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Bringing Berlin Home........The Long Way!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Marathon Woman. That’s what my shirt reads, and that is what I am. Back in April of this year at the Boston Marathon expo I had the honour of meeting and conversing with Kathrine Switzer. I had just purchased her book just a few days earlier but knew a bit of her fantastic story. (If you don’t know who she is you MUST Google her name and learn. If you are a woman and run marathons, you have her dedication to the sport to thank!) So it’s no wonder I chose that shirt to wear as my hubby and I slowly walked the 3 miles back to our hotel after a hot yet satisfying Berlin Marathon on 20 September 2009.

With an ankle injury that hampered my training I was frustrated and concerned about how I would do during the race. I had to alter my training runs to compensate for time lost and performance limitations.

There was a churning in my stomach when I counted the weeks left and the shortcomings of my training. Sensing my anxiety, my marathon running husband asked how I was feeling concerning the upcoming race. I explained my concerns and told him of the various physical niggles I was experiencing. He wisely suggested to me that to go to Berlin and ENJOY the experience; to run to the best of my ability on the day and take it all in.

Hearing that was like writing me permission slip to go and do. I knew that I had a running base of 5 years, of 5 previous marathons and training, of determination, perseverance, and endurance. I would not be able to race this marathon due to my shorter training but I could run it, walk when I needed to, enjoy it, soak it in, and complete it. This is what I set my mind to do, for you see, I believe we run a marathon in our mind and transfer it to our feet. It’s the mind that pushes the body, that speaks to it in those exhausting “Why am I doing this??!!” moment or miles and shakes it into submission to keep on going for one more mile, one more kilometre, one more water station….just one more….

It was a glorious morning 20 September in Berlin. We awoke early, had our typical breakfast of muesli, fruit and milk. Our kit bag was already packed from the night before and all that was needed was a shower, get dressed, and begin our day- break 2+ mile easy paced pilgrimage to the start area.

The sun had broken as we neared the beautiful wide tree lined area within the Teir-garten on the boulevard Straße des 17. Juni. From all adjoining streets athletes were making their way as if following a homing beacon which pulled them towards the start area. Our race bib pinned to our shirts allowed us access and the hunt for where to drop our bags off began.

The area was now hustling with athletes from around the world completing their various race preparations of changing to racing shoes and socks, ensuring timing chip is in place, slipping out of warm up pants and sweatshirts, attaching sport gels, hydration packs or belts, tuning iPods, syncing GPS watches, consuming the last of necessary fuel such as bananas, breads, bars, etc. and then finishing by covering up in bright yellow disposable type ponchos provided by the race organizers to await the final walk to their designated start corral.

Needless to say, the tent where my kit bag was to be placed was quite a distance away from my husband’s. Therefore while closer to his drop off tent we both prepared ourselves and after placing his bag in the care of the race organizers we pushed our way through the now crowded area to drop off my bag. Having completed that we were less than 30 minutes before race time, and with a kiss, a hug, and exchanged encouraging words of “Run strong, have a great race, and see you at the finish!” we walked in opposite directions disappearing into the stream of other racers.

It’s amazing how in that throng of thousands upon thousands I was alone in my own thoughts. I was part of a “Marathon Army” directed by race marshals to assume my position in the order of start and joined what was to be nearly 40,000 others. I listened to conversations being spoken in German, French, Spanish, English and other languages I couldn’t determine. I quieted myself and thought of my husband 4 corrals ahead of me and silently prayed for him to have a safe and memorable race. I thought of all that had led up to that morning and me standing on the start line. I was grateful for another opportunity to run 26.2 miles/42 kilometres someplace that I had never been before and to do my best.

Then without warning a large cluster of yellow balloons appeared in the sky beyond my area and as they swiftly floated upward in the cloudless sky, the crowd began to cheer and applaud. The race had started and like penned race horses jostling for positions the atmosphere around me started to ignite. Minutes later I began my slow migration towards the start gates, picking up my pace until finally the gates were in view. Crossing through them and letting out a cheer, the electronic ring of stepping on the start mat signalled that now I was officially in the race.

The sides of the street were lined with spectators cheering, shouting, waving flags and just watching as the parade of racers passed by. They had been there to see the elite field begin over 12 minutes before me and now it was my turn to step in those earlier athlete’s foot strikes.

The day was indeed glorious, not a cloud in the sky where it’s blueness was like a tent capping the incredible event. Predictions were that it would be warm with temps rounding out near 26C/78F before noon. That can hamper anyone’s marathon running!

All along the course the bands played, the wonderful spectators cheered and yelled, clapped and called out. Some of the route was familiar due to the sightseeing bus tour my husband and I went on two days earlier. I glimpsed views of the Bundeskanzleramt, the Reichstag, the Berliner Dom, the Fern-seh-turn, and Sudstern as I passed them on my way to the half-marathon mark. (13.1 miles/21K).

I had started out comfortably quick but could feel my pace slowing, my legs tiring, the heat beginning to melt me and turn me into a puddle. The water stops were a welcome site even through they were covered and littered with previously used plastic cups, and assorted other paper litter. I carried my sport drink within my Camelbak backpack and therefore refused the offers of tea, sport drink and slices of banana and apple. I consumed my SIS sport gels at the pre-determined times and took water as needed along the course.

The welcome site of the banner across the road announcing the half way point lifted my pace slightly as I crossed the Potsdamer Straße. By this time in my race within the larger race, the field was thinning out. I was beginning to see the same people in my “pack”; other athletes of a similar capability as me. We had run through areas that were the previous East Berlin, passed cafes with Sunday afternoon patrons sunning themselves with a pint of Germany’s best, over cable car tracks, and glowing faces of young children with outstretched hands with the hope of a passing athlete’s touch to allow them to take home a bit of the magic of this amazing athletic event.

Over three hours had passed and my mental talk was now of just to keep going, time isn’t the issue here, as my body was beginning to ache with each passing minute. It was then my mobile phone rang and I knew it meant my husband had completed his race. Excitedly I listened to his report. He sounded good and his time was an exceptional 3:22:38! His second fastest marathon finish and his first one run as a 60YO Vet. He spoke of the heat affecting his last 10K and the beginning of leg cramps as he approached the final 5K. His words were a great encouragement and mental boost. His race was complete and now it was my turn to bring Berlin home.

I pressed onward into the third 10K of the race and although I split my running time with some walk breaks I was feeling the effects of the heat and distance on my body. The spectators were still there; the restaurant chefs outside their establishment banging spoons on pots and lids, the fire brigades with their welcome fire hose showers to cool aching and overheating bodies, and the funnel made by samba playing musicians who encouraged you to dance along with them as you ran through their lines.

The streets were shaded on either side with trees at this point and I welcomed the respite as the temperature continued to climb and I knew I would show the effects with a lovely suntan. I welcomed the opportunity at water stations to dip the race provided sponge into a vat of cold water and empty it over my hair covered stars and stripes bandana.

Being towards the back of a marathon pack is a unique experience. Unlike the pristine streets and enthusiastically cheering spectators for the elite and earlier finishers, we who bring the race home contend with water station marshals that are clearing their tables, bicycle riders peddling through the course, young children racing along side, and official photographers who have the time to snap you several times before you pass by.

At 30K I recognized the familiar area where I stood just an evening before awaiting the arrival of the elite rollerblading Marathoners! I was on the Hohenzollerndamm nearing the famous and upscale shopping avenue of Kurfurstendamm . I had passed the 32K mark and had just another 10K left (6.2 miles) My time was slowing as I was keeping track via my 305 Garmin. I was measuring my distance in miles although the race was measured in kilometres and it helped me to gauge the distance remaining as I only saw distance markers at 5K intervals as I ran over the timing mats.

I now knew where I was as the impressive sight of the Kaiser-Wilhem-Gedachtnis-Kirche came into my view. I glanced to my left and from the exit of the underground came athletes. Emerging with their marathon medals around their necks their race long ago completed, they took the time to applaud me as I continued on my way towards my goal.

My phone rang again and my husband provided me with an update as to how he was doing and where he would wait for me. I told him of my fatigue, my aches, and my determination to complete the last 5miles ahead of me. With his words of encouragement in my ears I pressed on passed the familiar business district we had walked through on our way to the start line nearly seven hours previously.

I was now approaching the last 5K (3.1 miles) and trying to keep the wheels on to finish my race. I attempted to interject bursts of faster running into my now speed walking. I found it humours when approached by the sweep vehicle attendant and cautioned that the roads would be opening back up shortly and I was instructed either to speed up and/or move over to the sidewalk to finish my race. The thought of speeding up after being on the road for over 5 and a half hours made me chuckle. However, I followed his instructions and made my way over to the sidewalk and joined the rest of the pedestrian traffic interspersed with marathon athletes. This only caused my pace to slow even further.

After passing Potsdammer Platz I approached an area where the streets were still closed to traffic and the wide expanse of pavement beckoned me. I returned to the streets and continued on through the maze of large government and commercial buildings. The German flag on the horizon waving high above the Reichstag was where we were headed mentioned a fellow athlete. Feeling slightly faint and queasy I slowed slightly to regain my composure as I thought “Not much further” as I made another turn and passed over the 40K litter strewn timing mat.

It was now that I felt an urgency to complete this race, to pass through the awaiting finish gate and have my much toiled for medal placed around my neck. The slight cobble area signalled the approaching final bend and straight away of the Unter den Linden. Could this be it? Could this finally be the finishing stretch through the Brandenburg Gate? By the cheering of still remaining spectators, sightseers, Sunday afternoon café patrons, I could tell the answer was a resounding YES!

Then I saw it, like a glimmering beacon ahead of me, the much photographed and historic Brandenburger Gate. I willed that gate closer and closer to me as I found an incentive to increase my pace. To my amazement I was the only one at that point running, spurred on by the crowd lining the street, cheering me through the Pariser Pl., through the Brandenburger Tor and into my “Red Carpet Rock Star Moment”! It was just me at that spot; those cheers were for me, for what I had worked for over 6 1/2 hours for. I don’t know if the German announcer was saying my number or just encouraging the crowd to cheer everyone, I savoured those applauds as they rang in my ears. I showed my appreciation by my smile and the sweat running down my face.

Now it was just a few hundred feet away, I picked my gate and watched the clock as it approached a time I had never seen before in my 5 other marathon races. I found just enough drive for one final push and outstretched my arms to bring Berlin home.
Finally now after 6:40:47 I could stop. Through the muscle aches and the sweat and tears of completing my longest marathon, my medal was placed around my neck. In the distance awaited my husband and the stories we would share about our Sunday when we ran through the streets of Berlin.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

MINNA72 10/26/2009 8:38AM

    Wow, what a story!Truly inspirational!

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SANDYC17 10/12/2009 8:42AM

    Fantastic job Mary!! As usual you are an inspiration.

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CEEBEE200 10/8/2009 5:40PM

    Well done, Mary! And what a brilliant account - I could really feel the grit and determination that you put into making it the whole way round the course. You're an inspiration as always! I trust you are having a day or two off now, to relax and restore!!! :-)

- ceebee

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JLUVSHIKIN 10/7/2009 11:21PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I was cheering right along with the crowd!

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NANCY-GIRL 10/7/2009 8:11PM

    You are such a gifted writer, Mary! Please submit this to the running mags.
Well done on bringing Berlin home. I'll never listen to the Brandenburg Concerto the same way again! Well done! I hope some of your strength & determination somehow rubs of on me just by reading this. Truly an amazing story!

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    Awesome job Mary!!! Thanks for sharing your day!!! Being 4 days away from my first, I am awed by your determination and drive!!! You are amazing!!! Jackie!!!

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FITLIKENIC 10/7/2009 6:37PM

    Wow! Feel like I'm right there with you as I read this... WTG on your run, AMAZING!

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CAZ_NR_HEATHROW 10/7/2009 5:13PM

    Mary hun you certainly have a way with words I could feel the race every inch of the way.
You done good gurlriend- dare I say "here's to the next race"? emoticon

emoticon on an amazing job!

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    This is an amazing story! You did wonderful!

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Drawing a line under yesterdays blog

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I just thought I would add to yesterday's blog...
maybe a bit of proof that things DO indeed improve, that change is the one thing we can count on and that storms DO pass.

The sunrise was spectacular this morning.
The wind has died down to hardly anything.
The clouds are like those that resemble a mattress cover.
The rain has passed (for the time being).
I'll be able to run without getting wet or wind blown.

Just to reiterate yesterday's closing words, Keep Believing!!!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

JULISABROCAR 9/19/2009 9:12AM

    rock the Berlin!

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CAZ_NR_HEATHROW 8/27/2009 5:34AM

    If we didn't have bad days how would we appreciate the good?
Glad all is well again

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Windy Wednesday

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The rain is pelting down, the wind is whipping through the trees and across the fields as the remains of Hurricane Bill pass over the North West countryside.

I do have a run planned for today and it looks like it will be put off till this afternoon when I hope to be able to run without being slammed with pin prick sharp rain drops. I also hope to not be forced to run mainly through a head wind.

All this hoping and wishing brings to mind how it is so much easier to run in the fine, dry weather. Oh I don't mind the bit of light misty rain with a coolish feel as I put down the miles. But isn't it so much easier to deal with the nice-ities of things.

Brings to mind that is how it can be about dealing with life in general. Oh how much easier to cope with things in the sunshine of happiness, pleasent times, job security, white picket fence feelings and all that "good stuff". But what happens when the wind kicks up, the rain clouds form and then the Hurricane hits? Has the attitude shifted to doom and gloom?

I have the hope, the optomistic attitude, the glass half full mind set that somehow the storm WILL pass, the sunshine WILL come back out and the pieces left by the storm can be picked up and gathered. It's only because I have seen quite a few storms in my life both literally and figuratively that I believe this. Somehow, things DO have a way of working out.

So as I look out my raindrop splattered window to the misty covered hills beyond framed by wind battered trees and the sound of the churning northwest wind I know that calmer times will emerge. Also, no matter what I am facing today, or you are dealing with right now, it will pass. Things WILL improve. For to loose hope is to loose everything. Keep believing!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

LIATRIS 8/27/2009 2:52PM

  Absolutely beautiful...thank you.

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JILLWILSON2102 8/26/2009 3:18PM

    Mary, awesome words my friend!!

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NANCY-GIRL 8/26/2009 11:26AM

    Wow. Wonderful blog, written so beautifully!

The cool thing about storms is that they end. The sun does come out, the bird do sing again (I'm hearing one now, in fact), there will be warmth on our faces when we look up into the sky.

We bought some new rain gear before we went to the Rockies. We used it ... a lot (more than I wanted to need to). It was wonderful, allowing us to hike & explore in relative comfort and ease. It was actually quite fun being able to not allow the squalls to limit our activity (only our mountain vistas).

Perhaps we could benefit from some metaphorical rain gear for the metaphorical storms in our lives...

Thanks for a great, thought-provoking, beautifully-written blog!

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CAZ_NR_HEATHROW 8/26/2009 6:01AM

    emoticon blog hun.

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3 Year Anniversary

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three years ago today I stumbled upon this website. I had seen it mentioned in a running web forum on another site. Curious about Spark people, I logged in and joined. A bit overwhelmed with all that I read I did nothing for about 3 months.

Curiosity, frustration and desperation brought be back again. This time I arrived with a new grit and started exploring this amazing website. I joined teams, I put forth a plan, I moved through the suggested steps and something started to happen.

Weight did begin to move, but more importantly I started to feel better. I had a new enthusiasm, drive, enjoyment about things in general. I was preparing for my second marathon and found encouragement and support from hundreds of faceless people that became a cheering squad. I printed out their encouragements and took them with me when we traveled to Dublin for the marathon and read over the well wishes the night before the race.

I'm thankful to all of you through these past three years who have been there for me. Some are no longer a part of spark people, but their words and messages linger in my memory and I am still encouraged by their presence in my life.

What I have gotten out of SP cannot be measured as it is like water poured over a large surface. It just keeps moving and spreading and touching and soaking that which it comes in contact with. Each of you have touched and in your own way motivated and moved me. I am a better person for having encountered you. Our lives may have only brushed each others but somehow it has mattered.

I have learned more about myself and how to improve on what I have been so richly given. My health is essential to me. I strive to be even better today than I was yesterday. I am fortunate to have the ability to run and run for long distances. Something I thought I would never ever enjoy. Here I am less than 4 weeks away from marathon 6! Berlin Bound!!

To celebrate my 3 years here on Spark people I am:
1. running 6 miles as per marathon training
2. eat to my plan so to feel strong and healthy
3. phone my youngest child
4. go wild blackberry picking with our 6 yr old poodle Jessie
5. get to bed early so I can alert to begin the first day of my 4th year with SP

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

JERSEYGIRL24 8/25/2009 9:35AM

    Congratulations on your Sparkiversary!!! I know that when I first started in December 2007, I was also a little overwhelmed and a little slow out of the gate. It took several months for me to set up a spark page and start posting messages.

I share your great love for this site. It truly is phenomenal. I recently saw a blog where the person announced she was leaving Sparkpeople because it "wasn't working" and was going to try something else. While I admire her for saying goodbye (I am always a little upset when people disappear without any sort of warning or notice, especially if they have been active), I just can't imagine a site that will provide better help.

Here's to your fourth year!!!


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BARBIET65 8/25/2009 6:56AM

    Hey Sweetie!!
Happy Anniversary here!!! Heres to your good health!! Sure do miss you!

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CAZ_NR_HEATHROW 8/25/2009 3:42AM

    emoticon on your Sparkversary emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Just thirty

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's down to 30. Thirty days. Just a month away. Where did the time go? What happened to all the planning? The air has turned from warm breeze to crispness. The days are getting shorter and seem to be closing in from both sides. Later mornings and earlier evenings. Sure sign that the summer is ebbing away.

I'm not talking of the seasons per say, I'm speaking of what is left time wise before I hit the streets in Berlin! My stomach does a flip when I think about it. My training got kicked to the curb when I fell in April. Sprained ankle that still reminds me of that walk on the hill with the dogs.

My blue "magic tape" in place and I've been hitting the miles, resting when I need to. This marathon won't be a race like the others, it will have to be a run. A run to the best of my ability. A run to enjoy the sites of a city I have yet to see. A run of 26.2 miles of memories in the making.

Run on friends, no matter what. Go forward to the best of your ability.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

CAZ_NR_HEATHROW 8/22/2009 4:16AM

    Gosh it is coming around fast.
Good luck with your training

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