2016 Medibank Melbourne Marathon Race Report – Simon Redhead
Race Date: October 16th Results: 2016
After 2015’s Gold Coast Marathon, I made the decision in about March to have a crack at the Melbourne Marathon this year. Gold Coast was too soon and Melbourne was my home city as a lad so it seemed a good option after having run my first marathon here in 2013.
Melbourne was to be my fourth attempt at the marathon distance. The goal of 2.50 again beckoned but I realised early in my training that this was probably going to be a bridge too far - again. Hamstring tightness and cramping seemed to be the order of the day during my training.
This severely curtailed a lot of my running, forcing me to reduce both volume and pace, virtually eliminating longer Tempo runs from my schedule and limiting the speed work I always liked to include in the back end of my longer runs. At any distance over 30k, trying to run faster than about 4.30/k seemed to result in virtually instantaneous hamstring cramping. Trying to fit training around work meant my peak weeks were just over 80 kilometres but I had enjoyed many longer runs around the waterfront of San Francisco so couldn’t complain too much! I did a fair bit of hill running around the various peaks of Hong Kong island as well,, which included several efforts of over 2000m elevation in very warm and humid conditions which, in hindsight, were great for strength and cardio. They were also great training for the warm conditions Melbourne was set to produce.
All in all, however, I felt underdone approaching the day but was entering the event with a laissez faire attitude. I believed anything between 2.50 and 3.30 could be a good result, depending how things unfolded.
I’d arrived in Melbourne from LA on the Friday without much sleep so was feeling pretty fatigued for the couple of days before. I wandered down to the expo to drop off my drinks on the Saturday. The nutrition plan was essentially the same as that which had served me well at GCAM in 2015 – gels at 8, 16, 24, 30 and 36k. With a personal drink service available to marathon runners, I was planning on carrying one gel and picking the others up at the 10k and 24k drink stations. Finding my drinks was therefore going to be critical. I had concerns around finding them so had stuck long straws of various colours along with the gels to my bottles with electrician’s tape. Short story is, it worked well and I didn’t have the same problem Matt did.
A couple of days of socialising and a few beers on both Friday and Saturday night reinforced the relaxed approach to the event. Much fun was had with the Whites, Matt Browning and Kelly Healey Daniel. John Doyle got a fair spray on social media just for a change! I was having fun so the outcome was kind of irrelevant at this point. I also made the decision at some stage to run without a watch as I was keen just to let this event unfold without really chasing the pace. #stravaFOMO
Waking up at 5am, I rushed the usual couple of bananas and bread, drank plenty of electrolyte and wandered down to the MCG for the pre-start ritual of bag drop, selfie etc. The wander down confirmed the forecast with gusty north-westerlies up to about 50kph and warm conditions. Bag drop was a bit of a nightmare with security screening entering the bag drop area slowing everything down. It was an utter waste of time as it was a most perfunctory check and nobody was checking the runners as they entered the MCG at the end of the run. We could have been carrying anything then, but that’s the nature of illusory security in the 21st Century (that’s my one little rant).
Anyway, long story short, I found myself now pushed for time as I shuffled to the start line and the preferred start area. The four porta-loos in the preferred area weren’t really enough with that final stop meaning I was pushed back into the main field, unable to find Phil and only just spotting Reggie. I also had time for a brief hello to Chris Hayes and Jess ‘Q’ Stabler.
Race plan? Find the 2.50 pace group, run into the wind in the shadow of the group, run downwind alone and hang on for as long as possible. Pretty simple.
National anthem was sung and we were off. I settled pretty quickly with Reggie and Wooter Matt Griffiths. Phil was running about a 4.00/k even pace so was off in front early. We were comfortably settled in behind the 2.50 pacer as we made our way down St Kilda Rd to St Kilda Junction, the usual early banter helping to settle the nerves. Bib swapping may have even got a mention about the 4.5k mark! The wind swirling through the buildings meant at times we were running into a gusty crosswind or even headwind in spite of running south.
Turning into the Albert Park Lake area for the first run north into the wind, it became apparent very quickly how much effect this was going to have. The group settled, the lead pacer having to do all the work as everyone sought shelter. This would cost him later. The other problem that became apparent here was the flies brought down from central Victoria by the strong winds. Suffice to say, I swallowed several early shots of protein replacement. The 2.50 pace group picked up Phil and the 4.00 pace group at about 8k.
Through 10k at the Grand Prix pits, I spotted my drink in its bucket easily thanks to the straws and grabbed it. Reggie was starting to complain of the need for a toilet stop at this point and dropped off. More on this later!
Running back south, everyone relaxed and we headed down Fitzroy St towards Beaconsfield Parade for what we knew was going to be a tough 5k slog north into the wind. Turning north again, the talking stopped and the group got down to business. The pacer called for everyone to take their turn in the wind but this wasn’t really forthcoming (myself included) so he continued to battle valiantly into a strong breeze. The elites were heading south as we went through about 15k, with Tom de Canto (overall Male winner) looking strong and Matt and a few other familiar faces also looking good.
The turnaround at the northern end of the course was a welcome sight and we made our way south for 10k, with a stiff breeze behind us. Conditions were warming up although overcast, pushing into the low 20s and humid. Sweat was drying rapidly though due to the strong breeze, giving the illusion that I wasn’t sweating that much. The pacer reminded us to continue to hydrate. Excellent advice under the circumstances.
I spotted Reggie still coming north, about 2-3 minutes behind at this point but running well. The next personal drink stop was at 24k with my last two gels and water (hopefully!) there. The straws again worked well and I grabbed the bottle gratefully. The group started to thin out approaching the southern turnaround point at about 25k with runners starting to drop off. I knew for the run north that it was going to be critical to hang on to the group, although I was starting to tire, and put in the extra effort necessary to maintain my spot in the group which had diminished to maybe half a dozen runners.
We turned at the southern-most point on the course and, again, the race was well and truly on. From 25-29k was the least sheltered, toughest section. Hanging on to the back of the group was essential as running this section alone was going to be very difficult. With a little extra effort, I turned east onto Fitzroy St for the trek back up St Kilda Rd.
Coming through 30k the fatigue hit with the usual fade and I dropped off the back of the 2.50 group. Matt Griffith was still there and running strongly. I was now running alone as I turned north up St Kilda Rd.
Surprisingly, apart from a little fatigue, I felt ok and focussed on my form and keeping a cadence and stride length that would protect my hamstrings. I could feel them tightening as expected and avoiding cramp was going to be key. In spite of not having a watch, my pace felt like it was somewhere in the 4.15-4.20 area, confirmed by looking at the splits after the race. The buildings helped to screen this section of the course from the breeze so it wasn’t quite as nasty as I’d anticipated.
Importantly, I wasn’t slowing any further and was starting to pick up other runners who had dropped me earlier including, it subsequently turned out, ACT marathon rep Andrew Leigh MP and a Queensland marathon rep. It’s always heartening to see a maroon shirt disappearing behind you! My energy levels were good and I even had a little in reserve to have a chat and encourage and cajole a few of my fellow runners as 3 or 4 of us set up a little group.
The other nice thing about this section of the course is joining back in with the half marathon competitors at about the 30k mark. While the fields are separated, I was running past those on about 1.45 half pace and overtaking anyone at this point is always a good feeling!
Coming through 35k which is slightly downhill to pass under St Kilda Rd to head back south again, I felt a nasty little protest from the hamstrings as I strode out and worried it may be a portent of things to come. Coming through 36k and heading back south through the Domain away from the finish is never much fun but I remembered how bad I felt in 2013 and how much better I felt this year and that was also pretty encouraging.
The next 1500m or so is probably the most picturesque, but also the toughest section of this course, with a steady uphill climb. Nothing too severe, but it's at just the wrong point for a climb. It's also the loneliest part of the course. The half field turns off before this point and marathon runners are left alone to run through the Domain, past the Shrine of Remembrance and away from the finish. There's no crowd support and it’s very quiet.
I’d lost my group at this point but was still holding 4.20 or so and was still passing other runners. With a clear road ahead I focussed on finding the racing line and just holding on. A couple of runners ahead were running wide on the corners here so having the presence of mind not to follow them made up another couple of places. Importantly, I still felt good and was rather enjoying myself. I have no memory of this section of the course from 2013 so it was quite a pleasant change!
Turning back north on to St Kilda Rd there was lots of encouragement from the team at the 39k drink station. ‘Nearly there!’ they called. (You actually start to believe someone when they say that with 3k to go). They were excellent! Thanks ladies. We had also rejoined the half marathon field, now with runners at about 2 hr pace. Still overtaking, still getting a lift from that! I picked up another couple of marathoners including “Smurf” from the Melbourne midday milers who’d dropped me at about 30k. I said g’day and he provided plenty of encouragement. We stuck together as we turned into Flinders St at 40k for the finish line. We came through 40k in 2.44 and were still chatting (sort of!) and encouraging each other as sub-2.55 was clearly on the cards. Energy levels were good, the worst of the conditions were behind us and the finish line was in sight.
We passed Matt at about 41k. I was as surprised as anyone to see him at this point and offered a few words of encouragement and commiseration as we passed.
Heading down Brunton Ave, the concrete monolith of the Ponsford Stand loomed large as Smurf decided he’d had enough and, in a death or glory charge, pissed off on me to the finish line. Bastard. I was happily holding pace as I entered the MCG and took my time to drink in the surroundings as I ran a lap of the famous stadium and crossed the finish line in 2.53.30.
Phil crossed a minute or so behind me and promptly headed off to the ambulance tent in a chair as seems to be his wont at these things, but recovered quickly. Reggie crossed a few minutes later with a 3.02 and immediately collapsed as she crossed the line (a real collapse, not one of those fake ones). I’ll leave her to fill in the details but a few vomits and toilet stops had left her badly dehydrated. Suffice to say, it took about an hour and 3 litres of saline to rehydrate her small frame. She’d probably dropped about 6% of her body weight in fluid. There is not a tougher runner out there, man or woman, than Reggie Jensen.
Overall thoughts? I was very happy and more than a little surprised by the time. The 2.50 pacer finished with a 2.52 and he’s a 2.35 runner so that gives an indication of how tough the conditions were.
Going in underdone and with a nagging injury, I was always going to be extremely happy with anything under 3 hours. As I said, 3.30 could have been a good run if it had all gone awry so 2.53, about 20 seconds quicker than my first attempt in 2013, was a very pleasing outcome.
A bit of experience, race smarts, adapting the plan as needed and a proven nutrition plan all played their part on the day. Making the most of my limited training opportunities with some good hard, hill sessions and a few longer interval sessions also played a role I am certain, especially as I had to max out at 80k per week. I think, for me, it proves the adage that it’s better to be slightly underdone, than slightly overdone. I also think my relaxed approach to this event, without a specific goal in mind, made it much more enjoyable and, ultimately, contributed to an unexpectedly strong result.
Run of the day from Newcastle for mine was Matt Griffith who broke the 2.50 mark in his first marathon on a very tough day. Well done Matt. Phil also had an excellent run and Reggie’s effort was, without a doubt, the gutsiest run I’ve ever seen. Not overly bright, but super courageous! Well done Reggie. I have confidence that she will go from strength to strength over this distance.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.