• Thomas Alexander

Busselton Marathon 2022 - The Good, the Bad and the (very) Ugly

I’m not sure I would know the answer if someone asked me what the optimum number of kilometres would be in the 6 weeks leading up to a marathon. Luckily, thanks to my selfless dedication to science, I do know the answer is not 11 kilometres!

If you have read my previous post (here), with a suspected tibial stress fracture right after New Year’s, I took ALL of my training to the pool for 6 weeks with a view to testing how that would affect my ability to race. With only a week to go before the race, I had a short 5km run/walk on the grass as a confidence boost only.. it did not boost my confidence and my leg felt exactly the same as before I stopped running! I did see the doctor at that point, who gave me some anti-inflammatories by prescription but, it was a tough choice whether to race or not and I decided I would start, and if the pain intensified, I would stop. Having never DNF’d a race in my life, that kinda scared me a bit because I knew that stopping would be against what my head would tell me to do but at the same time, I really didn’t want to be out of action all season.

Busselton is about 2.5 hours drive south of Perth and I was lucky to catch a lift down the afternoon before the race. After bib pick-up I went for my second pre-marathon run, up and down the coast for a few kilometres and the leg felt the same, no worse no better, so it was on. I am very particular about setting out all of my clothes and equipment the night before a race for a stress-free and efficient morning so I stuck with that tradition. Somehow, whether I snoozed or just thought I had more time than I did in the morning, I found myself still getting ready and taping my foot with 10 minutes before the start!

I am pretty bad at not warming up before a race and I tend to get nervous standing around waiting so, the solution? Find yourself running to the start line whilst still getting ready, fighting with your backpack, pairing headphones and getting all of my gels in the right pockets. I reached the start line with under 2 minutes to go on the countdown. I would like to pretend that went to plan but it was a complete fluke, luckily, no time for nerves and was warm and ready to go when the time was up.

Starting in the dark is my favourite way to start a race

The Good

Having not run at all, I really had no idea what pace I could, should or would be able to hold so figured I would go out reasonably for the first couple of kilometres and then settle into whatever felt comfortable. So, after a couple of kilometres at around 4 min/km pace which felt easy, I backed off and let the fast group run away from me, settling in at approx. 3 hour pace (4:16/km). Whilst still dark, the morning was already a little muggy and humid so I planned to grab water at every aid station in order to try and stay hydrated. Of course, I missed grabbing the cup at the very first station and was lucky that the lead-female cyclist grabbed me a cup from behind and brought it up to me. That made me smile and I do love that about the running community.

Those first few kilometres were uneventful as we headed out of Busselton along the winding coastal path as the sun came up. I was paying a LOT of attention to my leg and I could feel that familiar discomfort but it didn’t seem to be increasing. What was increasing though was the effort it was taking to maintain the same pace. My breathing felt fine but the legs started to feel a little bit heavier by the 15km mark… uh oh. I knew that was going to come but I had naively hoped I might have less than 27 kilometres still to go when it did!

In the zone

The Bad

Out of Busselton, there is a short stretch along the main road before the path heads back towards the beach and I was already feeling the heat at that point. I found myself counting down the time until the next aid station by which point I was slowing down to make sure I could get enough water. I think I walked through one at this point and had a couple of cups to keep me going.

I was running by myself for a lot of this time, a curse which seems to follow me in every race is being unable to find a group that’s the right speed for me. But, whilst this would have helped with not having to check my pace, it probably wouldn’t have replaced my legs which were feeling it with each and every kilometre. That said, the wheels hadn’t completely fallen off the 3 hour train yet and I reached the half way point at exactly 1 hour 30 minutes, perfect yet increasingly painful timing.

The benefit of a turnaround point is that at last I was able to see some other runners, probably no more than a few minutes behind me and most looking decidedly better than I was feeling at that stage of the race.

The Ugly

If a picture tells a thousand words, the race pics from the 30km mark to the finish say more about how painful this was than I could hope to explain here. To say that my quads were dead would be like saying a hairless polar bear would find winter in the Arctic, ‘chilly’. With 10 kilometres to go, the marathon course met at the turnaround point of the half-marathon so the bonus was having a lot of other runners around. The negative was that most were passing me which was a bit of a kick in the nuts from a confidence perspective and made me feel like I was running even slower.

A picture worth many painful words

When I got going, I would feel okay for a short spurt and then the legs would almost give way and I would find myself walking and muttering non-PG friendly affirmations to myself. I probably shouldn’t have kept glancing at my watch either, as I saw my estimated finish time slipping back further and further. I didn’t have a specific goal, so it wasn’t like I was missing that, but by that point I became determined to finish under 3:30 even if it killed me, which felt quite possible by then. In fact, i may have died a few times in those last few kilometres.

It’s funny how no matter the distance, the sight of the finish line always gives us the ability to bring it home strong, even if only for a couple of hundred meters... I actually felt like I flew home but having seen the video, I had to fast forward it to be certain that I wasn’t moving backwards! I have not been so glad to cross a finish line in longer than I can remember, ouch!

The relief!

The Wrap-Up

Stumbling to grab some water after the finish I literally could not find a piece of grass to collapse onto quick enough and my legs hurt a LOT. What made me feel better was catching up with friends who had all had great races, there’s something so great about the excitement when someone is trying to be humble about their run but you know they’re over the moon so that was really nice and everyone was so kind in return. I felt a bit awkward when people asked how my race went, I mean.. probably exactly as was to be expected but I honestly didn’t think I would have to dig that deep or that it would hurt that much.

By Thursday that week, my legs were STILL too sore to run and I think it was only by Friday that I managed a slow 5km if that goes anyway to telling how destroyed they were. My time was almost 40 minutes slower than my last two marathons!! Whilst I do now appreciate it was a decent result with 11km of running under the belt, it’s sometimes hard when people congratulate you whilst you feel terrible.

Did running in the pool help? Yes and no. My cardio felt good, I didn’t feel like I was struggling or pushing hard at all until the legs started fatiguing which then meant having to expend more effort to keep on track. So yes, it definitely helped with my fitness. It was hard because even cycling was out of the question given the force that it pushes through the tibia but I would definitely look at whatever strength exercises for the legs I could do to complement the pool work if in the same situation again. As I said, in fairness, probably exactly the result that was to be expected and not a complete catastrophe, especially if the goal was to be crowned Lord of the Positive Splits, a title I have certainly earned by now.

Of course, the biggest positive was finishing the race and I certainly haven’t lost sight of how grateful we all should be being able to run, irrespective of finishing times. My leg is not ‘fixed’ to the point where I can run without discomfort so I have been back to the doctor, but I have been training without any escalation in symptoms so maybe it’s phantom pains or something, time will tell. By the time you read this I’ve also finished a 16km race and will be hitting a half-marathon this weekend. Sure, smart people wait until they’re race-fit but life is short and nothing beats the feeling of testing yourself and (hopefully) seeing the fitness improve throughout the year.

I did receive a lot of questions about the pool running so now that the experiment is over, if anyone else wants to know anything more, feel free to hit me up as I have a better idea of what to (and not to) do.

Obligatory jetty 📸

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