Four marathons in four weeks, each one run in under four hours! I almost can’t believe that I did it, but at the Hamburg Marathon I rounded off my month of marathons to finish with my quickest time. It wasn’t the perfect race, because I got tired towards the end and felt mentally drained by the many gentle inclines we ran up. But it was good enough, especially after all the weeks that came before it, and I’m happy!
I flew out the day before with enough time to pick up my bib at the expo a few hours before it closed, and then fuel up with pasta. The expo was at the same place as the marathon start the next morning, a 20-minute walk from my AirBnB. Come race-day though, I chose to make use of the free public transport for runners, which is always a great help (especially afterwards!). However, I managed to arrive a few minutes before the half-marathoners set off, and had to cut through them to get to the marathon bag-drop area, so that was a little awkward… Everything else about the marathon was very well organised, and with half-an-hour until the start I lined up in pen F.
This was not a super chatty day for me. I tried to have a conversation with a Danish guy in front of me who had just taken off his shoes to run the race barefoot, but he wasn’t keen on conversation. I was wearing a space-blanket to keep warm, but it wasn’t very necessary. It was ~13degs while we were waiting to start, which the announcer kept calling ‘perfect marathon conditions!’, but I don’t think he realised that temperatures rise during the day. More likely he was comparing the weather to last year, when the race started with hail – this was certainly better than that!
My plan for the marathon was a straight-forward progression, increasing speed every 10km. I wanted to start at ~4:00 pace (56min for the 10km), and then speed up by 12sec/km every 10km, so that I was finishing the subsequent sections in 54min, 52min and finally 50min, before opening the flood-gates and sprinting home. Theoretically that should see me finish in sub-3:45, but also leave enough time to ensure a sub-4 finish.
The first 200m were incredibly congested and the pace was slow, so it took a little while to settle into pace but once I found it, I felt very comfortable. Having run the first two marathons aiming for 3:59, I know what 5:35-5:40/km feels like pretty well now! There was a long slow incline within the first 5km which wasn’t so comfortable, but I figured that maybe they were giving us the worst of the hills early on. I’d been told this was a ‘flat and fast’ course, so any elevation increase just seemed rude.
I crossed the 10km timing mat in 55:59 and damn I was so proud of myself! In those first 10km I had felt myself wanting to push a little though, and so stepping it up a notch wasn’t a problem. However, between 10-20km I couldn’t quite hit my groove. I seemed to want to run either at 5:15/km pace or 5:35/km pace, rather than the 5:25 I was aiming for. It just didn’t feel like I was settling into the pace at all, and probably spent too much time fixated on my watch. We did run through a tunnel in this section, where just after the 15km mark I saw a guy already down at the side of the road in a space-blanket- I hope he was alright. We also ran past the Binnen-Alster, and I tried to get some photos of the fountain, but succeeded more in capturing randoms at the side of the road.
OK – 20km done, with the second split of 53:53, pretty close to the 54min goal! My legs automatically fell into their new speed, which finally felt comfortable and like where I had been wanting to run all along. It was a little faster than planned, but I wanted to enjoy the movement and being able to overtake people around me. I didn’t count on all the hills in this 10km section though – they just seemed to come one after the other and it was taking more energy than I wanted to use to maintain pace up them. It’s not that they were steep hills, but rather an annoyingly gentle incline that just went on and on and on, and didn’t have a downhill at the other end. Argh!
By 25km I hit my halfway split but I knew that I wouldn’t be holding it on for much longer. I’d been running the whole way up until this point, but come 27.5km I was going to take a walk-break – because there was going to be beer! The event was sponsored by Krombacher, who were giving out 0,0% (alcohol-free) beer in true German style. I wasn’t going to say no to that, so when I got there I slowed to a walk, drank my half-cup and then kept on going. I think I was still running almost at 5:15/km (goal) pace, but had accepted by now I wouldn’t be speeding up again. My third 10km split was 52:35, not far off the plan, but it was now going to be run-walk to the end.
I probably could have pushed myself through to a quicker finish time, but it wasn’t important enough. I took stock of the situation and rationally realised that yes, I was tired after all those weeks of marathoning, plus I wasn’t making the most of the race atmosphere. It had been a beautiful course with lots of greenery, but I hadn’t done much waving at supporters or high-fiving children. (Interestingly enough, barely anyone was handing out sweets or jelly babies at this race, maybe that’s just not a German thing to do?). Rather than speed up, I was going to just keep going as best I could, but walk through the water, smile a bit more, and drink some Red Bull at the brand’s 36.2km pep-up spot.
In reality I didn’t spend that much more time on the supporters (sorry!) because I had to try and get myself from kilometre to kilometre. It was a bit of a brain struggle, and I kept thinking ‘keep running until the 33km mark’, but then there was an aid-station just after 32km so fine, I walked there. Then I wanted to get to the Red Bull folks but there was an aid station at 35km where my stomach grumbled (despite gels) so I stopped for some flat Coke, and then again only 1.2km later, and oh look there’s another aid station where I can pour some water over my head at 37.5km. There was quite a bit of walking going on…
After the last aid station I decided that I should give that final sprint idea a go after all, and so set off at a quicker pace. What I didn’t expect though was that the race would throw one last hill at us after the 41km mark. Sneaky sneaky! Inevitably though I made it to the top, and then it was only one more corner to turn onto the red carpet which was laid out for the finishers. At the 42km sign I found a last sprint in my legs and raced to the finish with my fingers held up in a big ‘4’ above my head. I’d come in with 3:49:16 for my fastest marathon of the four weeks, and most importantly – IT WAS DONE! No more marathons for a few weeks, hallelulia!!
I was wrecked afterwards, and had to gorge myself on the post-race feast (grapes were the winner of the day) and then go lie down on the floor for a while with another Krombacher 0,0 in hand. My legs cramped up like crazy and I was hobbling around thanks to an ache in my hip/outer glute, but I guess that’s to be expected. Overall, it was a well organised race and although I could have done with a few less inclines and also a few less degrees, I enjoyed myself. My experience with German events has been great so far.
To finish this post I have to give a shout-out to the real heroes of the weekend: Mitch (son) and Eddie (father) McDonough(vic). These two guys from the Central Coast in Australia got in contact with me a few months back, because they were getting ready to run their first marathon in Hamburg. They were my pasta-buddies the night before (along with their friend Dan), and my party-crew after the race. After 20-weeks of training together, the two of them supported each other throughout the whole marathon, and finished arm in arm. Eddie could not stop grinning afterwards, and said he had just had the best time, and I know that Mitch loved it too. I find them so inspirational because of their dedication to the distance and to each other, plus they were also just really lovely blokes! They made my weekend so enjoyable, and I feel like I have met friends for life. So please, give a cheers to these true legends 🍻