It’s Tuesday afternoon. The weather is nice in Düsseldorf. Sunny. Relatively warm. Blue sky. Just perfect for my bike commute as I’m about to leave the office to head home.
I grab my mobile phone to check for any personal messages before hitting the road. An online post calls my attention: a mountain marathon in Solingen, the Wupperberge(trail)marathon. Just around the corner – I mean closeby – and already on Sunday, just a few days from now.
Diego is the messenger and plans to join. He’s a friend of friends, a sportsman, triathlete by nature, marathon hungry this year, collecting them as easy as kids eating candy. We’ve been in contact for quite a while now but we’ve never really met. Crossed each other very briefly at the Düsseldorf Marathon this year, socialise online in various platforms, praise each other’s achievements, however failed so far to really have a conversation face to face. Guess we’re always on the move. 😉
I pack my things and get on the bike, the usual route along the Rhine, wind caressing my face, green pastures on the river banks, sunlight reflected in the never-ending water flow, the bicycle lane sufficiently elevated to provide an amazing landscape view over the city, a still worth of a postcard. My mind is wandering on the possibility of joining the race…
A perfect run on Sunday is usually early, guaranteeing family continues having first place on the priority list, joint breakfast possible in the morning with fresh baked bread as I arrive from my morning session. Races on the other hand start usually mid-morning, meaning no family breakfast and an arrival home typically after lunch. In other words, any thoughts of a proper Sunday plan with the family goes to the bin.
Good news is race registration is flexible, as race day enrolment is possible. I allow the possibility to wander in my mind for a few more days…
The agenda reminds me that a school party of my younger son is taking place on Sunday lunchtime. For a moment I consider halting the complete through process. Then again, something else is challenging me more than the race itself… Or the logistical problems… I’m struck with the realisation that my running viewpoint has now a completely different angle. A new perspective…
A few years back going out for a comfortable run meant usually doing between 6 km and 8 km distance. Seeking to join a 10 km race was something “big”! It required planning and consideration. It meant commitment, for I would die if I’d join such an event without properly preparing myself physically for it. The 10 km distance was just about it, an accurate distance which had both a feel of attainability and of challenge, as those last couple of kms usually made the body reach the limit.
After a few attempts at improving speed, the half-marathon was the natural target to look for. Oh boy. 21 km. And a few meters of course, which should not be neglected. Challenges are to be taken with determination and hence I embarked on that journey, wanting to prove myself that I’d be able to do it. Lisbon. Cologne. Mallorca. Algarve. Düsseldorf. Numerous training sessions all around the globe. A lot of learnings out of it as well… What next?
The marathon started to take shape in my mind and as I fell in love with trail running, I’ve collected a few already. Not as many as Diego 😉 but absolutely stunning experiences.
And here I am now, sitting in my bed a few days before the race, considering going there anyhow for a training session, early in the morning, taking advantage of the race markings, navigating through the GPS track published by the organiser, to finish it approximately at the time the official race is about to start. And I think about all this, 5 days in advance. Not a week. Not a couple of months. Not with a super detailed planning in my hands. Just so. Building upon the gigantic work done with Paulo Pires, the amazing coach which has been shaping me into a running beast. In the good sense of course.
By now you should imagine already what happened, right? 😉
Alarm clock ringing at 3:30 AM, I get up for a quick shower and swift breakfast, leave the house at 4:00 AM, drive to the trailhead and am energised to start at 4:30 AM. Headlight ready, backpack fully loaded for a self-supported run, off I go!
The day is fresh and the sunrise is far away happening. Pitch darkness awaits me for the next 2 hours, a stunning starred sky above my head, waning crescent moon dim light enhancing the experience, an absolute silence allowing a focus on the self, on my inner thoughts, in true harmony with nature around me. Perfection. Bliss. The void slowly embracing my mind…
I flow through the night seamlessly. Aquaplaning on the trail, light as a feather, embraced in a pure sensation of happiness… flowing through an amazing route laid out by the organisation in a rigorous and careful manner. Just brilliant! The course is taking me along the slopes of the valley carved by the Wupper river, up and down, like a trail run should be. I pass Schloss Burg in the early stages of the run, living history stored in the building’s stone bricks, tradition engraved in the cobblestones I walk on, remembering medieval times of castles, knights and high court ladies. The place is suitably filled with light, providing enough time for a remembrance photo.
Daylight hits me a few hours later from the back, the sun announcing the views are about to get much more incredible. Sunrise during an early morning run is always something I save dear in my heart, a fantastic moment that regardless if alone or together with running companions, deserves time for contemplation, for appreciation and joy.
The course was overall ran at a comfortable training pace, ideal to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and the hilly region of Solingen. Constantly seeking to identify new trails in my vicinity, with sufficient elevation for appropriate training, this is a route which goes for the registry book. Needless to say the race as well, which supported the experience with excellent markings both on ground with biodegradable paint, as well head-high with bright yellow signs indicating the way. It just got booked in the calendar for next year! 🙂
Arriving to the finish in a track & field, a pack of runners is getting ready to hear the briefing from the organisation and move to the trailhead, all set for a wonderful experience, sun now mid-morning high, giving signs that it may get warmer than expected for a marathon run.
Diego is waiting for me with a big smile, a look of expectation as to if I’d be daring enough to do such craziness as running the race before it actually started. We meet at last! 🙂 We talk about the route, the beautiful day (unusual for the time of the year), his marathon collection, upcoming challenges… the mood is absolutely great, mine of achievement, his of anticipation for the race which is about to start.
As the briefing ends and the crowd enthusiastically gets to the start location, it is time for me to leave. Family awaits my arrival for breakfast, a ritual I wouldn’t miss for anything in the world 🙂
Driving home I get myself thinking how crazy this endeavour has been. Waking up super early… running self-supported for so long in the middle of the night… doing a marathon as just another standard training…
How often do you set yourself to do a big challenge just a few days in advance?
What is a “big challenge” for you at this stage actually?
How do you prepare, if at all?
Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
No matter how much passion you nurture for what you want, both in sports as in life in general, getting things done is all about determination and attitude. My personal takeaway this weekend reminds me of the wise words of Henry Ford, which I hope puts you on the path for achieving whichever challenge you’re thinking on:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
– Henry Ford