I “ran” the Berlin Marathon in late September of 1984. It was my first and last marathon, and I was aware of both of those facts as I crossed the finish line more than four hours after starting. In April of that year I’d finished the 25K sponsored by the French in under 2 hours. Since a marathon is only another 16K, I figured, “What the hell?” So I signed up and mildly stepped up the training. Like I said, it’s only an additional 16K, right? Big mistake.
At the time, Kerry was on temporary duty at the U.S. Army Russian Institute in Garmisch. I’d been down to Garmisch to visit her a few times, and she was planning on coming to Berlin for the weekend of the marathon. I’d decided to ask her to marry me while she was in Berlin. The evening before the marathon we went downtown to pick up my official number and some other marathon-related giveaways, and to mingle with a lot of skinny, high-strung people from around the globe. Then we went out to dinner at a small Italian restaurant near the intersection of Unter den Eichen and Drake Strasse, a short walk from our pension. Naturally, I was a ball of nerves. I remember stumbling through a bunch of reasons why we should get married, before stating rather clumsily that conclusion. Kerry was sweet enough to simply say "Yes," rather than requiring me, as Alex Trebek might say, to put my statement in the form of a question. At any rate, there it was. We were engaged, and it felt great. Now all I had to do was run a tad more than 26 miles.
I had to get up pretty early the next morning. The race started at 8 a.m., as I recall, and we assembled in the large, empty space in front of the Reichstag in the cold, early morning drizzle. The competitive runners left first and the other several thousand of us followed shortly thereafter. The first kilometer was not much more than a slow walk as there was no room to take anything like a running stride. But soon I was running at about the same pace I’d set in the 25K: 7:30 per mile. Not blazing fast, but respectable enough for a duffer.
I kept that pace for about 15 miles before I had to pull over to answer nature’s call. I’ll never forget trying to come to a stop. In spite of my wanting to walk, my legs were still pumping, moving almost involuntarily for a few seconds. It was weird, but not a threat. I got back in the flow and settled back in to my earlier pace.
At about the 19 mile mark I passed a water station that a friend of mine was working. I saw him and decided to wave. For some reason, that was my undoing. I had to twist a little to face him while waving and my legs rebelled. They both locked up sending me to the ground. My thighs started twitching. It wasn’t painful, just a little disconcerting. A couple of aid station workers ran over and started applying heat to my thighs. The whole episode was frankly embarrassing, but after a few minutes of massage and stretching I was able to get on my feet again. The problem was I still had about six miles to go. I made it to the finish line by alternating “running” for about 100 yards with walking for about 100 yards until I was done. The last section of the race was on the Ku’damm. Even 4 hours after the race had begun the street was lined with spectators urging those of us crawling towards the finish line to hang in there. When I crossed the finish line I headed straight for the free food. I have never been so hungry in my life. Kerry, who'd been looking for me for almost an hour, must have thought I’d died somewhere along the way. She found me and, after making sure I was doing all right, walked with me to the U-bahn to call it a day.
Now, whenever the subject of marathons comes up, I chime in. I let whoever’s listening know I ran the Berlin Marathon, that, as I like to say, I managed to finish before some (by no means all) of the older women, and that from the moment I finished I was never once tempted to repeat the experience. What I don’t tell them is that I wouldn’t have missed that one experience for the world, and for reasons only slightly related to the race itself, marathon weekend in Berlin in September of 1984 was one of the best and most important weekends of my life.