Cities Marathon Report by Sean Greenhill29 August 1999
Last weekend I ran the Cities Marathon, one of only two marathons in Sydney this year. It's a long standing event, going since the early 80s, whilst attempts to organise an official "Sydney Marathon" have all been illfated. The course is fairly straightforward- it starts out the front of Sydney Town Hall and follows Parramatta Road, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, through the Western Suburbs of Sydney (the road changes name to the Great Western Highway partway) to Blacktown, one of the major outer suburbs of Sydney. It twists and turns through some suburban streets in Blacktown to make up 42.2K, then finishes in Francis Park.
I wasn't approaching this one with any solid expectations. I was still recovering from ITB trouble, and had only run four times in the previous month (including, the previous weekend, the Bilpin Bush Bash 35K). On the other hand, in April I ran the Canberra 50K in similar circumstances and set a marathon PB as a split in that race. What to expect?
Just before six am I arrived at Town Hall and ran into my friend from Sydney Striders Charles King, and we were both then accosted by a radio journalist and served up a few quotes. Charles has the distinction of being the last official finisher this year at the Six Foot Track ultra, beating the cutoff by 12 seconds. When asked why we did this stuff, he said "it's the closest thing weekend warriors and desk jockeys can get to extreme sport." That just about summed it up for me also. Not long after, I saw the same journo talking to Grahame "Mountain Man" Kerruish, holder of the record for most marathons by an Australian. The guy enthused into his mobile phone, "He's run 221 marathons, he's run every Cities since 1984, and- get this- his nickname is the Mountain Man!!!"
Most of the race is run along a closed lane of Parramatta Road, and the course is not flat. It had also been raining pretty steadily the night before, the cloud cover was thick, and I had put on a t shirt. Within minutes the sweat was pouring out of me, and I regretted I had not worn just a singlet or gone bare chested. My first couple of kilometres were fairly quick, then I settled into a slow trot and started to be overtaken. There were a lot of familiar sights here, given that I have lived in the inner west ever since I came to Sydney. The Carlton Brewery, UTS Tower, Student Prince Hotel, Millers Storage Building, Rick Damelian's car dealerships. There were some interesting people too- I spotted Peter Gray, fresh from running in the Australian 48 Hour Championship the weekend before. Kelvin Marshall was also there, and he had finished second at the Shepparton Marathon the previous weekend with a time of 2.50 odd. Incredible.
Maybe it was my attitude that this was "a training run", or maybe it was some of the less flattering architecture in some of the suburbs, but I was absolutely not psyched up for this run. In fact, had I not told myself over and over that I desperately needed this long run for the Glasshouse Mountains run, I'd have stopped half a dozen times. The sun occasionally crept out from the cloud, not to evaporate the humidity, just enough to make things steamy. I'm not a good runner in heat or humidity, and I was wondering what the hell I was doing there. The fact that I passed a few blocks from my apartment- and kept going!- further increased my pessimistic mood.
Running through Parramatta, where the road becomes the Great Western Highway, I had just passed the halfway mark in about 2 hours. I wondered if I could set a new PB, or even run sub four hours if I managed a negative split, but the legs would not shift from first gear. It seemed my legs and mind were not belonging to the same person. Then I heard a voice call my name from behind, and there was Mountain Man. I ran a few kilometres with this man who is one of the legends of Australian running. I asked about the old Manly 100 Mile race, and he lamented the death of all these great old ultramarathons. Eventually, whilst running on the verge of the road not long before the 30K mark, he took off on a downhill and left me.
After that, the course turns off the GWH onto Blacktown Road, then through some backstreets and over the railway line. Maybe it was because I wasn't pacing myself with anyone, maybe it was because my ITB was tightening up again (though not painful, it was something in the back of my mind the entire way) but my pace really disintegrated now. I had been drinking lots of water and organised my own special drinks, so it wasn't hydration, or hitting the wall. It also started to rain heavily, and I was joking with each marshall and aid station volunteer, "you folks worry me, you're out here in the rain watching crazy folks hurt themselves!" Every intersection had a marshall to watch traffic when runners cross the road, a feature which was very well organised.
I passed a few runners who were crashing worse than I, crossed the railway line, skipped the last drinks station in order to try and shake a guy behind me who was too close (it worked) and pulled myself into the finish in 4.52, a minute short of my personal worst.
I was quite angry with myself that night (and also with the race itself), but the next day there was hardly any pain (my legs were quite stiff though), and I recovered fully in a few days. What pain there was, was in my hamstrings, not my quads, which I put down to the strong quads that cycling gives me. After the Canberra 50K, the pain distribution was in the same pattern (though much worse).
Rationalising such a slow performance now, it's better in terms of training than a fast marathon, as I will be able to do one last long training effort next weekend with the benefit of a full recovery, as opposed to still being tired and drained. We shall see on September 25 at the Glasshouse Mountains.
As for the Cities Marathon itself, the organisation is excellent, to close a lane of Sydney's busiest road and have such good marshalling. I found all the aid station people to be a pleasure and ready for a joke. Whilst the course is not aesthetic, this is a race with tradition, no hype, grassroots appeal and deserves to be supported, as it's the only longsanding marathon in Sydney's biggest city.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :