Wednesday, 9 May 2018

All Runners are Beautiful

It was sometime in autumn 2017 when I was talking to my dear friend Yi on WeChat. Suddenly she mentioned the Prague marathon taking place in May 2018 and said that her friend registered them to race. She asked if I wanted to join, then she gave me a bit of information and sent me the link to the official website to read more about it. I said I’d think about it and would get back to her in a day or two.
My dream was and is to run the Athens Marathon, the Authentic as it is called, but back then, due to an injury, I wasn’t fit enough, nor was I prepared for such a long run. The Authentic Marathon is quite demanding, because it goes uphill from km 10 to km 31. It is almost flat for the first ten kilometres and goes downhill the last eleven. Since I wanted to participate in such a long run, I visited the website of the Prague Marathon, read all about it, registered and delivered Yi the happy news. 
The thing is, that I still couldn’t start training, due to the injury I had. It was almost mid-January when I slowly started with the training. I then discovered the Athens Half-Marathon and participated to see what it is like to run in a city, on hard tarmac with potholes and all sorts of difficulties one might face. It was more or less like a Prova Generale. 
After that event, I took things more seriously and practiced in a nearby park, on a treadmill in the gym, on the streets with my dog and the children of my neighbour. My dog did the first round of 2.5 miles and abandoned me. He walked home. Calling or shouting didn’t help. The first day he abandoned me, I thought he simply followed the neighbour’s child and didn’t understand that I was about to go on a second round. The following day, when I ran without the company of the children, he again walked home and wouldn’t listen to me.
Months passed and here we are. I thought that Yi would come with her friend only, but it was six of them who came, not all of them for the race. We met last Friday and went to the expo to collect the bags with our starting numbers and other material that came with it and was included, like a vest for runners with the official motto of the event. There I met Yi’s friends. Besides her, the other participants were Guowei and Xiaofang. I looked at Guowei and got scared. He looks like a ‘Kampfmaschine’ as we say in German. I thought, look at his well trained body, at his stature, I looked down at me asking myself, where are you going poor man? We entered a beautiful building, quite impressive as well as from the in- as from the outside and slowly made our way to the registration desks. There were many booths, where runners and athletes could buy or get things for free, so we spent some time looking around. We found a wall with the names of all participants, found our names and took photos. Then, as we were walking through the hall, I spotted a huge ‘ON’ sign. ON is the name of a Swiss sports shoes manufacturer, who do also some clothing. I discovered the brand by accident three years ago in a shop in Munich. I was looking for a pair of Adidas running shoes, but caught sight of a beautiful pair of yellow trainers with an uncommon design. I put them on, fell in love with them and have since then bought another seven pairs of different models. I sent a photo of those yellow trainers to Yi, she visited the website, and since ON don’t deliver to China, I bought a pair of purple trainers for her and took them with me to Guiyang. 
We moved towards that huge ON sign and a sales person approached us when we were standing in front of it. I said: ‘nice shoes’ and Yi and I shuffled with our feet so he could see that both of us were wearing ONs. The sales person repeated ‘nice shoes’ and, professional as he is, noticed that we were wearing older models and started promoting the newest one. We put a smile on his face by telling him that Yi had bought it a few days earlier.
Then we moved to the registration desks and once done, we saw our names on a screen (photo below). We then walked around the booths in search for bumbags, gels and cereal bars. We were not sure if there would be any food on the course. The info-brochure was a bit vague about it (could be that we didn’t understand what they were trying to say) and there were no icons of food on the map of the course, only water, sponges and Gatorade. 
Since the Chinese, especially Guowei, are experienced runners (he has run six or seven marathons so far), I followed them around and bought whatever they bought, that is a bumbag and two gels. I had cereal bars with me from home.
I went back on Saturday for the pasta-party, an event I was really looking forward to, but got disappointed. It wasn’t a party at all. You had to line up for at least ten minutes for a small plastic plate of bad pasta. A can of non-alcoholic beer with some fruity flavour came with it. So I left hungry and disappointed and went to have proper lunch.
The night before the race I was asking myself ‘What the hell am I doing here? Why am I doing this to myself? I am so not ready for this. I could stay in bed instead of running.’ The brochure says: Time limit is 7 hours from start. The limit is listed for each kilometre in the map of the race. All runners behind this time must leave the course and finish their participation in the race for safety reasons. We were joking about this by saying that somebody would approach you from the side and like in the films would whisper to you, please follow me discreetly and don’t make a scene, and would then accompany you out of the course.
Sunday morning came and I took the metro to the centre. I observed the many runners in their professional gear. There were very tall Germans, Swedes, Dutch, Austrians, short Italians, Mexicans and Asians, but all had something in common: trained bodies, expensive clothes and smartwatches (Apple, Suunto, Garmin, you name it). Where was I going with my XiaoMi wristband (15 GBP) and Under Armour shorts and top from the fake-market in Shanghai, both together bought for 10 pounds? I not only looked like an amateur, I felt like one. Who are we kidding? I am one!
Some were there and ran with their partners, some with their entire families, some were there with their families, but ran alone and had their family members waiting along the course to applaud, hold banners and take photos, a Chinese young lady was all dressed in tight black clothes and looked like Catwoman. Several Asians looked like ninjas and most Africans were in the first few groups. I wished my idol Haile Gebrselassie were here, but he retired years ago. Others had their national flags sewn onto their clothes and I saw one running with a massive Chinese flag and one with a Bavarian flag. That made me remember that I forgot to bring my Bavarian flag and wave it when crossing the finishing line.
My Chinese friends and I met in town. Xiaofang and I were in group L, the last group, Yi and Guowei were in group K. Both groups were a long way from the starting line. It took us about a quarter of an hour to reach the start. We took some photos while waiting and did some warming up. Then we started moving towards the starting line and somewhere near it were speakers from which sounded loud Rocky Balboa and Gladiator-style music. Right before and long after the starting line were many spectators who applauded and cheered. It was a very touching moment and I was close to tears. We ran a bit through the old town, crossed a bridge, ran sort of under the castle, made a round in that area and approached the famous Charles Bridge, which we crossed. The course was quite scenic and I took several photos of both, of the surroundings and of some runners. It was then when I realised why we were given seven hours and not six or even less to finish. Despite being a mainly flat course, there are reasons like cobbled stoned streets, narrow streets where you couldn’t overtake easily, tram-tracks, tourists crossing and later on the burning sun. 
When I first looked at the map and saw that a large part is along the river, I was afraid of humidity, but to my surprise, it wasn’t humid at all. It was hot at parts and in other parts a strong headwind was blowing. The most pleasant part were the tunnels, nice and cool and no sun. The course went along sights, bridges, old town, industrial and newly built areas. There was fruit, bananas and oranges at the stations, which I completely ignored for over half of the course. I had a rich breakfast and enough energy to burn. I did the half-marathon quite easily and quicker than in Athens, which pleased me and when I looked at the RunCzech app and found out that it said I would finish it in just under 5 hours, I was even happier. That was good news.
I bumped into Yi at one of the stations, we had some oranges and continued running together. Before we reached the next station she asked if I had had any of the gels and if not, I should drink one, as we were approaching km 30 and I’d certainly need the energy. I obeyed. At the station she asked if I had had any salt, and since I said no, she led me to the plates with the salt and the sugar, I dipped my fingers into the salt, ate it, pulled faces and made some funny sounds, which made Yi burst out with laughter. 
Everything was fine up to km 32. I had reached runner’s high, the endorphins were on a rollercoaster ride and I had a big grin on my face. But then runner’s high disappeared, my left foot started to ache, the breakfast was burnt, the water, Gatorade and fruit didn’t deliver enough energy and power was abandoning me slowly. I partly ran and partly walked for about five kilometres and walked the last five. Some cyclists were passing on the paths along the route and the thought of asking them for a lift arose. The music had stopped playing and mine and the other’s panting hypnotised me to an extent, that I closed my eyes and ran with them closed for a while. The voice of the Mi Fit application brought me back to reality: You ran 33 km in 4:23:37. The last km took you 7’ 58”. Your current heart rate is 149.
I ran the last 500 metres and regained power by hearing the spectators applaud and scream. The thought of playing Pheidippides and collapse theatrically after crossing the finishing line arose, but then about 300 metres before the finish I saw a runner lying on the ground with two doctors above him. I felt so sorry for him. It looked like he had a cramp and was not able to walk or run. I made it through the finish under the cheering of the spectators feeling like a hero, collected a bottle of water, passed by the girls to get my medal and went to meet my Chinese friends. 
My goals to make it to the finish and not being last were hereby achieved. It was the first time I had run such a long distance. My record had been 33 km on the 400 m course opposite the hotel in Shanghai I was living at last summer. 
We were happy to have made it and all pain seemed to have disappeared. We spent a bit of time on the square taking photos, drinking smoothies, eating fruit, before we walked to the technical area to collect our bags.
It was time to say and hug each other goodbye. Will we do it again? Of course we will. When and where? Who knows? Guowei mentioned the marathon in Wuhan, where local food is served along the course. I have registered to run the Authentic Marathon in Athens in November. Six months to train until then.

Thank you Prague, thank you everyone who made this possible! It certainly was a fantastic experience.

You can see the course by clicking on this link:
The official website can be found here:
Spectacular and peculiar photos can be viewed here:
ON shoes:
My cousin's music accompanied me. Halaros:

Expo main entrance with the official motto.

 The wall with the names. I've spotted mine.
 Exactly there.
 ON, the Swiss shoe manufacturer.
 In order of appearance as they say in film credits. That's how we finished. First Xiaofang, then Guowei, followed by me and Yi. Was it prophecy? 
 Me with slogan.
 Yi with slogans.
 Expo main building
 Selfie time!

 At the Start/Finish, two days before the race.
 My BIB, start number.
 There was a family run and a walk with dogs event the day before the marathon. The dogs had to run on a leash and had numbers on their backs. This is the final straight and especially some younger dogs started jumping up and down when they heard people clapping and cheering.

 Old Town Square, Sunday, 8.30am.
 Selfie with Yi and Guowei.
 Fresh as daisies.

 Waiting to be allowed to move toward the starting line. We have to go left at the end,
 then right at the end,
 then comes a long straight,
 still in the long straight,
 passing time with sightseeing,
 approaching Old Town Square,
 and finally the starting line after another right bend and 15 minutes of walking.
 Running toward the first bridge.
 A ballerina.

 For my family, for my grandma.
 Charles Bridge

 Nice hat!

 Rudolfinum concert hall (took this photo the day before).
Bridge crossing.
 Gotcha! Found Yi in the crowd after 3 km.
 Selfie time!
 Beautiful buildings along the way.
 The most beautiful tunnel we passed.
 Views from a bridge.

 Another ballerina.
 Sponge from the sponsor.
 The end is near!!!!!
 Four happy runners. Xiaofang (standing next to me) was the fittest and best prepared and did it in 4:30:53. Respect!
 Our medals.
 Look what I got!
 Total steps of the day according to my XiaoMi wristband.
 Total kilometres of the day according to XiaoMi wristband.
 Total calories burnt according to XiaoMi wristband.
 Total steps of the day according to WeRun.
 The Dancing House. We passed it before crossing the river. I wasn't sure if this was really the famous house, that's why I didn't take a photo while passing it. Once I confirmed, I returned the following day to take this photo.
 Captain Morgan bar.
 According to Mi Fit, the course was 43.28 km and not 42.195 km.
 Pace makers. If you want to make it at a specific time, find the ones with the time you want and follow them. If you zoom in the photo titled ' Waiting to be allowed to move toward the starting line', you'll see two of them with the 5 hours mark. I passed them at some point and left them far behind me, so I thought that I would make it in way under 5 hours. Oh, how wrong I was!
'Running with those that can't' say their T-Shirts. There were several of them. What a great initiative! 
Official photos from the organisers.

 Running in gear bought in the fake market in Shanghai. 
 Notice the sponges in my hand?
 I've made it! Yes, the torture is over!

 somewhere in town.

 On the Charles Bridge. Notice the older man on the right side?

 Aerial views

Jogging with my dog Aris (Aris is the Greek name for Mars, the God of war).

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