• Thomas Alexander

Perth Marathon 2021 - Race Report

I missed the last two races that I had signed up for this year, Birdy’s Backyard Ultra, and Bibra Lake Marathon following a trifecta of injury and illness which led to a very short lead up and last ditch attempt for 2021 at Perth Marathon, managed by the West Australian Marathon Club. I actually felt good leading into the race, not being injured is something you take for granted in the good times but once you are reminded how vulnerable you are when you cannot run, it definitely helps increase the appreciation of the opportunity!


With all the interruptions, I managed six weeks of training in preparation for the race, with a quick build, only a couple of 100 kilometre weeks and a week of taper, plenty right?

I had been watching the weather all week, with forecast rain moving forward and back but by Saturday the forecast for race day looked perfect with a possible early shower and relatively cool conditions so was primed and ready to go.

Race Morning

I woke up early enough so there was no rush and ordered my Uber for the short 20-minute trip to Burswood for the start. There is always that weird conversation with taxi or Uber drivers when you are headed to a race and they feel like they need to feign an interest in what you are doing but, clearly think a) you’re mad and b) they could care less and now wish they hadn’t started you talking about running – probably felt like a long journey for him! 5 stars.


Arrived in plenty of time and the marathon club rooms are a great spot for a race as there is plenty of space indoors to store gear and get ready with no need for bag drops. Joined the obligatory portaloo queue, definitely not a highlight of every pre-race ritual L and then had a bit of time to catch up with some familiar faces and wish everyone luck.


Went for a five-minute warm up run along the river and my legs felt fresh and so I was happy with that and confident of a good day out. Also managed to awkwardly nearly run into a cameraman trying not to ruin his photo, before realising he was taking a photo of me, brilliant work, Thomas. Marathon starts seem a funny business, with the elites lined up at the front and then an awkward vacuum of space with no one wanting to self-seed too highly, and this tends to fill up with thirty seconds to go.

West Australian Marathon Club Perth Marathon 2021 Course Map
Not as confusing as it looks

The course runs around the Swan river, along the foreshores with the city as the backdrop, a few small bridge crossings and corners but nothing ridiculous compared to other (proper sized) cities.


I tell people I did not have a goal in mind and that is mostly true, as with the interrupted training plan, I did want to focus on having fun and being part of an event with so many friends. That said, everyone wants to do well and so beating my previous marathon time was definitely a target, albeit not a life or death thing, and I felt confident I could do that by sitting around or just below 4-minute per kilometre pace.


The countdown was on, my earbuds were actually working (how do people run for that long without music?) and after a little bobbing and weaving in the first few hundred metres, everyone settled in to their respective paces.

The First 10 Kilometres

The plan was to run the first couple of kilometres in whatever felt comfortable and then settle in to 3:55 to 4:00 pace from there. Settled in with a small group off the back of the faster runners and on the first out and back was feeling very comfortable. I’ve never had GPS issues with my Garmin previously but headed back towards Claisebrook Cove, the pace on my watch seemed to be all over the place.


I would look down and see that I was running 4:15 pace, slightly pick it up, look down and see I was doing 3:45 which was quite frustrating so settled in to what felt comfortable and gave up on looking at the watch for a while. In retrospect, not sure if this was the watch, or me?

I let a couple of guys come past and go, rather than trying to stick with anyone and by the 10 kilometre point, was running by myself and whilst I felt like I was working a little harder than times indicated, recognised that the Easterly portion of the course was going to be in to the (very slight) wind.

10-20 Kilometres

It is amazing how quickly things change in a race and by 13 kilometres, after crossing the Causeway Bridge, I was actually feeling a little light headed. I always ensure I hydrate well the day before a race and started trying to think back to what I had drunk the day before, which I still think was plenty but the morning definitely had a heavy feeling to the air and more humidity than usual.

It was not long after that point that I definitely started to feel that my legs were getting heavy, which was way too early based on training and pace. So, at this point I was hoping it was just one of those fleeting things that would pass with time and I was still feeling comfortable as we ran down the south side of the river. I was conscious to stick to what felt reasonable and let a couple pass me on what was one of the lonelier stretches in terms of company, mostly running by myself.


There was an awesome group of supporters at the South Perth Jetty which is always a pick-me-up in any race - no pom-poms so I would deduct a point and give a solid 9/10 - and I am sure this helped as I had started to feel a bit better at this point.

Perth Marathon 2021
Awesome supporters at this point in South Perth

20-30 Kilometres

Things got a little better, and then a little worse on this section and we weaved around the paths under the bridges and headed for the out and back stretch towards the University of Western Australia. There was definitely a little more head-wind on this stretch but I was with a couple of other runners which helped share the wind and I backed off on the way out to save some energy for the return and at this point felt that I 2:50 would still be achievable.


Headed back towards town and no, I was still struggling to maintain a constant pace and it felt like I was surging and then slowing down for no reason. My heart rate was also still high and I had hoped with the slight tailwind it would drop off as it had been in the 170’s the whole time to that point, but it did not. My plan of having a strong homeward leg quickly fell into the river and reality again set it.

I did take my own advice and tried to keep relaxed and smiling but in reality my head was really busy with thinking – that sounds so weird to say but is probably the best way I can explain as normally you don’t notice thinking when you run but I just didn’t feel good and couldn’t work out what was wrong. Before headed back over the Narrows I actually found myself walking at one stage and trying to clear my head as I was seeing stars, it was probably only 5 or 10 seconds asking myself ‘what the **** are you walking for?’ Before getting going again.

Perth Marathon 2021
On the homeward Easterly leg

30 Kilometres – to the finish

Not good. At least that would be the description with a two word limit for the run back from the Narrows bridge to the finish and would make for a quicker read, but probably doesn’t do the variety of emotions and thoughts justice. Looking at my lap splits, it's actually surprising to see that I was still on track up until 32 kilometres when the wheels really fell off because I felt like it had happened long before that!

Again, the supporters in this section were an awesome boost and that was a genuine highlight of the stretch back towards the Causeway which otherwise bore resemblance to some form of death march and I was passed by a couple of recreational runners at one point after stopping for the second time to regain my bearings as I felt like I was going to pass out. I kicked myself in the ass (metaphorically speaking - I'm not that flexible) and again it was probably only ten seconds so got moving again with the last few kilometres starting to count down.


I don't remember too much about this section, other than feeling very light headed and heavy legged, perfect combination! On to the final bridge crossing (there were six in total but fairly flat) and for whatever reason I finally felt good, shame that there was only 1500 metres to go at this point but maybe it was just the lure of the finish line!


I finished in 2:55.57 (net) so not the disaster that it felt like during the race, 35th place overall.

Perth Marathon 2021 finish line
Relief

Aftermath

I'm a big proponent of positive thinking, in and out of races, and I rarely go through dark spots when I'm running, even in ultras by myself in the middle of the night. Trying to recall my thoughts during this particular race really doesn't seem like me so I can only think maybe the humidity and dehydration played a role. If you picture the cartoons with the little angel and devil on the shoulders, that is exactly how I felt from very early on in this run until the finish, and even into the post-race analysis, very strange.


Anyway, I am massively grateful for being able to run a marathon with all the lock-downs and craziness in the world, being free to run races, and physically able to do so, is never something I will take for granted. It is also very humbling, and awkward (it's not like I won ), to receive so many congratulations and support from family and close friends who cheered me on, meeting new friends at every event, through to acquaintances and people I don't know online, which is why the running community is so awesome!

I can honestly say the best part of the day was seeing friends smash their goals and set personal bests! This wasn't a personal best for me but I know the feeling and there's nothing better than seeing other people reach that point. It is also a reminder for me that with such a minimal lead up, six months ago this would have achieved my life's running goal of running under 3 hours for the marathon so not something to take for granted just because it was a few minutes off last time! I do feel like I could run a lot faster with some small changes, and that might be on the cards for future but again, being mindful to just be happy being able to spend time with like minded people, being healthy and happy, is the reward more so than any race will ever be.



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