If someone had told me last year that I was capable of running a kilometer, let alone ten, I’d have laughed right in their face. But that was before I started running with the Q8FootSoldiers every Friday morning.
While I had been running for a few months, I couldn’t seem to push myself enough to complete 10km and it was with trepidation that I registered for the 10km Lauf (run) of the Munich Marathon last October. Even though a trickle of self-doubt seeped into my consciousness like a noxious gas to the point where I told no one about my decision, the excitement grew with each passing day. This would be my first official run!
The day before the race, I traversed the picturesque five-hour train journey from Prague to Munich’s main station and then took a tram to the Olympiapark to collect my race kit. The massive lush green park, with its rolling hills and lake, was an unexpected sight. The proceedings at the event arena were so well-organized that despite the thousands that signed up, there were no queues. Several companies were exhibiting and selling sporting goods, and there was a pasta party for runners to stock up on carbohydrates that would contribute to their strength and endurance for the marathon the next day.
The day dawned bright and clear. The underground station was dotted with several dark pink race kits strung over the shoulders of commuters and the exhilaration escalated as I realized I was part of something huge. En route, I befriended two lovely German women who were also doing the 10km Lauf. Excitement was fever pitch as we walked as close as we could to the starting point amongst the 3,000 or so participants. I noticed jackets upon the cordons; apparently these were placed there by runners for charity. My breath fogged before me; it was 7 degrees Celsius. I wasn’t used to the chill, having begun my running journey in Kuwait’s sweltering heat, but it was definitely preferable.
The gunshot finally echoed through the street, the smoke from the barrel rising above the heads of the runners. We were off!
It had rained the night before, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the deep blue of the sky, the autumn gold of the trees lining the path forming a stunning contrast against it. As if in agreement, my iPhone played Michael Bublé’s ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ to start off with. I could hear the synchronized thudding of feet pounding against the damp road over the music, as the route led us through the heart of the city.
The sun bore down but the canopy formed by branches of trees on either side of the path never let us feel it. After about 2km, loud cheers and applause rose from around me as a runner flashed by in the opposite direction with a BMW in close pursuit. The car had a timer upon it: 17 minutes. He must have completed 5.5-6 kilometres. I was awestruck. Somehow, witnessing his incredible feat and the determination behind it motivated those present to go a bit faster, as evidenced by runners suddenly overtaking me!
Water was handed out at the 4km mark in front of the majestic Siegestor or Victory Arch, where a bystander held a poster that said: Good luck random stranger! Grinning, I went on. Bands played music at certain locations, bolstering resolve.
My knees implored me to stop as I approached the 8km mark but I silenced them while munching on a banana quarter handed to me by a volunteer. Just when my resolution began to waver, I noticed two little girls on the pavement holding their palms out to the runners. I high-fived them and felt a tingle of energy thrusting me forward. I’d never felt anything like it.
The final kilometer led into the Olympic Stadium. With a hundred meters to go, my iPhone very obligingly played my power song. Adrenaline pumped through me, eliminating the exhaustion. Fussy knees forgotten, I bolted towards the finish line, my spirit soaring as I noted the time displayed. I’d finished in 70 minutes, shaving 9 minutes off my predicted time. If it was possible for your heart to explode with joy and satisfaction, that would have been my moment. I had miles to go in terms of endurance and improving my pace, but this was a decent start.
There were a few uplifting moments along the way. I spotted a young couple running with their two children, neither of which could have been older than twelve, and marvelled at their stamina. At one point, a woman went past me pushing her baby in a stroller. Later, I passed a woman running determinedly with a prosthetic leg. The most heart-warming was a man charging forth with another in a wheelchair. The runner had a paper pinned to his back with the words: Beste Freund.
What makes people sign up for these events? For some, it’s steeling themselves to completing the challenge without chickening out due to the witnesses present. For others, it may be to share their passion with those that participate or encourage their friends and families to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Some might run to raise awareness or funds for a charitable cause, while an elite few for the glory and to officialize their triumphs.
Whatever the underlying reason may be, it’s always yourself that you’re competing against. It is you that is defying the odds and shattering the limits the voices inside you may place upon you. There is no stronger contender.
Visit www.muenchenmarathon.de/en/ to register for the Munich Marathon on October 12, 2014.
Images courtesy of: Pari Ali and Zainab Mirza.