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Recap of the Canberra Marathon 2021

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

The road to the Canberra Marathon 2021 started back in early 2020. This race was my first marathon in 2014, where I was happy to run the time I estimated I would.

The following year, I tried to break 3 hours for the second time, and finished in 3:07 after a significant blow up. I said I would never run it again because it was too hilly.

But in early 2020, when it looked like the race I was training for, Six Foot Track, was at risk of being cancelled due to bushfires, I entered Canberra as a back up. It was three weeks later, and while I was vaguely tempted to do both races, realistically, I was only planning to run it if Six Foot didn't go ahead.

When Six Foot was unsurprisingly cancelled, I had a few weeks to cram in some marathon pace runs, and see if I could finally run a sub in Canberra. Unfortunately, Covid had other ideas.

I briefly recommenced training while waiting for confirmation if the event would proceed as rescheduled in August (it didn't). Training restarted again for the rescheduled-rescheduled date in November. That time, I had a couple of other back up plans, at least one of which seemed likely to go ahead, so the training was a bit more serious.

Ultimately Canberra didn't go ahead, but both my back up plans did. I only needed one, and ran the Three Bridges marathon in November.

After a couple of months of trying to run shorter distance PBs with some success (3km) and some non-success (10km), all of sudden it was time for Six Foot entries to open again.

We had the option to use our deferred entry in 2021 or 2022. After weighing up the options and knowing I was hoping to have a second baby, I opted for 2021. At the back of my mind was the fact that I also still had my entry for Canberra. I had enquired with the organisers about transferring it to someone else, which they said would be fine, though at that stage there weren't any details on deadlines. My thought process was that hopefully I would get pregnant before the race and would sell my entry.

Without making this a Six Foot Track recap, when it came time to line up for that race in mid-March, I felt reasonably well prepared. With a shorter than normal lead time and a lot of indecision about if I would enter, my training had been a bit rushed. But given it was on the back of a training block that got me a sub 3 marathon in November, I thought I was in pretty good shape.

My body had other ideas, and I struggled pretty much from start to finish. I considered dropping out with 10km to go, but limped to the finish line. I'm glad I did in the end, because my desire to do that race has now been well and truly fulfilled. I wouldn't have wanted any more unfinished business!

With a month to go, the only question that remained was what to do about Canberra. By that point, I had decided I was going to run it (though the transfer deadline ended up being very generous, only a couple of days before the race).

My initial plan in the couple of weeks that followed Six Foot, was to do Canberra as a solid long training run, aiming for somewhere around the 3:05-3:10 range.

With the exception of parkrun, I stuck to easy running, but I felt like I was recovering well. So as runners do, I started to wonder if I could go faster and run sub 3. I had said I would do it jokingly a month or so earlier, when I entered the Gold Coast marathon and wasn't sure if my qualifier from Three Bridges would count because it wasn't a certified course.

I didn't think it was unreasonable given that I'd done it in November, but I didn't know how long Six Foot would stay in my legs. But I asked around and found some others running that pace I could join in with. My rough plan became going out at sub 3 pace and seeing how long I could hold it.

Then a week and a half out, I joined a friend for a 14km marathon pace run. He was aiming to run low 2:50s for 4:05 pace in the training run. We actually did it closer to 3:55s and I felt really good.

All of sudden, I started to think I should just start with him and see how long I could hold on. After all, how often do you get to run a marathon that isn't an A goal and it doesn't matter if you mess it up. For me, it's not very often. I figured I had nothing to lose. If it all went wrong, I'd hopefully still make it to about 30km and get a good training in. And if it went right, I'd come away with a faster than I thought would be possible.

I often tend to run conservatively and don't always put it all out there. I know I'll have to one day if I want to reach some of my goals, so maybe this was a good chance to practice it.

Life had other ideas though.

In the week of the race, my daughter had gastro and was vomiting from Tuesday to Saturday. I wasn't feeling that amazing myself, and was tired, distracted and freezing cold when we got to Canberra. On the morning of the race, I also managed to sleep through my alarm and had to rush around to get ready.

By the time I got to the start line, I wasn't feeling confident enough to lay it all out there. I wasn't even sure I would go for the sub 3. But in the first kilometre or so, I found the group I had planned to run with, slotted in and things just started ticking over.

I felt good, but it was less than 10km in so I wasn't getting too excited. I had a rough patch around 12km where we went up a hill and hit a headwind. I felt like I was dropping to the back of the group, which by then had become pretty big. I focused on the feet in front of me, and not long later, felt a lot better.

The group started to split about 15km, but I opted to hang back and keep going at the pace we were running. I still wasn't sure how long I could hold the pace, and it was early.

The headwind was still there as we ran toward the turnaround near the lake, which fell around 36km in the previous version of the course I had done. It was the first chance to see where I was placing, and there were five other women in front of me. Given we were running sub 3 pace, it was definitely competitive!

I knew there was a hill coming, it had felt horrendous at 38km of the old course. The first time I did it, I managed to run up it, but the second time I walked up it. It was also part of the 10km course the year I ran that. It was definitely a lot better going up it around the halfway point.

We had a fast split for the following kilometre with the benefit of the downhill. I was glad to still be feeling comfortable. We were getting close to crossing to the other side of the lake for the long out and back on the freeway.

At the bottom of the bridge, another group of runners caught us, including one that I knew. We had a bit of a chat, and she went past us. I thought about following, but decided it was better to stay with the group awhile longer.

On the other side of the bridge, the leading half marathoners passed us, absolutely flying. They continued to come past for the next couple of kilometres until their turnaround, which was a good distraction since I saw quite a few I know. We had to go quite a bit further to our turnaround and the longer it went on, the harder it became, with the headwind back and just getting stronger. I told myself to hang on for a bit longer, it would be a tailwind soon and we were almost at 30km.

From previous experience, I know that I start to struggle before 30km, it's going to be a tough day. That day, I still felt good, and despite losing the wind, we had encountered another complication.

The half marathoners were back, and we were all running together as we hit the back of them after their turnaround point. The difference this time was that instead of flying past us, we were running a much faster pace.

It became very congested very quickly, at right at the same time it felt like the guys I was running with had upped the pace. It took all I had to stick with them, telling myself that I couldn't afford to drop off. We weaved in and out of people, somehow running 4min/kms.

I passed a friend who was in the half, and could barely talk to let him know how I was going. It thinned back out, but after we passed 35km, I couldn't stick with the guys. I would find out later, they dropped down to well under 4min pace!

All of a sudden, I felt a wave of fatigue. I looked at my watch and saw 4:25 pace, and was immediately disappointed that I had slowed down. Still though, I was backing up and made it to 35km, that was pretty good.

I had a gel left, so decided to take it and not long later, my watch beeped for 36km. I was surprised to see a 4:11. I had slowed down, but not as much as I thought. And there was only six kilometres to go now, if I could hold 4:10s for a bit longer, I'd still make sub 3. Plus, while this mental dialogue was happening, we were running down a hill.

The combination of all of that must have given me a boost, because I felt much better. I knew Marty and Beth would be at the bottom, gave them a wave and kept going with only about 5km to go. Whatever fatigue I had felt a few minutes earlier seemed to disappear, because I actually felt really good in the last 20 minutes to the finish.

It was a good reminder that sometimes your mind gives up before your body does.

Granted, I wasn't running PB pace, but it was easily the strongest I have ever felt at the end of a marathon. I turned the last few corners and finished in 2:56 for fourth female.

It was very close to the same time I ran in November at Three Bridges, but since this course was certified and I felt stronger, I'll take this as the better run.

I had some mixed emotions at the finish. I was stoked to run so well a month after Six Foot, and anytime you can finish feeling strong is a huge confidence boost. But I think I probably left a little bit out there.

Hopefully one day soon, I will be fit and confident enough to lay it all out there.

It was the longest lead up ever (one that I was frustrated with at many times), but when it finally got to race day, the organisers put on a great event (which I'm sure was accompanied by a pile of admin with entry transfers and changes).

And, I finally ran my sub 3 in Canberra!

Image of me finishing the 2021 Canberra Marathon
Finishing the 2021 Canberra Marathon

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