The Hamburg Experience

Hamburg is a great city, friendly, cosmopolitan, great food and shopping and boy does it know how to organise and support a marathon.

The build up hadn’t been good, I was still on double strength anti-biotics on the Monday and wasn’t feeling 100% when we set off for Germany. A couple of days before the race my dad and Em caught colds and then my mam, and they are all still suffering. So it was inevitable that my sore throat hung around. I almost didn’t make the start as I managed to lock myself in my hotel bathroom toilet in the days beforehand and had to be rescued by my dad.

On the Friday we went along to the expo to pick up my race packet, I was expecting huge queues but I got it all done in a matter of minutes – good old German efficiency. Weird picking up your finishers t-shirt and polo shirt before the race though. I then wandered round the expo, it was a runners and triathletes dream – all sorts of gear and freebies.

My alarm went off on race day at 5:45am, the hotel dining room was full of runners. I ate some yoghurt and a bread roll. I set off to get the tube at 6:30 and already I was just in a t-shirt, it was supposed to be cloudy and raining, yet there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I arrived at the athletes village ( start ) at 7:30am and headed straight for the loo, it would be the first of four more trips before the start, my stomach wasn’t happy. I left my clothes at the drop off and headed for the start, I didn’t need my extra t-shirt that I intended to throw away after keeping me warm – I was already warm enough.

After a rousing rendition of the German national anthem ( well I think it was their national anthem ) the mayor rang a cow bell and we were off. The start was along the infamous Reeperbahn, but I didn’t see any of the ladies in the windows as the crowds were about 5 deep. The noise was defeaning. Right from the start there was plenty of room to run, the roads were wide, and the 23 thousand runners streamed up hill for the first 5k. Despite the sunshine I felt very comfortable, but I started drinking water because I knew I was going to need it. At 10k we were along the water front and I’ve never seen so many people in one place, people were all around the runners, hanging out of windows, on bridges, you just couldn’t hear yourself think as people were cheering, ringing cowbells, sounding airhorns etc… and that level of support continued all the way round the course. According to the Hamburg paper over 800,000 people lined the route.

I was running well and following my plan of getting to 20 miles in a relaxed and steady manner, I went through the half way point in 1:49 and felt great apart from feeling hot. Then as the clock ticked from 11am till noon I started to slow down as the heat rose. I saw Em and my mam and dad at 21 km and that gave me a boost, I wouldn’t see them again for a few hours.We ran past a huge office complex and several of the office buildings all had digital clocks / thermometers, I saw three that said 25/26 degrees C, and I was feeling every bit of it. 

At just over 30km the road narrowed and the supporters were right in your face, it was like a scene from Alp D’Huez as the see of support parted as you ran into it. People were shouting my name ( it was printed on my number ) and that kept me going when I felt awful. A woman on my left kind of staggered sideways into me, I caught her and luckily there was medic at that exact point, I passed the woman to the medic and kept going – hopefully she was alright. The last 10km I passed lots of people who had collapsed in the heat and had to move out of the way of two ambulances that were driving head long into the runners, with 5km to go I was just hoping to finish in one piece, any thought of time was long gone. I was drinking water and energy drink, and eating banannas at the feed stations which were every 3km. I was really worried as my heart rate was 210 which is not good, its usually about 165 when I’m running comfortably. My average heart rate was 179 for the whole race.

The last mile was just a blur, it was uphill and 1pm on a blazing afternoon, my head had gone, I couldn’t feel my feet which had swollen up. I didn’t see anything as I just focused on staying upright, I felt like I was on a ferry in a rough sea. I crossed the line after managing to raise my arms in more relief than a victory salute. I then staggered sideways and a medic steadied me and tried to get me to go with him, I stood straight and convinced him in broken German that I was ok and off to meet my family. I then went and got my food bag and my pint of beer, boy did it taste good.

I then met my family who had been quite worried as they had been out the course where they thought I’d be and kept thinking they’d missed me. I think they were as relieved as much as I was to see each other again. Em was calling me Tango man as I was bright orange due to the sun burn, and I was badly dehydrated.

I finished in 4:13:25 and was placed 7760, which I’m really pleased with, I didn’t get the time I wanted but I survived and I know that I will run a 3:30 marathon soon, given the right build up and day it WILL happen. I would go back to Hamburg to run again because it was just amazing. As I right this my feet still hurt and I’m going to have the rest of the week off from running, I’ll go for a swim in the next few days to hopefully wake my muscles up again.

I have unfinished business with the marathon, watch this space.


One response to “The Hamburg Experience

  1. Well done!! You did a fantastic job in very unexpected conditions!! You did brilliant to finish – the amount of people collapsing at the end was just plain scary.

    Ha ha can’t believe you confessed to getting locked in the toilet!
    Although the best bit was your mum having to watch all those men stripping down at the expo to try kit on – some people have no shame!!

    Congratulations, I’m very proud of you.

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