How did running marathons become my retirement hobby?
When I retired at the end of 2007, I had a bucket list that included running a marathon by age 70. Previously, I was a jogger who never entered a race. I checked the marathon off my list in 2009 at age 67, when I ran the San Francisco Nike Women’s Marathon, with a medical escort, no less, provided by my daughter-in-law, Nancy Dunbar. Nancy stuck with me and my 13+ minute pace until the last few miles, when it was clear I was going to get to the finish line. At that point, Nancy race off but reappeared at the finish line, where we collected Tiffany finisher necklaces from tuxedoed firemen – definitely a glamorous touch!
That should have been the end of it, but it occurred to me that I could probably qualify for the Boston Marathon if I worked at it. After several attempts, I qualified, so I ran Boston in 2015. That should have been the end of it, but I tried Boston again in 2017 in hopes of being in the top three for my age group. That didn’t pan out. Then I learned about the Abbott World Marathon Majors. It seems that if you finish the Tokyo, Boston, Virgin Money London, BMW BERLIN, Bank of America Chicago and TCS New York City Marathons, you are eligible for a special commemorative medal.
At the time, I had finished Boston and New York. Then Marathon Tours and Travel, a firm that works with the Boston Marathon, informed me they had a place available in the September 24, 2017 Berlin Marathon. So I decided to try to do the six major marathons as the capstone to this chapter of my life. My husband, Rob, and I paid Marathon Tours $1,165 each, plus $200 for my race entry. I would be a runner, and Rob would be my support. We arranged our own air flight plans using airline rewards.
We duly set off on Tuesday, September 19, and arrived after an overnight flight on Wednesday, September 20, a day before Marathon Tours’ program began. We were fortunate to get into our hotel room when we arrived in the morning, as check-in time is usually mid-afternoon. We slept for several hours to make up for lack of sleep on the plane and the six-hour time difference, had some lunch, then set off on a walk through the nearby Berlin Tiergarten, originally a hunting grounds for the aristocracy but now one of the largest urban parks in Germany. We ended with a quick tour through the zoo adjacent to the park, then took transit back to our hotel.
The following day, Marathon Tours people were available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to greet us. We had the day on our own, and Marathon Tours had a reception for us in the evening. One of the Marathon Tours people told me (as I recall) that they had 630 customers this year, up from 420 the previous year! During that day, I did my last Tempo Run, working hard not to get lost in the Tiergarten, which is a challenge. We were fortunate throughout our time in Berlin to have cool weather – highs of 60 or so – good running weather – even as the US east coast had sweltering temperatures. We took the day easy, resting up for race day!
On Friday, Marathon Tours gave us a city tour, then dropped us off at the Expo. Berlin is a very impressive city. It was largely demolished in World War II. The most important monuments (icons!) and buildings have since been restored or recreated, but there are many new buildings. The Germans have capitalized on the opportunity to build new. They have had the economic strength, skill and determination to do it successfully. We visited traces of the Berlin Wall and heard about the Berlin Airlift, as well as about past and present conditions in the eastern part of the country. We walked through a large Holocaust memorial before going to the Expo to pick up my bib and packet.
The Expo was very big, with an impressive number of promotional booths for marathons in other places worldwide. Also, lots of gear, clothing, shoes and energy products were for sale.
On Saturday, runners were bused to a 6K Breakfast Run that started from Charlottenburg Palace and ended at the renovated stadium where Jesse Owens won his four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games, dashing Hitler’s hopes to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race. The 6K run was a good warmup for the marathon the next day.
In the afternoon, Marathon Tours had arranged for a showing of a new documentary, Skid Row Marathon, featuring L.A. Judge Craig Mitchell and some of the homeless people who have benefited from his amazing running program. The Judge and a couple of the formerly homeless were present and spoke to us after the movie. The movie is very inspiring; see it! Marathon Tours also provided a Pre-Race Dinner, with pasta and more. German cuisine has vastly improved since some of our previous visits to the country. Pork seems to be the meat mainstay, but we both had wiener schnitzel which is very good, amongst other dishes. Leaving the pre-race dinner, we admired inline skaters and paralyzed bicyclists racing by, consigned to race the evening before the runners run.
Our hotel was close enough to walk over to the marathon start, but the circuitous route took me a full hour. I still had plenty of time to warm up before the 10 a.m. start for my wave.
I’ve discovered that my age/gender group is in the last wave in these big marathons, back with the tourist and charity runners. We’re not competing with the Kenyans, Ethiopians, or younger runners! Runners wore shirts proclaiming their countries: Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and more. Charity causes included MS, children, cancer, hospitals, and so on. I was on pace to finish the race in five hours until mile 17, when my motivation flagged. Rob took a picture of me as I passed at about mile 20. Drum and other bands played and crowds cheered for us along the way, and I always had lots of other runners around for company. I earned a finishers medal after 5:14:16 and was fourth of 11 finishers in the 75-79-year-old women’s group.
I returned to Cleveland Heights in time for a City Council meeting on Monday evening. (I am a councilmember.) Rob went on to Nijmegen, Holland for chemical research using lasers, his passion. He then visited his sister, Anne, and her family, in England for a few days before coming home.
Berlin and the Berlin Marathon are impressive. The World Majors are all, as advertised, major events, and not easy to get into. However, I did enter the October 8, 2017 Chicago Marathon as a charity runner. I had never done two marathons so close together. It was in the 70s the day of this marathon, so I took it slow. I finished in about 6 hours 21 minutes, good enough for a finisher’s medal. In fact, for the first time, despite this being my slowest marathon ever, I was #3 in my age/gender group – the highest ever finish and a first for me for such a big race. I expect getting into the other majors will likely take another two years, alas. I hope to persevere that long.
Aside from the Majors, there are many good marathons. I’ve enjoyed, and found memorable, various smaller ones. We runners have many ways to challenge ourselves. Marathons are just one choice. It’s amazing what we can do if we try! Geoff and Nancy Dunbar, and our younger son Bill (who is also a runner) have certainly been inspirations for my running, too.