Like the day before and the day before that it was raining, just more fiercely. It rained in such a manner that everything got wet, even the areas, the nooks and crannies that would normally be dry were wet. To use the descriptions of Forrest Gump it was the kind of rain that came straight down, from the side and right up from underneath you.
I looked outside and had feared that it was exactly in such conditions that I would need to run. Now the benefit of rain is that it’s not too cold. But in winter it’s not too warm either. Rain at +2º is colder than a snow at -2º. I knew that I needed to run though, even if it involved me running in conditions that would lead to pneumonia and well you know… (A little melodramatic? Well I’m the narrator and am allowed to do such things so pipe down). Obviously I did not want it to rain so I prayed and wished and hoped for it to clear up. And like in Vancouver, at around 4.30 pm the horizon opened up for a beautiful sunset. Though there were still plenty of clouds in the sky I hoped that this pause in the rain would last until the marathon was complete.
I made my way to Schlieren, an industrial suburb of Zurich, at quarter past eight to get there at around 9. Arriving at the train station I followed the markers for about a kilometer to the start point to collect my number. Realizing that I had no cash on me, should I want to buy a coffee, water, or beer I needed to find a bank machine. As is so typical in Switzerland there is never a bank machine nearby, so I had to walk back to the train station. The clouds were starting to break up and the light from a full moon was starting to be cast across the city. At the bank machine I was asked for directions by three friendly Germans, also wanting to run the marathon. Like a boy scout I became led the way back to the sport hall and start point. There we talked about different marathons and running events. Marc from Kaiserslauten and I decided to run together.
Midnight came quickly and not quick enough, as most things where there is great anticipation. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-Happy New Year, Frohes Neues! We quickly shook hands and were off under a sky alight with fireworks. A truly marvelous way to start the New Year and a run. Had there been music the mood would have changed completely – Handel’s “La Réjouissance” would have added a certain nobility to the entire thing, whereas “Die Walkure” by Wagner would have made the entire run more militaristic like an an attack and I’m sure elbows would have been flailing, so it’s probably best that that piece wasn’t played.
At first, the some two hundred runners were all bunched up and there were toes touching heels and shoulders knocking. The course was on a narrow walking path the width of a small car. Everyone was racing to break free. Every chance I got I was making my forward and Marc was right behind me. We had out headlamps on and were not only dodging runners but the puddles and small lakes on the path. The first drink station came quickly, around 3K into the race. It wasn’t time yet, so we just ran past. Along the Limmatt under bridges where the light played with one’s perception of the hight and mostly everyone ducked going underneath, though there was a good three meters of clearing space. Not knowing the way and it being dark I was running with my head bowed low watching the path for wet patches and roots that cold lead to a stumble.
Then came the first of two bridges to cross – a narrow wooden suspension bridge for pedestrians. On it a glowing marker 35K. We would be running past three more times before the night was done. At the end of the bridge the uneven ground welcomed us. Slanted and really only wide enough for one runner, the path was slippery and I thought I was going to slip into the river. We were running a good pace of around 4’15” per kilometer. We discussed slowing the pace, but decided to wait till we got a little further. After the next drink station that we also passed we slowed the pace ever so slightly.
Reaching the next footbridge we crossed over and realized three more rounds. We had our stride and it was going well. Then the fog started to roll in. The headlamps were like throwing your high beams on in the fog – they actually made it harder to see, so we turned them off and let our naked eyes guide us. Every so often a photographer would take a picture with a flash so strong that you were temporarily blinded. Keep going, keep going is all that was running through my mind. By the second round the few spectators that there were had mostly left and we were running alone. Across the water a few little lights moving in file – the half and quarter marathoners. Then the first drink station again and a cup of warm water. I drank while running, but knew that I would need to stop soon to pee. Over the suspension bridge. “Two more rounds” was all that I was thinking. Then Marc told me his hips were hurting. Not good – running with pain is a terrible thing, especially when you know you’re not halfway.
Side-by-side we ran through the other drink station and grabbed a cup of ISO and slowed the pace a little more. The plan was to stay at that pace until the last seven kilometers where we could give it one last push. Past the illuminated castle – over the bridge – photographer attack and back into a wide open space. Along the uneven path with seemingly invisible puddles. My feet were soaked. Then over the bridge again and I had to stop to pee. Marc went on and as I was rejoining the race I lost my glove. Going faster than before I was able to catch up with Marc. The he told me that his hips were too sore to finish that he would complete the half marathon. I wished him all the best and went on to round three.
The moon shone bright and through the fog for about thirty minutes. Then the fog became so thick that you could hardly see yours hands in front of you if you raised them. Between my sweat and fog my jacket gained substantially in weight and I thought I would open it for a bit. This was not a good ideas as I started to freeze right away – zipper up. I caught up to a guy and we ran together for a bit. “We only need to look at this stuff one more time before it’s over” I told him. After the suspension bridge he picked it up a notch and I actually stopped running to drink my ISO. Then away I was. By the third round there were no spectators anymore. Just me on a path in the dark. Determined to finish I kept going. Over the other bridge and past the time check – still in the race, though I thought I had been out there for more than four hours. Last lap and my shoulders were killing me. My feet and legs were fine, but my shoulders were slowing me down. Lamp into my pocket to take weight off my head. But the heavy jacket was of no help.
As I pasted the first drink station for the last time I thanked them for their help and wished them all the best for the new year. On the wooden suspension bridge I saw the 35K marker for the last time and knew I had done 35K – 7.195 to go. That is a quick run for me so I just pictured going on a normal easy morning run. This last round was brutal though. Even more alone than on the third, I questioned the sanity of the entire thing. But it was clear – I had to do it and it was an amazing way to start 2010. To overcome a challenge of endurance and persistence within the first four and a bit hours of the year is a great feeling. The last lap was painful, and fatigue was starting to kick in. My body was asking me why we needed to run a marathon in the winter in the middle of the night. It was sore, but took comfort in the knowledge that we were pushing the limits and showing what kind of amazing things it could do. This marathon though has a stoic quality to it. It’s dark, there are pretty much no people cheering, you can hardly see anything, and after the first round it repeats. Overcoming this mental challenge is what makes this marathon I think.
And then there it was the sport hall with the finish line. Expecting to see a time of four hours and twenty something minutes, I was very happy to see four hours and three minutes. Afterwards, I searched out Marc and his girlfriend, but they had already left. I did talk briefly with two guys from Bavaria and then went and bought a well deserved beer. A Feldschlösschen never tasted so good. Then I changed and met up with another guy from Bavaria and we headed to the train station. Waited for 45 minutes for the train and then off to Zurich main station where we parted ways and I hoped on the next train to Winterthur. At 6:50 I walked in the door and poured a bath. Then it was bed time – finally. Happy New Year!