Great Ocean Road Marathon

The Great Ocean Road Marathon and Festival of Distance Running features a 44km Marathon, 23km Half Marathon, 14km run, 6km run and The Kids’ 1.5km Gallop. In 2016, they introduced a 60km ultra-marathon! This event is held in a beautiful and unique area of Victoria, Australia on the Southern Ocean. Each year that this event has been conducted, it has attracted many athletes from around the world, eager to participate in this challenging and pristine environment.

Pre-event –

In 2015, I ran Great Ocean Road 44km and had a shocking run. In 2016, I ran Great Ocean Road 23km. I had a great run; I paced well and finished happy. My goal for 2017 was to run Great Ocean Road 60km. I wanted to redeem myself from 2015, and achieve the complete set of medals (not OCD at all hey?)

Great Ocean Road is a beautiful part of Victoria and popular tourist destination. I have mixed memories of GOR; family road trip, our honeymoon and successful half-marathon last year. Not-so-good memories are; school camp (hospital with asthma), Gawler conference for Dad (not long before he died), and a bad marathon experience. This year, my goal was to become friends with the GOR (and have fun)! I was staying with friends I’d met through RMA, who were running the 23km. My other friend (Serena) was also staying in the same complex and running the 60km. I was already looking forward to post-race celebrations (one catch… I had to run 60km in under 6.5 hours first).

I was quite nervous about the cut-off. I wasn’t too concerned with distance (even though this would be my longest run); I’d run Two Bays 56km, Brimbank 50km and Princess Park 50km. I’d trained properly and diligently… But I wasn’t fast. Since returning from injury in 2015, I have a different perspective; my long-term goal is to be running long-term! I’m not trying out for the Olympic team so who cares if I take an extra 20 minutes to cross the finish line? Nobody remembers my times anyway. My “plan” was to run comfortably; 5-6min/km pace and expect to run/walk the two hills that deviated away from GOR. For the bigger hills (300m climbs), I planned to jog 800m and walk 200m. There were conflicting reports on elevation; some said just over 1000m but others said 2000m! That made me nervous because walking would decrease my average pace. If I went too much slower than 6min pace, I was risking a DNF!

The course (and road) reminded me of Two Oceans in South Africa (I ran it in 2015, a few weeks before my bad experience at GOR 44km). I had an awesome run at Two Oceans but I was under no illusion I could match that now, however it helped me to plan and pace. Having run the half and full marathon in previous years also helped me understand the harshness of the road. GOR is the hardest surface I’ve run on, plus there is camber. But the scenery is really pretty so that makes it OK, right?!

Despite knowing my body would pay for running the GOR, I was not perturbed. My lead up was great, my body was feeling relatively good; I had no injuries as such, however my left shoulder was annoying me (It’s an old injury and most of the time it doesn’t me but when it hurts, it really hurts). In the month prior, I was meticulous with Chiropractic adjustments, Myotherapy treatments and Kinesiology. My hubby (and chiro) taped my shoulder to help deactivate overworked muscles.

Two days before race day, I organised my bags and gear; shorts, calf compressions, singlet, long sleeve top, hydration pack (and Flipbelt) with gels and electrolytes. The weather forecast was 17 degrees with cloud cover.

The day before, I met my friend (Serena) who offered me a ride. We arrived in Apollo Bay about 4pm and after checking out the race precinct, we bought an early take-away dinner. Knowing we had to wake early, I headed to bed about 9pm.

Event day –

I set the alarm for 4:50am and we headed to the bus by 5:45am. There was an exciting vibe in the air. The bus trip was painless but I sat at the front to avoid motion sickness. As we discussed our mantras and strategies, the sun began to rise over the ocean. It was beautiful. This year, my mantra was… Tip-toe through the tulips. In order to save my joints, I wanted to stay light on my feet. When we arrived in Lorne, we dashed to the ladies and made final touches before congregating at the start line. I saw a familiar face; someone who I met during the 44km (and helped me cross the finish line). How fitting that we would meet again at the start line of GOR! We wished each other luck and suddenly the race had begun!

Start – 21km

The first few kilometres I maintained pace between 5-5:10min/km. I was in control. About 7km we reached our first hill and my pace decreased to 5:55min. I was feeling good except for my left shoulder. I had referred pain down into my elbow (nerve pain, which is difficult to ignore). I was actually fighting some big mental demons. I was happy with pace, legs, energy and motivation… BUT my shoulder was giving me grief! I was thinking I might pull-the-pin or run the marathon instead of the ultra. I was telling myself I had nothing to prove, and I convinced myself I couldn’t run 60km with sharp, shooting pain going down my arm. I’ve run with it before and my arm freezes… it becomes glued to my side (which makes running awkward)!

About 8km, I saw my running friend from the start line. Thank God! I needed a distraction. I focused on relaxing, breathing and chatting! I had a gel at 12km and sipped electrolytes from my pack. We maintained 5:15min pace until I started to drop off around 16km. The pain was affecting my ability to run, and I was not happy. I pushed on and reached 21km in approximately 1hr 50min.

21km – 42km

At 22-23km we approached another hill and I sat back into an easy pace. I made myself a promise not to walk until I turned off the GOR (and hit bigger hills). I had some lollies and chose to hold off on the second gel. I continued sipping electrolytes.

At 30km, I stopped for the loo and tried to mobilise my shoulder; I circled my arm and inhaled deeply into my rib cage. A lovely fellow RMA (Michelle) asked if I was OK. I said yes, but truthfully I wanted to scream. I’d trained hard for this event, my legs felt good, my hips were hanging in there, so why did my shoulder have to hurt? I decided to listen to a podcast (ultra runner podcast).

Around 33km, I came to the first hairpin turn. I stopped for a drink and more lollies. I began my 800m jog uphill. For reasons I can’t explain, my shoulder eased a little. Perhaps my posture changed or maybe the 200m walk breaks helped or the softer surface made a difference? I didn’t really care why but I was so grateful! Finally, I felt good! I could still feel my shoulder but nowhere near as bad. I stuck to my plan of 800m jog and 200m walk until I reached the peak after 4km uphill (around 300m elevation). On the rise, my splits were 7:05, 8:11, 7:56, 7:38 and 7:50min. On the downhill, I was relaxed. I ran 5:30-6min pace (to save my quads). Taking a break from the harshness of the road was good for my body. Plus, I loved connecting with fellow 60km runners. It was a good section of the course for me (which is odd, considering it was the steepest part). I had a second gel and more fluid. On the decent, I reached the marathon point in just under 4 hours.

42km – Finish

When I reached the bottom of the first climb, I paused for a drink and handful of jelly-beans. As I began running along the road again, I noticed my shoulder hurting a little. It was bearable and my headspace had shifted from, “there’s no way I’ll make this” to “I know I can do this!” I was looking forward to the next climb! Overall I was relatively comfortable. I took in my surroundings. The conditions were ideal; sky was clear, ocean was calm and temperature was cool. Every so often, my body whispered to me… tightness in my hip flexors or a twinge from my ITB. I consciously flopped from my head to my feet (I told myself to switch-off everything). I continued placing one foot in front of the other with very little effort (but I was feeling tired).

About 47km, I came to the second hairpin turn. I stopped and asked someone to grab my pre-made vegemite sandwich from my pack. I hoped to stick to my plan (800m jog and 200m walk). After 200m jogging I was fatigued. I could’ve pushed through but decided to renegotiate with myself! The new plan was 200m jog and 800m walk (now that sounded much easier). Once again, I began jogging… I checked my watch… Only 70m… Really? I made it to 100m before I walked (so my plan worked for the first hill but not the second one). I was ahead of schedule and confident I could make cut-off. I opted to give myself a break and walk more. After all, the hill was steep! I ate one-quarter of my vegemite sandwich and gave fellow runners words of encouragement. My splits for this climb; 6:23, 10:44, 10:56 and decline; 5:28, 5:55, 5:55 (I think I lost satellites around this time but Strava fills in the gaps).

At the bottom, we were somewhere around 53km. I was on the home stretch. One foot in front of the other… Tip-toe through the tulips! My body was tired after 5 hours of running but I was relaxed and happy. I attempted to take another gel (I’d only had 2 gels, quarter of a vegemite sandwich and lollies). I sucked back a bit and carried the packet in my right hand until the end. I hydrated often. My splits for the final 5km were 6-6:30min and I finished a fraction stronger with 5:38min pace. Although the last few kilometres were tough and tiring, the people hanging outside their cars from the opposite direction were awesome! They were yelling, “Go Kate!”… “You’ve got this!”… I smiled weakly as I focused on the finish line. I thought about how close I was and started to feel sick. Stay in the moment… You are going to finish this… Don’t push!

As I approached the finishing chute, everyone was clapping and encouraging me. I crossed the line in 5 hours 52min! Serena was waiting for me (she’d finished 20min earlier). Friends were on the sideline showing their support. It was an awesome moment. One of the happiest running moments in my life! I made the Great Ocean Road my friend! My body was tired but good. My legs and hips were amazing. My shoulder was average but still not as bad as the first 30km. Who would have thought the last 30km would be easier, and the steepest hills were the best part?! It just goes to show, anything can happen in distance running. You should never give up, because you might feel better just around the corner (or over the hill)!

Lessons –

  1. Get my shoulder fixed!
  2. Relax completely and breathe deeply (especially if you feel any pain).
  3. Don’t worry about pace! There are rolling hills the whole way so focus on effort level instead of pace. It’s more enjoyable and easier to manage.
  4. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses… (self-explanatory)
  5. Look up and take in the scenery!
  6. Never give up because you might feel better just around the corner (or over the hill)!
  7. Never miss a good post-race party!

Thoughts on the event –

The event, scenery, weather and people were awesome! The road is hard on your body, but the scenery is second to none! This is a must-do race! It is highly organised and professional. And the finish line is outside the front of the Apollo Bay hotel, which adds to the fun and creates opportunity for spectators to show their support. I had the best day! Thanks for everything Great Ocean Road!