It’s been 10 years since I ran my very first full marathon. Since then I have completed seven full marathons and more than 20 half-marathons.
In fact, my love of running and races has largely influenced my choice of travel destinations, and thus, has taken me to some of the world’s most vibrant cities.
I can still remember that day when I crossed the finish line of the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon after 6 hours of running-walking under the blistering sun; how grateful I was to have completed it injury-free. Nowadays, it’s not enough that I finish a marathon; it has to be within my target time of under 5 hours. My time has since improved to 4 hours and 30 minutes. What a difference a decade makes! And to constantly shave some minutes off my time, practice makes perfect.
So when an invite to take part in Victoria’s iconic Great Ocean Road (GOR) Marathon came my way, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, it is dubbed Australia’s most stunning running event.
A SCENIC DRIVE FROM MELBOURNE
About 3 hours’ drive from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road stretches from Torquay, Victoria to Warrnambool, Victoria for a staggering 243 km. With panoramic views of the Southern Ocean and Bass Strait, the marathon boasts one of the world’s most beautiful routes. It’s also one of the most challenging with undulating, very hilly, steep terrain.
Also, at 44.609km, the GOR distance is 2km longer than a typical marathon.
And so with my marathon experience limited to cities where I ran through and past parks, buildings, and skyscrapers, the thought of running on an open wide, mountain terrain somehow unnerved me. I just had to come up with a simple plan: just get across the finish line and enjoy the beauty of the Great Ocean Road landscape while at it.
It also helped that I was going to run the marathon with one of Singapore’s fastest marathoners, Jasmine Goh. She gave me practical tips on overcoming my trepidation and the butterflies in my stomach days before the race. One of them was the importance of dynamic warm-up exercises before the race. She also stressed the importance of rest prior to race day.
The full marathon kicked off at Lorne, a quaint seaside town, where I was told the population was less than 3,000. The town was bustling with the sheer number of locals and tourists taking part in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival weekend. Apart from the 44km full marathon, the annual event also features the1.5km Kids’ Gallop, 6km and 14km runs, 23km half-marathon, and the 60km Ultramarathon. They even have the 5km and 10km Walk.
According to organisers, there had been a marked increase in participation this year with a total of 8,200 entrants across all distance categories. Definitely far more than the entire town’s population!
From Lorne, the full marathon would travel to Apollo Bay along the most breathtaking coastlines of the entire Great Ocean Road. The 44km-race covers only a small portion of the Road and just misses the biggest attraction of the GOR—the 12 Apostles (naturally formed limestone stacks)—which is located beyond the tail end of the course.
Jasmine and I agreed to meet an hour before the 8AM start so we could warm up together. We took some advance photos at the “Finish” arch lest we missed other at the actual finish line over at Apollo Bay. We wished each other good luck (I needed it more than she did) and agreed to meet each other at the celebratory dinner. As soon as the gun was fired, Jasmine sped off and disappeared into the horizon.
I started my slow run, past the hundreds of cheering spectators that lined the road and gingerly ran up the hill (the first of so many). Soon, my Garmin vibrated to indicate I just passed the 1km mark. Nice. 43km more to go. By then, the sound of the rousing cheers from the crowd had completely faded.
Except for the thud of running shoes hitting the ground, the surrounding atmosphere was serene. As we made our way higher and deeper into the great expanse of the Great Ocean Road, runners started to disperse and spread out that I could count on one hand the number of people ahead of me or behind me.
RUNNING IN SOLITUDE
There’s something truly magical and spiritual about running this race with no distractions save for the beauty and majesty of the Great Ocean landscape.
Instead of seeing thousands of spectators at every street or corner, you’d see panoramic, Instagram-worthy scenery.
With you and the road most of the time, you’d be tempted to entertain thoughts of self-doubt or negative, OR, you could mentally recite self-affirmations, and pay attention to your form, pace, breathing and cadence.
So, I just LET GO and became oblivious to the pain and torture my legs were being subjected to.
We soon passed the most unforgiving terrain, the hills got smaller and we were running alongside farmland, seaside homes and B&Bs, into the town proper of Apollo Bay. Local supporters there were out in force, encouraging us all the way to the finish line—which looked closer than it really was.
As I inched closer, I felt my legs getting heavier that I wondered if I was capable of taking another step. But walking was not an option. I have come this far, and run almost non-stop (save for several water breaks) so I would not allow anything to get in my way.
And when I finally crossed the finish line I closed my eyes and raised my arms in jubilation. My eyes welled up; I was totally overwhelmed with exhaustion and elation.
I glanced at my watch–I shaved more than 15 minutes off my best 42km marathon time. It’s a personal best. And I did complete my longest and by far most difficult 44km race in 4 hours and 34 minutes.
The Great Ocean Road Marathon was painful but it’s beautiful and worth the trip.
Singaporean Marathoner on Conquering The Great Ocean Road and What To Do Before And After The Race
Jasmine Goh, with a time of 3 hours and 16 minutes emerged as the second fastest woman at the 2019 Great Ocean Road Marathon. Over a delicious celebratory dinner featuring delicious Australian cuisine and wine, the mother of two shares her thoughts on the race, and the many other things she enjoyed while in Victoria.
RUN: Congratulations on finishing second at the Great Ocean Road Running Festival (GORRF) full marathon! How did you feel as soon as you crossed the finish line?
Jasmine: The atmosphere at the finishing point was electrifying! I heard my name being announced as I entered the final stretch and I knew I was coming in second place. The “home run” was simply awesome! The energy level was high as the spectators that lined the streets cheered for me and I just had to “high-five” every one of them as I sprinted towards the finishing line. Definitely one of my most memorable finishes!
RUN: What were your expectations of the course, the weather, and how did you manage?
Jasmine: The Great Ocean Road route was stunning. The 44km road from Lorne to Apollo Bay was winding and undulating. For me, it was hard to predict what was coming round the corner (more hills or downslopes) and any pacing strategy would be difficult to execute. Hence, I decided to run by feel (no watch) and just enjoy the scenery as it presented itself.
I had hoped the weather to be cooler on race day. However, the temperature was and the sun was pretty intense by the late morning (start time was 8am). Without much shade along the route, it did get uncomfortable for me towards the end. I also found the water points (approximately every 5km) and the supply of isotonic drinks insufficient (not every water point provided isotonic). A good suggestion to would-be participants would be to bring along your own salt tablets if you perspire a lot and need to replenish the sodium lost during the race to prevent cramping (sweat testing is available with Coached Fitness). Sunglasses and sunblock are a must!
RUN: How did you train for this race? Was it any different from other race preparations?
Jasmine: I did my homework and knew the route had a bit of elevation. Hence, more hills training were incorporated into the race preparation. I also did a 25km trail race as a warm up for this marathon.
RUN: What do you consider the high and low points for you during the race?
Jasmine: High points were definitely coming in second and running past the cheering crowd at the end point. Low point was having a stomach ache during the run and having to find a portable toilet along the way.
RUN: How did you negotiate the steep/undulating uphill climbs and downhill slopes?
Jasmine: The route is winding and undulating. It is especially hard to estimate how much more to climb when the road winds along the cliff tops. Hence it was important to pace oneself in this race.
RUN: Were you aware of your nearest competitors? How did you keep track of them?
Jasmine: Nope. I knew there was a lady ahead of me. Volunteers at water stations would encourage me by telling me that I was second and not too far from the first lady. But the route is winding and it is hard to see ahead, thus, it was difficult for me to keep track of any competitors.
RUN: What tips do you have for marathoners who are planning to run this race?
Jasmine: Hydrate well and bring own bottles and/or salt tablets if you think you will require more than what the official water stations provide. Cover up with cap, sunglasses and sunblock as the sun can be pretty intense by late morning and afternoon. Pace well as the route is undulating. Incorporate hill trainings into preparation to handle the elevation.
RUN: Why do you think runners should experience the GORRF Marathon?
Jasmine: The race route is beautiful, the experience was unique, and the race route was challenging.
RUN: You were able to explore Victoria before and after the race. What stood out for you?
Jasmine: One that’s truly unforgettable was the 12 Apostles Helicopter Tour. It’s the most scenic way to see the rock formations. I also enjoyed the Real Melbourne Bike Tour; I was able to explore the bohemian backstreets, lively markets, cafes, hidden arcades, and saw the many street art all over the city. And speaking of art, the Silo Art Trail, was also awesome. We cruised from town to town to see wheat silos transformed into giant works of art. And because I love food, chocolate and wine, our visits to the Great Ocean Road Chocolaterie, Bests Western Winery, Pomonal Estate, and a host of award-winning and highly acclaimed restaurants were the perfect post-marathon celebrations.
RUN: What’s next for you?
Jasmine: My next race will be the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.
RUN: Why do you think Victoria is a great place as a race and travel destination?
Victoria offers something for everyone not just for runners or marathoners. Besides the Great Ocean Road Marathon, the region offers a variety of activities, places of interest, cuisines. And it’s not that far from Melbourne which is easily accessible from Singapore.
JASMINE GOH FACTFILE
Occupation: Financial Consultant
Hobbies/Other sports: Reading, listening to podcasts, journaling, meditation
Favourite running shoes: Under Armour Hovr Infinite
Favourite places to run: Sengkang and Punggol waterways
Favourite dish: Mala Hotpot
Average weekly mileage: 80km
Best marathon time: 2:54, Hong Kong Marathon in 2017
Notable wins: Okinawa Marathon 2016 (Amateur), Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2016 (Local), Standard Chartered Hongkong Marathon 2017 (Masters)
WHERE IS THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
One of Australia’s main tourist attractions, the Great Ocean Road was built between 1919 and 1932 by returning servicemen as a memorial to honour their comrades who had died in the First World War. The road is still considered the world’s largest war memorial.
Lorne, where the full marathon starts is about three hours’ drive from Melbourne.
When To Go:
The next Great Ocean Road Marathon (part of the Great Ocean Road Running Festival) will take place on
May 16 -17, 2020.