The Melbourne Marathon is the largest and one of the most iconic marathons in Australia. Taking in iconic locations like Flinders Street Station, the Shrine of Remembrance, Albert Park, St Kilda Esplanade, and of course, the classic finish with a lap around the MCG. In 2019, I ran the full marathon – an incredible experience that is highly recommended for anyone fortunate enough to be in a position to run this race.
About the race
The Melbourne Marathon is held in mid-October each year, and after an inevitable “virtual” (read: cancelled) run in 2020, it’s back with a vengeance (and a Nike sponsorship!) in 2021. The 2019 race was held on the 13th of October, which in Melbourne is at the very end of Winter. As a result, the weather at the start time (and indeed, throughout the race) is generally a mild 10-15 degrees Celsius (roughly 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit) with minimal rain in most years, making for perfect marathon running conditions. The marathon distance started at 7am and the weather was indeed perfect, with no noticeable wind and the perfect amount of overcast.
The Melbourne Marathon festival features a range of distances all the way from a 3km walk to marathon distance (42.2km), so there’s really something for everyone. The entry fee for the marathon distance is around $145 ($110 USD), with shorter distances attracting a lower entry fee.
The race starts from Batman Avenue, just outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). With an early morning start, public transport is quite limited in the area at least for getting to the start line. While you can drive if you’re living locally and there is plenty of parking available, we would recommend staying nearby for a seamless early morning start. This is particularly ideal for people coming in from out of town. In particular, we have found that if you want some independence the Oaks Serviced Apartments on Lonsdale Street and Southbank are perfect value for money, costing around $170 ($130 USD) per night for a serviced 1 bedroom apartment. Both of these locations are around a 1km walk from the start line, meaning you’ll be a perfect distance for a quick warm up run/walk on your way to the start line. If you’re flying in, make sure you get in by lunch on the Saturday before the race so you have plenty of time to go and get your bib and check out the runners expo for some amazing deals on all your running needs.
Before the race
As we recommended, we arrived in Melbourne on a morning flight and went to drop our bags at the Oaks on Lonsdale Street. From there, we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the city, then took a tram down to the MCG to pick up the bib and souvenir (a towel, this year). We also took the opportunity to check out the expo which featured rarely-found brands in Australia like Maurten (Eliud Kipchoge’s gel of choice). I also picked up some new socks from CEP and caffeinated gels from Science in Sport (which sounds like a gimmick, but turned out to be a real game changer in the race). I also familiarised myself with the map and profile of the course.
After returning from the expo, I made it a priority to take things easy and relaxed in the apartment. I had a relatively light meal nearby and laid out all the gear needed for the next day, then relaxed by the TV to watch Eliud Kipchoge’s ultimately successful Ineos 1:59 Challenge marathon attempt, where he posted an inspiring world-record, sub-2 hour marathon speed. Sufficiently inspired, I went to sleep at around 9pm.
I woke up at 5am and had a very light breakfast, then packed all of my gear and headed down to the start line. One of my favourite parts of the race is waking up and heading down to the start line in the early morning – the only people who are up at that time (aside from some keen partiers and service staff) are fellow runners, and you get a real sense of camaraderie as you all head down to the one location, mutually aware of the gargantuan task ahead of all of us. I arrived at the MCG at around 6am, and dropped my gear at the designated spot in the stadium (mostly drink bottles and warm gear for the end). The main formalities out of the way, I rechecked all of our gear (including phone, watch, 6x gels including two caffeinated gels), made sure my Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes were tied up perfectly, then headed down to the start line.
With around 7,000 competitors in the marathon distance, and over 30,000 across all distances, the experience of starting the Melbourne Marathon is quite chaotic. Most people were chilling out and stretching before the formal start at 7am, but I was looking out for the pacers to make sure I was seeded correctly – an incorrect seeding can be very frustrating when you’ve got thousands of slower people to get through. I identified the pacers, and had the intention of starting somewhere between the 3:30 and 3:20 pacers. Correctly positioned, I waited another 10 minutes or so before the announcers started formalities, including the obligatory singing of the national anthem, then fired the starting gun for the 2019 running of the Melbourne Marathon.
The Melbourne Marathon course is one of the flattest and most direct in Australia. It is a genuine pleasure to run in the perfect conditions we had on the morning of the 13th. The first kilometre of the run was quite crowded and it was difficult to keep up with the 3:20 pacer, though we knew we were well ahead of the 3:30 pacer so kept it cool for the time being. The route takes you into the CBD and through Flinders Street before turning left before Flinders Street Station and heading down St Kilda Road. At around the 5km mark, the course turns into Albert Park (the Formula 1 venue) and then took a loop around the lake and past the grandstand to the 10km mark. The first 10km overall were quite uneventful, I was feeling quite comfortable keeping a little behind the 3:20 pacers with a pace of around 4:45/km average on the Apple Watch.
One of the really fantastic parts of the Melbourne Marathon is the plentiful drink stations. It gives you a lot of confidence to know that water is only 3-4km away at any given point. Each drink station features water and electrolyte drinks, and some also have gels available, and they’re generally around 50 meters long so there are plenty of drinks available for everyone. I was sure to have a small drink at each station, skipping past the first few sections in favour of later, less crowded sections of the station. At the 10km mark, I took my first gel and continued with a decent distance behind the 3:20 pacer group.
After a couple more kilometres, we headed out of the park and toward the St Kilda Esplanade. Almost half of the course – from around the 12km mark to the 30km mark, is along the St Kilda Esplanade, and with the exception of a couple of U-turns, this is a perfectly straight and flat section of road. Closer to the 18km mark, I found that I had sped up to about 4:40/km and was getting closer to the 3:20 pacer group. I was still feeling quite comfortable so allowed myself to gradually overtake the 3:20 pacer group, much to my surprise (and skepticism over how sustainably I could overtake this group). Taking my second gel at 18km, I continued down the St Kilda Esplanade, stopping for drinks where they were available but generally feeling comfortable and overtaking people as I went.
At the 30km mark, the course turned off the Esplanade and back toward St Kilda Road. I had taken my first caffeinated gel at the 26km mark, and was genuinely feeling powerful and surprisingly unfatigued, but I had held myself back and was still averaging about 4:38/km for the race. Once I was back on St Kilda Road, however, I took a gamble and allowed myself to embrace the speed my body wanted to go, knowing that it would catch up to me soon if I was destined to hit the ‘wall’ in the final 10km. Whether it was the caffeinated gels, the Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes, or my training finally coming home, I cruised down St Kilda Road, greatly enjoying the speed boost that, while tiring, felt so natural.
At around the 36km mark, the course veered off St Kilda Road and went downhill for around a kilometre, before going through an underpass and going up one of the only steep hills of the whole course. We then headed through the undulating Botanical Gardens where I found myself faltering a little, although I was able to keep myself afloat, just, with another gel and some electrolyte drinks, as well as some candy snakes I had brought for this stage of the race. I was now reading an incredible 4:34/km on my watch as I closed in on the 40km mark. Sadly, however, my watch ran out of battery then – I had forgotten to bring my phone, so the battery had drained through the continual GPS use over 3 hours. Regardless, with just over 2km to go, I knew there was only one thing left to do – get through with pure grit and determination!
Passing the 40km mark and exiting the hilly botanical gardens, everything started to feel heavier. I took another drink and another candy snake, pumped myself up on my last gel, and continued across St Kilda Bridge and into the city. The final stage of the race was mostly downhill toward the MCG an we really started to hit the big crowds of spectators cheering us on, which was a huge boost toward the end. There was a drink station at the 41.6km mark, which seems trivial given how close it was to the finish line, but in the circumstance it was really welcome. I took the last remaining strength I had to charge the final few hundred meters toward the stadium for the finish line.
The finish line
The final 200 meters of the race is a half lap around the MCG, and I can attest that there is truly no better way to summon up the last bits of energy to drag yourself over the finish line. Exhausted, I charged into the stadium and breathed in the atmosphere, running toward the Marathon finish line and finally crossing the line in a new personal best time of 3 hours and 16 minutes. After crossing the finish line, I took a moment to take in the incredible atmosphere and cheering crowd before leaving the stadium and receiving the finisher’s medal. In the basement we were able to pick up our gear drop to warm up and stock up on drinks and fruit.
Overall, the Melbourne Marathon is the smoothest, most atmospheric and best-organised race I have experienced in Australia and I would highly recommend it as a bucket list experience for all budding marathoners. I’ll definitely be back again!