Far more than running 10 marathons

I’ve always run.  When I was young, my Mum and I used to do laps of the local rugby league field – dropping pebbles to count our laps.

Through high school and university I ran a few times each week to keep fit.

I continued once in the workforce. And then my running began to take on a new purpose.

A colleague of mine had become a father around the same time as I had my first son.  We already had a lot in common.  And going through the same life changes, seemed to form a stronger connection.  Sadly he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Seeing his demise, it felt like a stronger sense of obligation to appreciate the good health I have.

Sadly, my mate passed away in November 2006.

Within a few weeks of his passing I decided to make the most of my good luck, and challenge myself to run my first full marathon.
My bizarre logic was that people less fortunate are unable to do this, so I must.

I decided to prepare for Australia’s premier event, the 2007 Gold Coast Marathon (#1).  And at the tender age of 30, I went on to complete the marathon in 3:38:28.

As I painfully crossed the finish line, the feeling was glorious.
My finish time was closer to my “B” goal time. So on top of the feeling of achievement, there was already a sick desire to run this distance again.

My next marathon – as a result of expatriating with more travel options, was (#2) Berlin Marathon in 2009 – one of the famed “Big 5”.
I finished that one in 3:57:00.

Again, my finish time didn’t feel like a true reflection of what I was capable of.  So I felt the need to run again.

Next was the 2011 Dubai Marathon (#3). With some speed training, I set my personal best time of 3:23:32.

My (#4) Dubai Marathon 2012, 3:47:00 didn’t seem particularly special, until I did a presentation at work about running marathons and got a standing ovation.

I happened to be home in Brisbane on holidays in July, which coincided for (#5) Brisbane Marathon 2013, there I ran 4:15:00.

Occasionally life events got in the way of me running every year.  But I always seem to return to 42.2kms.  And I feel great for it.

Another Dubai Marathon 2015 (#6), 4:18:02 – very unprepared, and faced the consequences.

Yet another Dubai Marathon 2016 (#7), 3:45:23 – after getting back in shape to smash the former year’s performance.

Then I was on holidays COINCIDENTALLY back at Australia’s Gold Coast during the marathon weekend.  So I really had no choice but to run the (#8) Gold Coast Marathon 2016, 4:36:11

Then at the start of this year, I ran the hot (#9) Dubai Marathon 2017, 3:49:56

And then the “milestone” of running a 10th was on the horizon.  It lined up nicely with being the 10th year since my first.  And more emotionally, it coincided with me having just turned 40 years old.  This is the same age that my friend was, when he passed away 10 years earlier. It made me think even more how lucky I am.
This became no ordinary marathon to run.

The plan was to combine a family holiday in Jordan with the Amman marathon.  However, after returning from holidays home, the timing didn’t work.  So it made more sense to do the Beirut Marathon.  It has its own TED Talk by inspirational founder, May El-Khalil, which you must see.  The Australian Government’s travel warning to Lebanon is to reconsider your need to go. It made us feel more comfortable for my family to stay in Dubai.

On the flight I checked my iPad if I had any movies.  I wasn’t hopeful, as I usually free up space after watching anything.  However, there was still one movie there, the inspiring documentary, Spirit of the Marathon.  I might have got something in my eye towards the end, as I was landing in the Lebanese Republic.

My hotel room was placed perfectly between the start and finish lines.  A short walk before the race, a not-so-long shuffle on the way home. (The hotel made me feel at home with RAK coffee cups.)

I picked up my race pack on Friday when I arrived, part of a 12km walk to explore the city of Beirut.

Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, is renowned in the region for its glamour – once known as the Paris of the Middle East. Even at the Marathon Village this was pretty obvious with a Nail Couture and polish stand,

I vowed to walk far less on the day before the race. It was kind of a success, I only covered 10kms sight-seeing.

The long violent story of Beirut is one marathon effort to read.  The country was torn apart through civil wars.  The Holiday Inn Hotel is still on display after visibly fierce attacks between factions. I wondered if it was from 2005, when Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated near that location. Nope, the hotel has been standing like that since 1975.

The flight path into Lebanon itself shows the predicament the country has. With hotspots in Syria to the East, and Palestine and Israel to the South, we flew far from a direct route from Dubai.
Some uncertainty returned to Lebanon while I was there, with the shock resignation of current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (the son of Rafic).
To all Lebanese I know, Saad is an inspiration – even a regular runner of the marathon. That weekend the city began erecting signs seeking his return, from sudden exile in Saudi Arabia. The newspaper headlines were concerning.  The huge number of heavily armed police officers and army personnel, were reassuring.

Sunday was race day, for the many different events.  They even hosted a 1 kilometer run which went brilliantly from the marathon start line to the marathon’s finish, IN A STRAIGHT LINE – cutting out the superfluous 41.1 kms.

I mentioned in an earlier marathon blog that I find it pretty emotional at the starting line, among all these amazing people ready to push their body to the absolute limit. There in Beirut, away from my family, participating in my 10th, with all these lovely Lebanese people (incl. May El-Khalil) cheering me on, I was a blubbering mess for almost the first 3kms.

I settled into a rhythm, and spotted a lady running in an Australia singlet.  Morag and I then covered a few kilometers together, while chatting away like Aussie neighbours. Then I bid her farewell, to speed up a little (and hope I wouldn’t regret this pace and see that Australia singlet pass me later on).

The support across the course was fantastic. It’s usually slightly demoralising to go out, and come back to the same start line. The Beirut race day though was arranged so as we returned from the first section, the half marathoners had just started.  It was a spectacular sight to see a seemingly endless sea of runners freshly embarking on their own race. There were high fives, and lots of cheering between the full and half crowds.

All along the course, there were clusters of supportive people cheering for everyone to succeed. There were school groups, tiny white-haired ladies in their nighties hanging out of apartments yelling out “Yalla”, and every 100 metres someone from the Red Crescent.

I thoroughly enjoyed the city, and being part of the event.

I did a more complete running autopsy, on the runplan blog, for anyone that’s interested (http://blog.runplan.training/2017/11/17/still-learning-10-marathons-in-10-years/).

For the purposes of this post, it’s enough to say the run was tough-going. The hills took their toll, and perhaps in the lovely cool breezy weather I should have run slower than my body thought was fine.  The final 5 kms were brutal.  Even the sign saying 800 metres remaining was little relief to my cramping legs.  I just kept moving forward, as I have each time.

Crossing the line was an unfathomable relief.  Volunteers gave out aluminium sheets for people to keep warm, which wasn’t my problem.  However, I’ve never dressed as a baked potato like the New York Marathon finishers, so I wore it proudly.

I finished my (#10) Beirut Marathon 2017, 4:09:14.

I limped to the stadium seating and cheered on the other runners finishing.  I didn’t need to know them. I just knew something of what they had been through.  And I appreciate them.

The next day I wore my medal for all to see (#MedalMonday). Driving into the airport the taxi passed a checkpoint with big army guys carrying big guns. One of the officers looked into the backseat and stared in at me.  I immediately froze, worrying if I needed to show my passport or flight details, then he just pointed at my medal and gave me a hearty thumbs up. 🙂

I’ve been on such a journey since running that first marathon in 2007.

10 years on, it’s every bit as special.

And it’s nice to appreciate what has got me here.