Craig Gibbons' Lifeblog lifeblog://tri.eat.net

22Feb/15Off

An awful experience on the ChamExpress

This past New Year 2014/2015 I went skiing in Chamonix France with my good friend of 20 years. I booked ChamExpress, a transfers company, to taxi us from Geneva Airport to Chamonix and had an absolutely awful experience. I post this article in the hope that others will read it be forewarned.

Readers of this story are very welcome to contact me on Twitter at @craiggibbons

A true and accurate account of this experience follows:

My friend Laura and I took the ChamExpress taxi from Geneva airport to Chamonix at 12:30pm on December 30th, 2014. The taxi contained between 8 and 10 passengers. About an hour into the journey, the taxi stopped at the drop off point for the first passenger. I politely asked the driver if I could have 5 minutes for a comfort break. There was a McDonalds restaurant right across the street from the drop off point which had toilet facilities. The driver, replied that the service was on a tight schedule and it would therefore not be possible. I then inquired how much longer it would take to reach our hotel, the Hotel Alpina in central Chamonix, to which the driver replied about half an hour. I made it clear I would not be possible to wait that long, when you have to go you have to go, and again I requested a 5 minute break. The driver again refused and so, left with no other option, I went to use the facilities at the McDonalds. The driver then simply left me there, at the first drop off location, with no money, no coat and without my bag, in an unknown location in France, in winter. I don't speak French.

My travelling companion pleaded with the driver to stop but he repeatedly refused. She then begged to be let out of the vehicle as she didn't want to abandon me in the middle of nowhwere. She said clearly that he was taking her against her will and demanded he stop the vehicle. The driver refused. Upon reaching the Hotel Alpina, she attempted to take a picture of the driver with her iPhone for purposes of identification in a written complaint we were going to make to ChamExpress. The driver snatched her phone out of her hand and threw it into the vehicle with force. When she then attempted to retrieve the phone, the driver pushed her out of the way causing a bruise to her leg, took the phone and threw it into the snow. The driver then closed the taxi doors and drove off. The snow was deep and after hours of searching she still failed to locate the phone. A complaint was filed with the Gendarmerie in Chamonix the same day.

I managed to get a taxi to the Hotel Alpina and arrived about an hour later to find my companion extremely distressed and in tears over the incident.

I am utterly appalled at the behaviour of the driver. He denied me a basic human right by not allowing me to relieve myself and as a representative of ChamExpress he failed in maintaining the duty of care which ChamExpress as a taxi service have to their passengers. His behaviour towards my friend was aggressive and highly inappropriate. When I called ChamExpress to complain, their initial response was a simple "What do you want us to do about it?". When I insisted on speaking to a manager, I got the Operations Manager on the line who insisted I put my complaint in writing which I have duly done in terms with the complaints procedure as documented on the chamexpress.com website. She also shot down my complaint by saying "Our behaviour was appaling"! Our behaviour, not that of their driver.

I have to date not received any reply from ChamExpress or CEO Andrew Martin (@Chamexpress).

5Jan/11Off

2011 Mallorca Ironman 70.3

Ever since I did the Monaco Ironman 70.3 in 2007 I have been keen to add to my list of endurance events. I recall very fondly the rigorous training schedule, waking up at 5:30am, cycling to the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park to swim with the ducks and eels, doing laps of Richmond Park on my bike in pelting hail and running lap after lap of the 3 parks, dodging tourists after a long days work. I never thought I'd be able to do it but in the end, all the training proved more than enough and I finished just as I hoped I would, in good time and thrilled by the experience. I was also a little burned out though, and it look quite a while to get back out there and really enjoy running and exercise again. I'm at the point now where I like it so much I need an outlet for me enthusiasm and so, I have registered for the Mallorca Ironman 70.3 on May 14th. Look out eels and tourists.

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4Nov/100

Seville & Granada, Beauty & Wonderment

This past weekend, a good old friend and I met up in Seville, Andalusia Southern Spain, for a weekend of general exploration and wonderment. Many years ago, I did a week-long driving tour through Spain, starting in Madrid, heading South through the alpine villages of the Alps, wondering the market towns of the Franco-Spanish border, admiring the natural beauty of the Costa Brava and taking deposit of cultural enrichment in Barcelona and its museums. It was an experience I loved and haven't forgotten and so, when I had the opportunity to go back nearly 10 years later, it was an easy decision.

On the first evening in Seville, we headed to a tapas bar in the old town for some beers and the local fare. It was a vibey little spot, full of locals (always a good sign) and did not disappoint on the food either. We ate well and went to another little bar afterwards which was full of Spanish charm, but around midnight the lights came on and following a recommendation, we ended up around the corner at another little spot, where to my delight a Flamenco performance was taking place. What struck me about the place was the lack of ceremony and society. At the bar could be found vivacious young women, next to old men staring longingly into their beers, next to scruffy looking workmen and all were happy and friendly and enjoying the music, without attitude. It was a breath of fresh air, or would have been if smoking wasn't permitted almost everywhere.

The following morning we walked around the town a bit, taking in its beauty, before catching a train for the 3 hour journey (made shorter by a well thought out train picnic) to Granada, another beautiful town in the region. That night we dined well at a restaurant (the name of which I cannot remember) overlooking the Alhambra, the main attraction of the area and a sight to behold at night, all lit up and imposingly beautiful on the opposing hilltop. I'll remember fondly the foie wrapped in shaved melon with caramelised sugar, the tomato salad - so simple and delicious, the fillet steak with foie (yes I know, a lot of foie went down) and the richly satisfying oxtail stew, accompanied by a Rioja just the way I like it, with a long vanilla finish.

That night we stayed at the Alhambra Palace Hotel (highly recommended) and after slightly too short a sleep, due to not being able to book tickets for the Alhambra, we were up early and queuing at the ticket office. Going all that way and missing out would have been tragic indeed but we managed to get tickets and the exploration began. The Alhambra, a World Heritage Site, which literally means "the red one" (perhaps due to the hue of the towers and walls that surround the hill ), was built during the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada and this influence is still vividly preserved. It is vast in its proportions and it took the better part of the day to see everything. It is almost impossible to describe the amount of detail put into the Alhambra. Every part of every building, every ceiling, every tile, every wall and door an example of exquisite craftsmanship at a time when hands were the only means of construction. There are only so many times one's jaw can drop in wonderment and I quickly surpassed that limit, eventually being rendered speechless by the things to be seen there. It was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip and the images captured there will linger long in my mind.

The following day, back in Seville, we checked out the Palace (Alcázar), the Cathedral and took a horse carriage ride (well worth it) around the city, viewing other local attractions such as the Torre del Oro and the Plaza de España. All of which were beautiful and impressive.

Thinking back to that week driving through Spain, I never imagined its position in my mind as a consummate experience would ever be eclipsed; things in the past are often unassailable in that way, but this weekend may already have blacked out its sun, even without the glossy veneer of time and the sweetness of reminiscence. Hopefully it won't be another 10 years before the next time.

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22Oct/100

7 days and nights in the land of Egypt

Unless you're immune to all forms of advertising or you’ve been living in the proverbial cave, you can't help but notice the sheer volume of marketing perpetrated by the Egyptian tourism board. One can scarcely avert one's eyes quickly enough to avoid being broadsided by a big red bus touting the Red Sea, Pyramids or some such other ancient national treasure of the great nation of Egypt. So, when Laura H mentioned she had a week off between jobs and nothing to do around the same time my own vacation plans had fallen through, a plan was hatched to occupy the time in some kind of 5 star luxury accommodation filled with days of all kinds of hedonistic activities. A few ideas were bandied about but eventually we both settled upon Egypt, probably due in no small part to the aforementioned relentless broadsiding. A planning meeting (viz. dinner with lots of wine) was duly held, tickets booked and a few weeks later we were winging our way to the Steigenberger Al Dau beach resort in Hurghada.

Upon arrival in Hurghada, we were relieved to find the resort checked all the boxes for 5 star luxury; marble everywhere, a huge room with a huge balcony and a pool which never seemed to end (no, not an infinity pool, just a big one) complete with a pool-bar and all the other usual trappings. We immediately opened some cold beers and toasted our success before going to the hotel restaurant for dinner, floating down the marble staircase on the scent of barbequed crab.

The following morning we showed up for our PADI Open Water diving course and spent the next three days with the very capable (and good-looking, some of us thought) Reda, a local, ex professional football player, dive instructor and all-round nice guy who patiently took us through the course, first in the never-ending pool and then in the clear blue, beautiful warm Mediterranean sea. I'm proud to say both Laura and I are now Open Water certified. Dive holiday invites welcome.

Walking along “the strip” at night, looking for bars and restaurants, it’s almost impossible to imagine being approached as many time as we were approached by people asking “hey, what is your name my friend?” or “where you from?” or frequently together. We quickly learned that both questions essentially mean one of two possible things, either “come into my store” or “where is my tip?”. One quickly starts to ignore, to the ire of those who presumably really do want to know where you are from, or really do want you to come into their store.

In all, we spent five days in Hurghada, three spent diving and two (dire) days spent dealing with the obligatory travellers stomach bug (blamed on the Hard Rock Cafe) and some sort of cold virus. After suffering badly, I eventually capitulated and went to the hotel doctor for some medication. Vitamin-C, 3 anti-biotic pills and 6 anti-bacterial pills were prescribed and quickly followed by a bill for £90. When I balked at this massive bill, the good doctor exclaimed it was the hotel’s prices, not his, but immediately reduced the bill to £30 and then added warmly “where you from?”

After five days we moved on to Cairo to check out the Sphinx and Pyramids in this most ancient of cities. Again the hotel did not disappoint, indeed it used to be a palace of some kind and was built using the other half of all the marble in Egypt, but that is about where the opulence ended. For all the beauty of the majestic Nile and old-world treasures touted on billboards and featured in movies the world over, Cairo is by all accounts, a bit of a dump. There’s trash and stray dogs everywhere, the roads are outright carnage and the air filled with smoke and the sweet stench of decay. What you don’t see on the glossy billboards and sides of buses is the washing line on the balcony of a derelict apartment building across the street from the Sphinx, you don’t see the Coca-Cola cans strewn all over the ground and you don’t see the street vendors touting the most unbelievable junk to tourists too fatigued by harassment to refuse. It is however not my intention to bash the place and if anybody from the Egyptian tourism board is reading this, I would appreciate it if you would not bar any future entry to Egypt, thank you.

In all, we had a great time in Egypt. There were moments of genuine wonderment and beauty amongst the ruin and decay. Would I go back? Probably not right away, but maybe some day.

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18Aug/100

Helsinki City Marathon 2010

This past weekend I travelled solo to Helsinki to run the marathon there. I have done three marathons previously (Edinburgh, Berlin and Chicago) and they have always been tough. Something about a marathon makes it different to any other kind of race. I can take on a half marathon any given Tuesday, 30km’s on a Sunday pass without grave concern, but a marathon, now that's a challenge!

I signed up for the Helsinki marathon not because I am some kind of Finnophile, but because it was my intention to achieve my best marathon time yet, 3:10, thereby securing guaranteed entrance into the London marathon in the Good For Age category (GFA). I decided this all a bit late however, leaving only 5 weeks to train, which mostly went well, up until 2 weeks before race day when all kinds of aches and pains started to materialize. I knew there would be no running in the last 2 weeks, I just had to rest-up, give my injuries a chance to heal and hope that was enough come race day.

And so, with only 3 weeks of actual training, I set out after work on Friday August 13th (not at all portentous) to run the 33rd Helsinki marathon. The race went as follows:

Km 0: I'm standing on the start line, the pre-race music is blaring, my heart is already pounding and I love it. The gun goes and we start running.

Km 2: The injuries are flaring up. My right ankle is making all kinds of complaints, but I know they are all phantom, they will subside. Strangely, the more I think about what to do when my foot meets the asphalt, the more the injuries complain. I am reminded of Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and the fact that my subconscious can calculate what to do with my foot when it collides with the road many times more quickly than my conscious brain can manage and when I don't think about it, there is no pain. The more I try not to think about it, the more I think about it. It's difficult to remove the focus. If I say "don't think of a red balloon" what's the first thing that pops into your mind? So, I apply the idea in reverse, "don't think about the road ahead, do NOT think about the road ahead!".

Km 10: I'm rockin' along. I feel invincible, like I can lick this thing and keep on going, maybe the caffeine gels are kicking in.

Km 14: I realize I'm 1/3 of the way through and feeling great. Surely I can manage another 2 of these.

Km 21.1: This is half way, and psychologically one of the toughest parts of the race. I've made it in the time I wanted (1:30 on the dot) and starting to feel a little rough, but still confident I can achieve the 3:10 target time. One foot in front of the other, easy.

Km 30: this is as far as I have ever run in training, unchartered territory, "there be dragons here"... and there were, lots of 'em as it turned out. It is at this point where the marathon earns its reputation. I feel rough, but I'm still running, forcing the notion into my mind that there are only 12km's to go, a mere lap of the 3 parks which I have done 100 times, just not after 30 other brutal kilometers.

Km 33: I'm broken, everything hurts and my mind is saying "walk you fool, walk!". I give in, but only because I think the brief respite will actually help. It does, I have a stretch, walk about 100m and start running again, invigorated, a 2nd wind overtakes and I go with it, running the next 2km confidently and focused on the prize, but it's at this point the dream fades, I can’t go faster than I’m going and I realize I can't make 3:10. It's bitterly disappointing. By now my legs are numb, I have to look down to make sure they're not flailing all over the place, I’m glad to see they are still moving forward and true. I press on, it hurts, a lot.

Km 36: even though it's a mere 6km to go, it seems impossible. You might as well ask a 100m sprinter to shave 0.2 of a second off their best, I am destroyed and it's pure mind keeping me going. I know that later on, this half hour of pain will be forgotten, and all that will remain is the result, but I just don't have anything left, I plod on to the end.

Km 42: It's true, the supporters do add a couple of miles. Somehow I've made it all the way home and it's great. This is why I do it... the sense of completion, the achievement, the elation, it's excellent. In that moment, I can actually even contemplate another marathon… another time.

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5May/090

IDL, no more heckling at Heathrow!

After 5 hard years, I am happy, nay, god damn delighted, to report I have at long last been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (IDL) in the U.K. The process has been long an arduous. When I first came here, I had no recourse other than to obtain a sponsored work permit. I duly found a sponsor and set about obtaining the work permit. After months of promises, the visa failed to materialise and only the good graces and sharp thinking of my immigration consultant prevented a disaster. Later, after moving to a second sponsor and enduring the extremely unfair immigration policies of the Home Office which added another year to the required duration, the road has come to an end and the visa has been granted. No more will I have to be subjected to the suspicious barbs of disgruntled public servants at Heathrow’s arrivals lounge. Ha… HA!

23Sep/070

Monaco Ironman 70.3 Success

It's official, I am now an Ironman, or well, half an Ironman anyway :) The 3rd Monaco Ironman 70.3 was held in the beautiful principality of Monaco on September 2nd 2007 and after 3 hard months of dedicated training, I was there to claim the title of 'Finisher'.

Ever since I decided shortly after the Berlin Marathon I would do an Ironman, I have been working in some way towards that goal. The acquisition of my first road racing bike in almost half as many years as I've been alive was an inspirational step and set me firmly upon the path. From there, cycling to work and signing up for the smaller Blenheim and London triathlons further reinforced the pursuit, but it wasn't until one day when I was browsing the Ironman site looking for an event that I actually decided to make a reality out of so many fantasies. I chose Monaco despite its reputation as one of the toughest courses on circuit because of simple timing. The season was running out, I needed at least 3 months to train and I needed an event reasonably close by. Monaco fit nicely into that gap.

Entering the race would change my life for a few months. With only 14 weeks to prepare, I was on a tight schedule and needed a professional training program, fast. I looked around online and found a few free ones, but nothing really worked with my lifestyle of randomly long work days and social events. I looked a little harder and happened upon MarkAllenOnline.com, the namesake of a 6-time Ironman champion. His training program offered flexibility and professional advice like nothing else out there. I signed up right away and training began 2 days later. The program was tough going, consisting of (count 'em) 8 sessions per week (2 swim, 2 bike, 2 run and 2 gym) totalling around 12 hours. It was hard going in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks, I settled into the routine and really began to enjoy the training. The Mark Allen program stresses heart rate zone training and my Garmin Forerunner 305 and I became good friends. The weeks and months rolled by and pretty soon it was approaching race day. I felt I was ready, but could have done more, as is probably always the case.

I took the week leading up to the race off work and relaxed, spending most of my time getting good sleep and preparing myself and my equipment for the race. Came August 31st, I was on a plane to Nice and a short time later registered, with my bike racked and transition bags packed. Sunday, race day, was only a few hours away.

After a night of light and much broken sleep, race day finally arrived. I woke with plenty of time (unlike Berlin) and made my way down to the start line. For a change, everything was going off without a hitch. There was massive excitement in the air with 800 fully charged triathletes lined up on the shores of Larvotto beach for the start. I'd been on a start line many times in the preceeding months and I know my heart rate always leaps 50 beats before the gun. This day was no different, I could already feel the adrenalin surging strongly when the hooter sounded and I plunged into the grinder of fists and elbows that is the start of a triathlon.

The swim was going well, I'd carved out a little patch of water and was making strong progress. About 5 minutes in, I turned to the side to take a breath and swallowed a full gulp of salty Mediterranean water. No more electrolytes required I thought. Then not far from the finish, another swimmer crossed in front of me and I caught a foot square to the side of the mouth, tasted blood and carried on, feeling a little tougher. Exiting the swim leg, I figured I was positioned about half way through the field, good enough for my first attempt I thought.

Transitioning as quickly as possible, I dowsed my arms and neck in factor 50 sun lotion and set off for the bike course, a gruelling 90km through the hinterland with 3 fearsome peaks to overcome, the first of which reaches 700m above sea level. For the first 20km, I fared surprisingly well and summited the peak feeling fresh and ready for more. The race director had briefed us all on the descents, advising caution on the tight-turn hairpin bends. It was good advice. My hands were acheing from pulling the brakes by the time I had reached the bottom and I'd lost my profile water bottle after hitting a massive bump in the road that launched the bike and I well into the air. No biggie, I pressed on and summited peaks 2 and 3, finally descending to T2 with still more ache in my shoulders and lower back, grateful for the opportunity to stand straight up for the run very shortly.

I always felt like running was my fallback event where I could do the distance no matter how rough I was feeling, but on the way out of T2 I was feeling great, positively euphoric even and spoiling for the run. 20Km later I was still cruising along, almost at the finish and delighted with the knowledge that by the time I got round the last lap, the clock would be ticking over well under my target time of 6 hours.

I finished the Monaco Ironman 70.3 in a time of 5:41:49.

A full equipment list used for this event can be found here.

Lastly, thanks to my lovely girlfriend Gemma, who put up with all the early mornings and exhausted evenings for those 14 weeks.

Update 16 Feb 2008: I have entered for the UK Ironman 70.3 and am coinsidering Monaco again. Looks like some more early mornings are in store.

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30Aug/070

Monaco Ironman 70.3 Triathlon Equipment List

Swim

Orca Sonar Full sleeve Wetsuit 2007
Zoggs Predator Wiro Frame Goggles
Speedo Plain Molded Silicone Swimming Cap
Aqua Sphere Antifog Solution

Bike

Cannondale Sprint CAAD9
Look Keo Classic Pedals
Cannondale Road RS1100 Sport Cycling Shoes
Giro Monza Helmet 2006
Continental GP Triathlon Folding Tyre Set
Topeak Tri-Bag Bar Bag With Rain Cover
Profile Aero Drinks System Water bottle
Trek Race Lite Water bottle Cage
Specialized Inner Tubes (Presta 700x20-28)
Park Tools Puncture Repair Kit Super Patch
Park Tools TL1C Tyre Levers
Minoura DS30BLT Work stand
Topeak Master Blaster Mini Pump With Gauge
Specialized Mini Wedgie Saddle Bag
Assos Chamois Cream
GT85 Lubricant

Run

Asics Gel Noosa Tri II Running Shoes
X-Socks Silver Socks
Nike Running Cap (White)

Tri

Garmin Forerunner 305
Zoot Ultra Tri Short
Ironman VO2 Max Zip Top
Bodyglide

Nutrition

Science in Sport Go Gel
Science in Sport Smart 1 Gel
Science in Sport PSP22
Science in Sport Rego Total Recovery

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28Nov/060

Chicago Marathon 2006 – lessons and aspirations

It was with surprise that I looked at my blog today and realised I hadn’t blogged anything about anything since September and was in serious danger of letting November slide without even so much as a single entry. This then, is it, back from the brink and Chicago, a précis of the town and the marathon.

In a previous post about marathoning (if there is such a word), I talked about Chicago and the time I spent there all those years ago. I know from annual visits home to Cape Town that cities are like people, they change, grow or wither and gnarle over time, a process of transformation fascinating to observe and exciting to be a part of. I was certain that going back to Chicago after more than a decade would yield the levels of fascination I was expecting and it never failed to deliver for a second. From the moment of arrival, old but familiar neural pathways, long since dormant, began to course once more and I remembered vividly the CNN-like sights and sounds of The Windy City, still vibrantly coloured and pristine with its crisp blue sky offset against the enormity of Lake Michigan, reflected in awe against skyscrapers of glass and steel, all made sharp to the eye by a near arctic chill (for a South African anyway).

Marathons can be a lonely mission, as I found in Berlin, but Chicago was a different affair with 12 Merrill Lynch employees and associates making the journey this time. Some doing their first ever gruelling 26.2 miles, others, no strangers to the experience. With everybody playing for the same team, there was a healthy amount of comradery and encouragement.

But enough about the place and the people, what about the marathon? Well, it wasn’t my finest hour, or even, gulp, 4 hours, but I did get round. In fairness I only managed to get in 3 training runs in the preceding 6 weeks so I really couldn’t expect more than that. I learned this time round that you absolutely have to get those long training runs in before the day and preparation is everything. Diet, routine and knowledge are what is required to run a successful marathon. With this in mind and with the drawing of inspiration from a recent acquaintance, I have decided to throw down the gauntlet and take up what will possibly be the biggest physical challenge of my life… the Ironman! Watch this space.

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28Sep/060

Berlin Marathon 2006


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.

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