Monday, 5 October 2015

..."Dann sind wir Helden"...

Ok, here's the biggie. Berlin Marathon and Glasgow Half Marathon in the space of a week. Let's do it.

I think Berlin Marathon was the best run of my life. 

No, it was definitely the best run of my life. The most consistent run I've ever done - I'm a bit baffled by it all, to be honest. And when the official photos landed in my inbox this week, I couldn't help feeling I wasn't trying hard enough.

Who smiles like an idiot at 41km!? Not David on the right there - poor guy, almost over. It's horrible when things go wrong at the end, but I do look disgustingly pleased with myself. 

41km - the final push! 
It certainly felt like I was trying hard. I wonder if this doubt about putting enough effort in comes along with surviving a marathon? If you're not crawling over the finish line then you didn't give it your all? You can't really remember the pain because you are instantly rewarded with euphoria? 

But it's the efforts in the weeks and months of training before this run that meant I wasn't collapsing into a screaming heap of weak limbs at the end. I trained really hard for this one, and fortunately it all came together on the day. I'm so happy and so grateful that it did because I'm all too aware that anything can happen.

I arrived in Berlin on the Thursday evening and was greeted with an epic home cooked vegan bake - carb loading was apparently well underway. When I ran LA Marathon, carbs were scarce in Abbot Kinney (where even the chairs are gluten free, it seems) but that is definitely not a problem in good old Deutschland. Every food comes wrapped in a small loaf or perched atop a generous pile of potatoes. It's every carb loader's dream. But it didn't stop me having a complete meltdown at the Oktoberfest market on Friday night.

I've spent months planning everything so meticulously, and I was so keen to arrive in Berlin and see my friends that I hadn't even thought about how the loss of control would affect me in the final days of preparation. The thought of street food suddenly terrified me and I didn't know what I wanted but I knew I didn't want anything that was around me. I'd barely eaten a meal out of my home in over a month - I'd become addicted to having complete control of my nutrition, timetable and exercise. Then suddenly it was all gone.  

I ventured into the dark territory of "this is going to be baaaaad", and from there it's a slippery slope. As soon as you even start thinking it's going to go badly, you rapidly become absolutely convinced it will inevitably be awful. Cue tears, panic, whimpering "Oh noooo" from behind interlaced fingers over the face...

It was proper head-in-hands stuff. Worsened by the fact I was out with lots of people I'd only met about an hour earlier - I didn't want to be that dickhead...and then that additional self-generated pressure just made me feel even more sad and lonely.

Thankfully I got home, had some rice cakes and almond butter, took myself off to bed and slept off the completely self-induced drama.

After the awesome expo at Templehof on Friday, Saturday was all about rest, nutrition and making sure everything was going to go right on Sunday. 

My love for Berlin is not I'll spare you the gushing introduction.

It's a funny feeling, being on a tram with a couple of hundred other runners before dawn...then you get on to the S Bahn and the runners gradually multiply, then you arrive at the station by the start area and you keep building and building again, until eventually there are just swarms of people all about to do the same thing as you. #Together42. It's like you go from training alone to being embraced by your family who all understand what you're feeling.

Hauptbahnhof at dawn - We are Marathoners
I eventually found where to check my bag (no mean feat of organisation) and headed to the start line with 40,000 other runners. Filtering out onto the street through Tiergarten was amazing and the sight towards the victory column definitely got the emotions flaring up. Runners as far as you could see. Very exciting. All my nerves were gone and I just couldn't wait to put all my hard months of training in to action.

Marathon Number Two - Berlin 2015
It was over 40mins after the gun went off that I finally managed to get across the start line, but from the moment we got moving the crowd support was kicking off! Kudos to the lady with the Saltire flag who I saw twice around the route and with whom I shared a wee cheer both times. Brilliant. But the noise just never stopped - from live brass bands and huge groups of drummers to locals with PA systems and "Jan's Drumming"(Estb 2008) teenager and his drum kit. 

The route was wonderful - no backtracking, lots of long stretches to get stuck into and plenty of beautiful things to see along the way. The landmarks were all there, and we passed some awesome wall art too - standard Berlin. 

Water stops along the route were well placed, the little flimsy cups were a bit tricky to deal with but I got into the swing of things by the second hydration station at 9km. The only thing that niggled me a bit was the lack of visible km markers along the route. I knew I was passing timing checkpoints every 5k, but up until about 32k I was struggling to know how far I'd run. I think that might have worked in my favour though, as I ran a solidly even pace the whole way through. 

And I mean solid...

Every single 5k bar one (34.04) was between 33 and 34mins, running a steady 6.40 to 6.50 per km pace throughout the first 40km. Then in the final 2km I picked up the pace to 6.30 per km and crossed the line with a positive split of 48seconds...meaning I ran the first Half Marathon only 48s faster than the second half. 


I use no timing or tracking tools. I don't even wear a watch so had no idea how long I'd been running for, nor how far I'd run. I just...kept running. Possibly the worst advert for GPS pace watches in the world. I don't think I'll ever be able to do that again. 

So, things I learnt from this experience...

Training is everything.

Listen to your body and respond to it - I didn't stop at every water station, I only drank to my thirst and sipped at the water instead of gulping down huge cupfuls at every opportunity. Do everything as you did it in training, even when friendly people are holding out armfulls of pretzels or oranges, resist temptation, stick to what you know. I took my energy gels at what felt like the right and regular intervals and never once hit a wall or felt deficient in anything. I didn't focus on a beeping watch, I focused on settling into my natural pace and running comfortably for as long as I could. I trained throughout those long lonely miles in Scotland to run at a steady pace, and on the day I just put my faith in the hands of my body to deliver what we'd prepared to do.

Crowd support is a fuel source to dip into as and when you need it. There wasn't a moment around that route when there wasn't some kind of entertainment. Lots of kids holding out their hands for high fives, lots of people with colourful signs saying things like "I'm proud of you, random stranger" and lots of musicians who seemed genuinely thankful for the mutual appreciation that was shared between them and runners doling out applause, waves and thumbs up of thanks. 

There's a lot of things that you can plan and foresee when you're running a marathon, but there are other things you can't really prepare yourself for. I learnt how to use crowd support during this marathon. Yes, it can get a bit boring when you run for 4hrs 43mins and you do sometimes get a feeling of "Oh God, I've still got 2hrs to go"- I have some methods that get me through long, lonely training runs but this race taught me more about how to retain my focus to pick off the miles and stay in control while still acknowledging all the wonderful people who came out to cheer us all on.

I love getting the high fives, dancing my way past the live music and getting my groove on with the crowds (all while moving forwards, of course), but then I'd get my visor on and move to the middle of the road, get my head down and focus on picking off a few more miles before "coming up for air", I guess. Then again taking my visor off, moving to the edge of the street and enjoying some more of that amazing interaction where you feel so encouraged and supported. Then visor on, head down, off we go again. 

I have a few daydreams I like to indulge in when the going gets tough - I think we all need a few of those guilty pleasures in the backup tank for when the fatigue starts to creep in. Anything you can focus on for long enough to push the pain out of your thoughts and avoid hitting a wall.

Thank goodness...there was no sign of a wall for me at any point. All the dedicated training paid off and it's really spurred me on for the future. To get faster and get some more of these big marathons under my belt. I've got faith that training pays off and this whole experience has made me very focused on a solid training plan for anything I want to achieve.

My littlest supporter was out on the route, my 11 month old best buddy, Theo. I got some cheeky smiles at Mile 7 and then a surprise wave again at Mile 23, just when I really needed it. I just remember hearing my name being yelled over and over and when I saw the faces of people I knew it just filled me with focus and energy. After seeing them at that 37km mark, I decided that was me until the finish. I took my last mouthful of water at the nearby hydration point, got my visor on, got into the middle of the road and focused on nothing but the finish line.

The final 2km was a right bitch though! Weaving through such a beautiful part of the city, but all I kept thinking was "after this corner I'll see the gate"- alas, I turned about five corners and was disappointed every time; "OH MY GOD WHERE IS THIS GODDAMN GATE!!??"

Eventually it was THE corner and I caught sight of that beautiful stone gate that signalled the finish line in 200m. The noise was overwhelming - thousands of people in grandstand seating and at least six deep at the edges of the route, screaming at us to go go go - I ran hard to fly over the finish line and was definitely feeling emotional with the happy tears at the end. It feels overwhelming because you keep imagining this moment when you're out training...and then it all happens so quickly.

Took the bling back to the Tor for a close up...
It's a weird feeling - but a beautiful one, and it's hard to describe it to people when they ask you why you enjoy running marathons...unless you've felt that blend of exhaustion and euphoria pouring through your body, I don't know if it can truly be understood. It's unlike anything else I've ever experienced; it's unique.

I got my gorgeous medal, my not so gorgeous bright yellow plastic blanket and an armful of water and Erdinger Alkoholfrei. That stuff is AMAZING and it was free in droves. Happy days. 

Reichstag finish zone pic - I dreamed of this as soon as I signed up to run...
The pain and stiffness was pretty much instant after I stopped running and it was only moments later that I felt a horrible tendon pain in my right foot. I first felt it go at 9km, just before getting to Bryony and Theo at the cheering point...but there was only a split second consideration that I might not be able to finish with whatever was happening to me. 

I kept thinking of my friend Caroline who has run an Ultra Marathon with a fracture and I just thought that no matter what, I was getting round this course. And I pushed it out of my mind, clearly, because it was pretty agonising when I had to walk out of the secure area and find my friends. I was worried it was perhaps the start of a stress fracture, which wasn't a pretty prospect and the pain was a brand new one.

After a bit of manipulation and some tip-toe action, the general consensus was that it's a tendon strain. Runner's World forums agree.

I met my crew for some more of that Erdinger stuff...seriously though...and that was when I first saw my splits and finish time. I was at a table with a sub 3hr runner and we were both a bit baffled by how I'd managed to wangle that pace without any GPS timing. I learned that maths on fatigue is really difficult too. Time maths is just IMPOSSIBLE.

Sunday night we enjoyed a feast at The Bird in Kreutzberg - best burger I've ever had, but the night was one of the worst. I wonder if I really slept at all - I've never been in so much pain from running - my hip flexors were totally shot, my knees felt like I'd landed on them from about 20ft, my lower back was void of skin thanks to my running belt, and the tendon in my very swollen foot was absolutely screaming. Basically every time I stirred in my sleep, I woke myself up with the pain. Anywhere that connected my lower limbs to my body was in a sorry state. 

Thankfully it didn't last long and by Tuesday I was raring to go again, aside from the tendon. It's better now...but I think after Sunday's Half Marathon in Glasgow, we could be resting up for a while to avoid any nasty long-term problems. 

Berlin has been a beauty as always. I love going there to wander about and explore, and of course to see the people I love who I only get to spend small amounts of time with. Nine days has been a treat - the crushing comedown is imminent. 

So yes - then I flew home and despite my friend's pretty clear communication that she thought running would be a BAD idea...I ran the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon in Glasgow yesterday. One week after running Berlin. 

Flying on endorphins was amazing. I was a bit concerned about my foot, but I couldn't sit it out and be left wondering if I could have managed it. I told myself if I needed to stop at any point, I would just stop...but I'd regret not trying. I'm so glad I made that call...I got round in 2hr 07mins, just 5mins off my Half Marathon PB and I finished nice and strong, running a negative split with no significant pain. If anything, my tendon feels looser for the run - I'm really pleased, and what an amazing atmosphere. I do love Scottish people for their support and Glasgow did themselves proud yesterday - it was beautiful.

The Beautiful People
The skin situation, however, is not great - distance running and seams do not bode well for certain parts of the upper body. Let's just say that. It looks like something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre...I'm taking a week off to heal up, have some nice red wine with my dinners and catch up on GBBO. Let's not pretend I'm not already researching 2016 marathons and I don't already have Berlin 16 registration date in my diary...

Next up is a potential torchlight trail 10k in the Pentlands on 4th Nov (purse-strings depending) and then I'm going to be cracking on with a serious schedule to get me a nice PB at Innsbruck Half Marathon next April, the day before my birthday. What's not to love!?

Running for Alzheimer's Society has been humbling and rewarding. The team there made me feel so special and it was good for me to be on the other side of fundraising support, because it highlighted some aspects of being a community fundraiser that I hadn't really understood before. Most of all though, I hope the funds we raised will go some way towards improving the lives of those affected by dementia. I think my Grandad would be pretty pleased - I know my Nan would be more worried than anything! 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a coincidence - I believe that everything happens for a reason; not that everything is mapped out, but that good and bad things happen and they are all signposts to point us in the right direction. Various things directed me to Berlin - and I'm so happy they did. 

My Nan's name was Mona...and when I got this photo from the 30.5km mark, I like to take a little bit of comfort in the coincidental fact that the lady running beside called Mona. 

Thank you again for your support, sponsorship and just being there to listen to me ramble on about running. I know that 70% of all conversations I enter into seem to descend into running chat within 10 minutes, but I never really anticipated this becoming such a big part of my identity. This is what I do now, I guess. 

Eat. Sleep. Run. Repeat.

Love you. xxx

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