Wednesday, April 26, 2017


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.