I’m feeling good about my recent trip to Frankfurt, so while it is fresh in the memory I will bore you with all the detail!
Late last year I had entered Beachy Head Marathon, as epic as it is, I’ve done it twice, but following consecutive disappointing runs at Brighton Marathon and Milton Keynes Marathon in spring, my attention was turning elsewhere.
A little on those marathons – Brighton, the target was 3:20 and everything in training had gone to plan. Almost too well, I finished my 20 mile build up race in 2:31, with the last mile a sub 7! I never really recovered from the following taper and the pace felt too quick on marathon day, I knew by 10 miles this was going to hurt. I crossed the line in 3:34 still a PB, but also missed my plan B target of 3:30. The last miles along the seafront were reduced to a shuffle. Then there was Milton Keynes – I’ve done all the training, I’ll have a little recovery and hit this one a few weeks after Brighton. Well, it was 30 degrees, say no more!
I knew my friend from Eastbourne Rovers had booked Frankfurt Marathon in October. It clashed with the aforementioned Beachy Head Marathon, but I decided I would give Frankfurt a go. I gave away my Beachy Head Marathon place, and set about working out a plan for Frankfurt.
I found the perfect place to stay, which I think had a big impact on the weekend overall. I booked the Premier Inn, just a 1/4 mile from the start and finish. I booked decent flights with Lufthansa, they fly hourly to Frankfurt from Heathrow. I had an extra legroom seat and a proper luggage allowance – meaning I could take a choice of kit. I booked a parking space for my car on someones driveway near the airport for £20, and then my transfer from Frankfurt airport to the hotel. You may wonder why I’m telling you this level of detail. It’s because for me having everything planned out would mean I would have very little stress in the build up to the actual run, knowing everything was prepared in advance. And of course you may be considering your own trip to Frankfurt.
There were two things I needed to consider here. Firstly, take one step at a time – I adjusted my goal time back to 3:30. Secondly, I knew how good I felt after 10 weeks of training, the day of my 20 mile race in the build up to Brighton. So what if I altered my training plan from the standard 16 weeks to just 10? I thought it was worth a shot and that’s exactly what I did. 10 weeks prior to race day, with a scribbled over Brighton plan, training began.
It felt harder this time, I expect due to having a lazy summer. I was able to hit my target pace on my long runs, but it was definitely harder than the winter training. My longest run was 18 miles, 16 were spot on, but the last two were awful, leaving me wondering if I should bother at all. Following my longest run, I had to have surgery to remove a skin cancer from my nose. This left me unable / not wanting to do my midweek runs. I stubbornly persisted with a 14 miler the weekend after, followed by a steady 10 the next weekend. The next time I would run would be in Frankfurt.
I arrived in Frankfurt late Friday morning as planned, and got in my booked taxi to the hotel. On arrival I couldn’t believe my luck on how close it was to the main hub of the race, the Frankfurt Festhalle. After checking in to my room, I made a dash out to the expo to pick up my number. It was empty so I was in and out in no time. I would later return with my friend who arrived in the evening, and again on the Saturday for the pasta party and to soak up some of the pre-race atmosphere.
Friday night, I spoke to the lady behind the bar in the hotel. She asked me why was in Frankfurt. I told her for the marathon, to which she replied she was also doing it. We spoke about times, and we had a similar target. We wished each other luck and said we’d look out for each other on the day.
On Saturday morning, I had the choice of parkrun, or the pretzel run laid on by the marathon organisers. Being a parkrun addict, I quite literally trotted off up the road to Nidda parkrun. I had planned to cycle there on one of the city bikes, however, the mobile phone app didn’t allow me to unlock any of them, so I had to jog the 3 miles to the start! On a arrival, the lady who I’d spoken to last night was a volunteer, and the run director also worked at the Premier Inn!
The parkrun was a steady affair, and afterwards there was the usual cake for a couple of milestone achievements. I also managed to speak to some other parkrunners who I vaguely recognized from runs back home… small world!
Traveling to a race can always leave problems when it comes to food. I made sure I had plenty of bottled water in my hotel room, and the sort of snacks I would want both before and after the run. The lunchtime pasta party was followed up in the evening by more pasta, with pesto and some grilled chicken.
This is where hotel choice came into play! Knowing I had a maximum of a 5 minute walk to the start, I knew I didn’t have to leave the hotel until 9:40, for a 10:00 race start. I got up for breakfast and made sure I was there when service began at 7am. Eating early allows your food to go down, it also meant I didn’t have to queue, things got busy quite quickly. Breakfast was a bowl and half of muesli, a banana, two black coffees and one tea. I was back in my room by 7:40, where I would do as little as possible for the next two hours, without falling back asleep! I had quite a few good luck messages to read, so these kept me busy for a while. I knew I wouldn’t have to queue for the toilet, I could do all of that in the comfort of my room!
It was cold and breezy, not freezing but around 5 degrees. The wind was about 15mph according to the weather apps, so although brisk, it wasn’t anything unusual for me to run in, living on the coast. I opted for a base layer under my club vest, normal shorts, thin gloves and my trusty Saucony Kinvara shoes.
On arrival at the start, I was actually able to find a urinal free, so I though to use it quickly, just in case! The breeze seemed more apparent here, the event crews were struggling to hold the inflatable arches down as the wind whipped through the tall buildings here. The start was split into 6 zones. Probably due to my latish arrival to the start area, the corrals didn’t seem particularly easy to get to. Large balloons marked the gate into my corral, but to get to the gate, I had to climb over a flower bed and some rockery. The officials were checking everyone was going into the correct corral, which started to cause a bit of a squash. (Probably the only negative from the whole weekend.)
The start gun went, and with some Avicii’s Levels blasting out, it was some four minutes before actually crossing the start line. Before I got to the start line, I realised my first mistake, that 7 gels WILL pull your shorts down, so I decanted 3 into my hand, my shorts able to take the weight of the remaining 4 in my back pocket!
To hit my target time, I knew I needed to be running just under 8 minutes per mile. However the tall buildings around the first loop of the city were throwing my GPS watch readings all over the place! I ran the first 5 miles largely on feel, I had to, but this proved ok, as it felt good! The first 6-7 miles felt the hardest, not bad, but just trying to lock in that rhythm.
I had a fueling strategy. I would take my first gel after an hour, then half hourly from then. I’ve previously taken gels based on distance, this doesn’t work for me. I stuck to my time based intervals. I used 5 of the 7 I carried in total.
The breeze had dipped as we left the city centre and I was able to find my rhythm. Before I knew it I was at halfway. I was giving lots of thought to friends and family tracking me via the app. I was having rather positive conversations with myself in my head. One of which made me laugh out loud! Every photographer was getting a smile, and it wasn’t fake. As I crossed halfway, I was thinking how I would actually celebrate at the finish. Crazy, dangerous thoughts at only halfway. But I’d run a sensible first half. I knew.
As the miles ticked by I ran through some fantastic typically German streets with gothic style houses. The marathon was well supported, the streets were lined with people, and I was never too far away from a live band or DJ!
Something really odd happened at mile 16, I caught and went past the 3:30 pacers. I was cautious in my head saying I don’t need to do this, but it felt a little slower than I wanted to run. There was a big glut of people around the pacers, so I had to take to the pavement to get round before I was free again. It was quite claustrophobic for a minute. Normally I’m falling away from the group, not going past it. This was a another huge mental boost.
Mile 20 came up, and said to myself, the race begins now! Miles 21, 23, and 26 were my quickest of the marathon at 7:37! At mile 21 I was literally overtaking hundreds of people. Again, another huge boost! I really felt for those people, as I’ve been that side of the fence many times, but I have to admit I was slightly smug and it was my turn to ride high! The city loop we did at the start was repeated towards the end, the GPS watch throwing out some odd figures again for a while! I just had to stay strong now, unleash what I had left and make the most of the finish. Mile 26 was dispatched as one of my quickest miles in the race, and I took the turn towards the indoor finish in the Frankfurt Festhalle! The music was booming, the light show was going, and fireworks erupted over the finish gantry.
I crossed the line with a new PB time of 3:26:42, a PB of nearly 8 minutes, and 13 minutes improvement this year!
We were quickly ushered through the Festhalle. It’s such an amazing finish line but you’re not on it long enough. Once out the back, we were treated to drinks, pretzels cake and of course a finishers medal. I quickly went back to the hotel to get changed, returning to the Festhalle to sit in the upper ring to watch the finishers come in, and meet my friend.