Sunday, September 24, 2006

I ran a marathon!

They do say that things come in threes. Well, the three things that I'd have put top of my “please, not on marathon day” list all trundled along as I feared.

3.Bakingly hot weather.

In a way it was a good thing. No, really. It made me take the pressure off myself. I knew from the way the weather was looking and the way I was feeling that I was never going to run a fast time, or achieve anything near my potential. But equally, you don't train and plan for months and then not turn up on the day. Maybe if I was an experienced marathoner, only here to do a good time I'd have pulled out, but when it's your first and you've been building up to it since February you go out, you do it, you just change your goals a little. (Obviously there are limits to that, you don't just go out and do it anyway if it would be stupid to do it, but if it's safe, it will just slow you down a bit, you don't pull out at this stage. Or at least I don't.)

On Saturday I was strangely calm. I expected to be sent into a bit of a panic by getting here and realising how big a task I was taking on, but I wasn't. It was very much like before my first half. I wasn't worried. I knew that I'd trained as well as I realistically could have done, and I knew that I could just go out there and see what happened.

I got to Berlin OK after a strange shock when I realised there were people on the flight who didn't even know it was happening. I'd kind of assumed that marathon fever would be apparent from check in onwards, but while there were other runners on the plane, we weren't the majority. I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised, I remember the time I went to Rome on the weekend of the Rome marathon in 1999 and didn't know about it until I saw them running round. I think the word I used in my head to describe them was “lunatics”.

I checked in at the hotel and felt very smug when the receptionist asked whether I was here for the marathon (I look like a runner!) and handed me the price list for massages in the hotel health club. I had another smug moment when I got to the bedroom and double checked that, as in Prague, the hotel bathrobe not only goes round me (I remember the days when it got nowhere near) but crosses over loads.

I went out to the expo. This is where I started to see the lunacy of one aspect of the whole plan. Not the running a marathon bit, but running a marathon in a country where I don't speak a word of the language, and in a city with the most complicated public transport system known to man. From what I can gather there are engineering works on one of the bits of the line between the town centre and the expo, and some trains are being diverted, and trains in both directions go from one platform at one of the stations. They make lots of announcements in German about what to do, you have to get on and off trains, and they don't follow the routes on the map. Except for me it's very much pot luck whether I even get in one going in the right direction, let alone on the right route.

At the expo I kept my head down and headed straight for the registration bit. I was armed with bits of paper, thrust them at people and got pointed in the right direction. I feel I should apologise to Germany, I normally make a bit more of an attempt to learn the language, but this time I was truly shocking. I can actually understand menus (just about) from skills picked up in Gran Canaria. There are lots of German tourists, and German restaurants in GC. I go to GC a lot, and I haven't been to Germany for well over 10 years, maybe 15. In GC waiters and the like sometimes ask for your order in German, I then reply in Spanish because I know more of it. This has led to the truly bizarre instinctive responsethat when I get asked for my order in German IN GERMANY I try to reply in Spanish. How to confuse people in one easy step...

Anyway, race number, chip and finishers t-shirt acquired, I then set out for the second part of my Expo task – finding some “Basica Sport” to try. I've done almost all of my training with Lucozade, and I've never come across this bizarre German sports drink before. But I knew that, short of carrying litres and litres of Lucozade with me, I'd have to drink it on the way round, and I wanted to try some before the race just to check it was digestible. It seemed to be (but more on that later).

There's one thing about Germany – you don't need to worry about going without a huge carby, starchy meal. I wanted an early night, so went to a hotel just over the road from the hotel for some baked mozarella with rocket, cherry tomatoes and tagliatelle. I really did struggle to finish it. And while one part of me was pleased that I seemed to have learned something and was wanting to stop eating with something left on my plate, the other part of me was trying to force it down in an effort to carb load as much as I could. I'd only had a bready type thing for lunch, and hadn't really made much headway on the Jaffa Cakes and Malt Loaf, because the cold had killed my appetite, but I realised that not eating was precisely the way NOT to prepare for the race, so forced the rest of the pasta down.

Then back to the hotel to pack my race bag, pin my number on my top and above all attempt to sleep. I'd worried that I wouldn't sleep through excitement, when it was actually my cold doing most of the damage to my sleep patterns. Waking up every so often because I couldn't breathe wasn't the way I'd hoped to spend the night, although at least it saved me from my now customary mistake of setting the alarm on my phone for the time I want to get up without changing the time zone. I do this every time I go away, you'd think I'd have learned by now!

Up on Sunday morning I got myself down to breakfast, which was a fantastic spread. But I knew what sort of things I wanted to be eating and stuck to those. I'd taken my own tried and tested muesli down with me (wouldn't want the hotel to only have one with bits of dried banana aka the devil's fruit in it), and wanted to get some fresh fruit and yoghurt to have with it. Not a problem. I also wanted a couple of slices of dark German rye bread with butter and jam. Check. All in all a success.

To the start. This is where it really started hitting me what I was about to do. I ignored the warm up. I'm unco-ordinated at those things at the best of times, so attempting to follow orders barked out in German just wasn't going to happen. I just watched, tried not to move around too much, got in the toilet queue. Got back in the toilet queue. And so on.

We were right at the back. The last pen is for people doing their first marathon and slow people, so I fitted right in. The fast people and the wheelchairs and everyone else got off, and finally we got walked to the start for the Block H start. I have to admit there were a couple of times before the start that I was practically in tears, which I thought didn't bode well for my emotional state at the end. Damn them and their playing of inspirational music!

And finally, at about 9.15, we were off. It seemed to be a pretty good start, we were running as we crossed the start line (the block in front had gone then they left a couple of minutes before starting us). I got into a decent stride and was really happy with my progress. I got to 5k without any trouble, 10k, 15k, 20k and through the half way point. I was taking drinks and gels roughly on schedule, and feeling pretty good. I had a loo stop, but didn't lose any time queuing. German efficiency!

Then at about 24k it all started to go wrong. For one thing, running at 9am under clear blue skies hadn't been so bad, but the heat had really started to build by 11.30. And there were the other problems. It started in my stomach. I don't know whether it was period pain, a bad reaction to the Basica, or my stomach reacting from being given so much sugar and refined carbs in the past 48 hours. At first it was just a heaviness, and pain. At this stage I was running between water stations and then walking the whole length of them. In the first half I'd only walked for the part of the water station where I was actually drinking, so my walk breaks were much longer at this stage than they had been earlier. I also noticed that my cold had moved from my nose to my chest, and that when I needed to cough they were the sort of coughs that have you stopping, bending double, coughing out phlegm (sorry for TMI, and apologies in advance for more to come) and then carrying on. Not the sort of coughs you can do on the run.

Having run a decent first half I was definitely slowing down. I also realised that when I attempted to take more energy on board, whether it was from a gel, Basica or jelly babies, it made my stomach a lot worse, so from then on in I decided that I'd stick to water, and try to use what energy I already had stored up inside me wisely.

And then it got worse. From the feeling I'd had between 24 and 30km or so that I might suddenly need to urgently find a loo for a bout of violent diarrhoea (I did warn you...), after 30k my stomach increased its rebellion. At this stage it decided that almost anything, including water, may induce a case of violent vomitting. Anything sugary was already out, but even water was threatening to start it off. This was a problem. On the one hand I didn't want to do anything that would leave me on the side of the road expelling a stream of fluorescent sports drinks and gels. But equally I knew that in those temperatures, not drinking would be a very bad idea indeed. I could just about manage to drink if I took longer walk breaks straight after doing it, so that's what I decided to do. At this point I knew that any hope of my original 4 hour dream was out of the window, and all I wanted to do was to get to the finish in one piece. Well, actually there were two things I wanted to do. The second was to run through the Brandenburg gate up to the finish line.

I started planning inside my head. By this stage my plan also had to take account of the fact that my pinned ankle was starting to twinge a bit. That's not something I want to flare up again, so I didn't want to aggravate that either. The basic plan was to walk a lot of the remaining distance, keeping going without throwing up (oh how I wanted to!), conserving a bit of energy for the final push. I took run breaks (as they now were) occasionally, just to remind me that I was a runner and not a walker, but I tried to store up a bit of momentum for the last km. I ticked the km markers off slowly. 36, 37, 38, 39, 40. At 40 I started to well up a bit because we turned back towards the finish and it was a pretty much straight run from there, moreover one that I'd walked a couple of times yesterday. I walk/ran from 40 to 41, and at just past 41 I decided to go for it. I could see the Brandenburg Gate and while I knew that the finish was further up, I knew it wasn't too much further.

I started to run. I ran past walker after walker after walker. I closed in on the gate and the photographers. I kept on running. I ran past the 42km marker, and I kept on running. I saw the finishing line getting closer and closer and closer, and I wasn't going to stop now. I ran across the finish line with my head held high.

I'd done it!!!

It wasn't a perfect run, I finished in 4:51:26, a fair bit slower than I'd been hoping for (and with the second half taking pretty much 3 hours of that). But I'd finished. I can now say that I've run a marathon. That's pretty unbelievable.

I got my medal, and some water, I went to the loo, I had a biscuit, and a Lucozade recovery drink from my bag. So far so good. I was walking around, taking my chip back for a refund, getting some people to take a photo of me with my medal. I took my trainers off and discovered, miracle of miracles, no blisters. Even better, only one bit of chaffing – and I'm really proud of it, because my sports bra rubbed my collar bone, which proves once and for all that they do stick out rather prominently!

I went to the medal engraving place and that's where it started to go wrong. Having handed my medal in to be engraved with my name and time, I was in the queue to pick it back up again when I started to feel very faint. I got out of the queue and sat down against the tent. I sat for a while, then felt better and got back in the queue. And then nearly fainted again.

Handy tips when running a marathon in a country where you don't speak the language. Instead of writing your name on your top, or on a plain piece of paper pinned to your top, buy a postcard with the Union Jack (or flag of choice) on it, write your name on it and pin it to your top. (It worked, I got people shouting at me in English on the way round). That way, when you're lying down by the side of the medal engraving point, people ask you whether you're OK in English. I suspected that I needed more water, and a lovely lovely German man gave me a bottle of it.

I finally got my medal back (I wasn't leaving without it! I most certainly did not want a doctor before I got my hands on that precious medal with my name on it). And, wisely turning down the free beer, I went to lie down under a tree, wrapped in a space blanket. Again, people were checking if I was OK, and I waved them away, although at this point I was deciding which option would be preferable – fainting in a toilet queue or releasing a stream of shit where I lay in an attempt to relieve the stomach pain. (Again, apologies for the graphic nature of this post). This is the part of the day where I most missed having a supporter with me. Not for cheering me on en route, or handing over drinks, but someone to lie me down somewhere cool after the race and go and fetch water and other supplies for me. Luckily the pain subsided before I embarassed myself fully.

After half an hour or so I felt well enough to walk back to the hotel, picking up a slightly salted bready thing on the way back (which I managed to eat half of before the pain returned). I made it back to the hotel, made use of the facilities, and lay down for a couple of hours rest (and typing this up, to be uploaded at later).

What this tells me is important. Firstly, while I might be able to run faster than I did today (and I'm sure that I can), if I'd tried to push myself any harder than I did, that fainting, queasy spell might have happened earlier and stopped me finishing the race. I felt grotty enough afterwards as it was, and I know that I did the right thing by slowing down and just aiming to finish.

And secondly, it means I now have a marathon PB to aim to beat next time I run one! That London application might just make it into the post on Tuesday or Wednesday, now I have a “previous best” time to put on the form.

I'm definitely feeling more alive now, so I think I'll have a shower, head out for a celebratory drink or two, and see where the evening takes me. I'm wary of drinking too much on the basis that I still don't feel much like eating anything and I suspect that rehydrating with alcohol isn't wholly recommended, but it would seem wrong to come to Germany, run a marathon, and not celebrate it in the traditional German way.

After all, I deserve it. I am a marathon runner!


Blogger Kykaree said...

*loud applause from somewhere north of Manchester*

I am so proud of you (so is my partner Colin who read this with me)

I am so sorry I couldn't be with you today (but I probably would have been fainting too without having done a marathon!!!)

You have come such a long way, and have been inspirational to so many people.

You are a fabulous marathon runner! Watch out London!

7:57 PM  
Blogger JustJunebug said...


no worries on the time girlie!! you did it and thats ALL that matters!!!

i had tears in my eyes when i read about you crossing the line and the moments leading up to it!!!

have that beer!! just have water after you're done. that will ward off the dehydrating effects of the alcohol!!

9:17 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Congratulations! You're a legend. And good on you for listening to your body.

As a previous commenter said - you really are an inspiration.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Shauna said...

onya YP! congratulations! bloody proud of ya :)

9:22 PM  
Blogger JessiferSeabs said...

Wooohoo! Congratulations!

11:00 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

YAY YP! You rock girl!!! im so proud of you! I was running with my group on Friday night telling them about you (while we ran 6km--lol). This is awesome! You must be SO proud of yourself!!!!! I am very proud of you!!!!! YYYYAAAAAAYYYYYY Congrats!!!! You rock!! Oddly, I didnt get emailed or text messaged when you finished!! lol Oh well! You are awesome!

11:40 PM  
Blogger kathrynoh said...

Congratulations - what an achievement! I don't blame you for wanting that medal engraved, after going through all that.

I hope you're feeling better now and enjoyed the rest of your time in Berlin.

11:40 PM  
Blogger LBTEPA said...

You're a legend and an inspiration :)

12:23 AM  
Blogger deege said...

Congratulations. What an accomplishment particularly after going through so much on the course. Enjoy it an celebrate a little!!

12:39 AM  
Blogger Fluffie Bunnie said...

AWESOME!!! Thanks so much for sharing the story, not TMI at all!

You are such a star!!

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HOORAYYYY You did it Gym Bunny! GOOD ON YOU! You are such an inspiration! *CLAPPING* I hope that when you run in the Amsterdam half marathon you don't have any tummy upsets or fainintg feelings like you did in Germany. I am so happy for you! Greetings from Holland, Amanda Jane :)

10:53 AM  
Blogger M@rla said...

Congratulations!! You are so awesome! What a wonderful description of the run, I really felt like I was right there with you, though not, fortunately, in as much pain. Your strategy worked out perfectly; you paid attention to your body and made the absolute best decisions all the way through. I'm already looking forward to your next marathon, which I know will be just as exciting and hopefully less problematic.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Mia Goddess said...

Well, then, as they say: if it were easy, everybody would do it. Your story really took my breath away!

ps...linked in from Mar!a, and glad I did. It makes me want to run. Near a toilet. :)

3:40 PM  
Blogger Debbi said...

May I add my congratulations to all the rest? I'm so impressed!

5:43 PM  
Blogger "Grandi" said...

Wow - congratulations! After reading your post and reflecting that I just started trying to run a bit (not quite 1/2 mile this morning - but I am quite a bit older!), I really congratulate you on your tenacity! A lesser person would have given up and just stayed in the loo! - or headed back for bed instead of finishing! You really really earned that medal!

5:45 PM  
Blogger K said...


You are just SO amazing.

9:35 PM  
Blogger skinnyminny8 said...

CONGRATS gym bunny.. what an inspiration :)

Is there anything you can't do??

8:14 PM  

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