Trying to run a race in every country on our Europe trip has proved impossible - apart from Spain, Portugal, France, Greece and Italy, we just haven't been in the right place at the right time. Germany would be easy, we thought, with so many races each weekend, but again all those we could find on the internet were miles away in the wrong direction. Whilst swimming in the great outdoor pool at Darmstadt, I saw the local running club training on the adjacent track, and found out from their coach that there was to be a 10km at 4.30pm the folllowing Saturday, about 5 miles away. A quick email to the organisers led to a friendly, helpful reply, and we were pre-registered. Turning up on the day, we paid 8 Euros each and were given a T shirt (Peter was flattered that the lady suggested he only needed M. He settled for his usual L, but his pride was dented when she then also offered him a free T shirt from last year's race - XL!). We were also given a sample of muscle rub gel, made by a local firm, and a sponge! Race entry also included a free post-race swim and shower at the municipal swimming pool.
This was the 22nd edition of the race, held as part of the town's Summer festival, and it was hot! We were parking the van overnight at the swimming pool and Peter, believing it would be busy, wanted to get there early. I mean, 4 hours before the race! It was about 35 degrees, so too hot to do anything other than have a leisurely lunch and sit around in the shade. Normally, we'd have watched the children's races, but we would have frazzled, so we guiltily listened to the cheers from the town centre .
The current trend for bright, fluorescent running shoes is really big in Germany and our own trainers looked decidedly old-fashioned. Anyway, I'd have no chance of winning anything, as there were class prizes of 250, 200 and 150 Euros, sure to attract elite athletes.
The race start was right in the middle of the festival in the town centre, with plenty of portaloos (for the wine and beer drinking later), so I was able to go for the umpteenth time right at the last minute. Peter looked really anxious - we've been doing lots of swimming, cycling and running recently, but his perennial calf problem had flared up again in his last run a few days earlier, and he wasn't sure he could manage 10km. The course was six laps around the town - a hilly, twisty, hot circuit.
There were no kilometre markers, just a tiny clock at the end of each lap, and a lap counter. So how was that going to work? Presumably it will be set for the lead runners. Not only were we running our first race in more than two months, we also had to keep count of how many laps we'd run, and try to work out minute-miling. I'll treat myself to a Garmin one day! The loops were really well marshalled, with tape blocking off junctions and cheering marshalls everywhere (they've been to the Harriers school of race organisation). Lots of marshalls and spectators blew whistles and shouted "Hop, hop". Locals sat outside their houses with hoses, sprinklers - one had even set up his own shower. There must have been about six showering opportunities on every lap, and I think I took every one. People had also set up tables with cups of water and pretzel sticks outside their houses, but I took my water at the official drinks station. Only 10km, but I needed a full cup of water four times.The support from marshalls and spectators was brilliant, but running a race in a country where you don't speak the language means I couldn't have the usual chats and banter with fellow runners, which I missed, although I was working so hard I probably would have been gasping for breath. Not knowing any of the other runners also means it's difficult to tell how well you're going in comparison. At every lap, I heard the commentator mention my name and say that I was from England - I felt like a celebrity, so I always managed a little wave for the crowd. I think I was lapped by the lead guys on the 4th lap, and the 1st lady passed me on the 5th. Peter was going really well, but, as I approached him to lap him, I saw his calf go, and he told me he'd had to walk on and off from about half-way. I hoped he could finish, as I knew it meant a lot to him, so as soon as I finished I ran back to the van to get the camera. Unfortunately, the memory card was full, so I couldn't get a video, just a photograph, as he literally hopped along the finish straight, and I could see he was in absolute agony. He'd hobbled home in 63.08, but we both knew he was fit enough to do 57.00.The commentator rubbed it in by saying, in English: "Veronica Singleton has already finished!" (Having not trained properly for 8 months, I was surprised and delighted with 46.33).
We sat down and sampled the post-race refreshments - slices of apple, banana and water melon, ice tea, "Fonctionade" (a fruity, alcohol-free malted drink) and Peter, a beer connoisseur, proclaimed that the beer tasted awful (it, too, was alcohol-free).
The prize-giving was swift and slick, and I soon realised I'd mistransated the programme - the "class" prizes of Euros were for school classes, and there were huge cheers as the winners were announced. On to the adults, and it was great to see every single prizewinner there to collect their prize - one of the women won a "Teach Yourself English" language pack. I was surprised to hear my name called out - I was second FV50 (though beaten by a good 3.5 minutes).As I stood on the podium of beer crates, I was presented with a certificate with my name, club, time and position printed on it, a pretty posy of fresh flowers and a book of German poetry! I could also choose a six-pack of alcohol-free beer or the "Fonctionade". I chose the latter.
Peter's prize? A right leg half as big again as the left, from calf to ankle, though sampling the German beers at the festival into the small hours deadened the pain for one night. Auf Wiedersehen.
Race Results :