Gold Cost Airport Marathon 2016: Race Review

This was my third straight year running the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM). There is something about this race that draws me back year after year, so much so that I consider this my home away from home. Well, at least for a week anyway.

This post is entirely about race day as I intend to keep my race and holiday posts separate or it'll take close to a decade to write. I had such fun for the after race holidays that it deserves two or three posts of its own!

I arrived in the Gold Coast on a cold Saturday morning, got my car rental sorted out and off to Surfer's Paradise I went. Drove straight to Woolworths to get stuff for dinner and checked into the apartment for a short rest before heading out to meet the team for a short shake down run.

I was looking forward to the shakedown run, what with a very long and tiring 8 hour flight out. I guess the flight took more out of me than I anticipated and was feeling the jet lag of travelling for so long. I joined the team but it was more of a fun get together photo walk/run than actually getting any running done.

My race gear all laid out. 

A short 3k for me and it was back to the apartment for some food and getting the gear for race day ready. Even when I first started training for this 2 months back, I knew I wasn't going to expect any miracles from this race. What with two back to back injuries that saw an accumulative four months of rehabilitation with no running.

Just when I recovered from my stress fracture before GCAM15 last year, I picked up another injury in the form of a meniscus tear just a week before Kyoto which saw me take another complete two months break from running. I was cursing my luck back then. Two consecutive marathons were screwed by injuries.

With Yan Leng, Jeanie and Selin before race start

I was a little worried for GCAM16 cos by the time I was healed enough to start running, I only had exactly two months to train for the race. Now, anyone worth their salt in running marathons would know that is virtually an impossible time frame to get into shape for a 42k distanced race. Of course there are exceptions to this as some are just born to run with very little training.

I have no idea what kind of pre-race dance ritual Choon Yuen was doing ...

The team were already in full marathon training when I came back and even then the first month was left with short, slow runs to get back into running effectively leaving me one full month of actual marathon training. I was cracking my head at how to get through this. I could push myself like I did before Kyoto but with a huge chance of picking up another injury. I'm crazy enough to run back to back long runs on weekdays, twice a day, something which I've done prior to Kyoto. Not very intelligent though.

All systems go ...

But then my wife stepped into the picture and asked me what I really wanted to do? Did I want to get to the Gold Coast injured and not be able to run at all or would I want to get there albeit under-trained but not injured and actually be able to run this time. The choice was obvious. I'd rather toe the start line under-trained but injury free than not run the race at all. It was thoroughly disappointing and gut wrenching the last two times when I got injured. So I left my training in the capable hands of my lovely wife.

Two extremely fast ladies (Yan Leng & Jessie) on either side of me,
hoping some of their speed will rub off on me!

Now, while she's not the competitive kind of runner or neither is she a fast one but she knows me inside out and what kind of punishment and stress I can handle, especially my ego. She drew up a plan for me, something that she said would hopefully take me to the Gold Coast injury free. I wasn't too happy with the plan, I'm a very competitive person and the plan was 'too mellow' for my liking but nevertheless, I'd give it a go. I just couldn't take the heartache of another injury.

And so, at the end of the two months, I was as ready as any under-trained runner could be but most importantly, I was injury free this time. Granted, the meniscus wasn't 100% healed and neither will it ever be but I could run without pain. That was important. Yeah, I may not be able to do a personal best but I could run! Woohoo!

With Digger prior to race start. I must have been such a bore, he was falling asleep!

So, there I was on a very cold Sunday morning, walking to the tram station with many other runners who were also making their way to the race location. I was bundled up in my Saucony Nomad jacket over my race gear which comprised of my Saucony Endorphin singlet top and Inferno shorts along with my trusty Saucony Kinvara 7 Boston edition. Even though it was very cold and chilly, I knew from past experience that I could comfortably run in a vest and shorts cos the weather would heat up pretty fast once the race progressed.

It's never easy seeing runners on the opposite side
heading back while you still has a ways to go!

Reached the race location around 6.15am, which was as usual teeming with excitement and met up with the gang for chitchat, photo taking and warming up before race start at the prearranged location between the huge screen and the baggage tents. I've been to the Gold Coast races the past two years but I can never get used to the excitement of race day over here. It's exhilarating and festive like.

I was beginning to get butterflies prior to race start. My wife wasn't here at the race location cos she wanted to wait outside the apartment, which was right smack on the race route and grab some pictures of the gang as we ran past. She was my inspiration to get through this race in one piece.

Keeping stride with Andy Steele ...

At 7.10am, Jamie and me headed to our corrals and I bumped into Choon Yuen and Yang Leng lining up at the tail end of the 4:00 pacers, I told them I was moving further back to the 4:15 pacers but they convinced me to stick with them. I was skeptical at first but eventually agreed. I knew I wasn't going to follow their pace. They were primed and well trained for the race and tagging along with them was suicidal for now. I didn't have a real goal but I did have a goal all the same, which was to finish this unscathed. The gun went off and it was show time.

It took me about three minutes to get past the start line and soon I was off to an easy stride. I knew from previous experiences starting fast along with the crowd was foolish, at least for me. I stayed about 100-200 meters behind Choon Yuen and Yan Leng who were slowly building up the pace, just as I expected them to. I kept to my pace which was in the 5:40's. I was a little skeptical about my pace cos it was a tad too fast for my usual starts but I was feeling very comfortable with it.

Happy to see my 'coach' at the 5km mark!

The first 5k was pretty straight forward. I was cold  from the chilly air and slight breeze but the pace was consistent in the 5:40's. I was surprised with it but knew this was still early in the race. The legs were fine, the meniscus wasn't acting up and my breathing was easy and calm. Just before the 5k mark, I started looking out for my wife and ran along the extreme left of the road. I spotted her from afar and a smile crept up my face. Race or no race, I ran up to her for a hug and continued on my way.

Now it was time to focus on my race and see how far I could go. Don't get me wrong, mind you. I'm not making up excuses but I knew I'd hit the wall. That was a given with the training I had. It was just how far I could push this before that happened. I was still keeping to a 5:40 average pace and things were still feeling good. Just after the 5km mark, the 4:15 pacer overtook me which was strange. That shouldn't be happening with the pace I was doing. But the GCAM pacers were known to be a little faster at times.

Just how far more is that bloody U-Turn?!

I let the thought go and let him go instead of trying to chase him down which was a blessing cos I did eventually catch him. It turned out that he had to speed up to make up for lost time crossing the start as he was the gun time pacer and was running a little behind. My race so far was going surprisingly well. I was doing a steady 5:40's pace and my heart rate was in the 145's. For a moment I was worried that my Garmin was screwy.

I kept going, drinking at every water station cos the cold could lull you into a false sense of not needing hydration. I took my gels right on my allocated time without fail. As usual, the crowd along the way were simply awesome. Although this time round, I found the crowd along Garfield Road, Old Burleigh Road and Northcliffe Terrace Road a little less than last year but awesome nonetheless. The volunteers were simply first class and even while dishing out water, they kept encouraging everyone to keep going! I was still going strong right up to the first U-Turn. 

Is that the finish?

I caught up with the 4:15 pacer about 3k before the U-Turn and discovered he was Andy Steele. I stuck with him and we ended up chatting the rest of the way. He told me he was a little ahead of the 4:15 pace and I was fine with that. I was still feeling good even up to the 15k U-Turn. The pace and breathing were still extremely steady but most importantly the legs were still feeling fresh. A sliver of hope crept in but I was not holding my breath just yet.

My conversation with Andy got more interesting as we traded 'war' stories (of cos mine was nothing compared to his). And yes Frank, we even talked about Comrades and I mentioned I train with the Malaysian Comrades Ambassador during weekends :D. And so it was stride for stride running with Andy Steele. Just before the 26k mark, I saw my wife again and excitedly told Andy who she was.

And that folks, is a wrap!

He smiled and said, 'ah, now I see why you've been running so well, your inspiration was waiting'. And I guess he was spot on with that. Just after this I mentioned to Andy that I was worried about the 30k mark and the advice he gave will always be imprinted in my mind. 'Nick, don't think about the 30k mark, just think about the kilometer ahead of you and work it down one kilometer at a time'. Best advice I've ever had!

I kept with him till somewhere around the 29k mark. My lack of proper training was beginning to materialize. I dropped my pace down as my legs refused to go faster but I stubbornly kept moving. This was where I parted ways with Andy Steele. I stopped a little longer at the 31k water station and had to force myself to continue running.

With Steve Moneghetti after the race!  

I managed to get back into a slow trot and for the first time in many years, I felt the onset of cramping! It was forming in every bloody part of my legs and I was seizing up! The 32k mark saw me slow to a walk to try to nurse the cramps. The knee was also beginning to act up and at this point I said, screw it, I'm not going to damage the knee and finish the race injured. I decided I'd save the knee and try to just get through the last 10k even if I had to walk.

The personal primary goal was screwed anyway. The last 10k felt like I was running a 100k race. It took forever. The sun was beating down by this time and seeing everyone heading back on the opposite side of the road wasn't helping my mood one bit. Yan Leng called out to me from the opposite side of the road around the 34k mark and I was very happy for her. She was running strongly and was hoping she'd make her sub-4 today.

Managed to get a shot with Benita Willis, super thrilled!

Around the 35k mark, Selin overtook me and I took this opportunity to use her to pull me along so I tailed 20 meters behind her quietly for one entire kilometer without her realizing I was there. That was how focused she was. She ran a mighty good race by the way! I eventually dropped back and was forced to walk again. The pain was unbearable. I spotted Choon Yuen and we stopped to chat for about a minute to rue our luck. He had issues of his own but was still doing a splendid job. Told him to keep moving and made my way again.

The last 4k was nothing but pain but I resolved to get through it. Eventually after much walking and very little running, I saw the McDonald's sign that indicated I had 1k or so to go. The crowd spurred me on and some running got underway. This is one section you try your best to keep running even if you are in so much pain cos the crowd will chant your name so much that you'd feel bad to let them down! As I turned into the last 250m to the finish, I took a deep breath and made a dash for the finish. Pain or no pain, I just wanted to finish strong. And with a time of 4:42 (gun time) / 4:39 (net time), far from my best but I was done. I had made it back in one piece injury free! That was important for me.

With the second placed finisher Yuki Kawauchi himself!

I knew from the start this wasn't going to produce any world shattering records and I wasn't disappointed with the results. With just one actual month of training, this was a great result for me. I've learned a lot from this. You cannot run a marathon (or at least one that matters) if you don't put in the training for it. PERIOD! Up to the 31k mark, I was on pace for a sub 4 but that will have to wait and my previous best sub 4 in Chiangmai will just need to wait a little longer for another race to be bettered.

After the race, I learned the team did extremely well with lots posting incredible times, a testament to how dedicated they were in training. A huge congrats to them and the entiree Team Malaysia. Most importantly, I have my wife to thank for getting me to the Gold Coast in one piece and her work as an unofficial coach and motivator to me proved successful. I shall be using her services again for my next marathon training. Not sure how much that's going to cost me though ... hahaha!

The two fellows who've been with me in all my overseas marathons. 
And will definitely be there with me for more!

For now, I'm going to take a step back, rest a little, do some rehab for the knee and then get back full swing into training for my next race, whatever that might me. I've learned to put my competitive ego aside and running has become really enjoyable once again.

As for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, I'd have to say it's easily one of the best marathon's I've run in. The race organization is second to none, the spectators are the bomb, the race atmosphere is fantastic and if I can somehow afford it next year, I'd definitely love to run this again. And to those thinking about doing this, don't think anymore, just sign up for GCAM17, you won't regret it!

Team Malaysia post race.
Pic credit goes to Jamie Pang