In 2006, I went to Germany on vacation to watch the World Cup with a couple of friends. The main purpose of the trip was to enjoy the World Cup with my friends in the country that I was born in. And that’s exactly what we did.
During the trip, we spent some time in Munich and visited the Olympic Stadium and the surrounding complex. I had a vague understanding of some of the events that took place at the stadium and in Munich in the past, but not a full grasp of it at all.
It was only after returning home that I found out about the Munich Marathon. But once I heard and read a little bit about it, my interest was definitely piqued. I ran my first marathon in 2005, but at this point I didn’t really consider the possibility of running that many of them or traveling very far to do so.
But if I did start running more, then this race was definitely going to be on my list!
Never mind the running a marathon in a foreign country and what that might entail or that the online registration form was only in German and not able to be translated at the time. I could figure all of those things out later.
There were a few reasons why I wanted to do this race.
First, like I said, I was born in Germany and really liked the idea of going back to do a race there. Second, Munich seemed like it would be a fun city to run through with all of its history and the famous party atmosphere. Plus, I thought it was really cool that the race began next to and ended in the Olympic Stadium.
So, fast forward to 2019.
After running a few more marathons in the United States in 2006-2009, I took a 10 year break from marathons. Then in 2019, after committing a lot more time to training and preparing for longer distances, I ran the Seattle Marathon in June, achieving a new personal best of 3:29:25 in the process.
Coming off of the high of lowering my personal best time by over 40 minutes in Seattle, I really felt that running in Munich four months later would give me a chance to lower my time even further.
And as an added bonus, I wouldn’t need to start a new training program but rather just keep up what I had been doing in the lead up to Seattle.
I arrived in Germany two days before the race and tried to relax until raceday. This proved somewhat difficult as I was already excited to be in Germany again in addition to the normal pre-race excitement.
I got to Munich the afternoon before the race and had a nice walk from where I was staying along the canal to the Olympic Stadium complex to get my bib number at the expo. The rest of the day before the race, I walked around the city and tried to hydrate and relax as much as I could.
A few hours later I was standing in the street eating a somewhat unconventional chicken burrito for my dinner. I wouldn’t say that it was a last resort choice for my pre-race dinner, but it definitely wasn’t my first choice either. It just happened that it was difficult to find anywhere else on a busy Saturday night in Munich! Now happily fed though, I was feeling really good and relaxed with only a small amount of pre-race nerves.
Race morning was a little different than I had ever experienced though. By this time, I had traveled for races before so it wasn’t just about being in a new racing location. The biggest difference was the start time – 10:00am! Most races that I have done started at 7:00 or 7:30 which is nice because the temperatures stay cooler during the race.
Also, I’ve always been really hesitant to eat a lot before any run or race. My plan was to eat a small breakfast from the hotel and then just some crackers I had brought with me from home. But when I went to the breakfast room in my hotel on the morning of the race, I realized that they had opened it early and prepared food especially for me since they knew that I was running the marathon. In my attempt to be gracious and appreciative of the hotel for doing that, I had some eggs, bread and some coffee.
After all, I still had over two hours until the race started – what could possibly go wrong?
I took an Uber to Olympic Stadium and walked to the top of the stands overlooking the stadium, which was right next to the start line. I stood there for a few minutes trying to soak it all in and imagine myself running around the track in a few hours to finish the marathon.
There was still quite a lot of work to do before getting to that point though!
Between the normal pre-race jitters and perhaps having eaten more than normal before a race, I wasn’t feeling the greatest – in fact, I was feeling very full and a little sick. As the start time approached, the nerves slowly began to go away and the excitement began to rise, but I still wasn’t feeling great. I remember thinking “let’s just get this started and see what happens.”
Surrounded by runners, quite literally from all over the world, speaking in countless different languages, I was about to run around and through a city that has so much world history – from WWII, Hitler and the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre – and finish the race in a stadium that has so much sporting history – from West Germany winning the 1974 World Cup there to Bayern Munich as well as the 1972 Olympics themselves, where an American man (Frank Shorter) won the marathon and just steps away from where another American man (Mark Spitz) won 7 gold medals in the swimming arena. It’s not often that you can compete in the same places as some of the all-time greats.
Finally, the race started and in the first mile my right knee was bothering me with almost every step. In the last few days before the race, I was having some minor knee pain, but not enough to cause too much concern for race day. However, the day before the race, I had to cut my already short run even shorter because the pain was still there.
The first few miles from the stadium into the city center were good miles to help settle into the race as there were some spectators but not an overwhelming amount, which allowed me to run at a comfortable pace and not get too caught up in the excitement.
Fortunately, my knee started to feel better once I started to get into the groove of the race and it didn’t cause me any more problems the rest of the day.
After reaching the city center, about 5 miles into the race, the crowds began to pick up and there were also some musical groups playing along the route. Now that I was warmed up, I was feeling pretty good and really enjoying it.
This stayed the same for the next 3-4 miles, until I began to hear the familiar sounds of a German oompah band as I approached the English Garden! Even though I was focused on the race and maintaining my rhythm, I actually remember having a quick chuckle to myself because I was so happy to be doing this race and knew that there weren’t many races that would provide this type of experience.
Running through the English Garden to the half way point and I was still feeling strong. At this point, coming out of the other side of the English Garden into residential areas the crowds began to get smaller again for several miles. There were still some spectators along the route during these miles, but if you’ve done a marathon before you know there can be some lonely times out there if there are not many spectators especially in the second half of the race.
Of course the good news was that it only lasted for a few miles. I knew that just as I was approaching the proverbial “wall”, I would be close to arriving back in the city center and the number of spectators would grow again.
There are a few things that happened in this race that I don’t think I’ll ever forget and they happened after the 20 mile mark, which is great because that means that I was both coherent and living in the moment enough to recognize these things.
The first was running through the very center of Munich – Viktualienmarkt, Marienplatz, Odeonsplatz and past Siegistor. These are some of the landmarks and most recognizable places in the city.
Another moment that I remember clearly was the boy working at the water table who started chanting my name as I ran by. At this point (mile 22-23) the crowds were loud and lining both sides of the course, but it was great to get some individual encouragement!
I knew that I was well within reach of my personal best time with only about 5k left, but I had to keep moving forward as best as I could to make sure I finished with the best possible time.
As the course made it’s way back towards the Olympic Stadium for what I envisioned for years as a grand finish, there was maybe a mile or so where the number of spectators was quite small again. In hindsight, this was a good thing because it allowed me a moment or two to mentally regroup and then focus on finishing strong for the last mile leading to the stadium.
Here I was about to enter the stadium, to have my own personal “Olympic” moment and as I approached the tunnel into the stadium, my hamstring started to cramp! It’s not very often that I get a muscle cramp. In fact, I can only ever remember one other time it has happened in any of my other races. But at this point I was only about half a mile from the finish line. As I reached for my leg while still running, a man in the crowd made eye contact with me and shouted “jahwohl, Patrick!”
It was all I needed to keep going to the finish line!
As I made my way through the dark tunnel into the stadium itself, with only 300 meters or so remaining, I knew I would easily achieve my new personal best marathon time. But I still wanted to finish strong and catch as many runners as possible in the lap around the Olympic track.
I did just that in a final “sprint” before crossing the finish line in 3:25:51!
Immediately after crossing the finish line and receiving my medal, I was caught up in the moment as I realized that I had just traveled 5,000 miles three days earlier and was still able to achieve a personal best time. This marked the 7th straight marathon that I had a achieved a new personal best time. I was proud of that then (and still am) and knew all of my hard work had paid off.
So as I left Munich and continued to travel around southern Germany in the days afterward, I was really able to enjoy my time there and reflect on just how far I had come as a runner and even start looking forward to some things I still wanted to achieve.
For years, I envisioned this race to be one of my best running experiences because it was in my birth country, it promised a great atmosphere and a unique finish. But in reality, it turned out to be so much more than that.
I remember more about this race than most of my other races combined. And even though I have since bettered my personal best time, this still remains my favorite race.
Hopefully, one day soon I will be back in Munich running this race again!