The destination for marathon number 4 was Canberra, Australia. This was the start of my biggest travelling stint of my marathon mission- as marathon 4 (Canberra) and marathon 5 (Borneo) were fairly close together I decided to combine the marathons with 8 weeks of travelling in Australia and Asia. This was the first time I was travelling alone, although several people from home would be joining me at different legs of the trip.
On 1st April 2017 I was due to leave England for Australia. I had packed up my rucksack a few days in advance to ensure all the holiday essentials were in there (running gear, 5 bikinis, 4 pairs of shoes, hair straighteners etc etc) and before leaving for Heathrow I checked I had my passport, boarding pass and travel currency card (tick, tick, tick). I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, as I wanted to do some last minute airport shopping. When I tried to go through the electronic bag drop it wouldn’t work and the airline staff advised it was because I was too early, so said to try again in half an hour. I came back 30 minutes later and still it wouldn’t work, so I was told to join a long customer service queue. When I eventually reached the front of the line I had 1 hour 45 minutes until my plane was due to depart. The woman at the desk asked for my passport (check), boarding pass (check) and Australian visa…. 5 bikinis, 4 pairs of shoes but no visa!!! Cue a frantic process of the customer service lady trying to arrange me an Australian visa. I kept watching the clock above her head ticking away… apparently there was a system failure and she had to ring the Australian embassy in Canberra… she asked me about the plans for my trip…. she told me time was short… there was another flight the next day if the visa wasn’t processed in time… 45 minutes before my flight left the visa was went through. She told me to go straight to the gate as it was closing in 15 minutes. I would have hugged her if I had seconds to spare, but instead I ran to security (typically ending up in the slow queue behind a load of dawdlers) and ran through the airport to the gate, sadly passing by all the shops I was so eager to look in. In fairness it actually made quite a good training run! I may not have got the sunglasses and perfume I wanted, but I made it to the gate with 5 minutes to spare. Phew.
I was hoping for blue skies and sunshine, however when I landed in Sydney it was pouring hard. I thought it was meant to be hot in Australia?! What made it worse was that it was typically a really sunny weekend in England. Fortunately the weather improved during my 5 days in the capital, allowing me to check out the harbour bridge, opera house, Bondi beach and the Blue Mountains. The highlights of my time in Sydney were meeting up with Lloyd, a friend I lived with for 2 years at uni who has relocated to Sydney and seeing a ballet live at the Sydney Opera House.
After 5 great days in Sydney I travelled west to Canberra. Despite it being the capital city of Australia, Canberra is not a particularly touristy place, as it is predominantly just parliamentary buildings and offices. This means it is even quieter at weekends when all the offices are closed.
I arrived to the deserted city on a Saturday afternoon- the city was deadly quiet and it had a really eerie feel about it. I checked into the hostel I was staying, which if I’m honest felt more like a crack den for the homeless (but that’s a whole other story!)
The next morning I woke up at 4am to eat a carb loaded breakfast before the 6:20am race and walked the 30 minutes to the start line with another girl from the hostel who was also running. As we arrived at the start the heavens opened and the rain started pouring down. I was wearing a waterproof jacket, yet the rain was so heavy it soaked right through to my skin.
Just before the race was due to start the rain miraculously stopped. I peeled off my jacket to put in the baggage area and made my way to the starting line up. The starting gun was fired and off we went. The weather was actually perfect for running (cool, crisp and overcast) for the first 10 miles of the race, however after that point it was torrential rain until the very end. I had been told Canberra was a very flat city, so was hoping to beat the PB I earned in Seville. Before the race I got chatting to one of the race officials who described the course as “undulating”. I have heard the word “undulating” several times over the past few months. To a normal person the word “undulating” may sound pleasant, romantic even. It may draw thoughts of long country drives or walks through valleys. To runners “undulating” is more of a swear word, a kick in the teeth, a kind way of saying “this race is hilly as fuck – good luck!” And hilly it was, as the route took us out of the flat city centre into the surrounding “undulating” suburbs.
Up until mile 14 I was trying so hard to keep up with the 3 hr 30 minute pacemakers, that I wasn’t taking anything in except the road in front of me. All I saw was the concrete beneath my feet and the trainers of the runner in front. I felt myself burning out and knew I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the pace. Everything was hurting and I wasn’t enjoying it at all. I slowed slightly, looked around and realised I was actually running through a beautiful vineyard – I had been so caught up in trying to run my fastest that I wasn’t appreciating the amazing scenery around me. My priorities changed – I decided I wanted to enjoy the race rather than go through the motions and wear my legs out trying to get a PB. It was still tough, running in the rain always is. When your trainers become filled with water they start feeling like weights, making every stride more effortful. And don’t get me started on the chafing that happens when wet clothes rub against your skin… As the race drew to an end, I was sopping wet and freezing cold, but I finished in 3 hours 39 minutes – just one minute slower than my PB in Seville!
So I guess the cold, wet, “undulating” Canberra marathon wasn’t the dreamy Australian race I had hoped for, but surprisingly I enjoyed it. I learnt that slowing down isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it would do us all good to occasionally veer our eyes away from the path of life before us, to look around and appreciate our surroundings (however undulating they may be).
Canberra marathon: 3 hours 39 minutes