I planned but I didn’t prepare. And that had consequences for later.
I’d arrived in Berlin on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning it was time for the Marathon.
The Berlin Marathon is a big event. Huge. So big that the accommodation reserved for us was about an hour out of the city by train, all other city accommodation having been snapped up months earlier. Much of the public transport was disrupted on Sunday morning, especially closer to the centre of the city and even the hop on-hop off bus wasn’t running. Ironic really.
I was leaving by train the following weekend and wanted to make sure I knew how to get to the Berlin Hauptbanhoff without the issues I’d faced the previous day. So I thought I’d have a practice run. On Sunday morning. While the marathon was on and public transport was disrupted.
No tram for me today – train all the way. The train station was a mere 500m from the hotel, it was a crisp, clear morning and a walk in the fresh air would help blow away some of the remaining jet lag. One train from Spindlersfeld Station to Schoneweide (2 stops – the bonus being how lovely that word is to say), and then another train (10 stops) to the main station. Easy.
I bought my ticket, marvelled at the lack of ticket barriers, and enjoyed the train ride(s). I saw runners on the marathon route as the train drew closer to the main station and so once there and familiarised with the route and the station, I followed the noise, over the Spree River, through the Spreebogenpark, to Otto-von-Bismarck-Allee. Crowds of people lined the street, cheering on the runners. They had all kinds of noise-makers – one woman was banging two saucepan lids together – and they weren’t afraid to use them. I walked in the same direction as the runners and soon came across the 7km mark.
I kept walking, not at all sure where I was going or what I was doing, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I came across the 8km mark. I was a bit like Forrest Gump at this stage, although with less facial hair, and just kept walking.
Near the 9km mark there was a man standing on the side of the street holding a punching bag out in front of him. On the punching bag was a photo of Vladimir Putin and an invitation to punch it. Many runners used a little bit of their precious energy to give it a good wallop.
Over the past year, various members of the family have been involved in a weekly photography challenge. We catch up on Sunday evenings to chat about the photos and how our week has been. 7:30 on Sunday evening in Australia translated to 10:30 on Sunday morning in Berlin, so as 10:30 approached I searched for a cafe. I found one – the Röststätte, on Ackerstraße – which just so happened to be on the other side of the road.
Yes, that meant crossing the road. Yes, crossing the road down which hundreds of runners were running. Crossing in front of them. Cutting through them to reach the other side. I had seen a number of people step nimbly across the road, not getting in anyone’s way, so knew it could be done. I started out confidently, timing my not-so-nimble steps with what I thought was a gap in the group of runners. It turned out not to be a gap, and so I got half way across the road and stopped. They ran around me like I was a boulder in a stream. One man kindly told me I was going the wrong way, but I could tell already that a marathon wasn’t for me (sorry Jen).
I eventually made it across – hoping I hadn’t cut time off someone’s personal best in doing so – and found a quiet corner in the cafe.
After our catch up, I kept walking until I came across the U Rosenthaler Platz (an underground train station). I slowly made my way down the steps to the platform, got off at Brandenburger Tor, made my way slowly up the steps to the street, and headed towards The Brandenburg Gate – which was very close to the finish line.
When Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline played over the loudspeakers the whole crowd, including many runners, joined in. It lifted their spirits in a way that few other songs did and seemed to give many an extra boost of energy as they drew close to the finish line.
By the time I got back to the hotel later that afternoon, my right knee, which is problematic at the best of times, my feet and my calves all let me know, quite forcefully, that I had overdone it.
I walked over 12kms that Sunday – nothing like a marathon, but it was a distance I had not adequately prepared for.
I had also, I realised with a big dose of ‘I can’t do this’, not adequately prepared for the reality of meeting a group of strangers, travelling by bus with them to a different country, and then spending 5 days with them at a conference. WhatsApp messages had started coming through earlier in the day – of people’s arrival times in Berlin, invitations to meet up for a walk/drinks/dinner, information on COVID testing centres. Dinner was arranged for 7pm for those staying at the hotel, and in a fit of bravery (of course you can do it Sharon!) I headed for the meeting place in the lobby.
As I headed towards the group I noticed they were all men. At that point my bravery jumped ship and I veered off into the hotel restaurant to have dinner on my own.
What had I done? Why had I said yes to this when I so easily could have ignored that particular email? Two years ago I’d been all for stepping out of my comfort zone, but now, right at this minute when I was on the cusp of stepping out, I wasn’t so sure. In fact I was positively sure that stepping out was something I definitely could not do.
It wasn’t only the knee, calf and foot pain that kept me awake that night.