• Thomas Alexander

Rottnest Island Marathon 2021 - Race Report

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Rottnest is an island approximately 18km off the coast of Western Australia, and a pretty unique and idyllic location for a race. After signing up for the marathon, managed by the West Australian Marathon Club, everyone I spoke about the race to mentioned the hills and potential wind being factors - but I'd visited the island more than 15 years ago and didn't remember any hills - it's an island after all. Being my first real attempt at a marathon, there was definitely the temptation to find a fast or easy course, but I'm trying to make running about the experience and journey as much as the outcome - plus, the real reason was I'm far too impatient to let an opportunity slip by whilst training for a race further away.


Race Morning

Given that I don't live on an island 18km off the coast of Western Australia, it meant a 4am wake up call for an early ferry. Luckily I have an elderly, and partially senile, spaniel who did his best to ensure I didn't miss my alarm, by waking me several times throughout the night - thanks Ernie. Close to pressing snooze, I remembered the Uber on order and after a quick carb/energy drink I was ready to go.


The ferry was packed but the energy was up with most people up at that hour being competitors or support crew and had a good chat on the way over about all things running whilst trying to ignore the fact that my stomach wasn't a big fan of the ocean. We arrived in no time, being only a 30 minute trip, just as it started to get a bit lighter and stepping off the ferry the fear of the forecast cold disappeared as it was cool and fresh, perfect for running. The race was set up right at the jetty so check in and bib collection was instant and very efficient - thanks as always to all of the volunteers that make races happen!


Some light rain just started to fall and found some change rooms to prepare. Luckily for me, the day before the race a couple of instagrammers had asked me what I was doing for nutrition? Just using aid stations was my response - duh! Until they politely pointed out that this was no trail running buffet smorgasbord and that you had to bring your own. Yikes! I had two recommendations to try Maurten gels, thanks to Dan and Sharon, so headed off and bought myself a few of those remembering the age old adage - 'always try something new on race day' - pretty sure I nailed that with such a minor detail. What I also hadn't planned was how to carry the gels so after poking about a few places, all external don't worry, ended up wedging them in the tops of my arm sleeves and hoping they would hold.


After this, it was back to the bag drop and then to hear that there were 5 minutes until the marathon start. This meant a quick jog back to the start line was the only warm up I had - bad time management Thomas - and staying on the island the night before probably makes a lot of sense in terms of being a more relaxing morning. Still, not standing around waiting meant no time to be nervous and I made my way through the eager crowd, saw some familiar faces and found a place a few rows back from the start line. The race was four laps with a slightly longer first lap and then approx 10km of an out and back loop:

Not being a massive race, the start line was quite narrow but everyone had self-seeded appropriately and when the gun went off (it didn't... see below video), we were off and running without any pushing and shoving. Before we start, I should be clear that my goal was 3 hours. I would have had fun regardless of time but since I can remember, this has always had that attraction to me but those that ran that fast were 'other people'. It was only after my solo half-marathon attempt in April that I started to think it may be possible for me and so.. didn't want to wait and give it a shot.

Lap 1

Not being a huge race, the start was quite narrow but there wasn't any pushing or shoving and took off with the lead group. I quickly decided there was no way I was going to try and keep up with the three runners that very quickly disappeared into the distance after the short out and back section of the first lap and settled into an easy pace, around 3:45 min/km with a small group. but after the first couple of kilometres found myself running alone in 4th.


Lesson 1 - running behind people makes pacing much easier! It also wasn't long until I realised that my memory had failed me and that there were indeed hills on the island and they constituted a large part of the course with very few flat sections to settle into a smooth thythm. I don't tend to look behind me when I run and had music on so I'm not sure how close the others were but Mark Conway passed and then ran with me for the last quarter of the lap, crossing the line together into the second lap in 4th/5th position.

Rottnest Island Marathon 2021
Lap 1 before the sun came up - running by feel

Lap 2

After the quick loop around the settlement, I did display what I think was an admirable attempt at self restraint, and let Mark go ahead so I was back to solo running again but at least had someone in sight to help with pacing. It was a pretty uneventful lap, I stuck to my plan to have a gel every 35 minutes and still felt quite comfortable on the hills, trying to use the downhills for free speed where possible. I passed the halfway point at 21.1km in 1:21:56 and for a short time had delusions of holding that pace for the second half but realistically always knew I'm a very positive splitter. Just goes to show being positive isn't good in every context, ha!


I came back into the start/finish area maybe 30 seconds after the half marathon had started and so spent the next kilometre weaving through traffic which, may have cost a tiny amount of time, but added a bit of spice to things and they soon turned left for the extra bit on their first lap, and I turned right for the start of lap 3.

Rottnest Island Marathon 2021
Lap 2 and still feeling strong headed up to the bagpipes on the hill - a staple of this race

Lap 3

I realised things were going to start to hurt on the third lap. My pace had started to drop and was in the high 3:50's/km and for the first time Garmin, always the motivator, helpfully reminded me I was touching on 4min km's. Vlad Ixel came past, as did the other leaders of the half marathon, absolutely flying and I had to look down to check that my legs were still working. It felt like I was standing still! At some point towards the end of the lap I was passed by 5th place and so fell back to 6th overall by the time I went through the township for the last time. Still, looking at my watch, my goal of 3 hours was a lock by that point barring catastrophe, figuring that I could have a shocker and would still be on target so other than my legs (minor detail in a marathon), I was still feeling great.


Rottnest Island Marathon 2021
Lap 3 actually felt harder than this photo looks and reality was setting in

Last lap

Not surprisingly, the last lap was painful. My form had all but gone on the hills, reduced to what felt like a wobbly mass, barely supported by any skeletal structure, and my heart rate was peaking but I wasn't in pain as in pain pain.... just normal hard running race pain, if that's a thing. This lap was fun though! By now there were runners everywhere with the half marathoners all spread out around the course, and lapping a few of the marathon runners too so it felt very social. I still had my music on and I caught a few last minute waves from people going in the other direction - apparently I looked like I was in 'the zone'. They may have mistaken the 'hurtlocker' for 'the zone' but hey, I'll take the compliment!


Jon Pendse passed me with about 3km to go and I decided to stick with him, then my legs decided about 4 seconds later... that I wouldn't. My times were really starting to suffer by then but I was so happy that I was going to hit my target and was just enjoying the atmosphere so didn't really care at that point. I was also passed by another runner at some stage on that lap (I think) because I crossed the line in 2:52:18 in 8th place overall!

Rottnest Island Marathon 2021
Sub-3 hour marathon finish and coordinated Garmin stopping like a pro!

Aftermath

It's been a very long time, in fact I don't remember having one, since I've achieved something which I thought about before it was even a goal. It wasn't a goal as such because I didn't think it would be achievable for someone like me, not only because I'm injury prone but I guess there's always an underlying lack of self belief. Ridiculously, minutes after finishing I had to talk myself out of already starting to analyse things I should have done better.


Resisting the urge to slap myself, not least because of the crowds and looking very special if I did, I reminded myself that 5 months ago I had just come off 2 months of absolutely no running and have set myself 1km,5km,10km, half and now marathon PB's so to put a negative spin on that would be stupid. I'll be honest, and this is corny, but one of the best parts of the day was chatting and meeting people after the race as we waited for the ferries. I hate compliments at the best of times but getting props from far better runners than I was amazing.


To anyone considering this race next year, 1000% do it! I'll definitely be back. The temptation from here is naturally (or not depending on whether you have a normal mind or one like mine) to go chasing faster times. I might just do that but for now I need to take some time to be satisfied with something that I set out to achieve and did. There's certainly a danger in almost becoming addicted to chasing times that, whilst fun in the short term, risks taking all the fun out of running and so I'm definitely conscious not to do that.


For the one or two brave souls that managed to make it to the end of this epic tale, or more likely I'm talking to myself now, a massive thank you to everyone that has offered support, encouragement and congratulations. It has definitely made the journey and Sunday's race more enjoyable sharing with so many others and being inspired by everyone along the way.

Rottnest Island Marathon 2021
I'm not a medal person but this one looks awesome and is a keeper!

Rottnest Marathon 2021
A flat and fast course this was not, but fun!

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