This past weekend I made the journey to Berlin to take part in the Berlin marathon, one of the world marathon majors. The day did not start well, waking at 4am to make a 7:30 flight from Stansted, I loaded up my motorbike and was on my way with time to spare, but realised some time later I was definitely not following the very best way to the North Circular. No problem, I was making good time so I backtracked a bit and ended up wasting only about 15 minutes. All was going well
until, somewhere just before the turn-off to the M11, a couple of flashes from behind and the realisation I had just lost another 3 points. Aaaargh. Doh! Grrrr. Nothing that can be done about it now I thought so I just carried on to the airport, parked, joined a queue the length of the actual airport and waited... and waited, eventually getting to my gate bang on boarding time, except nobody was boarding. More waiting and we board, then more waiting. Eventually the plane escapes gravity 2 hours later. I am nonplussed.
I get to Berlin, take the subway over to the marathon expo and set about trying to get registered. The expo is carnage, which is expected with some 40,000 marathon participants, not counting the 20,000 taking part in the rollerblade and wheelchair race. Eventually I get my number and head on over to rent a ChampionChip (a timekeeping device which attaches to ones shoe). There I wait another 30 minutes, scowling from time to time at the guys in front of me who declare quite offhandedly they’d be happy with anything under 3 hours. From there I try join the pasta party, waiting in yet another queue for 30 minutes, eventually reaching the front only to discover you need a token, not cash for this fine fare. Grrr. Undeterred and intent on carbo-loading, I walk the streets of Berlin looking for any place called Giovanni’s, or Mario’s or something, eventually finding a Portofino. Perfect. The food is great, the service prompt, the beer German, I leave completely satisfied and carbo-loaded, ready for the next day.
I wake up with the chime of my mobile phone at 6:45AM. Make ready and set off for the start, opting for public transport instead of a taxi. After all, surely everybody is in a cab right now trying to get to the start. After 30 minutes waiting on a platform I am starting to feel
anxious with only 20 minutes to go before the start. Eventually the train comes and I make it to the nearest station, about 1km away from the start. I start my marathon early and run like forest for the start, making it there, I estimate, around the time Haile Gebrselassie (the eventual winner) is passing the first 5km marker. I am amongst the last 50 people to cross the start line and face a veritable ocean of fun runners before me.
I had resolved by that time to just keep it steady and finish in a reasonable time. After all, one can hardly call two training runs over the last 6 weeks preparation. The first half of the marathon is great. Berliners really embrace this marathon, with hardly a section of curb vacant and everybody making some kind of noise. Whole bands setup roadside, people shake tambourines and marackers. Even restaurant chefs come out of the kitchen, banging pots and shouting encouragement. This is great, but shortly after halfway I am starting to feel the strain pain and I know I need to really concentrate now. The first half had been all dodging and maneuvering around slower runners but with my energy levels rapidly waning, I try a different tack. Run smarter, not harder. Take the gaps that open instead of trying to Titanic through, conserve energy, put one foot in front of the other.
Mile 16 rolls round and my legs are now so familiar with a single range of motion they are incapable of doing anything else. Not like I can feel them anyway. 10 more miles to go. One foot in front of the other.
Mile 20 and I am gulping any energy drink I can get my hands on like a sugar junkie. It’s working and I carry on, determined to keep up my pace.
Mile 24 and delirium is setting in. The heat is oppressive. I head for the roadside showers and come away soaking. The cold is a shock to the system and it’s good. I carry on.
Finally the sign I have been waiting for what feels like my whole life, the FINISH. I can smell blood and I increase my pace. Possibly a bad move as I feel my right hamstring seize up. I have to run kind of funny to stop it completely seizing up and forcing me into retirement so close to my goal. The crowd support is incredible.
After what feels like several miles I cross the finishing line, exhausted, elated, overjoyed. The scene looks like a bombshell hit. Runners walking around all over the place looking confused,
shell-shocked and fragile. The road is lined with thousands of drinks, biscuits, bananas and chocolates. It’s finally over.
Reflecting upon that marathon I recall several things…
The comradery amongst runners. While walking back to the baggage reclaim after the finish, a man suffered severe cramps in both legs. As he collapsed and fell to the ground he was instantly caught and helped by 3 total strangers who immediately stretched him out.
At every water point the sound of so many plastic cups being crushed, an applause of feet for the volunteers there.
A man running barefoot, another dressed as a smurf… both for reasons I may never understand.
A couple running with their two children in what can only be described as a “race pram”. I felt like quipping, “what, couldn’t find a babysitter”, but this would probably have been the truth of the matter.
For me, a marathon is a personal struggle against the clock, the elements and other runners, but mostly it's a struggle against that voice inside my head that says "go on, walk" to which I must always reply emphatically, "NO"! I finished the 2006 Berlin Marathon in an official time of 3:42:30.