Sunday, 20 October 2013

Melbourne Marathon 2013 Race Review

Waiting for the start gun
Waiting for the start of the Melbourne Marathon.

On Sunday the 13th I ran in the Melbourne Marathon with about 8000 other runners and had one rollercoaster of a ride that ended on a massive high. Crossing the finish line on the hallowed turf of the MCG with my family watching in the stands was one of the greatest feelings of my life. It was a lot more emotional than what I expected it to be and I'm not ashamed to admit that I came close to shedding a tear as I stared into the stands and realised where I was and what I had achieved.

I was under no illusion that it would be difficult and boy was it difficult! I had to walk the majority of the last 16km after getting a thigh strain and a stiff left knee and when the rain came down it would have been easy to call it quits and jump onto a tram back home.


The course took roughly the same path it has taken since 2007 when it first finished at the MCG. Starting just outside Rod Laver Arena on Batman Avenue, it included a lap of Albert Park Lake, almost 15km up and down the bay between Port Melbourne and Brighton, and, of course, St Kilda Road. The course passed famous Melbourne landmarks like Federation Square, Flinders Street station, the Arts Centre and the Shrine of Remembrance.

Melbourne Marathon 2013 Course Map
The course map for the 2013 Melbourne Marathon


Any large running event in Melbourne means an early start and with a large part of central and inner Melbourne shutdown for the marathon, a 7am start was a given. For me that meant a 5.15am wake up.

My race day kit for the Melbourne Marathon
My race day kit.

I had my kit ready to go so after a quick breakfast, dunny and shower I was out the door by 6am. It was warm enough that I didn't bring any extra clothing to keep me warm before the race started. The forecast was for showers later in the day and a top of 17C, but the skies certainly looked good in the morning. With the cooler weather and light winds, it looked like perfect race conditions.

There's no public transport available that early on a Sunday, so it was a good thing that parking was free at Yarra Park right by the MCG. From there it was less than a 10 minute walk to the start line in Batman Avenue. All you had to do was follow the crowds crossing the footbridge to Batman Avenue.

Just down the road from the start line, I saw two of the 4:30 pacemakers helping a fellow pacemaker get ready. They would be easy to spot with the little Aussie flag and the bright race bib with target time on it. For some reason this particular pacemaker had a camera crew photographing while she was getting ready.

One of the pacemakers getting ready
One of the pacemakers getting ready prerace, with her own camera crew!

I walked past the timing car which would drive in front of the lead runner to show the race clock. I've done a few races now and I'd never seen a timing car before. This was a serious event!

The Melbourne Marathon timing car
The Melbourne Marathon race timing car.

With about 10 minutes to go I was at the start line. There was a huge queue of runners waiting for the start and I had to walk a couple of hundred metres before I could find an opening in the barrier fencing them in. That put me past this marker indicating where to start from for 4:30 runners.

Starting waves
I ended up starting well back from this sign.

The race announcers were a little bit too pumped up for 7am on a Sunday morning but they did an amazing job of geeing up the field. "You WILL achieve your goal this morning. You will achieve your goal!"

Ready to go
There was a lot of runners in front of me at the start!

This year was a record field for the marathon with over 8000 people signing up and a record number finishing. Endurance running has certainly been getting more and more popular in recent years!

Looking around me at the other runners I was really surprised to see so many people who were either overweight or who were not particularly athletic looking. Most of those people would end up finishing the marathon. Just goes to show that anyone can do it with the right amount of training!

Approaching the start line
Approaching the start line.

For a spot of added inspiration, Advance Australia Fair was played. Then the announcer did a 10 second countdown for the start before the starting pistol was fired. We were off. Well, actually the people at the front were off...I had to wait at least a few more minutes before my section of the field passed the start line.

Almost there
Almost there.
About to start
About to start.


My goal for this event was to finish and to enjoy myself as much as possible. I was hopeful of going sub 4 hours but I knew there was a very good chance that I wouldn't last the distance thanks to my lack of conditioning.

The enjoyment kicked in from the race start. The energy of the other runners was awesome, the conditions were fantastic and the volunteers were absolutely amazing. Plus my body felt really good.

Heading up Batman Avenue towards the city
Heading up Batman Avenue towards the city.
Heading up Batman Avenue towards the city
A sea of runners takes over Batman Avenue.
Looking out across to Southbank from Batman Avenue
Looking out across to Federation Square from Batman Avenue.

I was using Runtastic to track my run on my phone and I also planned to use my phone to take as many photos as I could during the run. I went a little photo crazy at the beginning, which is probably why my phone's battery went flat just a couple of kilometres from the finish. But now I can share all these photos with you!

Running down Flinders Street towards the famous station was pretty amazing. You get a remarkable appreciation for how wide some of Melbourne's streets are when you're running on them and they're completely closed to traffic!

Running down Flinders Street towards the iconic Flinders Street Station
Running down Flinders Street towards the iconic Flinders Street Station.
Turning into Swanston Street in front of Flinders Street Station
Turning into Swanston Street in front of Flinders Street Station.

Just before the station I spotted one guy who was running barefoot. I wonder what his feet would have looked like at the finish!

We turned onto Swanston Street and headed past the Arts Centre, continuing down St Kilda Road. I think all of St Kilda Road was closed at this point. As you can see from this photo, at the beginning, the runners were spread the whole way across the whole road.

Running in front of the Arts Centre
Running in front of the Arts Centre.

In terms of the number of drinks stations, this was definitely one of the better events I've run in. The organisers had stations roughly every 4km on the course and there were plenty of porta loos as well. That didn't stop loads of guys ducking off into the gardens at the front of the St Kilda Road office blocks to relieve themselves!

Besides the constant sound of running feet, one of the stranger sounds you get at these big running events occurs at the drink stations as plastic cups are unceremoniously dumped to the ground and crushed underfoot by the runners that follow. It really is an odd sound and leaves a bloody big mess!

The drinks stations were a messy place to be
The drinks stations were a messy place to be.

There was the usual assortment of people wearing strange and wonderful costumes while running, including this pair of superheroes. I hope they made it to the finish before the rain came!

There was loads of superheroes on the course
There was loads of superheroes on the course.

The run along Albert Park Lake was magnificent. The Sun was breaking through and the setting was picture perfect.

Runners snake their way down Lakeside Drive
Runners snake their way down Lakeside Drive, Albert Park.

Along Lakeside Drive I came across this guy who was running in thongs, the flip flop variety! I had a brief chat with him and he was actually running in thongs for the second successive year! You would think that doing it once was enough! I watched his running action and he was actually maintaining good running form but I had to wince at the thought of the constant rubbing of the toe strap between his toes. Crazy!

Running in thongs
Running a marathon in thongs, because running one in shoes isn't hard enough!

I had my first energy gel at the drink station at the bottom end of Albert Park Lake, about 8km into the run. I was on a four gel strategy, spread roughly 9km apart. That's what I normally use in training. Because I wasn't concerned about time, I stopped at the station, grabbed a water and took my time tucking into the gel.

I was keeping my gels in the pouch I normally keep my phone in. With all the photos I was taking, I decided to just hold my phone in my hand in case some random photo opportunity came up.

At the 10km point I was still feeling pretty good. I was starting to entertain thoughts of actually finishing this marathon. Even with all the stoppages early on to take photos I was making good pace.

Just outside MSAC, I came across Frank Biviano, one of the legends of the Melbourne Marathon, a Spartan who has completed all 35 previous Melbourne Marathons. Anyone who has completed more than 10 Melbourne Marathons can join the Spartans club and they are allocated their own number which they then must wear at every subsequent Melbourne Marathon.

One the Spartan Legends who has run all 35 Melbourne Marathons
One the Spartan Legends who has run all 35 Melbourne Marathons.

There are 10 'Legends' who have completed every Melbourne Marathon ever run. They were wearing a singlet like Frank's on race day. They are treated like royalty within the Melbourne running fraternity and there were people constantly coming up to Frank to have a chat and even to get a photo taken with him.

It was absolutely inspiring! After meeting Frank I was determined to finish this thing.

The course continued north running between pit lane of the Grand Prix circuit and the lake. Then we had to do a little double take along the main straight before leaving Albert Park the way we had come in, via Lakeside Drive.

With the help of gravity, I quickly made it down Fitzroy Street to Beaconsfield Parade. The next 15km of the course were all on Beaconsfield Parade/Marine Parade.

I passed one of the 4 hour pacemakers shortly after that. The pacemakers are very popular runners! They always have a group of runners sticking to them and some of the groups were quite loud and social. I found the pace a little slow running with the 4 hour marker and so quickly pushed on ahead.

The 4 hour pacemaker
The 4 hour pacemaker.

The first turning point on Beaconsfield Parade was at Port Melbourne right near Station Pier. Fifty years ago, this was where most European migrants, including my parents, first set foot in Melbourne after the long journey by boat from Europe. These days the area is full of apartments and travellers coming off the ferry from Tasmania.

The turnaround point near Station Pier in Port Melbourne
The turnaround point near Station Pier in Port Melbourne with one of the Tasmanian ferries in the background.

Another energy gel and quick break for water beckoned. As usual it was pretty chaotic at the drink station!

The Beaconsfield Parade drinks station
The Beaconsfield Parade drinks station.

The 20km mark soon arrived and not long after that I was past the halfway point. Unfortunately though, I was starting to struggle.

The 20km mark on Beaconsfield Parade
The 20km mark on Beaconsfield Parade.

It was at about the 15km mark that I first noticed some pain in the area of my left hip flexor. It started off quite bearable and I stopped a few times to try and stretch it out. By the 20km mark the pain had spread to my upper thigh and it was affecting my running technique. My theory is that to avoid using the hip flexor, I had started straightening out my left leg which then caused me to heel strike and which affected my ITB.

Running down Marine Parade in St Kilda
Running down Marine Parade in St Kilda.

After taking a toilet break at around 23km my ITB had become so inflammed that it was causing pain on the outside of my left knee. My race went downhill from here.

Even with all the stops for photos and chats with other runners, it had taken me just 2 hours and 2 minutes to complete the first 22km of the marathon. If I managed to continue at that pace, it would have put me under 4 hours at the finish. Instead, it would take almost 3 hours to complete the remaining 18km.

For the next 5km I would run 200m and then walk 200m. It was a real struggle. I started seeing runners pass me that I had previously passed. It was particularly disheartening when I saw the 4 hour marker pass me.

Up until then, if I saw someone who was walking or struggling, I would pat them on the back and offer them some encouraging words. Now I was the one who needed that encouragement and thankfully the spectators and the awesome event volunteers tried to give it to me. "Cmon mate you can do it. Keep going!"

I was hoping that my ITB would somehow loosen up and eventually I could start running again but instead with every attempt at running it got more and more painful.

Running through Barkly Street intersection in Elwood
Running through Barkly Street intersection in Elwood.

At around 30km, with the climb up Fitzroy Street looming, I gave up on running and decided to just walk the remainder of the course. It was too painful to run and I was worried about causing serious damage if I kept trying.

However I was determined to walk as fast as I could and avoid going over 5 hours. I kept doing the calculations in my head and I was sure I could make it to the MCG in time. I needed to be walking at around 8 minutes per kilometre and I would be ok. That became my new focus.

As I was passed by more and more runners and as I slipped further back in finishing time you could clearly see a change in the types of runners I was surrounded by. At 22km when I was still on track for sub 4 hours, the runners around me were all fairly lean and very fit looking. By the time I made it back onto St Kilda Road, the field looked a lot more overweight and generally older. But all these people were still running, albeit slowly, while I was now walking. Most of them would beat me to the finish line.

On St Kilda Road, with the clouds looking dark and ominous, it also became clear that I would have other problems.

At the beginning of St Kilda Road with impending rain approaching
At the beginning of St Kilda Road with impending rain approaching.

The clouds had been steadily getting darker from about the time I had made it onto Beaconsfield Parade. Now the heavens opened up and within a few minutes it was raining quite heavily. I tried to stick to the line of the road that would maximise shelter from the trees but it didn't make too much difference. Before too long I was drenched.

The temperature had dropped as well so it really was becoming quite uncomfortable. The trams were now running up and down St Kilda Road and there was certainly the temptation to pack it in and hop on a tram back to the city. To avoid thinking about that option I just stared straight ahead and kept doing the calculations in my head.

The volunteers manning the drink stations did an incredible job of keeping the runners going in these trying circumstances. Even with the rain coming down, they were still working. They kept on handing out drinks and yelling out encouragement to the passing runners.

Slowly but surely I kept knocking off the kilometres. I reached the Arts Centre and followed the course under St Kilda Road on City Road. We had to complete the long steady climbing section of the Tan Track which passes the Shrine of Remembrance. Luckily the rain had given way to drizzle by the time I passed the Shrine but my legs were really struggling to even walk up this section of the course. The last few hundred metres before coming onto Domain Road were particularly steep and difficult.

From there we had to go back onto St Kilda Road and past Federation Square onto Flinders Street. There was less than two kilometres to go and then my phone's battery died. Luckily the Runtastic session up until that point was saved but it meant I couldn't take any photos as I entered the MCG.

In my excitement to get to the MCG I tried to run but my legs were too sore. I decided to save them for the lap inside the ground.

The spectators waiting at the finish inside the MCG
The spectators waiting at the finish inside the MCG.

I was genuinely surprised by the emotion that going into the MCG brought out in me. You enter via a ramp from Brunton Avenue and the first thing you do is stare out into those enormous stands and then it starts to hit you. The realisation that I was about to finish my first marathon sunk in and I honestly had to fight back the tears. It had been such a long and difficult day and I had put in so much training in the lead up. I was tired, cold and wet and my legs ached. It all made for an emotionally draining day.

I summoned as much strength as I could and started running. I forgot about the pain in my knee and thigh and soaked in the atmosphere around me. Here I was running inside the MCG to finish my first ever marathon. It was an incredible feeling and it was such a high that it made the previous 5 hours more than worth it.

A matted path had been laid out for the runners to follow so as not to ruin the grass and as I came to the section of stands where the spectators were watching for friends and family to finish I started looking out for my family. Suddenly I could hear my name been called out. It was my wife! I spotted her in the stands, jumping up and down and waving her hands with my stepson in the stands. I waved back and jumped up and down a few times in joy. I wanted to run over but I had noticed that the race clock was close to 5 hours already. I needed to finish first and then I would come back.

Giving the thumbs up to my family at the finish inside the MCG
Giving the thumbs up to my family at the finish inside the MCG.
Running to the finish inside the MCG
Running to the finish inside the MCG.

So I kept running and when I finally made it over the line I punched the air in triumph. I had done it! I congratulated the nearest few finishers to me. We were all marathoners!

The finish line at the MCG
The finish line at the MCG.

I followed the other finishers down a ramp below the stands. My legs were now so stiff that it was a real effort to be able to walk down. I saw one girl who had to walk assisted because her legs had stiffened up too much.

I was given a finishers medal and then went straight off to get some water and bananas. Now I wanted to find my family. I went to go back out the ramp I had just come down and now my knees were so stiff that I had to walk sideways in order to get up.

Outside the MCG after the Melbourne Marathon
The Don and I outside the MCG.

My wife and stepson were waiting outside where I got this photo in front of the Don Bradman statue.

I did some stretches but my legs were really stiffening up and my knee was killing. My original plan was to go to the pub but that changed to going back home and icing up my legs. Getting in the car, my legs cramped several times and when I got home I noticed I had four black toe nails and a few big blisters.

The Don and I outside the MCG
Outside the MCG after the Melbourne Marathon.
Leaving the MCG with my marathon finishers medal
Leaving the MCG with my marathon finishers medal. I am a marathoner!

It took most of the following week to recover. In fact today was the first time I went running since. I did squeeze in a couple of bike rides, including Ride to Work day but I think my legs are much the better for the rest from running.

My finishers medal and race number
My finishers medal and race number.

My official time turned out to be 4:55:54. I was more than happy with that. It certainly means that it will be easy to improve on my time next year. Next year you say? Yes. Definitely I will be back next year. Despite the pain I really enjoyed the Melbourne Marathon. It was such a brilliant day and I loved feeling the energy and enthusiasm of my fellow runners and of the spectators and volunteers. Plus the feeling of finishing it is such an incredible high that I want to experience that again.

So I will be back again next year and I will make sure I'm strong enough and conditioned enough to run the whole thing. Haha I know it's a year away now but I will smash 3:40:00! That's my next aim! Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed my story and see you at the next race.


  1. Well done! This was my first marathon too. Looking at your photos (nope I couldn't find myself) I can see that I was behind you up until about the 28km-30km mark. Glad you finished, that ramp down killed me too. See you next year :-)

    1. Thanks Kate! Congratulations on finishing your first marathon!

  2. Great read. Now even more looking forward to attempting my first Melbourne Marathon later this year!

    1. Thanks Cameron! It's a great event. I'm aiming for my third this year. Hopefully this time I can run the entire distance without stopping. It seems to always be around the 25k mark that the body starts falling apart! Good luck with your training and hopefully you have an awesome run.