Gold Coast Marathon 2015

Gold Coast has earned itself a Gold Label for a number of reasons. Not only have they gone to great lengths to fulfill some of the strictest criteria stipulated by IAAF, they have also done themselves proud by being one of the only two Gold label marathons awarded in Australia. Yet, the field for Full Marathon was not as packed as I have presumed. Registered numbers were only about 6,118 for FM, with only 5,276 runners completing the race this year. Surprisingly low. But for good reasons as some of the roads along the route were quite narrow. Besides, sheer 'numbers' is not the required criteria anyway. (This is a drop of hint to some of the more ambitious organizers in SEA.) So, if you are eyeing for a moderate sized, yet top quality marathon to race that PB, this is your place. Oh, did I mention that the course route was as flat as the airport?

Arrived on Saturday morning to be greeted by a warm 22 degrees Celsius, amidst the signature clear blue sky of sunny Sun City. Just as how I remembered it back in 2012. But one thing that I did not anticipate was the fully booked car rental. If you have not booked in advance, sorry, you'll have to get around with the shuttle bus. Or pay a fortune with the cab. With time to kill, and not a lot of cash to spare, I naturally chose the shuttle.

A fellow Malaysian, Dr. Sim, who's resident in GC, was kind enough to provide shelter for the night before race day. And it so happens that his place in Southport was just less than 2 km from the starting point. Aside from this strategic advantage, it was just nice to meet up again. And on top of that, managed to make the acquaintance of Mary O'Donovan, Sim's friend who was also there to run her maiden half marathon. And I found out that Sim had also just completed his 10 km that morning. The three of us had such a wonderful time of sharing, stories and laughter. It's amazing how running has a way of bringing people of different walks of life together. 

The comfort of fellowship, good food and a nice bed had been key to restfulness. Exactly what I needed pre-race. It also took the mind off the race entirely. So, I wasn't even thinking about the marathon until I woke up at 5:45 am on 5/7/15. Coming into it, I had not been too intentional to set a sub 3. To say that I don't want it would be a lie. But I knew my form. For the past few months, the motivation to train had been somewhat lacking. And I believe I have been recovering too from OTS (Over Training Syndrome). So, to force a target goal of the ever elusive sub 3 would not be at all realistic. So, the plan of the day would be to 'try'. I would still run at the pace that could get me there. But whether I make it with that set up, I'd have to find out soon enough.

Took a slow jog to the starting point as I left the apartment at 6:25 am. It was a beautiful day with perhaps a cool 15-16 degrees Celsius, gentle by any standard and a stark contrast from the brutal April 20th Boston weather a few months back. This is perfection. The only thing that can beat it is a sub 3 to match it ;)

The atmosphere was quite relax. Almost like a family outing. You see some runners still making their ways to the starting pent just minutes before the actual gun off. Contrast this with the Majors like Tokyo, you wouldn't be allowed in if you weren't already in the pent 45 minutes earlier. But of course, with just 6+K FM runners, GCAM can afford to do that. 

Eyes were set on the light blue balloons where the 3 hours pacers stood. These are our tour guides for the day. But when I got into the pent, there were already too many runners surrounding them. I couldn't even get close. I recognized Steve Moneghetti aka Mona, the same 3 hour pacer that took me close to my sub 3 target the last time in 2012. Will I be able to keep up today? But, truth be told, I was not too bothered. It's fine if I could. But even if I don't, I would just run my own pace. Unsure of his strategy, I wasn't about to go out too fast anyway. Boston had taught me well about risking it all. 

Gun off at 7:20 am. Separated by about 80m, I was pretty sure that I could catch up with the pacers if I wanted to. Somehow, I resisted that urge, but kept them within view's range just to make sure that I was not going too slowly. On hindsight, that split second decision turned out to be the key deciding factor on my overall performance. I am glad I stuck to my own plan and not follow. They were in fact going at sub 4:10 pace. I would have bonked. Again.

I stayed at 4:12 pace. Happy to just cruise along. Initially it took a bit of adjustment but by 2 km, I had settled into the race. The words 'cruising along' may denote a certain 'effortlessness' but its not. I wish it were that easy. But what I imply is a sense of sustainability without exerting too much effort. The breathing was smooth and I felt steady and unhurried.

This is what I have been hoping to achieve during the past few months of training: Running by effort. And it has paid off. By 10 km (0:42:16), 15 km (1:03:19), 20 km (1:24:20), Half way point (1:29), 25 km (1:45:24), 30 km( 2:07:06) and even up to 35 km (2:29:34), my pace was quite even at 4:12-4:14. And the best part is, it matched my perceived effort. But of course, beyond 35km, where the real race of any marathon begins, I was beginning to struggle. 

This point onward, the perceived effort is no longer reliable. The incongruity could be explained by the build up of lactate. And depletion of glycogen. Naturally, one's working harder to rid himself of lactate. But the threshold has been breached. Even with power gels, it was not going to be enough. Of course such scientific theories wasn't running through my mind at that point. It was more like: "ARE WE THERE YET!?!?" Or more sadistically, "ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?!!?" 

So, my physical threshold for 'effort based' pacing was only reliable up to the point of 35 km. (And this is for a 4:12 pace). The remainder was largely a mental game. This is when digging deep comes into play. And dig in I did. But whatever I did (increase my cadence, breathe faster and move those arms etc), though the 'perceived effort' felt like 4:12 but in actual fact, the pace was more like 4:40.  

This is just to prove my point about effort based pacing. But it also reveals one simple truth: Inadequate training. A perfect gauge that I was not quite sub 3 caliber. Not just yet. 

I think if I were to go ALL OUT. Like Yuki Kawauchi, I would have fainted. I would have collapsed. I think I was capable of that kind of daredevil/risk-it-all behavior. But on that day, I was happy to reach that threshold at 35 km, push through and just finish strong. Its not a day for collapsing on the tarmac upon entry into the finish line. To be fair, I did gave a final 250m sprint just to make it look good. And in fact, it felt good. Despite not making sub 3. 

So, net time 3:03:01. A good enough time to take home. 

What I have learned from this was not to be phased by a missed target. Study it and know your weakness. And improve upon it if you can. But even if you don't, never be too harsh on yourself. After all, if you can't have fun doing it, what is the point anymore? I think that is the fine line between obsession and dedication. 


After spending at least half an hour eating and drinking up, took my sweet time to get out.....

Best of all, finish it off with good friends there to cheer for you!!!


  1. Solid job as always, Francis! Didn't get to bump into you during the race.

    1. Yeah, Nick, was a super short Touch and Go kind of trip. So, no time to linger with you guys. In fact, had to rush off soon after race to meet with friends. Next time perhaps. Will see you around in the local races.

  2. Well done doc! That sub-3 will come one day. :)

    1. Thanks Sue, but come what may, am learning to 'enjoy' it a bit more now. :)

  3. Another masterpiece~
    Sometimes I would wonder, why it seems to be a invisible line before and after 3hr? What's that define our biological limit, or is mental can beat everything? Or is it we are not putting under stress enough to make another leap... sometimes all of the weird questions will appear during the post 30km section...

    1. Kent, you are right. Its an arbitrary number. Who defines it anyway? But just because it tests us at our utmost limits, it has become a milestone that needs to be conquered. For you, it is a reality. Mine is still a chasing after the wind. :)


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