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Three Hours
May 2, 2022
5 minutes read

The chill feeling of the morning breeze went away as I found myself surrounded by more people than I have ever been.

I was upset. The crowds, clearly less prepared than me, are going to make me lose precious time – so I thought. I was wrong, but I didn’t know yet.

That explains the first, fast 25 minutes. Too fast, in hindsight. At the start, I literally sprinted and made my way through the people with my legs as well as my elbows. Next to me, an African guy with giant calves was doing the same and I tried to stay right behind him.

It got better quickly though. The space around me increased rapidly and it became just right after what felt like less than one minute. Big calves guy still ahead, sneaking through people with impressive agility, considering the size of his legs.

Air. Breathe. Space. Time to work on my pace. Constantly checking my Garmin reassured me I was doing alright. All of a sudden, it was time to calm down and enter cruise mode.

I notice somebody near me keeping a good pace. Quite a big guy, without a great form (for all I know), but the clock doesn’t lie. I set myself two meters behind him. I also notice another one, slim, long strides, slightly bent shoulders, cruising along.

This formation doesn’t last long. Guy #2 approaches guy #1 and the chatting starts. No need to speak German to understand what they are talking about: pace. Somehow, though, the situation becomes confused and, contrary to my expectations, they don’t find an agreement – not sure why. The pace seems alright to me, and they keep going at the same even after the chat ends.

Whatever. As we pass a few of the previous block I find myself slightly ahead of both. After a few seconds I decide to take a peek behind me and, sure enough, they are there. Weird. I glance at my watch – all good – and I keep going.

Just a few more minutes in and guy #2 approaches me with his long strides, waits for our eyes to meet and says a word that sounds like peace. He surely meant pace, but who cares, that’s my chance, so I laugh at him and say, smiling, “I don’t speak German”.

As I do so, I find myself breathing very well. Too well, even. Laughing!

Anyway, he grins and then says “pace?”. Ah! Now I get it. Four ten – I tell him, quietly. He gives me a face of approval, you know when you cover your upper lip with the bottom one, and keeps talking: “Half?”.

Hey dude, are you kidding me? I don’t do things in half. No, full – I say.

He nods in the unique way that means both approval and let’s go together. I shouldn’t care, but truthfully one part of me is happy, happy as in you never know it turns out to be useful.

And so we go. We keep going even further than my first snack, after around 55'. Until we turn right and the road is slightly uphill. And the wind pushes us back. The wind pushes us back because behind us it’s downhill. Crap.

I put my head down, mouth facing the road, as if this could make breathing easier – it makes it worse, actually.

I keep going, and I have no idea how long for, all I know is that guy #2 is not there with me anymore. I look back and he’s around 10 meters behind, and he gives me the what are you doing look.

My watch makes a sound and it’s 3:57. Shoot. Too quick. Slim guy is right, and I am wrong. What to do?

For a single instant of time I think about waiting for him. Then I realize how stupid this would be. I keep going, but adjust my pace.

I never saw him again.

This is also where not much happens. I remember passing the half mark and seeing a lot of people taking the wrong turn. They, the halfers, are finished.

I am alone now. Alone in the crowded streets of Vienna. Alone with the wind that gets mixed with my calm breath. And it’s beautiful.

Miles go by and psychology kicks in. I begin to feel different and am unsure: is this the wall? If it is – I tell myself – I don’t care. I know that I have done 36 many times on target, so let me first get there, then worry about the rest. And so I keep pushing. Psychology.

I stop looking at my watch, but I can feel I am going fast. Not because of the many people I pass at double speed. Not because of the guy on the bike who shouts at me “super!” and gives me the bottom-lip approval face.

None of that. I can feel it inside.

I forget about the 36 mark. I just don’t look at any mark anymore.

When I pass a group of four, one of them, with a big beard, yells at the others of his group “Minus four!”. I can’t help but, as I basically lap them, shout in reply “Allez!”. French. Who would’ve said. Beard guy looks at me in some kind of disbelief.

I start smiling. I don’t feel any pain yet, and I smile. Alone. Two girls from the crowds notice and point at me shouting “Still smiling!”.

I am very, very happy.

The end seems like a sprint. I pass one guy and he gives me a thumb up. I clean my face a bit and I start looking around because I know my bros are somewhere close. And sure enough, here they are. I show them the V sign with my left hand, and smile, smile, smile. In the video, I am passing everyone at double or triple speed while even smiling at the camera on my left side.

The last mile is the fastest of the day for me, and after the finish line I clap my hands, reciprocate the look of somebody who looks at me with their mouth open, and, finally, my thighs feel a bit funny.

On 2022/04/24, in Vienna (AUS), I ran my first sub 3 hours marathon. It actually was 2:51:42.

Tags: essays

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