I ran the Paris Marathon with the aim of improving my Olympic qualifying time. I had already run one qualifier in 2015 in the World Championships but needed to improve on that if I was going to be a serious contender for Olympic selection. Leading into 2016, I had decided that I was going to focus my year on making the Olympics. Because how often are you in with a chance to that? I took off two mornings a week from my work to get more out of midweek runs and to allow for more recovery and I set about making sure I was in the best shape possible for Paris Marathon.
I got a phone call in January from Athletics Australia, informing me of my selection in the World Half Marathon team, to be run the week before my planned marathon. I was delighted and privileged at the selection but put me in a situation that needed me to make a difficult decision. Do I run for my country in the World Half Marathon Championships and compromise my best attempt at a marathon PB or do I put all my eggs in the Olympic basket and give that my best shot, knowing full well the impressive times I needed to mix it with to be in contention for selection. After conversations with my coach and lots of other people, the decision actually turned out to be pretty easy, my year was about not dying wondering, I had an Olympic Dream and I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that. What made this situation amusing, was that 2 days after selection of the team, my coach got named as the team coach. We joked how one day he was advising me not to go and the next he was telling me that he was going! Dog act!
I struggled to feel good in training from January through to March, every session for a battle and I just couldn’t find the rhythm in my running, I was ticking all the boxes and getting all of my mileage done but I just didn’t feel like everything was clicking into place. During March, I started to find some form, I still think I ran only one good session and one good race In the lead up to Paris but my long runs were feeling good. I started to look forward to the marathon.
Towards the end of March, I started to get some soreness in my adductors, both of them, I was kind of glad the sore was in both as it probably just meant that they were both being overused and needed to settle. I kept up my mileage and ran my final race. The soreness lingered, which was weird for soft tissue tightness for me, so I decided to see the doc. All I wanted was something to settle the soreness so I would be right to race two weeks later. I went to the doctor, he did a couple of tests and then sent me off for an MRI for a suspected stress fracture. Turns out it was a stress reaction in my femur. Not running was not an option. Ten days out from the marathon I was on the spin bike in my garage, trying to remain positive. We obviously had to alter my lead up to the race but given I was tapering, we thought I could get to the start line still pretty fit.
I got to Paris the Monday before the race and I can honestly say that those 6 days I spent alone in Paris leading up to my race were the hardest pre-race days ever. (My coach and his family came to Paris Saturday afternoon after being in Cardiff the week before). I was holding off on the anti inflams as I wanted to save the effect until race day, my femur was sore and my head was full of doubts. I felt like a fraud, I kept thinking, Who do you think you’re kidding, you have to run the race of your life and you think you can do it with a weak femur. I kept busy during the week, I could go on a morning run and take in the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre and Arc De Triomphe all in one run, I went on day trips out of the city and did lots of shopping. I even did the breakfast run the day before the marathon, we ran through the streets of Paris in a convoy of Police, it felt like the people of Paris making a statement and I was proud to be part of it. On one day trip to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, I bought a notebook on the way. I sat in his famous gardens and I wrote down all of my doubts, I needed to get them on paper and out of my mind so I could fill my mind and focus on all the reasons why I was going to run well. I haven’t read what I wrote since, but I know that one of my doubts was being really worried about having to go to the toilet during this marathon!
I got to the start line on Sunday morning, I remember looking up the Champs Elysees we could see snipers on the top of every building watching over the participants below, I suppose this was kind of reassuring. The crowds were massive, the athletes were buzzing and the whole situation gave me goosebumps; what an event to be part of. I was soon engulfed by the crowds of participants once the race started but I found my rhythm and jaunt focused on getting through the early stages of the race. My leg was not bothering me. I went through half way feeling pretty good, I would’ve liked to have been 20 seconds quicker but I felt like to could start to work. I started overtaking others and we ran along the Seine in the sunshine. At the 30km mark, I was hurting but I’d done a lot of my run the lead up through the part of the course where the last 10km winds through so I could take some comfort in this familiarity. By 35km I was hurting a lot, I had my mantra written on my hand, The strength of you mind has no limits and I was repeating this in my mind. I just tried to keep my cadence consistent. With 2km to go, I knew where I was and I was catching another girl who was about 500m ahead but slowing rapidly. I focused on her and caught up with about 100m to, she out kicked me at the very end.
I just missed out on getting under 2.34 and perhaps even more disappointing I missed my coaches marathon PB by 3 seconds; I’m sure in the last 100m I heard him call out Slow down, another dog act! (He didn’t really say that). I was exhausted and I was so happy to feel so tired because it meant I’d given it everything. The afternoon of the race I bought a 36€ ticket for a city bus to sit back and take in the sites of Paris with the McSchuwalows, I was so sore that I couldn’t even bend to sit, I got off the bus after 2 stops, got onto the metro and went back to my hotel so I could lie horizontal.
Even with a stress reaction in my femur and an interrupted taper I was still able to run a 1 minute + PB and I was really happy. It wasn’t a time that put me in the mix with the top 3 Aussies marathon girls but it was a time that showed I can keep improving. I made deliberate decisions in 2016 to give the Olympics my best shot, I didn’t make it, I didn’t run the World Half Marathon Championships, I got injured, but, I took my chances, I didn’t die wondering and I’d do it all again.