Hamburg Marathon – 26 April 09

Your Editor writes:
Assuming (correctly) that I would not get into London this year, I started looking around for flat (ish) big(ish) spring marathons.
Paris and Rotterdam were too early – Hamburg fitted the bill perfectly – not too far away, not as big (or, I hoped, crowded) as Berlin, but big enough for a nice wodge of support in those later-on stretches, and best of all, beer at the end!
Twenty years ago (no-one can keep their age a secret in running!) we were in Germany and the food was all sugar or sausage. These days the streets are full of Asia/Falafel Imbiss(es) and I had no trouble carbo-loading. Also the LIDL in Altona-Hamburg station had soya milk. Joy, how times have changed!
The start of the race was at St. Pauli – i.e., one end of the Reeperbahn (not a glamorous place first thing on a Sunday morning LOL). Hamburg Mara is about the size of the Reading Half, and the runners’ village was much the same, only filled with weatherbeaten, fit-looking Germans in tight zip-necked tops, all of whom appeared to be called Ralf or Florian(*). Bit like a Kraftwerk keep-fit convention. Everyone I’d seen up to this point looked to be in the “can definitely beat me” category.
Even once I’d wriggled into my time-pen (and promptly wriggled out the other side to go to the loo) everyone seemed to be much fitter-looking.
Mysteriously though, once we all got going I was surrounded by the usual motley assortment of body types that I am used to Рwhere did they all come from? There was a chap in a brown St. Pauli t-shirt I must have followed for 20-odd miles (and I do believe I did beat  him :D).
Anyway. Someone sang the national anthem rather beautifully (fair brought a tear to my eye), there was a bit of,
“Hummel hummel!”
“Mors Mors!”
(the local equivalent of OGGIE OGGIE OGGIE OY OY OY, pretty much) and then we were off at last.
Once we had crossed the line, the next few miles (luckily, the route was well-lined with trees and bushes!) was peppered with blokes nipping off for a pee. WHY? It’s chip-timed and there are mountains of loos before the start! Go before the timer starts! Are blokes bladders really that nervous? But hey, no skin off my nose! (I should point out that they were at a good distance – no unpleasantness of the sort poor Fiona had to endure – mixed champs start – what were they thinking?!).
As I do more and more distance training I take longer and longer to get going – these days it seems to be about 3 to5 miles (sorry, 5 to 8 km!) before I get into my stride. Knowing this, I wasn’t too worried about the first few km being at a 10+ m/m pace.
The OH had given me a cheer and a wave from the sidelines as we trotted down the Reeperbahn and then vanished into the mysteries of the Hamburg public transport system. He was aiming to emerge at about km 10-12, but sadly he missed me.
No matter: as we rounded the bend and caught our first view of the harbour (very striking and beautiful in an industrial way), there was a chap standing atop a cable box holding up a professionally printed sign saying (in English)


Truly comedy is all timing. At 10k to go it would have been true (but he would have been risking his life!) – at 10k down, we all just laughed. (Also he was rather dishy – think Michael Redgrave in The Lady Vanishes).
2nd gel washed down, and I could see my pace improving in a gently pleasing manner. My target was to get to the 10 mile (sorry 16k) point in 100 minutes or less, and that was looking unproblematic. But by 10 miles my toes (ah, blisters!) and hip (only one, mind) were complaining. 2 paracetemol down with the next gel (I had a natty little zip-up pouch on my gel belt, very handy).

The course was well supported but entertainment consisted of a light smattering of school bands (charming) mixed in with a firm and lavish helping of that much-loved German standby, the spoon-in-saucepan. The country of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Boney M, Kraftwerk and Einsturzende Neubauten, and spoon in saucepan is the best they can do? Mystery! 10/10 for effort though.

Unlike Berlin, not many fellow British runners (lots of Danes, of course!) though I did see and talk to a Canadian lady at the finish. Her ninth and last marathon – she said firmly. Famous Last Words, I thought! This of course left me with only my rather rubbish German to make chitchat with. I told a clown – as I passed him – that my club (my 2nd claim club, in case you are wondering) has the fastest marathon clown in the world! I may however have said something quite different. He looked startled. But I motored on ahead regardless.

The promised 23 degrees Celcius was making itself felt. Luckily Hamburg is

  1. very leafy
  2. round lake… like… things
  3. on the seaside
  4. very well provided with water stations

aaaand there was the odd shower (most official …and one provided by a kindly caravanner!) along the course. So although I was still making time to plan, I confess I was tired and very much looking forward to the Ziel with zeal. The midweek long runs really proved their worth at this point, as 26k came and went.
“10 miles – I’ve done lots of ten milers feeling much worse than this,” I thought (trying not to think that they were slower as well).
27k. 28. …. 30. 32k… Now it was 10k to go. I knew I should put my foot down but somehow couldn’t quite follow through (even though it was less congested than Berlin, or perhaps Hamburgers are just better trained!). Hmmm – more progression runs next time, I think.

Under the arch at last, and the Garmin said 4:18 something. So 4? minutes (4 min 2 sec, as it turned out) off the PB. Job done. I had a little weep of relief (that I’d got the PB… and that I could stop running).
Now! I had been promised beer and (having not managed to get it in Berlin), the full force of rusty ‘O’ Level German was turned to to the task of locating the right tent. Cruelly it was on the other side of the Runners’ Village (so there was a lot of pinballing around, as you do, medal->fruit->goody bag->kit tent->chip return->beer!->Meeting Point).
Very nice beer, though alcohol-free. (I can only imagine the chaos which would have ensued if not – runners tumbling down the steps at St. Pauli Underground station like puppies, and the Runner’s Village a paddling pool full of regurgitated banana).

Postscript: though I thought it was hot in Hamburg (and it was), I came home to find that the runners in London had been fried alive in Canary Wharf and on the lovely reflective path in Stratford – so I guess I was lucky! I have booked up for Eindhoven in the Autumn – yes, I know I live in Abingdon, but the race is full already! – and am hoping for some traditional Dutch drizzle.

(*)Your name was printed under your number on the bib – a nice touch even if the locals cannot pronounce your name right (it would seem churlish to stop and say, “No, it rhymes with diarrhoea….!”)