Ben Castlehow – My Sydney Marathon

On the weekend of 15-18 September 2023, I went on an adventure with On My Feet (OMF) to complete my first ever marathon (42.195km) in Sydney. I have spent most of this year preparing for it as I came back from a shattered kneecap in 2022.  I was very blessed to have OMF’s support of a training program, a mentor, Geoff Quinton, group strength training sessions and group runs. Plus plenty of encouragement from people, who like me had regained their lives after homelessness.

Friday 15 September 2023: Fly Out Day

I woke up early – full of excitement. It was fly out day. Sydney Marathon 2023 here we come! As I hopped on the train to head to the airport, I posted to our OMF whatsapp group that I was on my way. Kath Mc Quaide, our CEO, replied “Me too- I am in the train”. I phoned her and sure enough we were on the same train, so much excitement as we chatted about the adventure head.

Once at the airport, we waited for the others to arrive. Sophie, Sasha, Kath and I checked in our bags then joined Sharon, Crystal, Laura and Geoff upstairs. Team-member Jimmy, a FIFO worker who is used to flying all over, rocked up casually just before we had to board! Once we landed, we caught a taxi to our hotel and then walked into Kings Cross to get dinner. It was 11:30pm by the time we settled back in our accommodation and went to sleep.

Saturday 16 September 2023: Registration & Running Show Day

Jimmy and I were up at 5:00am. Our plan was to do the parkrun at Centennial Park. After a coffee en route we met up with Kara, Geoff and Michael. We enjoyed the gentle 5km jog around the park, a good breakfast then walked back to join the girls at our hotel.

Next up, we piled into a taxi to go to the Sydney Marathon Running Show. Once we had collected our bibs, we went exploring and there was so much to see. I bought myself a pair of Goodr sunglasses and some new socks and wrote my name and a message on a giant message board. It was great to be introduced to the founder of OMF, Keegan Crage, who we bumped into.

Kath then asked us to go to the stage area where we met the Marketing Director of Pont 3, Tim Wiche for a surprise. Through the race sponsor Asics, he had organised a pair of running shoes for each of us. I got some Asics GT1000 and we took many photos to show off our awesome runners!

We were given the afternoon off to do what we wanted. I caught up with my brother and my Dad to see “Elvis the Musical” at Sydney’s beautiful State Theatre – a great experience!

We went to dinner at Bill and Tom’s Italian Restaurant to carbo load. I enjoyed a delicious pasta and some pizza and it was a good opportunity to get to know others in our group better.  After dinner, it was a short walk home, and getting all our gear ready for Sunday’s early start.

Sunday 17 September 2023: D- Day!

My alarm was set for 4:30am but I woke up earlier probably due to my excitement. The big day was here! After meeting in the hotel lobby, we walked to the train station packed with runners en route to the marathon. Then it was a short walk down to the start line where I met up with my cousin who was doing the 10km and to see our team member Crystal, start. After a quick goodbye, she was swallowed up by the crowd and off on her run. The atmosphere at the start was electric.

Then it was our turn! After a few photos and good luck wishes, Geoff, Kara and I moved to where the 3:45 to 4:00 hr pacers were. My goal time was a sub 4hr marathon. I took a full 15 minutes to cross the start line since when the front runners started, we literally couldn’t move due to congestion.

After a very short climb we were on the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. I took a couple of photos and then I put my phone away to focus on my running.  Running past my Dad and my brother, I heard them cheering me on and felt amazing. Next, I saw Kath – our fearless leader. We cheered each other on enthusiastically, so happy to see OMF team mates.

I remember thinking that the course was a lot hillier than what I expected and it was really hot! Most of my training was done at 15 degrees or less and here I was running an insane distance in 32-degree heat. But I was prepared for it or so I thought. I had 1.6l of water and 1l of Hydrolyte in my hydration pack along with my gels and Allen’s snakes.

As I ran through Centennial Park – all the out and backs meant I passed more OMF buddies which was so encouraging. I had caught up to the 3:45 hr pacers and ran with them for quite a while.

I had made the decision to leave half of my gels with Laura, one of our amazing support crew, expecting I would see her after about 2 hrs of running. Unfortunately, we didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for the support crew to get around to help all of our team, so I only saw Laura close to the 3 hr mark. I was so happy as I had taken a mental hit not having my gels with me. But after a quick top up, I felt re-energised and I was off again.

I started hurting at about 35km, so I put on my headphones and cranked up some of my high energy music. The last out and back around Mrs Macquaries Rd felt like it went on forever. But as I reached Macquarie St, I was greeted by my Dad and brother again and this time my brother had my wife Stacey on Facetime so I could see and hear her cheering me on. This gave me the much-needed energy to pick up my pace and finish the race. My brother and Dad rode down the hill cheering me on.  The end was near.  As I came into the finishing chute, I started to sprint. I gave it my all. The crowd was cheering.

My marathon time was 3hr 51mins 33s.  Not only had I achieved my goal, but with over 8 mins to spare. My training had paid off. What an amazing experience!  I collected my medal and gulped down some water. I was greeted by Sasha and Crystal who helped me to a shady spot to recover.

As other OMF runners finished, we would find them and bring them to our shady spot. We all shared our stories and it was great to hear how the others went. Once I had I recovered enough, I went back up to the 40km mark to cheer in Sophie, Sharon and Kylie and took videos to send to the rest of the group. When videoing Sharon and Kylie, I was so busy cheering them on – I ran into a lamp post! I opted to stop videoing and ran down the last hill, so excited – shouting ‘you’ve got this!’

The rest of the afternoon was a bit of blur, but we went to Govinda’s, which offered a delicious vegetarian buffet, for an early dinner. I was amazed at how easily I got through two big platefuls of food – clearly I had burnt up a lot of energy in the marathon! Unfortunately Sasha had a mild allergic reaction to something in the food, so en route to our accommodation, we got some gelato.

Monday 18 September 2023: Mission accomplished – homeward bound

After a 4:00am wake up to get to the airport on time, we met in the lobby, all dressed in our Sydney Marathon Finishers’ shirts. We loaded up on breakfast and much needed coffee before boarding. Even though we were still on a high from the day before, as soon as the flight took off, most of us fell asleep. Arriving back in Perth, we said our goodbyes and just like that the weekend was over. It was a whirlwind of an adventure and one that I will never forget. I love that I got to share this amazing experience with my OMF team.