As with most of my marathon plans the past couple of years, this one started on a whim and without any actual planning. I had run London in April and after that I just defaulted back to my regular Crossfit training, not doing any running and distance work at all.
I don’t really remember when we (Pieter and myself) entered Köln but I think it was somewhere in May or June. Fast forward to August, neither of us had done much running and Pieter decided to cancel the race due to a health issue. I still wasn’t sure if I’d go or not. It was after “our” badminton tournament in the second week of September (the 2013 Yonex Belgian International) that made up my mind, I was going to Köln. Booked a hotel and got a train ticket, no way back now. I ran 2 to 3 times during the following 2 weeks and things were looking good: no pain in my right knee (that’s what I was and still am afraid of the most), stamina and speed looking good. Time for a long(er) run.
With only 2 weeks to go, I mapped out a 24km route. The run itself went fairly good but I had forgotten to take water or food. Which is a bad idea when you’re going to run more than 20km. I hit “the wall” hard around 21km and struggled to get home from there. All in all, good time for that distance.
The weekend after that (October 6th, one week until the marathon) I ran the Brussels Half Marathon. I had run that race in 2012 as well and with all it’s uphill stretches, it’s a good race to see where you’re at fitness-wise.
I finished in 1:46:01, about 5 minutes faster than the year before. I was feeling good about Köln and ever started dreaming of a sub-4-hour finish (which was my goal when I started training for my first marathon in 2011). But I’m the first one to reign in those expectations and got my feet back on the ground. Once you hit 30km, anything can happen (especially when you haven’t trained for it).
I left for Köln on friday evening, with the Thalys from Brussels-South. Arriving in Köln, rain was pouring down and it was pretty cold. I made my way to my hotel and settled in. On Saturday morning I headed to the Marathon Expo to pick up my number and timing chip. After that I walked around town, did some shopping and had lunch with my sister and mom (who were in Köln to cheer me on the next day but they came over a day early). I planned where I needed to be on sunday and when and then went to bed around 11pm.
Sunday morning, 7am, wide awake and it’s raining. Fuck. That’s not what you want on race day. I only had to leave by 10 so I snoozed for 30 minutes, took a shower and headed for breakfast. Then I packed my bags, checked out and I was on my way by 10am. I decided to go the starting area on foot and to not bother taking the train or tram. It was only a 25 minute walk and public transport would be way too crowed to go smoothly. By then it had stopped raining but it was still pretty cold and very windy. With about an hour to go before the start (which was at 11:30am), I wandered around a bit, got changed into my running clothes (which were long sleeves and long compression pants for the occasion, it was way to cold for shorts), handed in my bag and headed for the starting grid. I made it to the yellow starting group (3:50 - 4:00) with 10 minutes to spare before the start. It had stopped raining by now and the crowd was ready, as always you could feel the anticipation of the race in the air, everyone was ready to go.
20km into to the race and I was still on track, I may have started a bit too fast but all in all I was doing good. Around 26km, my calves started cramping up so I pulled up my tights to my knees to give my lower legs some breathing room. 30km came and went, my legs were hurting but nothing I hadn’t seen before. Best of all, my feet were still in pretty good shape (off course they were hurting but it wasn’t the giant blister pain I had in London). The last 5km were especially rough on the mental side. I knew the last 1,5km of the route but not really how we would get there, so every turn I expected to recognise a building or street that wasn’t the case. When we finally turned onto the shopping street I knew it was almost over and that I had it in the bag. 2 more turns and one stretch (that was longer than I expected it to be) to the finish line. My time? 3 hours and 49 minutes. Boom! My first marathon in under 4 hours!
I met up with my parents and sister in the baggage collection area, we had a quick dinner, got our bags at the hotel and drove back home. I was sore for a couple of days but best of all: 0 blisters. Ha!
Was next? Not sure yet. Maybe Paris in April 2014. We’ll see.