20 Years Running

Twenty years ago,

I ran my first ever Half-Marathon in Berlin, Germany. It all started with a bet during a Christmas party in Leipzig in 1996. ‘Are you fit enough to run a full Marathon?’ friends challenged me. ‘Yes, of course!’ I replied with bravado and too much alcohol in my blood. Within three months from never having run longer than a few hundred meters, I was standing at the start on the Alexander Platz, full of adrenaline. It was a crispy cloudy morning and like all the other 6000 runners I was ready to start. Nervous I was, not sure if I would complete these 21.095 Km. The gun went off and soon the timing mat passed beneath my feet, pressing ‘start’ on my watch … one second, two, three…

But before being ready for all this and other races, it took many kilometers and hours of training. For me that meant getting out early in the mornings, no matter it was raining, snowing, humid, windy, cold or hot. Training in Kuala Lumpur, Paphos, Berlin, Houston, Al-Khobar, Frankfurt, Leipzig... I love to watch these cities waking up. One moment the city is mine, next frantic activities of cars, bikes, busses and people. For me running is a solitary and individualistic sport, because I compete only against my-selves. It gives me a lot of time to think or simply not think about anything but running, a great way to switch off and relax.

Competing in a race meant spending extended weekends out in Germany, The Netherlands, USA, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Malaysia, England, Cyprus and Singapore. The nights before the races, Francien, Winnie, Marcella and friends, got together for the pre-race ‘pasta party’ with lots of laughs, pre-race banter and race predictions: ‘Did I train enough? What will the weather be like? Where will our supporters be standing? Where do we meet after the race? How do we find each other in the crowds? Shall I start fast? What finishing-time can I run?’.

Francien has cheered me on every single race a ran...

During the race I enjoyed the crowds lining the streets, noisy with whistles and horns cheering and waving, some carrying stereo speakers blasting music. Some runners dressed up like beer-bottles, clowns, bears, ducks and other comical figures, entertaining the crowds. I looked forward to see Francien cheering me on somewhere in the crowds, stopping a few seconds to continue with new motivation. The percussion bands playing loud music, African beats and samba drums spurred me on to get to the finish. And then those kilometer markers, telling me how far still to go, until I would see the finish line……

On the day of the run, we took many pictures, but these never captured my struggle to get to the finish. I would lie saying that there never where moments I was about to give up. But I never did. Instead, totally exhausted after finishing I was already determined to do it again. Running turned addictive ever since that very first race and I ran at least two races each year.

Together with Winnie, I now finished yet another Berlin Half-Marathon. The run was anything but easy, because the last few kilometres a creeping fatigue set in. Never mind, amid a sea of 34000 runners I was thrilled to run through the Brandenburger Gate, Kurfürstendamm, Potsdamer Platz and Check Point Charlie, flooding my head with so many wonderful memories. For me a world without running is difficult to image. I know that at some stage my body will resist and I will have to stop. But until then, lets register for the next run…..

I dare say my first marathon in Hamburg in 1997 was the most gruelling, but also the one I am still the most proud of