Frankfurt. The financial centre of Europe, apparently. It was time to go and cash in some of those training chips. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many, as alluded to in my post last week. However, this trip was all about the cleverer, prettier and less annoying person in our household – and she’d been working hard for months and months with this weekend in mind.
Being cheapskates and constantly short of annual leave, we opted to fly out from Stansted late on Friday night, sharing a romantic Boots meal deal sandwich whilst awaiting our Ryanair chariot which would whisk us to Germany – predictably about 30 minutes later than it was meant to.
There was absolutely no way we were shelling out the extra £4.75 to be seated next to each other, so we spent the flight aisles apart and left to our own devices. A short taxi ride from the airport got us to our rather luxury hotel, which meant it must’ve been booked by Lysons. The other giveaway was that it was at least an hour away from the start/finish area – chief of logistics Spraggins would’ve never allowed it.
Saturday = parkrun, with the additional challenge of a rugby world cup semi-final to watch. We weren’t alone on our holidays – recently married couples Ed and Cathryn and Tom and Coralie had also made the trip, and we all met in Nidda park for our Saturday morning 9am fix.
Luckily for Ed, I was there, as we set off on a ‘restrained’ run, with me gently reminding him he had a hard race in 24 hours time, as he was itching to go after the lead runners. Instead, we apprehended an innocent 11 year old child (bear with me), after finding out his personal best pace was the exact speed we were currently running, so took it upon ourselves to pace him and offer some ‘gentle’ encouragement.
Post run we spotted super fast runner Hayley Carruthers, who was nice enough to stop for a chat and a couple of pictures. Unfortunately she had to drop out during the race the following day, but I’m sure will come back stronger next time.
Lengthy research beforehand had pointed me to a very cultural, up market, Irish pub that would be showing the rugby, that was packed full of supporters. We enjoyed a refreshing Coke whilst watching England demolish the All Blacks – surely a good sign for the following day. (Maybe not so much for Katie, who’s half kiwi..).
After hitting up the expo and picking up our race numbers and other bits, we had a very lazy afternoon in the hotel, relaxing with feet up and discussing battle plans for race day. An absolute carb-fest followed for dinner, where I was so hungry I decided to order two main meals – a pizza and a pasta dish. I was hoping not to regret that decision the following day.
There was no outrageously early alarm required, with the race not starting until 10am and the clocks going back that night. For once I actually managed a decent sleep before a big race, feeling nice and relaxed as we chowed down on our pre-race porridge pots. Lysons had come prepared, bringing her travel kettle with her to double our hot water supply – genius.
Long and arduous journey to the start negotiated, we arrived in plenty of time to queue for the loo’s (luxury, indoor one’s inside the exhibition hall – huge positive), and hung around with Ed passing the time until we needed to head outside to the starting pens.
Once in the pens, or ‘Corrals’ to our friends across the pond, we bumped into Alice, another good mate who had had the journey from hell, eventually arriving over 24 hours later than scheduled. The 4 of us shared some nervous energy before saying goodbye and counting down the final few minutes.
Game faces on, it was time to see if running round in circles for 6 months had paid dividends for Katie. Ever since another horrible run of injury over the winter months, this race had been the key focus across the summer – with hopes of improving her current PB of 3:09 set in Valencia last year.
As always, the start was frantic, with us trying to lock into a steady pace and not get caught up in the congestion early doors. There was a plan, and at the same time, there wasn’t a plan. There was no definitive time target – just run to an effort and heart rate that feels right for her, and we’ll see where we are at halfway.
In the opening miles, there are lots of twists and turns around the city centre, with GPS signal temperamental and pretty inaccurate. I always recommend manual lapping your watch in these big cities races and using the distance markers on course, to get a good gauge of how fast you’re running.
5km – 21:07
3 hour marathon pace is 21:20 per 5km, so we’re inside this to begin with, but there’s a long way to go and we’re caught up in the tide of runners. I keep asking the boss if her heart rate is under control and she says she feels comfortable enough. Plain sailing so far.
Somewhere around 6km, she tells me that her foot is hurting, but suspects it might be cramp or something similar. We’d spoken in the build up, agreeing that things hurt in a marathon, and when they do, just try and focus on the things that are going well. So she did just that, and we kept clicking off the kilometres.
Mount Everest (things in this blog maybe slightly exaggerated) appears just before 10km, much to our horror, and we slog on upwards, losing 10 seconds on target but refusing to burn any matches this early.
10km – 42:33 (21:26 split)
Shortly after this, I’m informed that the pace feels too hard, and we’re dialling back a bit. As much as I’d love to see her run sub-3, as mentioned, it’s not part of the plan, and I’m glad the sensible head is prevailing. Once this decision is made I can feel her relax slightly and we find a nice rhythm.
Punters around us have clocked on that I’m acting as a bit of a pacemaker, and I’ve now got a small army of middle-aged men locked onto my back wheel. Not too much of an issue, until one of them get’s tangled up with Katie, and starts shouting abuse at her. Not on my watch.
Mid-run, I’ve spun around, pointed at him squarely in the chest, and told him in no polite way to ‘leave her alone’. ‘She’s about half the size of you, if you want to shout at someone, you can shout at me’. Our new friend went strangely quiet after this, and business turned back to running. You don’t mess with the Spraggins-Lysons train.
15km – 1:03:51 (21:18 split)
At this point, we’re running into a stiff breeze, but luckily for Katie and the rest of our band of merry men, I’m happy to take the brunt of it and soldier on. This rhythm is only broken when I decide to dive into the bushes for a leak, before charging back to resume my position at the head of the line.
Support is more sparse at this point, as we trundled along south of the river, after it had been much more lively back in town. With Coralie, Tom and Cathyrn not racing, we’d been roared on at various points in the early stages. Unfortunately, we also saw Ed at the side of the ride, having made the decision to pull the plug early, feeling really low on energy. He lives to fight another day.
We also spotted Paul Lunn, who I spent a bit of time with in Kona last year, charging around town on an electric scooter shouting support. Legend.
20km – 1:25:19 (21:29 split)
Accidentally, we’re still just under 3 hour pace, and by the time we reached half-way, the clock showed 1:30:01. No maths degree required to work out that we were bang on track. Time for the proper hard work to start. I reminded Katie of the negative split (second half faster than the first) I ran in Valencia, and told her I knew she could do the same.
I also got the vibe she started believing it was actually possible, and she was still running so strongly, looked really smooth and really in control. I told her to imagine everyone at home tracking along, and probably getting rather excited with the predicted time set as exactly 3 hours.
25km – 1:46:25 (21:06 split)
That section ended up being our fastest of the entire race as the sub-3 dream was well and truly alive. Gone was the relaxed demeanour of the opening half, replaced with a job to do look of grim determination. May as well give it a go now.
I’m going to risk upsetting the locals by saying that Frankfurt isn’t the most scenic of cities. But we had some nice, straight roads and apart from a couple of minor inclines and bridges, a pretty flat course. I was continuing to ‘gently encourage’ Katie to have her gels and keep drinking water. By now we were passing loads of runners who had gone out too eagerly and were paying the price.
30km – 2:07:41 (21:17 split)
As those that have done one before will know, that last hour of the marathon is where you find out who really has the minerals. I was trying every trick in the book to help her push the pain to the back of her mind and eek out every bit of training and fitness she’d worked so hard to build up.
As she’s so small, at times I’d turn around and get a shock, thinking I’d lost her, before realising she was behind another runner, completely hidden from my view. Like a version of running hide and seek, which isn’t so fun because you’ve been running for over 2 hours and everything is pretty hurty.
We were now playing the game of trying to run each kilometre in exactly 4:15, before worrying about the next one once that was done. One step at a time, closer to the finish. Her face told me everything I needed to know – she was really really hurting. But not fading.
35km – 2:29:04 (21:23 split)
We’ve made it back to the city, but rather cruelly now have to loop around various parts of it before returning to the finishing area. We got a huge boost seeing the crew just after 35km, trying to decipher the words being shouted in a barrage of noise. I spoke to Ed briefly who told us we were still 20 seconds ahead of 3 hour pace. We tried to tell Katie but she didn’t seem to be understanding words too well.
The pace agonisingly started to drop by just a few seconds a kilometre, and as much as I wanted to run the race for her, there was nothing I could do other than keep throwing out every motivational quote every invented. ‘You never have to do another one again, just get through this 20 minutes.’
Without meaning to I was drifting ahead, thinking that if I ran at the required pace she’d latch on to me, but she was giving it everything she had regardless. For the first time since about 10 miles in, a couple of people starting passing us, although we were still picking off a fair few.
40km – 2:51:23 (22:20 split)
We only lost a minute in that final 5km, but it would make all the difference in the grand scheme of things. I kept positive chat going, saying we could still do it; just a ‘few’ more minutes to go.
There’s a loooooooong home stretch before you turn left into the finishing area, and again we spotted Ed and the gang going mad which seemed to provide a boost and the pace increased. The finish in Frankfurt is much talked up, and after you turn left onto some cobbles, you enter the huge expo hall, with loads of smoke, loud music and strobe lights – like a large scale year 7 disco. It was pretty cool to be fair.
We unleashed a sprint finish, with me messing around for the photographers, and Katie completely emptying the tank. The video of the finish is a rather cheesy one, as she’s quite clearly got something stuck in her eye(s), and although off camera, I seemed to have the same problem. Odd that.
Finish time – 3:01:10
After a rather sweaty hug, I practically had to carry her through the finish area and through the long walk towards the exit and where we had to collect bags. Now we’d stopped, she was quite clearly in a lot of pain and struggling to move at more than 0.00001mph.
We were re-united with Cathyrn, Ed, Tom and Coralie, as well as Alice who had also unfortunately had to drop out early on. After a hobble back to the hotel and a bit of time spent recharging batteries, we descended on the Irish pub (if it’s not broken..) for a ‘few’ shandies and food.
The following day was spent crawling around Frankfurt, with Katie basically unable to walk. Back in the UK that evening, we decided it’d be a good idea to get it checked out to make sure no proper damage had been done. What’s the worst that it could be, she just ran a marathon on it after all?
A broken middle metatarsal (basically foot) definitely wasn’t what we were expecting… So she basically ran over 35km with a BROKEN FOOT. Not only that, but aside initially mentioning it to me at first, she barely spoke about it for the next 2 and a half hours, despite surely being in a fair amount of pain.
The thing I’m most amazed about, is not that she managed to get around (although this is still pretty staggering), but the fact that she did so in 3 hours and 1 minute. WITH A BROKEN FOOT. Unbelievable scenes.
Unfortunately, that means crutches, a boot, and a fair amount of rest before she’s back running. Life’s never straightforward when Katie is involved, but hopefully good recovery will see her back on two feet sooner rather than later, ready to crack on next spring.
From a personal point of view, Frankfurt went really well for me. I was actually pretty shocked at how in control 3 hour pace felt, with my heart rate nice and low, and legs feeling strong despite the lack of any longer runs. I’ve definitely got the motivation back and looking forward to getting back racing myself in the next few months.
This weekend was never about me though, and I left Germany quite possibly the proudest man in the world right then. We get all the naff, motivational quotes thrown at us all the time, but work hard, dream big, and you can do a lot more than you ever imagined.
**A final note from Katie**
We are obviously going to be following up on the foot issue. With no warning signs before the race, it’s not normal (and a bit concerning) for a bone to completely fracture unexpectedly. If anyone reading the blog has any advice or personal experience with something similar then I would really like to speak to them.