After the excitement of Manchester, Brighton, and London (congratulations again to all concerned), the calendar looked a little blank. A Sunday with no marathon to track! - how will I cope?! Never fear, J. had the answer to that. Some weeks ago, it came to my notice that there was going to be a brand new marathon in Kanton Aargau, from Aarau to Brugg. This is so near as to be practically local, and looked a lovely route, much of it along the river Aare. As well as the individual marathon, there were also relays on offer: as a team of 2 or 4. Too little time now to prepare for a whole marathon, but I really liked the 'team of 2' idea. Just as I was getting all excited, I thought to check my calendar.......... Oh no, I have a performance that day; and not just any old performance: a premiere! AGAIN!!! Just like the Lucerne Marathon, with the premiere of 'Sweeney Todd.' So that was the end of that idea, for me at any rate. But I encouraged J. to find another partner and do it anyway. The first person he contacted had already signed up for the full marathon (but in the end didn't do it at all.) The second showed lukewarm interest, but prevaricated so long, J. couldn't wait any longer for a decision. Two days before the event, the last day to register, J. opted to run the whole thing himself. This seemed more than a little rash to me! - he hadn't trained for it (the last run of any significant length was in February - the 'RuediRennt' weekend), and was STILL having achilles problems. But he proposed to do it run/walk, and without any time ambition. The other thing that concerned me was the weather, which promised to be absolutely atrocious.......... but that's one factor beyond everyone's control. Anyway, the decision was made.
So on Sunday 1st May, the alarm clock shrilled into life at half past 5; J. bounded out of bed, and after briefly contemplating turning over and snoozing a bit longer, I followed a couple of minutes later to join him for breakfast in the kitchen. It was still dark, but a quick foray out onto the balcony confirmed the forecast's gloomy prognosis: it was indeed atrocious. The organizers when they planned this must reasonably have hoped for a lovely spring day: warmth, sun, blossom-scented breezes........... but what they got was more like November than May (more 'm'aidez' than 'Mayday'.) At half past 6 he set out into the deluge, and I went back to the kitchen for breakfast instalment 2. I had originally planned on going back to bed for a while, as I didn't need to leave for another 2 hours, but I was awake now, so used the time for my spectating preparations. Although all of the route was accessible by public transport, and an over-ambitious Plan A had me taking in Aarau, Rupperswil and/or Wildegg, Othmarsingen, Mellingen, Schinznach Bad, and Brugg, I realized this was too complicated, (visions of just missing him at each place!), so I had pruned it down to Othmarsingen (16 kms), Mellingen (25-ish), possibly Schinznach Bad (35), and the finish at Brugg. Though he said he wouldn't mind if I didn't come at all, given the weather, I was determined to support him - I thought he might need it.
At half past 8, with the sky only fractionally lighter than it had been 3 hours earlier, armed with rucksack, a change of clothes (including a spare shirt for J, should he need it), camera, some food, a bottle of water, and a sheaf of papers with course map, plan of the finish area, and printouts of train timetables, I set off for the station. The first train, the S9 (which stops at every tiny fly- s**t on the map - over 20 of them) took me to Lenzburg, and a fairly tight connection onto the S3 for the one stop to Othmarsingen. Slight moment of panic here when I couldn't find Othmarsingen listed on the timetable.......... then I remembered that the train's end destination was Wetzikon. Train located, the reassuring presence of lots of runners, many with 'Aargau Marathon' kitbags, convinced me I was on the right track. Othmarsingen being a changeover point for the relay, lots of them got off there, so we all followed each other up the road (I hoped someone at the front actually knew where we were going!) for the 10 minute walk to it. It was in the woods, and a sea of mud, with scores of people milling around in it: soggy marshals manning the feed station and handing out drinks; relay runners coming in; relay runners waiting to go out; marathoners and team-of-2 runners pausing at the table or running straight through; a surprising number of spectators. Finding somewhere to stand, I settled in for an indeterminate wait. Huddled under my hood, jostled by a thicket of dripping umbrellas, hopping from foot to foot trying to keep warm, I watched the procession of drowned rats squelching past. Finally, MY drowned rat arrived. Not sure what colour to look out for, (with or without turquoise jacket?) I almost missed him, he was behind a crowd of other runners, but I just spotted him taking something from the table, whipped out my camera (I had it ready in my pocket), and snapped him as he ran on. The resulting picture is very funny, as he's just stuffed half a banana in his mouth.
I shouted out, but he didn't hear me, and said later he had forgotten I said I would be there. I sprinted after him through the liquid mud, seeing him turn in surprise as I shouted again, gave him a quick hug, offered him a carrot (he loves carrots, but this time declined, as he had the banana), ascertained that 'so far, so good', then paddled back to my vantage point. I had a while to wait until the train to Mellingen, so decided I might as well stay there and applaud other runners. (Apropos of upcoming premiere, and the need to save my voice, I refrained from cheering this time.)
Eventually I made my way back to the station, wrestled with the complexities of the ticket machine (finally getting what I presumed was a regional day pass which should get me anywhere I was likely to want to go), and went to sit in the glass cubicle on the platform. It was full of wet runners, and the panes got very steamed up! A couple of them were actually getting changed in there; I discreetly looked the other way. There was one guy, optimistically dressed in shorts and sleeveless vest, who had not had the sense to bring anything else, not even a jacket to put on over his wet clothes. I could see he was trying very hard to be macho and not shiver, but he must have been freezing, as even I in my several layers was feeling the cold. I passed on a few minutes eating my now rather squashed banana, then gave up my place in the shelter to more cold, wet runners, and walked up and down the platform till my train arrived.
2 stops to Mellingen, and the same procedure: follow everyone else, in the hope that they know where they're going. A longer walk, this time, and an even more crowded destination. I didn't attempt to get right to the changeover point, it seemed congested enough without my adding to it, just stood at the roadside about a hundred metres before the timing mat. There were few red numbers to be seen, though, and not many green ones either - they were nearly all the blue ones of the team-of-4 runners. Eventually I realized I must have missed him here (by about 2 minutes, I worked out later), and trekked back up the hill to the station. Here I had a choice of train or bus: train back to Othmarsingen, and change onto the S23 to Brugg, or bus directly to Brugg. The train option was quicker, though, so I went for that. (Just about got my money's-worth out of the regional pass!) I momentarily considered Schinznach Bad, (if only because of the potential misery of 35 kms - getting seriously tired, but still 7 kms to go; encouragement at that point can be very welcome), but decided not to risk this diversion in case I couldn't get back to the finish in time.
I had a map of Brugg, but decided to chance the tried-and-tested 'follow the other people' method a third time. Again it worked. Another longish hike, down to the river, across it on a rather strange bridge (it wobbled slightly, despite looking very solid - I thought at first there was something wrong with my sense of balance), round a building, and there was the finish. The people here were standing three or four deep, but they thinned out as I walked back along the course, across another bridge over a smaller river, and along a road. I continued walking up it, under a road bridge, until it reached a roundabout at the top, then a short way back again. Runners with numbers of all three colours passed on their way to the finish. I applauded till my hands were burning. Many smiled; a few thanked me. "About 300 metres," I called out encouragingly to any that looked particularly weary. Time ticked on; 4 hrs 30 came and went; 4 hrs 40........... Finally, FINALLY, it stopped raining. I hoped J. had made it this far. If he had, I guessed at a time somewhere between 5 hrs and 5:30. The time limit was 6 hours.
Then just coming up towards 5 hours, there he was! - looking a bit tired but resolute, and still running! Out with the camera, quick picture.......... damn, he was moving too fast, almost out of the shot. I sprinted on ahead and tried again. This one was good.
I ran alongside for about 50 metres, then hopped up onto the pavement and ran behind the spectators, parallel for a while, but losing him on the bridge as the crowd grew dense. So I didn't see him finish, but apparently he managed a sprint at the end. Doing an unstructured run/walk with terrain and 'body feedback' as the determining factors, he achieved a time of 4 hrs 53. Not a stellar time, perhaps, but given the lack of appropriate training, (and add in a few hills, lots of mud, even more water, and the general grimness of the conditions), it was much better than expected. And more important: it was the first marathon he's finished feeling good (rather paradoxically!) All the previous ones he has finished exhausted, grimacing in pain, and vowing he will never do another. (Particularly hideous that last one in Neuchatel, where he collapsed on the nearest bench, fighting overwhelming nausea, and oblivious to everything else, while I went chirpily in search of my prize.) This one he finished smiling. I felt so happy for him! And relieved. And proud.
Arriving by the finish, I spotted him queuing for something to drink, but by the time I'd negotiated the barriers and found my way in, he'd disappeared again. I thought he might have gone to retrieve his rucksack, so went in search of kitbag reclaim. No, not there......... and now I began to feel time pressure on me, needing to get home and ready for the evening's premiere. If I couldn't find him soon, I'd have to set off alone. Another quick sweep of the finish area, and this time I spotted him. Back to fetch the rucksack, then over the wobbly bridge again, and back to the station - at least I knew the way. Just time to get a takeaway coffee from the buffet to have on the train, (rain battering the windows once again.) A relatively straightforward journey home, just the one change, at Olten. Lucky with the bus for once, too. Home by half past 4, which gave me an hour before I had to set out on my own 'marathon'. It was a long, long day! But despite the best efforts of the weather to ruin it, a good one.
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