I began my walk to the start, knowing I still had to make a final (No.2) pit-stop.
It was now 8:35am and gun-time (9am) was rapidly
approaching. I was considering skipping the final – almost ceremonial –
porta-potty stop. But knew that could turn out to be a fatal mistake, 15 miles
into the race.
I initially joined the queue for a small cluster of the green tardis-like loos
near the exit to the athletes’ village. But it was painfully slow progress, so I quickly abandoned that plan and
squeezed back out into the outside world, trusting to luck I’d find another set
en route to the start.
Fortunately my hunch proved a sound one, and I joined a much
smaller line-up (of about eight people) to one of around 24 porta-potties 400m beyond 'the village'. I
anxiously awaited my turn, frequently checking my watch and watching the
seconds tick by.
There was a collective outcry of frustrated groans at one
point, as a boy of about 11 jumped the queues and dived into one of the
toilets, oblivious to the heinous crime he was committing.
Tucking my yellow-and-black Adidas ‘bin liner’ into my gel
belt, I finally got in to ‘take care of business’ at 8:44am. 120 seconds later
I was speed-jogging towards the start-line, knowing I was cutting things a
I didn’t realize how fine until I finally navigated my way
to Zone B (the assigned corral for runners with predicted finishing times of 2hrs 20-
2:50), with 8:50am now throbbing on my watch-face.
The corral was jam-packed with runners, so-much-so that
jobsworth officials were now patrolling the periphery and denying racers entry.
In theory, we were going to have to wait outside the railings and jump in after
the gun had fired. The potential for mayhem was tangible.
Of course, many took the “screw that for a game of
soldiers!” attitude and jumped the railings, shoehorning their way into the corral. And I felt compelled to join them. I hadn’t come all this way to start the
race in the crowd.
So I found a minute opening and began to clamber my way over
the railing. Things went well – for about the first two seconds… until an
official spotted me just as I was precariously balanced half-way in and
half-way out of Zone B, with a particularly sharp piece of railing join lodged
in my crotch.
Madame Von Jobzvorth (MVJ) ordered me back out again, angrily
waving a lethal looking giant baguette at me and bellowing some
incomprehensible German in my left ear. She was unrelenting, despite my pleas
of mercy, and wore an expression as resolute as a military leader taking his
troops into final battle. “Yoo veel heff to liiine up owwtside!”
I briefly resigned myself to the fact I’d have to start 'off-course', knowing that would likely result in my Sub-2:50 dream going
up in smoke before the race had even begun. But all was not lost.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw runners still frantically
clambering over railings and squeezing themselves in further up the pen
(towards the start), so thought I’d give it one, final shot.
With laser-like focus I sprinted 30 metres closer to the
front of Zone B, tracking the railings, and was surely now out of MVJ’s glaring
gaze. I then attempted a second pole-vault up-and-over the steel fencing, into
the starting corral.
Of course MVJ, who didn’t miss a trick, had spotted my
cavalier act and was now racing after me, angrily wafting her giant baguette in
This time, however, she was fractionally too late. My
momentum had taken me 60% across the railing by the time she arrived – and I
was able to limbo underneath the wildly swishing baguette and slide inside the pen,
repeatedly saying “danke shurn” to all the runners (likely not called Shaun or
Sean) packed like sardines around me.
Little did I know (but would find out later) there was
a second lane for Zone B (and all the other zones, for that matter) out of my
view, which was virtually empty in comparison. VFAC president at-the-time Xtopher
Brandt, also in Germany to race, had fortunately entered the start from that
side and was oblivious to the craziness taking place 20 metres to his right.
No matter. I was at the start, and in my zone. Finally. All
that was left now was to run a fast 26.2 miles, in conditions that threatened
to warm up later.
Back in Zone B, we were all vertically spooning – whether we
liked it or not – as we heard reigning Berlin Marathon champion and then world
record holder Haile Gebrselassie being introduced to the crowd. He’d set that
mark – Sub-2:04 – 12 months earlier.
With a hefty cluster of runners having followed me over the
railings, there was now not even room for an extra bib number to squeeze into
The remaining runners were forced to wait impatiently
outside the railings, poised to leap over and into the 2009 Berlin Marathon as
soon as space became available. And trying hard to avoid injuring themselves and
other runners as they did.
We were given the five-minute warning; then “Two minutes to
go!” A cluster of other elites were introduced, and then the klaxon finally
Phew! What a relief. After what I’d just endured, the race
was surely going to be a slice of German Black Forest Gateaux in comparison.
Though I was sure I’d have nightmares about the demon