Into darkness


2014 Chevron City to Surf Marathon

Marathon #5

Sunday 31 August 2014

This was my second time running this event: In 2013 I completed the course in 3:56:47 (net time). I was hoping to beat this, but my preparation had been interrupted with a horrible chest cold and flu that was still lingering. Grant Langford had mentioned he had a similar virus last year and it took him many months to get over it completely.

Any dreams I had of making it to the UK with my visa in hand had all but disappeared; my training for the New York City Marathon had also ended. I was heading to this event without motivation or preparation.

With a week to go before the event, I did a final training run to see if I was over the flu. I told myself that if I could run 21.1km in better than 1:50 that I’d be OK to start the City to Surf marathon. I ran the distance in 1:47. Now I had a problem; although I completed the distance in the required time, it nearly destroyed me. Running a flat 21.1km in 1:50 should be pretty easy for me, but I really struggled this time. OK, I was faster than I needed to be, but I certainly wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure what to do.

At the next Tuesday night darkrun, I confided in a couple of people about my dilemma; it was during these discussions, running laps of a soccer oval and the Canning River parkrun circuit, whilst chatting all the way, that I decided I would start the City to Surf marathon event.

Before the Start

Just like in 2013, I got a lift with Anthony Un into the city. We parked and walked through the streets, dodging people as they stumbled out of bars and nightclubs into the early morning. We went into the building where Anthony works and sat in the warm foyer, chatting about our run plans whilst stretching and doing some warmups. We watched the runners arrive at the start area, recognising a few faces here and there. Eventually, we had to leave the relative warm and quiet of the foyer and head out to the street. We walked along St Georges Terrace with a lot of other runners, not quite sure of where we were going but resolute in what we were looking for, the bag drop. Last year, we were all corralled at the Convention Centre, but this year we assembled near the start line. There was a line for the bag drop, fortuitous in a way, for as we were queuing we spotted Ben Harris, Tony Smith and others. Eventually, we found the parkrun “posse”.

It wasn’t too much longer after dropping off the bags that the masses started heading towards the starting pens. There were the obligatory loud-speakers blaring out “motivational” music and interviews being conducted with “somebodies” but it was all too loud to hear properly, and really it was the last thing I wanted to be listening to as I started focussing on what was ahead… and my breathing.

Like previous years, the course is in two halves; the first half is a “flat” run to Nedlands and back to the start, the second half contains the “hills” including Kings Park and the undulations out to City Beach.

To Nedlands

We got the pacing “bus” together, with Michelle Brown, Adrian Kenny, Chris Neilon, Abdul-Raouf Mohamed-Isa and a few others. The plan was to pace at 5:30/km for the first half of the course, then some were going to slow to about 6:00/km and the rest would push on hoping to maintain 5:30/km or better in the second half of the course.

There was the mandatory countdown to the start and then the hooter sounded. We were off! The downhill start and run along St Georges Terrace was like the year before, a little chaotic, as people tried to sort themselves out and get into the running rhythm. Runners (mostly, but not exclusively male) darted on and off the course into bushes and shrubberies for another nervous wee, before re-joining the pack as we headed towards the Causeway. We turned onto The Esplanade and ran along the riverside, now comfortably settled into our 5:30/km pace. I had my watch set to alert me if the pace went faster than 5:20/km or slower than 5:40/km and it was quiet. Chris had ducked off into the bushes (again!) and found us again; Michelle ran ahead to be able to use a portaloo at Elizabeth Quay and we shouted encouragement to her as we ran passed. By the time we exited the city everyone was watered, de-watered and on pace.

As we progressed under the Narrows Bridge and along Mounts Bay Road, my chest began to tighten a little. Breathing wasn’t as difficult as it would become later in the day, but it wasn’t easy, especially when Adrian and Chris wanted to chat. I was driving the bus though, trying my best to keep a smooth rhythm and constant pace. Adrian called me a “metronome” because of my consistency; it made me feel a bit better.

In 2013, as we turned onto Hackett Drive, we got to see the front runners coming out of UWA. This year, either the front runners were running slower or we were faster as we got passed the UWA exit without seeing the elite runners nor even the lead motorbikes and police.

I stopped for a wee in one of the toilet blocks on Hackett Drive. I was the only person there on the way in, but when I finished and went to run out the door, a swarm of runners suddenly arrived! I put on a little bit of effort to catch up to the bus again and took my place again behind the wheel.

Running along the Nedlands foreshore was the first time we got to see those ahead of us running towards us as they’d been around the turnaround point. It was great to see so many people we knew. When I first started running in Perth, I knew no-one, but now was high-fiving hundreds of people I knew, each of us shouting (or breathlessly mouthing) encouragement or some friendly banter; it certainly lifts your spirits.

We hit the 12.5km turn at about 1:07, average pace of 5:22/km

Back to the City

We ran back along the Nedlands foreshore, now high-fiving the runners behind us as they made their way out to the turnaround. We dodged through the back-streets of the course and through UWA until eventually popping back out onto Hackett Drive and then onto Mounts Bay Road for the run along the river and back into the City.

Just as we were approaching the Narrows Bridge (18km) my chest felt very tight and I started struggling to hold proper pace. I could feel myself speeding up and slowing down and my watch alarms were sounding, I was starting to feel a little nauseated and I started wheezing for breath. We weren’t even at the half-way point and I was struggling.

As we headed up the hill on Barrack Street, we could see the half-marathon runners lining the streets as they awaited their start. I spotted some friendly faces and moved across the road to the barricades to get a high-five from them. This lapse in concentration blew the bus to pieces! I was sprinting off the front, Michelle was trying to hold on to my pace, everyone else was further behind. I felt buoyed though; I still couldn’t breath, but my spirits were momentarily lifted.

We re-grouped as we progressed up St Georges Terrace, then as we passed the start line which marked half-way, Adrian and others said their farewells as they slowed to their own pace. We passed through the half-way point at about 1:54 averaging 5:24/km since the start.

Michelle, Chris, Abdul and I went on, until we hit Malcolm Street hill. I’ve run up and down this hill many times before — it should not have any surprises for me, but just like in 2013, this hill slayed me! I could only shuffle up the slope as I watched Michelle and everyone else disappear over the summit into Kings Park. I was running on my own, again.

Kings Park

I could still see Michelle in the distance and set myself the goal to catch up to her by the time we exited Kings Park. I chased hard down the first hills, but she wasn’t any closer by the time we turned around behind UWA colleges. I knew I had a chance to catch her if I could do well running up the long incline on Lovekin Drive so prepared myself to chase harder.

Lovekin Drive is a gentle ascent, but it just goes on and on! I was puffing and wheezing, my legs felt heavy and my chest was now so tight it was painful to breathe. I wanted to stop to catch my breath but I had to keep in contact with Michelle. Near the top of the climb was an ambulance parked on the side of the course. As I approached it, I started to think about stopping to ask for some assistance, maybe some ventolin and a few minutes on pure oxygen? I’m sure they would have obliged, but I wasn’t sure they’d let me keep going afterwards, so I simply smiled (grimaced?) as I went passed and kept going.

To the Beach

I could still see Michelle up ahead, but there was nothing I could to catch her. She was walking the hills, but I started walking each hill before where she did and started running again after where she started running again. She was opening the gap with every undulation.

I felt like I was drowning. My legs could turn at the right rate, but there was no strength or power in the stride. On a brighter note, I didn’t have any real issues with cramp.

I’m running along Perry Lakes Drive with 2km to go to the finish; my lungs are screaming, I’m getting stitches from trying so hard to breathe and I’m light-headed but my heart rate was OK. Just up ahead I see two paramedics on bicycles; I so desperately wanted to stop and get some assistance, but I figured these guys probably wouldn’t let me complete the course either if I’d asked for help, so I pushed on. A long look at my watch and some fuzzy maths told me that if I could get up Oceanic Drive hill and down the other side averaging six minutes per kilometre, I’d still make a sub-4 hour finish. I pushed as hard as I could up the hill and down the other side. Kim Thomas (half-marathon) came flying by on the downhill and I used my last breath to shout out to him, he waved as he passed, and then I died. The last few hundred metres were awful. I wanted to… well I wasn’t sure of what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want to be running. In the finishing chute, I saw familiar faces and even with their cheers and shouts, I couldn’t move any faster. I finished in 4:01:37. The worst part of the entire day was not the first 40.2km but the last 2km. All I had to do was run 2km in 12 minutes. I couldn’t. I was devastated.

Ben Harris was waiting outside the recovery tent, he had a grin a mile wide; he had blitzed the course with a very impressive time of 3:12, paced by Tony Smith. I really wanted to be happy for him, but I was feeling very low. Other parkrunners came across the finish and joined us outside the recovery tent, all with tales of jubilation as they had surpassed their own expectations (well, maybe not all of them, but I was feeling so sour all I could hear were the victory speeches, it seemed no-one except me had a terrible day). Muffins, fruit and cake weren’t easing my pain, my sorrow needed drowning. I went inside the tent for a massage and more food, then got changed into some dry clothes; I wanted to cry when I put on my official finishers shirt because I thought I didn’t deserve it. I walked to the bus stand and got on a bus into the City and hobbled to the pub.

The Generous Squid!

When I got to The Generous Squire (or “Squid” as a few have nick-named it) there were a few parkrunners already there. After a short while, a bowl of hot salt and fat (chips) and a few pints later, most of the people I wanted (needed) to see were there and I started feeling a little bit better, physically and emotionally. By the end of the afternoon, after too many pints, too many hot chips and pizzas had been consumed, I wandered to the train station to get myself home. The 2.5km walk from Murdoch Station to the house was painful and slow. I was relieved to get in the door at home and end the day.

Modern-sports philosophers have said a person’s true spirit is revealed at the marathon. I really wanted to be happy for those like Ben, Michelle, Adrian, Abdul, Anthony and the others who had done so well on the day, the fact I wasn’t happy for them made me even less happy with myself, a downward spiral if ever there was one. My black dog was back.


On Monday, I went for a short walk around the block and then ran jogged a lap around the block. My legs were stiff but my chest was a lot clearer than during the marathon. On Tuesday night, I ran darkrun as if nothing had happened; physically I was fine, but I still wasn’t happy.