THE LOVELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER

By Alex Wadelton

I ran onto the MCG devastated.

The last ten months of training, wasted.

Legs like concrete, pain coursing through my veins, and my goal of running a sub three-hour marathon gone.

One lap on the mighty G, thousands of people of cheering and all I could think of was failure. With fifty metres to go, the loudspeaker announced, “you should have seen the emotion for the two hour, fifty-nine finishers- pure joy.”

Not for me.

I stepped across the finish line of the Melbourne Marathon in three hours, two minutes and twenty seconds, threw off my visor and swore. All that training to fail by an average of about three seconds per kilometer.

Gutted.

The last marathon I ran was up at the Gold Coast, and I’d recorded a five minute Personal Best of three hours, two minutes and ten seconds.

Since then I’d increased my training, fitting in a three hour run every Monday morning before work for about four months. I’d done hill sessions, fartlek, interval training, sprints and recovery runs. I’d averaged between ninety and a hundred kilometres per week for months and months. I’d hardly missed a session.

I had even recorded new PBs over ten kilometres and the half marathon by considerable margins.

So, when I lined up at the start I felt as confident as Geelong before the 2008 Grand Final. All indicators pointed to success.

Up to thirty kilometres, I was cruising. At half way, I set a new PB for a half marathon and felt like I was a Kenyan. I was well in front of the three-hour pacemaker, and with conditions absolutely perfect all looked on track for a successful day.

But then the mythological wall began to crush me like the garbage disposal system in Star Wars. Inch by inch, kilometre by kilometre my legs began to get heavier. My stride shortened. My breath became shallower.

And then it all fell apart.

At thirty-five kilometres the three hour pace maker had caught me, dragging twenty or so other heaving runners with him. He was hardly breathing and implored me to stick on the back of the group.

I tried to get in their slip-stream, and managed about two kilometres with them before the twin confusions of thousands of slower half marathon runners joining the course, and the mad clamour for water at a drink station caused a near Zola Budd-Mary Decker like affair. In the blink of an eye I had dropped a hundred metres off the back.

The elastic was well and truly broken.

The effort to zig-zag through plodding half marathoners saw me lose my rhythm completely and with each step it felt like the concrete in my legs was setting faster and faster.

As I hit the forty kilometre mark, my watch said I was at 2.51.58.

In my mind I thought “If I can raise one last effort I can make it. In training running two and a bit kilometres in eight minutes is a doddle.”

But after forty k’s, all my body could muster in reply was, “Bleugh garble bleugh urgh urgh”.

Shattered, I hobbled along as fast as I could manage, which was about the speed of a snail with a pulled hamstring.

My final lap of the MCG seemed to stretch on as long as the last quarter of the 2008 Grand Final. Indeed, I was passed by another runner at the exact spot Cameron Mooney shanked away any chance of a Cat lead at half time.

Hopefully, like Geelong in 2009, I can strike back and achieve my goal next time out.

Then, I’m moving to the Gold Coast.

Comments

  1. Alex – huge effort to make it. A marathon defies all logic and concepts of human endurance for me. I wouldn’t have the mental capacity to last half way. Well done.

  2. I went through the same agony last year mate. Except I wanted to break 3:50mins and could only muster 3:52.53. I saw you at the 22km mark and you were cruising. I couldn’t sprint 100m as fast as you were going then. I’m going to butter up and try again next year. I reckon if you do the same you’ll smash it. But don’t use the pain of defeat of spur you on, you saw what good that did the Saints this year.

  3. Steve Fahey says:

    Alex

    I know how you feel.

    In 1988 I ran my second Melbourne marathon in 3.00.06 – I was shattered at the time, especially as I had been well under 3 hour pace until the last long 5 kms.

    I was bemused a couple of weeks later when I eventually received my official certificate that read 2.59.53.

    Many years later ,and after only one more marathon, which was a few minutes slower the following year due to illness, I finally accepted that completing a marathon is a great achievement and something that many can achieve but few do.

    I hope that you get a good rest for your undoubtedly weary body.

  4. Steve. Maybe you crossed the finish line at 3:00:06, but didn’t cross the start line for 13 seconds after the gun went off?

    But I agree with your sentiments, finishing a marathon in any time is a big accomplishment. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve done it. The amount of focus, training and mental toughness to keep going when you’re spent are a hugely character building.

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