26.2 on the streets of Frankfurt

Watching the wind whip the German flag outside the hotel round and round its own pole, and the street sign across the road move back and forth whilst we ate breakfast, it was clear that it was going to be a blustery day.  There was a storm approaching and we were about to run a marathon.  Perfect.

Arriving in Frankfurt on the Friday the weather was quite mild and pleasant, pretty damn good running conditions if it had stayed that way.  The hotel was ideally located less than a 10 minute walk from the Expo and the start line so it didn’t take long to collect our race numbers and goody bags of German magazines, dry pasta and a car air freshener (not the best goody bag…)

The rest of the day was spent taking a stroll through the fairly seedy red light district (apparently one of the largest in the world) and around the City past the Old Opera House and having a coffee in the main square, Romerberg.  It’s fair to say Frankfurt is fairly dull and uninspiring, which was probably a good thing as I didn’t really want to be caught up in being a tourist when I should have been saving energy.  However, the company of my Chaser buddies more than made up for it.

On the Saturday we took part in the 5k Pretzel Breakfast Run.  I’ve never run the day before a marathon before so I was a bit apprehensive but I was ready to try a new tactic and remind myself that I knew how to run.  It was actually enjoyable, despite the very heavy rain before it started which almost made me change my mind – in hindsight I was actually more worried about ‘jogging’ to the start with the boys than the 5k itself (their idea of jogging is my idea of a tempo run…) but they kept it easy!

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I spent the rest of Saturday pretty much with my feet up until it was time for dinner.  We’d found a great little Italian that served massive bowls of pasta the night before but they wouldn’t take us.  Who knew finding an Italian to cater for 12 on a Saturday night before a marathon in Germany would be a challenge?!  We convinced another restaurant we would be quick and they let us in – the highlight was James ordering pasta…and a pizza on the side just in case the pasta wasn’t big enough…

I slept pretty well despite the slight stress of the clocks changing, even a full on thunder storm failed to disturb me, and I didn’t wake until 4.30 which is pretty good for the night before a big race.  I had my porridge, worried futilely about the wind and rain and then it was time to go.

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As the hotel was so close we didn’t need to leave until an hour before the race started, all we had to do was drop off our bags and line up which was a refreshing change from usual pre-marathon travel panic.

Ruth & I ready to go!

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The start area wasn’t as well organised as I expected, it was pretty much a free for all.  It didn’t make much difference to me as I didn’t want to risk going off too fast (lesson learnt!) but the faster runners struggled to get near the front.

We were let off in waves to help congestion but as I crossed the start line the worst thing that could possibly happen at that moment happened.  Despite checking and double checking, my Garmin had gone onto standby.  Panic!!!  I had now started running and my watch was trying to locate satellites in an area of tall buildings whilst I was moving.  Luckily it didn’t take too long, I guessed I lost about 30 seconds before pressing start but I was more worried about my mile splits at that point anyway.

Despite being a fast and flat course, the same course in fact that Kipsang very nearly took the world record on 2 years earlier, fierce winds were going to be a problem. Then there was the rain, rain was forecast from 1.30 and with a late 10.30 start time I would be heading into the tough later miles at this point.  I don’t mind rain but I didn’t really fancy an additional challenge at mile 20!

The first 10k or so winded round the City centre, with crowds of supporters on the street, before heading out along the river Main and back along some kind of duel carriageway(?!) then heading through the City centre again.  Somewhere in that first 10K it started raining, luckily it didn’t last long but the stormy winds were to follow.

There’s a lack of water in the early stages – this made me quite thirsty later on so I had to really slow down at the water stations to be able to drink enough from the paper cups.  I know bottles can be a hazard but at least you can carry them with you and drink more than a couple of sips.  There was also some kind of fizzy drink and cola available, apparently it was flat, but it really wasn’t what I wanted at that point!

I paced well, I went off faster than goal pace but I held it quite steady until 22 miles so I don’t think it was an error.  I saw Ruth at around 26k which really lifted my spirits but we parted ways a few kilometers later.  After 22 miles the wind and fatigue got me, I was too tired to fight the gusts that were pushing me the wrong way.  By this point I knew I was going to miss my 3.45 goal and none of my mental tactics were working to keep me going.  I was sure it was going to end badly.

The finish was pretty spectacular – it ends inside the Festhalle on a red carpet with flashing lights and loud music, it’s a party zone.  It was a shame it didn’t last longer as it was over in a few seconds.  They funnel you out of the hall to collect your medal and there’s tables with various food and drink.  They still weren’t supplying bottles of water though, just poxy cups, why didn’t they understand I was thirsty???

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I crossed the finish line in 3.47.29…it wasn’t what I wanted…but it was a PB by 2 minutes.  It’s difficult not to be pleased with a PB, or the fact that I paced pretty well up until the last 4 miles but I still have mixed emotions.

Will I ever actually improve my time?  Whilst it was only 3 minutes quicker than London 6 months ago It was a massive improvement on strategy – it was a 4.5 minute positive split, much better than the 12.5 in London – at least I had improved something.

The post race area wasn’t easy to navigate.  You had to collect your bag from one floor of the Festhalle, and then return your chip somewhere else so you didn’t get charged €25, and try to get through all the supporters who kept walking into me…OK maybe I was walking into them…

I had just crossed the finish line, everything hurt like hell, I was disorientated, I didn’t know where to go, I was thirsty and I was about to cry.  Luckily I bumped into fellow Chaser Adam and was hugely grateful he helped me out so I didn’t need to cry in the end!

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I guess you learn something new in every marathon – this time I learnt that I was capable of pacing well, I just had to man up in the last 4 miles.  But I also learnt that maybe I’ll never be as fast as I want to be – my last 3 marathons have been just a couple of minutes apart, maybe that’s as good as it gets.

Anyway, it was time to park that thought and eat…

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…and drink!

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So, that’s marathon number 4.  I have a new PB so I guess that’s a successful marathon number 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want to smash it, and I’m not the type to just give up, I’m just not convinced I’m good enough.

What next?  Probably a Spring marathon, maybe Rome, maybe Hamburg, maybe Vienna…

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