City to Surf marathon 2018 Post-race report, Nathaniel Wells

City to Surf marathon 2018 Post-race report, Nathaniel Wells

The training and race, in short: built from a longest run base of 20km to 15, 20, 25, 30, then 32, 30, 32, 34, and back down. I blew up some muscles around my left ankle/left calf a week and a half out from the race, on my easy active recovery run of all things, so I never got in my final 15km long run 7 days before race day. It also threw me off massively mentally, but luckily, it seemed I just pulled something and it recovered over a few days. On the week of the race, I did Monday intervals like usual, an easy run of 5km on Tuesday morning, and relaxed after Wednesday intervals until the Sunday of the race. The legs started to feel really fresh and light by Friday. Race week ended up being my biggest week of running to date. The race went amazingly, my goal pace was 4:35-4:40 and I ended up averaging 4:25, for a time of 3:06:15 for 42.2km and 3:08:05 for the official time (too much ducking and weaving around so I ran 400m extra).

I woke up at 4 to account for going to the toilet multiple times before the race, yet it didn’t work. I still needed five toilet trips. What is wrong with my digestive system and bladder? Breakfast was 2 pieces of sourdough toast with strawberry jam, half a glass of juice, and a small black coffee. No milk. I got to the start line at 5:20. I found the toilets, pissed for the millionth time, and did drills and some walking around. I ran into Sarah and Adrian early on and chatting with them calmed my nerves a bit – I was extraordinarily nervous for this race. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. Yet even despite that, I set my goals lower than I was in fact capable. When I originally signed up for the marathon, the goal pace was 5:00 k’s. Then every week I trained, it seemed to get lower. The goal pace never got low enough, in the end, despite my thoughts that I was overly optimistic with the goal I ended up with.

I thought my bladder was empty, after ANOTHER trip, and I was very wrong. I jogged it out back to the start line for 5:50, ready to roll, and saw Michael there. We both made our way to the front, and Michael gave me the single best piece of advice I would receive in relation to the whole 42.2km that I had to run: Just stay relaxed.

The marathon start was great, despite my heart rate being ridiculously high before I was even running. It was a much more casual affair than the half, with far less people, and far less grand ceremony. Before I knew it, 5:59 arrived and I needed to piss again, badly. Too late for that. The race began, and I was off. For once I didn’t need to shoulder my way through hundreds of people who definitely should not have started at the front. It seems marathoners are much more aware of their own skill levels. I rolled my legs over for the first 2km down the terrace, feeling a bit tight and still overly nervous. My heart rate was high due to the nerves, which contributed to my watch giving me a performance condition of ‘-1’ about 8 minutes into the race. I think it does it based on commencing heart rate in activity, and I resolved to say ‘screw you’ to my watch and perform at my peak whether it liked it or not.

In hindsight now, I started quite slow and comfortable, which was a very good thing. I was sceptical about my own performance when I kept glancing down at my watch and seeing 4:40 or 4:35, which was my goal pace. I tried my best to keep rolling without overthinking it. I was just warming up. The race began with me feeling a little lethargic, maybe even sleepy, and I think that reined me in. It took all the way along riverside drive and mounts bay road before I started to get into it, so about 8km along. I was running with a pretty consistent group at that point, with one little guy that reminded me of Spencer. All I could think about for that whole starting stretch was how badly I needed to piss again. I think I can attribute how fast I ran the rest of the race to how badly I needed a toilet, and how adamantly I resolved to not stop running. At Mounts Bay I saw Adrian taking photos, which was a nice early boost. Then a guy doing the whole marathon without shoes overtook me. I only noticed because a volunteer at a drink stop said ‘holy shit that guy isn’t wearing shoes’. I was flabbergasted for at least the next 3 minutes as I watched him trundle along. Beyond that oddity, I was just focusing on staying relaxed and focused. I had “I could be the one” by Avicii/Nicki Romero in my head at the time. It stayed with me for at least the next hour and didn’t leave my head for a few days after that.

At maybe 7km or 8km things really kicked into gear. I started to feel myself buzz and the pace started to turn into low 4:20’s and even the odd 4:15. I knew the first hill was coming up, and I wanted to blast it. I was hyped for hills, honestly, because the flats of Riverside and Mounts Bay were quite boring. At one point we rounded a corner in our group, with a slight hill after it, and just retaining comfort I just happened to pull about 5 or 10 metres in front of the group. Simply through that small hill. This really made me suspect that some of these people hadn’t practiced hills like I had, and I was looking forward to seeing how everyone else handled the hills on the rest of the course. I’d run laps around Bold Park so many times to prepare for this.

And so, the first tiny old hill at the Avenue popped up. I felt like it gave me life when I hit the top of it. This was the last I saw of the group I had previously been with. Dalkeith began. I had practiced the rolling hills therein at least twice before shifts at work in the weeks leading to the race. I knew exactly what to expect, where every corner was, and how each hill played out. This whole part was a piece of cake. My splits continued to sit on low 4:20s, and I was revelling in it, when my thoughts weren’t diverting to “when am I going to blow up”, or “can I hold my bladder for another 2 hours”. I tried to ignore that part of myself and just focus on how good I felt otherwise. I was still relaxed and seriously enjoying myself. The sun was well and truly on its way up by this point, and after I flew up the hills around the golf course and back down the avenue, I was ready for Kings Park. I should mention there was this old lady slow clapping on her balcony basically at the top of the Dalkeith golf course. It was REALLY weird.

Now that the field had thinned, I started to notice this older bloke that I had been running behind quite consistently. Over the race we exchanged places a whole bunch of times, and I began to really appreciate the company, because, after Dalkeith, it really started to feel a bit lonely. I very much felt like I was running more on my own; but that’s how I prefer to run a race anyway. I could finally settle into pacing off myself and caring less about what other people were doing. This race was all about testing my limits, not someone else’s by running on their shoulder. Odd bits of familiar company were nice, though. It was also great to get some encouragement from Alex and Daniel at the foot of the Avenue hill, at 8km and 20km, respectively. Sometime after I saw them I hit halfway, at 1:33:00 for 21km. I was really shocked at that split and didn’t believe I could hold the same pace for the rest of the race – but I was proud of myself nonetheless. And despite my own beliefs, I held it.

Into Kings Park, May Drive was definitely difficult. It felt like it stretched on for far longer than the rough 3km that it actually did, and the elevation of it was really quite deceiving. I should’ve practiced it a bit more. When I finally rounded the corner to go back down Lovekin, I was stoked to be done with it, and a bit fatigued. As if right on cue, there was a whole crew of Lululemon sponsors shouting encouragement, which was a MASSIVE boost. One of them remarked on my clothes, shouting “BLACK ON BLACK! I LOVE IT!”, which made me smile as I descended down Lovekin. I remember feeling really fatigued down Lovekin, and I consciously dropped the pace a bit. I don’t think I was hitting the wall per se, but I was definitely feeling some nasty fatigue. The guys ahead of me gained some distance, and I let them. I used Lovekin to recover and reset myself before Forrest Drive, which I was telling to myself in my head was the first of the three big hills; Forrest, Underwood, and Oceanic. By the time I finished Lovekin, I felt ready for it. The descent was the right amount of recovery. By this point as well, my head was constantly interchanging between Eye of The Tiger and Take Me Home Country Roads, an ideal soundtrack to amp up the pace and hit the home stretch.

This is where the course got congested. Where Poole Ave connects into Kings Park, the half marathoners were funnelling down like choc milk into my mouth post-race. These were the slower buggers too – and they congested the living shit out of the way up Forrest Drive. Fortunately, it gave me a bit of strength to (I’m not ashamed about this) show off. I flew up Forrest Drive, overtaking people stopping to walk and every slow climber in between. There was a lot of ducking and weaving, and very little straight line running involved in this climb and basically the next 6km too. I remarked to the guy I was frequently interchanging places with that “it’s a bit congested now isn’t it!” as I overtook him on Forrest, and all the other guys I gave distance to down Lovekin. I think his expression told me he was shocked that I still able to speak going up that road. This part, and the rest of the ducking and weaving, definitely contributed to the extra 400m I ended up running over the standard 42.2km of marathon that I was supposed to complete.

At the top of Forrest onward, I basically had to forget about having any water, because every drink stop was congested with the half-marathon competitors literally just standing all over the stop. I had to keep left, lest I get basically ground to a halt. That was incredibly frustrating. I managed to maybe get two extra drinks in from the 32km mark to the end, because the stops were so populated.

I should mention my nutrition so far now while I’m at it. I had a gel at 1 hour, and another every 30-minute interval. The first two that I had were safety pinned to the inside seam of my shorts. The idea was that I could just tear them off, and the top would stay safety pinned. I only had room for 4 in my rear pocket and I planned for to carry 6. The pins worked with my first gel, but the second tore off some of the fabric of my shorts and I got stabbed in the finger with a safety pin when I went past the pool at UWA at the 20km mark. Not ideal. The first gel went down well. The second made me feel queasy. The third, in Kings park, did not sit nicely at all. I had to force it down meanly and feel sick for 5 minutes after because of it. After it settled I was fine. By the time I got to my fourth, and subsequently final gel at 2 hours 30, I was hungry for it, despite the lethargy. That final gel I needed was maybe a kilometre out from the Underwood hill, and I knew I’d need it in me to make it up that beast.

I meandered my way downhill through Subi in a blur. I was very excited for that nice part of the course, having practiced it three times at least during my build up and loving every second of it. At the foot of Underwood, I spotted Bec, Madi, and Albi, and they nearly missed me. Albi was being filmed by a cameraman, I was told. I barely had time to wave at them before I hit the incline. Seeing them was a massive boost in my head, something of a “show them what you’re made of” as I hit Underwood. Last year, in the half marathon, when I got to the top of this one, I was seeing stars; but not this time. I lengthened my stride and smashed up the hill, ready to fly down to Perry Lakes and hit the home straight.

Through Perry Lakes I felt my pace start to build, and I hit 4:15s again when I looked at my watch. When I rounded that last corner to hit heartbreak hill, I felt determined to finish strong. Despite everything, my head was still in the right place, and I still had more to give. My quads were screaming with fatigue and my glutes just groaned, but I had the energy to push them. I knew it didn’t matter how sore I got so long as I just had the energy to push. The pace would just be what it was. After the first rise in Oceanic, I got excited that I was nearly there. When the second rise came, I saw one of the kids that I coach, and he ran off to his family and they shouted my name. That got me over the final rise of oceanic even faster, where I saw a friend who gave me a high five and told me to sprint to the end. Like she’d supplanted the idea in my head, I took the motivation and overtook the guy I had been changing places with all race for the last time as I hammered it down to the finish line. He actually said “great running mate” as I went past. I wish I saw him at the end, so I could’ve told him the same.

I pushed it up to 4:05s for all I could manage for a sprint finish. Luckily, my family were early to the finish line, and didn’t expect me there for at least another 5 to 10 minutes. They, and I, had no idea I was going to do it this fast. As I approached the final meters, the announcers even called out my name as a marathon finisher, and I stuck my hands up in the air and enjoyed the moment. It was the best run I’ve ever done; the most consistent, and the most mentally solid. I can see why the marathon is so special now. I’d been told that you learn a lot about yourself out on a marathon, and I think the main things I learnt were this: I can hold my bladder for 3 hours, I can keep eating gels despite being queasy, my pace means nothing as long as I stay relaxed, and I’m capable of far more than I give myself credit for sometimes. I can’t wait to do my next one – just after a 4km swim, and a 180km ride, down in Busselton. For now, I’m going to focus on learning to walk again.