The first question that springs to mind when waiting around for a midnight marathon is “what on earth do you eat for dinner?” A mixture of breakfast and carb-loading apparently because nothing seems quite right.
The second question is … “when exactly did it seem like a good idea to sign up for a cold midnight marathon for New Year’s Eve?” Well, actually, it still sounds like a good idea (each to their own…) and a better one than just sitting around drinking alcohol because the calendar said you should!
The third question (which was specific to me) is “is running with cracked ribs a good idea?” Well….myeah.
The whole day of the 31st of December was a slightly odd day: minimal exercise, minimal time on feet, big breakfast, carb-loading lunch, lots of card games to pass time, afternoon naps and porridge and honey for dinner. Then, once we’d put all our running gear on, Pippa, Arno, Sean and I headed out at 9pm in our fluorescent outfits past the well-dressed revellers hogging champagne bottles (who were probably wondering what the hell these weirdos in lycra were). Pippa and Arno had signed up for the Quarter Marathon, Sean and I for the full.
Compared to last year when the race took place in -9C and snow, we got pretty lucky: it was “only” around zero degrees and the slight drizzle wasn’t predicted to get any worse the night went by. The starting line – a gymnasium in the west of Zurich, was remarkably easily accessible by public transport. So much so that we got to the race almost 3 hours early and, despite the kind of village fete atmosphere going on, this meant we had just enough time for another power nap!
Picking up numbers and goodie bags (and the warning letter that not returning the chip would cost us £50!) was pretty swift too. The contents of the bag were definitely some of the more eclectic ones I’ve collected so far: a 500g box of spaghetti, some shampoo and some low cost energy drinks/cereal bars. Having said that, based on the small fortune we spent in the previous three days in the shops buying basic groceries, this was probably worth about £20 and explained the pretty steep entry fees (over £50 including the medal). I decided not to bother with the branded champagne bottle: a steal at £15 for a 37cl prosecco…
After a bit more fretting over how many layers would or wouldn’t be required outdoors (most of us opted for a baselayer + gloves and no more), we headed down to the start line. As planned, with five seconds to go to the New Year, the announcer started counting down “Funf, Vier, Drei, Zwei, Eins” and beeeep, off we went after a quick kiss with Pippa. Arno and Sean would have to wait.
One of my few negative comments about the organisation is that there were no starting groups – all thousand runners across all three races started at the same time and, inevitably, you ended up with slow people near the front and a mad scramble to escape the gymnasium. I’ve seen a lot worse but it was still a little frustrating.
The exit from the gymnasium was pretty cool with rows of small fireworks either side directing you. The mist and smoke probably wasn’t the best combination for people’s lungs and it did feel a little like you were down a mine with the headtorches’ beam glittering through the fog but the effect was impressive!
The course is flat as a pancake (gradient of 0.1%…) and pretty straight forward: head east for 5km along the river, cross where the man tells you to and come back along the river. Sean and I still took a wrong turn after 8km or so. D’oh. The surface was more like a gravelly trail run’s surface than I’d anticipated which made it quite uncomfortable by the end. Cleverly, the organisers spray-painted a number of the roots and large rocks to make them stick out a bit. They also offered warm water at the drinks station – a nice twist on the usual.
With no idea of our initial pace (there was no GPS signal in the gymnasium), Sean and I set off at a decent speed. Other than the tiredness from being awake (and running) at midnight and the cracked rib, I felt in pretty good shape. We ran together for the whole first lap at roughly 4min/km although I was well aware that he was holding back a little for me. Having said that, the one photo of the two of us running together shows me one step ahead of him so I definitely helped him overachieve…
Running in the pitch black was a bit odd – other than the beams from our headtorches (and mine in particular, akin to the North Star) and the flashes from all the fireworks going off for the first ten minutes, there was no natural light at all. Some runners ran without a headtorch which just seemed unnecessarily dangerous.
Anyway, the first lap went by pretty well – for the first few kilometres, Sean and I chatted away until I made it clear to him that I would struggle to finish if I chatted my way through the whole race! The laps end where they started – in the gymnasium – which now felt like an oven as you went from 0C outside to 20C inside in a split second and were expected to keep up the same pace. We went through the first checkpoint in 10th, at which point Sean sped off into the distance.
The next lap started ok and I more or less stuck to the same pace, going through the 15km mark in 1h01 – more or less on track with pre-race plans. Then, however, my stomach starting feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Whether it was something I ate (I don’t think so), or a side effect from the ibuprofen I was taking for the ribs (quite possibly – I didn’t realise this was a side effect until after) or my body simply giving up on me due to fatigue (also likely), it was clear something was ballooning inside me which would become a (literal) pain very soon.
I kept going, uncomfortably, and crossed the halfway line in 1h30 – clearly slowing down. Pippa and Arno were there to see me go by, having respectively finished their race in respectable 56 and 55 minutes. Respect. (No respite from shitty puns).
Before the race, we had planned to stage a photo of me kissing Pippa a happy new year as I went by but Arno clicked slightly too late so all the evidence we kept now is of me telling Pippa “I don’t feel too well. Oh, and can you please hold my gloves, I haven’t used them at all so far”.
Within a minute of saying that, my hands were freezing cold. Damn it.
Once I reached the river again, I stood around for 5 minutes or so, wondering whether to continue or not: every kilometre away from the gymnasium meant a longer, colder, slog back. I decided to give it a (slow) go. After another kilometre or so, it was definitely time to switch my headtorch off and nip into the bushes. As I crouched over, it dawned on me that an Elvis-style heart attack while ‘straining a stool’ (it’s so poetic) would probably mean I’d go unfound until the next morning so I didn’t linger too long.
Feeling a little better, I headed off again. My circadian clock was definitely battling against me and the decreasing body temperature, increasing drizzle and plummeting morale was making my hypochondria spiral out of control.
One final pit stop later and I was back at the gymnasium having taken 30 more minutes than planned for my third lap. By this point, Pippa was starting to get a little panicked! After a 10 minute chat with her, we agreed that it’d be a bit pointless to set off for the last lap: a knackered body and a crap time meant there was little incentive to push myself the extra mile. Even the best (I think) pull out of races when carrying on will cause more harm than not.
After watching Sean finish in a mightily impressive third spot in 2h51, I was a bit cheeky and re-registered for the half (even though I’d done three quarters) so I officially came 20th in the half marathon race (0.1 seconds ahead of the 21st – ha!). The time was poor but meh.
On a normal course (i.e. in daytime), I would have stuck it out but in the dark, with no marshals for 5 kilometres at a time, the thought of being found frozen in a gutter in a tshirt the next morning with crap halfway down my leg held limited appeal at 3am! If something went wrong in between the checkpoints on this course, there really wasn’t much help you’d get: no passers-by, no marshals, and no public transport to hop on to.
Rather than focussing on the disappointment of starting the year with a ‘failure’, I’ll instead look at this as starting the year by actually listening to my body and common sense for once!
My first Paula Radcliffe moment, aww…
Final Time: 1h30.27 (20th/324)