My stomach sinks. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears. I’m pretty sure I am sweating and fear is probably visible in my eyes. Despite everything I’ve done for the last 17 weeks, is my race about to be thrown by something so stupid?
Assuming the ’15 minute’ connection time between Terminal 5A and its B satellite was designed for fat wobble-bottoms, I thought I had lots of time. As it turned out, the connection wasn’t a speedy walk, but a train which runs according to a timetable. So at 6:45 as I waited to enter the train to take me to a gate a reported 15 minutes away for a 6:50 gate closure I was starting to panic. A lot. How could I be so stupid? How could I tell everyone I’d missed the race. Would Lyndsey notice if I bought a new ticket on a credit card?! My heart pumping faster than it has done on a Tuesday night at the track I boarded the train and prepared for the journey; it only took a fraction of a second. Ridiculous really! The doors glided open and I made my escape – slightly oversized and over-packed back pack wobbling around behind me. Up the first escalator, a brief delay as I discovered there was another escalator, and I charged up that one too. Gate 33, gate 33, where the hell is it? Oh, the furthest one away – there’s a surprise. I bolted for it, around the corner…
…and relief – One woman was still checking in and the passport control lady just smiled at me as I panted breathlessly something about not needing the exercise today!
I was on the plane.
The flight went without a hitch. We ate some food (another croissant – I was very diligent about carb-loading throughout the weekend), watched the sun rising above the clouds, and then landed in an overcast Frankfurt.
I made my way slowly through the airport, to the connecting bus to Terminal 1 and then again found my way to the train station. Doing my best to tackle the ticket machine for a single to the city centre I found the train I needed and settled down to enjoy the view as we approached the city. Flat is definitely a good descriptor of Frankfurt, and although the centre has some pretty big skyscrapers, the route from the airport passes slightly more industrial areas.
Once in the centre I made an attempt to find the Messe without a map, and trying to remember what I had seen of the race route etc, I figured it must have been north. I found a main road and headed up it. I was right to do so as I came across the Messe a five minute walk away.
The Messe is absolutely massive – ridiculously so. The sections used for the Marathon were well signed though, so I made my way up to the second floor for registration. This was so slick as they scanned my documents and printed my race number right there in front of me. I picked up my goody bag and had a mooch around the Marathon Mall. Keen not to spend any money I tried to keep my visit to a minimum, but it looked like they had a fantastic array of clothing a kit suppliers on offer.
Getting pretty darn hungry by now I decided that enough was probably enough of the Mall so I headed out, making a mental note of the layout of the Messe before I headed over the road to the Skyline Plaza shopping centre. In the supermarket I managed to pick up some grub for breakfast and I went upstairs to the foodcourt for some lunch and discovered that I could tap into some free wifi so I finally let Lyndsey know I had gotten there safely.
Although a little early I decided to head to the hotel.a) to see if I could find it, and b) to finally get off my feet.
It turned out to be a pretty easy walk of about 0.75miles, but sadly my room wasn’t ready. I decided to sit it out there rather than walk anywhere else so I logged onto a bit more free wifi for a while. I finally settled into my room and had a quick look through the goody bag and unpacked my gear for race day. All the while I was trying to decide whether to walk all the way back for the pasta party or eat dinner in the hotel.
At about 5pm I decided to head back to the party for some free food rather than having to pay for any. The party was held in the old Frankfurt Messe where you also finish the race inside. The atmosphere was great as the tables were laid out together, music played, and people enjoyed pasta with free drinks from water, to coke, and even beer.
I went back to the hotel fairly early – stopping only to buy a large bottle of water as I was acutely aware I had not drunk nearly enough all day. Back at the hotel I struggled to find anything in English on TV other than the news, and ended up settling for a documentary about Rammstein which had some english people talking in it so I could follow the gist, but mostly I just enjoyed the music.
My sleep that night was a little unsettled, but not worrying about the race – I was more concerned that another debacle like that which had occurred earlier may arise so I was madly going over timings in my head.
With the clocks changing over night, I was up super early and laid in bed as long as I could before I felt the need to get up. I showered, ate breakfast, got dressed, and packed the remaining items into my kit bag.
I finalised my preparation, and with that, I was ready to make the walk down to the Messe and hand my bag in.
I had time to kill so I made sure to keep hydrated with the energy drink from the goody bag and soon after 9am I ate the energy bar too. Then I dd a warm up: a little bit of jogging followed by some drills. I was aware of how my body felt, which on the whole was good, though the glute/hamstring combo that has plagued me for weeks was just there in the back of my mind.
I entered the start-pen in good time and loitered for a little while. It was generally pretty convivial in there and not too overwhelmingly busy. I kept my throwaway t-shirt on until about 9:55 before popping it over the barriers. A commentator got very excited, we all applauded something and then moved forwards. I think we were just bunching up to the start line then as nothing else happened for another minute or so. Then at 10 we began the slow trudge to the start and crossed it with the crowds cheering either side of us. I think it took me about 5 minutes to cross the line after the elites had begun.
It was a little annoying that within half a mile I was already overtaking people who were walking (the kind of people who looked like they’d walk most of it) and people who clearly were not <3:30 runners as everyone in the staring pens ahead of me should have been. I managed to hold the blue line quite well though and settled into my pace quite comfortably and relatively quickly. I had decided to keep my gloves on for a little while, just until I warmed up properly.
I tried to focus on what I was doing rather than those around me, but the opening few miles were twisty in the city stuff which meant a few people in the way every now and then. I ticked off these first miles really pleasingly at 8:07, 7:53, 7:55, 8:00 pace – perfect. The fifth mile included my first gel intake, and true to form as had happened during training, the act of getting a gel out of my rear zipped pocket and squeezing it’s raspberry-ripple goodness down my gullet took a chunk of time off my pace. I still felt terrific, but needed a wee pretty soon and struggled to spot an obvious place to pull over in the middle of the city. After a little while I noticed a bloke had stopped on the other side of some parked cars and was now weeing in the bush – perfect, I’ll do that too. I paused my watch, had a wee, and carried on. Not far from here was a water stop and the 10km timing mats. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this 5km section was my slowest; 25:47 according to the official results.
Motoring on from here I continued to do a kind of mental self assessment every now and then, just working my way through the body thinking about how I was feeling. I felt good. I checked in reflections to see if I looked as though I was still running fairly upright and my posture was holding up. And I told myself to relax and enjoy it.
I was getting water whenever I felt that I needed it from the aid stations. They were provided in paper cups which is often a challenge but I have learnt to pour some out, squeeze the top together to form a small funnel opening and then drink from that. A couple of times some went up my nose, but it was successful for the most part.
The scenery changed a little throughout the course as we switched from financial centre, to city centre, to riverside, to outskirts, and back again. It was varied and interesting, and although for the most of the route the crowds were hardly 10 deep, those that were out made plenty of noise – more in a polite round-of-applause way, but welcome none-the-less.
I had decided my target for the race was to take a gel every forty minutes, so the second one went in at 1:20. Rather than slow down again I made a conscious effort to use the positive effects of a drumming band to spur me along whilst I fished the gel out in advance, and then got my pace back under control before devouring. Not long after this second gel my stomach knotted itself up a little (like my final long training run issue that ended in a DNF) but I calmed down, focused on breathing into the source of cramping pain and on maintaining what I was doing: The discomfort soon passed. By now we had crossed the river and seeing some new parts of the city.
It seemed to take a long time to get to half way, by that I mean that I began to think “can I do this all over again?” I was mildly confident that the answer would be yes – but that it would be difficult. According to the official chip-timed results I beat my current Half Marathon in the first half of the race.
At the two hour point I had decided I would have the first caffeine gel. Having abstained from all caffeine-related products for a full month before the race I was confident that the gel would have the desired effects. Marc had mentioned a concern about the ‘trots’ that might ensue but I reassured him that my body is used to caffeine as I drink gallons of it at work usually. In all honesty there was a moment when I had to consider whether or not to trust the fart, but it all worked out OK. Whether the caffeine had any effect is hard to tell – my head wasn’t buzzing or anything, but the pace for each five kilometer split according to the timing mats from 15-20k all the way to the 35-40k mark were: 4:58; 5:00; 5:00, 5:00, 4:59mins/km – I don’t think I could have done much better than that.
Marc had warned me about a very long straight road that is about 5km long. He wasn’t wrong. It came at about 30km and I knew I had to knuckle down a bit here. I seemed to get into stride with a lady who was just in front of me. Her partner was on a bike and he kept cycling on, waiting, cheering and offering support, in German, and then moving on another few hundred yards. She appeared strong and hitting a really steady pace. I decided to lock on just behind her and together we ploughed our way along the straight road, passing runners at quite a rate now.
With a parkrun to go I was already wondering how I could thank this lady and another that had joined us (and we were clearly all working off each other by now) when we got to the end. Sadly there was a minor hold up at the penultimate water station and I think they both went for a drink and I just powered on past, so in the end I lost them anyway. I hope they had a good race, because they certainly helped me for a good few miles.
I can’t lie, the last few miles felt tough. However, although I was counting down to the end, I never felt “oh God, let this be over!” By now I was following the tidal analogy to a tee : the tide had gone away from me in the first few miles, but I was passing people hand over fist now, and I don’t think very many people came past me at all. In fact almost every single person that came past me did so very strongly, and had a yellow “staffel” sign on their back, meaning that they were the last members of their relay team.
Looking at the GPS watch on a more frequent basis by now, hoping the miles would tick by a little quicker, my pace seemed to keep going strong. I had followed the blue line almost religiously, but I think my 26th mile clicked through at about the 42km mark on course.
I pushed hard down the main street back to the Messe, constantly checking my watch for the time. We swung left across the cobbled path and I overtook Batman and Robin on the way into the beautiful old building.
The red carpet was laid out underfoot and my watch was counting down the seconds. On the main clock I thought I basically had 5 minutes 20 ‘in the bank’, so that if the clock read 3:35:19 then I would have come in on target. The main clock ticked to about 3:35:17 and I finally crossed the line and stopped the watch.
I didn’t have much time to soak up the atmosphere in the hall. Keen to keep my legs moving and delay the seizing effects I walked down the stairs that others were hobbling down and peeled open a banana. I received my medal, got a cup of tea, and put on the red plastic poncho to keep a little bit of heat in my body. It was crowded around the finish area and I was keen to keep moving so I headed to the next hall to collect my stuff and think about having a shower.
Now, they say that a picture paints a thousand words, but let me try to paint a picture with just a handful of words: the basement of the hall can only be described as the sweaty penis parade. Basically, there were a couple of rows of blocks of portable showers – maybe a hundred showers. You basically found an area to stash your bag and get undressed and then queue for a shower to become free. Many people used their towels to maintain a modicum of modesty; the Germans did not! I showered and changed quickly – very aware that I was pretty severely dehydrated and had not done much yet about resolving that – was I going to pass out in the hot shower? Thankfully not.
I joined the queue for a complimentary massage, but a few minutes later, having not moved anywhere, I decided to give up and start making my way back to the station via some food and water.
At the station, the conductor told us the train on the platform was going to the airport. He lied. It remained north of the river and a few people got off at the first stop, changed platforms, and waited for a train back to the centre. The first two were delayed and I was already having visions of missing my flight home. Fifteen minutes later a train eventually transported us back to central Frankfurt. I changed trains again and finally made it to the airport. I had plenty of time so I strolled slowly through duty free (impulse buying some gin on the way through) and grabbed some food at starbucks. I made it to the gate in good time and had a very pleasant flight home. My car was waiting for me outside the terminal when I got there, and I returned home to curry and a bottle of beer that I bought specially for the occasion almost a month ago.
In the end, I set another new Half Marathon PB in the second half of the race. And as I have already alluded to, My pacing was spot on throughout. Here is a little graphical illustration of that point:
So my third marathon and I have taken 2 hours and 11 minutes off the time of my first. There are not too many people that can say that!
What an absolutely amazing run – I am still on cloud nine now. Recovery for a few weeks, then back on it – there is definitely time to be made at the next one.