Back in 2012 just after the most uplifting and momentous three weeks of sport in London, I had a sort of momentous event of my own. I had an entry to the Berlin marathon.
Iconic, fast, flat and with entry easily secured in the days before ballots. Berlin was a wonderful weekend in a wonderful city. I could have happily moved out there. The marathon itself was everything you would expect from a world major. Seamless organisation, iconic route, weighty medal and wonderful marshals. It also turned out to be one of the most dramatic marathons I’ve ever done.
The race advertises a 6 hour 15 minute cut off. At the time, I was semi-trained, but a busy summer had put pay to a ‘perfect’ build up. In any respect, 6.15 was comfortably do-able and I arrived at the start with a plan and a happy countenance.
Berlin is a fast course, which invariably attracts fast runners. It was telling when the start pens were allocated in 15 minute sections between 2 hours 30 and 3 hours 30. Everyone running 4 hours plus were collated into the last pen. Which inevitably meant a starting position at the back of the race. I had also assumed the cut off related to chip time (ie the clock started when you crossed the start line). Wrong again, it was gun time and would occur at a specific time of day. 3.15pm to be precise.
The happy countenance slipped slightly.
It took almost half an hour to cross the start line. Rather than 6 hours 15 minutes, I now had 5 hours 45 minutes to complete the route. A much more challenging proposal. I tried not to panic, sticking to the plan to run for 2 minutes, then walk for 1 minute – my traditional ‘blag it’ marathon approach. It worked beautifully for the half and I hit half way around 2 hours, 50 minutes. Still feeling good and very, very aware I had no ‘slippage’ room I kept going. It started to get uncomfortable around 16 miles, painful by 18 and around 22 miles in I was hanging and just wanted the whole thing to stop.
I wondered what happened at the cut off. Would they adopt the Comrades Marathon approach and turn their backs while firing a gun to indicate the finish (unlikely). Or, would they be more Ironman, stop the clock and remove medals and finishers t-shirts from the finish (more likely). Would there be a chance to sneak in or would marshals stand across the line and resolutely prevent people from crossing the line. This was Germany, and Germans are renown for efficiency and discipline. I imagined there would be almost no chance to sneak past.
So, I had no choice but to carry on and bury myself. Weeping gently as I made my way through the city centre. I watched folks who had already finished displaying their medal, chatting, laughing and drinking beer.
Bastards, the lot of them.
Finally, gloriously, I turned the final left hand corner and stared up the wide avenue to the Brandenburg gate. It was a depressingly long run way.
It was going to be close.
I noticed marshals lining the approach with tape in their hands. They looked menacing and I feared the worst. I was now close enough to see the clock, I had less than 30 seconds to cross the line. I used every last ounce of strength I had and picked up the pace, crossing the line in 6 hours 14 minutes and 57 secs (chip time 5.48.37).
I had made it.
Approximately four weeks later I stood at the foot of Beachy Head for the start of the marathon. I stared up at the sharp climb from Bede’s Prep School, the race HQ. I had done this race before and knew what was coming and yet, the happy countenance was back. There were no impending cut offs in this event. At least none that would threaten a happy demeanour. The weather was good, visibility was clear and I had all bloody day to finish the race.
That race was one of the easiest races I’ve ever participated in. I embraced every hill, took in the amazing views and loved every single step.
Last Sunday G and I lined up again for what would hopefully be my seventh Beachy Head marathon finish. After nailing six finishes quite comfortably, the seventh has been a challenge. For the last three years, illness, injury and plain old lack of bravado has meant we’ve transferred our marathon entries to the 10k. So, in truth, even starting at the start line donning a marathon number was a win.
We had no goal other than to enjoy ourselves and run for as long as we could. We were delighted to get to tea and buns at Mile 17 before getting the bus home. Although I was disappointed not to get to the end, this race is not the most important battle right now. Next year when we return for their 40th anniversary, we’ll get the job done.
My Beachy Head marathon 2012 experience always comes to mind when I line up at the start line of any race. A positive affirmation that even the hardest race can feel easy, depending on perspective and goal. That whole experience marries up quite nicely with the views of Matt Fitzgerald in his book, ‘How bad do you want it – mastering the psychology of mind over muscle’. In which he argues, that ease of perceived exertion is very strongly linked to success. Especially when athletes perform at a level higher than thought possible for their physiology.
We’re now a quarter of the way into the training. Most traditional Ironman training plans start around 30 weeks out. After a great 10 week training base, things are starting to feel easier and with that, we’re winning the war if not each individual battle. With 30 weeks to go, the real hard work starts now.