Notes After a Marathon


The moment I gave up was when the red balloon with 4:15 scrawled in Sharpy bonked me in the face.


It began as a thought as subtle as a hairline crack on bone china, but when the pacemaker, with the indolent balloon tied to his waist and a pack of athletic young Fußballers at his heels, passed me, I envisioned the 4:30 pacemaker passing me too.

Needless to say, I did not make my goal of running a 4 to 4:15 marathon.

There were some things under my own control that I did wrong, and other things beyond my control which ground my positive vibes to a pile of dust. Truly, mental toughness is the most difficult part of marathon running. 

My only solace is that I did not come in last for my age group, and that I did not require post-race medical attention beyond a glass of red wine.

What I learned the hard way:

Always bring a lightweight, breathable rain jacket, instead of digging your winter coat out of the car and wearing it because you didn’t fancy wearing a garbage bag over your head.

I am the co-queen of packing light (you can read about the one-bag rule in my book ‘The Gypsy Mama’s Guide to REAL Travel with Kids‘). However when it comes to a race, I say always bring every speck of running gear you own, because you don’t know if it will actually be 75 degrees and sunny, or 48 degrees and pouring rain.

Along those same lines, never think that you ‘might not need’ an item such as an inhaler or knee straps. I did not need these items during this year’s training (though exercise induced asthma and patellofemoral pain syndrome plagued me in the past), however, I had wheezing problems while standing in the pouring rain (which I did manage to forget about) and my right knee periodically lost its ability to bear weight after km 30, which would send me into a flail worthy of a third-grade drama queen. Eat your heart out, Tonya Harding! Dramatic arts are my forte.

Don’t start off too fast. In my last post, I mentioned starting in first gear, and I’m not sure what happened to that noble thought. Maybe I was so cold that I thought sprinting was a good way to warm up. Whatever the reason, I hit the ground running, keeping ahead of the 3:45 pacemaker for several miles before the gradual slowdown. If I’d been running a half marathon, I’d be happy, since I hit the halfway mark at 2:02.

Put your iPhone in a plastic baggy. I couldn’t listen to music to lift my dampened spirits or even to my metronome (to keep pace) because my phone was simply too wet. While my fingers were warm this year (thanks to my Nike running mitten/gloves), the iPhone kept calling my friends and would randomly attempt to email cryptic messages. When the sun, in a burst of intense irony, showed itself, and I got some music going, I couldn’t get it to do anything other than shuffle, which isn’t that great when you get Classical Relax instead of Hip-Hop.

Repackage the goodies you send ahead to the aid stations. People will rip open your bag and steal your Coconut Water (yes, even in civilized Deutschland apparently), but they won’t guzzle down a ‘mystery’ substance. Out of the three coconut waters I sent ahead, I received one of them. Next time, I’ll just leave a clear bottle with my name on it. Fortunately the culprit DID leave my chia, which actually IS a mystery substance.

Don’t be intimidated by other runners. While standing in the pouring rain–and I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘pouring’–and shivering uncontrollably despite your winter jacket and mittens, if a German makes fun of your American accent when you try to speak his language, don’t let it ruin your morale.

What really irritates me is not that he made fun of my accent, (of which I am already painfully aware) but he thought I was stupid enough to not realize he was insulting me. When he realized I actually understood a lot more than he’d anticipated, and when I confronted him on it, he simply turned away and cheerfully struck up conversation with his son. Here’s the sad thing, this guy was probably fifty years old, and the legacy he will leave to his son is one of pettiness and rudeness.

*Note: I’ve lived in Germany for over six years, and this is the first time this has happened. There are PLENTY of friendly, generous Germans who are gracious to me when I rip apart and restitch their language like an old quilt. And I am also aware that jerks have infiltrated every country on earth. If you know of a jerk-free country, please let me know.

On the intimidation aspect…don’t worry about the other runners. You MUST run your own race at the pace you’ve planned on. If you start off slow and go faster through the miles, then don’t worry about the people zipping along with the 4:00 pacemaker. It is very easy to look up at a 6’4″ twenty year-old and think “What am I, a 39 year-old housewife, doing in THIS pack?”

What I learned the more pleasant way:

I bought compression socks on a whim and tried them out for the race. These are made by Adidas and I can’t tell you much about them since the tag is in a waste basket in Tirol. However, these probably helped to keep me going–through mud, puddles, cow paddies, wet grass up to my ankles…you name it. In fact, I didn’t notice my feet at all during the race, except they got occasionally cold when splashing through a puddle. The funny thing is that my feet never felt cold during the race (maybe I was hypothermic?). These socks are the perfect balance of compression (enough to keep the blood flowing) and circulation (without being tourniquet tight). They worked beautifully with my Newton Distance U’s.

I wore my old shoes. My Newtons are so comfortable and broken-in, they ended up being a great choice. While the mesh allowed the water to flow into the shoe easily, the shoes themselves didn’t seem to absorb water like the Mizunos I used to wear. And now that I’ve been doing forefront running for over a year, the Newtons are certainly the brand I’ll stick with. Too bad they stink so much now. But a marathon through farm country can be tough on a pair of running shoes.

Carrot and stick, light at the end of the tunnel (or is it just the train?) whatever phrase you prefer, always keep the end in mind.

After 42.2 kilometers, a marathon is over, and you will be crossing the finish line, hand-in-hand with your offspring, while a buxom woman in a dirndl puts a medal around your neck and cheerful bystanders offer you beer, brats & brezen. Okay, so maybe this only happens in Germany, but you get the picture.

There is no way I could quit with my husband and kids (and a good meal at a gluten-free restaurant) waiting for me at the end. Despite my winter coat, which now weighed ten pounds, the cruel sunshine at km 40, and despite my misbehaving kneecap, I kept moving forward and enjoyed a gluten-free schnitzel (my first in 3 years) and a lifted a glass of rot wein (or cola) with the people I love the most.

My husband and children don’t care if I finish at 4:40 and come in 11th out of 17 in my age group. They are proud when I simply cross the finish line, no matter what the digital red numbers flash above my head.

As William put it, “I’m glad you run marathons. It makes you an active sort of person. Otherwise you would just sit around and blog.”

Ah, the wisdom of youth.

This blog post is done.

My knees feel fine.

And I am ready to fill up my calendar with miles.


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