Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2011

I’d no problems sleeping the night before. Zero race anxiety, no nervousness and just a little excited at the prospect of running, which was a fantastic mix of feeling. All my good races were very much approached with unbelievably calm demeanour on race morning – no rushing to the potties sort of thing. You won’t want to be overly hyped up and just want everything to just fall into place. The appointed tour coach pickup from Crowne was a wee bit early at 4:30am to cater to those running the half so the decision to avoid the cold while getting an extra hour of sleep was a simple one to make. After all, the official shuttle pickup was just opposite the hotel directly in front of the Shell petrol station. The morning conditions were good, not too cold. I was garbed in a Runaholic vest over the BV top, cutoff tube socks as modified arm warmers, shorts, BV calf sleeves, Kinsei socks and the Lunaracer 2. I had the Daiso “Sauna pants” over my shorts and they were great. In fact my legs were a little sweaty, but not toasty, when I removed them just before the race start. I was holding the little Daiso heat packs which weren’t even hot, a rip off I might add. So, if you’re heading somewhere cold to run, the “Sauna pants” is a good buy but the heat packs, a dud.

The shuttle was standing room only and since the bus was already packed, it needn’t stop along the way and we got to Southport Parklands soon enough. Runners were already moving around the Southport commercial area. The race site was definitely large enough to support the over 4,000 marathoners and 7,000 half marathoners. The half marathoners were just about to be flagged off in the other direction, so we marathoners won’t have to worry about any congestion. Good route planning! I kept hydrating from my bottle filled with Camelbak Elixir (not a secret concoction as claimed by Geraldine!) as I chewed on my 2nd Clif Bar. Quick self-check: still calm, no niggles, no gut stirrings. We cam-whored a bit before I checked in my bag (no queue!). I observed the runners as they prepared in their own little way. The Japanese groups had their last minute pre-race talk by their coach and many more runners seated on the ground stretching or lost in their own thoughts. The skies got increasingly brighter very quickly and the air warmed up to a comfortable level. With 25 minutes to go, we made our way to our favoured corrall which was gradually filling up with runners.

Where we were standing, there was very little breeze, very ideal conditions for racing. The announcement came that the appointed pacers from the Pat Carroll training group would be making their way to the pen. Positioned right at the edge of the 3:45 to sub 4 demarcations, we had a first hand experience at how a first class pacer conducted his duties. Do allow me to share this aspect with you and hopefully we will see this standard of pacers in the local races soon. Please don’t misconstrue this to be a critique of our local pacers. I’m not, because I think it takes courage to come forward as pacers. But we can always improve our standards as we see an increase in running popularity in this country.

The 3:45 pacer was some distance in front, and since that timing was way too ambitious for me at least, our attentions were drawn to the sub-4 Asian Dude (AD) – I forget his name. Further back were the 4:00 pacers followed by the 4:15 and the 4:30 groups. I observed that the runners here pretty much lined up according to their abilities as the groups would run much of the way together. The team huddle conducted by the sub-4 pacer was awesome.

AD has a clear voice, immediately comes across as a leader, possessing confidence in his voice and body language. His messages were clear and friendly, though he kept frivolous jokes out of the way. Indeed running a sub-4 is no joke. He introduced his co-pacer, outlaid his strategy, how he’ll be starting, at what pace, the course elevation, where to focus, mental challenges everyone will feel and he stressed to his charges to never ever let go of their sub-4 dreams when the going got tough. If you had doubts up to that point, AD literally smashed them. AD was so good I wanted to hold his hand. He told his charges that they’re all a team and we have only one goal, to finish in the goal time. Only when he introduced the famous Trent the Marathon Man did he cracked a few jokes. I felt calm and ready for the task at hand. As for Geraldine? I could never tell what goes on in her mind 🙂 !

I can’t be sure if all pacers conducted the same briefing but AD was the best I’ve experienced first hand. My game plan was simply to stay just ahead of him and right behind the last runner in the 3:45 group. This was so that I could benefit from his promptings while staying true to pace. The countdown began with 10 minutes, 5 minutes and seconds to go and we were off! After 2 minutes of start-stop jogs, I crossed the mat and immediately settled into my goal pace. The route hooked left after the first bridge and we immediately found ourselves running alongside the beach. Folks were cheering us as we passed by the holiday apartments. I lost sight of Geraldine here and from post-race chit chats, I found out that she had already zoomed ahead. Breathing was easy and I was very much in control of the pace. By the 5th K, I warmed up sufficiently to chuck my modified arm warmers. I was already wiping sweat off my brow.

My hydration plan was very simple, drink from every station, 2 cups each time. I learned the hard way from my NYC experience to not skip stations. It’s easy to be fooled by cool weather running – you can dehydrate just as easily. Water was plentiful as was Endura sports drinks. Both were served in large paper cups, which meant that as long as I consumed a full cup, one per station should be sufficient. Fueling was the tried and tested approach of GU Chomps between 4 gels. The first part of the race was fantastic. Running was easy. There were enough supporters along the way to cheer us and the kids were so cute as they offered their high fives and cheers. A lady in a fat suit (apparently she’s a permanent fixture of the race) too made her presence felt. Crossing the markers consistently at the targeted pace build up my confidence. I reminded myself that I needn’t run any faster, just roll along at this established pace. It was between the 10 and 13th K when the leaders came back the opposite direction. Led by Jason Hartmann, they were hammering the pace. I believe they hit the halfway mark in 1:04. Not far behind was Singapore’s top runner Mok Ying Ren who would finish in 2:27. A few minutes later the packed 3:00 group led by Steve Monaghetti streamed by. These guys were a joy to watch. It was business as usual for me as I continued on my already locked down pace. We passed a nice stretch along the beach front where a long line of stalls were selling all sorts of things.

Other than my surprise at how much I was sweating, all systems were fine. The Burleigh Heads u-turn finally came at the 15.5K mark where the first large electronic screen was erected. I kept an eye out for any messages for me but there was none, probably because so many were passing the spot at the same time. The crowds were fantastic here, everyone seemed to want in on the action. Shouts of “Gambatei!” aplenty. My splits were where I wanted them to be. Dang, I was pacing even more consistently in the race than in training.

5K – 5:35
10K – 5:27 (57:15)
15K – 5:29 (1:24)
20K – 5:35 (1:52)

Photo credit: Mohan
Photo credit: Mohan

The weather got sunnier and warmer after the 21K mark and I was still on goal time. I had chanced upon Mohan a few clicks back, blowing on his trademark whistle (the photo above was shot by him). What came next probably was the turning point of the race for me. I was getting warmer and warmer by the minute and right about the 23K mark I made a decision to remove the BV top. I figured that I was well within sub-4 and could allow the quick detour to the loo. I reckoned that at worst the loss of 5 minutes was worth the cooling comfort of getting the top off. A quick pee, doused the head in water, made the gear adjustment as I was back on the course. It was better just being in the vest but conditions were still warmer than usual. I continued to sweat quite a bit but kept up with the drinking and gels to try to maintain the hydration equilibrium. Even though I’d lost pace, I was still very much on goal time and still in the game. I spotted the revolving restaurant of the Crowne Plaza and gave the heavy-with-sweat BV a huge throw, hoping that it landed in the bushes for me to pick up later but it smacked instead on the pavement. It was a heart-sick decision to drop the expensive top but race goals and indeed survival was at stake.

Things started to unravel not long after that decision when my left vastus medialis (inner quad) seized up suddenly forcing me off my stride, and I remembered screaming in my mind “not now!” It got worse as the lateral side also got into the cramping action. The worst came when the left hamstring pulled up nearly tripping me over mid stance. When the hams seize up, there’s no way to keep running. You simply grind to a halt. Confused and angry, I kept the reinforcing messages going, to fight on and not give up. You see, AD’s message really resonated in me! The reality was this problem had happened way too early. I’d never cramped in any races before, even in hot and humid conditions, which made this case so befuddling. But I kept running slowly and walked only when one part or the other seized up. Lungs were willing but not the legs. Problem was the weather continued to warm up and I was going to be out there longer than intended and thus losing more in sweat.

Just before the linkup with the Gold Coast Highway close to the race precinct, AD’s posse passed me, with him still rallying his charges, telling them to stay at it and warning the impending approach of the wall. He also told a lady to hold back until the 39K mark. My pace was plummeting like the value of the Ringgit against the Aussie Dollar but if I somehow recovered from this situation very quickly, I could still race a hard final 10K (which I believe I was able to) to even out the time deficit but there was no reversal of fortune. The fantastic crowd despite their cheers couldn’t alleviate my shot quads. I continued drinking and fueling nevertheless, hoping against hope. The Labrador section of the route was tough as there were very few supporters here but the crowd support livened up at the u-turn of the Runaway Bay. On better moments I could shuffle at 6:15 pace but just couldn’t hold it for long before the twinges came back. This fight would go on until I cross the finish line.

I tried to force a pee on the run but only managed a small trickle despite consuming regularly (but not overly). Something was wrong, hydration wise. The course saw a few bridge crossings of no significance (the longer rises of the Jelutong Highway were worse) but I was already a goner. The consolation was that there was only 5K to go. Opposite, I spotted CC Tang and KK and just about then Sofian breezed past me with a Malaysian flag tucked in his belt. He was going steady and digging in and even if I’d stuck to him, my goal time was shot. Then I saw the 4:30 pacer on the other side of the road. I made a steely vow never to let him pass me and kept going – by power walking like a crab.

The final 2K were the best in terms of crowd presence. The crowd was thick and vocal and limping as I was I couldn’t stop to walk. So I continued in a strange manner, a drag, slide, hop movement that for the life of me I can’t recreate today. Elaine shouted at me from the opposite – she had less than 12K to go at that stage and still looked very fresh. She would PR by more than 35 minutes later. I took the 2 curves into the stupendous finishing chute. Not as wide as the Central Park finishing, the GC finishing was almost like the finishing of an Ironman race (in terms of visual setup that is, as I’m not an Ironman mind you) allowing for a wonderful experience. As mind-boggling and painful as this race had been, I was very happy with finishing this one. I gingerly jogged in all the while praying hard that my hamstring held on for a few more minutes less I ended up on the Monday edition of the Gold Coast Bulletin for all the wrong reasons.

The clock stopped for me in 4:23.16 and if that’s any consolation I didn’t let the 4:30 pacer overtake me LOL! Picked up the large beautiful medal and limped to guzzle down a cup of Endura and pick up a cup of orange slices. Sat down to remove the timing chip and then on to collect my finisher t-shirt before claiming my bag. As predicted Geraldine was already at the appointed waiting area, sitting pretty basking in her post sub-4 glow! She’s been awesome and getting stronger with the years of running. As much as I wanted to, I was in too bad a shape to head on to the TQ tent, so it was back to the hotel to clean up. Besides, I stank.

Thankfully the shuttle bus was easily found and left soon enough. A late lunch followed, again at the Sushi Train for convenience sake and the sake of my legs. No sake celebration though! The udon broth brought some life back and we went hunting for that BV top. Remember that I chucked it only to see it landed on the pavement? The photos above tell the story! The evening was nice so we decided to continue walking the 3K into Surfer’s Paradise to get some coffee, loosen the legs and hopefully link up with Mohan and Hazel (M&H). The small cup of Mocha from Muffin Break was good and after packing a Subway Tuna Wrap each, we strolled back the way we came from. How about that for a nice recovery walk? Sure enough, M&H dropped by and with a few hardcore but jolly Singapore runners (who call themselves Run2Eat) we found ourselves back at Sushi Train. But I had only a mango gelato, thanks to Sim. Enough of eating already, plus I still have the wrap back at the hotel waiting for me.

Happy company, happy times
Happy company, happy times

As you can see, the standards are quite high
As you can see, the standards are quite high

It was just too bad my 16th wasn’t a breakthrough race but I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. I crossed the line impressed with the organization, the venue, and the Aussie people. I hope that the Gold Coast wins the bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. By that time the mass rail transit would’ve been up and running for 4 years and everything will be ready for the Games. I knocked off that night with mixed feelings and not too disappointed and very full. I think it was close, real close and even a bit encouraged this time. I’ve come away not injured, ready to roll right into another good training phase. It’ll be another time for Hazel to get her coffee, she can wait!

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