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Luke Dowse

My Ballarat Marathon Experience

Ballarat Marathon. My debut – what an experience.

2:57:51. Sub 3 club!

I’ve always thought that one day I would give the marathon distance a shot. Thankfully due to a couple of mates frequently asking me when I was going to sign up for an event, this so happened to be the year (28/04/2024). The time spent running big kilometres over the past 3-4 months was a decent commitment but also enjoyable.

The Training

My training, which geared up mid-January (just over 3 months from race day), involved running between 5-7 days per week which included a mix of some shorter easier (slower) recovery runs, 1-2 faster speed sessions per week, a mid-week longer run (e.g. 14-16kms) and a long run on the weekend. Being much more of an ‘early bird’, I would run early mornings, often either with friends around our neighboring streets and parklands, or with my dog around the local oval (his fitness also increased running plenty of laps during this training block).

The weekend long runs would gradually build from the 20km run to my longest in the block being 35kms. As the long runs became longer, I found this part to be the logistical challenge as to not affect family time as these runs would be between 2-3 hours long. Therefore, towards the tail end of the training block, with a friend who also had the challenge of juggling spending time with his young family as well as getting the training in, we would head out approximately 7pm on a Saturday night when kids were in bed to get the runs in. Our longest training run (3 hours) included running from Heidelberg into the Melbourne CBD and doing a lap of The Tan – yes we were spending our Saturday night’s running through the city whilst many other Melbournian’s were out partying!

Race Considerations

Having never run a marathon before in a race environment I was relatively unsure of what time I would run. Just over a month ago I was thinking 3:10-3:20. However, the month leading into the race I performed some speed sessions on path and road. Prior to this most of my speed work had been done on my local footy oval thus a grass track. Transitioning onto the road and noticing my speed was quicker than on the grass track made me consider reviewing the time I would aim for in the event. I never thought I’d run a sub 3 hour marathon let alone in my first attempt. However, based on my training leading in, I decided to leave it all out on the line and run the risk of blowing up big (either ‘hitting the wall’ or just unable to maintain the speed for the whole race), in order to crack the 3 hours.

Race Day

The race itself I went in with a few simple goals to achieve. It started the week leading in, with a large carbohydrate load (goal) consumed for the 7 days leading into the event. The premise behind this is that the body first uses glycogen from our muscles for energy production when exercising; and glycogen is formed from consuming carbohydrates. Therefore, I was on a high volume carb diet including breads, rice and pasta dishes, cereal, fruit shakes – such high volumes that my work colleagues were in relative shock of how much I was eating at lunch. Carbohydrates hold water molecules, and thus with carbohydrate loading there is some slight weight gain associated with the additional water on board, thus I went into the race a little heavier than the weight I had been at prior to the carb load.

The race day plan was to consume an electrolyte gel every 5kms (goal); I first had one at the start line, and with a few in my pocket, I continued to open them and consume throughout the race. My wife and sons were positioned at the 11km mark at a point I would cross a total of 4 times throughout the race, where they with big smiles handed me a bottle of Powerade with a gel taped to it. For the entire course I consumed 10 gels and 4 Powerades, as well as regular cups of electrolyte drinks provided by helpful race volunteers. This frequent consumption, I believe was key to me not ‘hitting the wall’ where your body switches from using glycogen for energy to fats. Some people find it difficult to stomach gels, and this can commonly occur the second half of the marathon, thus I was mindful to ‘front load’ i.e. get as much into me as I could early on in the case I had difficulty stomaching gels; however it was not the case and I was able to continue to fuel myself. One funny moment for me, and the only time I stopped in the whole race, was in the 34th kilometre, out of nowhere I needed to find a tree and immediately regurgitated a very forceful flow of pure blue Mountain Blast Powerade, whilst another nearby runner loudly encouraged me to “get it out!”. I then continued running and noticed I felt better for it and was back on the horse continuing on.

Marathon events typically provide pacers; that is, people who can run a particular time comfortably, that others aiming to run that target time will follow. My plan was to run with the 3 hour Pacer, however at the 5km mark, with a slight downhill stretch under a number of overhanging trees, it meant that my GPS signal on my watch was inaccurate in the speed I was running, and thus I ran ‘to feel’ down the hill, quicker than the pacer was running and therefore was ahead of the pacer. At that moment I wondered do I slow right back down and stay with the pacer to ensure I don’t over-exhaust myself too early into the race or do I just keep going on. I felt good and made the decision to keep running ahead – and thought to myself that if the pacer catches me, because I’ve slowed down, I’ll then aim to run it in with them. I never saw the pacing group again and ran alone thereafter.

To run the marathon (42.2kms) in 3 hours it requires running at 4 minutes and 15 seconds per kilometre. Therefore, I decided to break this into quarterly goals of 45 minutes per 10.5kms (goal). This was a good guide for me, to ensure I wasn’t running too quickly early, as in the race setting it can be very easy to be carried away with all the other runners early and go too hard too soon. The first quarter goal was achieved in under 44 minutes. Approaching the halfway mark I knew there was a downhill coming into an uphill; I intentionally ran a little quicker on the downhill so that I could more easily cruise the uphill. I crossed through the halfway line at 1hr 28 mins 16 secs ahead of schedule. The first half felt quite comfortable, I’d found a pretty steady state. I was glad that I took it easier on the uphill as this when a ‘glute’ issue that I had at times throughout my training period became niggly and noticeable; I am confident if I had powered fast up that hill my glute would have worsened. I only recall it being an issue for approximately 5 kms before settling down.

Things were continually steady until the last approximate 8-10kms where fatigue kicked in. I recall telling my wife, when receiving a drink from her at approximately the 33km mark, that “I’m cooked”. As I ran along Lake Wendouree for the second time, trying to work out numbers in my head whether I was still on track for a sub 3 mara, and not long after bringing up the blue powerade, there was a kilometre there where my speed was slowing. Previously, maintaining 4:10-4:15 felt comfortable, at this point I sensed my legs were wanting to switch into cruise mode and back off the speed. From then I had to make more of a conscious effort to run more quickly to ensure my speed wasn’t dropping slower than 4:15.  I’m mostly proud of this period; being able to hold pace when the going got tough, the 30km+ mark as they say when the marathon really begins, was hard yakka, but I was able to dig in.

The last 3kms I was able to find something and power home; recording 4:06mins, 4:03mins, 3:49mins, making the most of the downhill stretch and then powering up the hill for the last half a kilometre at 3:55/km pace. I crossed the finish line in a net time of 2hrs 57 minutes and 51 seconds. I’d far exceeded my original expectations on finish time; and ‘over the moon’ with the result.


1060.75 kilometres runs (82 hr 48mins) from mid January in training for the marathon

Longest training run: 35.41kms

Fasted recorded 5km PB in training; 18mins 19secs

Marathon: 42.2kms in 2 hours 57 mins 51 secs

Average Speed (Marathon): 4mins 12 seconds per kilometre

Marathon placing: 136th out of 1019 participants

I thoroughly enjoyed the runs with all my training partners over the past weeks, I learnt a lot from them, and they helped me get my mileage up. Something to be said about surrounding yourself with people who do greater things than you, in my case I was no doubt elevated by these friends. Great also to share it with my family and have my smiling wife and boys hand me drinks and gels along the way. Thankful for all their input.

Sub 3 Club. Pleased and proud.

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