Running for glory or just for fun

AIMIE CRONIN
Last updated 07:25 06/08/2012
PRIORITIES: Thousands of runners pass up the usual attractions of the Gold Coast to test themselves in this year’s marathon.
PRIORITIES: Thousands of runners pass up the usual attractions of the Gold Coast to test themselves in this year’s marathon.

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There's no flopping and dropping on the beaches for the thousands who flock to the Gold Coast for its annual marathon. Aimie Cronin joined the energetic horde.

The grass verges that surround the start line to the Gold Coast marathon are overrun with large white trucks.

It looks like there could be a mobile home conference. Or an alien invasion.

However, it's an hour before race time and the queues are a dead giveaway. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of people lining up to use the portaloos. Some stare ahead, inching forward with focused determination when the door is hurled open. Some wait in quiet resignation, stretching and lunging and playing with their fancy timers.

Nothing hurts more than queuing for the toilet. We've all been there. But the biggest challenge - one many of us will never attempt - is just up over the grassy knoll. There's a start line. People are migrating there after the toilet stop and from that point, not a portaloo in sight.

There are views, though. If you're running off the clock, you might be able to appreciate the sun splashed all over the water and the boats in the dock and the raft of people cheering you on. There are deckchairs set up out front of apartment blocks and there is a man videoing the race on his point and shoot, along with kids trying to pick out mum or dad.

You'll probably even get a glimpse of Alemayehu Shumye running back the other way as you trudge on in the glorious but intoxicating heat.

Afterwards, he stands in the sun and says what was going on in his head as he ran those 42 kilometres in almost record breaking speed. "I'm thinking: no problem." It took him 2 hours 10 minutes 35 seconds.

There's a point on the track, around the 30-kilometre mark, where runners loop back and pass the start line. They all know about it - the mental brick to the head. It's a popular spot for people to drop off, where legs give in, where the mind starts saying it just can't go any farther.

For the average runners, it's about 10.30am when they hit the hardest part. The sun's out. Alemayehu Shumye has got his legs up in a VIP tent somewhere. There's a bit of a crowd standing at the barricades. Children watch from prams. Some hold flags that they've long stopped waving. It's hot standing still, too, and the mood has fizzled. Many will head over to the finish line and resurrect a hearty cheer. But this 30k mark is taking its toll on everyone and it will be hours before the last place winner struggles through.

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A man approaches the spot at around 10.30am and stops dead. He makes no sound, but holds his right leg and you can see from his face it's cramp. "Keep going," offers an onlooker.

"Nearly there," says another.

It's a punishingly public place to feel such intense pain and he tries, politely, to do as he's told. But his leg gives out and it's the best he can do to limp up the road. Others pass by in a similar state. Swamped in sweat. Some in a kind of mixed rhythm where the body hasn't settled on a run or a walk. Some still smiling, only just.

Before the race, Annette Butterworth considers how she will combat the darkest spot on the run.

"I suppose it's about not letting yourself give up. That and the fact I've told too many people about it, so I'm very accountable." It's her first marathon and she makes it to the end in 5 hours 11 minutes.

Sean McInnes has a different idea. "That's when I'm going to detour to the left and run straight to the finish." He ends up going the distance in 4 hours 2 minutes.

Some don't make it at all. Of the 5748 entrants, 631 don't reach the finish line.

But there's a buzz when the crowds head to the starting point, regardless of whether they are there to win or there to step over the line.

Yokichi Suzuki hopes he won't get lost. He's 79 and legally blind and he got lost once during a marathon in Honolulu when it was pouring with rain. He smiles when he talks and says he just wants to get to the end. "I'm not sure I'm gonna make it, but I'm gonna try." He comes in seventh to last with a time of 6 hours 45 minutes.

The slow starters, like Suzuki, gravitate to the back and are thousands of people away from runners who are in it to win. The guys up the front are cordoned off with flags in a kind of holding pen. They aren't squashed in next to their neighbours, or having friendly chats. They are stretching and lunging and thinking "no problem".

But they all hear the same words from the friendly voice through a loud speaker before the race: "Good morning. Are you ready to rock?" And the music aimed to motivate: "Right about now . . . the funk soul brother . . . check it out now . . . the funk soul brother."

And in the crowd, arms lift and lips move when the Australian anthem cranks through the speakers: "In joyful strains then let us sing, advance Australia fair."

The voice from the tower says 28,000 people have taken part in one of the runs on offer over the weekend and the crowd cheers with hearty togetherness. "Stick to your race plan," the announcer says.

"Good luck, everyone." Then there is the starting sound and they're off. And they run. In teams with matching singlets, in costumes, in plain shorts and tops, in the latest high-vis, teched-out gear, in shiny shoes or in bare feet.

Towards the back, the mood becomes more cheerful, one man even stopping to take a photo of the start line as he passes through. By the time the last two men cross the start line - "Look at this pair of yobbos in the back," says the voice from above, "away you go, boys, good luck." - Alemayehu Shumye is well on his way.

Next year he'll be back, he says, to take out the record. And no doubt thousands of runners will return to race for a personal best, to beat their mates, to make it to the finish line, or, as one woman waiting at the back of the queue for the portaloo put it earlier that morning: "My main goal is to finish with minimal chafing."

Aimie Cronin's trip was courtesy of Gold Coast Tourism. She ran in the 10km race, without training, and finished it in an hour.

FACTBOX

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon is Australia's fastest, flattest course with a top elevation of 15 metres above sea level. The course goes from Southport along the Gold Coast coastline to Burleigh Heads, passing through Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach before turning after the 15-kilometre mark. The trip home follows the coastline along Broadwater in the north before heading for the finish line. Registrations open around March and the race takes place mid-winter. This year, 28,224 took part across all races (including 10km, 5.7km and children's events). A record was set for the most finishers in an Australian marathon race – 5094. Alemayehu Shumye, from Ethiopia, won the men's race and Kaori Yoshida, from Japan, the women's race. For more information visit goldcoastmarathon.com.au.

- Waikato

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