It began on 6 November 2016 at the New York Marathon. My first marathon. I had no idea what to expect from myself that day. I saw the marathon as a beast. A beast I was determined to tame. I crossed the finish line in Central Park as a 4:13 marathoner that day. Despite being on the recovering end of pneumonia, I was so happy with how the whole race panned out for me. I felt good. I felt great! The crowd, the atmosphere, the 5 boroughs, 50,000 other people and my lungs, legs, mind and heart just knew what to do. As I hobbled back to my hotel in Times Square with my shiny new medal draped around my neck and clutching a super-sized pizza with my best friend by my side, I thought to myself “do I dare to dream of a sub 4 marathon?”
Dream I did.
I set my sights on Gold Coast Marathon in July 2017. I trained hard. I trained with purpose. I trained with one goal in mind. I was ready! Then less than a week out from my A race I was taken down by the flu. To work so hard towards something and then have it taken away moments before is a crushing feeling. But like most runners I know, it didn’t stop me lining up at the start line to finish what I had started. It was brutal. Breathing was hard. My head hurt. My mouth was as dry as the Sahara Desert. Every step was a mental and physical battle to keep going. I watched the 4 hour balloon go past…the 4:15 balloon….the 4:30 balloon. Amazingly, I still managed to make it to the finish line that day, despite all the difficulties, in 4:39.30.
Never mind. Try again.
Chicago Marathon, 7 October 2018. I ummed and ahhed as to how I was going to tackle this race. I was still recovering from my first 100km ultra just a couple of months earlier. I told myself not to worry about times and to take it easy and enjoy it. You’re still recovering. Give yourself time. Truth was…I was scared of disappointing myself. Imagine pushing yourself so hard only to miss your goal by mere seconds. I decided to just do whatever felt comfortable on the day. I ran with my best friend for the first 10km just chit chatting away and taking it all in. I remember saying to her at one point “Geez mate if we keep this pace up we’ll come in under 4 hours”. I ran well. I ran happy. I ran the Windy City with tens of thousands of other people from all over the world. I ran a 4:01.26! What do you know, I missed my goal by mere seconds. But I couldn’t complain. Look where I was and what I had just achieved. A 12 minute marathon PB in Chicago! I was absolutely chuffed.
I was edging closer to the goal. It was so close I could almost touch it.
I had made my choice. Runaway Noosa Marathon in May 2019 was going to be the race where I would finally crack the 4 hour marathon. I worked hard. I worked really hard. I kept getting sick. My body hated me. I kept pushing. It hated me even more. The day came. My head wasn’t in it. The pressure was high. It felt like work. It wasn’t fun anymore. By the 15km mark my stomach was in excruciating pain. I got my nutrition all wrong. I pushed hard to continue. I stopped at one point and cried. I pushed again. I was sick. I made the difficult decision to pull out at the 31km mark. I was buckled over in excruciating tummy pain and that same best friend who hobbled back with me to our unit in New York and in Chicago, got me back to our unit in Noosa where I spent the next few hours in pain.
It’s okay. There’ll be other marathons. Just learn from this one.
Three months later I toed the start line at Riverrun100 on 8 September 2019. My last long training run before my first 12 hour track ultra in three weeks time. This race was purely about taking it easy and practising my nutrition and hydration for the ultra. I didn’t want to have the same tummy issues I had in Noosa ever again. Riverrun was never about conquering the 4 hour marathon. There was no time goal. No pressure. This was going to be fun! Just trot along doing what you love to do.
As I walked to the start line a running friend of mine who knew how badly I wanted a sub4 marathon said one final thing to me… “see you in 3 hours and 55 minutes”. I laughed. I’d proven time and time again that the sub4 marathon was not meant to be mine. Seconds later we were off running. 1km in and I felt good. I got that feeling. That feeling you get in a race when you just know you are going to run well. Everything felt right. Then suddenly two words came to mind…words that had never crossed my mind in a race before… “suicide pace”.
Then that was all I could think about for the next 42.2kms.
I didn’t look at my watch much this race. I just ran. I ran comfortably and happy. When I did happen to look at my watch I thought to myself, “This can’t be right. Garmy must be having issues. I can’t possibly be running this pace and feeling so good.” Then by the 20km mark I knew. Today was the day I was going to cross the finish line as a sub 4 hour marathoner after years of trying. I couldn’t help but run with a stupid smile on my face the whole way. I was cheering people on. I was handing out high fives. I was flying.
This was a 4 x 10km lap course (plus a 2.2 loop at the start). After my first lap I ran through and yelled at my friends “I’m running at suicide pace. I’ve gone out hard. This could end badly!” By the second lap I ran through yelling at them again, “suicide pace is getting hard!!” They reassured me to keep it up. On my third lap through and heading out onto my final lap I did the math. I said to my friend as I ran through, “I’ve got 70 minutes up my sleeve to knock out 10kms to take the sub4. Reckon I can do it?” All he said back was, “Just 6 minute k’s from here on out and it’s yours.” I am so glad he said that because it was getting hard to maintain the pace I had been running at. It was getting really hard. The legs were getting stiff and the self-negotiations were about to start creeping in. So with his advice and permission I slowed it down. I ran that last lap in disbelief of what was about to happen. A personal goal that was 4 years in the making was about to fall.
I crossed the finish line in 3:47.47.
I did it! I had tamed the beast!
No pressure. No time goal. Just happy running.
And I think that’s the moral of the story; If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
The last 4 years have taught me a lot. If you want something bad enough, you will not stop until you get it. If you keep showing up and keep trying no matter how many times you fall, you will get to where you want to be. That goes for everything in life, not just running.
It’s nice to have goals. They keep us focused and give us something to work towards and give us something to feel good about. But it is just as important to have fun and enjoy the process. Otherwise, what is it all for?
So what do you do when you finally tick off a 4 year goal you weren’t sure you would ever achieve? You look to the next goal you aren’t sure you will ever achieve.
Boston qualifying time….
…….to be continued.
By Nicole Jukes.