On Sunday I was able to strike a marathon off my list. At last! 

But it was a long road to get there…

I’ve enjoyed running in the Sydney Running Festival for many years. Spring time in my home city, with the chance to run across our iconic bridge.

In 2008 I entered the Bridge run for the first time. I loved that event, and entered every year since. I even ran it in 2012 when I was pregnant with my son. In 2015 I stepped up to the half marathon distance. It felt like a massive jump at the time. The thrilling finish line at the Opera House with the crowds had me hooked. I returned each year after, and marked it as a highlight event in my running calendar.

As I got fitter and faster, I was always longing to do the marathon. I would finish the half and then go to the sidelines and cheer on the marathon runners in complete awe of their achievements. “Could I ever run that far?” The runners looked so tired and were really hurting as they crossed, but they would smile and look as though it was a big goal achieved. 

There were a number of road blocks that stopped me from entering the marathon after that. My beautiful third baby girl came along. I recovered and tried to get my fitness back up. I trained hard in 2018 with the aim of doing the race in September. I kept reducing my goal time for the event, as I kept up with my sub-3 training partner Kieran. Then I was struck down with the flu two days before. I was gutted. I lay there feverish and was still trying to calculate if I could do it. Of course, that would be ridiculous. I ripped up my bib and let it go.

Then the Ultra Trail Australia race was open soon after. Yep, that’s it. I’m doing the 50k! Once I signed up. I trained daily towards that goal event. I didn’t miss a session. Months later in May 2019, I was able to run it hard and finished with a time I was really happy with. It was odd to be running down Kedumba and my watch was firing off fireworks for running the furthest distance to date. The training and the event itself was a massive achievement and gave me confidence in my endurance.

I kept my training up after UTA and decided to sign up for lots of races. Perhaps too many. I was racing 3k to 30km, trail, road, track and had a few wins along the way. I overdid it and caused a painful Piriformis glute injury, and was wondering if the marathon was a bit crazy to add on top.  I had sports massages, rolled, stretched and continued to run. It was touch and go, but I signed up for the Sydney marathon again. I felt like my training wasn’t where it was compared to the year before due to managing the injury. I set my sights on just running for fun. My training buddy set me the goal of trying to beat his first marathon time of 4:12. Two days out from the race my throat was sore. Oh crap, here we go again.

I was meticulous in my race prep. I ate well, hydrated, slammed in the vitamins, tried to get extra sleep and created some positive thoughts for the run. Nothing is going to stop me from giving this a go.

I arrived at Milson’s Point early on race day. I went down to the water’s edge and did my warm up and drills. The harbor looked so beautiful. The full moon was in the sky. So many elites were down there warming up including the African ladies who ended up winning the event. I pumped myself up for a good run. I told myself to take things easy and to run happy.

An American tourist came up to me on his walk and asked about the event. I told him that the Sydney marathon was about to start. He asked how I was feeling and I said “a little nervous to be honest, as its my first marathon”. With his twang he told me that I need to “get up there and kick some ass!” He repeated it and it made me smile. I said goodbye and ran up the hill. We gathered as many RMA’s as we could find and got the pre-race photos. All of a sudden it was time to line up.

I took my jumper off for the donation pile and joined the queue. I found the Sydney Striders pacers and stood next to the 4hr guy. Something came over me and said “aim for faster”, so I moved through the crowd to the 3:45 pacer. “I’m going to kick some ass”, I laughed. Then we were off. I tried to soak up the atmosphere and take it easy. On the Bridge I always run in lane 3 for my three kids. I did a jump shot for the photographer. “This is it!”

I just tried to run in a trance and get through the first half of the event conservatively. My muscles were burning and I was willing my body to hold itself together. At Centennial Park I saw my family. My little one was calling out that she wanted to run with me. I said “I’ll see you soon Bubba! We can run in the park”. We were calling out to each other “I love you” and “see you soon Bubba!” A young man next to me said “well that’s the sweetest thing ever”. I channeled the energy into my tank. I’m running this for me, and for my family. “Let’s do this!”

I kept checking my pace wristband and I was getting further and further ahead. I thought that this was a good thing as I didn’t know if I would cramp up and have to walk. I just wanted to run as much of this event as I could.

We were running back to the city and I felt awesome. It was mind over matter. Down at the Quay I saw lots of RMA’s and Nicole cheered me on. 26kms done.

We ran around Darling Harbour and Pyrmont. I kept chugging down water and gels regularly when I was reminded by each aid station approaching. I kept running positive. I thanked volunteers, I high-fived the cute kids along the course and I thanked my city for putting on such a great event. I had trained on all parts of this course over recent months. For some reason I didn’t even feel the hills on the course. I just kept running. After Pyrmont, people started to hit the wall and peel off the path. One guy fell badly. This is that dreaded ‘wall’ that marathoners talk about.  I slowed down a little as a precautionary measure. I had no idea what was ahead of me. I was still running in constant pain, but I willed myself to get it done.

Back at Darling Harbour we were on the home stretch. A man was running next to me and called out ‘just one Parkrun to go!’ I was feeling a little bit weaker as the sun was getting really hot. That’s when I saw my friend Katie Geering. She offered supportive words, water and she pointed out that some shade was coming. I was pumped after seeing her. It was getting close. I had long lost the 3:45 pacers. Beyond my expectations!

The final 2kms was so memorable. I was hurting, but I was so determined to see the crowds and that finish line. The sound bites along that 2kms helped me so much. A man said “she’s flying”. I replied, “yes I am!” An RMA called out “beat those boys ahead of you!” so I sped up and pumped my fists. I wondered if I could sustain this crazy pace for this long. I saw my running buddies on either side, friends calling out my name, RMA’s and then Nicole cheered out. I turned that last corner and this wave of energy hit me. I was calling out to the crowd “I’m going to smash this!” There was one woman ahead of me and I put my head down and surged past her. I crossed the line with my hands in the air and the biggest sense of relief.  I realised that I was screaming out “yes, yes, yes!” Oops, it was a bit like the ‘When Harry met Sally’ scene. The commentators said something to me but I don’t remember what. 

Looking at the event video, it was a very energetic finish. Exactly what I had always dreamed of. I was presented with my medal. The 3.30 pacer, who is my Physio was right there. He gave me a big hug. I think he was surprised to see me there after my injury. It was the perfect memorable finish to a big training block and to see a long awaited goal struck off my list. 

Marathons are an epic feat of endurance and I have so much respect for it. The training does consume you for a while. Its on your mind every single day. Time to recover and consider what’s next. An international marathon is my next long-term goal. And to run it faster!

Natasha Hammond, RMA Community Ambassador