Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where did you come from, Cotton-eyed Joe? The Berlin Marathon race report

OK, I promise. PROMISE that after today, no more running talk. This is it!

Nerves were high at the Circus hotel Saturday night. Lots of marathon runners staying here! I ate dinner around 4 and just wandered around the neighborhood. I can't sleep on a full stomach, and I really wanted to sleep. I met up with C & J in their room downstairs early in the night to discuss details, then we all tried to go to bed at 10. TRIED. I got hungry at 10:30 and went across the street for a panini sandwich. Embarrassing and gluttonous, I sat in bed and just shoved it in my mouth. It was a pretty amazing sandwich, though. The hotel restaurant brags that Germany has the best bread in the world. That might not be an exaggeration. I read and tried to sleep. I slept for about 1.5 hours.

The next morning I jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to eat the breakfast buffet. I eat a lot before marathons. Everyone says, OMG Sara, how can you eat that much before a race? I feel awful if I don't. My blood sugar gets all wierd and I feel light headed.

I've never run a marathon in only kms before. I had to have a strategy. Miles are second nature to me and I never have to write down my pace. I decided to tackle this 10 kms at a time. I would only look at my watch once an hour, which is crazy! I would run by effort only. Here is what I ATTEMPTED to do, by writing on my arm for crib notes:

Here I am the last time I felt normal, this morning!

Km 1 - 5. Feeling OK. Not great, but OK.

Km 8 - My old boss, Ellen is in town with HER friends, one who also ran today. She comes to every chicago marathon and is always in the same spot. I always spot her right away. She told me she'd me at km 8 and I was so happy to see her. Even for a split second, it gave me a little lift. We tried to meet for a drink the other day but we are staying on opposite sides of town and our schedules didn't jive.

km 9 or was it 11 - ran right past our hotel!

Km 10 - 20. Right on pace, but feeling awful. During a marathon, I never ever feel awful until mile 17. I started feeling awful much earlier today. My head got cloudy, I was coughing, I got goosebumps when I wasn't cold, I just felt off. Lots of fun signs like "lauf, Klaus, lauf!"

Km 20-30 Losing steam and slowing down. I had no idea where we were going. I tried to think, OK now I am on the madison bridge heading east to UIC. Now I am heading north to Pilsen. I passed the time by trying to figure out where I would be on my beloved Chicago course that I know so well. I started to think about an email that my friend Laura K sent me yesterday to pump me up. I pictured her there talking to me. I thought about my friend Elaine and how she attempts any race and never gives up. I thought about all of my close friends from various corners of my life. I saw guys that looked like people I knew in Chicago and had imaginary conversations with them. Oh hey! How are you! blah blah blah-f-ing blah! We actually ran over a HILL. There were supposed to be no HILLS here. Ran past some factories and over some bridges.

Km 30 - out of a speaker at a deafening volume, a familiar song. Back in 2004-ish, my friend Kathy and I went to Belgium and we were entertained by a group of sloppy drunk 50 year olds in Brugges singing along to a dance version of rednex "cotton eyed joe". We had to learn the song because it was so catchy and stupid, and I think one of us bought it. ONLY in northern Europe will you hear that at a marathon, being blared through speakers with ladies in oktoberfest outfits dancing along. I laughed. It perked me up and I sang along.

KM 30 - 40. this is where you do the classic DIG DEEP. Another really bad song appeared, this time in my head. "I think I can I think I can I think I can come and ride the train.. ride it.. come and ride the train it's the choo choo train.. if you feel like dancin! come on, it's up to you!" Yes, the mid-90s hit by the Quad Cities DJs! I can't control what comes into my brain during a marathon. What a bad song, I thought. OK then sing something else. Something a lot more acceptable. Where did you come from, cotton-eyed joe? da da da da long time ago! (synth-fiddle solo here). Yeah. km 30-40 were bad. My legs felt like lead. I was trying to amuse myself and not succeeding. I enjoyed seeing random people spot their friends and family in the crowd and hearing them all cheer and slap hands or hug. We ran past some old fancy houses. In and out of downtown again. I feel some blisters and chafing. Lots of coughing and sniffling.

km40-42 - not pretty. I imagined myself running up north Michigan avenue, waiting for the turn at Roosevelt. Until I saw Brandenburg gate. Then I was filled with that happy accomplishment and rush you get after a long race, a long internal battle. I did it! I love Germany! We really are enjoying the food, the people, the attractive men, everything about Berlin. It's a big thumbs up.

End result: 4:22. My goal was 4:10. PR is 4:19. Not bad for a sick girl!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday on schirmystraße

Yesterday after exploring a lot of town, I discovered a little outdoor beergarden and public plaza with restaurants near the hotel. On facebook, I got several suggestions that beer will make me feel better, so I took the advice of all of my friends who have my best interests in mind yet zero medical knowledge and had one! And it was delicious. The weather here is lovely. Nice and cool but everybody is still sitting outside and low humidity. I finally slept through the night and got on the time change. This morning I bounced out of bed and put my race number on and prepared tomorrow's outfit!

I'm feeling better. I'm still coughing a lot, but it's more of the end-to-a-cold type of cough than an "OMG I'm gonna die" cough. After I hacked up a lung I took the self-guided walking tour of our area, in the former east berlin. It was great! I love exploring a new city by walking. Berlin is huge - it actually seems larger than I had pictured. But I saw all the downtown stuff yesterday so I was ready for some low-key exploration.

solar - powered bike vendor. I love it!

A lot of street names end in "straße". The ß is how they say two ss. I believe. I like it, a new character! ßßßßß! I'm 99.9% sure that straße means street. Typical street around the hotel - with a smart car. smart cars are everywhere.

I liked this straße and this apartment building. I'd like to live here and have a little balcony. A lot of BMWs and VWs in front.

The Berlin wall was a little bit north of the hotel. It snaked around the city. All over town, the former wall is marked with two rows of rocks and a little plaque.

Just in the middle of the neighborhood, up against a zumba billboard. Crazy! It was only knocked down 20 some years ago. You would never know!

The walking tour suggested a place under the train tracks for sausages. Well twist my arm, walking tour!

My currywurst. Yes, I had it again. It's the Berlin specialty!

View from my sausage table, which I shared with other people

I have missed out on some of our group activities. I haven't even seen my friends who are staying across town yet. I've been laying low because I don't want to get anyone sick.

Here is my race-eve pizza!

Last night I had the most delicious apple streudel ever, but today they were out of it. So I just got some at another place. It was pretty good!

I came back to the hotel and visited J & C upstairs. The pre-marathon freakouts have already begun. Bananas have been purchased, race outfits tried on, overanalyzing when to take gels and shot blocks along the course, when to leave the hotel, how early to get there, what if, what if, what if... no different than if we were in Chicago I suppose. I have a feeling that Jen and Carrie could both PR by a lot tomorrow. They are both feeling good and excited to get going. I might have to manage my own goals a little bit. I need to be a little easier on myself after getting sick. I trained harder this summer than last (a 20 and a 22 miler, the addition of Yasso 800s), but I am definitely not 100% right now. I need to decide if I am going to run balls out, and follow the 4 hour pacers like I originally planned or go with the 4:15s. Who knows, maybe I'm more of a 4:30 tomorrow. I think that because I am already sick, I might as well just approach this like a wild, rabid mangy animal on the loose. The kind of animal that is foaming at the mouth and will tear you to pieces. Maybe I need to channel that kind of persona tomorrow. Well, this is it! Thank you to everyone who is so supportive of me and my running. I know that it takes a lot of time and my running chatter isn't always the most riveting stuff.. but you have to have passions in life, right? Travel and running and food are my passions, definitely. And I'm following them, sick or not! Will write a report tomorrow after the race if I can. Monday we leave bright and early for Munich. Either way, you'll hear from me on facebook.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Flammkuchen, ricola and unexpected anxiety about this marathon

Wednesday I met Carrie and Jen at the airport. After we arrive, we'll meet up with other people from Chicago, London and Singapore. There is a huge, extended group of us running the marathon! They had seats together near a guy with a terrible gas problem, and I sat by a little kid. I read Anthony Bourdain's new book, and watched a British movie about four attractive, whorish people called last night.

I carbed up with some mushy lasagna!

Swiss airways has several music mix channels AND an entire channel of just Roxette. And its not just "the look" on repeat, which is how I would compile a Roxette list. They have 34 songs. Who knew!

In Zurich, we met another Chicago runner and a nice couple from France who was also running.

I have been sick for almost two weeks. Nothing flu-like, just a cold. It was 95% gone, it came back, it almost went away again but on the plane it came back with a vengence. I was blowing my nose the whole way to Europe.

We checked into our awesome hip little hotel, the Circus. I have a single with a huge mural of times square on one wall. It's eco-friendly and in the greatest little neighborhood of cafes and atmospheric little places. I am happy!

We went to the marathon expo while I was feeling horrible and my head was in a complete fog. Thank goodness for Jen. She took charge and mastered the subway and directions. She even speaks enough German to get us around. Usually at a race expo, I am feeling excited and confident. At this one I was filled with worry. What if my cold doesn't go away? 26 miles is incredibly daunting when you are feeling good - but sick is another story. I still have 2 more days though. I just tried to think positive and bought a couple of shirts. The expo was in an airplane hanger, and we had some flammkuchen (a cousin of pizza with speck, white sauce and really thin crust - awesome!) and a beer. We enjoyed the people watching at the expo. Germans are very attractive! They dress so much better in Berlin than Chicago for sure.

I came home and was able to select among a dozen flavors of Ricola:

Yes, my name really means umbrella!

my mural

View out Jen and Carrie's window:

Jen and Carrie with our flammkuchen:

Friday I tried to sleep in, then really got my money's worth at the breakfast buffet. I walked to the big train station to take care of an errand. While I was walking, I was suddenly struck with the need to go to a bathroom. Like magic, around the corner a most amazing bathroom appeared! (will post photo later). Berlin has several free-standing pod bathrooms. For 50 cents, you can have it for 20 minutes. It plays ambient mood music and even cleans itself when you are done. I was amazed and very excited about this toilet!

I went to the holocaust memorial (below) and Brandenburg gate (top).

I stopped to try a currywurst, a specialty of Berlin! I also broke my no diet coke rule. Yes, I gave up diet coke in January and don't even miss it.

I walked over to the Checkpoint charlie exhibit. There was a lot of amazing historical information posted. The Berlin wall is just fascinating to me. I was in college when the wall came down and remember it clearly. It was really fascinating to be up close to it and read the personal stories of people involved.

Well, hello Angela!

The checkpoint:

I took the U Bahn over to the east side gallery, the longest remaining section of the wall.

Messages of peace from all over the world:

Hey Nelson!

And messages that didn't make any sense:

And dumb messages that just speak to us all on the knock-off Berlin wall next to the real wall:

I like Berlin. It's just really liveable and nothing flashy about it. Nice people, neighborhoods, cafes, fascinating history. Can't wait to run 26 miles around it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's time to RUN, then roll out the barrel

It was only a matter of time before I combined travelling with racing!

I always said I'd go to Germany when I had a good reason - I'm quite German by ancestry, but I'd always been more tempted by mediterranean countries and did my share of travelling through them before the dollar really fell in 2003-2004. I just never made it back to Europe, but boy I have been craving it! When a friend of mine said that she was going to run the Berlin marathon last December, I thought about it for about one day and entered. There is so much amazing history in Berlin, AND it has the fastest marathon course! It all fell into place - I've done the Chicago marathon three times and am starting to feel more comfortable with the distance, if that's possible. Two more good friends signed up, and several extended people I've met or heard about through the Chicago running community - now we have ourselves a party!

2011 has been a great year for running and racing. It's always been a part of my life. High school cross country holds some special memories for me - and I still stay in touch with my XC friend, Karenn (who also still runs amazingly fast). Some years I barely run at all. When I first moved to Chicago at 25 I ran a lot of races but never had the discipline to attack anything longer than 7 or 8 miles. I couldn't fathom getting up early to run. In 2007 I ran my first half marathon and loved it. Running has been there for me though high school, college, moves, family drama, birthdays, relationships good and bad. It empowers me and makes me happy. How many people can still practice their high school sport at 40 and LOVE it? I became hooked on the longer distances, and now can't imagine my summers without it. I've made some close friends through the marathon - especially in the past year and a half - we get together for dinners/drinks, enter races together and laugh. My marathon friends are particularly obsessed with food. Facebook posts have food pictures that are discussed at length. We never tire of discussing food, relationships, going to the bathroom and running. We even secretly meet at a park district track a few times a year to hold a one mile race while drinking a PBR each 400 meters:

I never do well in that race. But it's a great time!

What do I love even more than running? Travelling! I will spend 4 days in Berlin with the Chicago friends, then we take a train to Munich for Oktoberfest. After that, I'm going to recover alone in Cesky Krumlov for a few nights, then meet two of my friends up in Prague for a few more days of revelry. After that, I'll just go wherever I feel like in the Czech Republic, making my way through Slovakia and ending in Vienna. Goals for the trip:

Run a 4:10 marathon

Sing Oktoberfest songs

meet random Germans and feel related to them

sit at cafes for hours and ponder life

eat currywurst, sachertorte, spaetzle, and any encased meat that comes my way!

OK the meat goal sounded a little dirty.

watch european scenery go by on long train rides

meet strangers, have drinks with them and learn their life story (happens on every trip)

try wine made in Germany and the Czech republic

come home stuffed, happy and full of stories

which I will write about here. Please feel free to comment any time! I love hearing from friends at home while I'm on vacation.