TOUCH DOWN IN LONDON TOWN - Thursday August 3rd
Our British Airways flight from Milan hit the runway at 2.40pm. It had been a long day of travel with our 6am wake up in St. Moritz, a three-hour road trip accompanied by coach Adam Didyk and fellow Aussie Marathoner Josh Harris to Italy and a siesta on the tarmac in Milan before take-off. Fortunately, our travels were assisted by a quality playlist (thanks Adam) and some trusty Italian coffee. Following a bus ride into central London from Heathrow, we were united with our team in the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel – a moment that I had been really looking forward to! The setup in London was everything we could have hoped for and more… comfortable beds, a variety of hearty meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, friendly staff, a highly professional group of coaches, health care personnel and support staff, a common room for Team Australia (like we had at the Rio Olympics) and a fantastic team of athletes. That evening, a few of us headed out for a light trot from the hotel. As I presumed it felt more like a heavy shuffle after a day of travel but nevertheless it was good to get that one out of the way. Tomorrow was a new day! At my first hotel dinner I enjoyed meeting some of the athletes who had been freshly inducted into Team AUS such as Morgan McDonald, Georgia Griffith, Naa Anang and Nicola McDermott. Many of the athletes had spent the past week together at the team camp in Tonbridge, an hour outside of London. I had spent my final three weeks of preparation for this race in St. Moritz (1800m above sea level) so there were plenty of new faces to meet and familiar faces to catch up with.
CARBS. LET THE LOAD-UP BEGIN - Friday August 4th
Sleep quality varies significantly in race week. I was fortunate to score some solid hours of it in the immediate nights leading up to my race, after having experienced lighter and shorter sleeps whilst at altitude. During the week before a Marathon I drop my training volume significantly and sessions consist of short repetitions at race pace or thereabouts. Today I was stoked to have my coach Adam join in for my (mammoth!) session of 6x 30 second efforts within a jog through Southwark Park. I planned to wear my Asics Hyper speeds on race day – the same shoe model I wore in April’s London Marathon. It was nice to tick the legs over in my racing flats and also test out the team uniform. Aside from my final little sharpener, Friday consisted of an outing to the local coffee shop in St. Katherine’s Docks with a couple of the girls and a quick shop for some extra ‘carb load’ supplies at Sainsbury’s. My Sports Dietitian, Olivia Warnes and I had been emailing each other throughout week to fine tune my fuelling strategy for the two days leading into the race. I was really happy with the plan, which involved low fibre and easily digestible energy-rich foods. I was caught off guard one morning by the absence of Rice Bubbles but 1500m guru and dietitian Linden Hall came to the rescue with the most suitable alternative options. After lunch I saw team masseur Richard Squires for a fairly light lower body / back massage and he nailed it. I jumped off the table feeling taller, lighter and energised – a powerful confidence-booster before a race. The Team Australia common room was decked out with snacks, information boards, lounges and inspiring posters of Australian Championship medallists and role models, such as Steve Hooker and Cathy Freeman. Here I enjoyed watching the first night of athletics with team members before taking myself off to bed!
RACE EVE - Saturday August 5th
I had my phone alarm set to ensure that I didn’t miss the highly anticipated morning shuffle with Jack Colreavy, Morgan McDonald, Sinead Diver and Adam Didyk. This would be my 9th Marathon and also my 9th pre-race day thirty-minute shake-out with my coach Adam… a little tradition that we’ve managed to maintain since my debut Marathon five years ago. What makes this particularly impressive is that these Marathons have been in Japan, London, Moscow, Japan (2), Glasgow, Melbourne, Rio, London (2), London (3)… and that one of Adam’s least favourite activities is flying. Like Friday, Saturday involved being as lazy as possible. I got stuck into some sketching and read some more of a fantastic book called ‘A life without limits’ by Chrissie Wellington – I love an inspiring autobiography prior to a major race! Before dinner, Sinead and I met up on a backstreet by the hotel in our Aussie bloomers to make the final decision on what bottoms we would wear in the race. Three kitchen staff that appeared out of a back door must have wondered what on earth we were thinking as we whipped off our trackies and performed a few awkward strides in our green ‘knickers’ and sneakers. A few laughs later, we were having dinner and gearing up for another exciting night of athletics viewing.
CUTTING TO THE CHASE - Sunday August 6th
Usually I wake up on the morning of a Marathon before my alarm and before the sun has risen. I have my race kit and snacks laid to ensure that I don’t forget anything in my nervous fluster. The 2pm race start time at the World Championships meant that I could have a sleep in, eat a couple of high-energy meals and then chill out for a few hours. Naturally that didn’t happen - my brain was in auto-race prep mode. I jumped out of bed at 6am and headed out for a brief shake-out jog that would have been mistaken as a walk on my Strava feed. After a decent meal of Rice Krispies, toast, yoghurt and honey I headed back to bed to try and pass time. By 10am I was getting agitated. I sat on my bed, surrounded by rice crackers and electrolyte drinks and told roommate Eloise how much respect I have for track athletes who, unlike marathoners, regularly have to contain their competition nerves until the evening! After an inspiring lunch of steamed rice and soy sauce I took a quick shower and pulled on my Aussie kit – this is when the excitement really starts to kick in! It was time. Milly, Sinead, our coaches and I wandered across to the Tower Bridge, where our race was to start and finish. The next hour was a bit of a blur… a quick sit and chat with British friend Charlotte Purdue, a check of our Aussie Marathon males’ results, a 10 or so minute jog followed by a frantic check in process in a crowded room of anxious bodies. My fingers fumbled their way through the task of attaching a timing chip / transponder to each shoe and I quickly read over a few motivational lines in a letter before passing through the final athlete check point.
Milly, Sinead and I patted each other on the back as we joined the ninety plus females from across the globe in the start area. The clouds parted and a warm ray of sunshine beamed down on the pack as we received our 1-minute warning. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I was ready and made a mental note to take on plenty of fluid early to set myself up for the final stages of the race. The gun fired and the runners were off at a conservative pace. I made the most of the opportunity to find a comfortable position in the main pack and attempted to stay clear of the elbows and flying legs. As with most races, there were a few clips and near trips but I try to think of these brief adrenaline rushes as opportunities to re-energise and refocus. The Marathon course in London comprised of four loops which I quite enjoyed, as it meant that I could see the familiar faces and hear the cheers of friends and team mates at least eight times depending on their position. A few hair pin turns, undulations, technical corners and surface changes; in addition to the hydration stations at every 5km check-point, kept us on our toes at all times. I was happy with the amount of fuel
and fluid I had been able to take on at each 5km station. I hadn’t dropped or missed any of my bottles thanks to the Athletics Australia staff who handed them to us with expert precision. As like any Marathon there were times where I felt on top of the world and others where I had to visualise throwing a rope around the athletes ahead and reeling myself in. Just before half way and again at about the 30km mark I had a bridge to gap between myself and the main pack. The race plan that my coach Adam Didyk and I had been discussing over the past two weeks, the self-talk, the honour of running for my country, the hard work I knew I had done and importantly the passionate support from the spectators helped me to lift my tempo and tack back on. To be honest my final 5 kilometres are a bit of a blur but I recall focussing on the closest runner in sight and simply chasing. People called out my position as I navigated my way through the winding section past Saint Paul’s Cathedral. I had just passed America’s Serena Burla to edge my way into the top ten but was determined to get myself into ninth. At 41km I noted the Ethiopian athlete, Dibaba, was within reach. She seemed to be slowing so I did my best to maintain rhythm and pace. With about 400m to go, I made my move and hoped I had done enough to secure my place. As we turned right onto the long Tower Bridge I heard nothing but the roaring crowd. A flash of yellow over my left shoulder caught my eye amidst the blur of discomfort, excitement, lethargy and anticipation. My mind was determined to fight and was able to rouse up all of the remaining physical strength to push my body to the line. I was ecstatic to have finished ninth and even happier that I was able to share the finishing feeling on the iconic bridge with Australian team mates, Adam, Australian support staff and my family via phone (in the early hours of the morning back at home). After a dehydrated two-hour-long drug testing process, with a group of weary ladies and a quick stop off at the nearby Strada café for some Italian, I was back where the day had started at the Grange Hotel. It felt good to fall into my bed that night. I stared at the roof and re-played the day a few times in my mind before dozing off.
QUEEN ELIZABETH STADIUM - Friday August 11
Sitting to my left was Eloise Wellings. Her eager eyes were fixated on the glowing track and the shiny bodies in action below us. It was a cool Summer’s night in London but the competition was heating up and the grumbles of the crowd were growing. Two females accelerated into their final water jump; both on a mission to fly their country’s flag with pride in less than 200 metres. I held my breath and dug my fingers into my thighs. The women skimmed over the jump with finesse…a quality race was unfolding
and the world knew it. “Courtney…Courtney” Eloise chanted under her breath like a mantra. There was an eruption as Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs from the United States of America motored onto the final straight. One more hurdle to go. Tick. Adrenaline levels were peaking and faces were red…everywhere. Emma and Courtney crossed the line one after the other and within seconds were wrapped in each other’s arms with their eyes as wide as their mouths.
Having spent some time with Courtney during a three-week training camp in St. Moritz, Switzerland only one week earlier, I couldn’t be happier for the silver medallist who also achieved a 16 second personal best in the 3km steeple chase final that evening.
This was Friday night… which was to be followed by a huge weekend of athletic excellence whereby Australia’s Sally Pearson went on to win a gold medal in the 110m hurdles in a classy and exhilarating display from the outset. Dani Stevens launched a discus further than she ever had before to claim a silver medal and a result that like many, filled my heart with joy! These were a couple of many truly inspiring performances throughout the 2017 IAAF World Championships in the city of London.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in the 2017 IAAF World Championships and thank everyone for their whole-hearted support for Team Australia.