Yesterday was finally the day. After 16 weeks of rather poor training, I was going to run my second marathon. Bring it on, Munich.
I’d been incredibly nervous on Saturday, overcome by doubt in my abilities and anxiety over my numerous missed training runs. I fell into a rut of discomfort with my body and negative thinking of how I was going to be the “only fat person” at the race, the only one who didn’t look athletic. I felt so much guilt over eating that day, yet all I wanted to do was stuff my face because I was so stressed. I managed to shake the negative self-talk eventually and calm down enough to get at least some sleep.
On Sunday I was up at 7 AM, 3 hours before the gun would go off. I’d laid out my race outfit and packed my bag the night before, so all that was left for me to do was have breakfast, get dressed and do a quick double check that I had everything.
I was extremely grateful for living so close to the marathon start/finish. It took me – literally – 5 minutes to bike over to the Olympiapark that morning. When I got there, it was still a little chilly, so I took shelter inside one of the Olympic Halls. I used the bathroom, went to drop off my bag and then used the bathroom again. Nerves, what can you say!
The Munich Marathon counted a little over 21,000 entrants in 2014 – including 7.760 marathoners, 7,000 half-marathoners, 4,000 10kers and 2,368 marathon relay runners. Not quite like NYC proportions, which I ran with over 50,000 other marathoners. Yet, Munich had beat its previous record and by the time I made it to the start, I was excited to be part of this.
The first few KMs
I found my spot in block C, the last block of the marathon starting field. Blocks A and B were obviously for people that are faster than me, including the runners competing in the German Marathon championship. The marathon had pace teams, ranging from finishing times between 3 – 5 hours, but I decided to do my own thing and not try to stick to any pace groups.
There was a beautiful energy in the air as we were waiting for the gun to go off. Everybody was excited and ready to start this journey.
We started just outside of the Olympiapark and took Elisabethstraße through Schwabing. Schwabing is a very popular and pretty district of Munich with plenty of scenic Jugendstil buildings. Elisabethstraße, in particular, is a street that I bike a lot whenever I ride my bike to my CrossFit box. It was a fun feeling actually running it for once. I started off with a way too fast pace (6:45 min/km) and constantly had to remind myself not to get carried away. As I was being passed by people left and right, I had a tough time not to pick up the pace.
After Elisabthstraße, we turned right onto Leopoldstraße – a boulevard that goes around the Siegestor/Victory Gate, heading toward Odeonsplatz. However, before we made it to Odeonsplatz, we turned around and ran back north to make our way toward the Englischer Garten (English Garden). The first 5k had passed and with a time of 33:44 (6:45 pace), I was a lot faster than I had anticipated. We ran through Schwabing some more, the nice part of Schwabing too, the areas right next to the Englischer Garten, Munich’s largest and most prestigious park. The nice part of Schwabing where the people with money live. I had to shake my head when we ran past a man who had half-parked his black Ferrari on the sidewalk, trying to exit his garage. Now, he was trying to exit onto a street that was currently closed because there was a marathon going on. Something he had been made aware of – weeks ago. A house later, I overhead an elderly couple mumbling grumpily, “He’s doing that on purpose.” I agreed. Show-off.
Around KM 8, we finally turned into the Englischer Garten with a handful of kilometers through the park ahead of us.
Englischer Garten and the dreaded Montgelas
The next few KMs were lonely. Whereas throughout Schwabing, there were always a handful of people on the street to cheer us on, large sections of the route throughout the park were empty. Despite the beautiful, taking-a-stroll-through-the-park-friendly kind of fall weather. The park went by in a blur and all I can remember was that every time I passed another KM marker, I kept thinking, “what, another one?” or “already at KM 8, 9,… 15?”. The first 15k actually went by fast and when I reached the 10k at 1:06:18, my overall pace had dropped to 6:37.
We excited the Englischer Garten after 15 kms and were about to head to my most dreaded stretch: Montgelasstraße. I frequently bike Montgelasstraße and hate it every. single. time. It’s not overly long or overly steep, but it’s a slow, steady, seemingly-never-ending climb. All neighborhoods rechts der Isar (right of the River Isar) are at higher elevation than the neighborhoods in the west, where we started. It’s inevitable to go up a hill. And while it’s only about 200ms of elevation, I was dreading it so much. However, once I was at the foot of the street, I focused on deep breathing and steady and movement. Once I made the one KM to the top, without being winded, I might’ve exclaimed in my head, “wait, that was it?” Turns out it wasn’t that bad after all.
Halftime and a missed friend
At KM 19 I was supposed to meet one of my CrossFit coaches who wanted to run a handful of kms with me. When she asked me when I’d be there, I estimated 1 PM, based on the paces I’d run during my training runs. She laughed and said she would be there by 12:30 PM. I called her crazy, but didn’t argue.
I passed KM 19, our meeting point, at 12:26 PM.
Ooops? I came to realize again that I’d started off way faster than I had planned and thought I’d be capable of. The 5 hour pacers never passed me and I realized that as long as I wouldn’t break and slow significantly, I had good chances of staying under the 5 hour goal I had set for myself.
KMs 19 – 22 were dreadful. It was a long, steadily ahead stretch of road, most of it in the blazing sun. The temperature had risen by midday and the lack of shadow wasn’t making this any easier. The only good thing was that there were plenty of water and refreshment stations throughout. I passed the half-marathon mark after 2 hours 20 minutes and 34 seconds (6:39 pace). For a split second, I even imagined what would happen if I managed to run the second half faster than the first and whether I had a fair shot at 4:35, maybe.
The pain. Oh, the pain
However, then KM 24 happened and the pain started setting in. It wasn’t anything as excruciating as I’d felt during my training runs, but it was strong enough to bother me quite a bit. The day after, I can’t even remember what started hurting first and what hurt all throughout, but I do remember that amongst other things, my right calf tightened up, my back and left shoulder were sore, my left (problem) foot’s tendons said hello and eventually also my glutes and hammies let me know they had enough. It didn’t help that the route taking us through KMs 24 – 27 wasn’t pretty and 28 – 29 saw a steep downhill.
At KM 29, at least the surroundings started being nice again, as we ran through the Gärnternplatz neighborhood. KM 30 took us past the scenic Viktualienmarkt, before we headed toward the Sendlinger Tor, along Sendlinger Straße with Asamkirche (Asam Church) to our left. By the time I made it past 30 kms, I had slowed even more. But with a time of 3:20:42 and a resulting pace of 6:41 min/km, I was still under the 5k split.
When we crossed Marienplatz (St. Mary’s Square) and I got a glimpse of the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) and the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady) in the beautiful sunshine, I choked up big time and for a moment, I forgot that I’d already almost run 32km and that everything in my body seemed to hurt.
The last 10k
From Marienplatz we headed back to Odeonsplatz to tackle the final 10k. At this point I wasn’t just physically, but also mentally tired. I kept repeating to myself that I was almost done. Already three quarters done. Just 10 more kilometers and then it was going to be over.
These last 10k seemed like the 10 longest kilometers of my life. While the route wasn’t all that bad, I was struggling so much mentally that I totally failed to enjoy it. We ran past the beautiful buildings of the TU München (Technical University Munich), past gorgeous Königsplatz and its surrounding museums, the Pinakotheken (Alte & Neue), but all I could think o was the countdown in my head.
Only 10 more. Only 9 more. Only 8 more. Only 7 more. The last 7 seemed like an unachievable task. I’d started slowing significantly after KM 30 and needed to extend my walk breaks at the refueling/water stations. The previous kms, I’d just walked enough to not choke on my water or energy chews. But after KM 30, I kept walking for a few more meters, fighting with myself to pick up running again. (Apart from the water stations, I took only one unscheduled walking break, some time around KM 39.5. I was surprised I got this far with just running.) I reached KM 32 after 3:33:50 (still 6:41 pace), but once I made it to KM 40.2, I had slowed to a 6:45 pace, back to my original pace.
I think the last 7 kms were the hardest for me. Everything hurt. I was mentally exhausted. I knew how close I was. Yet, I was still too far away to just suck it up and pick up the pace for this to finally end. 7 – 3 were the worst. Shortly after KM 36, we turned back onto Ludwigstraße, ran past the Siegestor again and made our turn left back onto Elisabethstraße where we had started some hours ago. Somewhere along Elisabethstraße, a girl cheered on me, calling my name (they were printed on the bibs). She was wearing the race shirt from the NYC marathon 2013. The same I have. I had to smile. Overall, the crowd was great on the last few kms. I would have been miserable if I’d been faced with the solitude of the Englischer Garten kms.
Finally. 3 more. 2 more. Heading back onto Ackermannbogen, entering the Olympiapark. Time to pick up the pace a little bit. Give it all. I had no sprint left in me, like in New York, but I managed to increase the pace and run the last 2 kms at a 6:30 pace. Passing the gate that announces one more kilometer to go. 1!!! Out of 42.195. Almost there. Turning right into the stadium through the tunnel.
I nearly lost it at this point. We ran through a gate. Dark, just some light effects, the stadium right ahead of it. You can already hear the cheers. You know the finish line is right there. (And the beer, and water, and brezn and your goddamn medal.) As I ran through the dark corridor they played Auf Uns by Andreas Bourani, a German artist who landed a big hit during the summer when Germany won the FIFA World Cup. Every radio and TV station played his song whenever our national team won. He played his song when the Weltmeister celebrated with the fans in Berlin. Now I felt like I was just about to win something.
The last couple of hundred meters passed in a blur. All I remember is suddenly having made it. I could stop. Finally. I even failed to check my time right away. But then, it didn’t really matter in that very moment.
Despite slowing in the second half again, I still managed to finish in 4:44:37 (6:45 pace), only 11 minutes slower than New York 2013. I’m pretty excited about this time, given how training went and how many runs I missed or modified. I stayed 15 minutes under my 5 hour goal.
I’ll definitely run another marathon because I want to see what I can do with the combination of CrossFit and proper marathon training, if just CrossFit gives me this result. I know that 4:45 is not considered a fast marathon. Fast marathoners run under 4 hours, but I don’t want to be the person who has to run 6 day a week for a 3:30 finish. I’ll probably never finish this fast and that’s OK for me. CrossFit is simply too much fun for me to cut it out of my training regime.
After the race, I schlepped myself home and blissfully did not move for the rest of the day, unless it involved going to the fridge for more wine or to answer the door to get my Indian take-out. ;o)
Some more impressions: