Friday, 1 November 2013

The "F-word".....

 ........and I mean "fantastic" "Frankfurt".......and nothing ruder!

The trip did not really get off to an auspicious start, as Lufthansa broke my suitcase on the outbound flight (though to be fair to them, they were great, and gave me a new case when we returned to the airport to fly home). We arrived fairly late, and the only place that still seemed to be serving food was a kebab restaurant at the edge of the red light district - not exactly a textbook pre-race meal but it was both tasty and filling. The next drama occurred whilst walking down the street back to the hotel. Crowds of football fans were spilling out of the pubs and underground station, as the Frankfurt evening game had just finished. Unfortunately I happened to pass between 2 lads (walking the opposite way) just as they started to throw playful punches at each thing I know is that I have watering eyes and a very sore nose!

I hoped that this meant I had finished with all the dramas on the first night, and that the rest of the trip would go to plan.
After the Pretzel Run!
Registration, visiting the expo and wandering around as a tourist was all done on Friday, so on Saturday morning Doug and I just headed up to the start to meet up with some friends from Carlisle and take part in the "pretzel run". This was a gentle sociable chatty run of 3-4miles to get rid of the kinks from flying, and earned me my first finisher's medal of the weekend (along with a pretzel and apple juice). 

The actual race started fairly late on the Sunday morning, which meant that I needed a second breakfast, but at least the hope was that it would give the overnight rain a chance to clear and the wind to drop. The rain had cleared (but was due back at lunchtime), but unfortunately it was still windy, with very strong gusts. Trying to think positively as we walked to the start, I knew that the conditions would be the same for everyone, and as Scottish Athletics had suggested the race to those of us aiming for the Glasgow 2014 standard, then we would still be able to compare our times on the day. I have found myself running alone in my last few races, so I hoped that the large mixed field (15,000 runners) would mean I would have others to near me for company and shelter.

Smiling….but I hadn't started yet!
I saw Hayley Haining heading off into the Elite start enclosure as I lined up with fellow Scots Ross Houston, John Newsom and Neil Renault (their target was <2:19) and we wished each other luck. I hadn't spotted Gemma Rankin but as we were both trying to run <2:40 (she is faster over the shorter distance, and had run faster marathons than me in 2012 and the first half of 2013, though I had a few seconds' edge when it came to marathon PBs) there was a good chance we'd be running near each other.

The start saw the usual melee of people sprinting off excessively fast, and it was all I could do to stay on my feet and run at my own pace. Some people can be unlucky (such as Ross on this occasion) and take a tumble, but although I was elbowed and had my heels clipped, I was able to find my own space and run (noticing after about a km that I was quite close behind Gemma). I wasn't running to my watch, but just seeing how I felt for the first few km, and it felt really comfortable. I know that Gemma usually runs a fast first half, and so I was surprised to overtake her after only a couple of kilometres. This might not have been so wise, as then I was out in front heading into the wind as it swirled round the tall buildings.

Looking at the clock as I crossed the 5k timing mat, I realised that I had been going slightly faster than planned, but I had wanted to catch up with the group of men running about 20m ahead of me so that I could have some shelter from the wind. However, as the gap never seemed to close, I realised that I would be better off settling in to my own race rather than using up too much energy too soon, and so I aimed to run the next 5k slightly slower. I admit it was still a bit faster than it should have been as I was under 37 minutes at the 10k mat, but we had some good support along the city streets, which unconsciously makes you run faster (and probably helps your running form too!).
I said he was tall....

We crossed over the river and started to head away from the city centre. This was mainly run into a headwind and so my pace dropped slightly as I was back to running mainly alone, though I tried to link in with a couple of guys running a similar speed. One of them (let me call him German 1) was so tall and thin that he was no good as a matter whether I was in front, behind or to the side of him, there seemed to be no shelter. German 2 must have been a local guy, as people kept appearing on bikes or at the side of the road to hand him gels and drinks. Fair play to him, this was a good move, as seeing Doug at the side of the road at 15k and grabbing a gel from him certainly helped push me on!

Unfortunately, however, the heavens opened at about the 17k mark! The rain did have a few benefits as the guys in front slowed down slightly so that I suddenly found myself running in a bit of a group for a km or two, and it seemed so much easier. I was then back on my own heading towards the halfway timing mat - impressively enough, there were still people scattered along the road cheering us on, even if they could hardly be seen underneath their big umbrellas. I was surprised to be a minute quicker at the halfway point than I had been at Barcelona, and was still feeling pretty comfortable.

Not long after that we wound round up an access ramp and onto one of the bridges over the river. The weather did cause a few problems here, as I couldn't take my preferred line (the inside of the bend as we circled up) due to a "river" running down it in the opposite direction. I realise that might sound odd as my shoes were already soaked through, but it's natural to try to avoid huge streams and puddles. There was a small loop on the far side of the river, but though I scanned runners coming the other way ahead of me, I couldn't see anyone I recognised.

Going through the 30k split, I knew I'd slowed a bit, but I was still well under 2:40 pace. Trying to picture a route map in my head, I thought we had a relatively straight run of about 5k along a motorway back towards town. The wind seemed to be helping us a bit here and I felt strong, so picked off several other runners on this stretch. German 1 had appeared back in front of me, seemingly moving at a similar pace to me, though I was about 10m behind him. Although trying to adopt a kind of tunnel vision about my race, it was nice to be able to focus on his back up ahead and then just switch off and run (whilst puddle-dodging the worst areas, as the rain had now stopped).

We returned to the city centre at about the 36k mark and I spotted Doug, who encouraged me to keep working saying that I was "on target", and then he headed off to the finish. About this point I passed a lady who had a number on her back (the rest of us all had numbers on our fronts), which confused me slightly. She was the first lady I'd overtaken since Gemma way back in the early part of the race, and suddenly I realised the significance of the number on her back. She had her name on her chest and hence I knew she was one of the elite runners (from Ethiopia).

The final few km through the city were tough - and I mean tough! I saw the leading women closing down on the 41k mark on the far side of the road and was surprised to see how closely they were bunched together. The wind had become really strong and was again swirling round the buildings. The route through the shopping and pedestrian areas did have uneven sections, and the odd tree to avoid, but there was lots of support to keep you going. Glancing at the clock at the 40k mat, I knew I would make it as long as my legs obeyed my brain which was just telling them to keep turning over. 

Much to my surprise, I was also gaining on another lady with a number on her back, which helped me to focus as the turn into the final straight seemed to be getting further away rather than closer. German 1 seemed to have also lengthened his stride and had moved away ahead of me up the road. I got my head down and fought the wind, passing said lady in that final straight up the road, but I did wonder if she'd come back to me, as I know that I'm no sprinter (though I did manage to dig a strong finish out of somewhere in both Comrades and the World Trail Champs this year).

The "garage door" finish
I caught up with German 2 as we finally turned off the main road. From there we just had to negotiate a pedestrianised area before turning into the finish hall. At this point I was not going to let anything stop me achieving my time and although there's a photo of German 2 and I leaving the road together, a photo taken 50m later shows that he was nowhere to be seen as I was certainly giving it some welly (or at least trying to).

The Frankfurt marathon finish is widely known as a unique indoor finish, but it seems very odd as a runner. You cross several chip mats in the pedestrian area and then turn in through what appears to be a garage door, duck under a low ceiling boom and then

The "indoor" finish

run down a gangway towards a clock. It is relatively dark, with disco lights, smoke and music playing (and I'm told this means that it is hard for spectators to actually see runners clearly). Whilst running, you are only vaguely aware of all this as you focus on the clock and go for it. The final chip mat is buried beneath the floor so I wasn't actually sure when to stop running, especially as there are barriers just a few metres beyond the clock. When I realised that I'd finished, earned myself a huge new PB of 2:39:15 and finished well under the Commonwealth Games qualification standard, tears sprang to my eyes. In order to avoid anyone seeing this, I did just lie down on the floor with my hands over my face.....which meant the medics came rushing over to ask if I was ok.

So happy to finish!

The lady I'd just passed landed on the floor next to me, desperate for some water, so I got up and asked if she was ok. It turned out that she was Emily Wicks (mentioned as the top British lady in the prerace buildup) and she'd finished in 2:39:35. Meanwhile I spotted Hayley Haining and congratulated her on her run, as she'd finished a place ahead of me in a fabulous time of 2:36:40. I wanted to wait with her for Gemma but unfortunately was whisked off for drug testing (and they wouldn't even let me stop for the free beer available for all runners)!

I'm not sure when the result will actually sink in, but it was a great result for Team Scotland with Hayley and I both running under the Glasgow 2014 standard, finishing in 14th and 15th places (1st and 2nd Brits), and Gemma not far behind in 17th place (2:42:34). Not to be outdone, Ross (despite his early tumble) finished as 3rd Brit in 25th place, also running a Glasgow 2014 qualifying time (2:18:28)!

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