London and back via Paris, Bratislava, Vienna, Hamburg and Berlin
01.04.2016 - 24.04.2016
I love running marathons. It's the only sport I can think of where a regular chap, such as myself, can share the same stage with the elite, with the same support. I mean, I'll never play football on the same pitch as Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Toby Alderweireld, or play in front of tens of thousands of passionate spectators. But running a marathon, people you've never met cheer you on, and shout your name. It's awesome, and addictive.
Marathons are so addictive, in fact, that the idea of running four of them in consecutive weekends doesn't strike me as completely and utterly bonkers, so that's what I decided to do. And because they were each in different countries, I was able to combine my love of running with my love of travelling. Perfect.
The first port of call on my 168.78km challenge was Paris, a marathon I also ran last year. I arrived on the Friday before Sunday's race and was eminently sensible. No alcohol, relatively healthy food, and early nights. It was boring as hell. Worst of all, I seriously struggled with the marathon, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of. I dragged myself over the line in a smidgen over 5 hours. This was roughly my target, but I'd hoped to save some fuel in the tank for the following weeks, rather than feel completely exhausted. It was pretty demoralising, and I started to think my faith in my body to recover so quickly for the next one was, at best, a little naive. My spirits were raised by visiting the lovely Clementine, an Erasmus friend of mine, and Antoine, her other half. Good company and a few beers certainly didn't do the recovery process any harm.
Before heading to Vienna for marathon #2, I thought I'd stop off in Bratislava for a couple of nights. The evidence from Paris suggested being healthy was not conducive to running marathons, so helped myself to the dangerously cheap (€2.50!) 1.5l bottle of beer and signed up for the pub crawl that evening. I remember losing everyone and being forced to get a taxi back, and I'm fairly sure I successfully converted the driver into a Spurs fan. Bratislava is a cracking little city to explore on foot, with a ton of history and lovely people. After a couple of days, it was on to Vienna.
Ah Vienna. There is endless material online that can help you have fun in Vienna. And I'm sure much of it is very useful. I would argue, however, that my one piece of advice is better than all of it combined: find and befriend another of my Erasmus cohorts, Steffi. She's awesome, her family is awesome, and her friends are awesome. That, combined with being in a city as wonderful as Vienna, pretty much makes it impossible not to have a good time when in her company. Especially when impromptu house parties break out.
Now, kids, going on a 14-hour binge is not big and clever. Going to bed at 11am as a result of said binge is not big and clever. Waking up at 6pm and being momentarily confused about whose clothes you're wearing - and whose house you're in - is not big and clever.
However, doing all of the above and running a marathon a matter of hours later? You're damn right that's big and clever. And I pulled it off like an absolute boss. Not only did I run it a few minutes faster than Paris, I felt absolutely great. I sprinted down the home straight, cheered on by Steffi and Co., feeling a hell of a lot better - physically and mentally - than I had the week before. Because I had proven beyond any reasonable doubt that a healthy lifestyle has a negative impact on marathon running, we then went for a burger and beers.
I decided to stop off in Berlin before heading to Hamburg for marathon #3. I nearly missed my flight due to a bus breaking down, and wound up sharing a taxi with a guy heading to London to make a documentary on the effects of LSD. Another entry in my ever-growing list of random people I end up in cars with. Anyway, I just about made it in time and was on my way. Nothing too exciting happened in Berlin, apart from a guy sprinting past me with another guy behind shouting "stop him, thief." I've subsequently replayed this moment in my head many times, and each time I do I apprehend the thief in a more dramatic and heroic fashion, receiving ever more applause and adulation from those around me. What actually happened is I stood perfectly still, and the thief got away.
Pickpockets aside, Berlin is pretty epic and definitely somewhere I'd like to return. Finally, I made it to Hamburg. I stayed in a Generator Hostel as they're always pretty great socially, and met a hilarious group of Kiwis who were in the midst of a genuinely heated argument, which was occasionally broken up for shots and a song. A particular highlight was winding up the Arsenal-supporting bartender as Spurs tore Stoke apart. Given subsequent events on that front, I'm quite glad I'll never see him again.
Anyhow, I ran the marathon. That's kind of it. There was no real drama. I knocked a further five minutes off the Vienna time, and again felt in good nick. Hamburg is a cool place to run a marathon, and well worth a visit. After that, it was back to England for the finale: the London Marathon.
I've unsuccessfully applied for a place in London for years. Having failed again, I decided to enter through a charity, Get Kids Going, who help make sport accessible to disabled children. The link to my Virgin Money Giving page is at the bottom, should any of you wish to add a few pennies to the pot.
Anyway, London was incredible. I loved every minute of it. In every other race I've done, the support winds down in parts, particularly out of the centre. Not so in London, where the support is fervorous pretty much the entire time. At certain points, it just goes nuts. Crossing Tower Bridge is something I'll never forget, and without doubt my single favourite part of any race. I ran the final bend before The Mall, cheered on by my dad and the charity support team, and absolutely flew to the finish line. I finished in 4:40, 13 minutes faster than Hamburg and 21 faster than the first race in Paris.
And that was that. It was an amazing trip around some of my favourite places in Europe, reuniting with a few old friends and making one or two new ones. It was, however, merely the warm-up act for the main event. Three weeks later I would set off for New Zealand via Iceland, Canada, the US and South America. Stay tuned...
Oh, and click here for my fundraising page.