Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Follow the Yellow Balloon

I had my very own 'Dorothy' moment yesterday.

The conditions were perfect: no tornadoes or wild winds from the West. There weren't even any winged monkeys to distract me from the task in hand. Nor was there a road of yellow brick.

But there was a yellow balloon.

I decided to aim for a finish time of 3.10 which means trying to run each km in 4 mins, 30 secs. I went through the first km in 4.25. So far, so good, only 41.2 to go. At 2k, the watch said 8:40 so I knew I had run a little faster and tried to calm myself down to a riot. At 3k my watch said 12:36 and I decided to suspend looking at the watch till 10k to offset the stress that was building about peaking too soon. That's when I spotted the yellow balloon.

I ran along behind it for a while trying to see what it said. It was attached to a man who looked rather fit and he was running beside another man who had a flag extending from his head. I soon realised they were 3 hour pacers and I decided in that moment to suspend what my scarecrow brain had planned for me and try and keep them in my sights.

They had attracted quite a following. I usually end up running on my own in races for some reason. It's always crowded at the start but I quickly fall into a running vacuum. It was a different experience to run with a large pack of 15-20, mainly men. There were 2-3 women including me. We were all slight, no taller than 5"2 and I have no doubt that running behind this group helped us all, like 'drafting' in cycling. Well, there have to be some advantages of hailing from the Land of Munchkins.

I couldn't keep up the whole time so I spent the race falling behind and catching up like the tide going in and out. At points I didn't have the heart to keep up, especially after drink stations where my strategy was to stop and walk for a bit while swallowing, as I can't really drink and run at the same time. A sense of pride provided bursts of energy when I heard voices from the crowd announcing in awe, "they're the 3 hour group", or, "that's 3 hour pace, son". Still, I held myself in check, not pushing too soon. Pride comes before a fall and I was nowhere near sub 3 yet.

I had heard of a dreaded hill at 35k and so I made a surge to stick with the pacers. This helped a lot as they spent the whole time commentating and chatting. "Tram tracks ahead!", "drinks station on the left", "hey, look there's that guy we paced in his first marathon in Bangkok!". I found it quite entertaining which was a great distraction from suffering and self-doubt. After running with them for a few minutes, I felt a new wave of courage come over me and I decided to make a break and move in front of the 3 hour group.

The feeling of elation that came over me at this point was the only power I could call upon to offset the pain. My heart and lungs were in great shape but my legs and my abdominal muscles were crying out for help. My head was starting to hurt a little too as the temperature crept up and dehydration kicked in.

But the end was nigh. There was a gift of a downward spiral into the MCG. "Take the camber, take the camber", I chanted to myself having no idea what it actually meant, as I approached the entrance to the stadium. I felt my legs continue to build speed as I heard first a steward call out, "marathoners to the right" and then my brother's voice rise up through the noise of the crowd, "come on Julie, you're doing a great time!". I sensed the excitement in his tone. He knew that I was on the verge of going sub 3 but I didn't dare look at my watch again. I had no idea how much further I had to go inside the MCG as I took the middle lane reserved for marathon runners. Glancing up, I could see that there was at least 200m left to the inflatable red archways that marked the end. My legs were going strong and I pushed through, overtaking one other runner on the way to my very own Emerald City.

After the race, I was overwhelmed by emotion and sobbed quietly to myself, clicking my heels together. Out of nowhere a man appeared with a huge microphone and beside him, a TV camera.

"Can we interview you for Marathon TV?"
"Of course." I replied, choking back the tears and wondering whether this was a real or imaginary moment, such is the feeling of post traumatic marathon disorder.
"Can you tell us a little bit about your experience today?"
"Well," I began, "there were no wild winds or winged monkeys, but there was a yellow balloon."

Julie finished the Melbourne Marathon on Sunday 14th October 2012 in 2:58:12 and wants to thank everyone who helped her on her journey. You know who you are.

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