by Viju Parameshwar
I ran a marathon! I never thought I would be able to say this –it has been a vague dream for over 30 years and I always thought of it as unachievable -- in the category of playing Test Cricket for India! Still difficult to believe after 3 days. For the record I ran the course in 4hours 45 min 35 secs, in 22832 place out of 35,500 odd starters – 1386 in the group Males 55-59 years old. With the crowds and consequent weaving and long cornering I actually ran 43.9 km from start to finish instead of 42.195 which is the actual marathon distance.
If a marathon can ever be easy, Berlin is. The course is absolutely flat and the elevation is about 120 ft. above sea level. The temperature was between 11 deg C when we started and 15C by the end with bright and clear weather all day. A million people lined the streets cheering; mainly women and children who wanted to have runners hit their palms as we went by. 90 bands played on the way and many people had set up loudspeakers and played music for the runners including some apartments in upper floors! One band was of American Indians and one recorded music station played only Bhangra! The atmosphere was incredible. People were very friendly and there was no pushing and shoving even at the crowded first few kms.
The website was rather unclear so before getting to Berlin I was anxious about how to get to the start point (no subway info- trams and buses halted for the marathon), what time we needed to be there, whether there were starting sections by expected finish time and whether luggage could be left there. I was wondering how such a large major marathon could have such a poor website (I still do –RFL is far superior!) The arrangements at Templehof airport where the EXPO was held and bibs had to be collected were excellent- huge exhibition with many shops, kids’ runs, picnic opportunities, etc. In spite of the huge numbers of participants and visitors, it took no more than 5 minutes of queuing to get the bib and chip. However, unlike in Bangalore, the chip is given loose, safety pins are lying around in a box and you could forget to pick them up.
All day (Saturday) walking around town one saw runners dressed in fancy running gear, lean mean professional looking, running around giving me a serious inferiority complex! I calculated I walked 10 km that day travelling to Berlin, getting to and from the hotel to the subway station, going to the bib collection, some sightseeing and going to and from meals. This I am sure is not good for you and contributed to heavy legs in the late stages of the run.
On Sunday morning every road seemed to have runners heading for the start as did the entire subway train (runners ride free that day!) Close to 36000 starters were accommodated in the starting sections (A to H) without any fuss and one only needed to get there 15 min before the start near the historic Brandenburg gate. On the way we passed a section of the Berlin Wall preserved for posterity and had a quick picture taken. I was heartened to see masses going into nearby parks for the last minute pee as the lines of porta loos had huge queues in front of them and were already smelly! Soon Geoffrey Mutai and compatriots were off at the official start – it took me 25 minutes more to get to the start line. The first 20 kms went like a blur seeing all the sites – the Reichstag, the wide boulevards of Central Berlin followed by the shady Tiergarten and various residential areas. Drink stations were very frequent after the first 9 km and every alternate one had energy drinks, bananas (which gloved volunteers peeled and gave out), tea and water. Every few kms the fire department had set up hoses that sprayed a shower on the runners to cool them off. There were fancy dresses too with Asterix and Obelisk carrying a stone and many other such characters –all of them ran strong too –no Majja Runs! Knees started stiffening by km 32 and thereafter I had starting trouble after stopping for a drink so I decided against further stops. The last 5 kms were physically tough but there came along a feeling of elation that I am going to finish strong tempered with irritation that I have run 1.5 km more than the official distance. Finally, I ran through the city centre and Brandenburg Gate to the finish line!
Berlin was a revelation –my first trip there. The major landmarks are huge, beautiful and grand and reminded me of the pre-World War two era and the Nazis. Wide boulevards meant to accommodate goose-stepping columns of soldiers, beautiful parks, Humboldt University, the Dom and so on. Templehof airport, closed since almost 10 years, is a huge old building with the traditional large eagles on both ends and a sign “Zentral Flughafen” outside. It is a semi-circular building built in 1923 with an extended open roof on the inside curve looking out at a huge grass field with runways. It seemed Messerschmitt 109s, Dorniers and Stuka dive bombers would appear any minute. A memorial to the airlift which provided a lifeline to blockaded Berlin in 1948 can be seen.
Juxtaposed with this old Berlin are the signs of the Communist era-- massive characterless blocks of small apartments, relative poverty, the odd beggar, garbage on the streets in East Berlin with the stink of urine on street corners. The main airport where I landed, Tegel, reminds one of Bangalore HAL airport or the old Santa Cruz domestic terminal of 15 years ago. They are, of course, building a totally new airport which will replace all the old ones soon.
So I have done my first marathon just short of my 60th birthday –one item on my bucket list ticked off. Doing this was worth the months of training, no liquor, careful diet, etc. and the soreness still there after 3 days. I have to thank my friends:
1. Sunil for encouraging me to start running and providing support and inspiration from time to time
2. Matthias for coming to Berlin with me and running with me most of the way even though he could have gone much faster
3. Karl for coming to Berlin just to support us, taking great pictures and generally being around.
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