By Kathryn Watt
Sometimes it feels like joining a running club is not so dissimilar to joining a cult. And no time does this seem truer than when waking up long before dawn, squeezing into spandex and heading out into the dark to run an unreasonable distance, at an unreasonable hour, with excited hordes of other equally-brainwashed- spandex-clad folk.
Standing amidst the throng of excited runners at the start of the Hillcrest Marathon,
alongside the formidable figures of Brad, Coenie, Matt, and Sean, I wondered if I was going to make it to the end of the 42.2kms that lay ahead. In the weeks preceding the marathon, I had continuously considered downscaling my entry to the half marathon. My training had not been as rigorous or focused as it had been for my first marathon the year before, and I didn’t feel as well prepared. But the time for hesitancy had passed and, 15 minutes later than expected, the start whistle blew and the crowd jostled forward, tightly packed and wafting the scent of deep heat and sunscreen. In a few minutes we had crossed the start line and Sean and my race began.
At only 3 kms in I already needed an inconvenient toilet break, I was not the only one and the wait for the portaloo was excruciating as valuable minutes ticked by. The woman in front of me eventually rapped curtly on the portaloo door – I admired her bravado – and finally it was my turn. I felt a relief only runners know and eagerly headed back onto the road.
“Roll it, don’t push it” chanted the 2:30 pacesetter as he led his bus cruising downhill. “Roll it, don’t push it” I responded as I hopped aboard for a kilometre or so, the vibe of the bus pulling me along.
Sean and I ran sometimes a few metres ahead of, and sometimes a few metres behind the indomitable Sandy and Kirsty, both of whom were enroute to 21.1km. Sandy suggested that to save our energy for the second lap we try keep behind her. Dutifully I lessened my pace, and from that moment was sure never to pass Sandy. When Sandy slowed, I slowed and when she and Kirsty sped off into the distance I did not try to keep up. Sandy’s sage advice gave me permission to walk before I was forced by tiredness to do so, and I am certain this was the reason I took so much pleasure in the race and did not succumb to undue suffering on Lap 2.
We passed beneath the green canopy of a glorious avenue of trees, admired the manicured lawns and sweeping views of the Hillcrest mansions, shared smiles and words of encouragement with marshals, slurped coke mixed with water, and bit by bit watched the kilometres melt away.
I knew we were nearing the end of our first lap when we saw some of our favourite runners bounding down the hill we were battling up – they were already on their second lap and making great time. Ahead of the race, I had wondered if I would be tempted to turn off at the 21.1km mark, but on the day I cruised past the turnoff with no inclination to end my race.
As we began our second lap we were joined by a fantastic Save Orion runner who was
hoping to qualify for Comrades, we formed a mini-bus of our own and encouraged each
other onwards. This interaction led me to quietly hope that Sean and I too could complete our race in under 4hrs50mins.
It was starting to heat up, sweat ran down the back of my neck, and my hamstrings stung. Tired and shuffling slowly up yet another hill, a festive table of Chillie runners encouraged me to keep pushing and laughingly teased that “Stella got her groove back!”
I was surprised how little I minded running the same route twice as the second lap presented new sights, sounds and sensations (including a rather unpleasant pain in my hip).
In the final few kilometres as we walked what felt like the millionth hill, Sean and I came
across Tim – who is always such a friendly fellow to meet on the road. A persistent whistle blew from a pack of determined Hollywood Bets runners, and the 4.50
bus nipped closely at our heels. Now that I really believed we could finish under 4hr50mins I was fuelled by a jangle of nerves and unexpected determination. “All you need to do is stay ahead of that one bus” I thought.
We crested the final hill, pushed along the straight and then at last we were flying down the grassy slope towards the finish. I heard my name called out and looked up to find a row of green and gold figures cheering Sean and I on towards the end and before I had time to think we had crossed the finish line and our race was over.
My experience at Hillcrest Marathon left me filled with gratitude. Gratitude for fellow club members who celebrate each fellow runner’s achievements, no matter how small. Gratitude for all of the jovial marshals and the running community who make race day fun rather than daunting. Gratitude to Sandy and the other Stella veterans who offer expert running insight to us rookie runners. And gratitude to Sean for sharing the long run with me.