October has come round quicker than I wanted to and with it the culmination of the celebration year, the one event that this whole year was all about: The Frankfurt Marathon. Frankfurt was my first ever marathon and I’ve picked it, because it was the closest to my birthday, the closest to my family and people had told me of the great atmosphere at the Frankfurt Marathon.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that the run up to Frankfurt has been anything but smooth. An ankle injury I sustained on my first long run 8 weeks before the race (a combination of slanting pavements, prolonged fatigue from the Spitfire Scramble 24hr race and maybe a bit of too much, too soon) meant that I shifted my training to just cycling and running and strength and mobility. Aqua jogging would’ve been ace, but I just couldn’t make that happen.
And so, after some failed attempts in between, I tried out some running the week before Frankfurt. 20 min every other day. I did a ParkRun on the Saturday, jogged through and was home in 23 min. Ok, some fitness was there and the ankle played ball, sort of. The Tuesday before Frankfurt, I started to feel ill suddenly. Some friends called it taper nerves (uhm, I’ve had an 8 week taper), others called it maranoia (more likely as I started to think with dread how unprepared I was). I called it a stinking cold and a massive blow to my confidence.
By Wednesday, I looked up transferring my race entry, cancelling the trip. I tried getting hold of my mum to get some advice. There was only silence on the ether, until late Wednesday night I got a ragged email saying: “Have a hot bath and get your bum on the plane!” I love my mum. The whole week I had dosed up on every conceivable cold medicine (I apologize at this point if I was a moving cloud of garlic, I was heavily dosed up on garlic and ginger infusion) and by Thursday I felt much improved.
By Friday, I had devised a plan to do the ‘Brezel Run’ on Saturday morning to test the ankle and my lungs and make a decision then whether to run or not. Friday night, I had some hot Apple Wine (it’s sour let me tell you, none of this sickly sweet cider stuff) and slept like a baby after enjoying the delights of Tatort (Tatort is something very German, one of the longest running crime series. It existed long before I was born).
The Brezel Run
I looked out the window and it was a glorious day. We walked over to the Messe (Frankfurt Fair) where the race HQ and the start of the Brezel Run was. We were still a bit away when over the loud and lively samba band I heard a count down. Oops! Missed the start! I legged it after the colourful band of runners, cheered on by a clown.
The Brezel Run is ace! It is a free, 5km long gentle jog. The police closed some major roads on a rolling basis to let the 500 runners pass. Because it is paced the runners a fairly packed and disruption to traffic minimal. I ran with a king and met one of my favourite childhood characters, Pumuckl. At the finish, there was more samba, and more importantly, a Brezel and some apple juice.
A short trip to the expo brought the inevitable, far longer time spent chattering than planned. Trying on some shoes (why else would you go there), talking about GPS running watches, checking out kit and potential future races. At some point, my mum headed off for her volunteer shift at the pasta party only to return shortly after. I picked up my race pack, my event t-shirts (they’re really nice) and my timing wristband (in a moment of sheer madness I said 3:43 to the guy!). Then I went back to the hotel, picked up my brother and my dad who had just arrived – and went back to the expo! The lovely folk from CEP put some ace prints on my calf guards. Next stop pasta party!
The pasta party
As is customary for pasta parties, the portions are hardly bigger than a little snack, but it tasted decent. Unexpected to some foreign visitors, you had to pay a 50 cent deposit for your drinks (we do love to encourage recycling). However, the first and foremost purpose of the pasta party is to meet people and make friends or just chat. I had the pleasure to meet some of the lovely German Twitter run community, among others @TeddyTria.The pasta party took place in the Festhalle, where the finish line would be. One thing was for certain: it would be overwhelming.
At this point, I had long decided that I was going to run. Let’s be honest, there was quite frankly no way I was NOT going to run. I had promised on Twitter and Facebook, that I was going to be sensible, that if I was coughing and sneezing, I wouldn’t run. But I wasn’t doing either after the Brezel Run, so the run was on. The ankle health played second fiddle. I would walk if I had to. Deep down I was still hoping that my base was good enough to do 3:45, but I tried to tell myself that time didn’t matter. I publicly declared this to my family – I just got raised eyebrows. They know me too well. They’re my family after all.
And so, the night before the race I sat on my bed with a huge pile of self-doubt, but determined, fully aware of the lack of preparation, about to do a Jade Goody (if you don’t know who Jade Goody was read here). I remember how outraged I was when days before the London Marathon she decided she was going to do it on a charity place, with virtually no training, in my opinion setting a bad example, not respecting the distance, the race and the other runners who had trained for months. Yet here I was, about to do exactly that (more or less).
The Frankfurt Marathon
The glorious weather continued, it was going to be a perfect day for running. About 15C, no wind, slightly overcast. We set off at 9.15am (compared to triathlon a late start). I had decided to drop off some warm clothes at the bag drop for after, who knew when I would find my family. While other runners battled in the portaloo queue outside, I perused the toilets in the Festhalle, no queues, no smells, serenely quiet and sparkly clean. Back with my parents, some limbering up, a pre-race selfie and a last check of where they would be for cheering: Opernplatz, where we would pass multiple times.
The first starting pens went and finally, I was able to get into my pen when the crowds moved forward. I saw the 3:44 pacer move past, the 3:59 pacer too. I told myself it didn’t matter. What do we have chip timing for?
In no rush to get across the line, I walked, waving at people, hoping to catch a last glimpse at my family. Impossible in the masses of spectators. The cacophony of beeping timing chips crossing the start line grew louder, unavoidable. What the heck was I thinking? I would make it, no matter what. Once I’d crossed that line the only option was to come out the other end (the only other option was me being transported off on a stretcher!). Beeeep!
The first half
I started trotting, big smile on my face. Ok, it was probably wonky in the face of the unknown. A wave at the shouting crowds, a blanket of noise. I managed 100m and dissolved into tears. I knew it was going to be emotional, but THIS, now, already!? Come on, Bertram!
I trotted on comfortably in no rush. Passing people, being passed. I tried to memorize landmarks for when we would come around towards the end. The first DJ station I came past played my birthday theme song (Daft Punk – Get Lucky) – this could only be good. My confidence rose. Quick check through my body – all good.
Just before we turned towards the 2k marker, I saw the 3:44 pacer go the other way – miles and miles ahead. At some other point the elite lead men flew past. I tried to spot who was in the group. Lack of eye sight. Every samba band we came past (there were lots), I was tempted into an imperceptible jig. More smiling, more waving. 6km gone. Opernplatz.
The Opernplatz was packed with people, the amount of shouting and screaming was overwhelming. Realising earlier that it would be impossible to spot me if they didn’t know where to look, I had texted my mum (yes, while running, I know, tut tut), I’d be on the right side of the road. Frantically, I scanned the crowds, got swept along in the sea of runners. Nothing. My heart sank. They hadn’t made it. I left the Opernplatz behind trotted on, trying to find comfort in the thought that running in Frankfurt was like running in a forest, just that the trees were skyscrapers. Then I heard an excited voice: “There she is! There she is!” Hooray! My family! I was so happy to see them. Despite a big smile on my face, tears welled up. Oh, come on Bertram, really!?). I stopped for a selfie (what did time matter) and on I trotted, slightly more springy.
The miles passed by, streets lined with spectators cheering, the route winding its way through the skyscraper forest. Like I had planned, I religiously walked through every feed station, initially just drinking water, then adding apple spritzer. I wasn’t going to eat until 20k. Once we had crossed the river, the masses of spectators thinned out a bit and the music bands got sparser, which quite honestly was a relief as my body was nearing sonsory overload. At 19k, I saw the 3:59 pacer 100m ahead of me – and this is where it went all down hill.
Until now, I had successfully ignored all clocks. But now, without wanting it, an automatic calculation started to happen… My start was at 10 past and it took me at least another 5 min to get over the line, so as long as I stuck with the 4hr pacer, I would run somewhere around 3:45. A quick glance at the timing wristband, uhm… So if I got ahead of the pacer, negative split the second half, maybe that 3:43 wasn’t so impossible. I felt good, my legs were good… LET’S GO!
The second half
I took my time working my way up to the pacer and caught the balloons just after halfway. I weaved my way through the tightly packed bunch of runners around the pacers. And ever so slightly picked up my pace. I didn’t need much, just a wee bit. A brass band playing the theme tune of the Magnificent Seven – oh yeah, baby, ride on!
We got to the motorway bit with hardly any spectators, 25km. Life was good and I felt awesome and it was only another 17km. An announcer, says the packers are right behind me. How was that possible!? On I went, smiling enjoying myself. High giving the kids. Next feed station, I walk, I drink, I eat (banana, nom nom). But somewhere along there my legs decided to leave me, and replaced what used to be my legs with 2 rock solid tree trunks. My quads got really tight and heavy. In a moment of madness I thought I’d stretch my quads and trundle on. My quads didn’t relax, instead my calf twinged. Sod this then, on I went.
From then on, every step hurt. My quads told me in no uncertain terms that they were unhappy (interestingly, my ankle had no opinion whatsoever). I chose to ignore them. One step after the other, one feed station at a time. I focused on people around me, other runners, more smiling. In a very sadomasochistic kind of way, I did really enjoy myself. Just keep moving! I was still ahead of the 4hr pacer, so on for a fantastic time – that kept me going.
But marathon is a harsh teacher. I got to 33km (hey! Only 9 to go!) when just after the feed station the runner with the dreaded 3:59 balloons came past. Rubbish! Just what to focus on next? Moving! Giving up was never an option, my family had come to see me! I HAD to make the finish and I would run! Despite all the pain, even at my slowest run pace, I was still quicker than some and definitely quicker than the walkers. It was a very thin straw, but it was my straw.
At the feed station at 35km, I hit the lowest point. I walked through the feed station as usual. Ate and drank. But found it difficult to get going. Ok, selfie with the 35km sign! I was unaware that there was also a video camera capturing my selfie efforts -oops! I calculated, it was nearly the time we had agreed to meet post race. I took my mobile out again, and tested my mum, while forcing one step after the other: “Have imploded! Spectacularly. Still running. At 35km. Will be late!”
Shortly after, I saw the new shopping centre at the back of the Festhalle, the finish! So near and yet so far. I looked around, maybe my parents would wait here? Nope. Thank goodness though that they now print names on your numbers as random spectators shouted my name and kept me going. I love you all!
From then on in, the music selection was priceless. Past the DJ station that this time played ‘Safe & Sound‘, I trotted on towards the fully packed Opernplatz. Bowie ‘Heroes’. Then in the middle of it all, I hear shouting ‘Tine! Tine!’ -My brother! OMG! He’d stayed while my mum and dad had headed on to the finish. I cried. I was so happy. 20 sec soppy hug (at least). ‘ Are you hurt?’ -No, no! I’m just happy! (!?!) Quick selfie. 4km to go.
Rejuvenated of some sort, I carry on. Chat to feed station volunteers and thank them. I wave at spectators and thank them. I try and make the kids to high five them though my legs react quite slowly to direction changes. I’m crossing back to the Opernplatz. ‘I will survive‘ is blaring. Hell yeah, I’ve come this far… ‘She’s a maniac…‘ Unwillingly, I imitate the running motion from that dance sequence in my mind. Chuckle. I’ve missed some km markers. Remember the words of the announcer from the start: and when you come back and you see the man with the hammer, that’s where the finish is waiting. I turn right. Are we there yet?
Relay runners wait alongside the road to join in with their team mates. Can’t be far. I look up. The man with the hammer! There! 500m (and then another 192). Without warning, I sob uncontrollably, smile, sob, smile. My mum waits with 200 to go. Cheers me on all excited, she’s claimed a first row spot. The bit where they tell you you get a second wind, and you can always sprint for the line – it’s a lie. I barely manage to pick up my legs.
As I enter the Festhalle, the sight and noise is overwhelming. Tina is roaring ‘The Best’ while I trott down the red carpet. Waving at cheerleaders, trying to take it all in. As I cross the line, I manage to hold it together for about 5sec, big smile. More sobbing. So much so, that a helper comes and checks that I’m ok. I sit down, calm down and watch some more people finish. Their happy faces.
After the Frankfurt Marathon
Eventually, I make my way out. Collect my medal, my thermal blanket – and then I start a food and drinks rampage through the after race zone: hot tea, soup, banana, oranges, apple, apple spritzer, cola, cake, alcohol free beer. It’s not difficult, all you need to do is drift along in the sea of runners. Sadly, for some it has been too much. Quite a few were rushed through the crowds on stretchers. Thankfully, the medical team was excellent.
I finally get to my dry clothes. My parents are on the way to collect me. I’ve fully recomposed and all there is is just a big smile! The words are tumbling out of my mouth, about the race and everything. I’m happy, but by default also not. I’ve finished in 4hrs 11min, all in all not bad, considering. And I managed to not get passed by the 4:14 pacer. And for Paris, there are a few things I’ll do differently, for sure!
After getting my medal engraved, we collect my brother who has made it back and we walk to the hotel. Very. Slowly. Having said that, my walk did look a lot sprightlier than others, although that changed radically 2 days after. We had dinner at a fab Italian restaurant. And then I went to sleep, my medal around my neck, watching an episode of Tatort that was set at the Frankfurt Marathon.