The Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) marks my first ever marathon away from home, a long way from home at that. I really didn't know what to expect once I signed up for it many months ago. From the planning stages, down to the flight, the culture and finally running the event was really foreign to me. Most of my marathon (well, what little of them anyway) were all done at home. This would be the first time I stepped on foreign soil to run and I must say I came away with an experience that will last a lifetime.
After months of training, the day finally came for both the wife and me to board the plane for that long flight to the Gold Coast of Australia. The flight bit was my least favourite part of the entire journey. I've never flown as far away as Australia and sitting on my butt for close to 8 hours or so really left a bitter taste in my mouth, literally since I didn't manage to brush my teeth almost the entire day after we landed ... hahaha!
The wife and me met up with Jamie at the new KLIA2 airport, checked in, grabbed some dinner and started our long journey to the Gold Coast around 8.40pm. We touched down in Gold Coast around 7 plus in the morning, local time and upon checking our baggage out, we were picked up by the tour company people to head to the race expo to pick up our bibs.
The drive to the race expo had me looking in awe like some backwater neanderthal at the lovely houses along the streets to the expo. The race expo itself was on an entirely different level for me. It had to be the biggest one I've ever been to and was told by Jamie that I ain't seen nothing yet cos there are even bigger ones. Since we were not due to check in yet, we took our time strolling around the expo checking out the various products on offer.
I had earlier on decided not to bring any fueling such as gels from KL and would just buy it here, which was in hindsight not such a brilliant idea. I'll come to that at a later stage of this post. Spotted a booth selling GU, and though I'm used to GU and have taken them before, my gel of choice is Horleys but unfortunately none was to be found so GU it would have to be.
We scoured the place and the Comrades marathon booth caught my eye since the Malaysian Ambassador for Comrades has been actively trying to poison me to sign up. Chatted for a bit with the people at the booth, bought a few stuff from another exhibitor and we all headed back to the tour bus to head to the Wyndham Apartments to store our luggage since we had a long way to go before we could check in.
|Jamie harbouring thoughts of Comrades ...|
Then a stroll to the Surfers Paradise beach it was and once again it dawned on me how surreal all this was. Here I was, thousands of miles away from home just to run a marathon, something I never thought I'd ever do. The scene of the beach flanked by the architecture of the place was simply breathtaking. I wanted to just stay here forever. We spent some time camwhoring and then headed to get some prepacked food for dinner later tonight before heading back to check in to our respective apartments but not before Jamie and me made plans for a short evening shakedown run after a quick nap.
|With Jamie and Max.|
|Harbouring secret thoughts of being a pole dancer ...|
|They don't call me King Arthur for nothing, you know.|
I've been to run events before but this was nothing like what I was used to. The atmosphere was sizzling with a different kind of excitement. Here I was, a foreigner for a change, in an event where I hardly knew anyone apart for the people I came with, bundled up and shivering in the cold waiting to run my first ever overseas marathon event. It was so damn surreal (hey, I did warn you about that word). I could hardly believe it.
|The breathtaking view that has me wanting to stay here forever.|
|Our abode for the weekend.|
I was in start zone C, with the 4:30 group and it was a slow 3 plus minutes before I passed the start. I took off at a conservative pace. The legs and body were still tight from the cold. The start was electrifying, loads of cheers urging everyone on. My nervousness was gone once I crossed the start and I started settling into race mode. Of all the tips I got from Jamie, the one I remembered the most was to start slow and watch the pace cos the cold could easily have you running too fast and screw your entire race. That kept playing in my mind the first 2km.
|All bundled up against the cold, chilly morning ...|
|With Digger at the 30km mark|
Now Digger was simply astounding as a pacer. He kept talking, telling stories and kept motivating everyone all the way that had me wondering just how he does it considering he's 60 plus in age. I was in awe. He was so inspirational that I hardly felt the miles slip away. Things were easy. I slowed down when he said so and sped up when he did. In fact I was actually surprised that I wasn't facing any issues at all and was running like as it if was a training run with the guys. Things were looking up.
|Just so you know, I bought all my pictures legally ...|
Back to the race. Hydration and water stations were spaced out every 2k or so. I stopped at most of them under Diggers advice that the later part of the stages would be hot and we'd need all the hydration we can get. I was feeling fine. Legs were good, breathing was easy, heart rate was in the 150's, the scenery was breathtaking and with Digger keeping a running commentary on his past exploits, things couldn't be better. My pace was consistently in the 5:50 - 6:00 throughout, just where I wanted it.
|The finish in sight ...|
This was basically one of the best stretches of the entire route. This was where almost the entire 12k was littered with enthusiastic and vocal supporters cheering you on. This was where you just didn't want to be walking but unfortunately, this was where my race took a dip. Just as I hit the 38k mark, cramps hit me in both my calves. I had to slow down my pace to practically a trot to ease the pain. I also couldn't keep up with Digger anymore and lost my pacer. 'F@@K' I uttered. Why now? Just 4km to go. I was cursing. This wasn't the wall, this was bloody bad fueling plans. I opted for less gels thinking the cool weather would help. That was a really lousy call and was my biggest blunder.
|Finally, the finish!|
The last 1.5k to the finish was the most I've ever heard my name called out by supporters urging me on. It was all so surreal (okay, I promise, that's the last). The last 500m was within sight. There was this runner behind me who kept nudging me to keep going every time I felt like stopping. He kept saying, 'keep going mate, just a few metres to go'. I was clearly in awe of him. He was clearly in as much pain as I was and he was nudging me to keep going. We ran together and the final 250m signage came to view.
With a last turn into the final finish stretch I picked up the pace, put on a more confident face (obviously for the cameras) and ran across the finish like a champion. I looked at my watch and it show 4:23. I had made it to my secondary target. I was a little disappointed not to hit my 4:15 target but I was ecstatic nonetheless at having achieved a new personal best shaving off 13 minutes from my previous best. I wasn't going to take anything away from me. I deserve this moment.
The officials were urging me off to the medal collection area but I stood my ground and waited for that kindly soul who nudged me along. It was the least I could do to thank him. He came in about 30-40 seconds later and I shook his hand and thanked him for his gesture. And only then did I head to pick up my first ever gold label road race finisher medal and tee.
I headed to the post race wait area and was greeted by news from the wife about her half marathon personal best. I never doubted she would do it. I was damn happy for her. More good news followed with Jamie hitting his sub 4 and CY grabbing his sub 5 on his first marathon attempt. A commendable job by the wife and a fantastic effort by the two of them. We all came and got our personal best here so it was worth the trip.
After some photo sessions, we took the shuttle and headed back to wash up and have a late lunch. I don't know about the rest but I was hungry as hell. A quick change and a quick celebratory lunch, we all headed our own way to do our own things. Now that the hard work has been done, it was time to chill a little.
In a nutshell, the experience is something I can never forget. The atmosphere of race day is nothing like I've ever experienced before and having the wife and the company of good friends to share it with makes it all the more exciting. I have no regrets about not achieving my actual time goal. I had a blast and will strive to do better next time. Yes, there will be a next time, that's for sure. After all, I have to set a higher goal, right?
|One of the lovely views at the finish area.|
It would be totally unfair if I didn't mention a few others personally who helped me with what I have achieved at GCAM14. A big thanks goes out to the GCAM Training Alumni gang, Kew, Foo, Julia, Zane, Yan Leng, Piew, YeeHoo, Calvin and Yvonne (for her quiet support). You guys helped a great deal with the training.
Thank you Gold Coast for the great time and be rest assured, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I'll be back!