Pearce Nails a PB in Frankfurt Marathon

With un-McCarkiss like levels of efficiency, and in excess of McCarkiss like levels of humour – member Mark Pearce writes of his experience in the Frankfurt Marathon at the weekend…

Having run a pleasing marathon PB in perfect meteorological conditions back in April at the Zurich Marathon, my thoughts had immediately turned to an “autumn marathon”, as they’re known in marathoning circles. But where?

All manner of glamourous locations sprang to mind, but following a small amount[1] of research, my preferred locations had either already hosted spring marathons[2] or were simply deeply unattractive and dirty locations[3]. That left me with two options: A sunny foray to Valencia with a couple of friends from the UK, or a significantly less appealing trip four hours by train away to Frankfurt[4]. The former seemed to be the obvious choice: a race a few days before my birthday in late-November, perfect weather conditions and course, together with satisfyingly cheap food and drink as a result of Spain’s crippling structural weaknesses and sky-high youth unemployment. The latter was my wife’s preferred option as I didn’t “have to be away from the kids for too long”. Despite pointing out that I didn’t have to go away anywhere and that running was my hobby (with hindsight that was a bad move that nearly cost me an “autumn marathon”, period[5]), the decision had been made: Frankfurt[6] it was.

Now that would have been a train sh#t to remember. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Now that would have been a train sh#t to remember. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

And so I found myself on an early-morning train to Frankfurt[7] the day before the race, full of hope, pasta and far more excreta than had been the intention at this point (despite numerous coffees over the previous 24 hours, nothing was shifting, and I mean nothing)[8]. I had opted to travel first class for the supposedly functioning WiFi connection, the more spacious toilet facilities (ultimately wasted on me, but it was nice to know they were there) and the fact that I stood a lower chance of contracting a last-minute contagious – and thus marathon-destroying – disease from the poorer people that tend to travel in second class (not Swiss people obviously, but I had to bear in mind that this train was travelling “cross-border” to Germany and thus might contain a significantly higher proportion of chain-smoking, low-level-bronchitis-ridden manual labourers than my highly tuned lungs were used to. This fear was borne out when a heavy and heavily wheezing “straggler” from the back of the train attempted to charge his phone[9] using one of the complementary charging ports in our wagon; thankfully the ticket attendant – almost paying homage to the stereotypical Teutonic love of enforcing rules – advised the gentleman to retreat. A bullet dodged).

Better

Better luck next time Frenchie. As if to emphasize his nationality, he was topping up that glass of red wine non-stop from a bottle stowed in his beige holdall below the table (despite it being before midday). He consequently fell asleep and missed his stop. Quel dommage!

The remaining journey passed largely without incident – several apparent septuagenarians (who from eavesdropping on their conversation transpired to be a mere 58 – tough life in Karlsruhe it seems) spent too long negotiating which coffee they wanted from the drinks trolley; a portly couple returning from a holiday (in Thailand as it turned out from eavesdropping on their conversation) kicked up a stink when the on-board WiFi experienced another “surprise” outage near Mannheim; and a man asked me for timetabling information in French. (Despite fully understanding his question and having already formulated the correct answer to it in my head, I decided that I’d instead adopt the face of an ignorant British tourist who had, despite five years of compulsory French lessons at secondary school, neglected to remember even basic verb conjugation and numeracy in a single foreign language. As such, I simply gave a Gallic shrug of the shoulders (a taste of his own medicine if ever there were) and returned to staring out of the window at the wonderfully industrialised Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany. No, there was no energy to waste on re-building post-Brexit intra-continental relations: It was all about the ‘thon[10].)

Via the miracle of social media site Strava, I had come across a fellow Brit who was also travelling to Frankfurt[11] for the marathon and who was aiming for pretty much the same time as me (actually, he had specified 2:31:59 as his target time, while I went for the classier 2:32:00 option. You’re not kidding anyone mate, it’s the same goal time). Being wary of the dangers of contacting people via social media as it’s full of weirdo stalker types simply wanting to lure aspiring marathon runners to their death (or for sex if we’re talking “Grindr”), I spent several weeks tracking the exact workouts of “Nic Gould” in and around London before reaching out to him via the medium of a comment below one of his activities (this in itself was a nightmare: which activity to choose? Commenting on an easy five-miler would have been lame and possibly an indication I had low standards (like the sort of moron who writes “Awesome pace, JB” below one of Jenson Button’s short, 7:30/mile pace jogs around a section of a Formula 1 circuit), but writing under a seemingly slow long run might lead him to believe that I think that’s the right way to go about long runs (I don’t; I prefer mine at a decent pace). I waited some time before he finally notched up a 10 miler with a few miles at marathon pace: now was the time to strike). After a brief exchange of comments, it transpired that he seemed keen on[12] running with a complete stranger, so I arranged to meet him at the number pick-up. Due to a number of unforeseen factors (I completely forgot I had made such an arrangement), this never transpired and I made my way to my moderately priced hotel in a frankly scabby area of town, although one not too far from the action[13].

Marathon eve was spent watching a combination of popular BBC staple Strictly Come Dancing and worrying that pretty much everything in the entire world would go wrong between then and the morning, which was 10% more likely to happen given the extra hour we “gain” thanks to, as it turns out, Chris Martin of Coldplay’s great-great-grandfather popularizing the idea of daylight savings time in the UK in the early 20th century[14]. Dick.

Breakfast in the hotel was spent the way most are – silently judging others, while eating the food I bought in a nearby supermarket and trying to get a coffee or two from the buffet without anyone noticing[15]. Although this time it wasn’t merely a case of picking out suspected/imagined personal flaws of others at random; no, this was specific silent slandering (SSS) focused entirely on (my estimation of) their running-related flaws. Granted, some people were clearly not up to running (e.g. the overweight couple, the elderly lady, the “hipster” with a pony-tailed beard who ordered a dandelion tea), but there were definitely some (inferior) athletes making ample use of the somewhat overpriced breakfast. The fact they had paid 16 euros for what was clearly worth about three quarters of that had given me the mental edge I needed – if they can’t control their breakfast budgets, they’re unlikely to be able to control their pace early in the race. Me 1, the field 0.

Walking the 700m from my hotel to the start proved mercifully easy on the legs. Less merciful was the “DJ’s” choice of music to accompany pre-race preparations. A never-ending loop of “Born to Run” and “Born in the USA” made me automatically assume some sort of morbid fascination about Springsteen’s[16] entry into this world, and certainly didn’t make for a relaxing 30 minutes spent making sure (probably) inferior runners didn’t try and push in front of me. It’s not often you find yourself happy that Dr. Alban comes on, but this was one of those occasions.

When the gun finally went off, I tucked in behind the tallest person I could find. This tactic was revised within seconds as it turns out the tallest runners don’t always make for the fastest. I was still wondering if I would come across “Nic Gould” or whether this was some attempt at Strava-based phishing [CHECK WHAT PHISHING ACTUALLY IS]. Turns out I needn’t have worried as Nic was real enough and together with him and his acquaintance [CHECK NAME ON STRAVA], we started setting a reasonable pace.

As is the case with most races, I spent the first third or so thinking of excuses why I wouldn’t do as well as I thought, so that I could lie about it to my family and friends, who frankly don’t give one solitary shit about how fast I can run. Turns out that Nic and [CHECK NAME ON STRAVA] were good at running a solid pace so the first half was passed in a bang-on-target 1:15:58. Unlike most marathons, I was yet to determine who my “nemesis” would be[17] so most of my mental (and some of my physical) effort was spent on this important task. Before I knew it, 34km had passed and I realized that things were going ok, with the exception of the saccharine, highly fluid gels they were handing out at “aid”[18] stations.

At 40km I finally determined my “nemesis”, although I’ll be honest, by the time I spotted him the guy was walking with a nasty limp (hardly my fault). I quickly passed him and set my mind to picking off more runners. While this should have taken priority, it transpired that my overriding concern was actually not soiling myself before (or indeed after) the finish[19]. Thankfully these two goals were congruent, and all[20] feelings of fatigue abated. I “dropped” two and a bit 3:34/kms [CONVERT TO IMPERIAL FOR UK AUDIENCE] (That sounds like effort – Ed.) and before I knew it I was running at full pelt into a sports hall full of over-enthusiastic spectators whose incessant cheering was to be both applauded and pitied in equal measures[21]. When crossing the line, I decided to reward the spectators with what, at best, I can describe as the facial expression of a man being chased by a rapist and, at worst, the facial expression of a rapist chasing a potential victim.

Still, 2:33:13 represents a 7 minute 44 second improvement in my marathon PB over the last 189 days. At that rate of improvement, I should be able run 2:02:17 in a mere 2 years, 7 months and three days. Sadly, that falls in early June 2019, when to be honest I’d prefer not to be running a marathon (May is traditionally a heavy-drinking month for me), so we’ll never know…

Pearce @ Frankfurt 2016 - Mannheim

Alas I couldn’t be bothered to take any pictures of Frankfurt[22] for the entire time I was there. This is Mannheim from the train on the way home. They’re pretty similar.

[1] Upwards of four hours.
[2] Geneva, Hamburg, Rotterdam
[3] Anywhere in French-speaking Switzerland. Honestly, they could learn a thing or two from their adjacent German-speakers.
[4] am Main.
[5] Full stop.
[6] am Main
[7] am Main
[8] Being responsible for a baby and his frequent bowel movements has dulled my usually excellent sense for what makes polite conversation as regards shitting; ignore this bit if you don’t like it. Although if you do ignore it, you’ll also have to filter out all the other subsequent bits related to my bowels or they simply won’t make sense.
[9] A second-hand iPhone 4S.
[10] Marathon.
[11] am Main
[12] Not dead against
[13] Both marathon-start-related and Eastern-European-prostitute-related action – near the main station.
[14] http://o.canada.com/entertainment/music/daylight-saving-times-coldplay-connection
[15] Three cups. A PB and I hadn’t even started running. On the down side, still no shit.
[16] Bruce.
[17] Usually the guy who has clearly gone off too fast and who I stand a realistic chance of finishing above.
[18] “Aid“ here appears in speech marks as it was a double-edged sword – gels at the start of the zone (great), but then water a couple of meters afterwards, thus giving almost zero opportunity to swallow properly. I mean, HELLO?!?!?
[19] The hotel’s coffee, while decent, was comparatively slow to act as it turns out.
[20] Not all.
[21] Seriously, the people there could have been waiting for one, maybe two/three people max. to cross the line. Given I knew I was in Frankfurt “incognito”, if I was one of them, then I really need to shore up the security settings on the admittedly few social media platforms I use. As I said before, there’s all sorts of weirdos out there.
[22] am Main

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