Bunbury 3 Waters Marathon, Western Australia
April 9, 2017
There’s a bite in the air (it gets chilly here at night on the shorefront) and the sky is lightening as I make my way down to the clubhouse at the edge of the green playing field roped off into a starter chute and decked with vertical flags. A local runner helps me figure out the drop boxes for my handful of GUs and energy bars; one is located at the finish arch, which all marathoners have to pass through on the first lap, and the other at the table just across the street.
My friend Clive has come down from Perth to cheer me on, which will prove vital later. The ultra runners have gone on their way; I ditch my Galloping Gertie pullover and join the marathon corral. It’s a small field of about 100 that takes off at 7:30, describing a half oval around the field before passing under the arch and out onto the street as the sun is just climbing into the sky.
I know this is going to be a tough grind due to my lack of training. I’ve done my math and I have my strategy. I can finish under the cutoff with a 2 mile run / half mile walk ratio if I keep my walk at a brisk 16:00 pace. Just as important – I need to not get caught up in the excitement and keep my running pace down to where I can sustain it, preferably between 11:00 and 12:00.
The course parallels the Indian Ocean for 5 miles before looping inland to circle the eucalyptus-shaded Bunbury Big Swamp conservation area. I’ve fallen in with two younger women and for the time being discarded any walk breaks because the morning is pleasant and the conversation enjoyable. Running a marathon while talking about running other marathons: it’s what runners do.
Back out to the seaside road (hi Clive!) we continue south up a long shallow grade to a turnaround. It’s here I let the other ladies go ahead as my pace has been a bit quicker than I’m comfortable with, and settle into “solo runner” mode. Past the clubhouse, a twisty hilly bit around the lighthouse, and between miles 7 and eight an out-and-back on a jetty where raucous white cockatoos clamour and hang upside down from the streetlights. The northern leg of the course goes out and back through parks, past open-air restaurants that will fill with Sunday brunchers, and a little loop through suburbia before the return. (Note: Aussie public loos talk to you and play sappy 70’s ballads.)
Running through the arch I’ve completed the first lap in good time, about 2:32, and here is where the grind begins. Stopping for a drink and to grab a Picky Bar, I lose momentum and am struggling to keep my pace below 13:00. Making the second loop around the wildlife preserve I’m all alone and feel like I’m the last person. There’s a black swan floating by, the first one I’ve seen on this trip, and two birds like deep blue iridescent coots. I concentrate on keeping the legs going. This time on the southbound uphill I take a walk break, but am alarmed to find I’m not able to keep a 16:00 pace. Back to the shuffle run. My friend rides by on his bike. “How are you feeling?” Effing tired, that’s what.
But my name’s on my bib so I get personalized attagirls from the volunteers and occasional spectator, and Clive’s apparently told them that I came all the way from Arizona. It’s nearing noon as I launch into the north leg for the second time, and getting warm (along with the seaside humidity). The cockatoos have retreated to the trees, reduced to grumbling under their breath. Around mile 22 I do some head math and drop to a walk. I have enough time left on the clock that I can walk it in and still make the cutoff. I can do this. Runners passing me on the return from the turnaround offer words of encouragement: “Keep ticking it over!”
All the out-and-backs on this course mean that I now know exactly how many people are behind me: a husband and wife from Singapore running a marathon a month; a barefoot runner named Geoff in bush attire (think Crocodile Dundee with a beard); and a man that I don’t know any interesting facts about, sorry. Approaching the lighthouse for the last time, I hear footsteps behind me: the Singapore woman passes me at the steady pace she’s held all day. Well, good on her.
Less than a hundred feet from the finish I hear footsteps again. It’s too much. I pick up my pace and start running. “Still some gas left in the tank!” says Geoff. The two of us accelerate ridiculously down the chute in a crazy ass sprint to the finish line, finishing neck and neck at 5:54:03.
Australia! My sixth continent! Done and dusted!