If you want to run, then run a mile. If you want to experience another life, run a marathon.

Emil Zatopek

42.2 kilometres. 42.195, actually. 26.2 miles. It’s the rite of passage for every runner, or at least that’s the way it seems at times. But not for me.

Until now.

I have no idea what has caused my sudden, and very recent, interest in running a marathon. I love trail running. I love the fact that you can take a break and walk up a hill and no one will think of you any differently. (Although it should be pointed out that I have thought of myself very differently for walking up a hill – self-deprecation for taking the easy way out is a constant.)

But when lining up for any road race, there is an unwritten understanding that once you start you are not stopping until you finish, with the only plausible reason for slowing to a walk being to ensure most of the water you took from the water station doesn’t end up down your shirt. Or at least, that’s always how it’s been for me.

And I realise that I’m doing a massive disservice to runners everywhere who frequently complete races with a run/walk method, either planned or otherwise. Almost ironically, I have zero issues with other runners doing this – you do what you can to get through. But, without fault, in the handful of road races where I have slowed to a walk at points, I have beaten myself to a mental pulp for doing so.

It’s happened four times so far – my first ever 5k race (I was injured going into it, which was the reason I stopped, but that didn’t matter to the mental barrage that followed), my first half marathon (going up an unforgiving hill), the same half marathon the next year (same hill), and my first 5k ‘pre-season’ race just a few weeks ago (went out too fast, not race fit, and it showed).

So the thought of running 42.2 kilometres (42.195, actually), with only the slow plod of a water break every 10 or so kilometres, breaking up the relentlessness of putting one foot in front of the other, then repeat, hasn’t exactly been ‘top of the pops’ for me.

Until now.

As I started to plan out my calendar for 2024, my big goal was to complete an ultra distance trail event. Originally, I had that down as the Ultra-Trail Australia 50k in May, but for varying reasons (once again, for another post) I’m not taking part in any Ironman/UTMB run trail events for the foreseeable future. I had a deferred entry from the Lakes Trail Festival from 2022 that I wondered was still usable, so a quick email to the organisers quickly confirmed this and I was in for the Lakes 50k in July.

I was originally going to do a couple of minor trail races along the way until I started to read up about the International Trail Running Association National Series. I’ve been an ITRA member for years (pretty much since I started running) and having an organised national series of races, complete with a ranking table, was a very interesting concept. A quick look at the calendar showed me the potential for two nearby races in April to get my ranking quota of three races (including the Lakes 50k, which is part of the Australian leg of the ITRA National Series as it is) required for a position on the ranking table.

So with the first half of the year booked in, it was time to start thinking about the second half.

Back in 2021 I had a coach who looked at the year as two distinct halves. The first half was where she focused all her energies to trail running, but the second half was for the road. I always liked this idea, so decided to apply it to this season.

With my trail season organised, it was time to look at the second half of the year. And two potential ‘A’ races stood out – the Nike Melbourne Marathon and the Sydney Marathon.

As a former Nike employee (and one time Melbourne resident), the Melbourne marathon ticks a lot of personal boxes. It’s the largest marathon festival in the country, and attracts a pretty good field of elites, sub-elites, 42.2 veterans and complete novices alike. It’s a reasonably flat course, fairly fast, and takes in some pretty iconic parts of the city. It also sells out in 48 hours.

Sydney is a much smaller event (but still the second largest in the country), the course a bit more hilly, and starts a little later so if last year is any guide, it can be run in decent heat. But it does have the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. It also has one other thing going for it that Melbourne can’t compete with.

It’s a candidate race to join the Abbott World Marathon Majors – alongside New York, Tokyo, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and London.

Plus, if you run it in any of the three years it’s a candidate race, you get a guaranteed spot if it becomes a Major in the one of the first three editions. This year, 2024, is potentially the last year of its candidature as it’s looking likely to be named as part of the 2025 Majors calendar, so long as it passes it’s final test at this year’s race.

And having the opportunity to run a WMM without leaving the country is pretty enticing.

This morning I received an email from the organisers of the Nike Melbourne Marathon advising that the first ballot for new entries (from cancelled and non-accepted corporate entries, presumably) will open on Monday. Which has given me a lot of food for thought.

At this stage I’m probably 80% committed to Sydney, but one thing hangs over me that I can’t shake: Sydney is 10 weeks after the Lakes 50k. I cannot help but think I’m asking too much of my body to run 50k on a fairly flat trail course, and then run a road marathon 10 weeks later. I don’t know how much recovery I’m going to need after completing my first ultra-distance race, but I feel like a few weeks off at a minimum is probably required.

Is it then feasible to undertake a marathon-specific training program with only about 5 weeks of real training, plus a two-week taper? More so when I’ve not run either distance (the marathon or the 50k) before. Maybe Melbourne, some 5 weeks later than Sydney, is a ‘safer’ bet.

But that doesn’t guarantee one entry into a major, doesn’t it?

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