Rain and Hail in Hamburg

Saturday night before the race I started to panic: I visited Hamburg’s recently opened opera house Elbphilharmonie and nearly froze to death. The building is truly amazing with viewing platforms and awe inspiring architecture, inside and out. But the location is also extremely windy and despite the 8 degrees temperature it felt like zero.
FullSizeRender 5The weather forecast for marathon Sunday said the same 8 or 9 degrees temperature, but even more wind. So I worried that my shorts, short sleeved top and thin running gilet means I am hopelessly underprepared for Hamburg’s weather. At least I’d got a thermal hat to keep my head warm. On the other hand the forecast also said there won’t be rain, unlike the day before and the predictions for the days after. Out of lack of real alternatives I made it to the start line in my shorts, short sleeved top and thin gilet, covered in one of those foil blankets, still worrying about the potential freeze horror lying ahead of me.
FullSizeRender 6 It came different: I did not only start to rain just in time when we started running, it also hailed and not only at the start, but also throughout the race. The little hailstones do get you, feeling like tiny needles piercing your skin with their icy coldness. To our luck each hail attack did not last for too long and once it was over, the simple absence of ice on you, made you feel warm. Really warm. Weird, right? The rain did also stop and even the sun came out a few times. But this constant thread of cooling down too much had an unexpected positive effect on my running attitude. I felt I simply can’t afford going into my “let’s see how it goes today” mode of motivation. I ran against the fear that at any time I might end-up next to the road in fetal position, shivering and shaking. So I ran faster than I thought I am abled to do and managed to do a new personal best! Yeah!! Only by 17 seconds, but hey it’s a PB!!! 3:25:45. I am over the moon. And even having done Hamburg for the fourth time now and facing a moody weather even worse than London weather’s (mostly undeserved) reputation, this marathon was a great event, with a lot of music, not only put there by the organisers, but also from the many balconies of residents that threw little cheering parties. There is a several hundert metres long tunnel part of the route, which was prepped up with light effects and sound boxes spread out all way through playing Eye of the Tiger. And then there was this attractive girl holding up a poster to runners saying “You are sexy” and when I read it she made eye contact and pointed to the words indicating it also applies to me!! Only in Hamburg. It might be rainy, has hail and weather that makes you wonder why anyone come up with the idea to have to 2 million metropole (Germany’s second biggest) at exactly this place on earth, but Hamburg does rock. Big time.

Roman Rain

Does Rome have more rain than London? Some articles out there are seriously suggesting that and today I might start to believe it. I had been running 37 marathons (about 10 of them in UK alone) without ever experiencing severe rain. The most unlikely candidate to end this streak did end it: Rome. It was raining today and it rained hard. Not all way through, but a solid 90 minutes at the beginning, to get the runners completely soaked, and just after the finish, when you rather wanted to chill in the sun and not being re-soaked while you are getting increasingly cold trying to find your way home. I am still a little bit baffled. The other interesting twist to this Rome Marathon (which turned out to be a fantastic event after all) was the “system” of letting runners start in waves, depending on their estimated finish time. My running partner Michael and I were both in the medium fast group, which was represented by a green number. All three groups, blue for the fastest and orange the slowest, had their own starting arch, identified by ballons that matched the colours. Without any delay we followed the masses of runners which were herded towards these three arches and for reasons still not clear to me our green line ended up joining the orange runners. At this point we realised that the second wave must had already happened and maybe only green runners who used their elbows had managed to get to the front. As a result I had to dodge slow runners the entire marathon, which can be very stressful, because you are constantly distracted finding a path through the running crowds and never find quite your own flow and pace. But despite all this I managed to do a much better time than I thought would be possible, based on my current training level and shape. And it turned out to be a great run. It is a little bit like running along buildings that belong more to historical drama than to reality. Super cool, I loved it. At some point I felt very much reminded of my Florence Marathon in 2013, only bigger and greater. And then the medal: It is the nicest one I have received. The ribbon is done in burgundy, with golden and lightly rose writing and together with the golden medal ist looks very classy. So, apart from the rain Rome was all the good and Italian spirited race that I hoped for. And even the rain was not just rain: It was in fact a thunderstorm, right when I started and the thunder was echoed by shouts of a crowd of weather-excited runners. In Rome even rainy marathons are done in style. 

The Italian Medical

The Rome Marathon preparation presented a rather different challenge to me: getting the medical certificate that proves I am fit too run a marathon. (The fact that ten days ago I just successfully completed one does not seem to prove anything.) I had been there before in 2013 when I did Florence and Pisa, which also required this certificate (it comes down to an Italian law from 1982 after all) and while it was sort of an annoyance, it did turn out to be rather straight forward to arrange. Not so this year: drawing from my 2013 experience I rocked up at my GP, who was French and kind of familiar with issuing these certificates. The French have a similar law. The checks took 5 minutes. Two minutes later I was out of there, with a stamped and signed paper. Off it went to the the organisers to confirm my successful registration for the race. Only that they did not. Apparently I had the outdated form from last year, which could not be accepted anymore. The new form required ECG, lung test and urine analysis not older than 30 days. So I went back to my French doctor who was surprised by this level of details required, same as me. £260 was the price tag to get this done. UK prices. I wrote to the organisers and asked if there is an other way. And there was: for foreign runners who have difficulties to get these examinations they offer to get it done in Rome prior to the marathon for €70. Alternatively a proof of membership of an British Athletes affiliated running club would make the need for a certificate obsolete. So I investigated this route. Unfortunately these British Memberships seem to have a fixed start day, always running from 1st April to 31 of March. So how do I ensure that when I sign up for a running club end of February, that by 2nd of April (the date of the Rome Marathon) I have a proof of a valid membership for the new and not only for the old period. None of the three different running clubs could or wanted to answer this question. So I ended up organising a medical appointment in Rome. The time window for applying had long be closed, but here the Rome organisers were rather flexible and I did get a slot. But there was one condition: I still needed to bring a full urine analysis for the appointment, written in English not older than 30 days. I just had got a whole health screen done, with urine, blood and you name it analysis, but unfortunately that was 45 days ago. So I went to my GP the third time, peed into a cup the second time within 45 days, paid £26 and got an email a few days later with access to the online portal where I could download and print out the result. Which I did. But the print out looked worryingly informal and my concerns were growing that it might be rejected based on missing formal stamps and/or signatures. An email to the organisers to double check this was not answered. So on the last day I went to my GP a fourth time asked for a stamped and signed copy, which they were happy to do, but I had to come back later. Finally on my 5th visit, when I collected it, I felt I had everything in place to start journey to Rome. Which turned out to be right. After I managed to locate my contact in Rome just in time, who should bring me to the medical practice where the EGC and lung test was performed, I got the clearance from a smiling Italian doctor: “Good news”. When I finally was the proud holder of my start number (12 thousand something, which shows how last minute I got the clearance), I felt like a finisher already: running the whole thing now can’t be more difficult than getting this stupid paperwork sorted. And I got an explanation why it is so different this year: the Italian Athletics Federation came up with these great ideas just recently. So if you want to run marathons in Italy, better be prepared.