As someone who has done all her five full marathons in Singapore, I thought it’s about time that I step up my game and join overseas full marathons. Little did I know that taking part in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) 2017 changed the way I think about what my body is capable of, and showed me the side of Queensland that I’ve never seen before.
I was excited to run in a weather that’s entirely different from Singapore’s weather. Even though it was winter in Gold Coast, the temperature wasn’t too extreme. It was around 11 degrees Celcius on the morning of race day. The humidity was low, thus I didn’t sweat as much as if I were running in Singapore. The combination of low temperature, low humidity and little wind has greatly improved my performance.
As I spent 9 days soaking in the Queensland’s air, I developed a crush for the state of sunshine. Even though this was my second visit to Gold Coast, I felt like this time I really saw the real Gold Coast. Instead of theme parks, this time we explored deeper and we found an appreciation of life in Gold Coast and Queensland. It was the best decision to come to Gold Coast for the run, and to stay for the fun!
Here is my journey to GCAM 2017, from training, to the pre-race runcation and my race experience.
6-Week Training for Full Marathon
The opportunity to run the Gold Coast Airport Marathon came to me 7 weeks before the race day. I weighed all the pros and cons of running a full marathon versus half marathon, and decided if I were to go all the way to Gold Coast and not run the full marathon, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I knew my final week would be full of work and travelling, so I only have 6 weeks left for training. It was quite a risky move to train for a full marathon in just 6 weeks, but it was a risk worth taking. My training program consisted of mainly running sessions, such as interval run, tempo run, easy run and long run. On average, I ran 3 times a week.
Before GCAM, my Personal Best (PB) timing for a full marathon was 5:48:47, which equals to an average pace of 8:16 mins/km. Knowing that GCAM has reputation for producing PBs, I aimed to run an average pace of 7:30. To achieve this, my Half Marathon (HM) timing had to be faster than 7:30.
Thanks to interval training by ASICS Pace Academy on Runkeeper, I managed to run a 7:00 pace HM during one of my long runs. I felt ready for the marathon even though the longest distance I ran during training was only an HM.
29 June 2017 Evening: Scoot GCAM Flight
Our flight in the evening of 29 June 2017 was a special flight, because majority participants of GCAM from Singapore flew on this flight. Scoot even named it #ScootGCAMFlight. Staffs of Scoot distributed props for passengers to take photos with.
Singapore’s marathoner Ashley Liew also took the same flight with his dad, Andrew Liew. Ashley would be joining the full marathon while Andrew would join the Southern Cross University 10km Run.
The flight departed on time, at 10:25 p.m. from Terminal 2 Changi Airport. In-flight pre-ordered meals were served 1 hour after the take-off. We had a Roasted Chicken Tight with Honey Garlic Sauce and Nasi Lemak. They both tasted awesome. Our combo meals came with a can of either Coca Cola or Jasmine Green Tea, and a Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. The most interesting thing about the meal? The customised GCAM paper cups! Such a nice gesture from the Scoot team!
7 hours later, we landed ahead of schedule at the Gold Coast Coolangatta Airport. As we walked down the plane’s stairs, we were greeted with the beautiful blue sky adorned with fluffy white clouds. After passing the immigration and collecting our luggage, we posed for a group photo at the airport.
30 June 2017 Morning: Breakfast at Pacific Fair
We were then divided into 2 groups to board Scenic Travel coaches that would bring us to Pacific Fair for breakfast. Pacific Fair is the largest shopping and dining destination in Gold Coast. Located at Broadbeach, it is easily accessible by light rail (tram) and buses. Some of the retail stores in Pacific Fair are Myer, Target, Kmart, Coles, Woolworths, Big W, Uniqlo, H&M, adidas, Nike, Kathmandu, Lorna Jane, Zara and Under Armour.
We wanted to eat the famous Betty’s Burger but they were not open until 11 a.m., so we settled for Coco Cubano. We had egg benedict and poached eggs on avocado. Afterwards, we wandered around Pacific Fair. We managed to get a local prepaid Optus SIM Card for AUD 20, which included free local calls and SMS, as well as 1GB of data daily for AUD 2 (which will be deducted daily from the main credit).
30 June 2017 Afternoon: Race Expo
From Pacific Fair, we took the same coach to Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre for the Race Expo. Despite the long queue, it took me quite fast to get my race kit. Contrary to the common practices of race organisers in Singapore, the race kit of GCAM consisted of only a bag and a race bib. No sponsored products, brochures and running singlets.
At the ASICS Sport & Leisure Expo located just beside the kit collection, there were many booths selling sport related merchandise, food and beverage, as well as race tickets. The first thing that I did at the ASICS Expo was to get my ASICS personalised pace wristband printed. I had registered online prior to the expo, so I just keyed in my particulars and the wristband got printed in just a few seconds.
As I explored the expo, I stumbled upon Endura booth and was delighted that they provided free Endura isotonic drinks, protein drinks, energy gels and even energy bars! I enjoyed sampling all of them, and bought their energy gels (1 pack cost AUD 2.50, 5 packs cost AUD 10) for my consumption during the marathon.
At Zespri booth, delicious kiwis were given out for free, with spoon and napkins. They also distributed free kiwi key chains and small plastic food containers. Once our bellies were full of kiwis, we took photos at the photo ops, and then headed to our hotel, Mantra Legends, for check-in.
30 June 2017 Evening: NightQuarter
NightQuarter is similar to night market concept in Asian countries, but with a strong emphasis on food, drink and live music. It is open every Friday and Saturday, from 4 to 10 p.m. There’s a different theme every weekend at the NightQuarter. On the day of our visit, the theme was the Fourth of July, so there were plenty of USA burgers, doughnuts and sodas.
Michelle Christoe, the Director of NightQuarter, introduced us to the incredible arrays of food stalls at the NightQuarter. We had the chance to eat the tasty marinated lamb, the heart-warming chocolate drink with marshmallows, the tender calamari, Grumpi’s beef brisket, wood-fired pizza, fries with minced meat as well as wine. It was such a great market, we wouldn’t hesitate to return again in the future.
NightQuarter is accessible by car and public transport (by bus or train; not tram). A small entrance fee of $3 is required for admission to the NightQuarter.
1 July 2017 Morning: SkyPoint Climb
On our second day in Gold Coast, we woke up early, eager to explore the city. We made our way to Bam Bam Bakehouse for an energising breakfast. Instead of toast, the poached eggs of the egg benedict were served on a croissant. It was a clever idea because their croissants were amazing.
After breakfast, we took on Australia’s highest external building climb at SkyPoint, which is located in the heart of Surfer’s Paradise, and is within walking distance from Mantra Legends Hotel. The entire SkyPoint Climb experience lasts for 90 minutes. All Climbers are entitled to one complimentary entry to SkyPoint Observation Deck for the date of the Climb.
During the preparation at ground floor, the kind staff of SkyPoint helped us secure our electronic gadgets with strong tapes and ropes to prevent them from falling off during the climb. It’s fine if you don’t bring any cameras on the climb because they’ll take your photos when you’re up there. After keeping our valuables in the locker and getting all geared up with climb suit and full body harness, we had a safety briefing and alcohol check before riding the super-fast elevator which travels from ground level to Level 77 (SkyPoint Observation Deck) in just 43 seconds.
At Level 77, we exited the building via a glass door and made the climb to a platform located 270m above sea level. The climb was terrifying for me in the beginning, but knowing that my harness is locked to the handrail at all time, I felt safe. With the 360-degree view, we gazed at the beautiful coast line of Gold Coast, the enchanting city skyline, the man-made islands surrounded by canals, the lush mountains and the peaceful horizon of the Pacific Ocean.
At the platform, we took group photos and challenged our fear by leaning back outwards at the edge of the platform.
1 July 2017 Afternoon: Gamin Legends Lunch
After the exhilarating adventure at the SkyPoint, it was time for carbo-loading at the Garmin Legends Lunch, held at The Star Gold Coast. We had a pleasant carbo and protein-rich lunch, which consisted of pasta, lean chicken, thick salmon fillet, bread and potato salad.
This year’s Garmin Legends Lunch featured guest speakers from running legends, such as Yuki Kawauchi (2013 Gold Coast Airport Marathon winner) and Kenneth Mungara (Two-time Gold Coast Airport Marathon winner). The speakers shared with the audience about their race preparation, race strategy as well as running tips. We left the lunch feeling motivated with the advice from the legends.
2 July 2017 Morning: Race Day
The pick-up for full marathoners was scheduled at 5:30 a.m. I woke up at 4 a.m. after a solid 6 hours sleep. I had my breakfast of cereal and instant cup noodles, went to the bathroom, got dressed, put on my bib and went down to the hotel lobby.
The journey to the race precinct with coach took us only 15-20 minutes. We gathered at the tent of TEQ Southeast Asia and took group photos with runners from Singapore before heading to the start pen.
It was already bright when full marathon runners were flagged off at 7:20 a.m. However, the temperature remained low. Wrapped in T-shirt and full-length running tights, my palms were really cold. I chatted with a Hong Kong senior woman who told me that it was her seventh marathon, but it was her first time running in Gold Coast Airport Marathon. We wished each other good luck before setting off on our own. My husband was standing on the start line and managed to snap a photo me when I crossed the start line.
Running in low temperature has its own challenges. For me, my hands were swollen and almost frozen during the first half of the marathon. I guess I drank too much water during the run, I never skipped any hydration station. I didn’t have flu prior to the race, but I developed a runny nose and teary eyes throughout the entire race.
To combat the cold, a lot of people started the race wearing jacket or raincoat, then as the temperature rose, they simply threw it away. Other runners, however, seemed to have a high tolerance to cold weather as they ran in singlets and shorts!
The running route was pretty flat with a couple of minor uphills and downhills. Throughout the route, there were so many supporters cheering for the runners. The Japanese supporters would cheer, “Ganbatte,” while the Australian supporters would yell encouragement spells, such as, “You can do it! Keep going! Almost there! You’re already halfway! Don’t give up! Looking good!” The kids would extend their arms to give high-fives and I tried my best to return most of the high-fives.
At certain locations, musicians played instruments and singers sang. The running course was very lively. Some supporters distributed chewy sweets and ice cubes. A grandma watched the race from her front yard; as my eyes met hers, she waved to me, and I waved back to her with a wide smile.
The hydration station was very well-managed. The refill was fast. Every alternate hydration station had Endura electrolyte drinks. At certain hydration stations, there were self-service aid stations where band-aids and Vaseline were provided. There was also a temperature indicator at the hydration station.
My strategy for the race was to keep a constant pace and avoid running too fast. For the first 15km of the race, I managed to run sub 7:00 pace thanks to the cold weather. I even caught up with 5:00 hour pacers at 8km and overtook them.
At around 11km, the elite runners, including Yuki Kawauchi, ran past me in the opposite direction.
Around 9:30 a.m., when I reached 17km marker, the sun was out and I started to feel the warmth I had craved for since the beginning of the race. Up until that point, I didn’t feel sweaty at all. The bad news was, my pace slowed down as the weather grew hotter.
Throughout the race, I drank at every hydration station as I was worried of being dehydrated. As a result, I had the urge to go to the toilet at around 21km, where portable toilets were nowhere in sight. Portable toilets were abundant along Surfer’s Paradise but after 21km, I didn’t notice any.
At 22km, I asked a volunteer about the nearest toilet location, she told me to keep a lookout on my right, the toilet is in the park. I spotted the toilet but it was quite far away from the race course, and I’d probably waste 5-7 minutes for that toilet, so I didn’t go.
At 23km I couldn’t hold it any longer, I asked another volunteer for toilet location. This time, luckily the toilet was not too far away and nobody was using the toilet. I probably wasted 3-4 minutes because of the toilet visit, but I was glad I went.
After the toilet, I lost the 5:00 hour pacer. The sun was shining with full force. I reached 25km checkpoint 8 minutes ahead of my target time, according to my ASICS pace wristband. Runners around me were getting lesser and lesser, fatigue started to kick in.
At 27km, I felt the pain on my thighs and decided to walk for a while. At that point, the mental game has officially started. I questioned myself, why didn’t I sign up for half marathon which starts earlier and ends much earlier than the full marathon; that way, I could’ve avoided this hot sun and I’d probably be resting under the shade at that moment had I joined the HM.
My brain told my legs to keep running even if they could only run slowly. At 29km, I finally saw the bridge over the Nerang River, which meant that I was almost back at Southport, the race precinct. My motivation level increased.
At the 30.5km hydration station, I was expecting bananas but I was disappointed because there wasn’t any of them, so I grabbed the energy gels instead. As I continued running, my stomach started to hurt and forced me to slow down. I decided that it was time to wear my headphone and listen to my playlist.
There were 2 mist tunnels between 30km and finish line. It was a great relief from the heat. At one point, I grabbed ice cubes offered by supporters and rubbed them against my cheek.
From 30km onwards, there were many times I wanted to walk, but I knew if I started walking I wouldn’t be able to continue running. Thankfully, my legs listened to my brain and kept running until the finish line.
I sprinted from 250m before finish line to the finish line. I was so glad that despite all the challenges I faced throughout the race, I still finished ahead of my target time by 4 minutes. I finished with 5:12:51, which is a 35-minute improvement from my previous PB.
After crossing the finish line, I entered the Recovery Area where there were bananas, kiwis, oranges, Endura rehydration drinks as well as water. At the exit of Recovery Area, I received the finisher’s medal, finisher’s T-shirt, and towels. I then reunited with my husband and went back to the hotel via tram. Tram ride was free for runners on the race day!
Before racing at GCAM, I didn’t even think it was possible for me to run sub 5:15hrs with just 6 weeks of training. But GCAM changed my life, I achieved what I thought was impossible. I’m still not a fast runner but I’m glad that I keep on improving.
Despite the heat after 10 a.m., thanks to low humidity, I managed to keep running almost throughout the entire course. I have never run almost the entire FM before GCAM. This is probably the main reason I could achieve 35-minute improvement from my previous PB.
Overseas races are not cheap. If you want to do just one overseas race, choose the one that’ll make a difference in your life. For me, beating my previous PB by more than 30 minutes count as a life-changing moment. GCAM would hold a special place in my heart for many years to come.
Next year would be a great year to join GCAM, as it'll be the 40th Gold Coast Airport Marathon!
It isn’t a complete runcation if we don’t have post-race vacation, is it? Stay tuned for our post-race adventure, including trips outside Gold Coast!