“The story is always better than your ability to write it.” — Robin McKinley
I’ve land-locked myself in Berlin.
Since I never quite refresh my four years of high school German, I can understand almost nothing that’s being said around me. Consequently, I stick pretty close to home most days because I don’t want to be “that guy,” wandering around saying: Ich spreche kleine Deutsch. Auf English, bitte.
I speak very little German. In English please. Of course, most people speak English here. Still, I feel ridiculous coming to another country and expecting them to speak my language.
Running, though, has forced me to get out and explore the city. I left America bound and determined to continue my marathon training, but I was dubious about the chances of me finding mapped out places to run my set distances. The Garmin GPS watch solved that problem. Now I can just run without worrying about following a course.
And that, as was once written, has made all the difference.
Yesterday, I set about my 13-mile run. It was a perfect day: mid 60s, cool, slightly overcast but still a bit sunny.
Determined not to burn out, I re-visited my running regiment. A slow 2 mile warm-up, then 4 sets of 2-mile pace runs followed by 2 minutes of recovery, and a 3-mile slow jog home. (This instead of my normal “Americanized” version of the workout, which involves running as hard as I can for as long as I can before staggering home in a half-walk/half-jog haze.)
At the 1.25 mile mark, a serious runner overtook me. I stepped onto the cobblestone-lite road in Mauerpark and said – in Appalachian pigeon German — Allo.
Hello. He turned his head as he passed. It wasn’t an acknowledgement. More of a quizzical look.
He got stuck at the red light up ahead, which is where I caught him. As we jogged in place, we began to talk. And continued to talk as we darted across the road and towards the park at the end of the street. He told me about running trails in Berlin, his recent marathon experience in Tel Aviv (apparently it was hot as hell) and his running routine. Me, I mostly listened because his pace was about 90 seconds faster than mine and I still got the sense he was holding back.
As we turned into the park, this small-ish wooded area with criss-crossing paths with a rather large “mountain” smack in the middle, my new friend asked me where I was from.
Muncie, I said.
I’ve been there, he replied. In Indiana.
Of course he has.
We jogged for a few more minutes before he scampered up the “mountain” while I continued to run around the park. We passed each other several times over the next hour until we met up a the tail end of each of our runs.
I want to do this desert marathon I’ve heard about in the States, he said.
There’s an ultra out West I just read about in a book called Born to Run, I replied.
That’s the one, he smiled. Be careful reading that book, he continued, or you’ll end up with these. He pointed to his feet, which were gripped by the Vibram Five Fingers trail runners.
Of course he did.
I’d first notice his running style in the park. He glided across the road, almost hopping. But not in the violent, jerky way. As if his feet were barely touching the ground. The very way I was trying to emulate by landing on my toes instead of my heels.
The way that runners do when they wear the Five Fingers. The way they do in Born to Run.
We laughed at the coincidence (while cruising at an 8:20 minute mile pace, about a minute below my normal cruise speed). We talked a bit more about running until our split came. He to the right, me to the left. We jogged in place for a few moments, shook hands and scampered off in opposite directions.
The Park Run in Pictures
This is near the end of the first long straight-away. The paths that cut in are part of the criss-crossing you can do through the park
This is the view to the immediate left of the above picture. There are cute cafes and delis along that path.
This is just after the split where my German friend ran up the “mountain.” The descent takes you behind a large public pool. That building is one of the pool areas.
That cement road is what the path looks like at the bottom of the descent. This is just past the pool area.
Once you’re past the pool, you make a quick jog outside the park – maybe 300 meters – before you take on a 1200 meter ascent to the park’s entrance.