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Running Update – I’m a Marathoner

The Short Version

My last blog about running was in July and I was about to toe the line at the Gold Coast Marathon. My first ever marathon. I finished in 5:11:48. Not the sub-4:30 I was hoping for but after suffering severe cramps I was just happy to finish.

My final goal was to run a sub-80 minute City2Surf. And I smashed it. Finishing in a time of 1:17:50.

The Long Version

In January I tweeted out this:

2022 Goals

In My Marathon Journey I wrote about my journey up to the start of the Gold Coast Marathon. So I won’t go over too much of that. If you don’t know where I’ve come from it was quite a trip. I was basically weighing 140kg, felt like crap and had to make a change. Through a more balanced diet and regular exercise I dropped a few kilos and increased my fitness. I finished the Hawks Nest Triathlon with cramps, but I did finish. And I ran a strong first Half Marathon.

Gold Coast Marathon

I was aiming for a 4:25 marathon. I had a really good plan. The course is basically flat which made planning my pacing strategy easy. All I had to do was run 42 x 6:13 kms and I’d have my time. That all sounds too simple right? But it kinda checks out. Just get on the road, get into a groove, switch your brain off and cruise. And through 22km I did exactly that.

Gold Coast Marathon Start

We tacked on a family holiday to my marathon race and that included Ben and Thomas running the kids 2km fun run on the Saturday. Gold Coast Marathon is a full weekend affair. A lot of marathon festivals will run all their races on the Sunday. But Gold Coast use both days. On the Saturday they run the Half Marathon as well as the 2km and 4km Junior Dash and the 5km Fun Run. On Sunday is the Marathon and 10km running and wheelchair events. Our hotel was on the course at the 9km and 22km marks. Which I meant I was able to say hi to the family as I ran past. Getting in a couple of high fives along the way.

I was doing it really well through that second high five. The first four 5km splits were 31:26, 31:40, 31:25, 31:35. And through 21.1km I had run a half marathon time of 2:13:13 about 4 minutes faster than my SMH Half Marathon time. And right on 6:19 kms. Do it again and I’d have a 4:26 marathon. Simple.

Then it all fell apart. Pretty much straight after 22km I started feeling cramps in my thighs. I thought I might have been overcooking the run so I slowed down a little trying to get the muscles to loosen up a bit. Fixx Nutrition were the event sponsors and they have a product called CrampFix. I bought a sachet at the event expo as I had I experienced cramps before. Now was the time to test it out. It’s a horrid tasting thing. Basically a super salty, sour sachet of liquid. Kinda like pickle juice on steroids. They say the idea is to frazzle the pain receptors and reset them which will make your muscles fire correctly. They also have a really high salt content. It helped for a few km before the cramps came back. The only remedy was to slow right down. I started to walk/jog. Walking for 500m or so until the legs had recovered and then jogging at a relaxed pace until the pain got unbearable and I had to walk again. I pretty much did this dance for the next 15km of the race. Shout out to the bloke who thought an icy cold can of coke was exactly what I needed. I thanked him graciously as anything to help the legs was welcome. Around the next corner I was hunched over hurling the brown mess all over the nature strip.

In the hurt locker but putting on a brave face

The local running club had set up a hydration tent with about 7 and 3km to go on a section of out and back road. Shout out to the runner in front of me who took two cups of energy drink right before I had a chance to quech my thirst. I kept plodding along through those last 5km. By this stage I was in a group of people all in the same world of hurt I was. Everyone walk/jogging at their own pace. There was this one older lady who kept overtaking me on my walk section only for me to jog past her while she was walking. She’d gone a fair way past me with about 1km to go. Then we got back towards the race precinct and I started running. The crowd was overwhelming with support. Any marathon runner in that 5 hour group is in a world of hurt. But that crowd was so uplifting. I didn’t stop running that last km. I couldn’t. The wave of emotion of knowing I was about to finish one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Knowing the hard work had paid off and I was in the last lap. Whatever pain I endured now I could deal with after the finish line. Coming into the finishing chute I was waving my arms around like I was about to win the thing. In a sense I was winning my own battle. and as I crossed the line I clapped my hands knowing I’d done it. It was one of the proudest moments I’d ever felt.

Afterwards I caught up with Matt, another 2 Zoner, for a celebratory beer. I was at the finish line on Saturday to cheer him home in the Half Marathon and he’d delayed his departure for home to return the favour. The 2 Zoners are a great bunch of blokes who just like to run and support each other. Thanks Matty for sticking around. And the rest of you blokes for the support, footy chat and laughs.

City2Surf

I took a week off after the marathon before getting back into training for the City2Surf. I’d completed a few C2S in the past. I’m not sure exactly how many but it’s about 4. I’d never really trained for it. When I was in my 20s I did one but struggled to run it out suffering severe chafing. I pretty much walked the last 6km. Most recently I did a virtual City2Surf around my local area in 2021. I ran a 1:30:27 almost breaking my goal of 90 minutes. This year my goal was to break the 80 minute barrier. I kept the Zone 2 jogging up and threw in some quality speed sessions. Sprints up my local gentle hill were tough but very beneficial. I also love 1km repeats. Feels great to pump out 4 or 5 1km laps in quick time. All the hard work felt like it had paid off when I ran a 1:21 around the same virtual course a week out from the City2Surf. And I was tired from work that day. I felt confident that running fresh on a Sunday morning would be enough to get me over the line under 80 minutes.

I caught the train in and arrived very early so I could make bag drop before the trucks took off from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach. I was one of the first people hanging around in the park and it was nice just to sit there and relax watching the runners arrive in the park. There were serious runners and other running groups going through warm ups. Others were just catching up with mates. I even saw a couple of mates Ben and Josh and wished them well. Josh is elite for our age and he was hoping for some ridiculous time. I checked later and he smashed it. Ben was starting in the group behind me but is a faster runner than me so I told him to say g’day on his way past as he overtakes me.

The run went as well as I could have hoped. I’d forgotten just how hilly the first few kilometres are. The climb to Kings Cross and the old Coke sign is relatively gentle. But then through Edgecliff and Double Bay there’s some challenging little climbs before the big climb of the day Heartbreak Hill which takes you on a slightly winding climb from Rose Bay to Vaucluse. I monitored my effort up the climbs. Maintaining a steady pace without burning out too hard. And on the downhills I let gravity take over. I didn’t slow byself down much on each step, rather letting my legs go underneath me and picking up speed with each step. I overtook a lot of people on those descents. By the time I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill I had completed 7.8km of the course in a time of 43:55 for a pace of 5:38. Average goal pace for 80 minutes over 14km is 5:43/km. I was already in front of my goal pace and there was pretty much no more climbing and a hell of a lot of descending. At the top of Heartbreak I knew I was going under 80 minutes. All I had to do was not blow up over the next few kms before the long descent from North Bondi down to the beach. I cruised for a couple of kilometres to charge the batteries and when the long descent started I let my legs go and gravity did the rest. At the bottom of the hill there was still about 1500m to go. I just buried myself up Campbell Parade to the turnaround point. With 300m to go I was ready to blow up. A few people passed me in the last little bit. But I had done it. Official time 1:17:50. More than 2 minutes under my goal. I went so quick Ben finished shortly after me. He was way faster but the way they stagger starts he didn’t overtake me.

I think the 2022 City2Surf was the most satisfying race I’d ever competed in. I put in the work. Set a race strategy and executed it perfectly. It’s a great confidence booster for upcoming races.

Cramps

After I recovered from Gold Coast Marathon I had a few demons to slay over the marathon distance. Cramping ruined what could have been a quick first up marathon. I’d put in the training but my body let me down. Or more accurately, my preparation and treatment of my body let me down. I had listened to a podcast about hydration strategy with Andy Blow. But I hadn’t taken on board all of the relevant information. As a known cramper I should have listened more intently. I believe what brought me unstuck was a condition known as Hyponatremia. In simple terms I took on too much water and not enough Sodium. I did the FREE Precision Hydration Online Sweat Test. After the online sweat test and a few emails back and forth from the team at Precision Hydration I had a better hydration strategy. I’m a high volume and high sodium concentration sweater. Meaning I have to pay attention to how much sodium I intake before and during long periods of exercise. What I did on the Gold Coast was exactly the opposite of goods preparation. I drank too much water thinking I had to hydrate before the marathon. But what I was actually doing was diluting the salt concentration in my blood. Setting me up for failure before the gun had even gone off.

So the plan moving forward is to eat carbs the day before, just a bowl of pasta or a pizza. Not going overboard. And to have a high sodium drink. Then the morning of the race I will have toast or porridge as usual with another high sodium drink in the half hour before the race. During the race I will drink the sports drink on offer and take sodum tabs at regular intervals. The water on course will go on the head to help cool me down. I’ll also take sachets of Precision Hydration 1500 in case of cramps as a quick fix. Each sachet has 750g of sodium to be used in 500ml of water. I’ll just add it to a cup of water on the course. This strategy should see me competing at my ability without my body failing me.

Sydney Marathon

Once I had the answer to my cramping situation I wanted to get back on the horse and go again. I signed up for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival Sydney Marathon. Sydney Marathon is a candidate to join the Abbott World Marathon Majors. That would be a great thing for running in this country attracting runners from all over the world to run around our city.

Training was going great. I stretched my long runs out to 28km practicing my new hydration strategy. I was ready. Then we played a basketball Semi Final and I rolled my ankle. We won the Semi which meant I would have had to run the marathon on the same day as our Grand Final. But with a rolled ankle there was no way I could get 42.2km. I could manage to get around the basketball court. But running was another proposition entirely. The good folk at Sydney Running Festival allowed me to roll over my entry to 2023. So that will be one of my target races next year. I’ll say more about my goal races in the future.

Recovery

I took 3 weeks off from running which completely sapped me of my fitness. I think I also had a bit of a chest infection. Every test was Covid negative. But something was not right. I tried a 10km run to test my fitness and failed miserably. Then my next few easy jogs were difficult also. On Tuesday 18 October 2022 I did two easy laps of Jamison Park Penrith. 4.82km in 34:19 moving time. Not quick, and I was still struggling. But that was Day 1 of my comeback. I have jogged or run every day since then. Just forcing improvement out of me. Last night I jogged my virtual City2Surf course in Zone 2. I cruised around and I’m pretty sure it was my fastest Z2 time for the course. I say pretty sure because my Strava subscription lapsed a little while ago and I haven’t had the chance to renew yet. But I am most definitely back. Today’s easy jog will be day 18 of a running streak. All I aim to do is either 30 minutes or 5km every day. A quick 5km will slip under 30 minutes. But as long as I reach one of those benchmarks the streak is still on. Who knows how long I can keep it going for? But if I make it to the new year I’ll be on 75 days.

I’ll be back in a while with an update and my plans for 2023.

Featured post

My Marathon Journey

The Short Version

After Covid-19 lockdowns and eating porridge every morning my weight ballooned to 138kg. I needed to do something. I ate healthier, I started cycling again, and then I took up running. A bloke on Twitter called Bogues got me onto Zone 2 training. Then I entered a few races including the Virtual City2Surf with Melina, Hawks Nest Sprint Triathlon with Neil and Jenn and the SMH Half Marathon. Now I’m a few days away from toeing the line for my first marathon on the Gold Coast.

Josh’s GCM Donation Page for PanKind

The Long Version

In the last few months I’ve joked on Bats and Balls Podcast that the show has become more about sim racing and running than about NRL, AFL, and other sports. In part that’s because our lives have drifted that way. I can’t speak for The Producer and the fun he’s having playing GT7 but I can speak to the influence running and fitness in general have had on my life in the last year. 

Since my teenage years I was always heavy. But as a teenager I was super fit. I left school at 100kg playing hours of basketball every day. I could dunk in Year 12. The following year I was in the Army and during Infantry School I ran an 18:30 5k at 105kg. That was probably the fittest I’ve ever been. I only did one year full time Army. Since then my weight has fluctuated even though I have consistently played sport. Basketball, cricket, soccer, I even played two seasons of Aussie Rules. More recently I have played Masters of Rugby League and I still play Basketball. But throughout that I also ate and drank a lot. And playing park level sport doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stay in peak physical fitness to be competitive.

Fast forward to 2021. Like half the population I’d spent my disposable income on a new bike because what else could we do with it? But after lockdowns and eating porridge for breakfast every morning, the bike was gathering dust in the garage after a few rides here and there.

3 April 2021

I stepped on the scales and it read 138.15kg. I’d been heavier. At one point I had blown out to 143kg before a concerted effort on the Man Shakes brought me back into line. But this time I drew the line at 138. I was feeling lethargic and just generally in a bad way physically and mentally.

The last time I weighted 138kg

The next day was Easter Sunday and I took the kids to Wylde MTB Park. Just played around on the pump track but it felt good to get the legs moving again after so long. The day after I went with Brendan and Erik to the Easter Monday game between Parramatta and Wests Tigers. Two days into this latest health kick I was keen to make a change. We parked for free far from Stadium Australia and I made the boys walk there with me. Then instead of the standard pie and sauce I had a Vegan Rainbow Bowl. Blody tasty stuff. I was away. But the exercise didn’t come quite as quick as the dietary changes.

Vegan Rainbow Bowl

I adjusted what I ate. Mostly just reduced carb intake and ate way less take away. It wasn’t a full on vegan diet or keto. I just ate less pizza and sandwiches. Dinner was often chicken breast cooked in the air fryer with broccoli and brussels sprouts. I often had Man Shake for breakfast. But none of this was hard and fast. Mostly I just made sure there were more vegetables than before. I stopped having porridge for breakfast every morning and started eating more eggs.

I began cycling again. My first ride was a 25km spin down to the M7 cycleway. That was about my limit. I noted on my Strava that I listened to Episodes 7 & 8 of FitBet Pod. It was around this time that I decided to only listen to FitBet on the bike. So every hour of cycling was equal to one hour of FitBet. And I wouldn’t let myself listen to the pod off the bike. The podcast had been going since 2018 as a $1000 bet between comedians Dilruk Jayasinha and Ben Lomas to see who could get under 100kg first. I found a lot of similarities between their stories and mine. And it was a big part of the motivation to keep going. There was a huge back catalogue so I had plenty of episodes to catch up on.

By July I had dropped around 15kg. The knees didn’t hurt as much after basketball. So I started running. My Strava calendar in July 2021 is balanced between cycling longer distances and short runs out to about 6km. I found an out and back 5km course which I used as my benchmark. 17 July 2021 – 31:39, 23 July 2021 – 32:10, 24 July 2021 – 30:54. It was around this time I posted something on Twitter and started DMing Bogues. He introduced me to the concept of Zone 2 training. I’d understood the idea of fat burning zone as exercise related to weight loss. The idea that a long fast walk was better than running fast for fat burning. But I’d never considered it for training. My first Zone 2 test resulted in 6.5km in 1 hour at 9:16/km. Turns out my HR was a little low averaging 124bpm. I started researching HR zones. That sent me down a YouTube wormhole I still haven’t emerged from. I think my ideal Zone 2 heart rate is in the range of 137-142bpm. Now I’m completely on board with training slow to run fast. If any of this sounds like something you want to try check out Phil Maffetone and give the Extramilest podcast a listen. They’re good starting points.

Then in August our suburb was locked down to exercise only 5km from home. No more long bike rides. And running in Zone 2 took on more importance. Bogues introduced me to the 2 Zoners. Just a motivational group of blokes who like to run and support each other. The Zone 2 runs continued and it was amazing how quickly my pace improved while running at the same heart rate. Not that pace matters that much when on an easy run. But I’m down around 6:25/km on my easy runs.

18 October 2021 – Virtual City2Surf

The first time I really had a chance to test out my training. The City2Surf was not run on course because of Covid-19 concerns. But you could still run a virtual race as a lot of other large runs around the world had done. Melina entered and I walked the entire course with her. She was battling to finish and I motivated her to the point of exhaustion but I was so proud when she completed the 14km walk. A few days later I ran my virtual race over the same course. I paced the race really well. Comfortably running the first 8km before slowly ramping up the pace over the final 6km. Finished the 14km in a time of 1:30:27 to earn my Virtual City2Surf finishers medal.

All of this exercise had me in a really good place mentally as well. I was so motivated that I earned a promotion at work. My first promotion in 22 years. By Boxing Day 2021 my 5km time was down to 27:33. I sold off all of my homebrew gear because I really don’t drink that much these days. That was a hobby I poured my heart into for a long time. I won awards at the national competition. But I just didn’t feel motivated to brew anymore. So I moved all my gear on to brewers still keen on the process. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a bath beer every now and then. But I drink way less than I used to. And that is a healthy thing.

March 19 2022 – Hawks Nest Triathlon.

Training progressed well and my mate Neil asked if I wanted to enter a triathlon. I’d never done one before but I entered the Sprint distance with Neil. Jenn her sister Booz and some trail running mates also entered. Jenn’s accomplishments in running over the years have been inspiring. Our suburb was out of extreme lockdowns so I could ride longer distances. I bought a used road bike off Facebook Marketplace which meant I didn’t have to ride my mountain bike with road tyres anymore. Compared to the tank of a MTB my used road bike was a sports car. Not quite the Ferrari of an Ironman bike. But a quick coupe at least. I even managed to get a couple of swims in. Though I didn’t do nearly enough swimming training. Hawks Nest Triathlon was a fun weekend in March. I stayed in the camper trailer next door to the transition area. As our Sprint distance race was the last of the day, we watched a few of the other races and soaked up the atmosphere. While I’ve swum all my life and could bob around in the surf all day I’ve never tried to swim out past the breakers. One of the turning buoys was right where the waves were forming and it took me three attempts to get around it. Then I was disorientated and wound up about 10m further out to sea than the rest of the competitors swimming in single file towards the next buoy. Eventually we turned and made it back to shore. Lungs were burning from the effort of the swim and I knew I had to settle it down a bit. I took my time in transition before heading out on the 20km bike ride. Neil was comfortably in front of me. I never expected to beat him but I did attempt to catch him or at least shorten the gap. All of that pushing on the bike had my calves pinging in the last 2km of the ride. By the 5km run I couldn’t stretch out and run at all. I basically ran the whole leg with my calves threatening to cramp at every step. But I did finish in a time of 1:42:25 with a 5km run time of 31:55. For the record, Neil finished it in 1:26:59.

with Neil after the Hawks Nest Triathlon
Jenn is a machine

May 15 2022 – SMH Half Marathon

Around the time I got talking to Bogues my ultimate goal was to run a full marathon. I think that was the basis of my first message to him. How to train for one. But one of the most significant events for me was racing the SMH Half Marathon around the streets of Sydney. I’d stretched my long runs out past 21.1km already. But I’d never run one at race pace. Always in easy training pace. The best part about racing the SMH Half was putting all the training and theory into practice in a race situation. The best lesson was race day preparation. Two weeks out from the SMH Half I ran a long run under fatigue. I was completely spent by the end of it. I had worked overnight shift and run 8km the day before. The following week I did the same run fully rested, nourished from a decent meal the day before and well hydrated. I also had my new hydration vest purchased to make long runs easier. That run was extremely confidence building with a strong last 5km just to test the legs out. I went into the SMH Half Marathon full of confidence. I set my Garmin Pace Pro strategy on my watch and ran close to my goal time of 2:10. I didn’t expect the course to be quite so hilly and that ended up slowing me down a fair bit. Looking at the results I did pace the race really well though. First half 1:06:53, Second half 1:10:17 for an overall time of 2:17:11. Of note my positions for each split: First half 5557, Second half 4686. That meant my pacing strategy worked and I could trust my training as long as I attempted an achievable pace.

SMH Half Marathon finisher

Gold Coast Marathon

All of that has led to this next chapter. I don’t say final chapter because this fitness caper has become a lifestyle rather than training for one specific goal. My training is going well. A mate once told me that if you can get a training run out to 32km then the adrenalin and crowd will get you to the finish line of a full marathon. I managed to complete 5 laps of the Nepean river walk a few weeks ago thrown in with some car key issues which had my alarm going off every lap when I went for my hydration. But I did it. And the last kilometre was the fastest of the run. So my fitness is where I need it to be to finish a marathon. Last weekend I had one last confidence building run where I ran my virtual City2Surf course of 14km attempting to maintain race pace without looking at my watch. Each km lap when the watch buzzed I checked to see how the pace was compared to my goal pace of 6:15/km. I pretty much nailed it for a large chunk of the run. And then I finished off with a quick last 2km home and the legs had plenty left in them. Finished the course in 1:25:12 or 5 minutes faster than the Virtual City2Surf in October 2021. And that was at marathon pace, not racing for a fast 14km. After the SMH Half I’ve decided a confidence builder the weekend before the race is my way to go.

Weather forecast is for rain and a sourtherly wind. Which means the first 16km into a headwind, followed by 21km tailwind and a final 5km push into the breeze to finish it off. I love training out and back with a headwind first followed by a tailwind. One of my favourite training runs was a long run down along Botany Bay to Georges River into the headwind with a tailwind home. I’ve downloaded the course for Gold Coast Marathon to my watch and set the Pace Pro Strategy for 4:25:00 or around 6:13/km pace. I am confident I can run the time after all my training. But I won’t be afraid of slowing down if my body isn’t feeling that pace. I’ve done the work, now it’s time to put it into practice.

Weight

You may have noticed that I haven’t even mentioned weight for most of this post. That’s because weight hasn’t really factored into my thinking since I started getting fitter. For what it’s worth I’m sitting around 110-112kg most of the time. I feel ridiculously healthy though. If I could drop a few more kilograms that might make me faster on the bike so it’s not undesirable. But weight really hasn’t been my focus for a long time. My body is definitely carrying less fat. My legs are a lot stronger. And I think more important than all of that, I’m in a really good headspace. I have a positive outlook on most things these days. Though the Parramatta Eels, GWS Giants and New York Knicks test me on a weekly basis.

If you’ve got anything out of this please consider donating to my Gold Coast Marathon donation page. I’m raising money for PanKind – The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. We lost Mum 8 years ago to Pancreatic Cancer. So it’s a charity that is close to my heart.

Josh’s GCM Donation Page for PanKind

What Next?

Maybe try an ultra in the bush. Almost certainly another triathlon to slay the demons of the surf. And then, who knows?

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