Almanac Life: Marathon Man

Melbourne Marathon
Image; Wiki Commons

When I hung up the football boots for good at the end of the 1998 season, I did so in the knowledge that my body shape would need some sort of physical activity – other than the leisurely seasons of cricket which beckoned – to prevent it from ballooning out of control. I have never been svelte, but I needed something to replace the routine of training and playing footy to keep the kilograms in check. With three sons under the age of 3, I was slightly constrained in my options. I don’t why, but I took up running – or, to be more precise, jogging.

 

It may come as something of a surprise to those who have made my acquaintance within the past ten years, but jogging soon became something of an addiction to me. Never was it onerous. Never was it torturous. My routine was simple: bounce out of bed, lace up the runners, and hit the footpaths of Williamstown. Inclement weather was never a deterrent to me squeezing in that daily run. My wife could gauge by my moods whether or not I had been out that day. If I was grumpy, she would simply say “Off you go”, and shoo me out the door and onto the streets. And within six months of retiring from footy, I was fitter than I had been in my last two or three seasons.

 

Every Sunday, I would test myself by completing ever longer runs, until I reached the point where I had comfortably completed a thirty-kilometre circuit, encompassing suburbs as far from home as Footscray and Brooklyn. Nipples bleeding and thighs red from chafing, I articulated the hither-to preposterous idea that I could complete a marathon. Was I missing my first season away from CYs that badly? Before I knew it, I was at the Melbourne Town Hall nervously queuing to receive my race day pack. I will admit that the numbered bib with my name on it was a sight to behold.

 

Marg and the boys bid me luck as they dropped me outside Albert Park and, bib pinned to my tee-shirt, I strode off into the unknown. I immediately embraced, and in return was embraced by, the overwhelmingly positive spirit of the running community. There is a uniqueness to that common feeling of every person, of all shapes and sizes, reaching the culmination of a plan for which they have been planning for months and even years. Together.

 

Over twenty years later, it is difficult to recall the details of my first marathon. But what I do remember is the relentless encouragement of the thousands of volunteers and spectators who lined the course, particularly those on the latter stages in Canterbury Road and Fitzroy Street. Somewhere in a box I have the official finish photo. What it shows is my 34-year-old self, in my local footy club shirt and Kangaroos cap, crossing the finish line with my arms held aloft; what it also clearly shows is my exhaustion. Not so obvious is my pride. But, at that moment, both are threatening to engulf me.

 

After trudging through the streets to meet my family at the pre-arranged meeting place, I climbed into the car, finisher’s medal dangling from my neck, and promptly burst into an uncontrolled fit of tears. “I did it,” I croaked. I would go on to do it again, and complete three more Melbourne marathons as well as a number of half-marathons. Each one of them has their own unique story to tell.

 

Walking is more my thing nowadays. Jogging is over for me, as my frame now pays for years of football, cricket, and training for those marathons. Of course I miss it – the solitude, the time for reflecting, the feeling of achievement when another goal has been achieved. I would do it all again. And I would never trade these aches and pains if it meant not remembering the elation of crossing the marathon finish line for the first time.

 

Two of Smokie’s four Melbourne Marathon finisher’s medals

 

More from Smokie Here

 

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About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Smokie a hell of a lot of that resonates with me it is the greatest regret of my sporting life that I never ran a marathon as I was a bit,Forrest Gump like it just didn’t worry me how far I ran it was always in the pipeline but I didn’t want to miss footy games so it was always I’ll do it next year and then more and more injuries happened ( I’ve had 10 knee ops ) I did the 12 k city bay run in 42min 14 sec being in my best time.I used to leave a change of clothes at my then girlfriends place-now wife and go for a run upon returning my late father in law would ask where I had run -geez I don’t go that far in my holidays.Smokie I admit I’m envious now find that photo ! Thank you

  2. I have great admiration for anyone who completes a marathon Smoke. Massive effort. I know I could never do it. Wouldn’t have the mindset. Anything over about 400m is a waste I reckon. But to put your body through that says something. 42kms is way out of my league.

    Something to be proud of.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Very good to read about “Smokie the Runner”!

  4. Good stuffs Smokie!

    Keeping fit is great. Your achievements are milestones.

    Do you still play cricket?

    Good on you mate!!

  5. Wow wonderful story Smokie! It could so easily set me off writing about the different marathons, road races, cross country seasons, fun-runs and training sessions, but there is one that I remember in particular.

    I used to travel internationally selling tinned fruit and did a trip to Scandinavia via the Arab Gulf. The Oslo Marathon coincided with my planned visit so I entered and set about training for it. I got a dose of something in Saudi or Yemen and was still a bit crook on landing in Norway. I ultimately ran and broke 3 hours (2:57) for the second time, finishing in the famous Bislett stadium (where Ron Clarke set a 10k world record), I was wrapped, but sitting down to dinner that night with a bunch of other runners someone had learnt the course was short measured and all times were null & void. I later learnt it was some 300 metres short. Such a bummer but a great experience.

  6. Steve Fahey says

    Great yarn on a stellar effort Smokie

    I also recommend Peter Fuller’s piece and associated contributions – see https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/marathon-runners-of-the-world-tell-us-your-pb/

  7. Impressive. Think I’d be inclined to collapse on hitting the finish line. I did 37km (walking not running) in Spain 2years ago. That was torture as I had blisters and was carrying a pack.
    Great pace, great determination and a great read Smokie. Must be very satisfying once done.

  8. Well done Smokie. Mightily impressive. So much time for thinking and reflection. I’m in awe of everyone who’s run a marathon.

    Rulebook – that’s a pretty brisk City-Bay and a long way in front of my best which was about 52 minutes! Nice work too!

    Really enjoying this series of life memoirs Smokie.

  9. Peter Fuller says

    Smokie,
    It’s a great story and one well worth telling, We were mighty once! Your reflective final paragraph captures the attraction of running and suggests why it’s hard to let go.
    Thanks also Steve Fahey for reprising one of my (not very great) greatest hits, an indulgence to be prompted to have another look at that thread and the comments.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful effort to complete one, let alone four Smokie.

    I’ve done a number of 10km and shorter events over the years, have always wanted to do a marathon but have never put enough training in. No better time to start than now I guess!

  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Did you wear the yellow shorts? Well done Smokie.

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