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Thursday, 6 December 2012

#30: Starter for 26.2 -- Part III

I began my walk to the start, knowing I still had to make a final (No.2) pit-stop.

It was now 8:35am and gun-time (9am) was rapidly approaching. I was considering skipping the final – almost ceremonial – porta-potty stop. But knew that could turn out to be a fatal mistake, 15 miles into the race.

I initially joined the queue for a small cluster of the green tardis-like loos near the exit to the athletes’ village. But it was painfully slow progress, so I quickly abandoned that plan and squeezed back out into the outside world, trusting to luck I’d find another set en route to the start.

Fortunately my hunch proved a sound one, and I joined a much smaller line-up (of about eight people) to one of around 24 porta-potties 400m beyond 'the village'. I anxiously awaited my turn, frequently checking my watch and watching the seconds tick by.

There was a collective outcry of frustrated groans at one point, as a boy of about 11 jumped the queues and dived into one of the toilets, oblivious to the heinous crime he was committing.

Tucking my yellow-and-black Adidas ‘bin liner’ into my gel belt, I finally got in to ‘take care of business’ at 8:44am. 120 seconds later I was speed-jogging towards the start-line, knowing I was cutting things a little fine.

I didn’t realize how fine until I finally navigated my way to Zone B (the assigned corral for runners with predicted finishing times of 2hrs 20- 2:50), with 8:50am now throbbing on my watch-face.

The corral was jam-packed with runners, so-much-so that jobsworth officials were now patrolling the periphery and denying racers entry. In theory, we were going to have to wait outside the railings and jump in after the gun had fired. The potential for mayhem was tangible.

Of course, many took the “screw that for a game of soldiers!” attitude and jumped the railings, shoehorning their way into the corral. And I felt compelled to join them. I hadn’t come all this way to start the race in the crowd.

So I found a minute opening and began to clamber my way over the railing. Things went well – for about the first two seconds… until an official spotted me just as I was precariously balanced half-way in and half-way out of Zone B, with a particularly sharp piece of railing join lodged in my crotch.

Madame Von Jobzvorth (MVJ) ordered me back out again, angrily waving a lethal looking giant baguette at me and bellowing some incomprehensible German in my left ear. She was unrelenting, despite my pleas of mercy, and wore an expression as resolute as a military leader taking his troops into final battle. “Yoo veel heff to liiine up owwtside!”

I briefly resigned myself to the fact I’d have to start 'off-course', knowing that would likely result in my Sub-2:50 dream going up in smoke before the race had even begun. But all was not lost.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw runners still frantically clambering over railings and squeezing themselves in further up the pen (towards the start), so thought I’d give it one, final shot.

With laser-like focus I sprinted 30 metres closer to the front of Zone B, tracking the railings, and was surely now out of MVJ’s glaring gaze. I then attempted a second pole-vault up-and-over the steel fencing, into the starting corral.

Of course MVJ, who didn’t miss a trick, had spotted my cavalier act and was now racing after me, angrily wafting her giant baguette in my direction.

This time, however, she was fractionally too late. My momentum had taken me 60% across the railing by the time she arrived – and I was able to limbo underneath the wildly swishing baguette and slide inside the pen, repeatedly saying “danke shurn” to all the runners (likely not called Shaun or Sean) packed like sardines around me.

Little did I know (but would find out later) there was a second lane for Zone B (and all the other zones, for that matter) out of my view, which was virtually empty in comparison. VFAC president at-the-time Xtopher Brandt, also in Germany to race, had fortunately entered the start from that side and was oblivious to the craziness taking place 20 metres to his right.

No matter. I was at the start, and in my zone. Finally. All that was left now was to run a fast 26.2 miles, in conditions that threatened to warm up later.

Back in Zone B, we were all vertically spooning – whether we liked it or not – as we heard reigning Berlin Marathon champion and then world record holder Haile Gebrselassie being introduced to the crowd. He’d set that mark – Sub-2:04 – 12 months earlier.

With a hefty cluster of runners having followed me over the railings, there was now not even room for an extra bib number to squeeze into the pen.

The remaining runners were forced to wait impatiently outside the railings, poised to leap over and into the 2009 Berlin Marathon as soon as space became available. And trying hard to avoid injuring themselves and other runners as they did.

We were given the five-minute warning; then “Two minutes to go!” A cluster of other elites were introduced, and then the klaxon finally sounded.

Phew! What a relief. After what I’d just endured, the race was surely going to be a slice of German Black Forest Gateaux in comparison.

Though I was sure I’d have nightmares about the demon baguette.

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