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Three Bridges Marathon recap

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

After the longest marathon build up ever, I finally got to race the 42.2km distance in 2020.

There were several false starts.

First when I was training for the Six Foot Track marathon in March, and it was cancelled due to the aftermath of floods and bushfires. Then it was Canberra, which was cancelled due to covid two weeks later. And then Canberra again. Rescheduled to August and though it looked unlikely, the official cancellation didn't come until after we had started training again.

Canberra was rescheduled for a second time to November, which was just before the qualifying window closed for Six Foot Track. To hedge my bets, I also entered Stromlo in Canberra, which was scheduled for late November and had a Covid plan on their website. And it also appeared from what I could see on Facebook, that a small run in Sydney I had heard about the last couple of years was going ahead. The Three Bridges event had started as a half, then added a 29km and this year was doing a marathon for the first time.

Again hedging my bets, I entered that as well, telling myself that surely one of them would go ahead!

My final back up plan was to organise another time trial, this time hopefully with the help of some pacers who could run the whole way under 3 hours with me. But I was hoping I would be able to do an actual event.

November was probably not the ideal time for a marathon in Sydney. The weather at the 2019 Three Bridges event had been very challenging, in the mid 20s for the start of the half. The marathon was scheduled to go at 6:30am. The early start was good, but the potential for a hot day was still there. The course was not too bad though, with lots of flat sections along the river and some bridges (hence the name).

For most of June, July and August, I was focused on trying to run a fast 10km. By the time we got towards the end of August, it dawned on me that I had about 2 months to get marathon ready, and it was going to take some effort if I was going to go sub 3 again.

I decided I could two months of hard training, then reasses if I actually wanted to do Six Foot after that. Whether the race would go ahead seemed to be a whole other story, but either way I wanted to get a qualifier in place.

With the short lead time, I wasn't going to get creative with my training. I knew I wouldn't be able to match the volume I did for my last marathon in Amsterdam, but I could follow the same structure and make my runs longer. The easy wins for a short prep were to increase my Wednesday run to approx 19km. I also added some hills since I knew the course wasn't completely flat. I planned out the long runs I would have time to fit in, and managed to find a couple of options to do some of them quicker.

The SMC races series was taking place, so I did a half marathon there and joined a friend for a good chunk of her virtual sub 3 marathon. I also added in a few marathon pace runs, though didn't have time to build them up to any great distance.

One thing that was still on my mind was if I would have anyone to run with. I was VERY aware that as soon as things got tough when I did my solo time trial in April, I slowed down and basically gave up. There were a few other factors there, despite it not being a race. Mostly that it was done on a whim and I was untapered, with a few big runs in the week before. I also thought back to both times I have run the Gold Coast 50 event, which was hot, isolated and a struggle to run solo. I was probably also not as fit for those, but both times I slowed down a lot.

It was hard to shake the feeling that Three Bridges was a very small event, and the potential to be running solo was huge. I hadn't even factored in staggered starts due to covid at that point, but I knew I wanted someone to run with.

I started to put a few feelers out, and asked a couple of people I knew if anyone was planning to run it. I also started to ask a few more questions about the course. Feedback I got was that yes, it felt quite lonely and isolated, it got very hot. And, oh yeah, we had to go up and down some stairs.

I was starting to give up.

Eventually, I made my peace with the stairs and decided I would just have to run fast enough to make up the lost time. But I still didn't want to run it solo.

A couple of weeks before the race, a few things feel into place. I found someone to pace me, and another friend also entered who would be about the same pace. It seemed like Covid was well enough under control that we wouldn't have another late cancellation. I did a last minute course recce of the section I was less familar with (in the pouring rain), which was useful because it gave me advance warning of a tricky hill that would come at 35km. And around everything else, Six Foot announced that because almost every qualifying race in 2020 had been cancelled, we could use an older result to enter in 2021.

That took the pressure off a bit, and I cancelled my Stromlo entry. Canberra had finally decided to pull the pin on 2020 altogether, though as Three Bridges started to seem more certain, I knew I probably wouldn't be running it anyway.

I said a few times that I wouldn't completely believe it was going ahead until we were on the start line. Well on November 1, we were finally on the start line.

We were starting in pairs, setting off at 10 second intervals, so in some ways it was a time trial race. But after the way the year had gone, I think everyone was just happy to be there. As it turned out, we even got a cool day for it. There had been some rain around, and it was a bit humid, but the temperature was less than 20 degrees, so for November, we were very lucky.

Beth and Marty came along to watch, out on the course as spectators weren't allowed at the start/finish. But knowing they would be out there gave me something to look forward to.

The race itself in some ways was pretty uneventful, despite a marathon being pretty eventful in itself. The start was a bit unusual, and in the first few kilometres I didn't feel particularly great. We were running just over 3 hour pace, around 4.20s. I remember thinking that maybe I wasn't on, as we went past a lot of runners going various paces due to the staggered start.

After about 5km, we had settled into a bit of a rhythm and I saw Marty and Beth for the first time. In possibly one of her cutest moments ever, Beth ran towards me to say hello, and was left VERY confused when I didn't stop and kept running past her.

We were running on a section of a parkrun I know very well and had a small group formed of people aiming for about 3 hours. Perhaps I started to relax and fell into a groove, and soon enough we were going up the stairs for the first time. We lost a bit of time as I knew we would, but it wasn't too bad. Just after that bridge, we ran past my parents who also came out to watch at a spot that was only a couple of kilometres from the house I grew up in. Very different to my last two marathons in Europe!

The next couple of kilometres felt a bit harder with a combination of wind, turns and a few more surprise stairs. I wondered again if this was going to be harder than I hoped, but as is often the up and downs of marathons, the five or so kilometres that followed we settled back into a good rhythm, despite there being a decent headwind for some of it.

We went up over a much easier bridge (no stairs) for the second loop of that portion of the course. I had another bout of tiredness as we approached it, but back on the other side of the river, I felt good again.

Another benefit of finding someone to run with me, was that he was also helping me get drinks. There is part of me that thinks I am probably a bit soft mentally for not believing I can run solo. It's probably something to work on. But for the entire morning of the Three Bridges race, I was glad to have the company.

We saw Marty and Beth again, with Beth a lot less surprised that I wasn't stopping to say hello to her. Going back over the Parramatta parkrun course and path that head towards my parents house, we were again in a section I was very familar with, and running almost on autopilot. Though I didn't look around, it sounded like there were extra footsteps in our pack. I think a couple of people who started after us had caught up and our group grew a little bit as we went back up and down the bridge with the stairs and over to the other side of the river.

One guy flew past us after the section I had found twisty/windy/hard on the previous lap, and I told myself to just keep going with what we were doing. My watch showed a 4.08 split for the 25th kilometre, which I knew was plenty fast enough for a sub 3. I reminded myself of the goal I gave myself at this point of my last two marathons - focus on getting in another 5 kilometres at this pace.

We managed that, and down to a group of three now, had a really strong 5km even though we were going back into the headwind and over a bridge. It was probably my strongest portion of the race, my watch says we split 4.01, 4.06, 4.08, 4.07 and 4.11 in that section, with the 4.11 being over the bridge to hit the 30km mark.

One thing that I learnt from the Berlin and Amsterdam marathons, is that if I get to 30km and still feel good and my pace hasn't dropped, I should be able to hang on. I reminded myself again as I did in those races, to just focus on holding the pace for another 5km. We were almost as strong to 35km, with splits of 4.06, 4.11, 4.10, 4.05 and 4.06.

I felt really good around 34km, when we went past the start/finish, and remember saying that hopefully I could hold the pace for a bit longer. It was just two of us now, though the others we had been running with were not too far behind. At 35km, I thought for a moment that it was probably the best I had ever felt at 35km of a marathon. We got up the hill I found in my recce with no problems, and continued on for another kilometre or so feeling really good.

Then all of a sudden, blah! We went under a bridge, which meant a short, sharp rise to come back up, which I also knew about from my recce. But in that moment, my legs said no and I walked up the last few steps of it. I got going again straight away, but had never been more grateful to have company. Six kilometres to go, running through a deserted park, away from the finish line felt like we had an eternity to go. The encouragment and footsteps to follow kept me going.

We saw Marty and Beth again, which was nice, but on the flip side had some MORE surprise stairs (missed those in my recce). I slowed down to 4.20s for kilometre 37 and 38, but somehow managed to pick it up again slightly after that. We saw Marty and Beth for the last time, saw a few runners going out for the section we had just completed, and I knew I was hanging in there.

It was starting to rain. Coming back up the other side of the 35 kilometre hill wasn't as steep, but also broke me a little bit and resulted in walking the last few steps. But that was 40km done. I knew I was well under 3 hours, though couldn't help asking for a bit of reassurance, all I had to do was keep running. My last two splits were 4.20 and 4.12, and I managed to run up the last hill back to the finish line even though the few previous ones got the better of me.

We came to the finish line and crossed in 2.56.13. My third sub 3 marathon. I was stoked with the result after the up and down Covid year, and of course, after having a baby! I also found out I was second place female, which was exciting. I had sort of forgotten all about placing due to the staggered nature of the start, and just trying to just hold on in the last few kilometres. I knew there was a fast girl in front of me, but I had no idea where or how far, I didn't see her the whole race! Turned out it was a 25 second gap. Not much, but more than I had in me on the day.

The others we had been running with came in soon after. It was pretty exciting to be at a race, cheer people home and have the finish line chats after going so long without any events.

I was also extremely happy to prove to myself that I can still run well after becoming a mum. I've got more work to do to aim for a PB, but I think my time represents the work I was able to put in for this race. Looking forward to the next one.

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