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Latest News: ISPA News

Maria Hansen Raises $3,358 for ISPA Fellows

Tuesday, October 2, 2012   (1 Comments)

On September 30th, 2012 ISPA Member Maria Hansen ran the Berlin Marathon for ISPA Fellows.  Below is a firsthand account of Maria's journey detailing her intense months of training and the marathon itself.  For anyone interested in running a marathon for your favorite charity, this is a great resource on what to expect!

ISPA would like to thank Maria for dedication to ISPA Fellows!  The $3,358 she raised for ISPA Fellows will help us introduce emerging leaders to ISPA's impressive network of performing arts leaders, as well as fund their travel and attendance to a New York ISPA Congress.  Learn more about the ISPA Fellowship Program, and how you can help support ISPA Fellows today

My marathon story: Berlin 2012
by Maria Hansen

Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for a long time. I started running in 2005, mainly to stay in shape and to shed a few pounds following my third and last pregnancy. In 2006 I ran my first 10 km race and loved it. Friends of mine started running marathons and their stories inspired me to put the 42,195 km on my list of "things I want to do before I die” (which is a long list, by the way). At one point I registered for New York but didn’t get in. Finally, 2012 seemed to be the year to do it, and I decided that Berlin was going to be the place to do it. In order to get there I joined, for the first time, a running group, "Loopgroep03” in Haarlem. I had thought to find proper guidance and tips for the longer runs there (which I did), but I had not expected the friendship and comraderie that I encountered with 03. Training twice a week was no problem, certainly given our beautiful training territory in the dunes around the North Sea Coast close to Haarlem. Several of the runners are pretty fast but there is also group that I call "the normal people” who run more my kind of speed.

I registered for Berlin in November 2011. That in itself was already a momentous occasion, and very well timed, unbeknownst to me. The marathon 2012 sold out in December 2011, at which point 40.000 runners were registered!

Once I realized that I was actually going to do this, I decided to run my marathon as fundraiser for the ISPA fellowship program. ISPA is the International Society for the Arts, a network organization for professionals in the performing arts. The fellowship program is a training initiative for young professionals in our sector. ISPA members raise money fort his program themselves and I figured this was a pretty good way to do that. The development committee, lead by my friend Ken Fischer, agreed and the ISPA staff, namely David Baile and Nicole Merritt, figured out the way to set up a site for the donations. They also did all the marketing amongst the ISPA members which was great. I set out the campaign amongst my friends and colleagues and on we went.

My marathon training started in April 2012. I was to train 4 times a week, with one, later two runs a week being the "long runs”. Eventually this would take me to the maximum training distance of 32 km (you are not supposed to train longer distances because running past 32 km is actually not good for you….!). I had a pretty intense start with all of this and pretty soon noticed my body changing in shape, my appetite growing and my sleep desire increasing. Marathon training periods are actually considered to be very healthy, and having lived through it, I would second that! Except for the fact that you beat up your toes quite severely – marathon runners are quite used to black toes and nails falling out. Yep, been there, done that. But feet get used to this treatment, honestly.

In July I injured my left leg during a beach training – and panic struck. A sport massage therapist, the wonderful Henny Tiben, diagnosed a small tear in the calf muscle and ordered two weeks of rest from running. Henny is a runner himself and has run many marathons in his life – I trusted him completely. Doing fitness and cycling was okay, and so I found myself at the fitness centre on one of the cross trainers several times a week, dying of boredom….. After two weeks Henny decided that I could start running again, but differently. No more intervals, only long runs at very slow speed were allowed in flat territory. It meant not training with 03 for several months (not fun!) and finding ways to entertain myself during my runs. But: I was still on the road to Berlin and Henny had assured me (along with my coaches from 03) that it was still very possible.

The summer came and went. Our vacation in North America provided me with beautiful runs, but also the headache of finding ´flat territory` in Canada and the US. It was hot there, and many of my runs had to take place early in the morning. Back home in the Netherlands (which was heavenly cool) I entered the final phase of my training and the runs kept getting longer. Given my `slow running` speed, I expected my race time to be between 4.30 and 5:00 hours in Berlin. This meant that I had to build up to my `longest run` of about 3 and a half hours. Doing that by yourself is quite boring, but I found the perfect answer to this: the audio book! On my last three long runs I listened to `Catching Fire`, the second book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. My kids have read these books and were finding it quite a hoot that I got into them this way. Only problem is: there is one more book to go. I guess I´ll just have to read it….!

Henny declared me marathon fit and when the last two weeks prior to Berlin hit, I got to taper the training back to short runs. Wow – time in our schedule again! This was the moment that the final preparation started. The advice all around had been not to experiment with anything on marathon day – clothing, shoes, socks, food, drink – everything had to be tested out. As for the food, I tested (and my stomach could bear) the brand of sport gel that Berlin was handing out at the 27 km mark. Sport gel is a very sweet glucose product that provides instant energy to the runner. Quite disgusting actually and even more sticky, but it works.

On Friday September 28, I loaded all my stuff and my family onto the train to Berlin, and off we went. My husband Lee and our kids Henry, Kate and Jana had decided a long time ago to join me as lead supporters for this adventure. We got into Berlin late that night, but beds were not far, at the home of my uncle Christian and and his wife Stefanie – wonderfully hospitable people who shared our excitement about all this. My sister Kirsten (Kitty) and her daughter Maike arrived the next day, and my step mother Doris also eventually joined the fun on race day.

On Saturday, after a long German breakfast, the `support team` lead by Lee and Stefanie spent some time mapping out the plan for Sunday. They wanted to cheer me on at several points along the race course and had to find the best spots (close to the subway!) to do that. Lee and the kids were going to leave Berlin right after the race from Berlin´s main station, and therefore would have to lock away their luggage at the station prior to the cheerleading – logistics were complicated all around.

We then took off to pick up my start number at the Berlin Vital Exhibition that takes place in Berlin around marathon time. It´s a great way to get 40.000 participants plus families to attend your event, that´s for sure. And if you can use a former airport to do it at (i.e. Airport Tempelhof of the famous 1948/49 air lift), you are sure to have the room to do it well.

But first, we had lunch with Doris at restaurant `Die Kartoffelpfanne`, close to Tempelhof. We had picked the restaurant haphazardly from the google map, but the waiter turned out to be Dutch and very excited to have such a large crowd of Dutch-speaking people for lunch. Perfect.

Once we arrived at the exhibition, I entered the line for the start numbers. As I was picking it up, I noticed the discrepancy between me – the first timer with a smile from ear to ear that just wouldn´t leave my face – and the gentleman at the desk who had helped so many runners that day already that everything was done at rapid speed and efficiency. He did return my smile and wished me good luck, but then swiftly turned his attention to the next `customer´.

If you want, you can leave a lot of money at an event like this, buying event t-shirts, pants, jackets, bags, towels, cups – you name it, and all bearing the logo of this marathon. I got a few things (since I was pretty sure I wasn´t going to be doing this very often in this life J) and then enjoyed watching the kids who were having fun testing out BMW models (main sponsor), climbing on the climber´s wall, jumping on a huge Air Berlin jumping cushion, and racing little remote BMW´s on a huge playing field. In the end we settled with huge plates of pasta onto beach chairs on the airfield, looking out onto an immense hot air balloon and the grounds were the air lift must have taken place. Kitty and Maike had also come out, and we were joined by Christina and Tom, who were also running the marathon. I have known Christina all my life (see the photo) – she is the daughter of my godfather Harald and we spent much time together as kids. She was always intensely interested in sports and good at it, too. Both Christina and Tom had already run several marathons this year and were clearly experts (with a slightly shorter race time estimate than my own, I can tell you!!!). Fun to see them – we never did hook up again on race day, but given the mass of people, no wonder.

We made our way back home and spent the evening chilling (the kids mainly), eating, and fretting about getting ready for the race (me mostly!). All of ours were tired, and seeing the plan for the next day, we went to bed early. I had been forewarned that sleeping well is not usually the pattern for marathon runners the night prior to the race. Indeed. Though I was not really worried and definitely had all my stuff ready, my body seemed to be possessed by a kind of ‘readiness’ that wouldn’t allow relaxation. O well, I thought, I’ll sleep afterwards…..

The next morning I was up at 6 am. Since I was making my way to the race course by myself and had to be there well on time, I had only my own logistics to contend with that morning. Everyone except for poor Lee (who shared my room of course) was still asleep by the time I left, shortly before 7 am. On the street, walking to the subway, it was dead quiet, with the exception of the odd lone person, walking the same direction, bearing the same white plastic bag that I was carrying. A runner, indeed. The bag was the clothing bag assigned by the organisation, to be handed in by every runner at the start of the run (imagine being in charge of handling 40.000 plastic bags in an organized manner!).

At the station, there appeared to more of us. Just in time for this busy weekend, various of the subway lines were interrupted for construction (!). Together, we figured out the way to go. I attached myself to a guy from Berlin who knew his way around. We started talking and he told me that he had run several marathons in his life, amongst them Berlin a few times. While steering us (and more and more runners in our tow) through the thick of Berlin’s subway stations, he gave me tips, clearly enjoying this conversation with a first timer.

We got out at Berlin’s main station. The start and finish of the marathon are close to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, both of which are a short walk from the station. Leaving the station, it took a moment to get used to the glare of the early morning sun – could the weather have been any more perfect? (And it stayed that way all day!) The sight was gorgeous: out of all of the exits of the station, runners walked toward the Reichstag – the lines eventually merged into a big stream, only occasionally interrupted by a tv crew trying to interview someone. We crossed over wooden pedestrian bridge (little details you notice on a day like this) to the huge grass field right by the Reichstag. I wonder if it has a name. It was packed – there were tents to change, tents to shower, tents to hang up your clothes, and of course an incredible number of pink portable toilets (I think there were none left in the rest of Germany on this day).

I said good-bye to my subway companion and tried to find my way to "my” tent – which is the one where I got to drop my bag that says F3269 on it. My race number! It took me forever and it appeared that my tent was far into the area that lay right next to the first start blocks – the area where the really fast runners waited for their start. They were already piling up there and by the time I had my bag turned in, I had to turn back against the direction of all these runners to get to my starting block – starting with the letter H. Not for ‘Hansen’ as you might assume, but just the last of the blocks, with people who were running for the first time or who had estimated their finish time at more than 4:15 h. H was good for me! (By the way, "Hansen” was the most frequently listed last name amongst all of the marathon runners! This was not really thanks to my attending, but due to a very strong Danish contingent, which put the names Jensen and Petersen into second and third place. The Danes added great spirit to the race by their own friendly demeanor, but also because they brought a huge group of supporters, all waving little Danish flags, screaming encouragements in Danish at all of us and having a good party all along. Excellent – long live Denmark….!).

So, I made my way into block H, still dressed in my fleece sweater and warm sweat pants – it was 7 degrees Celsius at this point. A lot of people were wearing something resembling turqoise garbage bags, but I preferred some actual warmth. I eventually shed the clothes and just left them there. A lot of people do this – it must be just a complete disaster zone by the time all the runners have left, but I gather all the clothes are collected and donated to a good cause, so why not. Just before the start, the people wearing the garbage bags took them off ‘en masse’ and started torpedoing them into the audience area. Not many alternatives…. Can’t drop the stuff to the ground because everyone will fall over it, can’t move over to a garbage can in the crowd either. So this works, and its quite a sight!

The official start was at 9 am, but at 8.30 am, the music got cranked up for an official warm-up. Most of the runners were in the start block now, and with nothing else to do, many participated in this little fitness warm-up. Before this, I managed to get into one of the portable toilets without waiting in line for hours – thank goodness. I guessed (and was right) that the number of toilets along the race course would be limited, and who would want to wait in line while the clock was ticking??

At 8.45 am, as we were standing there jammed together like sardines (but happy and excited) we heard the official program starting. This was taking place at the front of the line, where the fast runners were. I think this was about 1 km away from my spot, but the PA system was excellent. Various famous people came onto the program to wish us well, and all the foreigners were greeted especially (the Netherlands had 1500 runners , it turns out – Denmark had 5000!). And finally, at 9 am, the mayor of Berlin Mr. Wowereit, fired the start shot. A huge cheer went through the crowd, and thousands of turquoise ballons rose into the beautiful blue sky. I had had trouble keeping my emotions at bay during all of this already, but that moment will forever stay fixed in my mind. What a privilege to experience this. Would it be the same if I were a volunteer, or supporting someone? I don’t know, but I will never forget.

Of course, the start shot meant nothing to block H! The Berlin marathon starts in three waves. First, the "pro’s”who expect to run in about 2 – 2,5 hours. Then the various groups up to about 4 hours. And then, finally, start block H, which had to wait almost 15 minutes before we could move up to the big blown up portal that says "Start”. The announcer claimed we were his favourite, because in ‘H’ people were having the best party. Looking around me I thought he might have been right! We counted down to the start with the entire crowd and there we went, cheering ourselves on loudly.

The marathon route takes the runners through the West and the East part of the city. This wasn’t always the case of course, but after the fall of the wall, the route was changed to make sure that the East was included. As we ran along, we were treated to a wonderful sightseeing tour of the city. The organization had prepared us well for this with a little book they gave out Saturday – this way we would know what we were passing, since clearly this was no time for tour guides! Instead there were bands everywhere – 80 live bands played along the way. Sometimes you could hear several of them at the same time, and pretty much everywhere there was someone beating a drum to cheer us on. We passed a restaurant where the cook was sitting outside with a big pot turned around, beating it with a wooden spoon! An elderly gentleman was turning the handle of a barrel organ, and little kids stood along the way blowing into their vuvuzela’s. The real bands were amazing – so much fun to listen to! Many times I wished I could stay to hear more, but no – I had to keep going! The bands got cheers and applause from the runners continuously and some people even stopped to dance (this is definitely block H behaviour!!).

There was audience everywhere. In some spots not so many people, in others huge numbers, all cheering us on loudly. It was one big party, and I had a blast being part of it. I had made sure I would get lots of support by putting my name in large letters onto my shirt. This meant that in my case people could see my name from afar. I can’t believe how many people shouted out my name, with encouragements in more languages than I can remember. It included "Maria, step on the gas, you’re almost there!”at 15 km (!), "Maria kampionessa!”, "Los jetzt, Maria, hau drauf!”, Hup Maria!” and simply "Ave Maria!!”. Every single time I got this huge smile on my face and (honestly) energy to carry me through a while longer. Fantastic! I shouted out to any Dutch and Canadian supporters I saw and they were delighted to help me through the next few meters. Whenever I saw an official photographer I took advantage of the opportunity….!

And then there were my own supporters. First time I saw them was at 6 km – a wonderful moment. The kids were holding a huge Dutch flag and told me that many Dutch runners had responded to this, as well. We saw each other again at 12 km, missed each other (sadly) at 19 km, but were successful again at 32 and 38 km. It was a great way to break the race into smaller pieces and it helped me to no end to have them with me. Thank you, Lee, Henry, Kate, Jana, Kitty, Maike, Stefanie, and Doris! It was a marathon for them as well, because they used the overcrowded subways to get from place to place and hardly ate and drank along the way. Chapeau to them!

As for me, the race actually went very well. I was pacing myself and took advantage of the many water and fruit breaks that were offered. One little mishap threw me for a second. I had filled a small bottle with several portions of glucose gel to make it easier to consume the stuff along the stuff. I used it once, but later realized that I must have lost it somewhere. Yikes – we were not even at the half point and this stuff was to provide me with instant energy all the way through. Running back was no option, but there was also no back-up with Lee and the kids. So…I decided to make due with banana’s and got lucky when the gel was being handed out at about 27 km. I took a few and was back in business!

Physically, getting to 21 km was no problem (piece of cake!?) but then pain started to apear in varying parts of my body: first my back, then my feet, and later my legs. Well, I guess that makes sense…. A wonderful pick-me-up came at 34 km – one of the sponsors had put up a huge screen that carried messages for the runners that were coming by right at that moment (we were all wearing chips on our shoes which is how that worked). When I came by, there was a great message from ISPA – in German!! – telling me that they just knew I could do it.

After hugging my family for the last time at 38 km (and telling them that EVERYTHING was hurting by that point), I knew I was in for the last few km’s. You then still have to run quite a loop before finally, past 41 km, you get to turn the corner onto the great boulevard ‘Unter den Linden’ which leads up to the Brandenburg Gate. Try keeping it dry at that point…. What a gorgeous site and what a treat to run towards it, with a huge crowd cheering us on on these final meters. This moment was what I had envisioned all along as I was preparing, and it turned out to be even more special than I thought. Why? As you may know, the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of the German reunification. The wall ran right behind it. To me, it’s a symbol of optimism, peace and making the impossible happen. On the advice of my physiotherapist I became pretty sure a while ago that I probably shouldn’t be running a lot of marathons in my life, and knowing that, I knew that Berlin would have to be the place to do it.

And then all of sudden, I was over the finish, and I could start walking, along with everyone else. How strange – euphoria melting together with exhaustion and pain. Somebody compared this moment to giving birth, and I can certainly relate to that comparison….. We were taken care off very well, with turquoise garbage bag sheets to warm us , food and drink and of course: the medal. A proud moment, and I stopped to thank the lady who put it around it my neck, given her my biggest marathon smile. Walking to that tent that held my clothes bag was another story – every step hurt and I believe I looked more like a pregnant elephant than a marathon runner!

I changed quickly on the lawn, stripping everything off like everything else – runners lose all inhibition, did you know? Getting into dry clothes is really important after a race, so that’s what I did, even though it almost killed me to get those socks on….. I "quickly” made it to the Gate, where the family was to be waiting. It turned out that Lee and the kids head already headed toward the station to catch the train to the Netherlands, but I met everyone else. There was enough time to still see my guys at the station after all, even though it involved "quickly”walking over there and even walking up and down stairs (man, that hurt).

Since I was still staying in Berlin that evening, we could go back to Stefanie and Christian’s house and collapse on the couch. A good shower helped, as did the soup that Christian had prepared for us. Thanks to both of them for enduring this marathon invasion into their home and dealing with all of us so cheerfully! Finally, a beer was allowed again and I certainly did enjoy that!

This morning I took the train back – all signs of the marathon were almost gone in the city, except for someone on the train who was wearing the same marathon bracelet that I had, and the Berlin Morgenpost newspaper which had a special edition listing all participants and telling all the stories of this glorious day. My time was listed there too – 4 hours and 54 minutes. Not Speedy Gonzales, but I did it in less than 5 hours, and I am tickled pink.

My ISPA fundraising drive in the meantime has brought in more than $ 3.000 which is fantastic. We even received donations after the race and we will continue to put out the word this week, because there may still be people out there who had hoped to give. So people – go to it (see )! To all those who already gave: thank you so much for your support of ISPA’s fellowship program which is such an important part of ISPA’s work in developing the great talent in the performing arts. And thanks for all the messages of support for me – quite stunning and quite wonderful. The ISPA staff, namely David and Nicole were amazing in their support – thank you so much!

I want to thank my colleagues at the Stadsschouwburg and Philharmonie Haarlem for their support and bearing with me throughout this period. Next challenge for me is passing on the torch…..who will be the next one for the "ISPA Endurance Challenge”? I figure if running isn’t your thing, you could cycle, Nordic walk, cross country ski, sing opera for hours….. As for me, I will get some rest and bask in the glow for a while before thinking up the next project!

Maria Hansen
October 1, 2012


What a journey - metaphoric and physical! Congratulations and thank you!