Marathon morning rolled round and for once I didn’t have to be up at stupid o’clock. Skippy and Nina’s place was quite close by, and what with the German public transport (which I hear is quite efficient), it meant that we could leave it until quite close to start time before heading over there. Although maybe we overdid it a bit. We got up, got dressed, I made lovely paleo pancakes for breakfast, our respective wives took a lot of photos and Skippy said goodbye about eight times.

Paleo Pancakes

Paleo Pancakes

 

Almost ready to go

Almost ready to go

We got over to the Hamburg Messe where we were due to start and I was a little shocked by the size of the crowd there. I’m not sure why as 20,000 people were due to run the marathon but I’d been so caught up in our own little world I didn’t really think about what a crowd that size would mean. What it meant was very slow and difficult to move around, queues everywhere and not a bit of space anywhere. I left Skippy queuing for his seventh toilet trip of the day and headed for my starting area with less than ten minutes to go until the race was due to start. I made my way into G-Block, standing right at the front of our group, and instantly noticed a difference between Hamburg and Dublin (or Irish races in general). The pre-race music of choice was horrible Euro pop/techno, not a bit of Rocky soundtrack, The Final Countdown or Born to Run anywhere in sight. The Lidl version Swedish House Mafia seemed to be going down well with the crowd though, particularly the small bespectacled gent in front of me who was fist pumping with gusto.

 

Shortly after that it was “Funf, vier, drei, zwei, eins, GEHEN!!!” and we were off. I’d been slightly regretting my choice of vest and short shorts as it was bloody freezing but as soon as I was moving I was grand. Unlike my Garmin, which I noticed wasn’t giving me any reading for pace. Not to worry though, no panic, I had overall time displayed and a wristband with the 5k splits printed on it for the (optimistic) finishing time of 3:29:59, so with the markers every kilometre along the way I was able to calculate and track my pace.

 

The first five kilometres were extremely crowded, so I wasn’t overly worried about being fifteen seconds behind schedule at that point. I was conscious of not trying to speed up too much and any time I put a bit of a spurt on to pass a few people I kept repeating the mantra “don’t burn matches”. That said I went through 10k in 49:10, which put me 36 seconds ahead of schedule. The other thing occupying my mind during this time was my bloody gels. I’d brought four with me and had remembered to bring a race belt with me to put them in, only problem being they kept sliding out of the belt. After fluting around with that for a while I just pulled them out of the belt and carried them in my hand, which meant some lucky kid standing at the side of the road looking for a high five got a particularly sweaty one as a surprise (after that I always wiped my hand before making contact).

 

So 10k in I was feeling reasonably good, ahead of schedule now, my heart rate was right around where I wanted it to be or even a bit lower, but I didn’t feel I was running particularly freely. My pace was fine, effort level was fine but I just didn’t have that feeling of ease that you can get when everything is going really well, like I had on my last 20 miler before the marathon. Brid and Nina had said they’d be along the route to see me just after a tunnel somewhere around the 15k mark, and sure enough there was a tunnel ahead of me just after that. I came through the tunnel and almost immediately spotted the two ladies, despite them being the two smallest spectators out on course.They managed to get a photo where I thought at the time I was exuding comfort and calm, but it turns out that in fact I just looked very smug.

 

Only smug on the outside

Only smug on the outside

 

That expression on my face was soon to change though when I had my first gel at 17.5km. Not only had carrying the gels in my hands given my very sweaty palms, but it had also heated the gels to such an extent that my first taste of my Torq Apple Crumble was akin to a McDonalds Hot Apple Pie straight from the industrial microwave. A jet of scaldy, molten goop shot down my throat and I was extremely happy that I had slowed to walk through the aid station and get my water and gel into me before I started running again.

 

From there up to the 25km mark was probably my best stretch of the marathon pace-wise, but again I never felt hugely comfortable. I realise that running a marathon, especially at pace, doesn’t always feel comfortable or easy, but my legs just felt heavy and unusually, my quads felt particularly stiff and leaden. I’ve had calf niggles, tight hamstrings, sore feet and all sorts while on training runs but this was the first time I’d felt my quads like this. Still, I was through the halfway point in 1:43:58, which was still a minute ahead of schedule.

 

I knew from halfway to 25k though that I was slowing. My margin over my target pace was coming down all the time, and at 25k I was now only 24 seconds ahead. I had another gel at 25k, sponged down my quads and hamstrings and managed to pick up the pace again for a while but by 30k I was 20 seconds down. This was where the real fun was going to start. I was now running from station to station, each of which were 2.5km apart. It’s an ‘easy’ way of running the latter parts of any race, you don’t think about running the 10, 15, 20km left, or the 42km total, you just run to the next station. Break it down, bit by bit. At 30k I had my 3rd gel, then it was just about getting to the aid station at 32.5km. When I got there I got some more water on board, sponged down my quads and hamstrings and looked for the 33km marker, then 34 and only then I thought about getting to 35km, where I’d be having my last gel.

 

Since I passed the 32km marker I’d been counting down, rather than up, ie only 10 to go, only 9 to go etc. Which made things a lot more manageable in my head. Previously in marathons I’d struggled a lot from 20 miles onwards, but here I found it a lot easier mentally to break down like this. That’s not to say I didn’t have any wobbles, and I didn’t just want the whole thing to be over, but I never plumbed the depths of despair like I did in Belfast, or just resigned myself to the misery like in Clonakilty. At 35km I had my last gel and despite the fact that my legs were scarcely cooperating at this stage the kilometres just kept ticking away – less than five miles to go, seven km to go, less than six to go – and before I knew it I was at the 40km mark.

 

Between 30km and 40km I had slipped from two minutes behind schedule to ten minutes behind, which put a real dampener on things for a while. I’d had a number of different goals for the marathon and I was in danger of missing out on all of them. They were:

1 – sub 3:30. This was the very optimistic, everything goes incredibly well and I have ‘one of those days’ goal.

2 – Sub 3:35:15. This would mean I’d beat my previous PB (Dublin 2012) by 26 minutes, ie a minute a mile. I was pretty confident I could hit this if everything went well.

3 – 3:3X:XX Surely I could run a 3:3something. All my training and racing was indicating I could and now even that was looking unlikely.

 

I was quite down about this at this stage, and my marathon in real danger of just fizzling out. I’ve struggled with this loads in the past, things not going according to plan, getting down about it and losing my way a bit. One of the things I remembered though from Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox was about goal setting, being realistic, flexible and happy with our effort. I was happy enough with the effort I was putting in, or rather was when I snapped out of my little funk, so did a few little calculations. If I got my arse in gear and got my legs moving again there was a chance I’d come in under 3:41:15, which would mean more than twenty minutes better than my previous PB, and a twenty minute PB is good going in anyone’s book. That was exactly what I needed to stage a little bit of a fightback, so I upped my pace from death march to constipated shuffle, started gurning for all I was worth and clawed my way towards the red carpet finish.

 

The 95 metres from the 42km marker to the start of the red carpet seemed to go on forever, but that last 100m was fantastic. There were cheerleaders, grandstands, big crowds, all of which I only have a hazy recollection of as I managed to make it across the line in 3:41:05, thankfully hitting my new revised goal, before staggering and shuffling Romero zombie style to collect my medal and belongings.

 

Tired oder happy

Tired oder happy

It was the best part of an hour before I felt any way human again, but by that point I’d met the ladies and we went to get a spot close to the finish so we could not only cheer Skippy over the line, but hand him his Irish flag to drape across his shoulders. Sure enough, bang on schedule and looking remarkably fresh for a guy just completing his first marathon, along he came, popping over to us to have a bit of a chat.

Shocking cold out, isn't it?

Shocking cold out, isn’t it?

We shoved the flag into his hands and screamed at him to get moving, cognisant of the fact that he was cutting it pretty fine if he wanted to join the UFC (Under Five Club). We could see the finish line from there but did hear the commentator mention something about under five hours, Irish guy, Guinness and whiskey, so were pretty certain he’d made it. Which he had of course. 4:59:03 and managed to set a new World Record for number of piss stops in the course of a marathon with a whopping fourteen. What a man.

Yeah, it was worth it.

Yeah, it was worth it.

 

I know, I know but they didn’t play it at all so someone has to.

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