There is something alluring about an event with an iconic start or finish line. My favourite start lines so far have been for Hoka event #4 in Anglesea and the Surf Coast Trail half marathon, both of which started on beautiful, pristine beaches. And my favourite finish line? That of the Melbourne marathon festival which finishes with a lap on the hallowed turf of the MCG.
The path to this event had its own story, as they usually do. I wasn’t going to do it. I had run the 10km in this festival a few times and felt like I’d kind of ‘done’ it. I’ve always been a bit scared of the half in this festival – it feels a bit serious and I had always assumed it was really aimed at faster people and that I’d stick out like a sore thumb. So why exactly did I enter? Two reasons finally swayed me – a bunch of five30runners were heading down for it and, after a couple of unconventional half marathons, I was interested to see how I would go on a road one again. So I signed up, plugged my times into My Asics and got myself a training plan.
Most unusually, I actually stuck to my training plan. It required me to run 3 times a week with weekday runs somewhere between 5km and 10km and weekend runs getting up to 17km. I don’t have a good history with training plans – I usually start with good intentions then fall off the wagon somewhere around the point where it seems to get a bit challenging. This time, I stuck with it and started to see results even in my shorter distances with PBs at 5km and 10km.
And so it was that I arrived at the MCG to meet my friends this morning. I had trained. I wasn’t injured. I wasn’t sick. I had no excuses left. And it scared me. I have probably not been that nervous before a run since my first event. I knew I was running well and knew that my times had been faster than usual but still didn’t really know what I could expect from myself.
Pre-start, we followed our usual routine of multiple toilet stops, bag drop and selfies then moved along to the start line. The forecast had been for strong winds and possible rain but it was a relatively calm morning at the start and, mercifully, overcast so we didn’t have to put up with the Spring sun.
The start takes you up a hill towards Flinders Street then along to Federation Square before turning onto St Kilda Road. I haven’t always been friends with this bit of road as it crops up in many Melbourne events and seems to go on forever. Today, it flew by pretty quickly and I felt good – I was tracking my pace and was running well. As always, there was the voice in the back of my head saying ‘How long can you keep this up?’ but I tried to ignore it and just focus on each kilometre.
Before long, we were turning for the lap around Albert Park and there were a few gusts of wind here which made things interesting – at least they helped keep the flies at bay which were out in droves. I think it was here where my feet started to hurt – I have managed to rub blisters on the inside of my big toes which just get added to on each long run. Whatever. My mantra of ‘This isn’t pain. It’s just a blister’ is quite useful and I just kept powering on.
The far side of the lake seemed rather long, especially as I could see the little extra loop we had to do to make up the distance. I put my head down and ran a bit faster, trying to get it over with quicker. It was on this loop that I saw my friend Jill which was great – always gives you a lift to see friends out on the course. Just after the drink station, I decided I needed a quick toilet stop which is completely out of character on my long runs but I don’t think I got my hydration right yesterday and this morning. It really didn’t matter as it was very short and I just checked my watch as I came out then ran a bit faster for the remainder of the kilometre to keep my pace up.
Turning back onto St Kilda Road, I felt tired but great – that was the ‘I’m going to finish this’ moment. Even though I’ve done the distance before, there’s still moments at the start of every run where I think I might not be able to do it and then a sense of relief where I pass my point of ‘Yes I can’. This was also where the marathoners merged back with us which was great as it meant there were a lot of people around and a great atmosphere along with it.
I power walked up William Barak bridge then ran down the other side and along the crowds before turning into the MCG. I was absolutely spent and didn’t know if I had it in me to actually keep running to the finish line but I did it anyway and was elated to cross the line with a 9 minute half marathon PB.
It was clearly a PB kind of day as many of my friends at the event also scored personal bests and I loved being able to share those moments with them. We celebrated with burgers on our way home – a perfect way to end a great weekend.