You are running HOW far today? You must be joking…
by Viki T.
September 28th, 2008, dawned crisp and sunny and clear. Good news as today is Berlin Marathon day. I roll out of the hotel bed in my third country in a week and think if I could train on an airplane, I might be able to give Haile Gabreselassie a run for his money this morning! I am up good and early and have plenty of time to have another two changes of heart as to the clothes I am going to run in, scoff down my instant oatmeal and start the walk to the start line. I am running with a good buddy of mine from Boston and her husband and my mother are the support crew. There’s a little bit of chit chat as we join the throng that’s streaming towards the starting enclosures but Lynn and I are mostly focused on what lies ahead. A little voice in the back of my head starts to shout, “You are running HOW far today? You must be joking…” but I quash it by reminding myself of my recent long training runs, including 21 miles in the pouring rain in London two weeks previously.
All too soon we say our goodbyes to our “Number 1 Fans” and head into the fenced off runner’s area. The numbers of people are just overwhelming and it’s difficult to pick a route through to the starting corrals. We head in what we believe is the right general direction but the crowds are moving slowly and time is starting to tick away. We finally make it to the road where the corrals are located but are faced with 8 foot fences and hordes of runners milling around trying to get through with no clear direction. We join a throng moving in what we hope is the right general direction. 9 am passes and we are now getting twitchy – there will be no warm up for this race. We find a gap and make it through to a smaller, 5ft fence. Runners are starting to move on the other side so there is nothing for it but to hop the fence. We make it unscathed and start shuffling forwards. We cross the line at 9:15 and it’s Game On!
Lynn and I have different pacing strategies – I have settled in relatively immediately at the 9:30 min/mile end of my 9:30 – 9:40 first half pace and Lynn is targeting 10:15 so we say goodbye at about the 1.5 km mark. It’s a sad moment but I am so used to doing my runs on my own it soon passes and I get my head down and get after it. I am still pretty tight and a bit apprehensive about the shoulder which I managed to twinge badly the night before (sitting on the sofa! How does that work?!) but I am resolved to follow Coach Joe’s instructions and try to relax. I spend a bit of time concentrating on each of the major muscle groups and making a conscious effort to relax them. It helps.
I pass the 7km (about 4 mile) marker and Jeff and Mother are waving frantically. It’s great to see them, as I am still feeling pretty tight and grumbly. Still holding my 9:30 pace and am operating on the basis that I am either going to feel better around 8 miles or the wheels are just going to come off the bus! However, my recent 9:15 pace in the half and the fact that it usually takes me 6 – 8 miles to get going gives me some confidence. Sure enough at about 7.5 miles I suddenly feel better. I am looser, I feel springy in my step and I am ready to go, go, go! Am pleased, but resolve to stick at 9:30 until the half and re-evaluate the situation at that point.
Time passes and suddenly we are halfway round. The weather is still glorious; cool and sunny. However, this run is taking concentration. There are so many people you are always in quite a dense pack, which means if you want to hold your pace you need to do some swerving which is not ideal. Water stations are also absolute mayhem. Someone needs to tell these guys that plastic cups shatter underfoot and make the footing super slippery. I am wearing a water belt which I am well pleased about – I run as far as I can over to the other side and avoid the craziness! Despite all this I am feeling very good and am optimistic that my plan to go “hell for leather in the last 7 miles” may work. That optimism translates into a little bit more speed and I don’t fight it too much – it’s nothing too crazy – just a little bit more.
Planning and thinking about pace provide an excellent distraction and I arrive at mile 19 unscathed by the usual mile 16 misery. It’s time to step it up and off I go – I am excited to be motoring. Looking at my average pace it’s been dropping gradually over the last few miles. I am having to swerve a bit more now, as there are not many folks speeding up at this point and there are an increasing number of walking wounded to navigate around. I have been there and know how it feels! Another 3 miles go by and I am starting to hurt. The “cough up a lung” training in Wednesday night track sessions has definitely helped in that I know this feeling, but I have reached that point where I would really like to stop. But it’s only a few miles and so I stick my head down and keep trying to go for it. Finally, we turn the last corner and are heading back towards the Brandenburg Gate – half a mile to go. It’s the longest half mile I think I have run… 400m to go – through the Brandenburg Gate (though I am not dwelling on the incredible history of this place)… and over the finish line! 4h6m0s! I have smashed my target for the day (4h15m), beaten my Boston time by 25 minutes AND I ran the whole way (the first time I have done this)!
Unsurprisingly, it’s mayhem in the finisher’s area but I don’t mind. I amble happily in the sun collecting food bag, medal and plastic bag to wrap myself in. Thankfully I have my mobile phone so am able to find my Mom without incident. Lynn (no cell) is not so lucky and we will spend much of the next 4 hours trying to find her! All in all, it’s been a great experience and I am really looking forward to getting back into training and going for my next goal – a 3h 40m Boston qualifying time!!! Thanks Joe for keeping me on the straight and narrow and helping the kid that was ALWAYS picked last for sports discover that sport can really be the most beautiful thing!