I’ve always loved the Melbourne Marathon Festival. It combines so much of the things that make me happy. I love running because clears my mind, I love the fresh air, I love the city of Melbourne - especially in spring-time - and I love to challenge myself.
I was 21 years old when I completed my full first marathon (42.195km) - The 2001 Melbourne Marathon - Frankston all the way to Albert Park. I was still at university, hence I had time to train. I trained for five months, and my goal was to complete the course. My time was 3 hours and 41 minutes. The following year I completed the marathon for the second time and for a very different reason.
One of my closest friends passed away suddenly and tragically. We were 21 and I remember feeling like I was at my lowest point ever. During my preparation for my second marathon, I used running to help me get through my more difficult days after his death. I remember - before he died - discussing with him that he would like to complete a marathon himself hence I felt that this marathon I wasn’t running for me, but for him. He was with me all the way that day, always on my mind and in my heart.
The runs changed my life. It brought out a strength and determination in me to show myself I could do anything I set my mind to. Any job interviews always referenced my marathon with my CV and for me, I felt very proud because it was possibly toughest physical and mental challenge in my life, but I never dreamt that more tough challenges was coming up - my stroke.
After discharged from hospital - and completed 10 months of outpatient therapy - I was walking (not running yet) without a AFO (ankle foot orthosis). Ditching the AFO was recently new thing - therefore every step I was worried to rolling my ankle. I am still wary of uneven surfaces when walking because my right leg is still weak. Anyway, I set a goal to walk five kilometres as part of the Melbourne marathon festival. As the time got nearer and entries opened for the event, my cheeky wife registered me for the 10km event instead as she felt was more challenging for me.
I chose the Melbourne Marathon Festival specifically because I like the symbolism of entering same event previously and I was excited about the route - passing by numerous iconic landmarks such as Flinders Street Station, Birrarung Marr, Shrine of Remembrance, the Royal Botanic Gardens - and finishing with a lap of the hallowed turf of the MCG (which was never part of the event when I completed it before).
It was a massive 24 hours and I was very nervous especially as I was still suffering from a lot of fatigue after my stroke. Besides the event itself, which I really wasn’t sure if I could complete that distance, the entire preparation of getting organised for the event added to the difficulty.
I remember my first senior cricket captain - Laurie Shneider - was a huge fan of preparations and he instructed me (and my teammates) to arrive one hour before each game and will be ‘ready to prepare’ (RTP), he always said. He also (repeatedly) said ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’. Wise words, I think, and I adopted this same philosophy with my race.
I prepared my clothes for the walk the night before, and I tried to sleep earlier because the race starts 7:30am and I set my alarm for 5:00am (the first time I had to set an alarm since my stroke). I showered, I took my medication, I ate a light breakfast and my wife packed a bag with water, food, my headphones (Motivational music of course) and supplies. Luckily Loz walked together to be a support person.
Lauren’s father drove to the closest point at the starting line for the reason that it was important to conserve as much energy as possible because I was anxious that I couldn’t complete the distance - I never walked 10km (post-stroke) - and the leading up to the race, I raised over $6000 for the Stroke Foundation and I was worried letting down lots of people who had supported me.
I was very conscious about the fatigue issues and seizures - especially when I woke up very early this day - and my Epilepsy was not controlled yet. In fact, I had a minor seizure next day, but I will detail my experiences with my epilepsy in the future.
I remember from my two marathons that the crowd support helped get me through the last part of the race, so I was relying on that same adrenaline this time. My fitness levels was less important (I was relatively fit anyway), because running and walking very different skills - hence it was more important to be not rolling my ankle and I needed to alert and focused on the job.
We were almost ready - after the customary men’s room visit - and, after that, we started the race. I remember the atmosphere was spectacular and 99% people were running but we were walking (slowly) and I wasn’t prepared for being the surreal feeling when we were walking with almost no one. Everyone in the 10km event had passed us, and I were literally walking deserted streets. Thank goodness for the race marshals who were amazingly supportive, cheering me on every 500metres or so. At around the 1km mark - near the back of the Arts Centre - thoughts of self-doubt crept in. I told Loz I physically did not think I could do it, because 10km is a long way and I just did not anticipate how difficult it would be without any other competitors near by.
I was soldiering-on with the race and I was very concentrated on my walking. Also, Loz really stepped up, creating a good positive energy and mindset and helped me to reach the 2 kilometre mark where I found my groove. After passing the Shrine of Remembrance, I was thinking about all Australians who have served in war and I was reflecting about how I am lucky to live in Australia.
At the 5 kilometre mark, my friend Lior joined my walk (maybe for about 1 Kilometre). He was cracking jokes, laughing and trying to motivate me. I must say, it was a good distraction. I had lots of motivation partly due because my mum, dad and lots of friends and family were waiting for me at the end of the race - especially my son who had never seen the MCG beforehand (very nice debut 😉).
Once the 10km event merged with the marathon race route (at approx the 7km mark), the crowd on the roads were amazing motivation also. So many many positive comments directed to us, and I was so grateful. I even saw the lead group of mainly Kenyan competitors running at St Kilda Road (Competing at the full marathon) and I was amazed the speed and graceful of the runners. We actually stopped to applaud them, they are magnificent to watch.
My disability relatively is obvious to see - especially with walking - and after the 8 kilometre mark, I was still walking, however a little bit fatigue was kicking in - but I saw a man who was competing in a wheelchair. He applauded me, and I waved at him and we felt an instant mutual respect. It was a beautiful moment and I realised how fortunate I am to be able to walk again.
Enter the stadium was a magnificent feeling. The crowd was cheering, the atmosphere was amazing. All the competitions were elated to reach the end of the race. Very hard to compare my marathons over 14 years ago then this 10km walk, but I experienced two similarities - an incredible feeling to be finished; and very similar effort levels - mental and physical, I literally had nothing left to give when I crossed the finish line. This race is not a competition for me, but amazingly, I was not last.... My wife was last haha 😂. I crossed the line after 2 hours and 34 minutes.