Lycka till! A Frankfurt Marathon Race Report

The tl;dr version of this rather long-winded race report is as follows:

–       PR SMASH!

–       I had so much fun on Sunday 🙂

–       Wife ran her first marathon in a great time!

–       I can’t wait for the next one, she’s happy she doesn’t have to do one ever again

Successful L!

Successful Wife!












NB – I attempted to write this one with a more focused and directed attitude in order to:

a) Get it posted within a few days of the actual race


b) Listen to the good advice of my friend Frank who has high standards and whose opinion I greatly respect.

Note that at 2 weeks after the race and over 4000 words, I failed on both counts.  But we had fun!

Yay, I’m starting the race report the day after the actual race for once!

. . . aaaand. . . I am finishing it only two weeks after the actual event.  To be fair, in between I have been glued to the internet for much of the time, first watching all my friends and relatives on the entire east coast of the US survive Hurricane Sandy with varying amounts of flooding, damage, power outages, etc.  It’s been hard, not being able to help out much from over here, but at least there’s the Red Cross to donate to.

Then the New York Marathon got cancelled and a bunch of runners went to Staten Island anyway to donate and help out .  And more pictures here so huzzah for runners, and I still wish I’d been there.

Then I spent the early part of this week unable to look away from the little matter of who would be the next president.  Congratulations Mr. President!  Yes, I did spend all night awake, frantically refreshing the Big Board every 10 minutes or so.

Enough with the excuses, on to the race report!

I had an amazing race and I’m kind of on top of the world right now (and it’s slightly ebbed after almost 2 weeks, but not much).  Oh what a difference a great race makes to one’s desire to write it up.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some good races this summer, but most of them were triumphs of will over my unhealthy body.  This one was a triumph of good training and smart pacing over my usual marathon problems.  It seems that with number three, I have become a marathoner.  After the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009, I could declare that I ran a marathon.  After Frankfurt last year, I could say that I ran marathons.  Now, I’ve got a new distance that I actually like racing and I can’t wait to do more of them.  I’m a marathoner now (much to the Wife’s probable chagrin).

Which, by the way, leads to the even bigger, much more impressive accomplishment of this marathon.  The Wife ran her first marathon yesterday!  In 4:39, which is amazing and a wonderful time for her first marathon and I can’t adequately describe how very proud I am of her.  And in case you were wondering who coached her to this stellar result; me, that’s who! And she’s way better at doing the runs on her training plan right away without complaining and procrastinating for hours the way that I usually do.

Technically, Hal Higdon ( got us both through this one, so thank you Hal Higdon!  But I’m the one who modified his running only plans to take us injury-free through the end of tri season to the marathon, modifying for all the travel (3 weddings, 2 additional vacations, no funerals, thank goodness) that we had to do in the last 3 months.  I feel like I need to repeat the important part.  Two triathletes transitioning from tri season to a fall marathon where everyone beat their expected times and no injuries! I’ve never managed that before.

On to the race reporting (really)!

Pre-race prep and Expo

First – I came up all by myself with the way to carry the four extra gu’s that I needed for the first 15 km when there would be nothing but beverages at the aid stations.  Yeah, Frankfurt expects us all to put on our big girls pants and not expect a full buffet at every aid stop starting at km 2.  In fact, the first three are spaced 5 km apart, one of the ways you can tell this is a European race and not an American one (we’ll get to more of them later in the report).  I just used spare hair bands (not Bon Jovi) (or Poison) to attach them to my race belt.  Using the race belt solved a number of problems for this one.

  1. A place for my Gu.
  2. I can take off any of my layers without losing my race number
  3. No weird hot sweaty spot under the race bib (this happened last year – the race bibs for Frankfurt are kind of big and as you know, I’m not terribly large these days so it took up most of my abdomen and was a totally unbreathable layer pinned to the front my nice tech shirt
A picture of my race belt with gu attached

My race belt with handily attached gu along with the rest of the non-clothing stuff to wear during the race.

Second – I ordered a new pair of Smartwool socks since the pair that I’d intended to wear had a hole in the bottom that was starting to get big enough to bother me on long runs.  New favorite socks arrived on Friday after being ordered on Tuesday and that was slow for the usual shipping time from German Amazon.  They’re soft and cushiony and generally wonderful.  So that was the only new item that I’d intended to wear for the race and I figured that was safe enough since they were essentially exactly the same as the ones I generally wear except without the annoying hole.

Third – the race expo, packet pickup, swag, and sundry

The expo for the Frankfurt marathon is in the Messe, a huge convention hall known for hosting the world’s largest book fair.  Let me repeat that.  This place is big enough for the largest book and publishing convention in the world.  It was still claustrophobically congested with 16,000 runners and their friends and family.  Apparently, everyone was there on Saturday early afternoon.  It was impossible to move around and I was starting to get a bit claustrophobic, so we left after only one pair of CEP compression sleeves, one running windbreaker on sale, one pair of green running tights for the Wife (also on sale), an orange running cap (yes, on sale, it’s a theme with me), and of course the (pre-ordered by me) marathon shirt for the Wife (everyone deserves a tech shirt from their first marathon and Frankfurt doesn’t include a shirt with the race fee, you have to buy it separately.  The race fees are lower, though.)  And the gigantic swag bags of stuff given out with our numbers.  These included boxes of pasta, bottles of lemonade flavored sports drink, cough drops, toothpaste, a really nice coupon book for the city and an odd little drawstring bag which was nowhere near as good as last year’s 30th anniversary backpack (which I am still using).

Fourth – the carbo dinner

Was so crowded that we skipped it, grabbed a tram home and cooked ourselves a much better dinner.

Plates with mashed potatoes, beans, and turkey

Pre-race carbo and protein loading including homemade cranberry sauce and piles of mashed potatoes. Sort of a pre Thanksgiving race feast.

Then we considered what to do about the literally sub-freezing temperatures, laid out our race clothes and went to sleep.  And slept for an extra hour as the marathon always falls on the same Sunday that Daylight Saving Time ends.  And slept some more because Frankfurt starts at the very civilized hour of 10 AM.

Race Day

Started cold but sunny and we dressed in layers including the gloves I got specifically for this purpose at the Euro store (which is exactly like a dollar store, except everything is worth about 18 cents more.) and our very stylish trash bags after we dropped off all our warm clothes at bag drop.

woman wearing a shirt with a squirrel on it

The Wife made this for me the night before! Best race shirt ever 🙂

Check out the very cool race shirt that the Wife made for me!  Team Nuts is the name for the moment of our triathlon team consisting of myself, the Wife and two of her work colleagues that want to do the Worms Tristar 111 with us next year.  Squirrel is a word that most Germans have trouble pronouncing.  Check this out for some reasons why and also to hear some Germans say skvörl

After pooping and peeing a few times and waiting until the very last possible minute, we headed out where it was still a degree or two below freezing and we hit the outside portaloos for one more final pee and I’m so glad we did.  As I was in line, right next to the portaloo, a familiar looking skinny guy started stripping out of his multiple warm layers and sat down right there, 10 feet from me, behind the portaloos to put on his racing flats.  When he got to the very last layer, my suspicions were confirmed.  I had just got to watch Patrick Makau, the eventual winner, do his pre-race routine.  I wanted more than anything to shake his hand and wish him luck, but he looked like he was already in the zone and the handler next to him was very overprotective.  So, I got my brush with greatness at the race start.

We finally made it to the slowpoke corrals and I kissed the Wife good luck and left to wedge myself into the overcrowded group where I thought I was supposed to be, but didn’t quite get right – I ended up one corral ahead of where I was supposed to be, which was actually sort of the right place because that’s where the 4:15 pace group was.  They also should have been behind me as I was in front of the 4:00 to 4:30 corral and when last I checked, 4:15 is right in the middle of those.  None of it mattered anyway, because even Germans, who are so scrupulously honest that their subway has no turnstiles at all and only very occasional ticket checkers, LIE LIKE RUGS about their expected finishing times.  Almost the entire group in the 3:45 to 4:00 corral was a bunch of liars.  Which was fine by me because it gave me people to pass for 42.2 km.

I stayed by the 4:14 pacers for the first 2 miles or so, but I realized two things right away.  They were going out too fast for 4:14 and that didn’t really matter because they were still slower than my comfortable marathon pace.  Which is apparently these days somewhere between 8:50 and 9:20 per mile.  That surprised the hell out of me, but I was determined to run this one by feel and not by numbers so I was paying very careful attention to my breathing and stride and much less attention to the Garmin. In fact, when I concentrated on relaxing, having fun, and keeping easy strides, I sometimes sped up instead of slowing down as I expected.  Who knew?  The first 7 km were really crowded and mile 2 was according to the Garmin the third slowest of the race.  Miles 2 to 7 or so were also where the biggest discrepancy between the Garmin distance and the posted km markers occurred.  There were just so many people that running any kind of straight tangent was impossible.  Here’s a plot I made of my average 5 km pace from the Garmin against the timing chip.  You can see the big difference at the start with the Garmin recorded pace being much quicker than what the 5 km splits from the timing chip show.  What this means is that I wasted about a third of a mile dodging and weaving in here.  I knew by km 8 (5 miles) that I was going to go over by at least 0.2 of a mile and I was not wrong.

graphic showing pace per 5 km for 42 km

My Garmin average pace per km against my timing chip average pace per km, averaged over every 5 km. You can see that at the very start and for the last half, both were similar but from around km 5 to 20, the Garmin showed me moving much faster than the chip. Either the course was long or much more likely, I was running too far while weaving through the crowds.

It was around km 8 or so where I met Patty from Atlanta and happily chatted with her about runs on beaches and the best Frankfurt road races until just past the first bridge (the one the photographers like to always be on because of the nice view of the city in the background) until she couldn’t keep up and told me to go on.  That was right at km 16 or so where I had my only potty break of the race in a relatively clean portaloo right after an aid station.  Then I caught up to her and passed her again within a mile.  Incidentally, this was the only mile of the entire race that the Garmin told me was slower than a 10 minute mile.

two women talking while they run over a bridge

Me and Patty from Atlanta chatting on the Alte Brucke, one of the most scenic spots in the Frankfurt Marathon.

Up to this point, I was running significantly faster than even my fast paceband (I had made two, a fast one set for 4:07 which was my fastest reasonably expected time based on total guesses (i.e. the McMillan pace calculator and 4:15 which was what I’d hoped was my slowest expected time – basically, last year’s time minus one minute) and I was slightly worried that I was going too fast, but every body assessment I made was that I was feeling good, well within my comfort zone and shouldn’t be thinking too hard on the times.  Since I’d been so sick for about ½ this marathon training cycle, I really didn’t know what to expect at the race.  I knew that I’d been feeling good for over a month, had made all my long runs and had been doing all my long runs slowly, exactly as Hal and everyone suggest is the best way to build endurance.  Hal knows what he’s talking about, apparently.

I hit 1/2 way point in 2:01:15 and again refrained from freaking out about how that was much too fast.  That was also when I stopped bothering to look at my pace bands at all anymore.

After Patty and the halfway point, I fell in with the Swede and the Ironman, and we talked through the next 10 km or so.  Sadly, this part of the course is the back end of nowhere (culminating in my new hometown) and there are no photographers of us together.  I’d seen the Swede in the morning waiting for the train (which was uncharacteristically 10 minutes late causing slight panic for all the runners there; the families heading to church appeared unperturbed and the guy who clearly was heading home after what must have been a particularly good Saturday night was nonplussed).  He had a luxurious full beard and was wearing a very nice men’s dress coat over his running gear and was therefore quite a recognizable character as he chatted in Swedish to his obviously also Swedish blond companion, also in running gear but much less memorably so.

So, of course, when I caught up to him, I said something incoherent like, “Hi!  You’re Swedish, aren’t you?  I can tell because of the beard!”  I was very excited to have caught him and to have recognized him from my home train station earlier in the morning.  He was remarkably quick-witted and articulate for being more than halfway done with a marathon and speaking in a foreign language.  He answered, “Of course.  All Swedish people have such luxurious beards.  You should see my mother’s!”  And funny.  Excellent running companion.  We’re both doing our first Ironmans (Ironmen?) this year and so we had lots to talk about.  Then the Ironman, who is American, came up from behind us, said he liked my shirt and mentioned that he’d done Coeur d’Alene this year and started giving advice (good advice, too.  Like don’t buy a tri bike if you’re comfortable on your road bike with the clip on aerobars, that will be just fine for the hilly Frankfurt bike course).  The three of us had a great time chatting and this was a very good thing for me as it made me slow down a bit, which I probably needed to do.  Both of them passed me at an aid station – I was intentionally walking at least every other one in order to get enough to drink and because Hal suggested it was a good strategy.  I passed the Swede back and he said to go on because he couldn’t keep up.  I wished him good luck (Lycka till) in Swedish and he wished me the same in both German and English.  Note that I am not some sort of language savant or anything, I was just repeating the phrase that he’d taught me 2 minutes before.  I cyberstalked him later and found that he finished only about 10 minutes behind me, go Swede!  Lycka till in August at your first Ironman!

Then I met the Pink Ladies – they were from California and approved of my strategy to walk aid stations, but even with me doing that, I left them behind pretty quickly as well.  They were there, though, for one of my very favorite moments of the day.  Right in my tiny hometown, the radio announcer said my name just as he started playing the Clash’s London Calling and I was running part of the route of one of my very favorite long runs.  Everyone around me knew how happy I was right about then! The Oom-pah bands were also both there (most of the rest of the towns supply Samba and other cool running groups.  Mine sends out the Sousaphones.)

After that, I turned down the dreaded Mainzer Landstraße and headed back to downtown Frankfurt.  This part of the race is a long false flat with a few very short and fairly steep downhill underpasses on an industrialized road with lots of car dealerships and fast food restaurants.  It’s not pretty.  There are also fewer spectators here than anywhere.  I chatted with a very driven German doing his first marathon who complimented me on my German and mentioned that his French was much worse than German.  I had many people shouting to me in French and waving French flags wildly when I went by.  My first name is odd enough and French sounding enough that most people guess France and my German is at the stage that it identifies me as a foreigner immediately, it doesn’t always sound particularly American.  I consider that a sign of progress.  He was the only person I chatted with who passed me that I never caught up with again.  Kudos to you, Mr. First Time!  I also danced a bit of the horsey dance to Gangnam Style which was playing at one of the DJ stands along here.  I never did hit the wall and gleefully passed the place where I crashed and burned last year and just for fun ran two sub 9 minute miles in a row for miles 21 and 22.  I was passing a lot of people and only getting passed by the relay runners.  Wow, the later parts of a marathon sure are fun!  Also, the difference between the crowd in the 4 hour-ish group and in the 4:15 or 4:30 ish groups is marked.  The crowds never really thinned out and I kept seeing many of the same people over and over again like the girl with the pink braids, the girl with the backpack, and the tall guy with the blue shirt.  I mentioned to him that I’d seen him at the start when I passed him around mile 22.  He asked how we were doing and I told him I wasn’t sure but we were probably on track for a 4:05.  He was looking somewhat less than perky so I hope he made it.

Speaking of tall guys, that was one of the other differences with being up in the group closer to 4 hours.  More guys.  Also, more guys in general.  To give you an idea, there were 9784 male finishers and only 2179 female finishers at Frankfurt (the rest of the people that made up the 16,000 were 4,000 relay runners) meaning that this marathon was only 18% women.  Compare that to the Marine Corps Marathon which was 40% women in 2009 when I ran that.  I managed not to see a single one of my cheering friends along the way this year.  They all saw the Wife and she saw most of them, but no one saw me.  I think this was the reason.

lots of runners in a street

See Georg from Germany? OK, now look at the green shirt guy behind him and the blue shirt guy next to him. I am the barely visible tiny little head wearing sunglasses between them. Honestly, I don’t feel this short in real life! (Also, this is the kind of crowding I ran in for most of the race)

Towards the end, I got really tired, my left leg started doing weird things and I hit sort of  a little wall, like maybe those half-walls you put between the kitchen and the dining room sometimes.  Really, though, my knee felt like one of those toys held together with string that sort of collapse when you push the button.  They’re really hard to describe, and even harder to google, but I persevered and figured out that they are called by the very imaginative name of push puppet toys and apparently there are some fairly rabid collectors of them out there. I concentrated on staying relaxed, made it a point to stop for tea at two aid stations in a row and mile 25 at 9:31 was my second slowest of the race.  (If you’re interested, mile 10 at 10:12 and including a quick trip to the portaloo was the slowest.)  But warm sweet tea is the best race beverage on the planet, especially when it’s still hovering only a few degrees above freezing and the wind is picking up.  I didn’t sit down and chat like last year, but I was extremely effusive to the volunteers giving me tea.  They were amused.

woman staring at her watch while running

Here’s where I am running on tea and determination and realizing that while I will not go sub 4, I am damn close.

Then I picked it up, thanks to the tea and the crowds and the utter joy I was feeling at getting to the end and being able to stop running.  That didn’t stop me from striking up a conversation with one last quizzical German just before we turned to go into the big conference hall where the finish line is.

woman running and talking to the man next to her

Still chatting to increasingly baffled fellow runners – last turn before the final sprint.

If I looked at the watch, it seemed possible that I was going to run a sub-four hour marathon so I was running hard for the last mile, even though I knew realistically that I wouldn’t make it because of all the extra distance I’d managed to add on at the end.  For the record when the Garmin said 26.2, I was at 3:59.  It took me 3 more minutes to reach the finish line, which according to the Garmin was at 26.56 miles.  A bit farther than expected, yes.


Big Finale

Yes, the finish is inside on a red carpet with bleachers full of cheering fans which sounds cool until you come to the end of a marathon in the cold and suddenly you’re in a stiflingly hot building and there’s a giant crowd lined up to get out the one door to the athlete recovery area and there’s no room to walk or stretch or any normal thing that you’d want to do at the end of a race.  Also, the first thing I got handed (by an adorably cute little kid) was a rose, rather than a cup of hot tea.  After finally making it through the Disney-esque line, I had my rose, my medal, 2 space blankets, hot tea and chicken soup and I wandered through the convention center to go stand as close as I could get to the finish and cheer on the Wife.  It turns out that I was standing right where one of the finisher videos was taking place and so me cheering hysterically while wearing what appears to be an aluminum foil kaftan is immortalized on more than one finisher video.  The wife’s is even funnier because you can clearly hear me shouting to her that I’d meet her by the hot tea in the finisher area as we’d spectacularly failed to plan a meeting point that far in advance, and with 16,000 finishers, it’s not like we could count on just finding each other.  Something to remember for next time.

the Wife, still smiling after 42.2 (she’s European so her finish is in km)

Runners on the red carpet, finishing a marathon

Also smiling, still surrounded by lots of other runners


She looked great and really happy, so I pushed through the crowds again to get back to her in time to meet her coming out of the finish line area.  Of course, she got to the tea before me, but we finally found each other and the first thing she did was burst into tears.  Which is a perfectly normal response to finishing your first marathon.  I think mine started up around mile 24 for my first and didn’t stop for about an hour after that.

We gathered up all our stuff, had more soup and tea, and got on the U-Bahn to go home.

pile of used space blankets

After the race, we all had to go back inside to get our drop bags among the drifts of discarded space blankets.

Then we went out to Chinese Buffet with a few of the friends who cheered us along the way even though I didn’t see a single one of them and slept the sleep of the successful runners.  When I checked my splits online, I found that the second half took me 2:01:11, a negative split!  By four seconds, but still.  For the first time, I negative split a marathon!  And my finishing time was 4:02:25, beating my goal, my stretch goal, and my super secret goal (which was to finish in less than twice the time of the winner, who finished this year in 2:06.  His (world record) time at Berlin last year was 2:03 so my super secret goal was based on that.  In his post race interview, he basically said that he did his best, but it was cold as fuck out there, so I feel even better about my gigantic PR.

Here’s a graphic showing that if I continue to improve at this rate, I should BQ by 2015 and run a sub 3 hour marathon before I’m 50.

a graph showing marathon times

I did this in Matlab using a simple linear fit to the three marathons I’ve run so far. It looks pretty convincing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s totally bogus as a metric. Nate Silver would laugh his statistical heart out if he saw this.

Not likely, but it was a fun graphic to make.  I used a simple linear fit to get this result.  I didn’t check the R-squared value, though.


My Frankfurt Marathon by the Numbers:

Registered: 16,034

Men finishers: 9784

Women finishers: 2179 (yes, only 18% of this race were women, compared to over 40% for the typical US marathon)

Staffel (Relay) finishers: 956*4

Total: 15787, total finishing (counting a staffel as 1 person) 12919

My Stats:

Place (M/W) 923 / 2179 = 42%

Place (ag) 199/407 = 49% (at Marine Corp this year, I would have been 170 in my age group, but that would have been out of 1,600, almost in the top 10%.  European long course road racing and triathlon is a different beast than it is in America.  Someday, I will post about that.)

Place (total) 7491 / 12919 = 58%

Time total (netto) 04:02:25

two roses in a vase

Our finisher roses

roses in a vase with a cat standing behind them

And now with bonus cat!



5 thoughts on “Lycka till! A Frankfurt Marathon Race Report

  1. Ilana

    I loved this report and read every word! (And I admit that although I write wordy-ass race reports, I have high reading standards 🙂 What an awesome race – and it’s lovely to read ‘the later parts of a marathon sure are fun!’ because you and I know that thinking that means that you’ve prepared properly and run intelligently. Congratulations on your huge PR, and on beating your super-seekrit goal! And really, although your statistical progression projection is indeed a bit dodgy (hee!) I don’t doubt that you could totally BQ in a few years, particularly if you choose to concentrate on running rather than on triathlons.

    Congrats to your wife as well! You both look very happy in your photos.

    1. lonwheels Post author

      Thank you for the lovely comment! I had so much fun running and so much fun writing this one up. It’s an amazing feeling when a plan comes together like this one did. You’re one of my inspirations to train right and strive to be better – thank you for that, too 🙂

  2. Pingback: Oops, suddenly it’s mid-February | lonwheels

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