The Frankfurt Marathon was to be my second and last marathon for 2016.
Once again, I found myself getting up at a ridiculous time on a Friday morning to go for a long run in a different country.
Paris was not pretty for a number of reasons but this time, I had a secret weapon. Running trip organiser extraordinaire Simon Finch was the brains behind five members of the Jersey-based Endurance Project heading off to Germany and making it there in one piece.
I had no idea what hotel we were staying in or how to get there but Finchy had it all locked down. Transport between airports, dinner reservations and even a shady rendezvous near Heathrow to pick up a passport for Timothy (who had chosen to wait until the week before the marathon to get his visa) were no match for his levels of preparedness.
With the logistics taken care of, I was free to actually enjoy travelling. Like it’s supposed to be!
Our hotel was located close to Frankfurt central station and 15 minutes away from the marathon expo. The Corner Hotel wasn’t the most salubrious of spots (backing on to the red light district) but perfect for what we needed.
After dumping our bags, we headed to the expo. It was only open for another hour so it was the quietest I’ve ever seen an expo. We wandered between stalls touting marathon tourism, dubious looking massage equipment and rows upon rows of sportswear, trainers and accessories. I always find it funny that one of the most repeated pieces of advice to runners is don’t try anything new on race day and yet there is a pop-up shopping mall trying to get you to do exactly that.
We picked up our numbers, some free Italian food and then some alkoholfrei weizen beer which was actually pretty good before heading home and out for dinner.
I’m fairly sure you can spot the marathon runners a mile away in any restaurant but this by the time we had ordered our fourth bowl of bread rolls (between six of us) and added copious amounts of balsamic and olive oil, it was clear that the staff at Trattoria I Siciliani knew we were “special”. Add to that Finchy trying to order a meat and onion pizza without tomato sauce or onions and it’s a wonder we weren’t chucked out on principal.
The next morning, we got up early to take part in the Pretzel run. There were a couple of reasons: a) it is good to have a shakeout run the day before a marathon and I hadn’t run since the previous week in Milan; b) there was going to be free food at the end; and c) there was a golden turd shaped medal to be won!!
It was warmer than expected as we took off at a leisurely pace and there were actually race leaders who were keeping it slow on purpose. This is my kind of run! We went on a 5k mini tour of Frankfurt before heading back to the finish and the sweet, free pretzels. By sweet, I mean it was cool that they were free. They were actually incredibly salty so it was lucky that there was some alkoholfrei weizen beer to wash it down (spotting a theme??).
We popped back to the hotel to meet Tim’s mate Luke who was flying in from London while the others headed into the expo again. There are definitely bargains to be had but it is such a ballache to go around that I usually just get in and out as quick as possible (not before picking up some Compressport gear I’d been looking for). In order to quench my thirst I also had an alkoholfrei…well you can guess. By this point I’d had about four and though I wasn’t even tipsy, I was feeling a bit ill.
We headed out for a real lunch and happened on a buffet of salad and pasta for €12 at a restaurant on the walk back so tucked into yet more food (carb loading really is the best part of marathon running).
After that, Tim, Luke and I headed into town while Simon and James chilled in the hotel. After my bottle of wine the night before Paris, I was keen not to make the same mistake again but when we go to the Mein Café on the banks of the…Mein, it seemed rude not to have a weizen beer, this time with actual alcohol in it. Relaxing in a park looking at the skyscrapers of Frankfurt, it seemed a shame that we would actually be running a marathon tomorrow. It would’ve been nice to just enjoy the city like a normal tourist.
We had another cheeky pint on the way through the old town before heading back to the hotel and getting ready for dinner. Pizzeria 7 Bello was listed highly on TripAdvisor but they had forgotten our reservation and couldn’t be arsed to accommodate us so we went down the road. The fact that there was a queue outside meant that they probably couldn’t care less but it was annoying.
Luckily, there was another excellent restaurant just up the road. Panino did such an awesome Saffron Linguine that I’ve been scouring internet forums to find a similar recipe. Add in some apple strudel and I was done. Time for bed.
The Frankfurt Marathon starts at 10am so there was no early wake up call. Our room had all bought their own breakfast (porridge and banana for me, banana and coffee for Luke and added pastry for Tim) so didn’t even leave the room until we were ready to go.
Bagdrop was simple but we instantly lost everyone in the group and I was on my own to contemplate the coming miles. Before that, I had a quest to find a toilet which almost made me miss the start. Note to FFM organisers, more toilets please. Or let me use the VIP toilet I was chased out of by the cleaner.
I’d heard that the beginning of the race was quite cramped and twisty so tried to keep out of the way of the main channel of people. The first five kilometres passed quickly as the constant turns meant I had no idea where I was on the course or what direction I was pointing. It was only when we crossed the bridge over the river that I had any real idea of where I was.
By this point, I was feeling good and moving quickly. I was ahead of the little man on my watch so all was well with the world. If anything, I was struggling to slow down, such was my mood. I was definitely aware that I shouldn’t be going out this fast but I was also conscious that at some point my illness and drinking exploits from the previous week would come back to haunt me so might as run quickly while I can.
The course was uninspiring but the crowds were fantastic and I was bounding along high fiving kids and getting into the weird and wonderful music on the course (heavy metal flautist!). I was getting quicker, so quick that in fact my 16th mile was 7.11 which is quicker than my average parkrun (check out Strava). By this point I was wondering whether or not I could hit 3.30.
I went for a drink of water and darted out again. Checking my watch, I seemed to be going a bit slower than I had done previously. Just got out of the rhythm I guess but nothing major, I’ll just pick up the pace again. No matter what I did, it seemed like I couldn’t get quicker. I was still going quicker than my goal pace but it felt like somebody had turned off the energy to my legs. On average I was about a minute a mile slower than I had been through the first half and couldn’t work out why.
The wheels really began to fall off as we hit the long straight Mainzer Landstrasse. I could see the tall building of the city but the road was so long and straight that it felt like I wasn’t actually moving forward. I went for the coke that had got me firing at Stockholm but it didn’t seem to have the same effect. I had been placing all my faith in that sickly sweet liquid but it had let me down.
At 35 kilometres, I could see the finish line. I could see people turning into the finishing straight but instead of the welcome finishing sprint, the course turned away. That was it for me psychologically.
I was within my goal pace of four hours barring any catastrophic event but I wanted to quit so badly. We passed our hotel and started on the labyrinth of turns and twists that we’d been through over three hours ago. Only this time I was knackered, I was struggling for energy and with the shadows cast by the skyscrapers, I was actually beginning to shiver.
Around every turn, I was looking for a drinks station but they didn’t seem to be there. I knew I’d seen them before but now my body needed some help and they had deserted me. Whether or not I was actually falling apart, I’m not sure. All I know is that an actual voice in my head was calling out for sugar and I was shivering. I had begun to walk and I was swaying a little. I had less than a parkrun to go but I’d had enough. At that moment, I turned the corner (literally and metaphorically). There was a drinks station and there was also a sliver of sunlight.
I had a water, squash and two cups of coke before trudging off. I was still 2k from finishing but my watch said I’d already completed 26.2 mile. Just finish Sam. In my head an argument was raging between “just walk it in” and “keep going and it will be over quicker” but by this point I could see the final turns. I knew it would all be over soon.
The finish was as cool as I’d hoped. A final turn before you head into a festival hall (a little like the Royal Albert Hall) filled with crowds of supporters, cheerleaders, disco lights and pumping, pumping techno music. I removed my sunglasses to take in the reality of it all and slowed even further to soak it up. I looked up to the bleachers which were full of people cheering and at the hordes surrounding the red carpet I was now running on. As I approached the line, I turned around to do a “look at the name on my back” celebration but almost took out a couple of people around me so did an awkward backward skip across the line. 3.57.52.
The area after the finish is a bit crowded and some evil bastard has put in some stairs before you can even get your medal. I managed to put on the warmth poncho on back to front and take a piece of apple from a girl who look more than a little worried about me. After that, I wandered along the line of stalls taking in as much fluids as possible including ALKOHOLFREI BEER! If you hadn’t already spotted, I am massive convert.
It’s fair to say that nobody was really feeling the big night out after the marathon, even though it was Tim’s birthday, and even less so after some French dude decided now was the appropriate moment to get naked and start dancing around the bar in an attempt to woo the barmaid. We made a swift exit and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The next day, we hobbled into town for some food before heading back to the airport and home. Apart from a comedy shuffle through Heathrow when we realised we might not make our connection, everything went smoothly on the return leg.
So I’ve now completed four marathons, none of which had good training behind them and none of which I’ve enjoyed on the day but I learn with each one and hopefully get better. It definitely helps for someone else to organise logistics (thanks once again Mr Finch) but more than that, never, EVER, underestimate the distance.
My next one is going to be Southampton in April, hopefully I’ll have worked it out by then!!
Oh and I made my first video about my experience, check it out!!