There is a saying that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get you.
Likewise just because you are maranoid doesn’t mean that everything doesn’t hurt. As a veteran of many long distance events I have “enjoyed” the psychological battle against the phantom aches and pains that come with an event taper.
But there is something that especially sucks about approaching an event nursing real injuries and knowing that you just haven’t done enough training to justify your space on the start line. And 4 runs in 8 weeks, with the longest being 10 miles, is most certainly not enough for a marathon.
I didn’t expect to get into the Berlin marathon when I entered it. And so I planned a year of long distance swims after the early season Glen Lyon Ultra. And so I found myself with shoulder injuries, shin splints and general fatigue when I was 4 weeks out from race day.
But I was paid up and going anyway. More importantly, however, was that Berlin was a really important step on the road to Berlin.
Let me explain.
Sometime, just before noon on January 1st 2009 in Berlin, I was just out of bed and eating deep fried wurst, and drinking sekt. Piling a hangover on top of another hangover, not quite able to take a full breath, shattered from a few hours of drunken slumber, not sure if my body could take much more abuse.
On January 5th 2009, Iron Nessie convinced me to enter a 10k. And I’ve not really stopped moving forwards since Berlin.
So, with that background, there was some irony that on my triumphant return to Berlin I would suffer the ignominy of hobbling around the capital like the most zealous of pre-paid bling monkeys. Still wheezing like a chubby-assed, binge drinker but just clad in more active wear.
And so to the race.
The week before was all about rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic. A physio appointment just to check that the pain in my shins wasn’t a stress fracture and calf raises because. Well because it was all I could do really. Like all my marathon efforts, with the exception of Rome 2010, I arrived at the start line in somewhat imperfect nick.
I had no idea how this was going to do. I was genuinely a little concerned by the 6:30 cut-off. As ever, there were two stories going on. The shrill chimp, high on a litre of mad dog, giving it “ermahgerd, you’re gonna be so shit and probably puke and shit yourself and your shins will probably start bleeding and then they won’t even give you a medal because you’re so shit”. And then the more calming, reassuring voice that whispers in my ear “look big boy, you’ve done two ironman, marathon swims, an ultra, this is your 6th marathon and if nothing else you know how to grind out a finish despite the odds”. Needless to say I much prefer the second voice. It gets me more than my inner teenage girl, who can get a bit lary.
That psychological warfare would continue right up until I woke up on race morning.
On arrival, we jumped straight in a taxi from the airport to the expo on Friday evening to keep Saturday free. Registration was slick but the expo was overwhelming and adidas once again stocked enough merchandise to last approximately 45 minutes of the three day expo. Incredibly, in what became a theme, people were wearing 2016 Finisher’s t-shirts as soon as they bought them (some wore them in the race and some, bizarrely, didn’t even have wrist bands on so goodness know what their finish was referring to). I was not being especially perceptive in noting that, at that stage, they were not 2016 finishers. Mainly because the race hadn’t happened.
Being larger than the average marathon runner I was spoiled for choice of finisher’s kit but Pam couldn’t get anything. So despite best intentions we got back for opening on Saturday morning and were the first ones in.
Bling sorted we then just did a bit of hanging about in Berlin seeing things we’d never seen before. Shunning the standard approach to the day before a marathon it appears that I walked 25,000 steps.
Nessie and Al were also running so we arranged to meet for dinner near Alexanderplatz along with Nessie’s maw and paw. Despite the absence of alcohol, she managed to be both late and in the wrong place. Literally turning up late, 4 miles away. How is that even possible?
Hugs. Tram. Bed. Standard disturbed sleep. Porridge and coffee. Walk to the start.
The first challenge of the day was bag drop off. I may have walked 26.2 miles to get to our bag drop through the detritus of marathon preparations. The stretches. The nervous farts. The portajohn queues. The lady who dropped her shorts, bent over and was liberally lubing her arse crack. You can never unsee the athletes area from before and after long distance sporting events.
About 20 minutes before the start we made our way down to the start line and just sat on the pavement. Bizarrely, amongst 40,000 people we bumped into Al and the three of us then sat on the pavement and listened to Gazelle’s Try Everything (this may have passed you by unless you are German or own a 5 year old), apparently stuck on shuffle on the organiser’s iPod.
And then, while we were still sitting on the floor, we saw the gun go on the big screen and everyone moved. Shiiiiiiiite. We’re being a bit casual about this.
We bound to our feet, say our goodbyes and assume the position ready for a mass start. But nothing happens. About 30 minutes later, and the day now getting warm, we can see the start line in the distance.
Another 10 minutes later I see portaloos just before the start line and decide to save some race time with a pre-start visit. We re-say our goodbyes and I bolt for the john.
Relieved, my Berlin Marathon then starts. Two remarkable things happen about 100m past the line – I see the first person have a walk break and I hear the start line announcer say “10 seconds until we close the start line”. That was definitely my most casual start. Ever.
Race strategy was simple. Drink loads. Run as slowly as possible to ensure I could run as far as possible. Walk run when I couldn’t run anymore. And drag my broken body through the gravel until I finally crossed the line. Relentless forward progress.
At 5k the whole shebang grinds to a shuddering halt as 40,000 people try to squeeze between two trestle tables separated by a minefield of discarded plastic cups.
I glug a cup of water, dunk my sponge and proceed.
I try to follow the blue line but there are so many blue line zealots. “I am walking but I shall walk on the blue line without deviation. You may run around me”. “Yes, the blue line does cross the road diagonally, but I shall follow it, for I must follow the blue line. Bend to my will. Follow the blue line”. The blue liners caused carnage. I hope they all registered exactly 42,195m at the finish as they desired, although I suspect many of them were punched in the head by tired and frustrated runners.
At 10k I establish a rhythm – run, cup of water, cup of energy drink, dunk sponge twice – once over head, once down back, run. Because of the leisurely start it was getting steamy out there. The medics were already busy with the dehydrated and delirious.
The fire brigade were out hosing the runners and I went through their hose every time. I was soaked to the skin but each soaking gave me about 5 minutes reprieve from the heat. Amazingly it appeared to be only the Scots and the Paddys that were taking advantage of this service.
Half way came and went, absolutely bang on target to my 4:45 pace band. And then the pain slipped into my consciousness. And once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. About 23k I started the walk run element of the strategy. At 25k I horsed down a large dose of ibuprofen.
25k through to 32k were just miserable. I was hot and I was hurting. And then I think the ibuprofen kicked in. And the reassuring voice in my head was back “you’ve got this – just two parkruns to go, you’ve swum further this year”.
I knew the route from Potsdamer Platz, it was close to the apartment and we’d walked it the day before. I took Red Bull at the Red Bull aid station – I can tell you for a fact that you can make Red Bull taste worse by watering it down.
Potsdamer Platz. 38k. Two kilometres of straight road, then a squiggle through the streets and then I’ll see the Brandenburg Gate.
Solid running for 2k down Leipzigerstrasse. A sign with my new favourite German word. Endspurt. I was winding up towards my endspurt.
A brief walk. More water. More sponge.
I turn the corner already running.
Time is irrelevant. I am going to finish.
The running doesn’t hurt any more. I speed up. I am loving this. I can feel the smile wrapping around my face and transforming my day.
I look up just before I go under the Brandenburg Gate. A huge wave of emotion comes over me. A kind of manly pseudo-sob. I don’t care how often you do a marathon, every single one challenges you more than you would ever believe and digs deep into your soul.
Crowds. Photographers. Europop. Finish line. Medal.
WATER. I NEED WATER.
I have never seen human debris like it. Bodies everywhere. Cramp. Medics. Limps. Collapses. A girl contorted by cramp screams from a gurney.
I get to baggage and someone hands me a beer. Correction. A low alcohol beer. I enthusiastically glug half of it because it is cold and wet. A then a record scratch, look to camera moment as I recall why I don’t drink alcohol free beer. Portaloo water sieved through my trainer and sock would probably be more palatable.
I get off my vest and put on my finisher’s t-shirt and sit down in the sun. I retrieve my phone and amongst a flood of messages see that Pam is just about to finish and Al has just finished. So I just lie back and chill, reading and responding to those with the patience to spend Sunday morning refreshing an app.
Pam finishes and despite raging thirst also shuns my half-drunk but still cool alcohol free beer. And we start the trek back to the apartment.
Nessie claims to have donuts but we never find her in the debris in front of the Reichstag. I can only assume she was embarrassed by horsing them all down before we were finished.
On the trudge back we see the broom wagon at about 40k and cheer the runners still on the course. Especially those overtaken by the broom wagon but determined to finish.
And then starts the long process of beer hydration. With steak and great company.
So, what did I think of Berlin? Loved it. Pam and others thought it was poorly supported compared to London, which is true. But also it doesn’t have the claustrophobia of London. You can hear yourself think and when you are suffering you can have some time to have a word with yourself without a boozed up crowd hollering at you.
And call me un-British but I thought running under the Brandenburg Gate beat running past Buckingham Palace.
And that’s that for 2016. 2017 already looks exciting. There will be more to follow for sure.
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