Marathon day had arrived. After a very early and, for Commando, carb laden, breakfast and a little rest in our room we set off for the marathon start line outside the Köln Messe/Deutz station. The sun was still coming up and the deserted park was misty as we walked through. Commando was pleased at the chill in the air but slightly nervous about the day ahead. Would he struggle to understand announcements in an unfamiliar language? What would the course be like? Would there be hills?
18 September 2014
We made our way down to the river into the pink glow of the rising sun each lost in our own thoughts. Rebelliously, we crossed the empty road against the lights, something the locals seemed most disapproving of, and descended the steps to the river bank. The sun was valiantly trying to burn off the clouds but the far bank was still hazy with morning mist. It looked like a good day for running.
Climbing the steps to the Hohenzollernbrücke I stopped to take a picture of the cathedral bathed in the morning sun and a few other runners strolled past with their race bags on their shoulders. The closer we got to Köln Messe/Deutz station the more crowded the streets became. Little knots of runners gathered everywhere. The start line was right outside the station and queues were beginning to form in front of the toi tois.
While Commando joined the toi toi queue I looked around at all the pre race activity. People were taping knees, fixing race chips to shoes and just generally chatting. Commando returned announcing that, inside, the immaculate looking toi tois were the most disgusting thing he’d ever seen. Apparently, unlike the English portaloos, they had no flush and, even this early in the day, they were overflowing and smelly. I resolved to go behind a bush should I feel the need.
After a false start where we ended up in completely the wrong place we found the bag drop, a row of yellow post office lorries right behind the toi tois. Only official race bags would be allowed, possibly as a precaution after Boston. We had to wait a while and the woman who took Commando’s bag apologised that there weren’t enough staff. After that we made our way to the front of the station and found the blue pen where Commando would be starting.
Now we had our bearings and Commando had let me take a pre race photo we sat on the wall outside the station and watched the hustle and bustle around us. A steady stream of runners went past, some walking purposefully, others checking watches or standing in quiet contemplation of the miles ahead. Commando seemed quite relaxed for a man about to run twenty six point two miles.
A man appeared wheeling a brezel cart but no one seemed interested in buying. He’d have been better off wheeling his cart to the finish line where salty carb laden bread snacks would probably be in high demand. I felt a little sorry for him but not sorry enough to buy a brezel.
As the start time drew nearer Commando got more fidgety and, when the warm up aerobics began, he made his way to the blue pen. He wasn’t the first by a long way. Now we were separated by a metal barrier, me on the outside with the spectators, Commando on the inside with the runners. His jacket came off and was stowed in my back pack and he gave me what was left of his energy drink. Lots of announcements were made, all in German. More and more people crowded into the pen, some climbing over the metal barriers in a most un-German infringement of rules. The sky darkened and I thought I felt a few spots of rain, perfect for the runners, and I had my plastic mac in my bag so I didn’t mind too much.
There was a count down for the elite, red, runners and a cheer went up when they set off. A few minutes later another countdown for the speedy gold runners and another cheer. When the third countdown began for the blue runners, Zehn…Neun…Acht…Sieben…Sechs, the tension began to mount. Fünf…Vier…, fingers were poised over GPS watches, Drei…Zwei… a quick kiss… Ein and they were off. Almost immediately I lost him in the crowd.
Now it was time for me to head off on a mission of my own. Ever since I’d read about the Eigelsteintorburg and learned Cologne had medieval city walls like Southampton a plan had been brewing. Now I had around four hours to put it into action. As I walked away I could hear the countdown for the next group of runners begin Zehn…Neun…Acht…Sieben…Sechs…
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