In part 1 of this race report, I left off with saying goodbye to my husband at about kilometer 14.
I left my cheering squad on a mental high. I was running faster than I planned, talking short walking breaks like I knew I should no matter how I felt, and felt great. I kept up with the high 5s, the cheering. Kept looking at my kilometer messages and thinking about memories with whoever had signed up for the kilometer I was on, sometimes repeating their message over and over in my head.
We passed the Südstern (it was towering and amazing). Before I knew it, I could see the half-marathon mark. I looked at my watch and knew that Haile Gebrselassie had crossed the finish line at least 30 minutes before I crossed that mark (thanks to staggered starts). But I knew I was going to set my own record today, and his, while amazing, wasn’t as important to me. I was shocked to see my watch say 2:20—my first half-marathon I completed in 2:37:57. “Here I am with another 13.1 miles left and already 18 minutes faster than I was a year ago. Well, I have trained hard and regular. I taped well and feel fresh. We’ll just see where this goes!”
That positive realization carried me, and when I saw those bright yellow shirts at almost kilometer 22, I was floating. Rob reminded me how much faster I was and I remember seeing smiles on all the faces. A new water bottle while I stretch quickly, new gels to replace all that I had used already, a sponge (provided by the marathon), a new kleenex, and I was off again, not to see my cheering squad for 10 kilometers.
There were bands of all sorts along the course, mostly playing jazz (which I love). I gave the thumbs up raised above my head and grinned at every one, telling them in my mind to keep playing, wondering how they managed to always play a beat in rhythm with my feet. Sometimes they had singers, and sometimes it was just music.
Lots of groups with drums, the loudest and most energetic being of course the Brazilians. Several organ grinders, buglers, and lots of Danish fans! I saw them over and over, four people holding up their large red and white banner, cheering for everyone. I didn’t care that I’m not Danish and that they could probably tell; I cheered back at those supporters like I cheered at every supporter. And it was fun.
Things start to get hazy around kilometer 24. I think that must have been when my legs started feeling the miles. Instead of only walking breaks, I would now walk for about 20 seconds, then find a pole I could stretch my calves on, a curb for my hamstrings, then off again. I was right behind Wils from Britain (so said the back of his shirt), and this grampy-looking man also loved the high 5s, so kids got excited to get two runners high 5s right after the other.
Lesson #2: Only Olympians get misters. I was stoked to be able to toss my water cup to the side, which I laughed aloud at while watching the Olympic marathons. And at first, I was relieved to see fountains of water sprouting from fire trucks or pipes along the course. But here is another lesson I learned. Misters probably don’t soak your shoes; Fire truck fountains do. One time through, and I was running with soggy, sopping shoes. Never again. They dried relatively quickly, but it wasn’t too pleasant in the meantime.
Kilometer 32 to the Finish Line
Despite feeling like a fabric-y plastic, my bib (start number) was paper enough that the water and my running motion made the safety pins holding it to pull out of the bib. Luckily, this happened just after kilometer 31, and I knew that I would see Rob and the cheering squad soon. I held it in place with my right hand (sore shoulder!) until I got to them, and then Rob attended to that problem while I took a gel.
“Looks like you’re on track for a sub-5 finish!”
It rang in my ears and quickened my heartbeat.
Next, something we had discussed endlessly during the previous month came out of Rob’s mouth. “This is your last 10k, the race part. Push it. You can do it!”
It was like I couldn’t stand still any more. I took off, faster than I had before. I still had to stop to walk for 30 seconds, a minute at a time. Still had to stop to stretch, but when I was running, I was running to win the prize. The next 5 kilometers flew past me. I could barely remember them, even right after they were over. I remember seeing the kilometer 37 sign and being very surprised.
Somewhere after kilometer 37, as we were nearing Potsdamer Platz, I wanted to walk, then passed a girl stretching. Ran past her a bit to a pole and allowed my calves a nice long stretch. I looked back to see that girl walking off the sidewalk, wiping her eyes. I caught up to her and asked her how she was doing. She said okay, that it was just so beautiful. I said, “It looked like something was wrong…” She said something about doing better in training, and I told her “You can’t think about that right now. All you can think about is that this is the only race, the only run. Don’t think about training, just focus on today.” It was her second marathon, and she said she figured she’d just have to walk to the end. I encouraged her as much as I could, and then said I was ready to run again. She finished just 15 minutes behind me, so she must have run at least a little bit.
Somewhere in those last 5 kilometers, I remember being hit with a realization like a bat: I was actually going to finish this thing. I was so close to the finish that I could crawl on hands and knees to the end if I had to, but I was going to cross that line. It was an amazing feeling.
At about kilometer 38.5, we passed Potsdamer Platz, and I thought I’d be on Unter den Linden (the final street) soon, but it took for-ev-er to get there! Luckily, there was a little surprise waiting for me at km 39. Even though I was told at the last stop that they wouldn’t see me until the finish, I heard the cowbells and looked right to see my cheerleaders there on the sidelines! I was so surprised I didn’t even stop, although I probably would have quickly, had I known they were there. It’s probably better that way.
Finally on Unter den Linden
Finally, we made our last few turns and I was on Unter den Linden, right by the statue of Frederick the Great. I ran about 200 meters and stopped to stretch one last time. I stretched my hamstrings, but realized my calves needed it more. I looked up to find a pole, when a bystander said, “Linden! Don’t stop now! That way!” And he pointed down Unter den Linden to the Brandenburger Tor and the Ziel (finish line). Shocked, I remembered that everyone’s bib gives their first name, and I glanced at his. “FALK” is all it said—he must be an elite runner. I smiled and headed off, grateful-to-tears for the encouragement. I pushed, got tired, held back a bit, pushed more when I could see the Brandenburger Tor. Felt like a champion running through that gate. Kept my eyes out for my last glimpse of those bright yellow shirts.
I could see the finish line but didn’t feel like pushing when I saw and heard them, all cheering and ringing those cowbells, screaming my name. It was exactly what I needed, and I sprinted the last 200 meters.
After the Finish Line
I slowed to a walk and stopped my watch. 4:49:09 it said back to me, and I giggled. I had bested 5 hours, and not by a smidge, either! By almost 11 minutes!
A medal was placed around my neck and I was given a yellow plastic robe. I didn’t look it, but I certainly felt like a queen, a marathoner finally. I followed the general direction of the crowd back towards the bag-check tents, showers, and massage area, laughing randomly and even crying a bit.
I had done it. I ran 26.2 miles, all at once, I was still alive and still walking, and I felt great.