Melbourne (Half) Marathon 2023

Yesterday I took part in the Melbourne Marathon Festival Half Marathon. While this was my first half marathon race, this wasn’t the first time I had competed in the festival having completed the 5km event last year in 30 minutes.

Alex and I running in front of Flinders St station

When people asked if I would be entering long racers or doing longer runs I shrugged it off as it would take significantly long to train for. I started the year off training for the 5km event again.

It probably sounds a bit silly, but my original goal was for a sub 25 minute 5km. The reasoning behind this is when you sign up for the Melbourne Marathon Festival each event has two different category. For the 5km this was below 25 minutes and above 25 minutes (inverted colours). I wanted to enter for the faster speed for the event. This would require shaving 5+ minutes off my personal best.

Goal: 5km sub 25 min

With the longer and longer training runs, and completing a few half marathons for fun, I realised that I might be in with a chance for entering the festival’s half marathon in the “faster” category @ 2:10:00 - so I did just that.

Goal: 5km sub 25 min 21.1km sub 2:10:00

Then in June I broke 2:06:18 during training, followed by 2:03:46 in July. Maybe I could do even better than I expected. Could I complete a sub 2:00:00 half?

Goal: 5km sub 25 min 21.1km sub 2:10:00 21.1km sub 2:00:00

Lead up

I ended up running about 30-35km a week, along with a bit of cycling. Tapering off about 2 weeks before. I think the distance could have been longer but its what I could fit in for time and recovery. Roughly every month or two I was also doing a half marathon.

Most of my training was less about getting my cardiovascular or leggies strong enough but actually getting my back used to the distance. While I’ve found 5 and 10km runs fine, 21.1km pushes the limit of my scoliosis.

The next problem I had was shoes. This turned into quite a conundrum for me. For short runs I had been using NB 1080v12 - these were soft and nice to run in but on long runs I started getting blisters. I switched to using my NB Hierro v7 - these I found a little more firm and grippy. However the Hierro v7’s were already somewhat past when they should be replaced, and were only going to get worse. They contained no grip, and barely any padding.

Hierro shoe with back and front grips worn down flat
Trail shoes should not look like this

This lead me to go buy new shoes. I was tempted to buy another pair of Hierro v7’s, however they aren’t really the best shoes for this kind of run. I ended up purchasing a pair of HOKA Clifton 9. Initial short runs these were amazing, and set some really good times with these shoes. But I quickly discovered on long runs I got large blisters.

I was once again stuck. It was too close to race day to try more shoes, so in the end I went with the NB 1080s. Some more practice runs showed that wearing better socks, the extra wear-in, and better form made the blister problem negligible.

Unfortunately after some of my tapering period some of my runs left me with some pain and issues in my knees and ankle areas. A 2 day rest before the event seemingly sorted that out - maybe or maybe not. On the good news my HRV status had moved from bad to great over the last week.

The day

I’m not sure if it was eating in the morning or the anxiety of running a half - but my stomach was not happy. Walking to the start feeling like I was going to puke the entire way. I guess for me it was lucky that the start chaos meant a fairly slow start to the race and my stomach was able to settle in the first kilometre.

Alex had an unfortunate series of events causing her not to be able to run the pace she had planned, but luckily for me she was able to be my own personal pacer. We placed our selves just behind the official 2:00:00 pacers, but due to the slow start I lost sight of them very quickly.

I’m really glad to have had Alex with me. I didn’t quite understand the sheer number of people who I would be running with and often got overwhelmed. Having her there with me was able to keep me calm. There were around 10,000 people in the half marathon - though the course contains sections that overlap with the full marathon, adding to the amount of people.

Around the 5km mark I saw the pacers in the distance and by around the 10km mark we weren’t far away from them. We were setting around 5:30min laps - a great pace and better than I thought.

My energy/food plan was to start eating a chocolate bar around the 8km mark and eat a little bit more of it over the next 4 or so km. I had done this on previous runs and it had worked well. This plan did not go so well however. At the 7.5km mark I tried to start eating only to find that I had managed to melt the entire chocolate bar into goo. I had a little bit of it but didn’t eat any more of it after that. Given I had been calorie negative for the last few weeks, this was not good.

Alex and I running around a corner on the road
32047 did a respectful 02:00:18 and a much more consistent pace than myself

The pace started to slow and at the 15km mark we were doing 6:00min/km. I could no longer see the 2:00:00 pacers. I felt completely out of energy along with some ankle and hip pain. At 17km I walked for a short amount, and again at 19km. The desire to push through was high but I’m glad I didn’t - seeing a number of people collapsed near the finish line made me remember that it’s not worth putting yourself at that risk.

Alex and I approaching the finishing line

I was definitely at my limit entering the MCG, barely making it through the entrance, but seeing the line gave me just that little bit of extra energy to get me to the end. Alex encouraging me to pick up the pace - though I didn’t really have much left in me. We crossed the line together holding hands. An amazing event.

Alex and I crossing the finish line holding hands

Official time of 2:02:06. Not quite the planned sub 2 hour, but still a personal best and an amazing achievement for someone who had only really just completed C25K in 2022.

Selfie of Alex and myself with finishing medals post run

I’m not entirely sure what’s next - but I have something special for myself planned for December. One thought I’ve had is trying for quicker Parkruns. I know next year I’m certainly going to try and work out the pre food and race fuel stuff a bit better - my stomach is still recovering.

Running? Why? What?

Back in 2014/2015 I used to run. It was infrequent, short, slow and contained a lot of walking. I mostly gave up at that point as my mental health had deteriorated to the point that it wasn’t safe for me to run. In December 2021 I decided to put some shoes on and try again. Today I can run a half marathon and run 5km in under 27 minutes. Let’s have a look at how I got to this point and why.

Me running at Parkrun Kirkdale
Me running at Parkrun Kirkdale courtesy of of Kirkdale Parkrun

2020 - The lead up

What a year. In Melbourne we had 154 lock down days in 2020. However something much more eventful happened for me in 2020 - I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Starting very slowly and ramping up dosages over the year. This was an exciting and amazing journey that I’m extremely grateful to have happen but starting this journey during COVID lockdowns was not fun.

Our lockdown rules allowed for exercise times and distances - which I never really took advantage of. There was an emotional pain when returning home every time I did go out, so I chose to avoid that by never leaving the house.

The combination of HRT, a lack of my usual hikes/walks and a lot of comfort food eating put my body in not a great shape. I remember having this conversation with a friend.

Telegram chat me:stupid trans question. I know muscle stuff changes happen with HRT, but is usual to feel weak ? them: yup pretty much me: haha k thanks :3 I take it I’ll get used to it? them : the memes about not being able to open jars are pretty accurate

With lockdowns becoming less frequent I found myself hiking a little bit more with my partner and struggling to keep up or even make it. I also found myself becoming weaker and weaker. By December 2021 I felt I needed to do something about it and with some encouragement from Alex (who knew I used to run) I decided to reboot my running journey again. I set some goals:

  • Run 5km
  • Be able to keep up with my partner walking
  • Lose a bit of weight (through a better diet)
  • Feel strong


Couch to 5km (C25K) is a training program that uses timed intervals over a number of weeks to work up to running 5km. It doesn’t specify a pace and most training programs under the C25K name are actually time based not distance based. I like to think of it instead as “Couch to 30 Minutes”. C25K was what I was going to try to complete

If you’re thinking about trying C25k, here are some of my tips:

  • Focus on the time rather than the distance. At the end of the program if you can’t reach 5km in the 30 minutes, extend how long you run for by 1 or 2 minutes each week until you get to 5km.
  • Run on grass first - like a sports oval.
  • Repeat C25K weeks - you don’t need to continue onto the next week if you don’t want to. If it takes you 20 weeks to complete the program that’s ok.
  • You’re probably running too fast - try slowing down your pace.

Mentally I was in a better spot than way back in 2014 but I still decided to put some controls in place to make sure it was safe.

  • Don’t run when angry or sad
  • Don’t run on roads
  • Don’t run at night (this one I broke a few times due to Melbourne’s short days)
  • Later when I started doing 5+km runs I started using Garmin’s LiveTrack feature and putting my partners mobile number on my watch face

Strava heatmap showing lots of laps around burnley park oval

With that in mind I started doing a lot of laps of Burnley Park oval. A lot of laps. 3 runs a week. I had to repeat several weeks at the start, but otherwise I was progressing.

Then about half way through the program, one night I woke up in immense pain. It was painful to move, even breathe. I booked a doctor’s appointment and tried to get back to sleep. I wrote on Discord that morning:

I don’t know what a broken rib feels like, but it feels like that

The doctor requested I visit in person to check it wasn’t a heart attack but the final diagnosis was costochondritis. Costochondritis is a fun little thing where the cartilage in your ribs basically says “fuck you” and inflames. It’s unlikely it was related to running however it took about 3-4 weeks before I could run again. I lost a little bit of progress but onwards I kept going.

On the 1st of April 2022 I hit 5km running with a pace around 7min/km. This was a big achievement for me. I had also lost about 6kg of weight - but this was mostly from removing comfort food from my diet.

I kept up running roughly 3 days a week and slowly improving my time.

Melbourne Marathon Festival

Some of my friends were entering the Melbourne Marathon Festival Half Marathon races, and while browsing the site I noticed that they had a 5km race. The cut off times were very relaxed and I would easily be able to qualify. At the last minute I decided to enter.

Strava heatmap showing runs in the middle of Western Australia
Strava heatmap showing runs in the middle of Western Australia

Unfortunately the timing didn’t work out so well. All of July was wiped out due to recovering from COVID. August, I tried to run however running in the desert (we were doing the CSR trip) was hard and dangerous. And sometime in September I also received the MPX vaccine which impacted my training a bit.

Picture of me after the Melbourne Marathon 5km race
At this point I hadn't really purchased any running gear apart from some shoes

Regardless of this I still entered, ran, and was able to get a 5km PB time of 30:23. I’m still shocked that I entered and finished a running race.

Now and the future

Sometime in January 2023 during a run I just decided to keep running which eventually turned into a half marathon. It contained some walking sections but it was technically my first half marathon. Up until this point I hadn’t really noticed scoliosis impacting my running ability but it did present itself on this much longer run.

Even with the back pain this gave me enough confidence that I could run a half marathon with some additional training and decided to enter the Melbourne Marathon Festival Half Marathon. By completing longer runs my back is seemingly much more resilient. I’m guessing this is due to improved running style, shoes and strengthening of back muscles. Just over a week ago I completed a first half marathon running the entire way - 2:12:03. I look forward to seeing how I go in the actual race.

I’ve also been doing a lot more Parkruns. Even if you just want to walk the 5km, Parkruns are pretty cool and fun to do with a group of friends. I recently did the Albert Park Parkrun in fursuit for fun.

Tips for new runners

I’m not a trainer or anything like that but I seemingly have convinced two others to start running this year.

First up - work out if running is for you. You don’t need to rush to buy fancy running shoes or gear straight away if you start off on grass. Just make sure you have decent socks.

Don’t run if you’re hurt - it’ll delay recovery or you could injure yourself more.

Sometimes runs go bad. Don’t dwell on it, just keep trying.

There’s always someone faster than you. Try to beat your time, not someone else’s.

Keep an eye on the UV index during summer.

My gear

I’ve been tracking all my runs with the fēnix 6S Pro. I really love this watch - it’s good watch and a good activity tracker. I recommend recording all your activities to show your improvement over time.

Watch: fēnix 6S Pro (if you are going to buy any Garmin gear, wait until it is on sale - they go on sale every second week)

Shoes: New Balance Hierro v7 (for dirt and long runs) / New Balance 1080v12 (these give me blisters for runs over 10km otherwise these are very soft and comfortable)

Tights: Nike Fast Women’s Mid-Rise Running Shorts

Bra: Nike Swoosh Women’s Medium-Support (these have been working well, though on half marathons there is a little rubbing at the center of my chest)

Top: Nike Dri-FIT One Elastika Women’s Standard Fit Tank


Selfie with Alex

I need to acknowledge Alex Helvetica for encouraging me this entire time running and joining me on some amazing runs.