I was excited to be running the Gold Coast Marathon this year as the 3:45 pacer again. Last year I was 2 seconds off, crossing at 3:44:58, and this year I was determined to nail it!
Rich and I flew into the Gold Coast just before 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and jumped in a cab headed straight for the expo. We picked up our race numbers, even though Rich had decided to pull out of the Marathon due to injury. I headed to the pacing booth for about an hour to help give advice to other runners who wanted to run with the pacers, while Rich headed to Jupiter’s, where we were staying, to check in. At 5pm, when the race expo closed, I headed to over to join him.
We headed straight downstairs to the bar. We had a couple of drinks, and played some roulette and blackjack. Then we decided to take a walk and find something for dinner. The first place that we found that looked alright that wasn’t too busy was Mexican, so we decided to eat there.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. I went up to the room to start getting ready for the next day, while Rich went down to the casino to ‘cash in his chips’, a task which took him 2 hours.
Race day morning was chaotic, as we had to check out before the race. We packed up all our stuff, and headed down to the tram stop in front of the Convention centre to catch a ride to the start line. We arrived just as the half marathon was starting, at 6am. It would be over before the marathon started at 7:20.
I headed to the pacing tent to drop off my bags and pick up my balloons. (This year they were pink!) I checked my phone, and saw a message from Shayne Falkenmire, who had lost her race bib the day before, and hadn’t been able to get another one. We set off to try and find her, and give her Rich’s race bib – she could fix up the details after the race. I was pretty easy to find in the crowd, given the fact I was wearing bright pink helium balloons!
Soon it was time to head to the start chute. As the 3:45 pacer, I would be starting from the middle of the ‘B’ Corral. I headed there, where I found my other pacer, and a bunch of other keen runners ready to take on the challenge, and hopefully run 3:45. I was the gun pacer, aiming to cross the finish line when the finish clock, or ‘gun time’ read 3:45:00. The other pacer’s job was to run a net time (time from start line to finish line) of 3:45:00… So if it took us 2 minutes to cross the start line after the starting gun was fired, we should be 2 minutes apart by the time we got to the finish line.
One of the keen runners to find me in the starting chute was Shelby Read, who was running her second marathon. Another was Karen, who was also running her second marathon. Both were hopeful of running 3:45:00
I chatted to the runners around me, and barely heard the starting gun go off. I started my watch, and we started to shuffle towards the start line. It took us about a minute and a half to get there, so in order to run gun time of 3:45, I had to make up that lost minute and a half. The plan was to do this gradually, over the first 15-20km. The first couple of kilometres were so crowded, I had no idea how fast I was running. I just tried to go along with the crowd, and find some clear road. It didn’t really happen.
I had no idea if I had a group around me or not, as the road was so crowded. Karen was next to me, but I had lost Shelby already.
We ran past Cavill Avenue, and past Richard, who was cheering from the sidelines with the Roberts’s. The drink stations were far too crowded to drink from at this stage, and I cursed myself for forgetting a pop top. It was getting warm already, and it was only 8am.
I was talking to the runners around me, letting them know the pacing strategy. As we approached the first turnaround, the leaders flew by in the opposite direction, making it look too easy. I was trying to keep an eye out for other runners I might know, but it was hard from the middle of the crowd! I saw a few flyers singlets, and the balloons of the 3 hour pacers, but not much else.
As we made it to the turnaround, I started to look out for my other pacer. He was a little further back in the crowd than I had expected, and the crowd was still thick. It was another 5km before we ran through the halfway mark, I saw the clock, and was able to calculate from the pace band on my wrist that we were on time! We had made up the time we had lost, and could slow our pace a little bit (about 5-10 seconds per kilometre).
By now it had thinned out enough that I could see we had a little group happening. I was happy to talk and ask questions. Some were happy to chat back, while others were happy to sit on the train in silence. I tried to slow down as we ran through the drink stations, trying not to lose anyone.
As we approached the start/finish area, I found myself running with the 3 hour pacer. (The second 3 hour pacer…. the first one was Steve Moneghetti). The 3 hour pacer is the hardest to find in a marathon. Ideally, a pacer should be comfortable running 20-30 minutes faster than the group they are pacing. Most people capable of pacing 3 hours don’t want the job. So he had been roped in, even though his PB for the marathon was 3:03. His plan was to run 3:00 pace (around 4:15 per kilometre) until the 30km mark, and then drop off. Unfortunately he had faded, and dropped off a couple of kilometres early. We chatted until we approached the start/finish area, where he headed off.
By now, I had to be really mindful of not running too fast. We were about 40 seconds ahead of schedule, which is a good strategy for a pacer, as a lot of runners will fade in the last 10km. I had anticipated it. 2 of the runners who has been with me since almost the start, Karen and Amanda, were just ahead of me and looking strong. I called out to them that I was letting them go, because If I tried to keep pace with them I would end up too far ahead of time.
A few kilometres later, I had caught up to Amanda again. I also found another lady in the crowd, who mentioned she had tried to run with me the previous year, but had faded in the end. I said she was looking strong this year! She mentioned that she had started back in the crowd with the 4 hour pacer, which meant on net time she was probably another 30 seconds in front, and was currently on track to run around 3:42 or 3:43. She was in good spirits and running strong too, so I was sure she would make it.
I saw the 3:30 pacer run past in the other direction, headed for the finish line. Moments later, I saw Helen and Neil, still running together. If Helen could stay there with the A pacer, she would finish with a net time of under 3:30, which had been her goal here for 3 years (The past 2 years she has finished with a time of 3:31). She was looking strong and I shouted out encouragement as she passed.
The final turnaround seemed to take forever to approach. I finally made it there, and turned for home. My other pacer was just behind me. He seemed to have a group, so I hope he had picked up a few of the runners that I had lost. By now I didn’t really have a group left, So I walked through the water stations, hoping to pick up some more runners and carry them home. At the 40km mark I got a few, but as soon as we caught sight of the finishing chute, they all took off with everything they had left.
I high-fived all of the kids along the way, trying to eat up a few seconds, as I was still a little ahead of schedule. I cold see the clock above the finish line…
So I slowed down to a walk for the last few steps, as other runners passed me, and stopped a foot short of the mat, waiting for the clock to tick over to 3:45:00 so I could jump across, on time, to the second.
Once across the line, many runners stopped to thank me. I found Karen, who had faded in the last couple of km, and finished with 3:46.
I saw Helen come out of the first aid tent (Not again!) and she said that Neil was in there. Apparently, they had run 42.1km together. But then, in the chute, within sight of the finish line, gunning for it, and both so focused on that line that they had been working towards for the last three and a half hours, Neil had fallen over or collapsed in front of his family, and the Runlab tent. With Helen unaware (and finished in a time of 3:28) Vlad, their coach, in the space of a few minutes, has jumped the fence, and helped put Neil in a wheelchair.
Vlad wheeled him to near the line, and then helped him up out of the chair, and across the line, before going back for the chair.
It is very rare to find a runner (or any athlete) who can push themselves so close to breaking point and time it almost perfectly. Neil ran to 100% of his ability on that day, and nothing was left out on the course. Well done on a great run Neil, I look forward to seeing you out there again soon. There are no questions about if you cold have gone any harder on that day, only just how hard you can go next time. You are one tough athlete, rare and truly inspirational.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of pacing this year, and hope I get the opportunity to do it again next year. Well done to everyone who ran, there are too many fantastic results to single out any individually, but I was very impressed at how well everyone performed, at all levels. You had to break the previous race record just to make it onto the podium in the men’s race!
The celebrations carried on into the night at the House of Brews and we stayed waaaay longer than we should have…
All I can say is that my fastest kilometre of the day was definitely run to board the plane at the last minute, and the $200 cab ride to Brisbane Airport because we missed our bus was totally worth it!