This was to be our final weekend in Australia and my second marathon in less than 2 weeks (not counting the 50 mile Cremator the weekend before we left). I was tired but not exhausted. The blisters on my feet had healed and my legs were ready to go. My only major concern was Brisbane’s tight 6 hour time limit. I seriously considered dropping down to the half marathon to ease my stress level and take some of the pressure off. I postponed any final decision until the last moment.
We left Sydney on Friday morning for an early flight to Brisbane, once again traveling on Virgin Australia. After a pleasant and thankfully brief 2 hour flight, we took a taxi to our downtown hotel, the Brisbane Marriott. The weather was noticeably warmer here in than in New South Wales (Queensland is known as Australia’s ‘sunshine state’) but still cold for me. Our hotel was situated close to lots of shops and eateries as well as the bike and walking paths that were to make up a good part of the marathon. This Marriott was older than and not as elegant as its Sydney counterpart but it was clean and quiet, with helpful staff. The city of Brisbane seemed more relaxed and casual to me, very different from more cosmopolitan Sydney.
After checking in, our first order of business was to find packet pickup. We wanted to get this taken care of on Friday so we would have more time to explore the city and do some souvenir shopping (a task I had postponed) on Saturday. There was no expo for this race. Packet pickup took place at a small running store, intraining Running Centre, in Milton, a nearby suburb a couple of miles away. Armed with a map and my husband’s excellent ability to accurately interpret directions, we were able to walk to the store with no trouble. Now I had to make a decision – drop to the half or stick with the full? Despite my misgivings, I opted to go with the full. I already had one marathon under my belt in Australia so if this were to be my first DNF, so be it. I picked up my bib, with my number and name emblazoned on it in big letters (this I liked, because it made it easy for people to read my name and for me to cheer on other people by name) and a chip attached to the back. Along with the bib I received a colorful tech singlet, sized and gender-specific. On the way out of the store, we stopped to look at a big map of the course. That’s when I realized that the double-loop course was extremely confusing. It wasn’t simply two identical loops because the second loop had several different sections than the first as well as different turn-around points. I began to worry a bit more. Maybe sticking with the full was NOT a good idea. Oh well, it was too late now to change my mind. However, I did print off a color copy of the race map when I returned to the hotel so I could study the course.
Now we were hungry so we stopped at a Subway for lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon window-shopping and exploring downtown. After a late snack at Pie Face (a popular franchise that sells all kinds of individual pastries like steak and mushroom pie, sausage rolls, and the like), we headed back to our room. It surprised me that there were no welcome signs for racers and nobody seemed to be aware that a series of races was taking place this weekend at all. But no matter – tomorrow we would check out the City Botanic Gardens where the races where supposed to start and finish and we would be able to get a better feel for the area.
On Saturday we slept late and then walked to a nearby restaurant for breakfast (‘brekkie’ in Australian). While we were eating, the hostess came running into the dining area shouting ‘Is there a doctor in the house? We need a doctor?” One of the guests rose and followed her into the kitchen. Later I asked her what happened and the person was doing. It turns out that one of the cooks had a seizure but was doing fine now. Nothing like a little excitement with our morning meal!
After eating, we walked to the start line of the race, or at least where we thought it might be. There were no tents or any kinds of race activity so we had to guess the actual location. I did see a few ‘street closing’ signs. I stopped at the information kiosk to ask for help and the lady at the booth had no knowledge about the race at all. Still, despite the lack of publicity and hoopla, I was sure that on race morning there would be lots of runners and excitement. We spent the rest of the day browsing the shops, buying some souvenirs, taking photos, and people-watching. For dinner, we had a tasty lunch at the hotel bar where I tried the Asian steamer basket with fish cakes, dim sum, wonton, and steamed dumplings. Then I tried, not too successfully, to relax.
On Sunday morning, we left the hotel at 5 am for the 20 minute walk to the gardens. Now we saw other racers moving swiftly along with us to the starting line. Porta potties were lined up on the street outside the gardens but it was a real plus to be able to use the real toilets in the park itself. Gradually people began to siphon into the loosely-defined corrals along the street in front of the start line arch. I positioned myself at the very back and waited. Suddenly I saw a person I recognized – it was Esther, a runner from Brisbane who had flown with us to Ayers Rock to do the Outback race. We chatted a bit and then once again I took my place in the rear.
Promptly at 6 am, the race began. The first 21kilometers were relatively uneventful. Kilometers 1 through 6 were on city streets and at one point we passed right by the Marriott where my husband popped out to cheer me on and take a few pictures. I was one of the very last racers, surrounded by about 5 or 6 half marathoners (half marathoners had different colored bibs so they were easy to spot). That was okay – I was resigned that I might be last, or close to last and, as long as I didn’t get lost and could make the 6 hour limit, I would be happy. I carried a copy of the course map in my back pocket just in case. It turned out to be very useful.
After kilometer 6, we passed by Kangaroo Point (no real kangaroos, there, darn) and onto a bike path that followed the river. We crossed a couple of bridges and made several out-and-back loops and as long as I was with the much larger group of half marathoners I never had to worry about getting lost. However, at kilometer 21, the half marathoners headed towards the finish line while the full marathoners (just me at that point) were turned onto another byway and sent over the Goodwill Bridge. The rest of the race is pretty much a blur to me. I know that from kilometer 22 to 35, I was dead last. A policeman on a motorcycle followed me for kilometers 22 to 32 and, although he never said a word to me, kept telling the volunteers and course marshals as I passed by that I was the last runner. This began to get annoying, especially since he never actually acknowledged me at all. I did realize that as long as I had a police escort I wouldn’t get lost!
However, at some point during those middle miles I noticed that my escort had disappeared. Apparently he was called to assist at the start of a 5k and he reappeared only to tell me to move aside so the faster runners in this race could have room. By this time, four hours into the race, many of the course marshals had left their posts and some of the directional signs, with arrows pointing to the appropriate turns, had been removed. This is where my map began to come in handy. I had to stop, remove my glasses so I could read the map, and try to figure out where to go. Several times I just guessed and only knew I made the correct turn when I saw the next kilometer sign.
This was very stressful. If I made a wrong turn it could be disastrous – that 6 hour limit started to seem very elusive. Up to that point I had been on target to finish by noon but now I was starting to worry and a negative mental state always affects my pace. Still I kept moving relentlessly on. Around the 37th kilometer, I passed a couple of runners who were struggling. Now I was no longer last! All of a sudden I came face to face with the policeman again. He looked at me with a question mark in his eyes. I knew he was probably wondering if he should turn around and follow me once more but I simply kept moving forward, determined to finish. He must have received word that other runners were behind me because he disappeared and I never saw him again.
I still had several roadblocks to overcome. There were at least 2 more times when I had to pull out my map to figure out which way to turn. This lost me precious minutes but fortunately I chose correctly. However the most irritating of these difficulties came at the very end. By the 41k marker, I was confused. I knew the finish line was very close but all the barricades had been torn down. There were no course marshals, no volunteers, no signs, no arrows, and no instructions. I couldn’t see the finish line or hear any crowd noises. I was essentially lost at the very final half mile. A young man came into view and I asked him where the finish line was. His response was ‘It is noon so we took it down!’ I told him that I am still on the course and I want to get to the finish line – and there are several people behind me. He pointed me down a path to the left and there indeed was the finish line. I crossed, got my medal, and met up with my husband. At that point, I was ready to be done. We walked (slowly) back to the hotel where I showered, took a nap, and then enjoyed high tea in the Marriott dining room.
We flew from Brisbane back to Sydney on Monday, spent another night at the airport Holiday Inn that evening, and left for home on Tuesday morning. It took us another long 14 hour flight to LAX and 2 more flights to get home late Tuesday evening (crossing the International Date Line in the other direction made for the longest Tuesday of my life). Here it is four days later and I am still trying to get back into my normal routine.
Because of the confusing course, paucity of accurate directions, and tight time restrictions, I would not recommend this race for walkers. Runners who can finish in 4 hours or less and walkers who are willing to do the half marathon might enjoy the event for the pleasant scenery, but otherwise this is one race walkers can skip. A couple of interesting side notes:
• It took me over 10 minutes to complete the final half mile (and I was doing 14 minute miles) because of the confusion over finding the finish line
• Despite the precious lost minutes trying to maneuver this course, I ended up first in my age group and received an email that I would be getting a prize! You just never know what can happen in a race . . . .
Good things about this race:
• Bibs had names on them in large letters so they were easily readable, especially for people with poor eyesight like me. That made it fun and easy to cheer on people by name
• The singlet and finisher’s shirt were gender-specific and had actual sizes on them (which we selected when we registered)
• The course was very scenic, especially along the waterfront
• Very confusing course
• Directional signs and several of the course marshals and volunteers were scarce on the 2nd loop
• Finish line taken down way too soon