Note: For the other fun activities I managed to cram into my itinerary this year, and more photos of my trip to the Gold Coast, click this link.
The alarm rang at 4:50am and in certain ways, it was as if the starter’s gun had been fired signalling the start of my long day. For the past 18 weeks (longer if I included the low volume base months), my daily routine has been practically locked in, from bedtime to the habitual chilling of my drinks in the fridge the night before, laying out of the next morning’s workout gear and logging down the post-workout data. It got so regimented that by the 2nd half of my training program, I no longer needed the 4:30am alarm. The goings-on in the hotel room were calm and quiet – the mandatory toilet visit, a light snack of banana, a Clif bar, and a small cup of black coffee before heading out for a warm up jog around the block with Francis and Nick. Nick, who had been struggling the past few days, would later break the bad news that he would not be starting. It was a tough decision and we were sure he was even more devastated to have literally come so far, to not start. But health is something one shouldn’t be risking over a pursuit as strenuous as a Marathon, and we were all truly sorry for him. If anything, it made me even more determined to run well for my fellow “Hansoner”.
Since the race precinct was just 10 minutes away by foot, Francis and I took our time is getting ourselves there. By the time we got to the main road crossing, the Half Marathoners had completely cleared the start line. At the lawn, we were spotted by some of our friends and everyone looked eager to race. I didn’t warm up any further and with the baggage checked in a short while later, and with wishes of “good luck”, it was time to head to our respective corrals.
The atmosphere crackled with energy and excitement. The event just gets better and better each year. The morning conditions were quite mild and the skies were overcast with little wind. In my opinion, it was perfect weather for racing but I was sure the locals would beg to differ. I certainly didn’t feel the reported 90 to 100% humidity! Once in the corral, I discarded my layers almost immediately. I made the mistake of standing too near to one of the loudspeakers and as a result, nearly had my eardrums shattered by Deek’s customary enthusiastic rallying speech. The Australian national anthem followed next and the 40th Gold Coast Marathon was off and running!
Within a km, Erin, the 3:40 gun time pacer, was already 250m ahead but I stuck to my pace. My goal was to stay comfortable and stay embedded between the gun and chip time pacers till 30K and, depending on how I felt, make a push from there. All I needed to focus on was to manage the fueling and hydration well and just enjoy the easy miles. To my surprise, I bumped into Yaziz around the 2.5K mark and traded some quick greetings with him and continued on my way. Even with the larger numbers this year, the crowd was manageable and didn’t pose any problems.
The number of supporters on the course quickly increased as we approached Surfers Paradise, the 5K mark (25:53). After the first few kilometres, I decided not to micromanage my pace. Afterall, a good race execution was about keeping to the average pace. There would be slight deviations here and there as a result of surges, and slowing-downs (for example at the water stations, possible toilet stops, or fatigue) but as long as the average pace equalled that of the marathon goal pace, that would be fine. The hours already invested running the tempo sessions at marathon pace should be enough. It was about trusting the plan, training and letting those work for the runner on race day. Well-trained, the “Hansoner” will be literally toeing the start line locked (to the goal pace) and loaded (with confidence). There were also visual cues providing a measure of guide of my progress – Erin’s pace flag. As long as the gap between us stayed the same, I knew I was on track – neither gaining nor losing speed.
I used the same fueling and hydration strategy as the previous year – a gel every 5K, along with regular sipping of diluted Powerade from the bottle, supplemented by 2 cups of water at each station.
As usual, the elites came charging from the opposite side of the road around the 10K mark (51:40). Crowd favourite, Yuki Kawauchi appeared to be struggling way behind the 2nd chasing pack and would finish 9th. By then, the watch’s distance reading was already off by some 30m, even though I was running much of the race on the painted blue line, and even some tangents. Nevertheless, that didn’t cause much consternation to me as my average pace was still solidly pegged at 5:10. As we ate up the miles, the level of confidence in me rose as well.
Other than a few visual distractions like the elites and the beautiful beaches to our left, I was in my usual focused self. I did struggle with the road camber along Hedges Avenue dubbed Gold Coast’s Millionaires’ Row. The Nike Vaporfly 4% isn’t the most stable shoes around and do tend to exaggerate a mid to late stage pronation effect. Heading southwards towards Burleigh, I had to run as close to the middle of the road as possible to avoid exacting too much pressure and stress on my right foot due to the inward rolling of the foot. It affected my concentration a little but I tried not to let it bug me too much.
There wasn’t much I could recollect in those early miles except high-fiving Francis who was simply flying with Philip in tow. I was thrilled to see them at the Gold Coast Highway instead of Marine Parade, which meant that I was quicker this year than ever before. It wasn’t much but it was progress for me and it was an uplifting feeling to have approaching the Burleigh U-turn – the best stretch (after the final 1K of the course, of course!) for runners during the marathon. Huge and loud crowds and so easy for a runner to surge only to pay the price 5K later. I hit 15K in 1:17.24 and from 18K to Surfers, battled boredom and impatience. Part of me wanted to be at the 30K mark and get down to racing and hurting.
Staying relaxed before the halfway point. Photo courtesy of Tey ET.
Fortunately, I knew better and when I spotted Calvin just up ahead around 19K and my wayward mind was kept occupied at least for a few kilometres. He wasn’t the only one I saw. My sub 5:13 pace had over the distance brought me ever closer to Erin and I wanted to only get ahead of her after the 30K mark to ensure I hit my primary goal of sub 3:40. As bad luck would have it, she appeared to have hit some problems with her pacer flag holder and 2 runners were seen desperately helping her with the contraption by the roadside. I would learn later that she had to DNF not from the accessory malfunction but from a foot injury 😟.
With Erin sidelined, I ended up passing the 3:40 gun time pacer earlier than I’d planned but it was too late to over-analyse strategies this late into the race. I’d trained for a 5:10 MP, I’ve been churning out the very same average pace this far, weather conditions were ideal with the sun remaining hidden, and I was still good. It was time to pucker up and get on with the race. Other than the sightings of Calvin and Erin, there wasn’t much to write home about. I chugged through 20K (1:43.13), 21K (1:48.24) and 25K (2:09.02) pretty unscathed. The crowds at Surfers had built up and their vociferous support was fantastic. I dropped 5 seconds for 27K but rallied the next 3Ks to pulled back 5:12, 5:06 and 5:09 to establish pace parity.
Just after 30K (2:34.54), I spotted Calvin again and he appeared to be running very well. I decided that I’d better consume the sachet of CrampFix I’d bought at the expo and its tart taste jolted me. To avoid any potential gut issues, I avoided taking a gel here since CrampFix already contained carbs. I took in water as usual and consciously avoided looking over the other side of the road to the finish to minimise distraction. Cleared the short but steep rise (it’s actually steeper than the Sundale Bridge just a kilometre earlier) before the gentle down slope in 5:13.
I’ve to work on my stride length! Photo courtesy of Nick.
The distance from the iconic McDonald’s to the finish was just 10K. At that point, I had run a 2:45 32K and fatigue was starting to creep in. I had finally got to the racing and hurting phase! But first, I attempted to pee in my shorts but nothing came out. I continued to drink over the next few water stations to avoid slipping too much into a dehydrated state. The next 2Ks were hard as I slipped to 5:15 and 5:16 splits. I remembered being upset with myself and questioned my desire. That seemed to work as I dug in and rallied back for the second time from 35K to 38K with a couple of 5:12s and 5:11s. The toughest part of the course was over and it was just about hanging on to the end.
At this point last year, I held back and avoided pushing the pace for fear of cramping but this time around, I didn’t hold anything back. I skipped the last water station and pressed a sustained sub 5:10 pace through the final 4K. Mentally, I replayed all the hard workouts I’d completed, my motivations, the work challenges that I had to navigate throughout training. Learning to tap of this pool of thoughts was a large part of my training.
Coincidentally I found myself running next to a bloke named James and was able to leech off the raucous cheers he got. I didn’t have a personalised bib, you see, so it would be ridiculous to expect the supporters to be yelling, “Go, hashtag GCM18!”
I sprinted the final 300m and finally crossed the finish in 3:38.41, a 9-minute PR.
Intervals, Easy Runs, MPs, Long Runs, Finishing Strong With Arms In The Air – I trained them all!
Here’s to you, Nick! With fellow “Hansoner”, Calvin, who ran a by-the-book and disciplined race to finish nearly a minute ahead!
Official split times, which are obviously a little different from my watch’s.
Crossing the line felt like some weight being taken off my shoulders. It proved that I could pull it off, no matter how impossible it felt like after last year’s 3:47. It justified the months of keeping to the plan and not missing a single workout except for a more drastic cutback in mileage the final week. It made me a little emotional inside but there were no tears. Perhaps I will shed a little some months down the road. Perhaps I won’t. I high-fived Bonza and congratulated other finishers around me. My legs felt extremely fine after having finished this way. As I gathered up my post-race refreshments of fruit and water, I lingered a little longer and enjoyed the moment in the still sparse area. I kept thinking to myself as I sank my teeth into the orange slices, “The plan worked. It really worked!”
Post Race Analysis
The PR was a personal triumph on so many levels. Just 3 years ago I asked myself if 3:58 was as good as it got for me and how running 5:20 pace would be impossible given how hard training had been to even run 3:58. But I’d proven myself wrong last year and yet again this year that with a regimented program, determination, positive mindset, self discipline and consistency one’s limitations can usually be breached.
The Hansons Marathon Method has worked for me for 2 years in a row. Last year’s program was a modified one but this year, I purchased the 18-week plan from Final Surge. 18 weeks was the longest period I’ve spent training for a single event and the most miles I’ve put in. By default, it was also the hardest, although it got easier and was quite enjoyable when I approached peak fitness. All the 3 27K long runs were pretty easy even with negative splits, compared to the week day SOS sessions. To succeed at an aggressive goal, I believe one has to be a little obsessed. You answer only to the program and trust it completely – no races on weekends that will take away the long runs. The 2 tune up races were done early in the program, daily routines became regimented over the weeks and months. I obsessed with data and from the numbers, knew for a fact that my past failures were due to doing too little running, and when I did head out to run, running the miles at the wrong paces. The mind was weak and spirit broken at the slightest challenge. I had no program to speak of as well. This year, I wanted to make sure that I leave myself with no excuses should I fail to achieve my goals.
With data, I was forced to be honest with myself. The first step was to acknowledge the past mistakes and the second step to start working on the weaknesses. I extracted the past years’ records dating back to 2015 and there was no escaping the fact that my training was see-sawing between high mileage weeks and downright horrendous numbers. There was zero consistency.
Mileage tracker of the years. Click to enlarge.
It became clear that with the Hansons, there were more running, at a wider pace range, allowing adaptation to take place. The SOS sessions truly put steel into the mind and body.
I trained to run the marathon at a 5:13 pace but by the end of the training, I knew I could do 5:10. And that was that.
Not only was my 5K splits astonishingly consistent (mind you, I didn’t micro-manage my pace during the race), only 13 runners passed me over the final 5K, while I somehow dropped a mind-blowing 221! It was crazy but that happened!