When running means so much more than the miles you cover (published 27 September 2021)

On Sunday morning, together with 25,000 runners including my wonderful husband, I stood on the start line of the Berlin marathon. It was the first of the major marathons of the world to have been run since 3 November 2019. On that cold but beautiful November day, I played cheerleader as my husband and a close friend ran through the streets of New York. When we left New York, we were planning for a trip to the Tokyo marathon in March 2020 with our two amazing running friends, to allow three of us to run for our six star medal – awarded to those runners privileged enough to have crossed the finish line of the six major marathons of the world – Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo. 18 months later and that six star medal is still a dream as the Tokyo marathon has sadly been cancelled for the second year. I hope to run there in 2022 or 2023 and achieve my dream of putting that special medal around my neck.

When it was clear we wouldn’t be able to run in Tokyo, I managed to get my husband and I places in the wonderful Berlin marathon. I’ve been lucky enough to run there twice before but this would be a first for my husband. It is a great event – virtually flat, with long, straight roads, a good crowd, an amazing start and an even better finish!

As the Berlin date was three weeks earlier than Tokyo would have been, it meant that I arrived back from my mountain expedition to Kyrgyzstan with only six weeks until the marathon. I hadn’t run for the three weeks of the expedition and my body, and my mind, were both physically and emotionally drained on my return. I therefore trained hard for the marathon but couldn’t fit in as much as I would have normally, and couldn’t do as many long runs. I was therefore hoping my legs would have muscle memory and that my mind would help me get round!

It was a different marathon experience – a PCR test at the Expo, masks on our faces until we crossed the start line and less runners than normal. But it was an incredible day.

Arriving in Berlin, the pilot welcomed us to Germany and wished ‘anyone running the marathon on Sunday, the best of luck’. It brought smiles to a lot of faces. Simply to be able to travel abroad feels like such a luxury, and is so worth the added complexities and therefore stresses. To be able to do so to take part in something that you love, with others from around the world who love it too, is very special.

We went out for a short 20 min run the day before the marathon and saw hundreds of other runners doing the same. We were all wearing the same wristband showing we had been Covid tested and were ready to run – it was like a ticket to a club and everyone smiled at each other!

The last two marathons that I’ve run have involved multiple laps – of a car race track (10 very hilly and windy laps) and of a lake (16 times up and down the side of a windy rowing lake)! I had felt privileged to even be able to run these through the pandemic but I was so excited to be able to run a big city marathon again. Even the half hour queue for the dubious smelling portaloos felt special!

The start of the Berlin marathon is wonderful. Each wave gets its own start, with music and a countdown. This time I wasn’t in the final pen for the slower runners, something that I still find amazing – I almost headed there automatically! My PB at my last marathon allowed me to start a bit earlier and so I set off with a huge group of runners from all nationalities. Throughout the run, I saw runners from every continent apart from Australasia. It felt like a celebration of running and, importantly, of the world coming together out of the pandemic that had kept us apart. It was hard not to feel emotional throughout the run.

Every Berlin marathon I’ve done has been hot and this was the hottest yet! I’m really not good at running in the heat and so I knew it would be a hard race for me. My husband and I had agreed that we’d run at our own paces. I hoped he’d have a good run as the last couple had ended in cramp for him. He wouldn’t choose to run a marathon if it wasn’t my passion and so for him to enjoy it was my wish.

Most of the first half went well but it was very hot and my energy levels were quite low, and certainly lower than I’d like with 13 miles still to run! My husband passed me just before half way which meant he was having a better day than me and I was so pleased for him.

I started to slow in the second half and made sure that I took on lots of water and poured lots over my head in an effort to keep cool. It worked only for about a minute each time! I had hoped to achieve a Boston marathon qualifying time – these are challenging times (or so they seem to me) that allow you entry into the iconic Boston marathon. I had achieved that for the first time in my last marathon and my goal was to do so in a major marathon. That goal kept me going when my legs really wanted to stop.

At 24 miles, I spotted my husband in the distance and slowly, very slowly (!), caught up with him. We exchanged smiles and I shouted that I was trying to get under 3hr 50 mins and he waved and cheered me on. I ran my heart out for the last two miles, with legs screaming at me and a body wanting to explode in the heat. Turning the final corner and seeing the Brandenburg Gate is always very emotional and it was again. I ran for the finish and crossed the line in 3.48 – another BQ achieved and a battle won. I stopped and waited for my husband to cross the line, waving like a lunatic so that he could see me! He crossed in 3.51 – a PB and I was so very proud of him.

We picked up our medals and slowly hobbled back to our hotel, our faces lit up by smiles. On the way back, we met two other runners – an American who was flying to London the next day to run the London marathon the following weekend to get her six star medal and a German who had just completed his first marathon. Both conversations were wonderful – supportive and encouraging. The running community, like any community, is special. It brings people together, it inspires through common goals, it supports, encourages and nurtures and it gives hope when the world is tough. We’ve all needed that hope over the last 18 months and this weekend was a beacon of hope to many. I felt incredibly privileged to be part of it.

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