When Jill asked if I wanted to go with her and the girls to Sydney (to do the half and) watch the boys compete in the Australian Marathon Champs, I didn’t need any convincing for another Runcation.

A few weeks later and without any second thoughts I upgraded to the full and joined the state team too.

The morning of the marathon I could hear the girls tiptoeing around the hotel room getting ready. It was 4:30 am and with their race starting at 6 (and mine 7:05) they were leaving at 5. I wasn’t planning on seeing them before they left but I jumped out of bed (way too excited to sleep anymore).

After a quick report of our night’s sleep, we said our good lucks and they left for the race, time for me to get ready. Kit on, half a honey sandwich and hair scooped back in a ponytail saw me as ready as I was going to be. Tucked into my waistband pockets were 8 wiggle gels (30mg caffeine each).

My plan was 2 bananas 30 mins before the race and 1 gel every 5km during.

I hadn’t dropped any hydration off the day before for the Elites drinks tables. I was fine to grab water from the drink stations as required and knew there were decent electrolytes provided if I needed toward the end.

I met the boys (there were about 8 of us staying together in the hotel) in the foyer and we took a short walk to the train station. Catching the train to these city marathons is easy… just follow the flocks of runners on and off the train, you can’t get lost. It was just 5:45 am and the nervous buzz was humming through the carriages. Almost as soon as we were crossing the bridge I shrieked “I’ve left my bananas! I have to go back”. Race fail #1 already. Without those bananas, I had no pre-race fuel and I quickly did the maths about the possibility of making it to the hotel and back in time… Teddy stuck his hand out, “Here, have mine” I quickly turned him down, there’s no way I was ruining anyone else’s pre-race plan. “I don’t have a race plan,” he told me, before shoving it in my hand. Low and behold when we reached Milsons Point Station they were selling bananas at the coffee shop and Lewinski came to my rescue (and Teddy’s), buying me some bananas. Phew, brekky was back on…

We were surprised with how early we were and after a quick calculation thought we could make it up the top of the bridge to watch the half marathoners go by.

The weather was on point. Clear skies, not a drop of wind and about 10 degrees. There was a particularly good feeling in the air.

There were eight or so from our crew running the half marathon so we found a good spot just as the front runners started zooming past. It was heaps tougher than we thought, scanning the moving crowds for familiar faces but we managed to catch about four and gave the lungs a solid workout screaming their names across the empty lanes in front of us. After the runners thinned out we made our way down to the elite compound.

The day before we’d attended the race briefing for Elites and International runners. Being in the state team meant we got a taste of how the other half lived, being invited to attend such meeting and utilise the elite facilities on race day. We sat around waiting for the session to start when the Africans and Japanese athletes arrived. Annabel, one of our team members leaned over and whispered: “Jeez anyone else suddenly feel overweight?” We all giggled and the excitement was building. What an honor to be in the same boardroom (not league) as these superstars, athletes we’d only seen on TV before. It was seriously cool.

As we entered the elite compound that rush of excitement and gratitude from the day before at the race briefing returned. Eloise Wellings just hanging out, other familiar faces I only dreamed of rubbing shoulders with were in the same small fenced area. Enjoying no long lines for toilets and the warmth of a tent and a place to sit. This was totally awesome.

At 6:50 they directed us up the shute next to the crowds already packed in alongside us. It was amazing to walk with priority right up to the front, with room to swing your arms. I was holding onto this moment of royalty (not sure it was going to happen again).

Teddy brought my attention to the remarkable physiques surrounding us. These athletes were something else. The Africans, in their matching blue kit, so petite but muscular in ways I didn’t even realise possible. Not an ounce of fat. I had to stop myself from staring but just being so close to perfection, it was hard not to. I wondered what they were thinking, how they were mentally preparing? What would they fuel with? Would they run together or have a strategy to work as a team? Gunshot! It was the wheelchair start, lucky. With three minutes to go, it was time to focus on my own race.

There were 7 of us in the Tasmanian team, four men, and three females. Some of us friends and others we met on the morning but it was a great feeling to have us all together in the elite start representing our state, loud and proud.

7:05 am and we were away.

Coming into this race I think I knew I could bring home a PB. 3:28:37 at New York Marathon in November with an average of 4:55/km was a strong race for me but with my running over the last few months getting easier and easier I wanted to see if I could average 4:50/km today which would bring me home in 3:24. In my head I thought I’d push out at 4:40/km just while I found my rhythm then I’d have something in the bank for later.

From the minute we started, I just loved the course. As we wound down through the streets and up onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge it was breathtaking. I hit my strides with ease and started mentally preparing myself for the first 5km. For New York, I’d broken my race down into 10km blocks but today I was counting in 5s. That’s where I’d be taking my water and gels and it just seemed easier.

Once off the bridge, we curled back around and it was here that I got to see my teammates who were sitting on the three-hour pacer. It was high fives and cheers as we passed each other. As excitement would have it the first 5km absolutely flew. I dug out a gel and washed it down with a splash of water. I knew I’d been running a little faster than planned but it had mostly been downhill so with an average of 4:21/km at 5km in I wasn’t worried about having gone out too hard.

The course continued to make me smile as we made our way up through the beautiful Hyde Park and onto Oxford street. The cheers and high fives from spectators was so encouraging, I kept noticing my pace quicken whenever the crowd roared.

It was when I reached for my next gel, at the 10km water station, I realised my waistband felt a bit light on.

My fingers frantically counted 1,2,3,4,5 5? What? I did another count and it was right, there were definitely only five gels left. Race fail #2 was hitting me right in the face. I’d left two gels on the bed accidentally, miscounting in my early morning fumble to get out the door. Time to do some quick maths (oh if only you were there William). Two short meant I’d need to stretch the time out between gels by two? No three km to make them last? Oh dear, I felt a little slump in my high at this point. So I settled on taking the next gel at 12km and not here where I’d been expecting it. It was tough to get over it and quickly, which is what you need when racing; no time to stop and feel sorry for yourself. This wouldn’t be the last plan adjustment required today.

I felt my spirits lift again and I was back into a smiley rhythm.

12km came around in no time and I guzzled my gel eagerly. We were in Centennial Park now and it was really beautiful, not to mention shady, which I appreciated because I’d been really worried about running in the heat. As we wound through the park I fell into a rhythm with the 3:15 pacer and it was here I noticed how comfortably I was jogging at 4:30/km. I was chatty (trying to make a buddy who would help me pass the time), smiling and relaxed through the body. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d run a marathon in 3:15 so while I was thoroughly enjoying myself at the 15km mark (and averaging 4:26/km) I had zero expectations about being able to maintain it to the end.

I started to map out where my support points were on the course. I knew the girls would be waiting for me at the 24km mark and I was beyond excited to see them. Nat had posted on our Insta that she’d be at the 30km mark somewhere but I wasn’t too sure of location; this would be the perfect little checkpoint so I was hopeful I didn’t miss her. Finally, our friend Rob said he was going to be somewhere near the finish line so that was three perfectly spaced opportunities to get a boost from familiar faces, this kind of support is invaluable on any race.

At 20km I downed some electrolytes, water, and another gel before we started to make our way back down Oxford St. In what seemed like a no time at all I was coming up to Hyde Park again. I didn’t know exactly where the girls were but I thought they could be up on the balcony of the hotel (in between showers) so as we turned the corner I scanned the building, no one in sight. I surged onto the park and in a few moments, I heard shrieks and squeals that were all too familiar. Kaylee and Jill came bounding toward me and I jumped for joy, getting some strange looks from the runners around me. I stopped for a quick group hug before they pushed me forward and I left them giggling behind. Then there were squeals again as I spotted Naomi, Lewinski, and Cam up ahead. Naomi yelling at me to chase that PB as I plummeted past her, unable to wipe the smile off my face. I surged forward with a renewed energy in my legs and took a deep breath to get my heart rate back down a bit (I don’t think I took a proper breath during all the squealing and high-fiving).

Over half way now I settled back into a rhythm and started to prepare myself the next 15km would bring.

I was still relaxed, though my toes were slightly sore now. As we wound down through The Rocks nearing the At 27km mark I refueled and focused on the change of scenery. I noticed here where my mood started to shift slightly, I was aware of fatigue, aware of the heat, aware of what was possible if I kept going at this pace but also how easily things could slip if I lost control. I searched my brain for something positive and I knew I’d be seeing Nat in about 4 km and I tried to keep my mind busy thinking about where she might be and whether I’d see her. Even as I write this now it reminds me of the feeling of exhaustion while also feeling capable to push further (such a strange combination). I reached 31km and immediately recognised Nat standing on the corner. I smiled and smiled and was so appreciative of her cheers of encouragement in response. The sun was hot now and I’d taken to slowing more and more at drink stations so I could drink and cover myself in water. I remembered what Bec had said about more clothes meaning more fabric to hold water, so I took every opportunity to throw cups of water down my front and back.

Only 10km to go, alright this is just a training run, a pre brekky jaunt; I’ve got this!

I stopped at most drink stations over the last 10km to have a quick stand still and properly consume water and electrolytes. I was sore and tired but mostly just a bit exhausted from the direct sunlight. As we wound through the waterfront it was flat and still but I just kept stopping. There were moments when I felt positively ill (maybe from all the gels) and I thought it was a matter of when not if I’d bring up my breakfast.

As my watch ticked over to 41km I could hear the crowds roar from the Opera house off in the distance. Even though my pace had clearly slowed over the last 5km I was pleasantly surprised to see I was averaging 4:33/km, though remembering there were times earlier when my Suunto was clocking me at 2.00/km (probably due to too many GPS trying to work at once) so I looked at the total time instead. 3hrs and 7mins, I should’ve been blown away about my time at this point but the pain was a little too much. Fellow runners and I kept encouraging each other as we took turns stopping to throw in the towel; breathlessly muttering to keep going.

The bonds you make with total strangers in moments like these is something else.

A few more twists and turns around the waterfront, then the crowds started. Both sides of the kilometer-long finishers chute were thick with people, cheering, some with cowbells. Tiny hands of eager kids hanging over the edge of the barrier hoping for a high-five. As I turned the last bend Rob was there on the corner cheering, I shot him a quick high five and overshared that I was dying, but I pushed on. I think I stopped eight times in the last 7km, my legs just kept saying no. The last time I did, my hands on my knees and bending over hoping to god I wouldn’t throw up in front of such an audience, a man leaned down and said: “you’ve only got 400m to go!” I couldn’t believe I was standing still. I plummeted forward and picked up the pace.

There were people struggling all around me to make it to the finish line,  I reach out to see if one man, in particular, was ok as his legs buckled underneath him but there was a marshal already by his side. I looked up at the clock, 3:16:48 What the??

I sprinted…. and with shrieks and squeals I shot my arms up in the air, leaping across the finish line in 3:16:57; 24th Female, 283rd finisher overall.

Stopping my watch I bent down and kissed the ground, so elated with my race. I ran to the girls who were just up ahead in the crowd and I was absolutely speechless as we hugged (and cried a bit).

I will definitely do Sydney again. Such a beautiful course (by far my favourite yet), the conditions were brilliant and the crowds absolutely made the race one to remember.

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