Non Starter

Non Starter

Next Sunday, June 2nd, thousands of runners will line up at the northern end of Margaret Street in Brisbane’s CBD. At 6am, the gun will fire and they’ll start the 2024 Brisbane Marathon. I won’t be among them.

The plan was to be, of course. For 16 weeks I trained and through April I ran 200km — 124 miles — in four 50km weeks with another 50km week at the start of May. Then I started to taper. The plan was to run a 42km week, then a 30km week, then a 21km week, and a 10km week, then the marathon proper. Instead:

Two weeks ago, on what should have been the 42km week, when I was nearly home from the 21 kilometre run, having done about 10 of the Brisbane Marathon’s kilometres and then returning back through my regular route and having to extend a little bit past home in a small loop to make up the difference, I stepped funny. One of the things I want pedestrians to be more conscious of around runners is that we can stop quickly but it’s not as easy as it looks. Hard stops are for cars and less so for people. The irony, I suppose, is that’s easier for runners to dodge walkers than it is for walkers to dodge pedestrians because we can be a little more agile. So I came up off the Bicentennial Bikeway and back over Coronation Drive and I stepped around two women at the top of the footpath at the Milton ferry terminal and I stepped onto the road, back up onto the concrete dividers, and I hurt myself.

I didn’t feel it much at the time but the day after I woke up and stood, after a time scrolling through tweets in bed, and I realised that I’d done something in my groin. I tried to stretch it out, thinking it was some joint injury, and when my friend called me on the Saturday to go for a run I went. I pushed through a 10 kilometre run, made it work, and it didn’t hurt so much as ache a bit but I was running with my left leg a little differently than usual. It was worse again the day after.

Long story short: I’ve done a hip flexor. Strained it, sprained it, whatever. It hurts. In the last two weeks I’ve run two kays to try and test it, from home up Park Road to the river and down the bikeway to Milton Green before I called it, 1,910 metres in truth, with shooting pains in my groin and up my hip. I booked in at the physio as soon as I could last Friday and I went again on Monday. On Monday while a sweet Korean physio was rubbing some electrical nodule against my groin after telling me only that the machine was French until after she’d started she asked me when the marathon was.

“Thirteen days,” I told her.

“No it’s not.”

It wasn’t quite that way. But it was just about. I embellished it a little. You weren’t there. I’ve missed the cutoff for simple registration transfer so on Thursday I forwarded my registration to someone on Facebook named James who’s already reimbursed me for the booking fee and who’ll, next weekend, arrive at the registration tables to transfer my entry to his name and he’ll run it without injury beforehand. I was about to write there that he’ll run it without pain but no he won’t. It will hurt and it will hurt a lot and it’ll be all you’ve got physically before the end and then it becomes an exercise in endurance not as some cute idea but as a real test of will. Good luck James. It’s a nice idea to message him afterwards and ask how he went. But I’m sure I’ll forget.

Running towards something like a goal has been a huge priority for me for the last two years. In 2022 it was just for fitness, for a general mental clarity, but I was doing shorter distances. Thinking like ten kilometre stretches were herculean and so on. In 2023, it was all training for the Gold Coast Marathon, following a Google Doc training plan that my friend Sean gave to me. After the Gold Coast, which I finished in four hours and seven minutes, seven minutes over my goal time, through the back half of last year it was about that mentality again. Sunday rundays a half-marathon at a time down the Bardon hills to the River and over the Story Bridge and around, a comfortable, familiar course that I got quite good at before it climbed uphill again for three kilometres right at the end. What I’m grateful for — and what I’ve started to take for granted — is that running from Milton means far fewer hills at the end. It means fewer hills at the start to help out too but that’s worth the tradeoff for more consistent, reliable, straightforward runs.

Without a marathon to run towards now — though I’m eyeing off the Sunshine Coast Marathon on August 11th, another EVA Air event by the same organisers as the Brisbane Marathon, with the same odd course issue I don’t love — I can’t help but wonder what it’s all for. For general fitness, sure. For a processing of my thoughts, sure. For discovering new music as I run for hours at a time, sure. I am writing Breakbone’s fourth draft, a murder mystery novel, and I am nearly finished for the third time reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. This is the first time I’ve read it since finishing a marathon so I better understand what he means. I better understand what he means about how writing a novel and running a marathon are the same. And yet I feel like now I’ve not done either. A word count target this year of 1,000,000 words which I am 38,799 words behind on already, here on May 25th, and now a marathon unstarted and I will confess it is frustrating. But if I push on through an injury I will worsen it and I will extend my convalescence for every kilometre I try to endure. A Google search reveals a four week recovery for non-serious injuries. Two physio appointments and two weeks off and a few exercises to do at home now and I suppose it does feel like it’s halfway through.

I have not run this little for a long time. The last time I missed two weeks of training in a row was August 2022. Just after we’d bought the house. We were at least lifting more often then and the upside of running less is that I’ve been going to the gym more but I have missed yoga for a few weeks in a row. And yet: I am likely as fit as I’ve ever been. Drinking too much but sleeping better, getting protein in, lifting well but not to excess, largely not to injury, nursing too a shoulder injury — though a different physio told me: “Shoulder injuries are never shoulders.” — so being careful. I reckon I did it with overhead tricep extensions. But I don’t know. If I write 3,581 words per day for the rest of May I’ll make my word count target. Today, with a few hours still until I have plans, that will be easy. Tomorrow, with no fixed plans, that will be easy. Last Sunday I wrote 7,000 words and in the process drank more than a few beers, more than a few ciders. Without running 50 kilometres a week I retain the calories. Roughly 100 calories for every kilometre run. At 50 a week that means I can eat just about whatever I want, burning off two and a half days of maintenance calories. The nutrition of it what I’ve always found the hardest but what I’ve liked about this fitness process the way I’ve done it so far is that I just don’t need to worry.

What I do have is to publish another ~1,600 words for May to hit the published word count target I added this year. The thinking here is that processing thoughts this way, like this, is useful. But I need the proof of work, to make for myself advantages on the Internet by putting myself out there for people to read. The story of my professional life so far is that publishing online stimulates random, valuable opportunities. So that’s the goal. Along that line: the goal with Breakbone was to have it traditionally published. This fourth draft stimulated by failure pitching to a few literary agencies at the end of last year. But to meet that publishing goal, to fulfill that random opportunity machine, and to match the serialised nature of the early twentieth century mystery stories that inspired Breakbone — The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest — the goal feels like now it’s online serialisation. If Colleen Hoover can self-publish her way to the top of the bestseller list then it’s feasible, I figure.

That has felt, to be honest, like the kind of breakthrough I’d normally get on a long Sunday run. Twenty-one kilometres through a Sunday afternoon, getting halfway, across the Bridge or now past the Powerhouse and turning around as the sun sets, and on the way learning things about myself and finding epiphanies in the middle of tens of thousands of steps. If I can find that without running I don’t know what that means. Maybe I won’t. But when I can run again I’ll get back to it and see if I find anything anew, fresh again after a break, rejuvenated appreciation. Two weeks left, I reckon, before anything substantial. What I’d like to do is a half-marathon again on my friendly route. But as I sit here at Milton Common with a beer writing this and lifting my left leg through a small stab of pain to make sure it doesn’t become uncomfortable, I think I’ll have to ease myself back in.

Maybe what I’ve learned is that I’m more all-or-nothing than I am half-hearted. A lot to think about. And I’d like to do it over a long run.

Back to blog
1 of 3