My marathon races … so far (2 of 2)

In the previous post I narrated my first three participations in the distance, starting with Munich, then Chicago and Paris. I will continue here with the following three, Berlin, Rome and Athens, completing a set of four european capitals.

  • Berliner Marathon – Berlin – 2012

After the epic experience of Paris, the idea was to recover the old plan of running the Berlin Marathon, and enjoying afterwards the Oktoberfest in Munich, which I deferred in 2011 to join Lorenzo and Jesús in Chicago. Things turned out that 2012 would be a challenging year for me at work. Although I enjoyed the professional growth, travels to Seville and longer working days altered my usual training routines. Not used at the time to carry with me the running shoes in the business trips as my brother Javier does, the weekly mileage went dramatically down.

The two months before the race I barely logged 13 days of training. Pace was ok in the trainings, at the level pre-injury at the beginning of the year and ahead of Paris. For a marathon race, though, to build a base mileage is key, as it would later be demonstrated.

Preparations were done by the usual suspects Javier, Serna and myself, to enjoy another race weekend in the german capital (Luca, Javier and I would later drive south to the Oktoberfest). Weather forecast indicated sunny and mild conditions for the race day, translated for 42,196km and less training than expected: heat.

Effects of the lack of training became evident already past Karl-Marx Alle and Strausbergerplatz, in km 13, where my times started to be slower than planned, already beyond the 5′ 30” /km and increasing.

The Berliner course is entirely within the limits of the extense city of Berlin, which means that almost every part of the course goes through either residential or commercial streets, very crowded. Serna would comment later on the extraordinary atmosphere due to this fact. I agree with him, but I still put the american show spirit of the Chicago Marathon higher in my personal ranking. My deepest thanks however to “die Berliner”.

I clocked 1h 51’58” in the half-marathon milestone and from the on, heat and lack of training were already taking their toll in form of fatigue. Last 15km I suffered from it and for the second time I finished the distance over four hours, half an hour faster than I did when running injured in Paris: 4h 11’12”.

Already in the preparation for Paris, I had started to draw funny sketches for trainings and ahead of races, and Berlin was no exception, these two were the designs for those races:

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  • Maratona di Roma – 2013

The running society formed by Javier, José Serna and myself started to gain momentum and so we decided to register together as well for the race in the Eternal City. After all, who can imagine a scenario so loaded with history and monuments? This time we enjoyed as well the participation of a colleague of Javier at Airbus in Toulouse, Manuel Vidal. In addition, it would be my first trip to Italy, believe it or not, which was definitely an incentive.

With less stress in my daily activities at work by the end of 2012 and first weeks of the new year of 2013, I was able to perform trainings more regularly than for the troubled previous marathons of Paris and Berlin. Relevant for the new training sessions was that Javier gave me as Christmas present a new heart-rate monitor with GPS, a Garmin Forerunner 210, for which I´m still thanking him. Altough my old Polar had marked a leap forward in my training, the possibility to track the path and monitor the speed really made the difference. I had no longer to run predefined paths so I could later compare the times clocked in every training. I addition, the psycological incentive of having real-time indication of running speed helped as well in the preparation. Training paces in long series at Retiro could be brought under 5’45”/km again.

Arrangements were set for the trip, coincidentally being the weekend of the race the same of the first Angelus Mass of the newly elected Pope Francisco I. Normally crowded with turists, this time Rome was really full. We paid visits to some of the most relevant spots, and were lucky to find these funny training T-shirts with the motive of the new elected Pope (these Italians had an eye for the business…):

The 3-J Running Society in Rome

The 3-J Running Society (left to right: Javier, Jaime and José) in Rome

Of the many remarkable places in Rome, the start and finish line couldn´t be located but around the Colosseum. The race started with the loud score of the movie Gladiator, definitely switching us into epic mode ready for the “battle” ahead. Then, having Javier as pacer in first 10 to 15 km, and thanks to the better training, I could manage to maintain 5’/km and below up until half marathon milestone. Although we enjoyed good weather, the heat was not the burden it had been for me in Berlin so I could enjoy the unmatched scenery of this city while running. To give account of the historical places we ran along I would need separate posts, after all we talk here about Rome!

Particularly challenging feature of this race is the course across the older parts of the inner city, where the streets are made of paving stones. After some kilometers, this can be more painful to the feet plants than other surfaces. In fact, in the areas of the aid stations where water is provided, it got a bit risky and slippery. Fortunately no accident was to be reported at the end.

Once the half marathon milestone was left behind, the pace got a bit slower, which was expected, and stabilized around 5’30”/km for a while. It was not until the very last kilometers, when I finally felt mentally tired and I found that it was more difficult to concentrate on the running effort, thus going over 6’/km. All in all, the main goal of finishing again under four hours was accomplished: 3h 47′ 51”.

Again, the corresponding motive for Rome was communicated ahead of the race:

Design for Maratona di Roma

Design for Maratona di Roma

  • Athens Classic Marathon – 2013

ἐπικός (epic) or rather Greek Hell. In fact both expressions would apply to what happened in November 2013. Already in the preparation for Rome, the 3-J Society thought about the next objective for the fall marathon race, and the historical course from Marathon to Athens presented a unique opportunity to have a taste of history.

In the arrangements of the race we were fortunate enough to engage the fourth J to the pack, in the figure of Juan Hurtado, who would share with me the hostel room (what a move! some would say).

The training in the months ahead of the race went smoothly, in the meantime I had switched my position within my company to a placement based in the german city of Dresden, so that I had the opportunity to train along the river Elbe when I was there, which I enjoyed a lot. When in Madrid, I would manage to clock a fair amount of kilometers at training paces around 5’/km. Leaving the summer behind, with its high temperatures that always lower my performance, the outlook for Athens in November was optimistic, even knowing about the uphill profile of the course. I was sure that I would not do a Personal Best but, after Rome, going under four hours again was more than attainable.

Already in Greece, the group included members of the recently formed families around Javier, with Luca and their daughter Andrea (my niece by the way), and José with his wife Inma, herself a teacher and with extense knowledge of the classical greek culture. The complete experience was wonderful every minute.

With an impressive logistical operative, dozens of buses from Athens transported thousands of runners to the start line in the outskirts of the village of Marathon. The race would soon start.

Again I tried to follow Javier as unvoluntary pacer for me, which worked well for the first 10km, at paces around 5’/km. From that moment on, the clouds that had been present started to clear out, temperature rose, and the sun would become a merciless companion for the rest of the race. I definitely suffered it. From km 11, my pace already went over 5’30”/km, and with the uphill at km17, I started to visit the 6’/km range. First lesson learnt for next races would be to have a cap to protect my head from the sun, which prevented me from concentrating on pushing forward at a pace that my legs would still cope with.

In that eternal uphill, every kilometer became an epic challenge. I could not think of further milestones such as half-marathon or the next five kilometers. The next water and aid station would be my oasis. At this point, I have to thank the fantastic organization of the race, which provided us with an apparently unlimited supply of 0,5l plastic water bottles. I would take two in each station, one to get a shower with, and the other to drink. This saved my race.

That greek hell (an expression often heard in sport tv-programs when talking about football or basketball matches against greek teams) lasted for the next 15km. Uphill, hot and under the sun. 15km!! Crowning that battle, km 31 milestone was at the exit of a tunnel on the road, with an even more steep stretch of some hundred meters. I reached 8’/km for some moments. I had never experienced that before. That marked the highest point of the course and the next 10km would follow basically downhill.

However, after all that suffering, and with the sun not allowing for a single break, I didn´t get back under 6’/km. At least, at that point we had abandoned the land roads and reached the city of Athens, with more people cheering us, and some more shadows from the buildings. It felt really great to approach the finish line at Panathinaiko Stadium, where Javier was able to spot me in the final 200m, encouraging me for the final rush. It was very touching to see him there and I pushed with all that I had left.

It had been impossible to come close to the timing of Rome, with 4h 9′ 53”, I was again over four hours. However, being able to finish that race under those adverse circumstances, and the final straight at the stadion were worth the effort. It had been ἐπικός, as one would have expected from the historical course, and so we could pay homage to Pheidippides. For further account of our race and the historical background regarding the greek hero, I recommend the reading of these two dedicated posts of Javier, race and hero.

To end with this personal account of the Marathon-Athens race, here comes the design that was sent out ahead of the trip:

Design for Athens-Marathon

Design for Athens-Marathon

When these lines are published, the 3-J Running Society is a week ahead of the Rotterdam Marathon 2014, accompained again by Manuel Vidal. Personally, this will make my seventh participation in the epic 42,195km distance. On the performance side, I expect to recover the path of Rome, and go under four hours again. On the leisure side, I´m sure it will be another wonderful weekend with the usual suspects. Whatever happens, a post will give account of it. Stay tuned…

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5 Responses to My marathon races … so far (2 of 2)

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