Perth Marathon 2021 – Alexandra Meek

Perth Marathon 2021 – Alexandra Meek feat. Daniel Sly on backing vocals

This is fairly long so get yourself a cup of tea…. Or a beer depending on the time of day...

Alternatively, TL;DR?

We ran a marathon. I ran a 12 minute PB for my first sub 3h – 2h59:05

Daniel ran a 22 minute PB – 3h07:44

The Long and Boring Intro (tha-a-at leads to the race report… nobody? Okay.)

Running life story

I was writing a bucket list when I was about 20. I wouldn’t say I was a runner at the time; having done some funruns as a kid, I was just starting to dabble in running again having not done much in my teenage years. I added “Run a sub 3h marathon” to the list. I must have heard the words thrown about at some point in my life, that 3h was a thing – 3h sounded long and 42km sounded long so I figured that was a reasonable aim. Just starting out, I didn’t realise quite how difficult a task that would be, that you didn’t just run a sub 3h marathon... In the years following as I started running a bit more, I remember laughing at my 20yo self for having been so naive, for not realising that a sub 3h marathon would mean a pace that I couldn’t even dream of then. I used to plod around at 6-7 min/km – I couldn’t run 1km at 4:15 min/km so the idea of running 42 of them?! 😂

Boromir (Photo credit: Froddo Baggins I think)

I ran my first half marathon in 2010 in drum roll 2h03:31.. I didn’t even have a running watch then, let alone Strava. 😱 I got Daniel involved and he ran his first half in 2011 in 2h04:48. We didn’t do much training – the odd social run. Daniel got me a bike somewhere around the same time and we used to spend about half the year doing one ride per week and about half the year doing one run per week. My dad and brother had started taking their running a bit more seriously and joined the alumni running group from my brother’s old high school, the Old Xavs Aths Club. They said we should come but I took some convincing as I was embarrassed to be the slowest person there. Daniel decided we should run a marathon so we got serious and started doing 1-2 runs per week – 1 interval session with our first coach Ant De Castella at OXAC (who was very nice given how useless we were) and maybe one other 10km jog.

Luckily we moved to Perth early in 2014 so Daniel had to leave Friday night drinks behind in Melbourne which improved our ability to run a little more. We didn’t know anyone in Perth so joined WAMC and started doing intervals at Perry Lakes with Jon Kappler and parkrun at Claisebrook Cove. We flew back over to Melbourne to run our first marathon in 2014. By that point I’d come around to the idea that a sub 4h marathon was a more sensible aim than sub 3. 3:54 for me, 4:14 for Daniel. One marathon down. 

Our coaches 💗

We joined the tri club in 2015 and started training with Charles Biddle. The half ironman became our focus but we still ran a marathon each year. While Daniel languished at over 4h, my times started coming down. My running improved a lot under Charlie – he was always barracking for me, always telling me I could do better. Charlie had so much faith in me that I could be a better runner, I believed him and learnt to work really hard in the those years. Maybe he said the same things to everyone but I liked to think I was special! From when we joined the tri club, I didn’t miss a session for years. Charlie’s enthusiasm helped me improve a lot in the first couple of years from having been almost the slowest in the club when I did my first triathlon with UWATC, Dec 2015 Club Champs. We got involved in Kate Baldwin’s strength training for triathletes PhD study which helped as well and I still keep up the strength training now. Daniel and I both had running and triathlon PBs falling left, right and centre – 2016 and 2017 were so good! Just about every event was a PB. We ran Melbourne Marathon in 2017. I got a PB of 3h11. I couldn’t believe I was starting to get in sniffing distance of my original crazy marathon goal. Daniel ran 3:38 – he’d finally gotten enough kms in the legs over the years that he stopped cramping and blowing up at 32km… and was catching back up to me. 😬 By this stage, my brother, sister, brother-in-law and father were all running marathons so there was a bit of friendly rivalry going on for who could get the family PB. My brother was comfortably out in front with a 2h58, followed by my brother-in-law with 3h09, me in 3rd with my new 3h11 and my dad followed with 3h14.

Grant took over the UWATC training for the oldies as well as the younguns a few years ago and, having learnt how to work hard from Charlie, Grant’s methodical sessions helped me learn what pace I could hold consistently. We had done our first (and only so far) Ironman in 2018 which slowed both of us down a lot – the long bike sessions made us pretty tired for running and we lost what little top end speed we had. For the first time in 2018, I didn’t get a marathon PB. 😭 Daniel on the other hand, got himself a PB in 3h30 – he was only 2 marathons behind me! Uh oh.

For the first time since we started running marathons, we weren’t able to run one in 2019. The Perth Marathon dates had changed to October and we spent the second half of the year in Europe. Being away without bikes, I set us the challenge of running every day from 1st September to 31st December. We achieved this and ran our first 100+km weeks like we’ve heard the real marathon runners do. And not only did we achieve this goal but I also achieved achilles tendinopathy and a stress fracture in my foot so it was a triple win really… #nailedit A good lesson to be a little more conservative in our builds. Unlike crippled me, Daniel was smashing out some nice times but then we moved house, he moved a washing machine and bulged a disc so a lot of 2020 was spent with both of us injured. Luckily COVID shutdowns meant nobody else could do anything fun either so that made us feel better about being injured. 😘

And then, just when we were almost ready to come back… Grant decided to give up UWATC coaching. 😱 He probably heard we were about to return and so thought he should get out. Good thinking. We heard about this Steve fellow, got the low down from club veterans. He came with a few good references. We were willing to test him out. It was great to be back at training and it was especially great that all the running sessions were within running distance of our new house. 🙌 We thought we’d sign up for coaching with Steve for Busso 70.3 in May and see how it was panning out. We enjoyed working with him and so kept up with him for the marathon. I’ve been really happy with the coaches in my time with UWATC – they’ve all worked really well for what I needed at the time. And now, having learnt how to work hard with Charlie, worked on my pacing with Grant, Steve is a really good mix of the two. If Charlie and Grant had a coach baby…. Steve has a good balance of well planned sessions and plenty of support. I really enjoy the structure and combo of Tuesdays and Thursdays. And Steve is both flexible in his approach but also willing to tell you when you can be working harder which I think is important – a coach is about more than just coming up with sessions. It’s good to take a lot of the thinking out and have some external feedback on how you’re going and what you should be doing.

2021 preparation

We’ve never specifically worked with a coach for a marathon before, we’ve usually just made up our program as we’ve gone. The main two things I’d felt were missing before our previous marathons:

  • a solid enough volume in the months beforehand (our previous marathons have been off impressively low running kms because we were always too busy riding our bikes)
  • enough hard running during our long runs (because what kind of depraved person would voluntarily make their long run so hard?! 😆 That's what coaches are for, to make you do things you should do but don't want to. 

Back when we caught up with Steve after Busso in May to plan the rest of the year, he seemed pretty confident that we could run sub 3h for the marathon. Daniel and I were less convinced but it made us feel warm and fuzzy to know that Steve thought we could do it.

Daniel and I have had a really solid year, our running has been the most consistent it has ever been. We’ve had a really nice build and gotten more running volume in the 6-12 months pre-race. Steve got us both to the marathon in great form. He also made us do some good hard race pace bits in some of our long runs, disgusting but really important – maybe even more so mentally than physically. We used these sessions to fine tune our planned paces. Daniel pulled his planned pace back a little bit as he’s had enough marathon blowups to have learnt his lesson – he wanted to make sure he wasn’t going out too hot. His aim was to come in under 3h10 and finish strong. And I planned my paces for good weather and bad weather days – good weather: have a crack at 4:10s which would win me the family marathon PB from my brother-in-law’s current 2h56:12, bad weather: 4:20s if it was windy which would still get me in under 3h05 for a pretty nice PB, and either way, hopefully come in under 3h. One thing I took away from the disgusting long runs with bonus race pace efforts was to make sure I didn’t let my pace phase me on the day and to keep on keeping on regardless. I was hoping to crack 3h but if I’d had to put money on what I’d run, I was expecting somewhere between 3h-3h05. I knew I should get a PB regardless so long as I didn’t have a tantrum and throw in the towel if things weren’t going perfectly hence the conscious decision to remain positive on the day.

The final hurdle

Three weeks before the race, the front of my right foot started hurting. This particular pain wasn’t something I’d experienced before though and it didn’t last too long. I kept running through it and then forgetting about it, thinking it was something to do with my shoes. I know it’s important to listen to our bodies but as “endurance athletes”, we can’t stop for every niggle or we’d never get anything done! Two weeks before the race, we did our last long run, a comparatively short 30km after the preceding month. My foot was a bit sore during but I gave it a bit of Jens Voigt “Shut up legs” and forgot about it. Having cooled down during the day though, by the evening I found that I couldn’t really walk too well. I hoped it would be better the day after… it wasn’t and I appreciate Phil and his crazed “OHHHH NOOOOO!!!!!!!” shouted across the pool after swimming when he saw me hobbling away. I was keeping this quiet from Steve while I worked it out and saw the physio the next day. Luckily the physio thought I should be recovered in time for the marathon so I gave Steve the news. Of course, at this point Steve told me The Town Crier Phil had already given him the low down. 🤣  I still wasn’t convinced I was going to be able to run. I barely did any kms in the two weeks before the marathon but I was hoping that the enforced extra taper was going to be good for me or at least neutral.

Oh you’re still here?

Now some of you might be thinking “Gosh this is a long and boring intro, Alex” and, while it’s quite likely you’re on the money (!), a race is about the journey – and the longer the race, the longer the journey! Especially in the case of endurance events, while things might go right or wrong on the day, for the most part, the preparation is more important and the race is largely just a reflection of how prepared (and a little bit of how lucky) you are – even more so in running compared to triathlon as there are fewer variables when you take out the ocean conditions and wind on the bike course. It’s just you out there.

The race

I’d received an email a few days before the race saying I’d been put in the Elite category. 🎉🥳 Now as good as this sounds, I’m aware that I’m an average sized fish in a small pond here in Perth but I’ll take what I can get. 🥳 🎉 Having looked at the start list, there was Jess Trengove (an actual elite runner) and then a bunch of people like me, who’d been at the pointy end in previous years.

Of course I had checked the forecast 600 times in the last month as it was increasingly refined for the morning of the race. The weather was looking almost perfect – a light northwesterly which meant a little bit of headwind from around 12km near the Causeway to the 25.8km turnaround near UWA, then a little tailwind back and maybe a little headwind in the last 1km from the Windan to the finish line. Aside from being perfectly still (which might be a bit warm for some people), the conditions couldn’t have been much better. This was refreshing after the near cyclonic winds we had the joy of experiencing at Perth Half Marathon a few months earlier. These events are really scenic running around the river but you’re so exposed, you really know about any wind.

On the morning, Daniel and I were awake nice and early. As most of you would guess though, by the time we were leaving, we were late. Daniel dropped me off at the clubhouse with our bags while he went to park and then do his warm up on the way from the car. I went out for a little warmup but I was feeling pretty nervous, and I knew from the runs in the last week that I was hitting my planned pace pretty easily without too much warmup so I cut it short… so short that I even discarded the activity on my watch, that’s how embarrassingly short it was. 😅 I ran into Steve on his bike at the start line and then we also spotted Daniel which was good as I hadn’t seen him since he’d dropped me. I was feeling nervous as it was the first time I’d really been gunning for something in a marathon. I’d usually just been going out to do my best and see where I ended up. It was definitely more nerve wracking having plans and expectations.

Daniel, Steve and I said our goodbyes and good lucks and I inserted myself in towards the front. I was tempted to run with the 3h pacers but I didn’t want to put myself too far back – I was a lot more interested in my time than in any placing but I still didn’t want to lose places from the start. I introduced myself to some of the other women with elite bibs on – you see the same names around the events in Perth so it’s nice to get to know some of the other runners. And soon enough, off we went.

Now the plan in a marathon is always to run easy for the first 32km and then bury it for the last 10km (more or less). Some people try various strategies e.g. start slow, finish faster – my overall plan is always to run the same pace throughout but largely I think about the effort I’m putting in, if you’re working hard to hold a pace in the first 10 or 20 or 30km, you’re not going to be able to hold in the last 10km. So that was my strategy: Easy – easy – easy – hard for each of the 10km blocks and then hold on for dear life from 40 to the end. I give myself some ranges to work in for the paces factoring in my best and worst case scenarios and factoring in the course and the weather so I’m not worried about exact numbers.

In the first km, I was still trying to get a handle on my nerves. I felt nervous and excited but I just tried to enjoy it – I knew I’d settle down before long, nothing like running 42km to tame a bit of overexuberance! I sat in behind a few people to keep myself in check and then looked at my watch a few hundred metres in, 4:20something – fuck too easy. I ducked around them and took another peek at my watch 3:50 – fuck too fast. I try not too look at my watch too early in a km as small changes can look like a big difference and especially in the first km while things get settled. My first km ticked over in 3:55 – definitely too fast to hold but it didn’t matter, it was only the first km. I just tried to get into a groove. Quite a few runners went past me in the next km as we all settled into our paces but I didn’t mind, I was just focussed on what I was doing and trying to keep my effort around what I felt was reasonable. I knew the first 10 or so km out to Maylands and back was the most sheltered section of the course so I wasn’t fussed that my pace was at the quicker end of my pace range. I planned to keep the same effort level out to the UWA turnaround near 26km which I knew would mean my pace would drop as I ran into the headwind. I was happy to have some seconds in the bank to assist me in not being bothered when this happened.

It had been reasonably quiet in the first 10km from a support point of view which didn’t matter so early in the marathon. It was nice to have Steve popping up here and there though. There were quite a few more people out supporting in South Perth between the Causeway and the Narrows. Anything shorter than a marathon and support isn’t so important but I always really appreciate seeing some friendly faces during a marathon – the other competitors at turnarounds, people I know from the tri club or from running around Perth and just random supporters. You’re not working hard in a cardio sense during a marathon until towards the end maybe, it’s more just a game of mental and physical strength to keep ticking your legs over so the support is a nice distraction. I really appreciate those of you who were able to get out there.

I got over the Narrows and towards the halfway mark. I had known in advance that if I was where I wanted to be, it was quite likely I was going to get a half marathon PB for the first half. I may have accidentally sped up a tiny bit in this km 😅 and I got 1:27:29 as my official half time – almost a minute (58s) quicker than my previous PB from Perth Half. 🎉

I’d done the maths in the week prior on Daniel’s and my planned paces. If we were both on target, we’d see one another under the Narrows as I headed out to UWA and Daniel came under the first time. Sure enough, there was Daniel on the opposite side of Mounts Bay. I knew I was a little ahead of schedule which meant that Daniel was a little ahead of schedule as well. He was about 1km behind me as planned. I kept it relaxed out to UWA and, as expected, appreciated the little boost from the tailwind once I turned. I enjoyed seeing Daniel and all the other runners on either side of the UWA turnaround – some more distractions. There was a big pack with the 3h pacers as usual – I hoped they wouldn’t catch me by the end. Back to the Narrows where I saw Brendo on the other side of the road. He soon hooned past me on his mountain bike and got ahead of me to get set up for this nice snap.

30km (Photo credit: Brenden Koh)

I was glad that my tendinopathy from the weeks beforehand wasn’t flaring up. I had loosened off my shoe laces to try to ensure I didn’t aggravate it while landing on it ~20000 times. Unfortunately this meant I could feel my foot sliding in my shoe – I tried not to think about the damage I knew would be occurring. That was a later problem!

I crawled up over the Narrows – 4:29 min for km 32, comfortably my slowest of the day so far. I caught Steve on the other side and let him know that I was perhaps starting to feel a little tired. Being the 32km mark, the plan was to be working hard from now and so I forgot about running with the same easy intensity and started to focus a little more on my pace. My average pace was 4:11 at this point. I knew I was still comfortably on track for sub 3 but unlikely to get my dream goal of 4:10s unless things went remarkably well from there to the finish (unlikely in a marathon!). Steve gave me a Daniel-update – he was on track for 3h06-07. 👌 Hopefully there wasn’t a blow up and he could hold it.

Back through South Perth with some nice support and Steve caught back up near the Causeway. I told him I could run 4:20s for the last 5km and still come in comfortably under – mostly I was comforting myself that even if I started to tank, so long as I didn’t give up, I should be okay. There wasn’t much of a crowd by this point so it was nice to have some company as I went back over the Causeway. I played chicken with some runners coming the other way as I overtook a pram on the narrow footpath over the river. 💁 I had neither the willingness nor the mental capacity to give way at this point! I’d been checking the km markers against my watch to make sure I knew exactly where the finish line would be – there’s nothing quite like a surprise extra few hundred metres at the end if you haven’t been paying attention! The kms on my watch were going 300m ahead of the markers by the late stages so I planned for 42.5km as the finish. Steve left me at the end of the Causeway with 4.5km to get myself home.

They were a pretty lonely last few km. There were almost no supporters out that way, just a few other walkers out on the paths. There were almost no other runners near me, maybe 1 or 2 that I could see. I was willing myself to keep on going by this point. If I hadn’t been working hard to get under 3h, I don’t know if I would have flagged a bit more. I’d kept my pace from the Narrows @33km to past the Causeway @39km from 4:10-4:20 so was happy I was still banking seconds to keep myself under 3h. There was a rude climb up to Claisebrook Cove towards the end of km 40. So rude. I struggled up it. There were a bunch of non-marathon related path users halfway up the hill that I ran through the middle of. I was hurting. My lap went signalling 40km: 4:34 for that km, my slowest so far. I went past someone from work out for a walk with her friends but didn’t have the energy to heckle her for not giving me some encouragement (don’t worry, I have since done this at work). Windan Bridge came up surprisingly quickly which was a relief but I knew it involved a decent climb to get up from the river. I felt like I was going approximately 0 km/hr getting up the climb. I’ve heard about people getting jelly legs towards the end of marathons and I felt a bit worried that I was heading that way. I had considered not finishing my last gel but at this point was definitely glad that I had. I could see the woman in 6th at the bottom of the climb up to the Windan as I ran onto the bridge. I wondered if she was going to catch me. I could see what was left of the 3h pace group (which I think might have just been the pacers) and hoped they didn’t catch me either.

Thankfully, once I was on the level surface of the Windan, my legs felt better. Down off the Windan onto the home straight and my watch buzzed for 41 km – 4:35 – those hills were definitely a struggle so late in the marathon. I checked my overall time – almost 2h52. I had 8 minutes left to run 1.5km; so long as I didn’t completely blow up, I was going to come in under 3h. I had a few guys around me at this point and discussed with (grunted at?) one or two of them that we had sub 3h in the bag so long as we kept moving.

42km (Photo credit: Tim the Ninja )

I was keeping an eye on the time. I was glad I knew I was running to 42.5km on my watch but was nevertheless relieved when I could see the finish line. I picked it up in km 42 – 4:07, my quickest since km 21. I didn’t need to sprint to break 3 but I was feeling pretty excited to be about to achieve my goal (and relieved to be almost done) and I was happy that I still had something in the tank despite having crawled up the hills towards the end. You’ll never guess but I was rather happy when I got over the line. So happy that I punched one of the guys in the back that I’d finished near in my attempt to congratulate him on finishing. Oops. Gotta earn your sub 3h I suppose… I stayed in 5th place but most importantly, I came in under 3h. 😊

I did some good resting on the fence while Nick Shrewsbury did some chatting away next to me. The WAMC run coach Jon Kappler who we used to train with generally commentates these events and I often have a chat to him while I wait for Daniel to come over the line so he was ready with all the stats to announce over the microphone once Daniel was in the finish area. I saw Daniel coming and ran up to congratulate him once he was over the line – 3h07:44!! – only to get in trouble from the ladies handing out medals for having put myself in an illegal location, potentially getting in the photographer’s way. I got out of there before I got myself DQed for upsetting the old ducks. And Jon let everyone know over the PA about Daniel’s impressive 22 minute PB. 🤩  

The Finish (Photo credit: Daniel and his go-go-gadget arm)

We hobbled off to get ourselves some massages and off to the pub with some of the others from the tri club. It was good to catch up and get a debrief, hear everyone’s stories of the day. Well done to Duncan, Murray, Gabby, Gianni, everyone else I knew out there and especially Daniel!

All in all it was an excellent event. I’ve run around the river in Perth a million times (give or take) so I was happy to know the course pretty well but it was also really well marshalled – I don’t think there was anywhere someone could have gone the wrong way.


The race report itself and The Long and Boring Intro are similar in length which is appropriate given a marathon and 5-10 years of prep feel like they take a fairly similar length of time but also, you get fairly delirious by the end of a marathon so it gets pretty hard to remember too many details.

That was marathon number 8 for us if you include the marathon at the end of the Ironman. It’s really nice to see how much we’ve both improved over the years. I’ve taken 55 minutes off my first marathon time and Daniel has taken 66 off his.

Hopefully I won’t be a one hit wonder and will be able to run another sub 3h in the future. Daniel is less than 1 marathon behind me now as he beat my old PB 😬 and he tells me he will run a sub 3h next time so I’ll have to keep getting quicker or I will get caught! Shame I didn’t get to hold the family PB for a couple of months before my brother puts it out of reach at Melbourne Marathon in December but oh well, a sub 3h will stay with me forever!! 😊

So I said a race is about the journey right? Do you know what else is a journey? Writing (and/or reading) a race report – this took significantly longer than the damn race! If anyone has made it this far, well done, you deserve a finisher’s medal and a massage.