaching finish and was becoming impatient to get there. One thing I’d noted that seemed a little less evident from other major events I’ve done was the absence of good signage for impending photo opportunities. Everyone knows it’s all about the photo and I didn’t think I’d seen a photographer yet. I’d paid for the package up front and was determined to find a photographer to get at least one photo! Approaching the Brandenburg Gate with less than 500 metres to go I spied a posse of photographers. I set my trajectory straight for them, when suddenly another runner bounded in front of me, arms thrown up in the air and cutting me off. Bad move! Let jut say what happens at the Gate stays at the Gate. I have an awesome photo of me and I hope they culled the rest ?.

Approaching the Brandenburg Gate

Anyway, this was now kilometre 42 of the 43.1km I ran.

Home stretch

In true form the final kilometre was one of my fastest – fourth fastest in fact, and I bounded over the finish line. It was all a bit emotional but I’ve vowed not to cry in marathons and thus I’d say my eyes were moist with happiness. 4:26 – fastest marathon in 15 months. I was thrilled.

Gun time

I made my way through the race precinct, collecting the medal and the race poncho. I already had the Finisher Shirt as it had been distributed at the Expo! It was a bit of a trek to get to Craig but that’s no surprise given the size of the event. He’d had a huge day of walking and standing around, as well as navigating trains. It was then more of a hike back to the hotel as the paths were blocked in places and there were some nifty tricks to cross the marathon course that did involve a bit of waiting, but that’s to be expected.

Finished!

Travelling Fit put on drinks that evening and we were reunited with people we had met. They were all in good spirits and it seemed everyone had finished. Craig and I left the next morning early. We flew back to Frankfurt, then onto Dubai, and then to Sydney.

So the World Record still stands. Conditions were apparently a little too wet, humid and warm, and the winner missed the record by 37 seconds. Craig saw the leaders go past at 6.5km and of course they were flying – 3 minute kilometres!

Elites setting off

For me the conditions were pretty good except for the water in the shoe issue. I’m thinking about a change of shoe but it’s hard to let go of the type that has seen me through so many marathons. Berlin was a wonderful course too in that it was almost perfectly flat – I think there were two slight inclines but they were nothing. The crowd of spectators was fairly evenly distributed and there were no dead spots. Heavy metal seems popular there and if it wasn’t playing through speakers, some band of rockers in their 50s were bashing out renditions of popular songs from the era. Drumming groups are also big there and they are fabulous, particularly under bridges! Amazing.

Hydration – water and sports drink were available, along with some gels and a gel-drink. I stuck with water and had two small mouthfuls of the gel-drink but elected to toss it. One memorable thing was the noise of the plastic cups on the road. Etiquette there is to simply drop the cup at your feet and keep running. It was plastic cup and water mayhem at those spots, and the noise of feet kicking empty cups was incredible.

The medal is awesome; photos a bit light on; start and finish well equipped but could have been sign posted a little better; kilometre marks on course were either absent or I missed them completely – even the tracking pad areas didn’t seem to say where we were up to but again maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place; I ran long, as did heaps of others, but in such a massive crowd that’s hardly a surprise. Berlin is a great city to get around and doing the event with a couple of days either side is completely achievable. We also flew at the pointy end of the aeroplane and I’m certain that extra luxury helped too.

In the lounge in Dubai

I’m really pleased we came, and it was wonderful to have Craig with me as always. He’s an excellent supporter but I hope next time he will be able to race with me ?. I’d say Berlin was one of my favourite marathons.

Berlin Marathon was number 23.

A second epic crewing adventure – Roxby Downs

A second epic crewing adventure – Roxby Downs

A second epic crewing adventure – Roxby Downs

My husband Craig had been planning a long distance dirt road adventure for ages. His plan was to ride 1600km in less than 24 hours, all on dirt. In the weird world of this type of motorcycling the ride is known as a “Dusty Butt”. It’s never been done in Australia and Craig wanted to be the first. Lots of planning had gone into identifying stretches of dirt road that would allow him to complete the ride in as safe and supported manner as possible.

Craig left on Friday for a gathering of enthusiasts in Renmark, South Australia. He set out with his friends Bill and Peter, saying goodbye some hours later when he diverted to meet another friend, Rob. Craig and Rob rode to Renmark on a dirt stretch with the plan to reunite with Bill and Peter on arrival.

Craig’s plan was to then spend the day in Renmark on Saturday, and ride to Coober Pedy to start his dirt adventure. Bill was the support crew and would leave Renmark for Coober Pedy for the start and then to Roxby Downs on the bitumen, a point in the ride Craig would visit on one lap, and ultimately end there. Sadly Bill never made it to Renmark. There was a collision with a kangaroo near Dubbo in which Bill came off second best. His motorcycle came off even worse.

Craig called late Friday night relaying this news and indicating his own ride would most likely not proceed because it was likely foolhardy to undertake it without support. I had offered several times in the lead up to the ride to come and crew, but Bill’s planned presence in Renmark had rendered him the more obvious choice. Craig sounded fairly despondent on the phone and I made the offer again thinking he may change his mind overnight.

Thus Saturday morning dawned and with it came an invigorated call from Craig. “Do you really mean it?” he said. I knew the game was on.

It took several hours to coordinate my trip. I booked flights Newcastle – Melbourne – Adelaide, and return. I’d researched Alliance Airlines that fly Adelaide – Olympic Dam and knew that was doable but when I came to book that flight I was horrified to realise that particular Sunday was almost the only day of the year they do not fly! I booked the return flight for the Tuesday morning and then looked at hire cars. Six hours Adelaide to Roxby Downs! One way in a hire car was almost triple the price of returning the vehicle but that wasn’t an option as my return flight from Adelaide was booked to get me home early evening. I’d already rung Qantas to bring my incoming flight forward to an earlier time to give me more time to drive to Roxby Downs. Anyway I debated the Nissan Micra and the Toyota Corolla options, settling on the latter but knowing it wasn’t really suitable for dirt if that was required.

Saturday morning our daughter Emily spent her time working on my diary, contacting clients to say I’d be Skypeing them rather than seeing them in person. All good there so the plan was to work while in Roxby Downs, all the while tracking Craig on the spot link.

Sunday morning Emily drove me to Newcastle Airport very early. School holidays! Packed full of people heading to Brisbane and Melbourne. I was lucky and was offered an exit row seat so had heaps of space on that flight. We arrived in Melbourne to stormy, wet weather. There had been talk in the news of disrupted flights so I was a little anxious this would affect my plans, but thankfully all was good.

Stormy Melbourne

The next flight to Adelaide I’d been able to choose an exit row seat so once again the flight was pleasant.

Arriving in Adelaide I was stunned by the cold and windy conditions. I’d only thrown in a jacket at the last minute! I found Hertz who offered me an upgrade to a Kia Sportage for an additional $15 which I grabbed. The excess though was $4000!

My plan was to get out of the city and onto the road to Port Augusta as quickly as possible. I was lost on the airport roads for a time and then took a couple of wrong turns even with a gps, but eventually I was in the clear. I stopped at Port Wakefield for lunch and to properly sync my phone with the vehicle. I was all set now I had music.

I phoned Craig around this time. I’d thought he’d be at Port Augusta and he was – 1.5 hours ahead of me. I dropped the news I was driving and said I’d see him in a few hours.

I churned through the kilometres, stopping again with 80km to go at Spud’s Roadhouse, Pimba. Finally I arrived in Roxby Downs and met Craig at our accommodation. It had been an epic effort to get there, but I’d made it.

We drove around the town, out to the start of the Borefield Track at Olympic Dam. The ride route was Olympic Dam to William Creek (via the Borefield Track and then Oodnadatta Track) to Coober Pedy, and back again for one lap; and then repeat.

The sign itself was intimidating.

We went to Woolworths for some frozen meals and dessert, and went to bed early.

Towel art!

Overnight I’d been thinking about the ride. Craig was starting from the nab teller in the town and riding to the track. I knew proper support crews go to the start and take photos, so sprang out of bed at 3:20am to go do my duty and support. I took copious photos of him as we left and at the start of the Borefield track at Olympic Dam.

In Roxby Downs

By this time I’d developed the view that I could potentially drive my trusty Kia out on the track and see Craig both leave and return for a few kilometres. The mobile reception lasted for 5km and I dared not go (much) further in case something happened and I couldn’t call for help. Similarly Craig’s spot would work without phone reception to alert me to call help for him, but if I was out there I couldn’t.

At the start

We drove onto the track. It was awful. Dusty, sandy, ridges of hard packed dirt.

Starting lap one!

The Kia didn’t feel the love and I couldn’t waste time seeing if there was a setting for AWD. I knew Craig was hoping to average 70km/hr on the ride and in those first 5km in the dark the speed was no faster. Eventually Craig held up his hand and told me to return, so I waved goodbye and turned around.

Goodbye – lap one!

I stopped the car and turned off the lights to take some photos.

Looking back from the 5km mark

I went back to Roxby Downs and had some cereal, coffee and a shower, as I was cold. Dressing in my running clothes I headed out the door about 6:45am for a 10km run. I followed paths around the town, looking at stuff, and taking photos. I was lost a lot of the time but had my phone and in the end resorted to Maps telling me how to get back to Discovery Park – 11km in all!

Somewhere to the east of Roxby Downs………

That day my primary mission was to listen for texts from the spot to see Craig was OK; monitor the spot in case he wasn’t OK and couldn’t press the emergency button; and meet him at the end of lap one and then lap two. In between this I had Craig’s washing to do; and food to arrange for him. My secondary mission, but of significant importance, was to Skype six of my clients at set appointment times throughout the day. It was very strange sitting in a cabin in a caravan park in remote SA, speaking to my clients about matters for which the setting was very different, including my clothing, hair and makeup!

Craig had been vague about nutritional requirements. I’d already noted he’d left his camelbak behind and I knew this was an error. I researched travel by bitumen to William Creek and to Coober Pedy in an effort to get to him, but the former route did not exist and the latter was over four hours. My phone had synced with the Kia but there was a glitch with hands free calls otherwise I may have attempted the Coober Pedy drive and multi tasked by phoning clients on the way. I researched William Creek and saw it had fuel so I figured they would have water, as would Coober Pedy so I suspected he’d be OK to get water and pick up the camelbak at the end of lap one.

I’m almost a pro

Back to nutrition. He’d said something from the service station would do. I thought not. There was a Subway in Roxby Downs so I bought a ham salad roll. In Woolworths I bought two different flavours of Poweraid knowing the blue was a favourite but wanting a choice. I thought a banana was always a good option and Craig had left some dried fruit, muesli bars and cake for me to take as well. Armed with all of this, plus Panadol and ibuprofen, and chain oil, I watched the spot and calculated the time to arrive at the corner of the Borefield Track and Olympic Way. I’d no sooner arrived than the motorcycle crested the little rise in front and there he was! It was about 1:30pm, nine hours after he left that morning.

We drove the 800 metres or so to the Mobil service station, Olympic Dam, where Craig refuelled and got a docket. He sat in the back of the Kia in the shade and ate.

Luncheon

The break was short and he was keen to get back to Coober Pedy by dusk. I was going to follow him back out but he was much faster on the dirt than the Kia, disappearing from sight within moments.

Lap two – goodbye!

I elected to drive further to test the mobile reception in conjunction with being able to see the landscape. It was even more scary by day in the Kia on that road than had been by night!

Same scene as the photo above with the moon

I was interested in seeing the Olympic Dam mine and turned right at the end of Borefield Rd to drive closer. I had only traversed about 200 metres when a sign on the road made it clear I wasn’t going any further. Bummer.

Do not approach the uranium mine!

I conducted a u-turn and drove back toward the Mobil where I turned at the sign to the airport, just to check out where I’d need to be on Tuesday. On the way down that road I passed the temporary village constructed by BHP Billiton for single workers. I’m sure the name was tongue in cheek.

Back to Woolworths I purchased Craig some chocolate milk and a frozen meal as options post ride, as well as his favourite cherry ripe. Finishing my last clients for the day I had a bit of quiet time with a book and the spot link. Craig phoned from Coober Pedy around 6:30pm to say all was well, and I decided to go and find myself done dinner.

I drove around first, trying to get a photo of a ute with an orange flag on the front. They had been everywhere during the day and I’d been thinking I wanted one for the front of my Kia and perhaps even my Mercedes at home! As I stopped for dinner I realised I’d driven for about 10 minutes with no lights turned on. Honestly!

The elusive nocturnal ute

Still in pursuit

I’d read reviews of a couple of restaurants and had seen the Chinese near Woolworths earlier that day. It was a classic small town Chinese, complete with prawn crackers.

The fellow who greeted me was wearing shorts, Nike tshirt and thongs! I asked for a soft drink and he brought me the bottle complete with lid. The menu was also classic but I wonder whether my choice of the Chinese greens was less classic, as when it appeared, borne forth by a man dressed as a Rastafarian, it was just a plate of bok choy – or one may think, quite a few bok choy! The sauce was lovely but the greens were super chewy so in the end I ate the rice and sauce. It filled the time though and I went back to the accommodation ready for the last few hours of crewing.

I thought it was vegetables, not vegetable!

I debated my options. I’m not good at night, often falling asleep by 8:30pm. I knew I was tired and decided to risk a short sleep, with fingers crossed that Craig would fire off an emergency signal if something went wrong. It was a risk I know but another ugly case would have been falling asleep in front of the iPad and missing the end of the ride. I set the alarm for 11pm and woke myself at 10:45pm, having slept for 90 minutes. Checking the spot I could see he was about an hour away.

I sat on the bed for a while calculating what I needed to do. I’d left the supplies, car charging cord and iPhone with the keys and my jacket and water, ready to go. I kept refreshing the screen and the spot stayed the same for about 20 minutes. I was feeling a little uneasy but knew this occurred at times. Finally it refreshed and when I opened the link it showed he was only 30 minutes away. I squeaked and sprang up and out the door.

Out on the road of course it was pitch dark. I drove the 10km as fast as I dared but I was really worried about hitting a kangaroo and defaulting the $4000 excess! Driving straight down the middle of the road I recalled Bill saying on the way to Darwin “don’t swerve or you’ll roll the ute. Just hit the kangaroo”. I just wasn’t sure the Kia was made of the same stuff! I elected to travel more slowly and brake safely if required. I made it to the track and turned onto it, refreshing the spot again. 10 minutes was all that remained!

I drove out on the track, travelling no more than 40km/hr, believing a kangaroo was about to bounce at me at any time. Instead it was a rabbit but it was well clear. Finally in the distance I saw lights! I swung the Kia around and waited. Along came Craig! “Go to the BP” he said, knowing that as it was only 11:35pm the servo would still be open. He took off, leaving the Kia in a dust cloud. I didn’t really dare go much faster as I retraced the route, saying to myself “don’t crash the car; watch out for kangaroos”.

At the BP Craig was finishing refuelling and going inside for a docket. I refuelled the Kia and followed him in before taking the photos!

Champion!!

We moseyed back to the accommodation where Craig refuelled himself on chocolate milk, spoke by phone to Rob, and collapsed into bed!

My flight out of Olympic Dam was 8:30am Tuesday. Craig awoke sore and sorry but still thrilled. He said he wasn’t keen to get back on his motorcycle and I suggested he take another day to rest but he had already decided to ride back to Broken Hill.

I arrived at the airport, returning the hire car and finally getting a photo of the squadron of utes with orange flags.

The Kia at the end of the epic ride

There’s just something about an orange flag that exudes power!

The air in the departure lounge was rank with the odour of 40 men freshly off work and catching my plane back to Adelaide. I thought that was foul enough but had nothing on the ripeness of the smell on the Fokker itself. Omg, most bodily odours premiered and featured on that flight. It was gross but still probably better than the six hour drive back to Adelaide. I had three clients and a case conference to attend to via Skype from the Qantas lounge in Melbourne and then the hop to Newcastle.

The queue of odorous men

Roxby Downs is an interesting place and something of an oasis in the remote area though “oasis” is a stretch. Purpose built by BHP Billiton and the SA government, it has great infrastructure with excellent community facilities. I’d read that the mine had reduced staffing by 350 in recent years and the property market including rental accommodation had fallen over. There were huge numbers of empty homes, and homes for sale. Rents have dropped from $900 per week to $100 per week.

$100000 could buy you this gem

Nothing much grows there and more upmarket dwellings had synthetic lawns. I saw two brick homes in all, although they may have been faux brick.

Trying to keep the kids clean

I didn’t go to the tavern but reviews suggest it can become quite rowdy. I suspect there’s not really much to do out there. From my end, I’ve seen it now and I don’t expect I’ll go back!

So another crewing adventure. I enjoyed the semi-solitude despite constantly watching over Craig and talking to my clients; my staff about a Telstra crisis at the office; and messages from Emily, my friend Hayley and the girls with whom I work. It was something of an adventure for me despite the occasion being very much about Craig and this latest amazing achievement. I’m glad I got to share this one – it was well worth the effort!

 

 

 

 

Fujisan Marathon

Fujisan Marathon

Fujisan Marathon was the final marathon in the year of 16 marathons in 16 different states and/or countries. Rebadged from Kawaguchiko Marathon a few years earlier, the Fujisan Marathon runs around Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Saiko, with Mt Fuji in the background. Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Saiko are two of five lakes formed from eruptions from the extinct volcano that is Mt Fuji.

While Kobe eight days earlier had been unseasonably warm, by the Wednesday of Fukuchiyama the cold had returned, and indeed there had been an unseasonable heavy fall of snow in Kawaguchiko. We knew there would be snow on Mt Fuji, but as we bussed into Kawaguchiko on Friday afternoon it was evident there was about 25cm of snow covering the ground, including roadways, although the road ringing the lake had been cleared.

I was rethinking my race outfit.

I hate snow. I hate snow because I don’t tolerate the cold at all well and I had such a big taste of the cold, snow and ice in Greenland I’d been determined that was it for me. Then of course I had to suck it up to run in Antarctica. I hadn’t considered a snow event would plague the last marathon in this group of 16!

Day before the event
Day before the event

The forecast was for around seven degrees for Saturday and slightly warmer for race day on Sunday. Sometime early Saturday I looked at the Fujisan marathon Facebook page. There was an update that led with “Decision made. Marathon will go ahead”. I was aghast! Apparently the conditions had been so poor that there had been debate about whether to proceed! Thankfully the race organisers had been able to arrange to clear the roads and it was considered safe enough now for Sunday. I would have been just one of 15000 disappointed runners come Sunday if it had been cancelled and thank goodness it wasn’t as there was no other option for me in Japan to run the 16th marathon with only two days to go to 365 days!

We walked from our hotel to bib collection on the Saturday. I was wearing every piece of clothing I owned and I was still cold! Bib collection was well organised although it became evident that there were two booking agencies and we were initially in the queue for the wrong agency. That corrected we picked up my bib and walked back to the hotel. Once there I realised I’d forgotten to take the Apricot Anne shirt our daughters had made for me, and with that in hand we walked back again in the freezing conditions for a photo. Good parents!

Apricot Anne makes another appearance
Apricot Anne makes another appearance

Our hotel was a traditional Japanese ryokan. Breakfast and dinner were part of the package and consisted of multi-course traditional Japanese cuisine served at a table looking straight at Mt Fuji. Absolutely beautiful.

Breakfast views!
Breakfast views!

I made sure I ate heaps of rice the night before the marathon but on the morning of the marathon I awoke quite nervous and felt almost unable to eat anything. I forced down some rice but the other 16 dishes of food went back to the kitchen.

Crockery excess!
Crockery excess!

We watched runners jogging toward the start from about 7am. Madness! The event started at 9am and around 8:30am we began the trudge along the cycle path, still covered in part in snow. I had spent a lot of time deliberating about whether to wear my usual marathon shoes that let out the sweat and let in the water (and cold and snow); or whether to wear a different, more waterproof pair I’d thrown into the suitcase that have a slightly wider toebox (in case my toe played up) but in which I’d only run about 80km. In the end I went with the former thinking I’d made it fine through rain in Fukuchiyama and I’d just have to make do. I threw a couple of bandaids into a pocket just in case I needed them. En route to the start Craig carried me over some deeper snow drifts!

At the start
At the start

This marathon had a 10km loop around the town before heading back to the lake and then across the bridge to where Craig had arranged to see me about 12km.

Lap around the town
Lap around the town with Mt Fuji behind

Once again my head was troublesome, letting me know this was hard and maybe I should stop. I came over the bridge with Mt Fuji behind me, waving to the photographers and then to Craig. I stopped running just as he was taking a photo and he made a comment about this that drew my ire. There was a short exchange of something to the effect from him of “suck it up” followed by some expletives from me that perhaps one did not need to know much English to catch the tone, and I ran on.

Craig takes a good photo. Mt Fuji behind me!
Craig takes a good photo. Mt Fuji behind me!

I sulked for the next 4km before my attention was drawn to a set of portaloos which seemed an opportune time to stop. I knew I had six hours to finish this marathon (less 15 minutes for the time it took to get over the start – they were running on gun time!) and like Fukuchiyama I was travelling along quite well in terms of making this time with ease. But back to the portaloos – I decided this was my moment to get some photos!

Approaching the portaloo
Approaching the portaloo

Inside!
Inside!

Not long after this I met a fellow who was running in a Marathon Maniacs shirt. He was Stuart from America but living in Japan. Stuart told me he does all his training inside on a treadmill and that he was finding the race a little tough. I walked and ran with him for a while however I eventually decided to press on when I spied another man up front who had said hello to us as he passed a little earlier.

The man in front was John from Melbourne. What a relief to hear him speak! Such an easy conversation and humour, and we stayed together from about 20km to the end. It was awesome.

Loving it!
Loving it!

John is a marathon veteran, having run his first marathon at age 24 years, and 44 years on, still going strong. John said he and his wife Tricia had arrived in Japan for him to run the marathon and then they were spending a few weeks touring. He had been to different places around the world to run marathons, including Russia! John’s strategy for Fujisan was to run for 6 minutes and 45 seconds, and then walk for 30-60 seconds. He had a timer set that let him know when to do what, and that’s what we did. By that formula and the pace we were doing I knew we’d be home in 5 hours and 30 minutes, below the cut off. That’s all I wanted – to finish under the time.

The event went right around both lakes. There was one massive hill in the middle on which a drumming band were performing – they were still there drumming away when we came back down.

Heading back toward 38km

Beautiful autumn colours
Beautiful autumn colours

Facebook had indicated there would be noodles prepared by a Japanese idle group at 25km and 35 km. I thought to myself – “good use of work for the dole recipients, helping with the marathon” but then realised they meant Japanese idol group as in music group! The queues for noodles were crazy at both locations – John and I were stunned to see so many people in lines of maybe 100 metres waiting for noodles, particularly at 35km when those same people should have been getting a wriggle-on to make the finish in time.

The event organisers were setting off fireworks every hour – you could hear them all around the course, and right on six hours they let off the last ones. Event over! I’m sure there were several thousand people behind us who wouldn’t have made the cut off, and it was noodles hand crafted by idols that slowed down hundreds of them!

Noodle queue
Noodle queue

Anyway I was regaling John with wild stories of things that have happened to me at different events (what happens on the run stays on the run) and he was returning the favour. With 3km to go he started to fade but there was no way I was leaving him. This was the first time he’d taken his phone in case he had to call Tricia to say he was a DNF and getting on the Losers’ Bus, but this was not to be! We came around the final bend and John’s wife called out “Nearly there John”.

Nearly there!
Nearly there!

Craig was at the finish line on the right just as he said and I called to him as we crossed.

Literally calling "Craig"
Literally calling “Craig”

John was thrilled to finish and I was extremely pleased we were done too. I actually felt pretty good and like in Uluru I could have easily kept going. Once again it’s the head and not the body that undermines my performance! John congratulated Craig on being able to put up with me because I talk so much but I’m pretty sure it was tongue in cheek.

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By now I was basking in the glow of having finished the three events and Craig nearly had frostbite.

Quest complete (again)!
Quest complete (again)!

We walked back to the hotel wearing our rain ponchos and on entering the foyer were accosted by the manager who shooed us back to the tiles with towels in her hand and demanded we take off the wet outer layer! We made it to our room and I came down a little later and managed to purchase a bottle of plum wine (after some issues with translation!). We sat in the room looking out at the lake, half watching the sumo wrestling championship before donning the traditional Japanese lounge-wear and slippers to go back to the dining room to face the 16 course dinner. What an experience!

img_7844
What happens in Japanese lounge-wear stays in the ryokan!

Fujisan Marathon was number 22.

Fukuchiyama Marathon

Fukuchiyama Marathon

Fukuchiyama Marathon ranks pretty high up the list for bizarre things I’ve done. It formed part of the three marathons in eight days I completed in Japan and it was really just pure luck that I was able to string together Kobe – Fukuchiyama – Fujisan simply because Fukuchiyama was run on a Wednesday! A Wednesday! Who does that? 10000 Japanese people it seems. Where in Australia would you ever get 10000 people running a marathon on a Wednesday, let alone in the middle of nowhere?

Nothing about Fukuchiyama was very easy for us. The event had a static website with no English translation and hence I had to rely on Google Translate to work out how to enter and all things that came after that. The entry procedure was common to most Japanese races, being through Runnet, but unlike Kobe and Fujisan where there was an English version, Fukuchiyama was only available on the Japanese language site. It wouldn’t accept my name and hence I had to enter Japanese characters gleaned from Translate, which is how my name came up as Apricot Sakaeri when it translated back again!  I contacted the race organisers several times asking for a little more information on a couple of points and to ask them to change my name and received no response. On the day of the event I found my name was changed so evidently they were able to work out what I was after.

I had looked for accommodation in Fukuchiyama for the night before the marathon and quickly realised there was nothing. This town was really small! We had planned on spending the day either side of the marathon in Kyoto which was two hours by train from Fukuchiyama, and with bib collection open 7-9am and the event at 10:30am, timing to get the 6:30am train and arrive before bib collection closed was going to be really tight.

Two days before we left for Japan an email arrived with a 16 page pdf document giving a substantial amount of detail about the event – all in Japanese. I spent ages cutting and pasting the information into Translate and was glad I did as one of the tips was that a special train was being run from Kyoto to Fukuchiyama on the day of the event. I could see from the detail that it was arriving around 8:20am and buses would take runners from the station to the start line and figured this had to be fine in terms of timing. Getting that train was the big sticking point of the day.

The night before the event we found an Italian restaurant right near our hotel and had a lovely pasta meal. One review of the restaurant had urged diners to ask for tomato beer however we had trouble conveying this to the staff and instead settled for sparkling white wine! I guess pasta is not unlike noodles, but eating pasta with chopsticks was quite a hoot.

Japanese Italian!
Japanese Italian!

Chopsticks & pasta
Chopsticks & pasta

Fun at dinner
Fun at dinner

I realised too I’d left my spi belt in Hiroshima after having washed it and left it to dry on a lamp in the hotel. A wonderful lady I’d met in Uluru who lives in Japan – Masako, had been messaging me and I asked her for the names of some Japanese sport stores where I could buy another. We located one in Kyoto and walked there. As we walked in the door the staff took one look at us and scattered! Nonetheless I found what I was after and all was good.

We had asked our hotel whether we could have our included breakfast to take on the train the next morning, given we’d be leaving for the station around 6am. With the response being a firm “No take out” we ordered a taxi and arrived at the station with plenty of time to buy a coffee and something to eat. Unfortunately the food vendors didn’t open until 6:30am and we had to settle for canned coffee out of a vending machine as the train departed right on 6:30am.

I was getting a bit worried by now about nutrition. We sat on the train for the next two hours watching the Japanese runners munching their way through countless sushi rolls while we had nothing. On arrival we bolted with the crowd from the train station about two blocks to the waiting buses. It was freezing! I was shaking so much just standing in the line and I was wearing multiple layers and gloves. By now I’d noted Craig and I were the only Caucasians in the vicinity, and at 195cm, Craig stood out, towering above the lines of people. We were relatively quickly onto a bus, followed on by more runners who flipped out little seats in the aisle of the bus, allowing it to carry another whole column of people.

On the bus
On the bus

On arrival at the sport centre it was apparent this was a basketball stadium in a large sport centre on the top of a big hill. It was just so cold. Everything was in Japanese. We had no idea what was going on. I knew my bib number from the Runnet site and approached the table where collecting the bib went smoothly. The quadrangle area outside the stadium was ringed with food stalls and we saw the choices were miso soup or sushi. Craig bought a box of sushi and being super hungry, I accepted this wasn’t my usual pre race meal, and almost inhaled three pieces of sushi.

There was a tiny line for a massive number of female toilets down an incline, although the line for the men’s toilets was reasonably long. Still shaking from the cold we decided rather than use these toilets, to go inside the stadium to escape the weather. The noise was extraordinary, with a running commentary from a very loud and excited Japanese lady, whom Craig later told me screamed happily into the microphone for three hours! Every available space was packed with runners. I found a queue to a female toilet and stood in it. A few minutes later a female runner approached me and beckoned for me to follow her. I did so and about 30 metres away were more toilets, with no queue! What a darling! I don’t really know why she approached me – perhaps the first queue had only the dreaded squat toilets available or maybe she chose me because I stood out a bit. Either way, she was amazing for doing so.

Getting closer to 10:30am we decided to venture back outside. I knew my start gate was around “G” from “I” gates. We followed the crowd and I entered the start area. Craig was able to walk right up to the tape separating runners from spectators, and we stood together for another 15 minutes or so before the start. I knew it was going to be pretty lonely for us both – at that point it seemed 9999 Japanese runners, and me! And heaps of Japanese spectators, and Craig!

Moving toward the start
Moving toward the start

Turns out there were two other Caucasian ladies there but they were behind me and I have no idea whether they spoke English either. Craig spent hours sitting inside the basketball stadium, surrounded by people, and completely alone!

The Apricot Anne shirt. It was too cold to wear on it's own!
The Apricot Anne shirt. It was too cold to wear on it’s own!

Freezing at the start
Freezing at the start

We set off running in freezing condition and light rain. The first kilometre was down the hill to the road that led into the town. I was wearing a plastic poncho supplied by the race organisers and it was wonderful for both the rain and keeping a bit warm in those conditions. Around 5km I was warm enough to take it off and I folded it carefully and put it in a pocket because the forecast was for rain from 1pm.

The poncho in action
The poncho in action

I knew the second sticking point of the day was the 11km mark when the course finished the loop of Fukuchiyama and came back across to the bottom of the hill, just down from the start and where I knew Craig was sitting in the stadium. I had been having problems with my knee and had almost resolved to just finish Kobe (which I had) and abandon Fukuchiyama and Fujisan. I thought 20 marathons could be a good number on which to retire. I’d spoken about this with my running friends who had encouraged me to try all three marathons but had also supported the notion of stopping at Kobe. I also knew that the marathon had a six hour cut off and I had no hope of making that cut off if I walked. I had to run at least 14km at my usual race pace, and then I could walk if my knee was no good.

And so as I came around at 11km, still doing a fairly good time, the thoughts of “Stop; Stop now; Give up; You’ve done enough” and worse – “You can’t do this” were yelling very loudly in my head. I did a quick check of my body – everything felt surprisingly normal. My knee was good. I told myself I’d run another kilometre and didn’t get any support from the “Stop” thoughts. I searched for a solution and remembered Craig saying he had found singing a particular song helpful in the days of running when he had struggled, and thus launched into the many many verses and variations of that parenting classic “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. I must have sung that song for the next 5km. Anytime I stopped the negative thoughts cut back in but as I got closer to 16km I knew I was going to be fine. And I knew I’d make the cut off. I was running well.

The turnaround was at 24km and I had been thinking gratefully of the shorter leg back as there was no repeat of the loop. The road was wet from rain earlier that morning and as my shoes let sweat out (and water in!), my socks had been getting progressively wetter. I had wrapped my little toe in the dressing I’d been using very successfully to mitigate blisters. however the dressing became quite waterlogged and my toe suddenly became extremely painful, just 500 metres before the turnaround. So frustrating! I stopped when I saw a medic and using miming, indicated I’d like a new dressing. He gave me three plastic bandaids and made a sympathetic noise when he saw my toe, and off I went again.

My toe came good with the new coverings and next stop was the portaloos. None of them were Western style toilets! I’d Googled how to use a squat toilet, as our guide in Hiroshima had suggested all toilets in a little place like Fukuchiyama would be squats. I knew to ensure there was toilet paper within reach before attempting to use, and the first toilet had none! Phew – glad I’d read that! The second toilet had paper, and also had urine and faeces all around the area on which you stand. I toughened up and did what I needed to do quite successfully! Except, as I stood up the plastic poncho fell out of my pocket and onto the floor, resting on top of the human waste. Bummer! I was going to get wet as the rain was starting.

Weather was turning!
Weather was turning!

People still going the other way
People still going the other way

At 32km in Kobe I was wrecked. Stomach cramps. Walking. At 32km at Fukuchiyama I was feeling pretty good. I’d had the time out with the medic and then with the toilet adventure, so I threw caution to the wind and at the next aid station picked up an hot drink. It tasted pretty good although I have no idea what it was. Nonetheless the next 2km were two of the best I ran in the whole event. I zoomed along, passing maybe 800 people! Who knows what that little cup of brown liquid actually held, but it was rocket fuel for me.

The mystery beverage
The mystery beverage

Was this a sanctioned aid station or a random one supplying "special" brown drinks? I'll never know.
Was this a sanctioned aid station or a random one supplying “special” brown drinks? I’ll never know.

And the zooming didn’t really wear off. Those next 10km flew by. I passed so many people. It was crazy. When I looked back at the results, 35-40km were as fast as 0-5km and 5-10km.

I was having fun
I was having fun

Random tori gate
Random tori gate

About 3km to go a man ran up behind me and then overtook. I must have been feeling good as I decided to tail him to the finish. I knew we had the final kilometre back up the hill, but for the next 2km I tried to stay right on his heels. We hit the hill and everyone started to fade. I was determined to run that hill and about halfway up I overtook the man I’d been tailing. But really, who finishes a marathon on a hill like that? Nuts!

I ran over the finish, calling out to Craig who had been there waiting for me. There was no medal for this event, but instead a shirt and a certificate they printed on the spot. I found Craig and we went back inside the stadium where I found the same toilets again in order to get changed. I popped into the first one available – squat toilet! I came to see design issues with squat toilets – sure, there’d been a lot of people using the facilities in the day; maybe the cleaning staff were a bit light on; but really, there seems to be urine everywhere in those cubicles and getting changed in one required meticulous care, especially when it came to shoes and socks.

We grabbed some more food in the quadrangle, and headed back to the buses. It was still freezing – about three degrees, with rain. Craig was chilled through from sitting and standing in the weather all day. The Japanese out did themselves again with post race food, facilities and people management. We were quickly on a bus and back to the train station. Downside of the two hour trip back to Kyoto was we could not get a seat on the train and stood up for perhaps 90 minutes of this trip. It wasn’t too bad as it forced me to do some stretches and in truth these were probably a good idea!

After the disaster that was Kobe and then finishing Fukuchiyama with a smile, Craig said to me “how do you think you’ll go at Mt Fuji?” to which I responded “I’ll be fine”. Even though I’d done 112km that week in Chile and Antarctica, I’d had some very significant doubts about Japan. It was a massive relief to have done Fukuchiyama well under the six hour cut off, and a real boost to confidence that I could do it without being wrecked. My knee was all good. Bring on Fujisan!

Fukuchiyama Marathon was number 21.

 

Kobe Marathon

Kobe Marathon

I count myself very lucky to have run Kobe, for a few reasons. Perhaps the major reason is that when I was searching for three marathons to run in one week in different prefectures of Japan, the ballot entry for Kobe was already closed. I contacted the organisers and asked whether I could be on a wait list and they very generously gave me an entry! I was so thrilled.

I’d been working on the issues I’d had with blisters and my right knee since Ross in September, and with some professional advice about taping my knee, I’d decided to give Kobe a go. I knew with a 7hr 30min cutoff I could walk most of it if needed.

Craig and I flew overnight Sydney to Tokyo, and then onto Osaka, landing mid morning the day prior to the marathon. We bussed it to Kobe and found our way to bib pickup, at the finish line of the event. Some instructions were lost in translation and I had no number card, so had to pay about $2.50 for a new one, but no matter. The expo was fabulous and we bought Craig a cap because the forecast was for a high of 21 degrees Celsius, unseasonably warm for late Autumn.

The "Apricot Anne's got a plan" t shirt my girls gave me to wear in Japan!
The “Apricot Anne’s got a plan” t shirt my girls gave me to wear in Japan!

Race morning was fine and sunny, and with a 9am start not far from our hotel, we had breakfast in the club lounge and wandered down. The organisation was phenomenal. Kobe marathon is a big marathon of 20000 runners and about 500000 spectators. I left Craig at a barricade and walked on about three blocks to my gate. I figure there were about 1500 runners in each gate and in mine I saw only one other Caucasian runner. He had in ear buds and looked focussed and not at all chatty, so I stood by myself and soaked it all in.

My gate
My gate

Waiting!
Waiting!

At bib pickup we had been given bright yellow gloves to wear at the start. There was a lengthy introduction in Japanese followed by a song, and then everyone waved their hands in the air. Such fun even though I didn’t really know what was going on! There was a countdown and then the start – we were off! Or so I thought. It was about 20 minutes later that my group even started to move!

The gloves
The gloves

The wave from last year
The wave from last year

I knew Craig was on the first corner and called to him as I ran past. I’d worn my Marathon Maniacs shirt which is florescent yellow and ordinarily stands out, except the Kobe event shirt was similarly yellow and clearly lots of Japanese don’t bother with the belief that you finish a marathon before you don the shirt.

Lucky shot!
Lucky shot!

In the first kilometre or so a man ran up next to me, whipped out his phone and got a selfie with me. I obligingly smiled, and on looking at him more closely realised he was another Marathon Maniac! It was too busy to stop and chat so I kept going, but found later via another Maniac his name is Mike and he lives in Hong Kong. Mike put these photos on the Facebook page of MM and Dan whom I met in Uluru also recognised me.

Mike and me
Mike and me

In the crowd
In the crowd

It’s hard to describe the atmosphere and crowd at this event. Thousands of people lined the streets for almost the entire 42km, and where no crowd was allowed, there were volunteers whose only job was to cheer. There must have been more than a thousand volunteers, all dressed in matching coats and caps.  There were bands, drummers, singers, dancers, and children’s groups performing.

Performers about 25km
Performers about 25km

Enthusiastic supporters
Enthusiastic supporters

Aid stations were incredible with water and electrolyte drink, as well as food. The electrolyte drink was quite strongly flavoured. I’d grabbed it by mistake initially, but given it was quite hot early on (maybe 18 degrees at the start) I thought it wouldn’t go astray. It was called VAAM.

The crowd of runners was just enormous and didn’t let up for the whole distance. There was never clear space for more than a metre or so in front and I think I ran an additional 500 metres weaving.

Crowd at 11km
Crowd at 11km

More crowd
More crowd

Around 17km another man ran up to me. He was a Canadian who has run in different countries and it was nice to talk with someone for a few kilometres. I lost him around 25km when I stopped to use the toilet. I’d noticed I wasn’t feeling great and was experiencing some nasty stomach cramps. I was forced into a walk and felt so off that at one stage I sat down on the median strip. I was pretty devastated when each time I tried to run the cramps returned.

Messaging Craig
Messaging Craig

It was a bit of a slog from there. I never thought 12km could drag so badly. I’d been looking forward to running over the red bridge toward the finish and it was still quite a thrill. I managed a really slow jog over the last 3km and ran down the finishing straight so thankful to have made it. Slowest solo marathon ever. Despite this I was really happy to have reached the milestone of 20 marathons.

Last few kilometres
Last few kilometres

Home stretch
Home stretch

Looking for Craig near the finish
Looking for Craig near the finish

Finished!
Finished!

I researched VAAM a couple of days later. It’s some sort of hornet spit meant to help people burn fat. Enough said. It didn’t agree with me! Not the first time an electrolyte drink has caused me issues. I should have been more careful!

Kobe Marathon was number 20.