Frankfurt Marathon Nov04


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Frankfurt Marathon


When preparing for London Marathon in April earlier this year, I decided to take the pressure off London being the ‘big race’ by booking 2 more marathons – Frankfurt in October 2019 and Brighton in April 2020 – in this way, I could think of London more as a training run. However, London turned out to be unexpectedly quick for me – for the first time ever I was able to run the whole distance and took 50 minutes off my PB. This left me wondering – I ran London at a comfortable pace – what was I now capable of if I pushed it? Frankfurt was about to answer that.

My original target was to go sub-4 hours by Brighton 2020, doing sub-4:30 at London, sub 4:15 in Frankfurt, and finally sub-4 at Brighton. However, a surprise 3:50 at London threw a spanner in the works, and I now had to re-think my targets. If I could run 3:50 based on a comfortable pace, then maybe sub-3:30 was a good target for Frankfurt? 

I decided it was time to call in the experts – I joined my local Athletics club (Kent AC) and enlisted the help of a running coach – Lawrence Avery from He set me a programme which I followed for the 7 weeks leading up to Frankfurt Marathon.


Training for Frankfurt went really smoothly. I was able to fit my runs around my work/personal life by incorporating them into existing things I was doing. So a long run could be the scenic route into work, adding a loop of each park that I go past, or it could involve running to and from parkrun to get in the extra miles.

I hadn’t entered a Half Marathon in a years, so I decided to look for one about 5 weeks before Frankfurt. There was only one that worked for me, which was Goodwood Motor Circuit – 5 and a bit loops of the iconic track. While it wasn’t the most scenic, it was great for working out my pacing. I had no idea what I could manage – my main goal was semi-scientific. I needed to be at least faster than 1:45 if I had any chance of getting a 3:30 marathon. That’s the science bit. The less-scientific bit was that when you run a race in 100 minutes or more, it’s recorded in hours. I therefore had a goal of 99:59 (or sub-1:40 to normal people).

Despite torrential rain, I really enjoyed Goodwood, and came away with a 95:50 time (1:35:50), so I was dead chuffed. I’d beaten my previous PB by nearly 20 minutes, which was quite a jump. They had a number of races on the circuit at the same time, and Chloë ran the 10km race, which was brilliant as it meant we crossed paths at one point, as well as her nailing a PB for the 10km too. 

The only slight niggle came in the final week leading up to the marathon. On the Wednesday while walking to the station, I noticed my right knee felt a bit weird. It didn’t hurt, but putting pressure on it just felt a bit different. I had no more runs planned until a very gentle parkrun in Frankfurt the day before the race, so I just decided to rest it as much as possible.

By Friday evening, my knee wasn’t completely better, but the morning parkrun would be a good test to see if it just needed shaking out. We were flying out of London City airport, or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately it was pretty windy. So windy that our flight was cancelled, and there were no more flights that evening to Frankfurt. 

OK, it happens. At least there’s a parkrun by City airpot, so I can do a local one before flying out in the morning. Except there were no flights over the weekend at all from City airport, so we were sent over to Heathrow, and the only flight available was at 7am. No parkrun for me then! My main worry though was how my knee felt. Ah well, at least I’d be in Frankfurt in time for the marathon.

On Saturday morning we arrived in Frankfurt, did a little exploring, and then collected my race number. At the expo I met up with Libby who was also running, though she was just getting over a bad cold and so wasn’t planning on any PBs the next morning.


Race morning arrived. I met up with Libby and we headed to the start/finish area to drop our bags. Given we’d been at the expo there the day before it should be easy, right? And the great thing about German efficiency is that everything would be laid out impeccably.

There were pretty much no signs for bag drop. We wandered around for about 20 minutes trying to find it! Eventually we found it, dumped our stuff, and then looked for the start. 

Only there were no signs for the start either. We asked about 4 different volunteers, and none of them knew. We found the finish line very easily – there were a million signs pointing to that! Eventually there were enough people moving in one direction that we just joined the flow, but by the time we got to the pen for for sub 3:35, it was rammed. We managed to squeeze in at the back of it, and could see the 3:29 pacer we’d planned to follow quite a way ahead.


Around one minute later, the race started. It took 4 minutes to cross the start line, which wasn’t bad compared to London, but by that time the 3:29 pacer was long gone. Plan A of “hang on to the 3:29 pacer for as long as possible” was crossed off the list.

There were only around 10,000 runners, compared to London’s 40,000, so at least there would be less congestion. Or at least you’d think. Unfortunately, there had been no stewards directing people into the right pens for the start (the stewards probably couldn’t find the start either), which meant that for the first few miles we were dodging around people going at around 5-6 hour pace, which is crap for everyone, including them. This made it really difficult to get into any sort of rhythm.

I was also amazed at how keen people were to cut corners. There was one particular corner in the first mile where people all ran across the very large pedestrian area instead of following the blue line on the ground. I genuinely don’t understand why people would enter a 42km race and then want to shave off 20 metres. I can only assume they mention that to anyone that asks them what time they got.

At just 3km in, I saw Chloë cheering from the side of the road. Unlike London, we hadn’t pre-arranged any support spots, but the first 12km of the race are very compact, so it’s a good place to see people multiple times. There was of course a chance I wouldn’t see Chloë at all during this race, but this was a completely different run for me. London was all about getting round and hoping for the best – the support was instrumental in helping me finish without stopping. For Frankfurt, I knew I could do the distance and finish it, this was more about seeing how fast I could do it. Here the support was wonderful, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it didn’t pan out (and hopefully Chloë would have still had a nice time in Frankfurt!)

It was about about 3 miles before we found our pace. Target was 8 minute miles to give us a 3:29 time. I was wearing a km-based pace band, which was handy as I always run based on miles, and all of the distance markers were unsurprisingly in km. Knowing that the GPS in the city was never going to be accurate, it was nice to see at 5km that Libby and I were on pace, running through 24:37 compared to the pace band’s 24:50.


The water stations were all paper cups rather than bottles, which was fantastic from a waste point of view, but it did make running and drinking significantly more difficult. I went for the approach of trying to take a gulp, and then tipping the rest over my head.

It was ideal weather conditions – 12 degrees, overcast, with a small chance of a light refreshing shower. Despite the cool weather, Libby was finding her temperature spiking as she wasn’t quite over her illness. To try to manage her temperature, Libby decided to walk each water station to allow her to take on the water properly, and then catch me back up after. This worked for the first couple, but after the 10km water stop, Libby didn’t catch me up. 

This was something Libby and I had talked about before – the aim was to start at the same pace, but if either ended up going at a different pace, we’d continue to run our own races rather than try to slow down/speed up to stay together.

When I crossed the 10km timing mat, my time was 49:35 against a target of 49:40. I’d slowed a smidge, but was dead on pace.

Just after 11km the route finally stops doing wiggles around the inner city and heads out of town. Just before it did, I suddenly found myself being yelled at from the side lines – a second sighting from Chloë gave me a nice little boost as I fully expected the crowds outside of the city would be sparse.

The next 10km to half way were fairly uneventful. There were people lining the streets, though obviously not as many as in the city. I didn’t even notice that I was passing the airport which had been a 25 Euro cab fare away only the day before. 

15km ticked over in 1:13:42 against a target of 1:14:30, and half way was officially my second fastest half marathon at 1:43:46 against a target pace of 1:44:47. I’d built up a nice buffer of a minute, but I started to notice I wasn’t feeling particularly fresh. I didn’t hurt and I wasn’t really tired, but I had a feeling the next half was going to be a different story. It was at this point that I looked up and saw the 3:29 pacer for the first time since the starting pen. This was a very welcome sight, though I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to catch them any time soon.

Then at 23km I was tripped. Not deliberately, of course, but despite the space around us, another runner came a little too close behind me, caught my leg, and I was on my way down. 

Ever since watching the London Marathon for the first time around 12 years before and seeing a runner fall just a few metres in front of me, and then witness his leg breaking and his bone poking out, this was one of my worst nightmares about races.

As I was falling, I just about managed to unhook my foot and catch myself before I face planted. The other runner was also a little shocked and checked I was OK. I was, but I was unsettled. I tried to shake it out and relax, but I could feel that my running form was dropping.

25km went by in 2:03:13, still a minute ahead of my 2:04:10 target time. I was feeling my legs starting to tire, so I was glad that I was due a gel. My strategy had been to have the first gel at 10km, and then 3 more at 5 mile/8km intervals.

I was carrying all the gels with me as I didn’t know if I’d see Chloë on the course, though I’d given her a spare just in case I needed it. At 26km I saw Chloë, and she offered the spare gel, but I didn’t need it, and nor did I need to carry the extra weight. Gel strategy was at least something that was going well for me.

30 seconds later, I regretted that decision entirely as I opened my next gel and poured the contents down my front. I managed to get a small amount from the bottom of the pack, but it wasn’t nearly enough. 

At 30km I saw Chloë again. She had her phone out to try to get some action shots, but all I really wanted to do was tell her I was feeling shit and could really do with the gel. I managed the first task, but felt the act of stopping and asking for the gel and then getting the pace up again would be too costly, so I just ran on.

My time at the 30km point was now 2:28:53 against a target time of 2:29:00. I’d used up the minute I’d banked and I was slowing. My pace for the last couple of miles was now around 8:15/mile – outside of where I needed it to be – and it seemed an insurmountable task to get the pace back to under 8:00/mile. So I didn’t try. Instead I just tried to keep it as close to 8:15 as possible.

I wasn’t due to have the next energy gel until around 35km, but considering I was wearing the previous one still on my top, I broke into my final gel early. I could feel my quads starting to cramp, and I knew this was largely due to my running form going. I took the gamble that I’d hopefully see Chloë back in town in the last few miles and I could grab the spare gel.

As I crossed the 35km pacing mat, I clocked 2:55:49 against my target time of 2:53:50. I was now 2 minutes behind pace and feeling awful. It was time to reset my expectations. My target time was now 3:39:59. Still a very respectable 10 minutes off my previous time.

That’s if I could manage it. The cramp was really setting in. But it wasn’t stopping me. Every time I felt it, I tried to pick my knees up to get my form back. It still hurt, but I wasn’t stopping. I kept it going.

I also kept slowing. By 23 miles/37km my pace had dropped to 8:50/mile. This was now slower than my average pace at London. I knew we were getting closer to the finish however as we were re-entering the town. There was now another 5km of wiggling around the town to the finish.

My quads were cramping quite a bit, so I decided at the remaining water stations to walk them and take on water properly. I may not get any more gel, but if I didn’t hydrate either, I would really suffer. My 25th mile was my slowest of the race – 9:08 – but that did include the walking breaks, so at least I could provide an excuse.

And then at 39km I saw Chloë. I must have looked awful, because I didn’t need to ask for a gel – it was already being held out for me. I ripped off the top and downed it, whilst making sure I definitely aimed for my mouth this time. I thanked her profusely and carried on as best I could.

Then came 40km. I had just 2km to go, and my time was now 03:23:31. I’d stopped comparing against the old target pace, and at this point I always think about my son Liam doing his junior parkrun, which is also 2km. His best time is around 11 minutes. If I could match that, then there was a glimmer of a chance I could get sub-3:35. I also knew if I didn’t match his junior parkrun time, he’d never let me forget it.

So what else could I do? I went eye-balls out and legged it. The cramps were consistent but I somehow tuned them out. Far from standing tall when I was running, I felt myself slouching more and more but doing everything I could to move forwards.

I passed the 41km marker. 1km to go. Just 1km. Soon I’d see the 800 metre sign counting me down, then the 400 metre sign… I kept on looking out for them as I ran, knowing I was near the end, but I’d forgotten they don’t do signage in the Frankfurt marathon, so there was nothing to say how far it was to go. I made a final turn towards what I knew was the building which had the finish line inside. I dodged around people in an effort to get in. I looked at my watch as I entered the building – I only caught glimpse of the first part – I was at 3:34:something and the finish line was around 50 metres ahead of me. 

I pictured myself diving across the finish, but in reality, I just ran across it in a stoopy sort of way… but I didn’t care. I crossed it. I’d finished. And what’s more – I’d finished in 3:34:21.

After all the pain, the cramp, the tiredness, and generally feeling like my target time had become a futile joke, I wasn’t actually all that far off it when I crossed the finish line.

That said, the last 2km power surge came at a price. I’d crossed the line, and now I was just holding onto the barriers on the other side. It took me a good few minutes before I could carry on along the finish area conveyor belt. I was on autopilot now. A very painful, very slow autopilot. I was looking out for Chloë but I didn’t see her. I eventually headed to the bag drop area so I could get my phone. I sent the distress flare message to say where I was, and minutes later she was at my side and taking over my life admin, just as she had in London. What the hell am I going to do when I do a race she’s not at?

Libby also joined the party – she’d had to drop out at 27km due to her illness – which was definitely a better move than ending up in hospital. I was gutted for her, but also admired the way she was very happy with the choice to do it. It’s just a run after all.

So the three of us stretched our legs to help start the recovery process by walking 20 minutes to find a tasty burger restaurant. By this time I was really cold, and it took me quite a while to warm up, especially as it had started raining. But once I had a burger in hand, I was soon able to function again.

And with that, I was left with just 2 thoughts.

1) I’m really happy with my new PB

2) I never want to run another marathon. Ever, ever again. Ever.

Side note – Brighton marathon training starts in 2 weeks.