I read this advice over at Runladylike and it stuck with me heading into Melbourne.

There are so many uncontrollable factors in a marathon. Anything past 30km is pretty unknown territory and you have no idea how your body will respond on the day. You can train for it, but you never really know. And you can test out fuel sources but your body can chuck a bit of a fit on the day and you can have trouble. The weather can be unpredictable. Or you can just be having an off day. It’s easy to go into things with a certain set of expectations based on your training, but you can’t control what kind of day you get.

I had a couple of pretty aggressive timing goals, which let’s face it are totally arbitrary things. I know why people love going under 4 hours in a marathon or under 2 hours in a half, because I’m also a numbers geek and it’s a bit of a line in the sand. But that line in the sand doesn’t make 3:59:59 a brilliant run and 4:10:00 a crap one. The things that make a run great are your willingness to show up, the ability to push through the tough parts and giving it everything you have. Greatness is not contained in a number. But those numbers often do help us to push ourselves that little bit harder and that’s what I wanted to do.

On Sunday I was really nervous. I was nervous that all the work I’d done wouldn’t be enough to stop the injury from flaring up. Or that I would have to change my run to protect the injury. I had my period which always makes my stomach really upset. My glands had swollen up like golf balls in preparation for some kind of plague of death. And Melbourne in very un-Melbourne like fashion had come up pretty humid. And in a way, all of those less than ideal circumstances which might have affected my run or might not have kind of took the pressure off. Because I just decided to give it a good bash and see where I was at the end of it.

I had a pretty dream run for the first half. It felt pretty easy and it never felt laboured and I was comfortable the whole way. The best part was that my injury felt 100%. I was running really comfortably, there was no pain and I could just run. One of the pitfalls of so much training is that you can lose the love for the run just a bit. Especially when you are always running in the same places and I certainly did lose the love towards the end of my training. But I sure did find it down in Melbourne.

Things started to go pear shaped around 26-28km where my stomach was really not happy. I ducked off for a toilet break (best decision ever!) But even after that I was in a fair amount of discomfort and my non-injured calf muscle started cramping and continued to cramp until I finished. I managed to kind of hold on until 30km. At that point I still felt like I was on track for under 4 hours but by the time I got to 35km I was pretty sure it was out of reach. I felt fine but my legs would just not move any faster. And I kept having to stop to walk because my stomach was not placing nice. I really struggled in the last 5km. At one point I could see the 4 hour pacer in front of me but there was just no way I was ever going to catch up.

The most interesting part about it was that in that moment I was not disappointed at all. Not when I was out there finishing the marathon, not when I crossed the line and not afterwards when I looked at my run. I was really over the moon with what I managed to do.  In preparation, I thought I would be disappointed if I didn’t make my first goal, but I was really happy to find that I wasn’t. Because I knew that on the day, I ran that the best way I possibly could have. I could not have possibly gone any faster and I don’t have any doubts about that. And that for me is where the pride is. In knowing that I gave it everything and there was no point where I felt like I could have done more.

That’s the great thing about training, it doesn’t just prepare you for the physical distance, it prepares you to be mentally strong enough to keep going when things get tough. It’s possible that I went out too hard but I did feel really comfortable and I could have easily still had those problem in the back half even if I’d gone out at a more moderate pace. And I got my second fastest half marathon into the bargain and to do that without feeling like I was really working that hard is a pretty cool thing.


All the achievement is in the training, but it sure is nice to get a fitting reward at the end of it.

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Zoey Dowling

Written by: Zoey Dowling

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  1. I got goosebumps reading this Zoey. You are such in an inspiration and always have such great advice. While it wasn't the run you wanted, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. WELL DONE on a fantastic race xox

    • Zoey Dowling

      Thank you! It was a great day. And I won't probably remember the time or the minutes I took off my previous time, but I will remember everyone cheering when I crossed the line.

  2. Loved reading this Zoey. It gave me quite a bit to think about too. Thanks for sharing.

    • Zoey Dowling

      It's one of the things I love about training is that I always learn something that I can take with me into the next thing. And I've only got to run Melbourne 8 more times to be a Spartan 😉

  3. Thankyou. I really needed to hear these words today. I had a great run of training, never felt fitter. Then an old injury flared up during taper if all times. I still completed my run Sunday, in a lot of pain/hobbling and with tears of frustration for the last couple of kms. Have been so disappointed/ frustrated that my time didn't reflect my training. It's a very bitter pill to swallow.

  4. I loved reading that and find you a great source of inspiration. Well done Zoey! I am yet to run a race at all let alone a marathon but my 12 month running journey is teaching me to run the day I'm given - not just when I run but in my life in general. Often I am still my own worst enemy but I am gaining real strength from acknowledging my imperfections and celebrating my successes. This is the greatest gift that running has given to me and it is so totally unexpected.