Everything that could have gone right, went right.
On Saturday we went to the sports expo for packet pickup. You could feel the excitement, nerves, and optimism in the stadium. We got our bags with our bibs, freebies, and all the details for the day of the race. A nice surprise in the bag was a buff with an “M” logo design from the race. I didn’t pay the extra 35 euro for a finishers shirt, so I was excited to have a keepsake I could reuse. *Despite no included race shirt, the entry fee to the race was significantly less than marathons in America.
I snagged a 3:45 pace tattoo – these make it easy to stay on track through the whole marathon because it breaks down what your cumulative time should be for every 2 KM’s. I ended up looking at my arm tattoo once the entire race, but more on that later.
Patrick and I perused the vendors and found ourselves in the Copenhagen based Saysky apparel area. Patrick got a singlet, which he wore for the race the next day and I bought a long sleeve running shirt with reflective lettering. Justifying the purchase because winter is coming and training for the Houston Marathon is right around the corner! The salesman who helped us was running the marathon as well, and he was “going for a 3:00 finish, because it would just take more focus and time to be able to train for something faster.” Yes, focus and time is all it would take for me too…
For the rest of the day we tried to eat healthy, cutting out coffee and eating more fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates. Not to mention, I was drinking so much water. I don’t think I’ve ever been more hydrated in my life.
My race day outfit was ready to go. My bag was packed with everything I needed, reducing any decisions for the morning. I received some encouraging messages from friends and family – these would prove very helpful to think about during the race. Marathons are emotional!
For the past week I’ve been nursing a small cold, just a runny nose and the occasional sore throat. I was on the recovery, but when I woke up on Sunday morning, I felt 100%. It was 39 degrees and foggy when we left for the U-bahn, which would take us right to Olympiapark. We got on at Marienplatz, an area we would be running through hours later. I couldn’t fathom what I would feel like when I was back on this street again, but I was excited to find out.
When we got off the U-Bahn with the flood of neon runners, the sun had peaked out and made for the most beautiful morning. My spirits were high.
We dropped our bags at the Olympiastadion, I had a banana about 40 minutes before the start and took my last sips of water. I left my baby blanket aka my handheld water bottle in my bag this time, I was going to brave the course without it! The start line was easy to navigate and the corrals were not strictly enforced. The runners knew their abilities and placed themselves correctly despite the lack of supervision.
I said goodbye to Patrick as he moved a little ahead. I placed myself in between the 3:45 and the 4:00 hour pace groups. I felt this would be a good strategy, hoping the 4:00 would never catch me and planning to finish within site of the 3:45. The race started at 10:00AM, the day was chilly and sunny. I couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions both regarding the race and my own health. I’ve never gone into a race feeling this way. I crossed the start and clicked my Garmin into action. I am not ashamed to say I got a little emotional in the beginning. The journey to the start was a feat of it’s own.
The biggest mistake you can make in a race is to go out too fast and “bonk.” You need to leave energy in the tank, more energy than you think you’re going to need because ideally you want to run the second half faster than the first. I’ve only done this in one half marathon before and let me tell you how good it feels to pass people with 3 miles left as they are bonking. I’ve been on both sides, bonking is not fun. With this in mind, I tried to be conservative with my pace. Keeping it right around 8:50-9:00 minutes per mile as best I could for the first 5 miles. I was feeling amazing. My breathing was easy and I was confident. At one out and back segment I even saw Patrick! He was waving his arms up and down and told me to “take it easy, slow down!” He later said that he thought I was trying to catch the 3:45 group already.
I started to flirt with an 8:40 pace and occasionally I saw an 8:35 pace on my watch, which I then slowed down from. 8:35 was my goal pace, but I didn’t want to hit it until after the half way point. The English Garden section of the course was a little less exciting because you are surrounded by trees, small streams, and hardly any spectators, but I was still so amped with adrenaline I didn’t care! Each mile seemed to be flying by, next thing I knew I was at the 10 mile mark. Then I was almost to the halfway point.
I just finished reading Run the World by Becky Wade, a professional long distance runner and graduate from Rice University, who won her debut marathon in 2013. At the end of the book, which tells her story of touring the running capitals of the world and learning about different training styles, she breaks down her first marathon. One thing that stuck with me was her strategy for the first miles of the race. Becky found a group running a comfortable pace and ‘fell asleep.’ I feel like I did this for the first half of the marathon and then I woke up and was in some deep trouble.
Around mile 15 I did something I never wanted to do. I walked. And it felt really good. As soon as I did though, a runner next to me encouraged me to keep going. In german of course! I smiled at the stranger and started moving again. His kindness powered me through to the next water station, where I decided I would let myself walk with the water instead of running through splashing it everywhere. All in all, I hadn’t slowed that much.
However, for the rest of the race it became a struggle between water stops, pushing myself to keep going. I stopped looking at my watch, I stopped predicting my end time. I realized that while I had wanted to run a 3:45 marathon, that was no longer possible. And if I couldn’t get my dream time, then I was going to enjoy each mile as best I could. It’s the journey that matters the most. I was running through the most scenic areas of Munich, Germany and I felt healthy, but the muscles in my legs were not letting me go any faster. Somewhere around this point I also had the gaping realization that I still had 10 miles to go. 10 more miles. And I was tired. You want to complain and say “no one told me it would be this hard,” but you can’t because everyone has told me it would be this hard! If a marathon were easy, than everyone would run one.
With my change in attitude, no longer sorry for myself for being off my goal pace, I started to take in the community more. I was still going to finish this marathon and I was too happy to let something like a number get in the way of my sense of accomplishment. And then the 4:00 hour pace group passed me. I couldn’t believe it! Or maybe I could, my pace couldn’t match theirs. I tried to turn it around, just stay with them I thought, but I couldn’t hold on. For comparison, my Garmin was now showing anything between 9:30 and 10:30 for pace. When I got to Marienplatz, I looked for me and Patrick’s friends who had told us they would be out cheering. They were the only reason I ran through this area because I was determined they would see me running, not walking. One mile later I found them and gave them a big wave. Spectators and their cheers make all the difference.
The water stands started having pieces of banana in addition to the “Wasser” and “Iso” (water and an electrolyte drink resembling gatorade). I decided to snag one and it tasted like the best banana I’ve ever had. While I was at it, I dunked a cup of cold water on my salty face and drank some iso. I would grab all bananas from here on out I decided! With 5 miles left I stopped at a bathroom – I didn’t really need to, but I took it as an excuse for yet more walking. Insert face palm. I gave myself a pep talk and came out running. This part of the race got very foggy. It was scenic and there were heavy crowds, but each mile felt like an eternity. Why couldn’t they fly by like they did in the beginning? This is the part of the race that I imagine non-running spectators do not understand the love of running. They are seeing my expressionless, exhausted face and thinking “boy am I glad I’m not that girl!”
With about 4 miles left, we were re-tracing a part of the course I remembered from the start. I was almost there! Realizing I was going to make it, I had the biggest smile on my face. I was tired, I had bonked pretty bad, I didn’t have that much energy left, but I knew I had enough to finish. With about 3 miles to go now, I spotted a spectator with a table. On the table was something resembling pieces of chocolate and the woman was pouring a yellow drink into small paper cups. I V-lined over! I was enjoying every mile, right? I owed it to myself to see what she was setting out… Warm apple cider and some kind of chocolate pastry (this has now been confirmed to be chocolate covered gingerbread). I took a piece and walked with the cider. This was the highlight of the entire race. The sugary drink and small piece of chocolate warmed my soul. I don’t even care if that sounds cheesy, I was so incredibly upbeat. I finished it and took off. On retrospect, in my delirium I didn’t say anything at all to the woman. I wish she knew what a difference she made!
I picked up my pace. With one mile to go, I saw one of Patrick’s co-workers on the corner where you turn into the park. He yelled my name and again I was ecstatic to see another spectator cheer. The route turns into the Olympiastadion where you run almost a full lap around the track to the finish line. The post race party was going on in the middle, so I could see all of the runners who had finished before me. I sprinted through to the end, where was that energy 10 miles ago? Instinctively I stopped my Garmin. I had no idea what my finish time would be because I stopped calculating and monitoring around mile 15. When I saved the run on my watch three pop-ups showed:
“Fastest Half Marathon”
“New Longest Distance”
These were good reminders that I am still so new to long distance racing. Despite all circumstances going my way, I finished in under 4 hours and 8 minutes. NO WHERE near what I trained for or what I went out expecting. You would not have guessed that if you had seen me parading around the stadium afterwards. In fact, you probably would have guessed that I just broke the world record.
A man dressed in lederhosen gave me my medal and I went to find Patrick at our pre-determined meet up spot. I was so happy I felt like I could’ve been flying. I was also so full from all of the snacks on the course (4 gels, multiple pieces of banana, and that chocolate dessert), but that didn’t stop me from gulping down some chocolate milk and indulging in the breakfast baked goods. We slowly climbed the stairs to retrieve our bags and head home.
We made a pit stop at McDonalds to hold us over until dinner (it was around 3:30 by now). Salty fries for some salty faces!
I owed a lot of my positive attitude and mile by mile enjoyment strategy to a youtube video I watched last week featuring a lecture by Alan Watts. Too often we get caught up in an endless cycle of working towards the next big thing. Watts emphasized to live in the present, treating life like a dance or a musical composition. The point of the dance is the dance. I said this a lot to myself during the race along with other various slurs like ‘run for the pizza!’
I experienced the pure painful beauty of running a marathon. And now I can’t wait to experience it again. Thank you, Munich!