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A marathon starts the day you decide you’re going to do that marathon. The preparation, how you are going to get to the starting line in the best shape you can be in; you need to put a lot into that. You’ve got to tune your body both physically and mentally to able to run the marathon.
You need to choose marathons that suit you best. You need the most depth of guys who are going to run about the same time as you do. Those guys can drag you through a bit quicker: they give you competition, or let you settle into their pace. And there’s draughting too. For me, I need races overseas, like the Berlin Marathon and the Chicago Marathon, where you’ve got the depth of international runners.
It’s quite co-operative in major races. You take it in turns to lead the way, and there’s quite a bit of sportsmanship. But when it gets to a championship, it’s a different story. When I raced in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, there were quite a few fast surges by the Kenyans and Africans, just to fatigue each other. So I went and ran with the other Australian, Michael Shelley, who ended up winning. Those tactics backfired.
The morning of the race, everything is going through your mind. You get nerves, you panic, you get excited. You’re getting a million feelings. Brazil was my first Olympics, and it was quite nerve-racking. You’ve just got to somehow bottle those emotions, and use all that nervous energy in a positive way.
You’ve got to stay relaxed and comfortable for the first half of the race. If you’re hurting before halfway, then you’re in trouble, because 42 kilometres is a long way. I try to keep an even pace the whole way. Even splits. But at the Olympics, I thought if I was hitting my times, I could try to bring it home stronger.
For some reason, some days are just easier. You get the flow effect. You’re in the zone. When you see you are doing a good time, you gain more confidence. But if see your time slipping, it’s really draining. You start getting those negative thoughts. That’s the challenging times.
Around the 30-kilometre mark, your body starts shutting down. You get heavy legs. Your knee lift starts to drop. Your stride starts to drop. You start getting a bit fatigued in the major muscle groups like quads and hamstrings. You start getting those doubts in your head. Everything starts falling apart then. It is quite a mental battle to tell your body you can keep pushing through that.
At the Olympics, I felt like I was gliding for the first 30 k’s. I had this surge of energy. But then I went and grabbed a drink and went from flying past people to running the exact same time as them. I knew I was in trouble, ’cause I’d be trying to aim for the guy in front, but they just kept getting further ahead of me.
Towards the end, you’re just trying to keep those legs going. You’ve just got to push through the pain and try to get to that finish line in one piece. You’ve just got to keep on encouraging yourself that everything is going well. Concentrate on technique. If you keep on running, maybe you might run a personal best.
The last two k’s of a marathon are the most brutal you’ll experience in any type of racing. Everything is malfunctioning. Mind, body, everything. You’re trying to hold on for dear life. But you’re also trying to put into your mind that you’ve only got two kilometres left. It’s only six or seven minutes left.
The crowd cheering you on pushes you towards the line. All the noise, that buzz, it helps. They know how tough it is to run a marathon, so they really get behind you. And that really gets you going too.
There’s a million things that you feel when you cross the line. Elation, relief. You get the runner’s high. It’s an achievement, and you’re proud. It’s definitely rewarding. And you do also feel the exhaustion.
After you cross the line, it’s about reward and recovery. Chocolate. Massages. And big sleep-ins. That’s probably my favourite reward. Because juggling work and running, there were periods during my Olympics preparation where I was only getting five hours sleep per night. You get a few weeks of sleeps-in. And then you start to think about racing again.
• Beach volleyball: Volleyfest
Until March 26, North Steyne, Manly Beach, Sydney
• Weightlifting: Australian International/Open
Until Sunday, Eleiko Weightlifting Stadium, Hawthorn, Melbourne
• Horseracing: Golden Slipper Day
Saturday, 1st race 12.15pm (AEDT), Rosehill Gardens, Sydney
• Netball: Firebirds v Vixens; Lightning v Magpies
Saturday, 6pm and 7.45pm (AEST), Brisbane Entertainment Centre
• AFL: Carlton v Richmond
Thursday, 7.20pm (AEDT), Melbourne Cricket Ground
• Soccer: FIFA World Cup Qualification – Australia v Iraq
Thursday, 11pm (AEDT), Shahid Dastgerdi Stadium, Tehran, Iran
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 18, 2017 as "Marathon man".
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