Not bad for a fat lad!

Posted on: 01 Feb 2015

By Paul ... One of the things I am trying to achieve with my 5 challenges is to experience and blog about as many aspects of long distance running as possible, ticking a few firsts off the bucket list as I go. Challenge 3 brought me to the Melbourne Music Marathon weekend on the Space Coast of Florida. I happened to be in the US over this weekend on business, so it was a great chance to get involved in an event stateside.

I entered their half marathon, saving the full distance slog for London, and an immediate new experience was a 7.05am start time. No chance for a lie-in here then, when you’re running in warmer climes, it seems the protocol is logically to get up early and get it done, leaving the sun for those mad dogs and English men. The thing is when I am about to run 13 miles, like most I would imagine, I can’t just get-up and go, like I’m heading to the office. You need to get ready, hydrate, fuel, and hope the normal bodily functions can kick in before you leave the comforts of home, otherwise you’ll be hopping from one foot to another 5 minutes before the start time in a queue like this –

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in fear you might otherwise need to ‘do a Paula‘ out on the course. So, 5am alarm it was, and all of the above was successfully achieved, but despite the best laid plans, I was still in the 5 minutes before start time queue and had to enjoy the expertly sung ‘Star Spangled Banner’ through the walls of a port-a-loo.

Enough already with pre-race rituals though, let’s get onto the event itself, the Melbourne Music Marathon weekend, which I can summarise in my worst American accent as ‘one hell of a fun run in the sun’!

I started slow, somewhat overwhelmed by being surrounded by at least 2 women to every man, with the finest and most colourful selection of running gear on display, and barely an ounce of fat between any of them. It seemed that half marathons are big business for the female fitness crowd down here and they take it seriously. Had I signed up for some state athletic meet in error? But my concerns were misplaced, as within the first mile, it was clear that this event was not only about the running, and with a much smaller field of just over 1000 to which I am used to, room to run as you want to, but also the music and having fun. Over 20 live music acts are positioned around the route, from rock bands, to a grand piano on the first bridge crossing, and even a trio of bagpipes, who made me feel somewhat closer to home.

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But the star of the music show for me was what I can only describe as the crazy scooter DJ guy who kept zipping past on his mobile sound system on wheels, ringing a cowbell and giving out free energy gels.

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At some point during mile 2, I ran past him whilst the legendary strains of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ emitted from his bike-ing boombox and felt inspired to run like Rocky on the streets of Philadelphia and chase down a PB, my previous half marathon best being a 1.46.something during the Reading Half Marathon of 2013.

So, for the next 4 miles, I tracked down the 1.45 pace marker, like a Native American searching for his prey in the Wild West, and finally made contact as we came to the end of bridge crossing one. Now, I have to admit, I’ve never been into following pacers before, I prefer to just run and see where it gets me. In fact, if I was being honest, I have possibly scoffed in the past at the lemming like mentality of pace groups. But this race was a revelation in how much easier a run can be if you do decide to follow these guys. This race is dominated by two bridge crossings, one at mile 6 to 7, the Eau Gallie Causeway, which takes you from the Florida mainland to the beachside barrier island, then at mile 12, the Melbourne Causeway takes you back to the finish line. Now mile long bridges, or causeways, inevitably involve quite a climb, with the obvious perk of the downhill on the other side, and you get a good 5 miles of spectacular views to contemplate each, so I found sitting in a group of 8 – 10 runners with Julio, the 1.45 pacer, a great way to keep going with ease along the River Side Drive stretch, whilst saving the mental and physical energy for the final bridge crossing. I never said ‘Hi’, Julio, too busy wheezing my way round, but if you end up reading this, thanks for dragging me along!

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At mile 12, the final bridge climb begins, and I took the opportunity to push on from the pace group and head for home, and was totally chuffed to knock 2 minutes off my PB with a 1:44:40 (64th out of 394 men running, 83rd in the entire field of 1054). One of the other guys in the group said ‘Hi’ at the end and I quote from memory, something like, ‘Good run, man, I was trying to catch you, but just couldn’t get there, you were moving, and you’re carrying some pounds!’ I think there was a compliment in there somewhere, hence the blog title, as I think he meant in UK terms ‘Not bad for a fat lad’ ;-)

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Final accolades for the event have to go to the swagbag and the after party. As if a technical tee-shirt, baseball cap and great medal were not enough, the after party in Front Street Park offered up not only more live music, but every opportunity to replace the burnt calories with free beer, pizza, doughnuts, etc etc… All by 9am in the morning, these Americans know how to get a Super Bowl party started right!

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My sincere thanks to the organisers of the Melbourne Music Marathon weekend for their generous donation of free entry to the event. I always planned to pay my way for these 5 challenges, so I will be donating the entry fee to the charity fundraising total and, in the words of another American movie hero, if I am ever fortunate enough to be in the area on the first weekend of February again, ‘I’ll be back’, and I recommend anyone else reading this to give this event a go too.

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