Wow, where to start. 2021 has had a bit of everything. Collectively, us Melbournians have endured more days in lockdown than anywhere in the world!
The 2021 Melbourne Marathon Festival was never a sure thing to go ahead. Most of us would have experienced race cancellations, travel restrictions and done multiple time trials across the year, meaning doing an actual event was merely a pipe dream. Especially after the heart break we suffered when the Gold Coast Marathon was cancelled just 4 days before due to Covid-19. Yet, we somehow managed to get to race day at Melbourne. That is, after being postponed from 10th October to the middle of December, SUMMER TIME! Generally, December is far from ideal conditions for a fun run. Nonetheless, I'm sure the majority of athletes who competed greatly appreciated the fact we had a race to even train for. Regardless if we made the start line or not. The motivation to get through the darkness of another wintery lockdown was not easy. Having a goal to aim towards just takes the sting of being in Victoria down just a bit.
In order to understand my goals for Melbourne, we need to go way back to the Sunshine Coast Marathon in August of 2015. I had just ran a new PB of of 2:29:01 as a training race for the Melbourne Marathon. A race I felt so controlled in and that's where the dream of running under 2 hours 20 minutes for the marathon began. I knew it wouldn't happen over night and would take years to achieve but I still believed. I went out fast in the 2015 Melb mara and was having a great race, chipping away at my goal an went through 35km still on 2:22 pace. From there, it went downhill real fast. I became real faint and dizzy. Think of Callum Hawkins from the 2018 Commonwealth Games. My pace slowed and I was fighting just to stay on my feet. That is, until 41.97km when I ended up passing out along the metal barricade just metres from entering the MCG. The next thing I knew, I was under the "G" in medical care, unaware that I had just ran myself to utter exhaustion. The first thing I remember was telling the medical staff that "I love her". I was convinced it was my girlfriend. I remember asking if anyone had stopped my watch, which I was removed from my wrist. After an hour and a half under their care, I asked if I could still finish the event. I finished in a time of 4:00.29, my slowest ever marathon. But this would be one I would never forget, a valuable lesson in a measured performance. This is where my goal of sub 2:20 started.
I have completed many marathons and ultras over the years. Probably close to 90 official marathons, I've stopped counting. From running 3:20.10 way back in 2011 in my first marathon as an unhealthy chef, it has been a long journey and I have poured my heart and soul into my running pursuits. I changed careers as a chef to now working as a remedial massage therapist and the head running coach for Evolve Run Club. I identify as a runner and I strive to help those with running goals to achieve their wildest dreams too.
I have travelled the world in pursuit of fast road marathons. Japan has been an absolute favourite of mine. However, Melbourne has held a soft spot in my heart. The first marathon I ever did. The start of my life changing journey.
Let's get stuck into the race...
It's 2:40am and I'm wide awake. Well before my alarm of 4am. I'm generally pretty organised the night before and can eat close to a start time of 6am. I get up and keep myself busy doing some Evolve Run Club admin work for an hour, have some sourdough toast with peanut butter and lots of honey. I make myself an instant take away coffee for my travels and arrive at the "G" with my friend and athlete Andrew Dubar in an Uber just before 5am.
I have an elite start and head down to the rooms where I check in and get into my zone while listening to race day playlist. I ate the last few lollies that I had from my carb load now too. The vibe in the room in calm and reserved, the morning is cool with a light breeze. Perfect, just the best you could ask for on a December morning in Melbourne. At 5:35am, we head to the start line via a special route for the elite field and warm up a during the 1km journey. Throw in a few drills, run thru's and it's race time!
There was the top 5 of elites, then a group of 9 - the next group. We all generally know of each other and the consensus is we will target a sub 2:20 marathon, though no one really said it to me. I wasn't racing for another 2:21 today, it would either be a 2:19.xx or bust! The first 10km was fairly controlled and only just on pace. Not to worry just yet, but the course is a bit slower in the second half. I'd say however long it takes you to run 500 metres. So for us, around 90 seconds slower for the same effort. So when we hit 21.1km in 1:10.15, I said to the guys in the group that we needed to get to work. This was going to be easier said than done. I hadn't felt amazing at all, but I didn't feel bad either.
Our pace went from (based on my watch splits of around) 3:20/km (16:35 for 5km) down to 3:14/km (16:11 for 5km). What was I doing? I hadn't done much training at that pace. It just felt like "my pace" so I just rolled with it. By 28km I was now running by myself and had broken free from the group of quality state level runners. By 32km, straight after the Fitzroy street climb, I felt the start of cramp in my right hamstring. Soon followed by a faint feeling, much the same as the 2015 Melb mara. "Shit", I said to myself. Not again, "I was doing so well. Why today"?! This was the most difficult section of the course and the slight hills were proving a mighty challenge. Once I got through the back section of the Tan track, it was only 4km to go. Can I hold on. Keep this pace and sub 2:20 will be waiting for you, I kept telling myself. 41km in, my right calf nearly cramped. "Shit", just let me finish I told my body. I never once felt like I was going to run my goal time. My body was a ticking time bomb of cramps, fainting or vomiting.
Once I entered the "G", I thought it was touch and go. Right on the cusp of 2:19 and my finishing lap would make the difference. Once I could see the finishing clock, I finally realised I was going to be a 2:19 guy. "Fuck yeah!" A goal 6 years in the making had finally been achieved. And all on the course that had started my marathon career. An event that I had many humbled me many times before. To make this run even sweater, I came in 5th place and 2nd Victorian across the line. Say what!
I’m really proud of the fact that I achieved all of this working 50+ hours between 6-7 days per week. There were many late nights into early morning turnarounds. I managed to do it my way, a way that works for me.
Here is the link to my race on Strava.
The next few goals will take a while to take shape. I do know I still want to break the 100km Aussie record which currently stands at a time of 6 hours 27 minutes and 26 seconds. That's 3:52/km. Other than that, 2:18 for the marathon and a few new PB's in my 5km and 21.1km en route. Let's go!
I owe so many thanks to so many people.
To my amazing drinks handler, Clint Perrett (Evolve run coach and good friend), thank you.
The workers and volunteers who helped make running events come back. Thank you, without your efforts, we would still be doing postcode runs!
The Evolve family who inspired me to train hard and lead by example, doing the same sessions at 6am every Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Also to those who also train at 4am in every weather system imaginable, you guys rock!
My partner, Jacquie, who has put up with all of my struggles through every single lockdown. You continued loving and supporting me through it all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The other athletes who without, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to test my limits. Without competition, there are no boundaries being tested. Thank you.
I’d also like to congratulate the finishers and winners across all of the events over the weekend. From first time 5km runners, experienced marathon runners, podium finishers, we are a one community.
To my supporters who, without, I wouldn't have the platform to do what I love. Check them out and support great business.
Hoka Australia. The best shoes, gear and ethos I could ask for. You guys align with my values as an athlete and as a person. Those Rocket X shoes are the real deal, too.
Hammer Nutrition Australia. Your gels, tissue rejuvenator, endurolytes extreme, race caps supreme, race day boost, recoverite and FIZZ kept me injury free, fuelled like an athlete and ready to perform at my best.
Use code DF or EVOLVE for 10% off.
Zero+ Sports Beer. The non alcoholic beer I could drink all through out my training block without the actual alcohol. Not once did I wake up with a hang over or feel guilty for drinking such a great drink. Your support has been unwavering.
Use code DIONSBEER for 10% off.
Bayside Sports Medicine Group. What a great team to work with. From supporting all of my running journeys from day one, providing a place to thrive and help others with their goals. Nearly 5 years down, hopefully many more to go.
Check out our partners page to find more about my supporters.