What better way to start something than with a conclusion? Inspired by my friend Courtney at EatPrayRunDC, race recaps will be a staple. Races keep me running, and keep me challenging myself. I’m going to be honest and accountable about how my training is going, so I’ll also share how the actual race went.
The Dusseldorf Marathon in Dusseldorf, Germany on April 24, 2016 was my 7th marathon since I started running 6 years ago. Dusseldorf is in the north-west of Germany, about 2 hours from Frankfurt, 2.5 hours from Amsterdam, and 20 minutes from Cologne by train. It’s the fashion center of Germany and has a lot of great architecture.
I won entry to the marathon by entering a lottery at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo in October 2015. I had not given any thought to actually running a marathon this spring, much less an international marathon. But I won a raffle spot, and since I love to travel, how could I say no?
I will admit my training over the winter was not consistent and kind of spotty. I got all of my long runs in, but had a hard time running more than twice during the week, in addition to once a week weightlifting (kettlebells with Functional Fitness VA).
Now to the marathon itself! The expo was much smaller than marathon expos I’ve attended in DC and VA in the past. One clothing vendor, several other European races, and 4 other vendors. Getting my packet was super smooth. There were less than 5000 marathon numbers, so no lines. I also picked up a pace band, and a map showing what time I would be at various markers (km 14, 11:07 am). This would come in handy both for me, since I had no idea what my per kilometer pace should be, since I had exclusively trained in miles, and for my boyfriend, who travelled with me as my cheerer/support crew/designated stuff carrier. I also picked up my tech shirt. I went back to the expo on the second day to have some questions answered (such as exactly where was bag drop, and what public transit would be open), and buy a cotton long sleeve race shirt.
The Friday before the race, I went on a walking tour of Dusseldorf with other international participants, and had a traditional German meal with them. It was great to meet others in the same boat who had travelled so far from home. There were relatively new runners, potential Boston Qualifiers, and someone who had run 200 marathons all over the world. I’m really glad I took the time to learn more about the city I would be running through, and converse with my fellow runners.
Marathon morning dawned- thankfully dry. There was rain predicted overnight, with a chance of snow at 7am. None of that happened! The race had a relatively late start- 9am- so I left at 7:30 to walk the 3km to the start, passing by bag drop on the way. It was chilly and windy- about 37F- but clear. I dropped my bag with no problem, and kept my jacket until the race was about to start. I normally keep the metallic space blankets from the ends of races in order to keep me warm at the beginning of other races. Since I was able to keep my jacket (to give to my designate stuff carrier), I just made a skirt out of one metallic blanket until a few minutes before the start. Walking about the start was incredibly easy- no gates, no one checking bibs. I decided to start the race with the 4:45 pace group in order to keep myself from going out to fast, since I just wanted to enjoy the experience. I figured, if I dropped behind at any point, no big deal- I wanted to run without pain, to stop and take pictures if I wanted to, and have fun.
The race course itself was shaped almost like a four-leaf clover, each about 10k long. The first 10k (6.1 miles) started going north along the Rhine river, made a loop around the aqua zoo and then a mini loop also in the north part of the city. I felt good- and kept myself within 20 feet of the pacers. For my first 5 miles, my average pace was 10:42 per mile. I did start my tracker a few minutes before I crossed the start, so it’s probably off a little. My 10k time was 1:06:44. I saw my boyfriend around km7, which was nice- he had a sign in English and German for me!
The second leaf of the clover took us across the bridge into the new part of the city. I saw my boyfriend around km 12, which was a nice boost before heading over the bridge the first time. Around km15, it started to snow/hail. Seriously, little white pellets bouncing off me. It didn’t hurt, and turned to snow-ish, but it was so strange. The new part of the city had very nice houses, sheep grazing on the flood plain, the international youth hostel, and lines of people near the bridge. At one point, one of the pacers started to talk to me in German. Note- I don’t speak German. I had to ask him if he spoke English and he said yes- what he had said was “look, it’s me again, we seem to be running around each other.” To which I said “Yes, I plan to run around, a little in front, a little behind the group.” The half marathon mark was just before we recrossed the bridge into the old city. My average pace for miles 5-10 was 9:44 per mile. My half marathon time was 2:20:19- I felt like I could run all day.
The third leaf headed out east. We passed one of the main squares around the Ko, the zoo, several pretty churches, and some great drums groups. I saw my boyfriend again near a park- I was starting to get marathon brain, and thought I had missed him. But I didn’t, and I picked up my marathon treat- skittles! I remember thanking police, spectators, high-fiving little kids, and talking to one or two other runners. My average pace for miles 10-15 was 10:30 per mile, and I was mostly ahead of the pace group. My 30k time was 3:20:59. And the aid stations- there was water ever 2.5km, and bigger aid stations every 5km, with water, Taxofit energy drink, cut up bananas, and sometimes Taxofit gels. I never felt too thirsty, and I like Taxofit better than Gatorade, it wasn’t as sweet.
The fourth and final leaf of the course went south. I saw my boyfriend for the final time around km 32, where I handed off my long sleeve shirt. I was doing just fine until about km 36, which is when I started to feel really tired and hurt. I had a few skittles, and got some energy from running a street over from our rented apartment, and the people shouting names of the runners. I also passed by the Frank Gehry buildings, which was run. I did walk some small sections- the only times I walked outside of water stops. My average pace for miles 15-20 was 10:53 and the average for 20-25 was 10:44 per mile. My 40k time was 4:31:00. I fell behind the pace group around km38. After my final walk break just before km 40, there was a cheering station along the Ko. I just kept thinking, I am so close. And it started raining. Once I hit the final half mile or so, I started running faster. It was like a long finishing chute, with the final quarter mile along the river with lots of flags and people cheering. I was so happy to finally cross the finish line! My watch time was 4:45:12, and my final chip time was 4:45:09. My second best marathon time ever, best in over a year, and the most I’ve run during a marathon, and certainly the best I’ve ever felt during and after a marathon. My final average pace was 10:52 per mile.
Finish area- I picked up my medal, and walked to the finish area. There were showers and a changing area, but my boyfriend was waiting for me. So, I picked up my bag, alcohol-free beer, and half a berliner (think jelly-filled donut). It was so nice to sit, relax, and drink my alcohol-free and alcohol-full beers! And the fries I bought helped too. It was a slow walk home, but I felt really good about what I had done.
Overall, I had a great time. The race was smaller than the marathons I’ve done in the US, but there was still great crowd support. The race was well organized, even with a few small translation hiccups. The weather was crazy, but hey, what can you expect from spring? I’m glad I took the chance to run an international marathon- a great way to see a new place, and get in some art and culture before and after the race!