As I laid down to rest on a grassy field, all worn out from completing my first 21km race in the Gold Coast Marathon, two heads peered over me. “Are you all right?” one of them asked, her voice filled with concern. “Do you need some ice?”
The two, who appeared to be medical volunteers, explained that somebody had seen me looking a little worse for wear and alerted them. I assured them I was fine – I simply needed to get off my feet for a while after the run.
This year’s Gold Coast Marathon (GCM) in Queensland, Australia, attracted over 26,000 participants across its various race categories.
Held since 1979, GCM is one of only two marathons in Australia to earn a Gold Label status – the highest marathon qualification so far – by the International Association Of Athletics Federations (IAAF). IAAF judges a marathon based on a set of criteria such as the quality of the course, the way the race is organised and so forth.
Despite the magnitude of the event this year, everyone – from the runners to the GCM organisers – was warm and caring to one another, and I was fortunate enough to experience this myself. It was one of the fondest memories of my trip.
Prior to GCM, I had never participated in a marathon. I got into the habit of jogging 4km once a week seven years ago, but that was all I did. In fact, when this AirAsia X and Tourism & Events Queensland assignment came to me, I had stopped jogging altogether for nearly two years.
With three months to prepare, I decided to sign up for the half marathon (or 21.0975km to be exact) run in the GCM – over five times the distance I was used to. It was a target that I felt was reasonable yet still challenging enough to both regain the stamina I once had and increase it.
My training included running on the treadmill (as it was usually dark by the time I got home from work), running on the track at the Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya stadium and, in the final weeks before the big day, running on the tarred roads around my neighbourhood in the morning.
While I felt I had trained sufficiently, a nagging concern on my mind was whether the terrains I had been training on were too “easy” compared to the terrains at the Gold Coast. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
The big run
Flag off on race day began at 6am. A light drizzle greeted us at the starting line, which was extremely uncommon, according to a participant I met who had been running in the GCM for umpteenth years.
Known as the Sunshine State, Queensland boasts blue skies and sunny days – even in winter. Thankfully, the rain let up soon enough and the sun mounted, revealing the gorgeous weather I had heard so much about. Despite the sun pouring over the race course, the temperature was a refreshing 17°C most of the time.
Another highlight of GCM was the picturesque scenes along the way. A significant portion of the course takes runners near the shores of the Gold Coast. Here, the view of the water glimmering under the sun will definitely take one’s breath away.
The terrain – to my relief – was flat, and for a first-time half-marathoner, I couldn’t be more grateful. If the terrain was conducive for beginners, what more for elite runners who are trying to finish the race in record time? Without hilly and winding roads, athletes can focus solely on improving their speed.
Indeed, GCM attracts elite and advanced runners from all over the world for this very reason. Our national long-distance runner K. Prabudass broke the Malaysian half-marathon record, clocking in at 1 hour, 7 minutes and 29 seconds at this year’s GCM, placing 29th.
Previously, M. Arul Thevar held the record for 15 years, clocking in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 59 seconds in 2004. The full marathon winner for 2019 is Yuta Shitara from Japan, who clocked 2 hours, 7 minutes and 50 seconds.
The GCM is also a key tourism product for Queensland. Based on data pulled from the 2018 race, the state welcomed more than 24,000 visitors during the marathon season, while the Gold Coast itself hosted over 60,000 people (participants and spectators).
The high number of international and domestic tourist arrivals resulted in more than 104,000 visitor nights and an overall revenue take of AUD28.9mil (RM82.6mil). Australia, with its influence in major spectator sports like rugby and cricket, is definitely banking on its sports tourism to expand further.
The final push
Around the 13km mark, my feet began to feel heavy, as though there were dumbbells tied to them. This leg of the race had always been the hardest for me during my training sessions.
Running through a couple of residential areas, I was delighted to find enthusiastic residents holding up humorous signs, festively hitting their tambourines and shouting words of encouragement.
Truly, the residents’ vibrant energy helped me push past the aches and pains I was feeling at the toughest point of my journey. The last 2km before the finish line was an experience I’ll never forget.
Emotionally, I was happy to have gotten this far and the prospect of having only a short distance left to cover spurred me on to run faster. But physically, my body protested vehemently. The aches and pains I felt earlier intensified.
As I soldiered on, I passed by a brightly-dressed volunteer with a pair of tinsel pom-poms on the sidelines who must’ve noticed the anguish on my face. To my surprise, she started running alongside me to cheer me on.
In the few seconds we ran side by side, she checked if I was doing OK and reading my name off my race bib, spouted, “You’re doing so well Kenneth!” Touched by her gesture, I mustered what energy I had left and broke into a sprint.
When I finally reached the finish line, I was surprised to see the number displayed on the timing board. A week before GCM, during a training session, I reached the 21km mark for the first time in 3 hours and 10 minutes.
On the day of the race, I completed the same distance in 2 hours and 44 minutes – shaving off more than 20 minutes. It’s nothing to shout about, of course. But outdoing my previous timing was a huge personal accomplishment.
I have no doubt the flat terrain, the refreshing weather and that extra surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins on race day contributed to my speedier performance in the Gold Coast. But most of all, it was the outpouring of love and support from its people that made all the difference.