Frankfurt may not have the big-name status of New York or Berlin, but if you’re looking for a fast and very well organised Autumn marathon, it is well worth paying a visit to the banks of the river Main, as David Walsh-Kemmis found out.
Only six European marathons have current IAAF Gold Label Road Race certification, which the IAAF describes as “the highest-level certification in the world for road races”. Frankfurt is one of those races, and having run there on the 30th of October, it’s easy to see why: the level of organization and support throughout the whole weekend was first-class. Arriving to register on the Saturday morning, I had my number, chip and souvenir running shirt within three minutes. There was a well-put together expo in an enormous trade hall in the centre of Frankfurt, and then a pasta party where each runner had a token for a plate of pasta, a bottle of Coke, a bottle of the sports drink on the course, and most importantly of all, a half litre of beer (alcohol-free admittedly).
Sunday morning arrived with perfect marathon running weather – 12 degrees, no wind and sunshine. The baggage drop worked perfectly – one volunteer for every 200 bags which meant a drop-off time of about 30 seconds, and then the 12,475 runners headed out to the start line. At ten o’clock on the dot, the gun went and we were off. Someone had spent a lot of time designing the course, because we spent the first 10km running different loops around the city centre without ever crossing the roads we’d already been on. This did mean one or two tight corners and a bit of bunching on smaller roads, but it also meant great crowd support and support from other runners who were running the opposite way down some of the streets.
After we left the city centre, we crossed the river Main, turned right and then ran along its banks until the 24km point. While the crowds weren’t as tightly packed here, there was still plenty of support, and we ran through some pretty Frankfurt suburbs. I fell in with the 2:59 pacers at this point, and they were doing a fine job of holding a large group of runners together. There were nine groups of pacers in all, and it made the job of getting to the finish line in a certain time much easier. The refreshment stations were great as well. We ran past one every 2.5km, and the tables were all so long that there was plenty of time to duck in a grab a cup. No bottles unfortunately (something that Dublin leads the way in), but there was a seemingly unending supply of water, sports drink, coke, tea(!), bananas and water buckets to dunk your sponge in.
At 24km, we crossed back over the Main, and as far as I remember, this bridge was the only bit of uphill on the entire course. After another short loop though a town on the North side of the river, we turned back towards Frankfurt, and at the 35km point, found ourselves back on part of the city centre circuit that we had started out on. I found it great to be back on familiar territory at this point, and the crowds and fast-food vans were out in numbers. I was severely tempted to pull off the course to buy a bratwurst at one point, but luckily I had no money on me, so I had to keep on running.
The finish was inside the Frankfurt Festhalle; think of the 02 in Dublin, but about twice the size. We crossed the courtyard in front of the hall and then ran the final 50 metres on a red carpet under its enormous dome towards the line. The winner was Wilson Kipsang from Kenya, who shattered the course record by finishing in 2:04:57, the tenth fastest time ever run in a marathon. It also means that Frankfurt is now one of only four courses in the world to boast a course record of under 2:05. There was also a Kenyan winner in the women’s race where Caroline Kilel crossed the line in 2:23:25, another new course record. For the rest of us, the huge crowd, the banging techno music and the rows of cheerleaders made the final few metres to the line a hugely memorable experience.
Once we had crossed the line, the recovery was sped up by having a huge array of portable showers which had been set up in the underground car park of the expo trade hall. After that there were free massages, and as much fruit, hot soup, tea and water as you could eat and drink. Everything was connected by escalators, so we didn’t even have to attempt the traditional post-marathon stair hobble.
It’s probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think about marathon destinations, but I thought it was one of the best of the 15 marathons I’ve run. Frankfurt itself is most famous as the home of the European Central Bank, but there are a few tourist sites to see as well, as well as plenty of good museums. The airport and transport systems are excellent, and I found a hotel with in-room cooking facilities (perfect for pre-race carbo-loading) for €38 euro per night. If you’re looking for an alternative to Dublin, next year is the 30th anniversary edition, and a big celebration is promised. Just remember to bring a few euro with you for the bratwurst at 40km.