ALICE SPRINGS: MARATHON 11 (The one with the NO GPS WATCH experiment…)

Well its been a while since I wrote last, but marathon 11 is now done and dusted!  I’m at the airport in Alice Springs, the sun is shining and I am on my way home, back to Melbourne.  I am growing to like this place.  This is my second trip here in a couple of months and I am starting to learn my way around, meet new people, see new things and feel a little more comfortable.


The last marathon I ran was Cairns Marathon on 9th July, so this was the longest break so far within the 17 marathons journey.  I definitely needed it after nursing myself through 3 marathons in 3 weeks back in June / July.  My left achilles and heel had been giving me a few issues and so a bit of rest and recovery was in order.  I had a bit of physio work done at Port Melbourne Physio and Pilates on my left side (glute, hamstring, calf) to try and loosen things up, which seems to have helped, but the issue is still lingering slightly.  I think it is going to be a case of managing it through to the end, but I will keep experimenting!


Partly because of the tight left side, during the break, I didn’t really do much running.  This was by far the least training I had done for a marathon this year, as I decided to be sensible and keep the kms low and the intensity of those kms even lower, just to give myself a bit of time off.  I was pretty relaxed about everything leading into the race and then suddenly with 24 hours to go, the nerves hit and all the internal mind games began.  Questions like, “Have I done enough training?”  “Will i even make the distance?”  "What if it’s really hot out there?"  "Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that burger?”  "I really wish I had stretched more."  You get the picture...


The day before the race, I drove the out and back course the day before with my friend Wayne, to see what was in store for me the following morning.  I must admit to getting little more nervous after I realised how exposed the course was. No shade, no clouds and really, long, straight, open roads.  Strangely, it reminded me a little of driving the Queen K highway in Kona, which the Ironman athletes ride and run along.  Different conditions, but the same principle.  Both ruggedly beautiful and there’s nowhere to hide from the elements.




I have been reading a book over the last few days called, ‘Unplugged’ which talks about our obsession with wearables such as sports watches and fitness trackers.  It reminded me that this 17 marathons adventure started in part as a way of experimenting, so that I could learn more and pass that learning on to the people that I coach.  It was a timely reminder and as I was reading, I decided to experiment with running the marathon without my Suunto sports watch.  For me it was a test to see how good my pacing was and also a test of how good was I at running on feel, rather than to a certain pace which was dictated by me reacting to the readings on my watch.  The day before the race, I forced myself to tell our private Facebook group of runners, that I would be doing the experiment, so that I couldn’t back out.  Even coaches need accountability….  The aim was to do 5 min/km, for a total race time of 3 hours 30 mins.




In terms of the gear I wore / took for the race:

  • WATCH: None.
  • SHOES: I opted for the new Mizuno Catalysts which are supportive, have an 8mm drop and are still really light.  I really enjoyed running in them during the week before and thought that they would go well on race day.  No problems at all in the race, really pleased.
  • SOCKS: For some reason I have been putting a lot of holes in my socks recently.  Left foot, big toe always seems to be wearing its way through the socks during long runs, so I opted for a thicker pair of socks to try and avoid this and any blisters that may occur as a result.  Seemed to work.  No holes, no blisters.
  • SHORTS: I went with my black Mizuno shorts with the zip pocket at the back.  I basically like to carry as little as possible on race day and like to be able to fit everything in one pocket if possible.  I was opting for the Vfuel gels on race day and they were small enough to fit two in the back pocket as well as a couple of salt tablets and two magnesium tablets.
  • VISOR / CAP:  I actually debated this a bit because of the sun and the possible heat, but in the end I went with my trusted GoRun Headsweats visor and that worked a treat.
  • T-SHIRT / SINGLET:  Given that I a ginger pom who burns in the sun, I opted for my GoRun t-shirt. No issues here either.
  • NUTRITION: Given the heat I didn’t think solid foods was going to be the best way forward.  Normally I like to eat ‘proper’ food rather than gels but this time I changed things up a little.  I went with a Vfuel Mountain Berry gel at 21km and a Vfuel Fudge Brownie gel at 30km.  Both were fine although the fudge Brownie one basically tasted like chocolate hot sauce by the time I ate it, which kind of made me gag a little as I was running.  i will switch the order next time!  Aside from that, I had a prepared drink in a 340ml plastic bottle which I carried with me until about 8km, just to ensure that I got good hydration in to me early on.  i then used the water from the aid stations (every 3km) and towards the end began drinking the powerade a little.  the last aid station had some lollies, so I took a handful of them for a bit of a sugar boost to get me home.




We started outside the Crowne Plaza hotel at 6:30am.  Beforehand I warmed up alone, just ticking the legs over whilst mulling over my plan to not wear a watch and try to hold roughly 5 min/km all the way.  It was kind of relaxing not having a watch and I smiled on the start line and joked that I was still trying to find my satellite with David, whilst everyone else was poised with fingers on buttons.  


The first couple of km’s were nice and cool, still dark enough to not warrant putting on sunnies and cool enough make you think twice about another layer of clothing.  At first glance there were about 45-50 runners in the marathon, so it was a really small field.  The irony was that I knew 4 of them and so it had a strangely familiar feel to it, despite being a long way from home.


The first 7km was made up of a small loop and a few turns that eventually took us out onto the Ross Hwy, where we then headed straight out into the open, past Emily’s gap, to Jesse’s gap, turn around and come back.  The roads were all open to traffic except for the last few hundred metres, so you had to keep your wits about you.  


After the initial few hundred metres of excitement, I settled in behind a group of 3 guys (about 2km) and began chatting away with them.  The day before, driving the course I remember thinking that the last thing I wanted was to be running alone on the side of the highway in the blazing sun with 20km to go.  So my plan was to hang with people who were travelling at roughly the same pace and make it more of a social affair.  As it turns out, things got a little lonely after about 15km, as we gradually started to drift apart, heading out on the straight road to Jesse’s gap.  Along the way, I got a cheeky indication that I was holding the right pace from one of those electronic speed signs for cars.  AS we ran towards it, our running speed flashed up green and flickered between 12 and 13km per hour, which suggested I was doing just under 5 min/km.  Winning so far.


There was a head wind as we headed out of town which grew quite strong at about 19-22km just before the turnaround point.  When I turned the corner and with the wind behind me, all I could hear was the sound of my own footsteps.  Nothing else.  Out in the middle of the Australian desert with only 45 people and the sound of your own footsteps.  Pretty awesome experience for a ginger pom, I thought.  At that point I was feeling pretty good and was encouraging the other marathon runners heading out towards the turnaround point. I couldn’t see the person in front of me and the person behind me was maybe 2 or 3 minutes back.  So I was essentially on my own.  At that point I was just concentrating on my cadence and breathing.  Nothing more.  Just keeping both under control and keeping things simple. As my breathing was relatively easy (in for 4 steps, out for 4 steps) and my cadence was around 180, I knew I was on track and was kind of enjoying it all!


The little yellow spray painted km markers on the road kept appearing and I soon found myself back in more familiar territory as Alice Springs approached.  A few times, I thought I could see the next runner ahead of me, but genuinely wasn’t sure as it was so far away.  As I came off the highway and back onto a few smaller roads, I hit the last aid station to discover that the 10th place runner had pulled over, was stretching and grabbing a drink. The competitor in me suddenly came to the fore as I grabbed a few lollies, a drink and headed off down the road.  The chance for a top 10 finish, even in a small field was one too good to miss, clearly!


As I got to within one parkrun to go, my friend Wayne suddenly appeared on his bike with a coffee in hand.  Unfortunately the coffee wasn’t for me but I forgave him as he rode along near me and we chatted pretty much to the finish.  At this point going back through the gap into Alice Springs, the headwind was pretty strong, so I was grateful for the company and the distraction.


We rounded the last corner and headed into the finish chute at the Crowne Plaza hotel to see fellow coach Michael and our Yipiryinya running colleagues, Sarah and Tyson, as well as the other runners who had finished the half marathon, 10km and 5km runs already.  Until Michael asked me what time I did, I hadn’t even checked the official clock.  Given that I had been standing around a little while, I guessed about 3:25.  It ended up as 3:22:20 and 10th place overall, which I am stoked with!


Taking part with the guys from Momentum Endurance Coaching (Adrian and David) as well as having Erica King from Running Divas and the awesome Yipiryinya Runners Crew there was just awesome.  In a funny way, the solitude of the run, the lack of hype, the lack of technology, the simple surroundings and task at hand, as well as the increased sense of community, made this a really special run for me.  I am pretty sure that I want to come back and do this again!!




Now that I am back in Melbourne, this week is going to be a recovery week with swimming, a few easy runs and a massage for sure, then it is marathon 12 on Sunday at the Tan.  I am really looking forward to getting back on familiar ground and doing a few laps with the Melbourne gang.  It would be awesome to see a few people down there if you fancy it. The marathon starts at 9am.  


I am really grateful to the awesome team at the Baker Institute who supported this trip to Alice Springs.  We are doing some great work together with Indigenous Marathon Project graduate, Sarah Carmody promoting running in Alice Springs.  I am loving getting to know and work with the Yipiryinya Runners, the team at the Baker Institute and the team at Momentum Endurance Coaching.  This is one of the great things that has come out of this 17 marathons challenge.  


On the fundraising side of things, we are now over $8,000 raised in 8 months and looking to get up over $17,000 with a strong finish to the year.  if you haven’t donated yet, please consider donating to keep pushing our funds up towards the target!  DONATE HERE