Almanac heart – Running a 6 hour 33 minute Gold Coast marathon

by Jacqui Wilson



So guess what… I ran the Gold Coast Marathon!  And guess what else… I beat the cut-off time!  Just.  Gun time was 6hr 38 – 2 mins before cut-off.  Official time was 6hr 33.  Far out.  Can’t quite believe it.  For most of that race I was convinced I wouldn’t make it in time, that the sad bus would catch me at the next checkpoint.  But thanks to the support of friends and strangers I made it across the line.  It was a bloody awful race.  I don’t know anyone who had a good day out there.  90% humidity, sun was shining for some of it, no breeze.  It was brutal.  Like a 6 hour sauna.  Luke and Tess both got PBs but missed their goal time of 4hr 30.  I got a PB by 30ish minutes.  Yay.  It was exhausting.  Here’s how it went down:


4am alarm, leave the house by 5.15.  Tess wanted to go in early to watch Nadine start the half mara at 6am.  I wasn’t going to go with them – too bloody early – but when I woke up I was too excited.  There was no chance of going back to sleep so I decided to go with them.  There was a weirdly flat mood in the house.  I shrugged it off as everyone being focused and a little bit scared of what we were about to do.  I was not flat, I was up and feeling a good mixture of excitement and nervousness.  No toilet joy before we left – bugger.  Packed my belts full of banana, gels, pretzels and sunscreen.  I’d never carried so much in my belt before, but it felt ok.  Then checked and triple checked I hadn’t forgotten anything, then it was a short walk to the tram stop.


The tram was packed with runners heading to the start line.  The air was heavy with anticipation.  We saw Nadine briefly before she started and then it was time to brave the portaloo.  The smell wafting from the group of portaloos was much worse than the smell inside the portaloo for a change.  Success.  One less thing to worry about.


We were standing around the bag drop, I was wearing my pink Diva jacket which was like a beacon to other Divas haha.  Said hi to Erica, Jess and Gemma.  Then an event official came up to us and said, “We’ve got an interview scheduled with Corey Parker (NRL player) but we’re not sure if he’s going to turn up, would you running Divas like to come upstairs for an interview?”  I initially said no, but we all agreed that only Erica would do the talking, so I thought why not, as long as I don’t have to speak.  So we went to the VIP area and were behind Corey Parker as he was interviewed, then Erica was also interviewed.  It gave me a bit of extra buzz.


Then back to meet Luke and Tess and head to the start line.  Tess saw someone she knew on the way to the starting chute but Luke didn’t want to wait for her, so we missed her at the start line.  As the cut-off time is measured from when the start gun goes off, not when you cross the start line, my plan all along was to start up the field a bit with Luke and Tess to gain a few minutes.  I needed all the time I could get.  But there were officials at the chute entries checking people’s bibs to make sure they were in the right zone.  Bugger.  My bib said zone D, but I snuck in to zone C with only a few dirty looks from fellow runners.  Then boom, we were on our way!  Bye Luke, happy running!  A few mins later Tess went past – go Tess!  The only down side of starting in zone C was that everyone around me was going so fast, I ended up running way too fast in the first 2-3kms.  Oops.


The first 5km felt ok.  Not brilliant, but not too bad.  Probably because I went out too hard in the early stages.  I spotted Ingrid sitting up on our balcony and we waved to each other.  I wondered what sort of shape I’d be in next time I saw her on the way back at the 26km mark.  So much racing to be done before then.  Shit.  It is a long way.  Cruising along southbound on the beachfront was very pretty.  The course took us down 15km, then back along the same route, past the start/finish line, then northbound for 6 more kilometres and back to the start/finish.  At the 8km mark Amelia appeared and gave me a hug and some words of encouragement.  I knew I probably wouldn’t see her on the way back as she had a flight to catch. The leaders zoomed back past me and I yelled out “GO JESS” when I saw Jess Trengove. They were looking strong and determined.  There was so much support from the sidelines in those early kilometres.  Having your name on your bib meant people would yell out “Go Jacqui!”  and “Keep going Jacqui!” and “you’ve got this Jacqui!”  I found it impossible to ignore.  I lapped it up, gave a smile, nod and thumbs up to pretty much everyone.  Maybe I wasted too much energy by responding to the crowd.


Massive smile and high 5 from Luke as he came back past me.  He was with the 4hr 15 pacer but he looked tired and his face was red, I wasn’t sure he could keep that pace up for much longer. Then I saw a few Divas who all yelled out and thumbs up and gave support.  It was lovely.  Even some people on the sidelines yelled “Go Diva.”  I saw Tess at about 14km, she was behind the 4hr 30 pacer which I knew was not what she wanted.  But by now it was getting quite warm and deep down I knew this wasn’t going to be a good day.  Even though it was overcast, there was no breeze and the humidity was at 90%.  I was struggling by 18km, but still managing to keep up the 8.40 minute kms.  At 15km, 30km and 35kms they had cut-off checkpoints, so if you weren’t at those distances by a certain time you were asked to leave the course.  At the 15km checkpoint I was 25 mins in front of the cut off.  Phew.  I had some time to play with.  As long as I could maintain under 9.30 pace I should make it.


From 18km it all went downhill.  I had some banana (much earlier than I had planned), drank at every drink stop due to the bloody heat and just felt drained.  My body was fine, just tired.  18km was way too early for me to be feeling this shit.  Then the sun came out and it got even hotter.  I kept running to 22km.  I was dizzy.  I felt like throwing up.  I stopped to walk.  Shit.  This is not what I had planned.  The good thing about it being so warm was that the muscles didn’t cool down too much when I stopped running so I was able to maintain a fairly good walking pace of about 9.30 mins/km.  Hopefully the time I had made up in the early kilometres would be enough.  I walked from 22-30kms.  Saw Ingrid at 26km, the height of feeling shit.  Her face told me I wasn’t looking good.  She looked concerned.  “How are you going Jac?”  “Fucking hot.”  “Would you like a banana or museli bar?”  “Banana.”  That was all I could manage.  I honestly thought my race was over at 28km.  I had no energy to run and didn’t know how I was going to keep going.  What was the point of trying when the sad bus was going to catch me eventually anyway?  Trying hard to do the maths and work out what pace I needed to make it to the end – my fuzzy mind didn’t really know.  Fingers crossed I was doing enough.  Fingers crossed I would get a second wind from somewhere.  Fingers crossed my friends would find me along the way and drag me to the finish line.


There were three of us, all women about the same age, leapfrogging each other from about 27kms onward.  We checked with each other if we thought we were on track to make it.  Yep, just, if we could maintain this pace.  That was a big if.  I was still just walking at this point.  I didn’t know for how long I could keep it up.  Back over the bridge where the Scottish runner had collapsed in the Commonwealth Games marathon.  My mum’s voice was in my head “Don’t do anything stupid Jacqueline.”  30km checkpoint.  I was 11 mins ahead of the cut-off.  Shit.  Where did those 13 mins go?!  But that gave me some confidence.  That meant, with 12kms to go, I had 11 mins spare, so I could afford to lose about 40 seconds per km.  So if I kept going at 9.30 pace I should be ok.


But in my almost delirious state I had little confidence in my arithmetic.  Come on Jacqui, here is a small downhill, use it.  Run!  And so I started running again.  My walking pace was pretty quick and it naturally turned in to a slow shuffle and a bit of a jog here and there.  It was so hot.  My dizziness had subsided but I was exhausted.  I could feel the skin under the balls of my feet shearing off.  That was my only pain.  “It’s only skin.  Blisters will heal.”  It hurt less to jog than walk so I shuffled as much as I could.  Hooray, up in the distance I saw a water/mist/hose/shower type thing.  Some relief from the heat.  The volunteer running it was a young guy about 15 years old.  I saw him spraying his friend and laughing as I approached and it made me smile.  I couldn’t wait.  It was like a beacon of hope.  As I passed by him, he turned away.  He didn’t spray me.  “Hey!” I yelled, holding my arms out for the sweet relief.  He just shrugged “sorry.”  Shit.


The spectators had well and truly thinned out and I found this section of 6km up to the northern turnaround point really hard.  Boring.  Hot.  Just wishing and wishing for the turnaround point.  One guy ran past me and said “where is this bloody turnaround point?”  We were all feeling it.  35km checkpoint.  I was 6 mins up on cut-off.  Ok, not too bad but I couldn’t afford to drop any time.  In fact, I would have to make up a couple of minutes.  Shuffle shuffle shuffle.  The occasional “Well done Jacqui” from the sidelines.  I ran off on one of the other girls who had been leapfrogging.  Jacqui just put your fucking head down and fucking run.  You have trained for this.  You have come too far to not finish this fucking race.  All those 6am Sunday mornings will have been for nothing if you don’t finish this race.  You ran in freezing cold and torrential rain and flood water.  You can do this.  Get a move on.


There was a lady handing out ice.  Perfect.  My walking pace was slowing, I knew I’d have to run more.  I had no choice.  So I pulled my cap right down and focused on the road 1m in front of me.  Everything else was blocked out.  I couldn’t see or hear anything.  It was just me and that fucking blue line.  Just follow that line.  One foot.  Now the other.


Finally, the turnaround point.  37km.  Just one more park run to go.  5km.  And I had about 50mins until they closed the course.  5km in 50mins.  I can do that.  It will be hard but I can do it.  Keep the pace of 9.40.  I might just be able to do it.  Banana, head down and finally a sea breeze.  A nice guy came up behind me, he was pacing for his friend.  He read the back of my singlet out loud “Running Divas – Changing women’s lives one run at a time.”  I said, “Yep, this run is definitely life changing.”   “Why is that?”  “Because I just missed the cut-off in my last mara” (this was not something I usually publicise, but it just came out.  “Stick with us and you will make it this time.”  He pointed to my shuffling feet “See what you’re doing there?  You have to keep doing that.”  Ok.   This was good.  This guy knew exactly what needed to be done to make it in time.  I would stick with them, whatever it took.  5km in 50mins, I have to do it.


40km.  There on the side of the road are Luke, Tess and Nadine.  My saviours.  Tess walked alongside me to keep my pace.  I was mostly running with a few steps of walking here and there.  The nice man overtook me but I stayed on his heels.  “Are you still with me Diva?”  Yes.  We are so close.  41km.  Shuffle shuffle shuffle.  Head down.  The only things in my awareness were the nice man’s heels and Tess on my right.  “There’s a small uphill bit just here which you can walk up, then we will run again.”  She pointed out the turnoff to the finish line ahead.  Wow, I really was almost there.  OK, make it to the second set of traffic lights then it’s just 250m to the line.  I was going to do this.


The crowd was building.  I couldn’t feel my body.  It was just momentum.  Just my body doing what it had been doing for 6 and a half hours without me telling it to.  The guys ran with me all the way down the road, crowds cheering our names.  “Running Diva is going to do it!”  Yes.  Turn off left down the finish chute towards the grandstand.  Tess: “Can you hear the loudspeaker man?  We’re so close!”  Luke was beaming at me.  The few spectators that were left were cheering so loud.  The music was pumping “Staying alive, staying alive, ah ah ah ah staying aliiiiiive.”  I felt alive and also dead.  I remember telling myself to look around and soak in this moment.  I felt like I was in a dream.  I was watching from above.  I saw the finish line, so close.  I ran.  I ran.  I bloody ran.  50m to go.  I ran.  I ran.  I crossed that fucking finish line.  6 hours 38 mins and 15 seconds.  I did it.  I had done it.  I made it.


“I love running Divas.  Changing women’s lives.  That’s empowerment right there” and a high 5 from the nice man.  Feeling empty but his words reminded me of how incredible this moment was.  Thank you so much.  Marathons are not run by one person.  They are run by the volunteers, the crowd who care enough to watch and call your name, the friends who come and support and make sure you finish, the strangers who you meet on the course and form an alliance with, the strangers who you play leapfrog with to keep each other accountable to the pace.  It is a group effort.  I hobbled through, got my shirt and medal.  Then out to see 6 screaming Divas including Erica, Jess and Gemma.  We hugged.  We cried.  We agreed it was bloody horrible out there.  No one had a good race.  But we had all made it.  I was a marathoner.  I sat down alone and sobbed.  A stranger gave me a hug and a tissue “you were amazing out there today.”  How awesome are runners.  My feet were burning.  I didn’t know how I was going to make it to the tram and home.  Tess was awesome, she walked with me while I hobbled and pushed in to get me a seat on the tram.  It’s like a dream.  I was so happy.


Back to the apartment for a few drinks.  Large blisters on the ball of each foot as expected, but other than that I just felt tired.  Satisfied.  This is what I had been looking forward to.  Sitting around with friends and fellow runners post-race.  I am a runner.  I am one of them.  I belong.  Medal on, champagne in hand.  Cheers.  Fucking cheers.  So tired.  Did I just do that?  Hell yes!  Thank you, body.  Sorry, body.  I will do it again, body.  But somewhere cooler next time, I promise.  Marathons are hard.  But they’re so worth it.


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  1. E.regnans says

    Congratulations, sister.
    #awed #proud

  2. Congrats, Jacqui.
    And as someone who has competed in marathons in the past,
    can I say to you: “Welcome to the club”

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Felt myself running along with you! Great effort!

  4. Jeanette wilson says

    So very proud of you Jacs. Your determination and strength are an inspiration. And your story writing is great too.
    Love you. Ma

  5. Mick Jeffrey says

    Welcome to the club, it seems like the event is easy with the flat nature of the course but conditions seem to get more humid by the year. You’ll have to come back next year to break 6 hours now! And making it back to the tram and getting a seat is harder than doing the 42km so plenty of sympathy coming from me there.

    You may have seen a guy at a drink station at about 22km sitting at the side of the road with an ice pack on his foot accompanied by a St.Johns volunteer….this means Gold Coast finish number 5 will need to wait another year.

  6. Michael Crawford says

    To be honest Jacqui, when I saw the story title on the email feed, I was quick to pass it over. But when I came back to read it later, I was totally captured and captivated by the story as you told it. It is a sage reminder that a marathon is a race against nobody but yourself. And you won.
    My dad was a 4+ hour marathon runner and he always claimed that he was twice as good as the champions as he ran for twice as long! By that same logic, you are three times as good as the winners, as you were out there for 3 times as long! Bloody well done.

  7. Not sure how I missed this, back in July, when it was posted. Great achievement! Congratulations Jacqui!

    I often dreamt of doing a marathon in my jogging days. The best I managed was a very short 12k, or so, inspired by Rob de Castella, just after he’d won the 1982 Commonwealth Games run in Brissie. It was that very morning: changed into my running gear and ran from home (Bardon) to work (St Lucia) and then, wanting more, ran back to Bardon. Then drove to work!

    Nothing as amazing as your achievement, but it certainly felt good! Good luck in your next one!

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