This is the one thing that you find in most bucket lists, probably either right behind or right before ‘swimming with dolphins’. It was certainly on mine though I did absolutely nothing to try and achieve this aim since I had the sneaking suspicion that it was the same as willingly choosing to run with the bulls in Spain – a completely mental thing to do. While this is happening – or not happening as the case actually is, I also entered a competition run by adidas where the winner would be able to run the Berlin Marathon on it’s 40th birthday. Of course I didn’t think i would win, I just liked entering competitions. Well, as these things always work out, I did win and it turned out that in four weeks’ time I would be running the Berlin Marathon.
Once I went more avid fear and terror to constant hysteria I moved into excitement. Because I was going to be running the marathon. In Berlin. A city in Europe. Sure, I wouldn’t be breaking any world records or even the 4 hour mark but I had four weeks to be able to run it. I had been running for about three months when this happened, however the longest distance I had ever run was only ever 6 and a bit miles. This was going to be those 6 plus another 20.
So I started training. Lunchtimes at work were full of running and weekends were full of long runs which took me miles and miles away usually up the most painful hills known to man. Flies drowned on my face sweat, my apatite increased hugely and I was both hugely excited and exhausted almost all of the time. No matter what the length, I always wanted more sleep, I always wanted to run more and I always wanted to eat more. For me running is the closest I will ever come to meditation and true relaxation – ironic but true. I don’t run with headphones so all I have is urban silence (cars, birds, people) and the thump, thump of my feet and heart to keep me company. It’s glorious and wonderful, and at times, excruciating since my thoughts are the only things keeping me entertained.
September 2013 rolled around. I got on a plane and I landed in Berlin the day before the Marathon. I remember almost everything about that day. Collecting my race bib, being part of a flash mob and having the most delicious basil pesto pasta in the history of the world (I was starving when this happened). And then I was asleep and then I was awake and it was the day of the 40th Berlin Marathon. Berlin in September is cold. I remember the cold as I waited in my sleeveless top, three quarter length leggings. I was dressed for endurance and sweat and heat and I wasn’t experiencing any of those things as I stood there, even if I was covered in Vaseline. And I mean covered – petroleum jelly is a runner’s dream. I remember the starter’s gun going off to Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean score.
And then I remember running and running and running. The Berlin Marathon has kilometre marks all along the journey and there is nothing like the despair I felt when I saw the 5km marker. I was never, ever going to be able to do it. I was going to be one of those people who died. I would be in the paper, so that was something but I would also be dead. Dead at 6km in a puddle of sweat and urine. Then we passed a grassy roundabout where, to my amazement I saw a bunch of runners squatting. These people had pulled down their shorts and were defecating on a roundabout in Berlin. That was when I decided that not only was I going to do this but I was going to do this without shitting on a small patch of grass in Germany’s capital. Angela Merkel lived here for fuck’s sake. What would she think of such a thing? It would give me so much joy to say that after that I flew and everything was perfect but that didn’t happen.
Just before the half way point I was absolutely sure I had lot all control of my bladder and wet myself. (Angela Merkel would be so disappointed in me) Absolutely positive. There was a wet patch quickly spreading southwards from my nether regions and everyone knew it wasn’t sweat. In all my research and osmosis like listening to actual Marathon runners (I was still convinced that I wasn’t one of these people) no one had even mentioned feeling this and people are very candid about bodily functions and running. Is this supposed to happen? Or has my bladder just died? I had to stop to go into one of the port-a-potties (first and last time) only to find…nothing. No wet patch, no dried urine down my legs, nothing. It was all in my head. And it was the strangest feeling ever. Even knowing I was dry didn’t stop me thinking for a few more kilometres that I was actually peeing while running.
I also had no idea how to structure my eating and drinking throughout the race. Do I replenish every time we pass nourishment or do I hold off? Since I had no idea what I was doing I replenished every time I saw replenishment on offer. I don’t think this was the best idea and may have contributed to the feeling of peeing in my pants, though when I did go to pee it was obvious I was dehydrated. The thing I most worried about was getting a stitch so I was careful with the food and water but I did have some; it was on offer and it’s very hard to say no when you are pushing your body and all it wants is some water and a slice of apple.
At about the 30 kilometre mark we passed the glucose, or what I like to call SuperFood stand. Coming in fruity flavours the sachets, which you have to rip with your teeth and squeeze into your mouth, were awkward to use. It would be nice if they came with a lid since running, tearing and trying to get the SuperFood in my mouth was about two tasks too much. It took me a good part of a kilometre to open one and the rest to get it into my mouth. Eventually they hit their target. And that’s when I actually did start to fly. Everyone told me to take these but no one told me how brilliant they are. I hadn’t realised I was flagging until suddenly I was charging down Berlin’s financial district overtaking people left, right and centre (in reality this was probably one person). I don’t think my body has ever reacted so quickly or so brilliantly to anything before.
When I first picked up a sachet was about the same time two someones read my name on my bib and cheered me on. Best feeling ever. Another gentlemen yelled at me that I was only 13 kilometres from a beer. It’s Berlin – they have beer at the finish line. Non-alcoholic but still beer. And still perfect.
When I reached kilometre 42 I was exhausted and didn’t really understand how close I was. I had entered a sort of automatic state when my legs were doing their job, my arms were working and my brain had switched off. I knew my toe was hurting and I knew one heel was too, but the pain was far, far away.
It was only when I saw the Brandenburg Tor and I understood what I had almost done. My friend was waiting right there for me and as she snapped some pictures I started to sprint. And then I had finished. I had run the Berlin Marathon.
As I was in Berlin running a marathon, I kept my phone with me just in case. Just in case is the only reason my parents ever bought me a phone in the first place and something my phone has never been used for. I looked at the screen. I was walking. A medal was put around my neck. I had a beer in my hands. Non-alcoholic, but still. I called Sister and promptly burst into tears.
‘Are you ok? Are you hurt?’ she asked me all the way from London.
‘No,’ I sobbed. ‘I’m crying because I am so fucking happy.’
This post is dedicated to adidas and the amazing people who let me do this. You can never know how grateful I am for having been given this chance. You all supported me and cheered me all the way. Thank you!
First image from twitter.com/adidas and the rest are mine