• Elliot Cooper

Bush Capital Marathon Festival: Day 2

Updated: May 23

On Saturday night after bagging 2nd place in the 16km event, I’m lying in bed thinking that my legs feel surprisingly ok. Maybe I’ll just go all in on this marathon and see what happens. I'm actually a bit excited about the second day: Mutsumi has signed up to run the half, and a group of ultrarunning friends will be there to do the full.

We do marathons for speed work.

Standing around at the start line it’s very relaxed. Malcolm is there. Brett and Steve are there. Nick turns up. We put on our bibs and chew the fat. Matty G. arrives and asks, “did Andrew Leigh (M.P. for Fenner) come?” The M.P. won this race 2 years ago, and is rumoured to run a 70 min half-mara. Andrew Leigh hears his name and turns around. Matty G. has come prepared with an initiative to propose: “hey, go and run in your own electorate!”

Foggy and cool: leading out.

It’s foggy and cool, but not uncomfortable. The view over to Black Mountain is one of the best you’ll get. On the rise with mist and the tower over his shoulder, John Harding delivers the race director's sermon: “Don’t cover your race bib when you cross the time gate. Don’t break your ankle in a rabbit hole. If you trip over a rock, come back and that guy will put a band-aid on your knee. And have a chocolate when you finish, but don’t eat them all.” Beautiful words.

We strip down to our run gear, but no further. And as 7:30 ticks by we move out. Unexpectedly, I take the lead. I wonder if I can hold it for a while, maybe I can better last weekend’s 5km lead-out. The pace feels good, and my legs don’t feel tired at all.

You know this course: south over the main Mt. Ainslie trial, over the road, around the shooting range, behind the brutalist army offices on the telecom track, switchback to the right and down to the fenceline, past the first aid station, rejoin telecom track through a gate, left at the creepy old hut, climb one kilometer to the saddle, right up the pinch onto Hackett Ridge, pose for Russ’s camera, careful on the rocky descent, round the reservoir and onto the gravel… Hangon, am I really still in the lead?

Somewhere down the gravel Andrew Leigh does catch me, “what’s this?” I say, “parliamentary privilege?”

I suck down a gel and bin the wrapper at the aid station. Andrew takes the lead and starts to pull away, but then I think ‘no, I’m going to stick with him.’ Suzanne snaps photos of us as we move through. Then the horse grid holds Andrew up, he doesn’t seem to know how to skip over the top. I’m in the lead again, and I stay there until the turn around. Andrew is the faster runner, for sure. Yet, except for a few hundred meters, I’ve sustained the lead for the first 14km. Imagine that.

On the way back from the turn-around is where we find out how far ahead of the other runners we are. There is a group of 4 who are not far off, then Brett, then back a bit further is Matty G., then Steve and Nick. Before skipping back over the horse grid I high five Pam, who’s leading the women’s race.

Back past Suzanne, I turn the early signs of a grimace into a smile for her camera. I don’t want to stop at the halfway point so I grab a little drink at the aid station.

Andrew is getting ahead, but I’m not slowing down and the legs still feel strong. I cruise back into Campbell High, down around the tree and over the timing mats. “C’on, Elliot!” John yells and I’m heading straight back out. I think I might have even extended my lead on the group behind me.

Now two small problems arise. My stomach starts to feel twisty, slushy, not good, and I need to water a tree, which will take precious seconds. I don’t want to stop but I also don’t want to piss down my leg like triathletes do (wouldn’t that be a chafing hazard?). So I take a strategic pause and get moving as soon as I can. Fortunately I still don’t see anyone behind me.

I know that Andrew has now built a comfortable lead. I tell myself that if I get over Hackett ridge and still can’t see anyone behind me, I might be in with a chance for another second place. At the top of the ridge I smile for Russ’s camera and pick up the speed on the downhill aware that my hamstrings are feeling pretty tight.

On the gravel I’m hurting. I need salts. So approaching the aid station I take out the cup for sports drink. I turn the tap on the drink tank and nothing happens. Suddenly panicked, I’m blurting, “whatdoIdowhatdoIdo?” Nei-Keiwa helps me get some juice. I then start running while pouring the liquid somewhere that is apparently not my mouth. Mutsumi is coming back from the turn-around on her way to a strong finish in the half marathon. We catch a high five.

The dog-leg up-downs are very tough this time. My stomach is angry and my legs are really tightening up. Still, I pick up my pace where I can and overtake many half-marathoners. After the turn around I see that there are two guys in my race not far behind me, and I know that one of them, Johnno, is faster than me if he wants to be. It’s not long before they both catch me and I just don’t have a reply. My position drops to 4th.

Skipping over the horse grid, I know the race will be over in six kilometers. All that’s left is to keep putting one foot in front of the other as fast as I can and hold off the guy in 5th. At the 3km left marker I feel a little better but those two guys have a couple of hundred meters on me now. They’ve got me beat. There’s an uphill kick - you know, the one after the turn-around on the Parkrun course. It’s hard. I just keep moving.

I round the Highschool basketball courts and Mutsumi spots me. She’s calling out and taking photos. She’s come 5th in the women’s half-mara, a great result.

Approaching the finish I hear John yell out “second marathon finisher”. “No, John” I say “ two more have come in. I’m fourth.” Really, what John does is amazing as race director he’s got fifty things to think about at once. It’s easy to miss a couple of runners coming in, especially when there are runners from two events coming in together.

The place getters: Richard Dunley 2nd, Andrew Leigh 1st, Jonathan Fearn 3rd.

As I cross the timing mats I look at the clock. I haven’t glanced at my watch since the turn-around on lap one and I can hardly believe what I see. 3:17:09. Holy crap! My marathon PB of 3:29:23 has stood since April 2017. I’ve totally crushed it on a trail course with 800m of elevation gain. It’s hard to believe.

I get liquids and calories in to stop me from crashing. I chat with other finishers and we wait for friends to come in. It’s been a huge Bush Cap for me. I know Matty G. would tell me it doesn’t count because it’s not an ultra, and today he won again by enjoying the course for longer.


So to recap on the last two weekends:

July 21: Gunghalin Gallop 31km/800m, 2:31:32 - 2nd place.

July 27: Parkrun WU, Bush Marathon 16km/300m, 1:07:56 - 2nd place.

July 28: Bush Marathon 42.2km/800m, 3:17:09 - 12min+ PB.

Back in January wrote that I wanted to run 8 races this year. With these three I’m up to five, and I have a plan for three more. I’ll make sure they all count.

Happy finishers

Photos by John Harding, A Schmidtchen, Mutsumi and Me. Special thanks to John Harding for keeping event photos available and free to share.

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