This is a delayed race report; I ran the Melbourne Music Marathon on (Superbowl) Sunday, February 1.
At the end of my night before the race, I went to bed later than I wanted. However, when I woke up the next morning, I surprisingly wasn’t as tired as I thought I might be. I didn’t feel great, mind you, but at least I didn’t have a feeling of “counting down” to the number of hours until the race would be over and I could take a nap. (Yes, I have done marathons where I’ve gotten so little rest that that’s been the case – total suck.)
Since I was staying at an inexpensive motel instead of using points at a chain where I had loyalty, I wasn’t able to get an early checkout guaranteed. They told me they might be able to give me a late checkout, but wouldn’t be able to tell me for sure until 10am – which meant that all my stuff was going in my car before the race. After the race, I’d give the motel a call and see if I could back in my room to shower, but if not, I’d use Showerpill temporarily and then take a real shower at one of the lounges at the airport.
I got ready fairly quickly, and left the motel around 5:45am – a little later than I had wanted, but since the race was only 3 miles away (and it was a small one), I figured I should be okay. The motel didn’t have their free coffee out yet, and there wasn’t coffee in the room, but I thought it should be easy to just stop at a gas station along the way and grab a cup. (Plus, I will admit to having a penchant for that crappy machine-brewed instant fake-cappuccino stuff that comes in deliciously sugary flavors… yum yum yum.) However, the first two gas stations I stopped at were closed (since when are gas stations not 24 hours?); I then found a third gas station that was open, but when I headed for the coffee machine area, I discovered that the instant cappuccino machine had an “out of order” sign, so I ended up getting regular coffee instead. Was this going to be a bad omen for the race?
Fortunately, I made it to the start area with plenty of time, and while the parking lots were cash-only, there was an ATM right in the lot so I could get cash and then pay the attendant. I then followed the (small) crowds walking from there over to the start, about five minutes away. On arrival, there weren’t really signs directing you where to go, but I was able to ask a few other runners in order to figure out where the bag check was. As I made my way over to the start, it quickly became apparent that the marathon was a very small part of the race festivities – most of the runners were doing the half marathon, and therefore would be starting twenty minutes later. But the small band of merry marathoners lined up in the dark at the start for a very nice rendition of the National Anthem, and we ended up starting more or less on time.
It had been so long since I last ran a marathon – not since Estes Park Marathon in June last year! I felt a little funny lining up at the start, especially since my training had been so lackluster ever since my surgery. But I was amazed to almost immediately spot a familiar face: Larry Macon, a friend from Marathon Maniacs, who most recently broke the world record in 2013 for running the most marathons in a year (255)! Larry is an amazing guy, and while we’ve met/chatted at many races (including finishing together at the 2009 Maine Marathon), I figured there was no way he would remember me since I’ve been out of the game so long. Not only did Larry remember me, though, but he had noticed I hadn’t been on the marathon circuit and wanted to know where I’d been! He was really understanding about my desire to stick around Colorado more since my move, and told me how I really needed to just start doing the plethora of Colorado races to be had. It was so great chatting with him at the start, and it was exactly what I needed to get my head in the game and feel at ease.
After that quick picture with Larry, the race began – and I immediately got all teary-eyed, as I do at the start of so many marathons. Here we go! A 26.2 mile journey! People are always asking me if it gets old but the honest truth is that there is just no feeling quite like being at the start of a marathon, knowing that you’re committing the next several hours to testing your limits and seeing how far/fast you can go. I love the anticipation of it all, and the excitement of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next.
We headed up and around a small hill, and then were heading down the main street of the main land (we’d later be on the main drag of an island), with retail stores on our left and a bay of water on our right. The first mile passed by very quickly, and when I looked down at my watch I realized that it wasn’t just my mind playing tricks on me: I had run it around an 8:00 pace. But that pace felt good?? I always have a tendency to start out a little fast, but since I didn’t care whatsoever about time that day, it didn’t really matter if I started fast and then burned out – so I just went with it.
One really cool touch about the race organization was that in addition to an actual mile marker at every mile (which seemed to be placed pretty accurately, according to my Garmin), they also had a sign with a song lyric to help motivate you. Mile 1 was “On the road again… like a band of gypsies we go down the highway”, and I thought that was so perfect for my return to marathons! Furthermore, this being the Melbourne Music Marathon, there were bands about every two miles – and I was really thrilled that the bands were there right at the start and stayed all the way till the end. (Or at least till I was done – it’s possible they didn’t stay till the last finisher?) Although I had brought some headphones so I could listen to stuff on my phone, it was really fun to have live entertainment as well.
Speaking of which: I had chosen to spend this race listening to all the songs on my phone by Rascal Flatts. In training, I mostly listened to podcasts (I love getting to multitask during my workouts!), but with all the research that’s shown that you don’t push as hard in a workout when your brain is engaged with something else, I decided it might give me the tiniest of a leg up to listen to music instead of podcasts. Rascal Flatts was one of my favorite artists when I first started running, and it definitely felt a little bit nostalgic to be rocking out to him on the run once more!
When the race started, my shuffled playlist started out with “Broken Road”, and I will be honest – I teared up right in that first few minutes as a result. “I set out on a narrow way, many years ago, hoping I would find true love along the broken road. I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow and kept pushing through; I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you.” I know that so many of Rascal Flatts’ songs are about love, but I like to apply those lyrics to running – how when I first started doing it, I had no idea what I was looking for by doing it. I wanted to just run one mile, and then I wanted to run two… and then I discovered how amazing it feels to do 26.2, and I feel like I fall in love with running all over again every time I run a marathon. Fine, so I’m totally sentimental… but that was basically what I was thinking for the first few miles of the race 🙂
Miles 2-4 kept us running still along the waterfront, but with the sky getting just a tiny bit lighter every minute. Mile 2 came as a bit of a surprise to me, and its inspirational song lyrics sign featured some John Lennon: “And we all shine on/Like the moon and the stars and the sun.” Based on my previous paragraph, is it any surprise that I just love a race where I get some inspirational lyrics even outside the music that I choose to listen to?! Meanwhile, I was indeed “shining on” – I was averaging around an 8:25 pace for those first few miles, and I felt fantastic doing it. I wasn’t pushing it, and while I wasn’t talking to any of the other runners around me, I felt like I easily could – this was not pushing hard to achieve those paces. Quite a far cry from my 10:40/mile training pace in high-altitude Colorado! But it was early yet…
Around mile 4, we turned into a pretty neighborhood, which then spit us out into Ballard Park for a quick little out-and-back. It was neat to get to see the runners just ahead of and behind us, and I noticed that I was actually just behind the 3:45 pace group at this point. Whattttt? But again, it was super duper early in the race so I didn’t expect that to stick.
Mile 5 took us around the corner of a marina, and there was a group at the “Paddling Paradise” boat shop that had a sign I liked: “Free Mimosas!” I started to pull off the road to their little tailgating station to get one, but then veered back onto the course when I realized that they didn’t have them mixed yet and it might take some time. “I’ll get one on the next lap!” I called out to them… and I meant it 🙂 Gotta have some fun on the run, right?
We turned into another neighborhood and then popped out by a pretty hotel – this marked our turn onto Eau Gallie Causeway, which would take us over the bridge from the mainland to the town of Indialantic on the barrier island.
It was a bit of a climb, and since this was a double loop course, the full marathoners would have to go over it twice – but it really didn’t feel too bad at all. On the way up, I tried to take a selfie, and ended up attracting the attention of two fun-loving runners around me – so I ended up taking a selfie of all three of us!
At the top of the bridge, though, was one of the coolest parts of the race – the organizers had brought a full-on baby grand piano out, and an amazing pianist was sitting at it playing for us, while his friends handed out orange and other aid! I managed to capture a shot with the sunrise just behind him, and it’s one of my fondest memories of the race that I will probably keep in my mind forever, with or without a picture.
The piano man also provided a great milestone for a really nice part of the race: coming down the other side of the bridge. The downhill was glorious, and the views were magnificent. I tried to take a pic, but again, a little blurry – I wasn’t going to stop on a downhill like that! Meanwhile, I could see the 10K mark not too far ahead, and I wanted to see if I could reach it in a good time.
Great success! (Or total failure if you subscribe to conventional methods of pacing a marathon.) I reached the first quarter split (6.55 miles) in 56:52, for an average of a 8:41 pace per mile. If I could stay on this pace, I’d finish the marathon in 3:47 – so basically, PR time. I was a little concerned because that was way faster than I had trained or planned to run, but the pace felt really good and I didn’t feel like I was pushing it at all. In fact, if I hadn’t seen pacers and hadn’t been looking at my watch, I would have estimated around a 9:30 pace! It just felt easy, and I hoped it would stay that way.
Shortly after the first quarter split, we turned right to start heading down through Indialantic and toward the finish. I liked that the race course was basically one big rectangle – it made it easy to know where you were and approximately how much you had left. What I did not like, though, was the headwind on this stretch of road. It wasn’t crazy intense, but it was definitely noticeable, and I hoped it wouldn’t get worse for the second lap.
Meanwhile, this stretch had some really beautiful homes – Indialantic was clearly the ritzy part of the area. I spent the next few miles fantasizing about living there, and also loving all the bands on this section of the course. In particular, there was one that was playing Pharrell’s “Happy”, and I did indeed clap along because I felt like a room without a roof. This was a really fun race!
Shortly after a margaritaville-themed aid station (I feel like every Florida race has those but they are always sorely lacking in actual margaritas for the runners?) we turned into a neighborhood to tack on a tiny bit of extra mileage, and then popped back out on the main road with only three miles left till we’d be back at the start for lap #2. Around mile 10, we turned once again from the main road into a marina area, and I could see the other bridge in the course looming just to the right. Here we come!
For the last several miles, I had been getting passed by some of the male half marathoners. (To be clear, they started fifteen minutes after the full marathoners, or else they would have been passing me in like the first 0.2 seconds.) However, it took until the approach to the bridge (around mile 11.5) that I was passed by the first female half marathoner. As elite runners do, she was wearing teeny tiny racing briefs and a sports bra, and was also teeny tiny herself. Meanwhile, I was wearing a not-aerodynamic running skirt, carrying my phone and taking pictures of the scenery, and had approximately double her body fat percentage… so I was very surprised when she looked back at me as she passed, and then picked up the pace as if she thought she was competing with me. I am not ashamed of my body but um… I definitely don’t look like I’d be her competition!
This bridge felt like a bit more of an incline than the first one, but honestly, it didn’t feel that bad. Plus, there was a DJ just before the beginning of the incline, and I got very excited to hear him blasting out Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” to pump up the runners. I passed mile 12, conquered the incline to the top of the bridge, and was rewarded with some fantastic views of the bay plus a really nice downhill that took me almost to the end of the first loop.
When I crossed the 13.1 mark, I checked my watch – 1:55. I had definitely lost a little bit of time in the second half of the loop (probably combo of fatigue and that wind), but I was still much further than I expected to be at that point. While I didn’t really have goals for the race, I would have guessed that I’d hit the halfway point somewhere around 2:10 or 2:15 – so I couldn’t believe I was fifteen minutes ahead of that. Meanwhile, I still felt really good! I wasn’t tired, my legs weren’t sore, and I was looking forward to the second loop. I knew exactly what was to come, and none of it was really tough – now I just needed to get it done.
By now it was fully light out, and the day was heating up as a result, but it really didn’t feel too bad. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as humid as I would have expected for January. Meanwhile, I was so thrilled by how easy it was to run at sea level when I have been living at altitude and not really traveling much since August. I hadn’t done a great job with my training, so it was clear to me that simply living in Colorado was the main reason I was doing so well. How cool!
The next few miles went by pretty quickly, and I really enjoyed the out-and-back in Ballard Park on this loop. It was only about 1/3 mile of overlap, so not enough to be bored and be all “ughhhh I can’t believe I am heading out just to come back“, but enough to get to see a few of the other runners around you and try to set goals for who you would pass and you would not let pass you. Or, to put it in a nicer way, to see who you wanted to befriend or say hello to 🙂
Speaking of which, while I didn’t talk to almost any runners during this race, I did befriend a spectator. There was this one guy in a red t-shirt who was cheering his wife on, then driving to a spot a few miles down and getting out to cheer again. However, his wife seemed to be right behind me, and he ended up using me as a beacon for “oh, here comes Laura, so I haven’t missed my wife yet!” Unfortunately, it was around mile 17 that she passed me, and when I saw red shirt guy shortly after that, he told me, “you’d better hurry; she’s beating you now!” We ended up going back and forth for the last few miles of the race, and she beat me in the end, but I thought it was really fun to have her husband always cheering me on at so many different points 🙂
Mile 17 was also where I got back to the kayak store that was offering free mimosas – and this time around, they had them all mixed and ready to go. I gratefully grabbed one and took a swig as I ran by – delicious! Sometimes you need to have a little fun during the race 🙂
I turned back into the tiny neighborhood, turned right, and then the bridge was upon me. Almost at the halfway point of this loop! While the last time I had made friends ascending, this time I was pretty much on my own, so I focused on keeping my pace strong and not slowing to a walk. By now, I had less than 7 miles left in the race, and I had started trying to figure out what my predicted finish time would be. I hit the 3/4 split (mile 19.65) in 2:54, which meant that I was slowing down slightly – but I still had a chance to go sub-4 hours. Wow, amazing! I hadn’t expected a race like that at all when I set out so tired and so undertrained that morning.
From here on out, I was doing lots of math with every mile marker. With a 10K left in the race, a 10:00/mile pace would mean finishing 62 minutes later; a 9:00/mile pace would mean finishing 56 minutes later; and an 8:30/mile pace would mean finishing 53 minutes later. I was running between 8:40-9:05s at this point, so I felt confident that even if I got tired, I could maintain a 10:00 pace in order to break 4 hours. But the question was, how much sub-4 could I go?
Unfortunately, the back half of the course in Indialantic was now getting really windy – and my pace slowed considerably. I took a few walk breaks, though tried to make sure they were mostly at the water stops, and I was really grateful when we turned right to do a quick neighborhood loop before going back out on the main drag. I still thought I could go sub-4, but I could see that goal starting to slip away on me, so wind was not what I needed.
Those last few miles seemed like the longest of the race – I was getting tired, but I was trying hard to push it so that I could go sub-4. I was so relieved when I got to the marina where we turned off the main drag… that meant the bridge was just ahead, and just beyond that was the finish line. I really wanted this!
In the last two miles, I pulled out my phone for something different: not pictures, but a change of music. Instead of the Rascal Flatts playlist I had been listening to the whole way, I switched over to OneRepublic on Spotify, which had always been the music I’d used for the last few miles of my training runs. I hoped that the familiar music would give me the boost I needed.
Unfortunately, the bridge was really windy, and also really backed up with traffic. Now, the road was blocked off so that we had plenty of room to run, but because all the cars on the other side of the bridge were waiting to turn until there weren’t runners in the way, it meant that the cars were now backed up alllll the way across the bridge. Which meant that they weren’t driving past you as you ascended, but sitting next to you idling and making you breathe exhaust. Yuck! I tried to at least see if I could get next to a big truck to help shield myself from the wind, but no dice. I’m not proud of it, but I definitely walked for a few stretches on that bridge.
But when I got to the other side… oh boy. It was time to fly! I had less than five minutes left in the race and I was determined to make them strong. The song that was finishing up as I ran down was OneRepublic’s “I Lived”, which has a fan-freaking-tastic beat, and I got such an awesome high running down the bridge to that, drumming in my head and just rocking it out. I tried to simultaneously lengthen and quicken my stride as I went down the other side of the bridge, and I tried not to notice how the road then started going uphill a little bit once we were off the bridge. Just focus on going fast, Laura – don’t worry about what’s ahead when there’s only a third of a mile left!
The policemen at the intersection ushered me forward as I finally passed the line of cars, and while I couldn’t see the finish just yet, I knew it was close. There were already some scattered spectators standing on this part of the road cheering for us in the home stretch, and I tried to “put on a good show” by giving it all the energy I had left. And then, we passed the start and turned left and I could see the finish chute and banner ahead of me. Here I go! I kicked it up to a sprint, and while I could barely hear my music because of the crowd (and also the race’s music playing over the speakers), I knew that I was sprinting it in to OneRepublic’s Good Life, which made me so, so happy.
I had been checking my watch obsessively for the last few miles, but I was still so excited and happy when I saw that I had done it – I had broken four hours in a race where I really had no expectations for pace! I felt fantastic and still had energy left too – it hadn’t killed me to keep that aggressive pace. It would seem that while I miss “saying hello to my friends in New York,” living in Colorado has been fantastic for my running and endurance. Hooray for altitude!
I asked a stranger at the finish line to take a picture of me at the finish, beaming from ear to ear and honestly getting a little teary too. I couldn’t believe how fast I had gone – well beyond my wildest expectations. And it made me wonder… if I could go this fast without really putting in solid training, how fast could I go if I really buckled down? I think I may need to start making a marathon comeback… that was so fun!
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t note how awesome the finish line festival was. It was in a beautiful grassy park, and there were food and celebrations everywhere. Pizza, barbecue chicken, rice and beans, donuts, beet juice, beer… and my favorite part, a huge table full of fresh strawberries and iced tea.
Thank you so much to the Melbourne Marathon for hosting this great race and inviting me to run it in exchange for a writeup on my blog. I had a really fantastic time enjoying the views, and would recommend this to anyone looking for a winter getaway with a small field and wonderful race organization.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 58/226
Gender place: 16/87
Age group place: 2/12
Personal marathon rank: 16th fastest out of 106 marathons run