VCM 2018 – my first marathon experience

In December 2015 I was sitting in a pub in Vienna with a couple of friends and after a few beers we started discussing marathon and possible times. It all ended with a registration for Vienna City Marathon 2016 the next day. I had run a half marathon in 1:27 that year in spring and during the cold months I had increased my running miles by quite a bit. I downloaded one of those hardcore training plans from the internet and went all in– but not for long:  I have a near flatfoot and after four weeks of intense training of 80-100k a week I had to pull out and stop running almost completely for six months.
Last year I did run a bit, but nothing above 15k. Still, I decided that my goal for 2018 would be a marathon as I just don’t have the time for hours on end on the bike. To avoid further damage to my feet I spent a lot of time on balance boards and blackrolls and got myself tailor-made insoles for my running shoes. Training went well and I was confident until four weeks before the marathon when I started to feel my ankle again. I had to cut the long runs of 30k and even two days before the start I was pretty sure I would go for the half-marathon only. However, friends convinced me to try the full distance and pull out when I felt too much pain – thanks Martin, Maria and Rainer!
On race day I got up at 5, had my usual breakfast, blackrolled my legs and went to the start where I arrived 90 minutes early. It was still fresh but temperature would become a big issue that day. I only did a very short warmup, the first kilometer is just fine for that as well. Not like a guy next to me, he had started warming up when I arrived…I started from starting block 2 and crossed the starting line a couple of seconds after 9 o’clock. I found a good pace of 4:30 the first kilometers, however my legs did not feel as fresh as I had hoped. At km 8 it came as a shock to me when I noticed that GPS signal of my watch had gone crazy and showed completely wrong distances (and accordingly split times). I checked with the official signs and to me relief my pace was still steady at 4:30/km.
From kilometer 10 to 15 it became warmer. Although I used every water station to cool my head and drink a bit, I felt hot. My legs were already heavy but at least I did not feel any pain in my ankle. From Schönbrunn (15k) back to the center a guy fell over a kerb just in front of me, I was lucky to avoid him. A few minutes later I had a first emotional moment when I turned left at the end of Mariahilfer Straße to enter the marathon lane, the right lane was for half-marathon finishers. I passed the half-marathon mark at 1 hour 35 minutes and shouted at the waiting relays at the handover to cheer a bit for us runners. Kilometer 21 to 27 was still fine although I was becoming tired and had to drop my pace a bit. When entering Prater for the second time I saw the front group near the finish on the video wall and that gave me another boost. Not for long though – at kilometer 29 I finally met that infamous man with the hammer. And I can tell you, he looks different from what I expected: My muscles started to hurt, the pain shifting all over my legs and I just could not maintain my pace. My heart rate also dropped a bit and the heat felt agonizing. I struggled to keep running and did so until the finish– I started to feel crampy, hungry and asked myself why I did this to my body? Only when I crossed the finish line after 3:20:48 I felt joy and relief. I had done a marathon – finally!

Now I finally know why a marathon is such a myth. It is completely different from anything else I have done before and I have great respect for all finishers. On a bike, I always feel I can control things and tiredness is a problem but you can recover from it. You do not recover in a marathon. In shorter running contests up to half-marathon you basically set a fast pace and run – nutrition or muscles are not an issue. But in marathon muscles are hurting, you feel exhausted with an hour to go and you are just not able to push your pace. And it is very hard to eat and drink, especially with 27 degrees like in VCM 2018. Lessons learnt for a second marathon:
– Pace carefully
– Drink enough (maybe arrange to have someone with a bottle on the track)
– Bring more than one gel
– Do not trust the GPS of your watch (or even better: do not trust your watch at all – back home after the shower the activity alarm said: “Move!”)
– Prepare to suffer
– Stability exercises and stretching are key elements intraining ; even better if you manage to integrate them into your daily routine.
– More long runs in training (if the ankle allows it)
– Find better socks