Frankfurt With Friends

One of the great things about running marathons is that it can be very social, while doing running itself is often a rather individual thing. When running the Frankfurt Marathon today I was feeling this connection with the running community more than usual. It was the 8th marathon I did with running mate Michael. Frankfurt is his home turf and to make it easier for me I was offered to join his company’s running team. Some conference rooms in a hotel close to the start line had been booked and we had a great reception there, before and after the marathon. It was great to get one of their T-Shirts and feeling part of a bigger team. And it came quite handy that the company is huge, and the runners come from all over Germany (and the world?) which meant I was not sticking out as the one who does not really belong and could mingle, feeling part of the group. And there was the other thing: the chance to get on the podium and to win a price. Michael made me aware that all the fast runners dropped out this year and apart from one the highest estimated times were 3:30.

It meant I had a fair chance and when running I started hunting down my fellow runners with the same T-Shirt. So I ended up running next to Achim for a while. It is always great to make new friends on the way. Achim was the one who gave me a new boost at kilometre 33, when I started slowing down. He pointed out a strong looking couple in front of us saying, just follow them, they are good. So this is what I did. And it worked and I got some pace back. At one point I overtook Katrin from the vegan running blog bevegt.de. Katrin and Daniel run this (German) site and I listen to their podcasts, because I am interested in a carefree vegan diet. Well, they don’t know that I am their friend and when I overtook her it was an awkward spot with incline, so I did not want to distract her and said nothing. But still, it was nice feeling “connected” even though she had no clue that I did. I ended up overtaking another fellow runner with the same T-Shirt and at some point even Achim had dropped back. So I entered the great Festhalle (Festival Hall) and did the last 200 meters on the legendary Red Carpet. Only in Frankfurt. It was like a big party. And my time was respectable too: 3:28:07. Enough for getting on the podium? I did not find out, because I had a flight to catch and could not stay long enough for the company’s award ceremony. Anyhow, it was a great and unforgettable day with friends and that’s was running marathons really is about.

Update from the day after: Michael informed me that I did make the second place! And I won a voucher, not sure for what though. But hey, this is the first time I won anything in a race.

Devine Venice

The day did not start great: waking up to a weather forecast that has stayed consistent for a week and shows that you will get completely soaked from 8am on, including thunderstorms, is never great at marathon day. Well, I sent up one of those desperate “God, pleeease!?” prayers (if someone can change the weather last minute, it must be him) and got up, still not sure how to get to the shuttle buses that would bring us 30 kilometres out to the start. These busses left at the other end of Venice, Google Maps said one hour to walk. When I chose my accommodation the main criteria was close to the finish, but who could have guessed that finish line and shuttle busses are at the opposite sides of Venice? I bumped into runners the night before and they said just to follow other runners, I would be fine. But I wasn’t. The other runners caught a water-bus along the Canal Grande and I followed them. It took the water-bus 15 minutes for five stops, at least 10 more to go to Piazzale Roma, from where we still had to walk at least 10 minutes to catch the shuttle busses. Against the trend I decided to leave the water-bus and walk the rest. I already missed a marathon start this year and did not intent to repeat that experience. It turned out walking was definitely fast enough, so I caught my shuttle bus together with a countless number of other runners. The bus was so packed that my suddenly inappropriate layers of jacket, jumper and running shirt immediately caused me breaking out in sweats. But there was no space to take the jacket or jumper off, the journey took at least half an hour and by the end I was so sweaty like having been half into the actual race. Anyway, I made it to the start area, a little bit too early for my taste, but better then too late. The looming thunderstorm made me nervous. While I was waiting I was getting cold, the first rain drops came down and I just did not like the scenario that was starting to play out. But against all odds the weather kept up. And I started running in dry conditions. And everything hurt. The kind of “hurt” where you think it is just not your day. Great. At kilometre 15 I had enough. But no options, but to continue. And suddenly there was a shift. Rather than focusing on everything else and that a sub 3:30 is so not going to happen, I focussed somehow on the basics: regular, calm but deep breathing, posture, the road ahead of me. And I found my zone and things got better and even enjoyable. And then came the bit that was almost a spiritual experience. After kilometre 31 the route was leading to a straight line, vanishing into a fixed point and then nothing. Of course this was the bridge leading to Venice. But you could not see Venice, only sense it. The general visibility was good but not clear, and at some point you saw Venice slowly taking shape and materialising at the misty horizon. The feeling was magical and the pull this caused was unprecedented, especially at this point of a marathon, where the going gets tough. This wasn’t tough, it was something else. At that point I realised that it still had not rained and the sky did not look like it would any time soon. Had God really listened to my winging this morning? I felt much loved. The slow appearance of this seemingly floating city, surrounded by water and shrouded in clouds suddenly awoke thoughts of a New Jerusalem descending from the sky. A goosebump moment – with a harsh wake-up in a worldly reality. Once we entered Venice, the route led us through a grey and dirty port/industrial area, which was definitely an anti-climax and it gave you goosebumps for the wrong reason. Once pushed through (two kilometres that felt so much longer than the five before) you had the final four left, leading through all the good Venice stuff that you signed up for:

Seaside to your right, Basilika Santa Maria to your left, running across the Canal Grande on a temporary bridge especially for us, running towards and into the Piazza San Marco with the 41k marker placed directly in front of the glorious Basilika.

The last four kilometres of a marathon had never felt any better. It was absolute amazing, almost divine. What a glorious finish to what started out to be a running disaster in making. I am feeling very thankful.

Going for Ultra – again

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In 2013 I had my first attempt preparing for an ultra race. Despite best intentions it somehow did not happen. Now, four years later, I am there again. Still not sure why with all my running it seems to be so bloody difficult to do what all ultra runners do and keep going, However, I should appreciate that I did increase distances, had longer-than-marathon training runs and my first ultra race in form of a six hours challenge. So I signed up for the Country to Capital Ultra race in January. Big thing for me. And a lot of things to get nervous about. First, it takes place in January. While the cold does not really bother me, my worry is the wet cold. Second, there is the awkward mix of trail and tarmac. The first half can really turn into a mudslide when wet, while the second is more hard surface along the Grand Union canal towards the London centre. My running OCD kicks in, wanting to control all possibilities. In order to prepare I have to get another pair of trail shoes, that would also work on tarmac. A visit at runner’s too-good-to-be-true running shop Run and Become sorted me out. It is notoriously difficult to find the right pair of shoes, mainly because of size 13, where shoes start to be comfortable. But it was my day and I am now the proud owner of a pair of Inov8 Trail Talon 250, which needed to be tested. So I went out to one of those infamous “recce runs”. To be honest, I only picked this word up from seasoned British runners, having no clue what it actually means or how it is pronounced, but I did sense it has something to do with checking stuff out. So this was exactly what I did. I caught a train to Wendover, used the smart DynamicWatch app on my Garmin FR630 to show me the way and off I went. The next 39.x kilometres passed by much smoother than I could have hoped for. Despite occasional hold-ups, the route on the Garmin watch did give me the confidence never to get totally lost. In preparation for this recce run (which I now know is military slang for examining an area) I got a bigger backpack than usual, filled with a two-litre water bladder, a nice piece of vegan pizza from the night before and an approach of not getting stressed but see where and for how long my feet will carry me. I did part of this route in 2015 when I accompanied my friend Ruth for her first ultra race, so some trails looked vaguely familiar. The weather was warm but great and I tried not to stress out when I wasn’t sure about the route and at some point I had the vegan pizza and other food and it was all really, really fun. Even getting a bit lost was fun, because I roughly knew (thanks dynamic.Watch) where to go to. So I did end up joining the canal, exiting at Uxbridge and taking a tube home safely.  The new shoes were perfect and lived up the challenge. No sores, no blisters and overall, despite all exhaustion and not really understanding how after 39 ks to carry on for another 33 running, the possibility of finishing my first proper ultra race felt closer than ever before. Happy days.

München

People close to me usually know that Munich (München in German) is not on my list of favourite places. They also know that this is not based on experience, I actually have never really been there. Which does raise the question about my irrational dislike, but that’s another story. It happened that I got back in touch with friends who live in Munich, loving it and innocently invited me to come. It came to a diplomatic incident which I am not proud of and which made me rethink and decide to give this place a chance by signing up to this year’s marathon. And so I did. And I have to apologise to Munich, it is a lovely city. It probably helped that it was introduced to me by lovely hosts, but even the first impression of picking up my number at Olympia Park (which by the way served as a model for London’s Olympia Park) was very impressive. I instantly fell in love with the park, the iconic architecture of the Olympic Stadium and Halls and was thrilled to know that I would start and finish the marathon here.

But also the rest of Munich surprised me, especially all the old buildings and places that must somehow survived the war or had been rebuilt remarkably well and reminded me strangely of Italian cities. Where do the perceived Mediterranean influences come from? Well, as said, it surprised me and I loved it. The actual marathon had the charm of a big event that actually did not feel that big. There was a sense of flexibility and heart. So when I got all in panic mode because I forgot my timing chip, there was an easy way to get a replacement just 45 minutes before the start. The marathon route passed all the nice buildings and places I had been shown the day before, but also led through the English Garden, a name I was familiar with, but I had no clue how big it was. I felt reminded of Central Park in New York, where the word “park” does not really describe it. It’s more like a large piece of nature within a city. The English Garden was from kilometre 8 to 15 and it was great. The weather forecast had said rain all way through, but it did not happen. Thank God. Having gotten soaked would have definitely spoiled the experience because there were quite low temperatures (felt even worse coming from summer months of running) and there was a wind stronger than usual. I started to feel cold three quarters into the race, even without rain.

Overall I had a blast, did an under 3:30 time and entering the Olympic Stadium for the finish with dramatic film music playing and friends to cheer you was one of those goosebumps moments that reminded me why marathon running is such a great thing. And now Munich, unexpectedly, became part of this great thing. I say again sorry to Munich for my unjust prejudice and I am sure I will be back.