I caught a train into the city, which was very quiet at 6am, and walked down to Circular Quay and then up onto the Harbour Bridge walkway in time to see the half-marathon cross the bridge. Two police motorbikes, which I guessed would be a little ahead of the lead runners, came into view and stopped in the middle of the road, opposite where I was standing. One rider shouted to the other "you know where we're supposed to go mate ?" to which the other replied "no f***ing idea mate". This got a loud chuckle from everyone on the walkway. Then they set off again, hopefully in the right direction, followed shortly afterwards by the lead runners. It's always exhilarating to see athletes of that standard, but on the Harbour Bridge on such a beautiful morning it was especially good. Next followed the huge half-marathon field which seemed to go on forever. I looked for friends who I knew were in the event and managed to spot MissPinky, though she was too far away to cheer.
I continued on to the northern end of the Bridge and joined the throng of runners heading down to the start area. I was very pleased to see Crabby just ahead of me and caught up with her for a chat. I also met another CoolRunner, Ewoksta, for the first time after chatting to him many times on the forum pages. I got out of my tracksuit pants, laced on my huarache sandals (having chosen the thin Cherry soles for the day) then threw my plastic gear bag up into the back of a large truck where it joined a growing mountain of other bags to be transported to the finish area.
All of the nervousness that I'd felt the evening before had subsided and I was really looking forward to the race. I wandered over to the starting area and was pleased to see that they'd signposted my end of the field (the back) with snail signs ! I strolled down the road a little, taking in the water view and feeling relaxed.
Perhaps it should have occurred to me at this stage that this unaccustomed quiet confidence was a warning sign, but it was only after a few more neurons had switched on that I realized my timing chip wasn't attached to my ankle, instead it was in one of a squillion identical plastic bags in the back of the gear truck...
This felt a lot more familiar. I bolted back to the truck and, with the amused permission of one of the race officials, climbed up the bars on the side and frantically started digging into the pile of bags. A voice on the PA asked runners to make their way to the start area. I burrowed even more frantically. There it was ! A bag with my number 5976. Yes! No... it was 5967... aaaarrrgghhh!!! Finally I found my bag and recovered the timing chip. With a huge sense of relief, and after spending a minute unwedging myself from the side bars of the truck, I thanked the grinning race official and headed back to the snail section with the chip firmly velcroed to my ankle.
The raceThere were still a couple of minutes to go until the race so I did my best to calm down. I hadn't yet seen my brother Paul who was going to run the marathon with me, generously sacrificing his own record of sub-4 hour finishes by doing so. But I was very pleased to be joined by a CoolRunning friend Emjay and shortly after that by Paul who reminded me that I had been supposed to meet him at the Black Dog Institute stall near the start (another neuron that hadn't switched on). Then, all of a sudden, the race began and we shuffled forwards, then walked, then slowly jogged onto the Bridge.
I loved the first half of the marathon: running across the Harbour Bridge, along Mrs Macquaries Rd, Oxford St, around Centennial Park... I met lots of CoolRunning folk, including UpAndAtom for the first time, and the number of "Go slowmo" greetings that I got was overwhelming. With the warm weather I wasn't wearing my habitual fancy pants - instead I had a brand new pair of loud, Circus pattern shorts from RunningFunky to add a spot of colour to the event and symbolize stepping out of the shadow of the Black Dog. The huarache sandals felt perfect and with the heat I was pleased to have my feet free of shoes and socks.
The course headed back towards the city and it was at about this time that I started feeling a bit light-headed. I put this down to the warm conditions and perhaps needing a bit more sugar. I had a cache of honey sachets and apricot chews in the pockets of my tri top. I'd been careful to drink a cup of water at each aid station so dehydration didn't seem like a worry.
We continued on, across the old Glebe Island Bridge and onto an unfortunately boring and uninspiring section of the course - the Westlink Road, a barren wasteland of bitumen and concrete sidings. I had been walking the uphill sections, trying to get rid of the increasingly woozy feeling within but just before the 33km point, I started to see white fog and decided to sit down for a couple of minutes until I felt better. Paul stopped with me and many passing runners asked if I needed help. One very nice fellow thought I must need a little more sugar and gave me some jelly beans. I nibbled a red one and then spent a minute emptying my stomach contents, as neatly as I could, into a road-side drain. After that my head felt much clearer but I couldn't stand up and Paul summoned the first aid folks. My race was over.
A wonderfully friendly paramedic came and found that my blood sugar was fine but that my blood pressure was low from dehydration. She and Paul stayed with me until an ambulance arrived and I was put on IV fluids and taken to hospital. The two ambulance paramedics were terrific and had an endless stream of jokes while they were fixing me up. They had a great time making comments about my sandals and pointing them out to everyone at the hospital - "look what this guy has on his feet !!!". With some extra fluids in my system I felt much better physically, but I couldn't help being disappointed and embarrassed about my race ending like this.
After a couple of hours at the hospital for some more checks, Paul joined me again and drove me home. He had run the rest of the marathon, but had had his timing chip confiscated by a stern and unrelenting race official at the 34km point, despite only being a minute over the cut-off and having one of the first-aid people confirm his explanation that he had been helping me just down the road and could easily finish the race inside the cut-off time (which he did).
I slept like a log overnight and woke the next morning feeling more at peace with myself than I had the day before. My barefoot-running friend Sharene (Runbare on CoolRunning) had left a phone message the night before and called again in the morning to see how I was. I appreciated this a great deal and was very cheered by her advice that you're not a real runner until you've got a DNF. She also suggested I could count the kilometres I did in the ambulance and chalk it up as an ultra :-)
Shortly afterwards I spoke to Paul who reminded me that my legs had still been working well at the end and this showed that the training had built up my strength and fitness. On the computer I had a swag of messages from CoolRunning friends checking to see if I was OK and encouraging me not to let this experience put me off.
Most of all, my wonderful partner Annie told me to remember that it had been my longest run so far and that I'd raised a lot more money for the Black Dog Institute than I ever expected to.