“Now I know what a marathon really means”

It was Arne Gabius’ second marathon. Last year, with minimal training, a cautious strategy and low expectations he breezed round in 2.09.32, the time of his life, the first German under 2.10 this century. But this year he had started training earlier, and harder. His goal was the 27-year-old German record (2.08.47). There was talk of running 2.07 and even, who knows, winning the race…

Gabius started with the main pack. The pace was strong and smooth, as planned. They passed halfway in 63.22. But at 25 kilometres, Lemma attacked and split the field. Gabius faltered and quickly lost a minute. The dream scenario was over. Then, stitches – you could see him wincing, digging his fingers under his ribs. His pace slowed again. The prospect was now no German record and a time slower than last year’s; a 15-kilometre hiding-to-nothing.

The camera lost touch with Gabius as the race developed, away from him, at the front. But he was starting to recover. The German record was still possible, just. He couldn’t simply grind home defeated (shit happens Arne), no, he had to fight every metre of the last ten kilometres. The camera rejoined him with four hundred left. Had he been a horse, we would have recoiled at the brutality with which he drove himself forwards, his agonised face violently compelling every taut limb to defy nature – and to accelerate to the end. He finished in 2.08.33, then collapsed, smiling deliriously, even his eyelids now too heavy for his wiped-out face to hold – or have to.

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