Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MARATHON!

I know it's rude to spoil the ending, but I did it! I actually did it! I ran the marathon! :)
Jaysus, it wasn't easy. A magpie crossed my path on my way to the metro. I thought if there was ever a time to prove superstition wrong this was it. To be honest I wasn't very confident of finishing. I was dreading it.
But people's enthusiasm is infectious. Other runners got on the metro in shorts. They seemed chirpy despite the cold and the inhumane earliness for a Sunday. For any day.
There was music blaring, The Smiths, The Cure, good stuff, and someone shouting stuff over the speakers. Encouragement, I suppose.
We set off, and the biggest initial difficulty was people getting in my way. We set off at what I thought was a slow clip. I was in the 5-hour corral, soon caught up with the 4.5-hour corral, but then I lost all the balloons and figured I'd just keep running.
I wanted to take pictures and tweet along the way but that idea was quickly scrapped. I took a picture of the Santiago Bernabeú but there were a load of trees in the way and I wasn't going to run off to find a better angle. So I skipped the photos.
The left leg was fine starting but it started complaining again after about 10K. The right knee was fine throughout, amazingly, ironically, though perhaps only in comparison to the left, which got steadily worse. I was limping badly by 16K.
A guy beside me asked me if I was alright. Turns out he was from Dublin. An old injury, I told him. Where did I start? We had a bit of a chat and he went on, said I'd probably overtake him later on. I knew I wouldn't.
But people were clapping us, and cheering. ¡Animo! ¡Animo! Friendly faces, smiles, encouragement.
There was a balloon ahead with Nacho written on it. When I got there it was attached to a wheelchair occupied by a handicapped kid being pushed by a team of supporters. The crowd saw him and chanted "¡Nachooo! ¡Nachooo! ¡Nachooo!" and all the runners likewise, "¡Nachooo! ¡Nachooo! ¡Nachooo!"
I Nachoed too as I limped alongside them. It was great. The level of goodwill. I got goose-bumps. Nacho and his entourage would overtake me before the end.
I thought I had to get to the halfway mark at least, that that was a decent mark to aim for, and I'd call it quits then. I finally got there, it was awful, I had to stop. People were running past. I was gutted, even though I knew this was always on the cards. I sent a tweet and said I'd go on. Even a kilometer or two, anything.
Walking was more painful than running so I ran. Or tried to. I dunno if you can call it running. Someone on rollerblades sprayed some muscle-spray on my left leg. I kept going.
I knew the young fella and my mother were waiting to cheer me on at Lago, at the 29K-mark, so I thought I'd aim for them and then at least I could go home with them.
Well, it was horrible, I just kept going. You could grab water and stuff at various points as you ran. I grabbed it, sipped it, threw it over my head.
I was never so happy to see my family when I finally saw them. Damn, the relief! I hugged them, kissed the young fella, drank water, took pictures, they took pictures, then a neighbor asked if she could take a picture for us. So she did.
I must have been five minutes there, maybe longer. I felt better. I thought, sure I might as well go on. There were only five kilometers to go to match the furthest I'd ever run in one go before. So I said I'd keep going.
I got to 32K, 33K, past Atlético Madrid's stadium, clocked 34K and I really felt like shit. This was it! I was now running further than I ever managed before. Cramps stopped me at this stage before but they weren't as bad, I could still move my legs, even if I was limping ridiculously like a three-legged crab.
So I kept going, I kept going. I thought, fuck it, I have to keep going. There were stages I had to stop. I had to stretch, somehow stretch the calves, get them to cooperate. The knee was gone, I knew there was nothing to be done for that, but if I could get those calves to play along…
There was only four kilometers left. Only 4K! Nothing. Not even a run down to Humbolthain and back. So fucking close. But damn they were the worst four kilometers in the world. Every Single Meter Was Hell. Or close to it. I remembered why I was running throughout and that lent the pain a certain perspective. It didn't alleviate it, though.
I had to stop a couple of times. I walked a bit. The shame. Other runners ran past. ¡Animo! ¡Animo! You can do it, you're nearly there! I grimaced apologetically. It was so close, so damn close! Spectators were urging me on. They called me a campéon. Another rollerblader stopped and sprayed more stuff on my legs. I ran again, I ran, I ran till I saw the finishing line and that kept me going – till I reached it and saw there was another bit to go, it was only some advertising banners. The fuckers, I thought. I was begging for that line.
I finally crossed the line, one with a timer on it. The finishing line! I did it! I nearly cried. I'd run the damned marathon.
"¡Enhorabuena!" someone said. Someone else gave me a drink. Someone else put a medal around my neck, more congratulations. Someone else gave me a bag of stuff. Others were handing me bananas.
"I already have a banana."
"Have some more. You gotta eat bananas! Platanos, platanos!"
So I took some platanos and headed straight for the physiotherapy tent. My legs were in agony. There was a queue. I couldn't stand. I had to queue sitting, lying down – no matter what I did the pain wouldn't go away.
Finally my turn came. The physiotherapists were very nice – as soon as they started I felt better. They used ice and massaged my legs. It was a miracle, I felt a thousand times better. They told me to stretch again once the muscles loosened up.
It took a while to get home. Walking wasn't easy and metro steps were a new unforeseen torture. The young fella came down to greet me when I rang the bell, wanted to know if I did it. I high-fived him. "Yep!" I was so happy, I'd finally done it!
He was happy too. He was impressed – or so I thought till he asked what took me so long. Then he wanted to play football. Needless to say, I wasn't much good.

My phone tells me I ran more than a marathon, 43.28 kilometers in 4 hours, 37 minutes. Altogether, training included, I ran 1,826.37 kilometers.
It was all to fundraise for medical aid and supplies for Syria via MSF. We've raised a good bit so far – a trillion thanks to everyone who has donated already! – but of course the more donations the more lives we'll save, the more suffering we'll alleviate.
If you haven't donated already, please please give something small. Even a tiny amount will make a huge difference. I'll keep donations open till the weekend. Thank you!





(I'll update this post with more embarrassing photos once we're back in Berlin and I get them from the marathon photographers.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: This is it!

This is it! I'm all set. I got a haircut last week, had a shave and cut my nails yesterday so I'm aerodynamic. Anything else? Probably. It's too late to worry about it now.
I got up at an ungodly hour and now I'm gonna run a marathon or fail trying. If I fail, I'll try again, fail better.
My conscience is clear, I've done absolutely all I can – I've literally put blood, sweat and tears into this. I'm running for medical supplies and aid for Syria. There's no better reason to run and no better reason to donate for MSF if you haven't already. Many thanks for your support!



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: Final sprint

When I was a kid there were sports days in school. I was entered in the 800 meters. Of course I wanted to win the damn thing so I set off like a hare as soon as the whistle went. My strategy was to run as fast as physically possible for as long as possible to extract the very most I could from myself. All the watching kids, parents and teachers roared as I raced clear. But then I was knackered after 100 meters and all the other kids ran past. I was last, long after everyone else. Everybody laughed. I never ran again until I decided to do something for Syria.

I’m running the Madrid Marathon on April 23 to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières in Syria.
This is something I decided to do in November 2015 out of a feeling of absolute helplessness, as my belief in humanity was shaken while the world continued to ignore Syria.
Death is daily life in Syria and has been for the last six years. Marie Colvin’s last reports from Homs before she was killed, watching helplessly while a baby died from shrapnel with its stomach heaving, and her desperate appeal for help that never came made a lasting impression on me in early 2012.
I didn’t know what to do. Later I was volunteering as trains of refugees arrived at Schönefeld but again it felt helpless. There’s only so much one can do – really it takes many more to make something happen.
It’s why I resorted to trying to coerce others into helping MSF, whose doctors and health workers have defied indescribable horrors – many have literally paid with their lives – to help those caught up in this vicious cycle of cruelty. They’re still there, doing all they can.
I’m a parent. I love my son more than anything and it breaks my heart that there are other kids like him who had the bad luck to be born into a hellish world they’ve done nothing to deserve.
So far I’ve raised €2,080 for MSF and I hope to raise more. None of it will go to waste. Every cent alleviates someone’s suffering in some way.
I’ve run 1,777 kilometers, not all at the same time of course, but in preparation for this marathon and the Berlin Marathon last September.
I wasn’t able to run that due to a torn meniscus and cartilage damage in my right knee – my own fault, I over-trained. A bike-crash two nights before quashed any lingering delusions of running it. Broken finger, busted hip, wounded pride, but at least I survived to run another day.
So I signed up for Madrid. Training was going well till I got bronchitis from running in minus temperatures and then injured my left knee in an effort to protect my right. Iliotibial band syndrome. I’ve been doing physiotherapy. She found issues with my ankle, back, hip and neck – all on the left. Apparently that crash had a greater effect than I thought.
I altered my training schedule to take account of the setbacks and have been doing absolutely all I can to make it still. I’ve been eating salads and fruit, no tea, no coffee. I’ve been taking vitamin and mineral supplements. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol for 11 weeks.
I honestly don’t know if I can do it. I ran a half marathon in pain, but had to cut short an attempt at 32K last week. My latest fear is that I’ve done in a ligament in my left knee. We’ll see.
I know it won’t do anything for anyone if I screw my knees up permanently. Other people need them too – it killed me to tell the young fella I couldn’t play football with him when I wasn’t able to walk.
He doesn’t think I can run it. “You’re too banjaxed,” he said. I have to show him anything’s possible. There’s one week to go.
People tell me it doesn’t matter if I do it or not, that the money for MSF is the main thing, and that’s true, but it matters to me. I intend to keep my side of the bargain. Please please do all you can too. It’s not for me. Many thanks.



Thanks again to AP for permission to use the photo above, taken by two-time Pulitzer winner Muhammed Muheisen, of Syrian refugee Zahra Mahmoud, 5, from Deir el-Zour.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nein years

Yesterday marked nine years since I became a Berliner. Coincidently, it was St. Patrick’s Day too, as indeed it was nine years ago.
I was wished a happy St. Patrick’s Day by the people in a record shop where I had to pick up a concert ticket. They saw my name on the booking and were wondering what kind of weird name it was till I told them it was Irish. Then they wanted to know what it meant. I told them a small black-haired fella, which of course I’m not. They remembered it was March 17, wished me a great day for my country’s “Festtag” and suggested I should go out and drink loads, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to me or any other Irish man, woman or child.
But I didn’t drink at all. It was the soberest I’ve been for Paddy’s Day since I was a baby. I haven’t had a drink now for seven weeks. Though the outlook is bleak and I still can’t run, I haven’t given up on this marathon. My life is on hold till April 23. Whatever happens, I’ll have a drink then.
“He extends himself far beyond his means, pushing his limits and exceeding his own capabilities. The failure of his titanic struggle is preordained, but in the face of overwhelming oppression Stroszek never stops trying anyway.”
I feel like Stroszek. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
The years have gone quickly as forgetful old people say. Of course when I arrived in Berlin I was entranced by all I saw and experienced. Everything was possible in a world turned on its head, flipped right over. Suddenly I was someone else, awakened to life, swimming in new experiences and discoveries and the Spree, buck naked at a theologians’ party. In hindsight, I see now that many of these new experiences simply involved letting go of preconceived ideas, and clothes.
I discovered that I could dance after all because the Germans don’t give a shite what they look like when they dance. They don’t give a shite about anything unless you cross a red light when there’s a kid within 300 meters.
Now I feel I know Berlin and it knows me. I know when you get post in German it’s bad; if you get post in any other language it’s good. I chat with the neighbors and the conversation invariably turns to how things were better in the DDR. “Not all things!” I remind them. And they agree. But they’d just as soon put the Wall back up again to keep the investors away. The antique shop downstairs is closing in June because they can’t afford the rent.
I just read Metamorphosis by Kafka and while I’m not turning into a cockroach, I guess I’m changing too. Being a father will do that to you. He was only a twinkle in my eye when I got here but I’m glad he made it. Where the other twinkles will lead is anyone’s guess.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: Another setback

Just been to the doctor. Dr. Jens-Joachim Ziesche. The news isn’t good. He pretty much overlooked the right knee – the original reason I was to be there – and diagnosed Tractus-iliotibialis-Scheuersyndrom with the left. Nothing to do tractors, it’s iliotibial band syndrome in English, runner’s knee, apparently a common injury, basically an overloaded tendon rubbing against the bone.
It happened Thursday on an easy 8K run. I was taking it easy as I didn’t want to screw up the right knee, which was troubling me when I ran 25K on Tuesday. I knew right away there was something wrong with the left – couldn’t walk for two days afterward.
Dr. Ziesche was able to diagnose it straight away, put his thumb right where the pain is. When I told him about the stabbing pains down from my right knee he asked if I had back problems. I do, and they’re the cause of that apparently. I’m a wreck.
He was sympathetic but said it doesn’t look good for the marathon. It’s in 5½ weeks.
He told me to rest for 10 days before doing anything, that I “might be lucky” and it might have cleared up then but it usually takes much longer. It’s usually four to five weeks, he said. There’s a danger of antagonizing it if you start back too soon.
He prescribed Ibuprofen and I’ve to go for physiotherapy. I’ve to see an orthopedist about the back.
I haven’t given up but I’m obviously less confident I’ll be able to do the marathon now. I was supposed to run 26K yesterday, could only go swimming. It’s a setback, potentially a fatal setback, but I’m not giving up. 


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: €2,000 donated so far!

Today I ran 20K. It wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy since I got a cold running in minus 5 on Feb. 9. I haven’t been able to shake it off as I had to keep running in minus temperatures. I have a plan, have to stick to it.
But I couldn’t last weekend, just couldn’t. Cold turned much worse, fever, aches, sneezing, coughing, exhaustion etc. I actually wrote a marathon update lying in bed on my phone but was too exhausted to transfer it to the computer to post, and now it’s outdated so I’m writing another.
I went to the doctor today after the run. Bronchitis. She told me to stop running for a whole week, rest up, do nothing, inhale steam, eat soup, drink herbal teas and ginger. She wrote down a load of shit but I can’t read it – doctors’ handwriting. She also prescribed some tablets that dissolve in water.
I already take more pills everyday than a techno junkie. Magnesium tablets, ginkgo, krill oil, guarana, vitamins and some "Gelenk" tablets for the knee to cure cartilage damage and a meniscus tear.
I’m trying to take care of the knee. I’d already stopped taking two steps at a time, I watch how I get up, I try not to kneel on it – I’m literally doing EVERYTHING I possibly can to avoid injury and run this marathon.
I’m eating salads and loads of fruit – no pancakes for me! – and I’ve cut out tea, coffee and alcohol. I haven’t had a drink since one last rum after work on Jan. 27.
I should be fit as a fiddle but obviously I’m not. It’s like I have the body of a Trabi, constantly braking down. But Trabis can go forever. Despite everything, I’m actually pretty confident I’ll run it. Maybe it’s delusion but it’s strong stuff. I’m more determined than ever. If it was on tomorrow I’d fucking run it, or hobble it if I had to, the whole damn thing.
As I mentioned I have a training plan now, approved by three people who’ve actually run marathons, including my cousin who gave me invaluable advice.
"Don’t overdo it and listen to your body!" she said. So I was all ears, listening to my body gasping until it told me there was no way in hell it was doing any more. The green numbers are what I’ve actually run compared to what I’m supposed to run in the black. Now I just have to amend it to include a rest week.
Last week I transferred another €500 to MSF. That’s €2,000 for their Syrian appeal so far. I’m so grateful to everyone! I’m sure the money will help improve people’s lives somehow, alleviate their pain or even just give them a glimpse of hope, a reminder that there is indeed kindness and compassion in the world.
The fundraising continues. I’ve chipped in too – I wouldn’t ask anyone to donate if I hadn’t. But of course I’m greedy – the more we raise the more people we help, the more hope we spread. There are only 53 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes and 23 seconds (as I type) until the Madrid Maratón. Every second counts.

IBAN DE09500105175554452542 (BIC: INGDDEFFXXX) or donate below.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Marathon Sans Frontières: Knee update

Got the results from the MRI today. They're not good. Cartilage damage and inner meniscus tear. There's a lack of "Kniegelenkerguss," whatever that is, and something else between the tractus iliotibialis and the diaphyseal femur is irritated. Probably due to Trump.
I was given all this info on a fax sent by the MRI people to Dr. Gunter Frenzel and tried deciphering it while I waited to see him. A friend I texted asked a physiotherapist who said, "you'll eventually need surgery, and running might be a bit of a problem."
But Dr. Frenzel was more upbeat. He went through the images on a screen, pointed out the damage. He said he didn't want to operate – I told him I didn't want him to either – and he suggested I just needed to take it easy, not do anything strenuous. He told me how to get up after sitting down, not to kneel on the floor, not to put any pressure on the knee at all.
I told him I'm running the marathon in Madrid in April, less than 12 weeks away, and asked if that was now out the window. He said no! He asked me about the pain now and if I was training already. I said I was, I never really stopped. I told him I'd back problems the last couple of weeks and the hip was still troubling me since the crash but he didn't think they were related.
He told me to take a tablet the night before the marathon and another after it, painkiller/anti-inflammatory, that it'll hurt for two or three weeks afterward, but one marathon in a year might be OK.
He was going to prescribe the tablets for me to try out in training but I told him they gave me heart palpitations the last time he prescribed them, before the ill-fated Berlin marathon. So he scrapped that.
He told me to go for it, keep going, keep training, and to go back to him in four weeks for another check-up. So that's what I'll do. Meanwhile I'm booking flights for Madrid.
I didn't run in Cuba – the young fella didn't want to run with me – but I've been swimming (once) and running since I got back, through frozen forests, across frozen meadows, around frozen lakes. I'm not going to win this marathon, I just have to run it.
If you didn't know by now, it’s for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Syria. I know all the media attention is now on the U.S. thanks to that fuckhead in the White House, but I can assure you, the people he's shunning in Syria still need help. They're humans! Mothers, fathers, children who deserve lives free from bombs like anyone else.
So far, thanks to your generous support, we've raised €1,861. Once I get paid for January I'm topping it up to €2,000. I transferred €1,500 to MSF already but I'll transfer another €500 then. They need it.
Donations are more welcome than ever!
IBAN DE09500105175554452542 (BIC: INGDDEFFXXX) or the donate button below.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cuba: Postscript

Cuba was brilliant – better even than I imagined. It was great traveling with the young fella for two weeks, a real privilege. He enhanced the trip. I know he enjoyed it too, had some experiences he will probably never forget. I certainly did.
He said on the last day that it was better than he expected, though I’m not really sure what he was expecting. I mean, Jaysus, he’s still only a young fella even if he’s six now. He said a lot of funny things and garnered a lot of admirers, though broke a few hearts when he wouldn’t return their kisses. “¡Que lindo!” they’d say. But they wouldn’t get any kisses, not one beso.
There was no plan. We just followed our noses and they led us to many wonderful places. It was a trip full of highlights, lots of little personal highlights, like an old woman’s huge smile when I simply waved hello.
There was little to no internet available though, so I wasn’t able to post pictures or words as we went along, like I did from Mexico and Guatemala, or Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
I took 2,954 photos this time but have barely even looked at them. I need to go through them and delete the crap ones. Maybe they’re all crap.
I took notes at the end of every day, sometimes during the day on buses or whenever there was a spare moment. So instead of writing one long post about Cuba I’ll just post my notes and a selection of photos from that particular day. It means I won’t have to go through all the photos at once – there were 331 on the first day alone – and maybe they’ll help keep the magic alive a little longer.


UPDATE: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – All the posts are now dated correctly so you can peruse them without unnecessary confusion. All confusion is unnecessary of course, so I’m only too happy to reduce it where possible.
Here they are:
Cuba 1: La Habana
Cuba 2: Plaza de la Revolución
Cuba 3: Hasta Viñales
Cuba 4: Valle de Viñales
Cuba 5: Cayo Jutías
Cuba 6: Cienfuegos
Cuba 7: Jagua
Cuba 8: El Nicho
Cuba 9: Laguna Guanaroca
Cuba 10: Cocodrilos / Bay of Pigs
Cuba 11: Regreso
Cuba 12: Playa / Fortaleza / Malecón
Cuba 13a: Último día en La Habana
Cuba 13b: El Leon de Oro
Cuba 14: KLM flight 724

I’m not going to go back and tidy up the notes so they’re more readable – I just don’t have the time. There are other things to write, other things to do. It’s been ages since I took care of Abandoned Berlin – I don’t want people to think it’s been abandoned.

Here are some more notes I took while on the road. I may as well post them here as anywhere:
Everywhere you go in Cuba there are vultures circling silently overhead.
Public squares are full evenings with people's faces illuminated by smartphones as they check email or internet through public wifi. Nobody, or next to nobody, has internet at home.
Horse-drawn carriages ply the roads with pedestrians, bikes, buses, old Soviet trucks and the ubiquitous coches antiguos. Most of the bikes have baskets behind the saddles for hauling around bread or ice cream or whatever the hell it is they bring around.
Nobody is in a hurry anywhere. People just stand around talking, usually with smiles on their faces. All of a Cuba is a giant social club.
Cuban business owners will try shaft tourists if they can. Bills take on unexpected add-ons, people in toilets demand money no matter how filthy or unsavory they are – some of them would make you gag with the smell – but if you challenge them or wonder where the got the numbers, they back down straight away, sometimes to the point of their detriment, making bills even less than they would have been if they were just totted up correctly.
But Cuba is safe. There’s no sign of any trouble anywhere, we never had the feeling of danger. Crime is only petty, usually. There are heavy penalties if you're caught selling drugs or in possession of a gun. Apparently prisons are full and unpleasant.

And here are some more photos too – why the hell not? They’ll have to do ye for the time being until we go back and take more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cuba 14: KLM flight 724

Rained last night, with vengeance, lashed down. Still stormy now. Maybe Cuba doesn’t want us to go. SMS arrived to stay flight delayed. Should get up to shower and pack but feeling little motivation for leaving. But the bed’s too uncomfortable in any case – back still sore – I’ll get up.

Guy beside me at breakfast puts sugar in his pineapple juice, loads of it! And chocolate in his coffee. Grumpy looking fucker too. You’d think he’d be happier.

Socialism or death.
Love this island.
(Slogans on way to airport.)

Airport is full of freaks, caricatures of themselves. A horrible old German couple demand coffee from the cocktail guy, in German. He points them to the coffee counter. “Nee, wir standen hier schon ewig.” He points again. “Ok denn, Wasser. Zwei.” I tell them he doesn’t speak German, have to translate. They get their water after commenting on how useless the bar man is. Meanwhile I get two mojitos and three free sandwiches. Cuba is what you make of it.

Another mojito for the road. Take off. Hasta la próxima Cuba, hasta pronto, hasta siempre!

Young fella struggling with the fancy earphones KLM handed out: “How the feck do you do them on your ears?” Dumbo is apparently the best film ever made. Second time watching it, he doesn’t even want water or anything. “Nothing!”

Watch Russian film, Moscow Never Sleeps (by an Irish guy and supported by the Irish Film Board?!), then Woody Allen’s Manhattan. “Nothing worth knowing can be understood by the mind.”

3 mojitos, 2 whiskeys.

Toilets in Amsterdam are the opposite of toilets in Cuba – they have seats and they flush, repeatedly, non-fucking-stop, like the voice on a loop saying “mind your step” over and over and over and over… Get me back to Berlin. It ain’t Cuba but it’s better than this.

Landed in gloom and doom, grey dull foggy Berlin. It’s fucking raining too. Any color we had has jumped off our skin in fright and thrown itself under the plane’s wheels. We’re back.