The Berlin Marathon
Having thought I'd cracked marathons and then the London marathon going pretty badly wrong in April, my expectations were muted in Berlin. I almost wanted to see if it was worth carrying on with marathons or time to hang up the trainers and go for shorter distances.
Berlin is one of the 6 marathon majors and one of the biggest marathons in terms of participants at 41,000. Most of my comparisons are with the London marathon as it's on a similar scale. Runner wise there are more in Berlin but the crowds are much less (or just more speed out) than London. You don't get the same level of 'fun' runners with only a few people in fancy dress. I was in the last group which was anyone over 4h15 to give you an idea of the level of runners here.
The expo is huge! As expected the expo was well organised and efficient, I managed to go on the Friday night and there were no queues to get your number and pack. They tag you with a wrist band and then you collect your finishers t-shirt which I found weird as I like to see that at the end once it's been earned! I didn't spend much time wandering around as I'd just arrived but there are lots of trainer shops, various gels and compression sock stalls!
One thing I did forget was a poncho/old clothes to throw away. It was raining first thing and about 13 degrees so I went hunting for a bin bag in the hotel. I managed to get one from the kitchen after a very confused waitress obliged me but was unsuccessful at making holes so I had an off the shoulder bin bag to keep me warm at the start which got a few strange looks!
The guide book says to get to the start for 7:30 when my wave started at 10 that seemed excessive. The route starts and finishes at the Brandenburg gate so you don't have the bags leaving as in London, they say there's a cut off to bag drop at 8:45 so I think as long as you're there before then that's plenty of time. Luckily I didn't have a bag just my bin bag top so they directed us to the start which I thought would be a shortcut but we must have walked at least a mile through the Tiergarten (park)! When we arrived at the start it is just a long road with the start pens so there are some portaloos along the edge with the usual queues and some tables handing out cups of water. I have a strong opposition to portaloos so I chose the Tiergarten for a quick stop which seemed to be a popular choice for men and women alike!
Despite the long walk to the start (I came form Postdamer Platz) I was in my start pen (H) by 9. The elite runners were started at 9:15 then the second wave at 9:35 and finally us at 10. I started at 10:03 so not a long delay and we were off!
As I'd been hanging around a while I had to make another quick Tiergarten stop within the first mile but then I was on my way. I was so anxious to keep my pace within myself at the start I set off very slowly with my first 5km in 33mins. The rumours are true about the course being wide and flat, there were a couple of spots where we went from 2 sides of the road to one that crunched up a bit but I think starting us in the waves did prevent the congestion you get in London.
As we looped back towards the Reichstag (German House of Parliament) and 6km mark a 4:30 pacer passed me at a pace I couldn't match which really deflated my mood. I resisted temptation to keep up and kept to my plan of maintaining a heart rate under 165. We then headed into the east of the city which has a stark contrast in architecture still resembling a communist state. The crowds overall were a lot more spread out than London and there were some bands every now and then but I was definitely glad for my headphones (the guide says not to take them but ignore it!).
We then headed south and I was keeping it steady but had run the second 5km a little faster. I had my first gel at 10km and had been having a steady stream of fruit pastels. The water stations started to appear more frequently and this was the only bad part of the race. Firstly cups for water?! It's very hard to drink from a cup and run so I ended up having to walk and drink as did many others causing a bunch up. I much prefer the bottles on offer at London but maybe cups are slightly safer trip hazards. They also had bananas, apples, cold tea?! and sports drinks (multipower) at refreshment stations as well as buckets for sponges if you'd been carrying one around!
My husband called me to say he and mum were in place at the 23km mark so I was keen to get there asap from km13. A second 4:30 pace group appeared behind me and this time I was determined not to let them fly past so I kept slightly ahead of them as my heart rate was remaining under 165.
When I passed half way my watch said 2h15 so I again felt that sub 4h30 would be unlikely. I still plodded on one step ahead of the 4:30 group feeling increasingly angry that the pacer was chatting away so comfortably behind me when I had started to struggle! Finally I made it to Jon and my mum which was a great boost and an extra gel stop for me. The route then headed further out in what seemed to be the suburbs and my watch went a bit funny so I lost track of which mile we were at. I kept trying to relate it to London thinking we'd be in Docklands now where I would often find it tough so I just focused on getting to 30km.
My hips had started to ache which was distracting so I took 2 paracetamol at the water stop at 27km which is where the 4:30 group snuck passed me while I was faffing with the tablets. I set back off with 30km in mind and then a strange feeling came over me, I've got another gear here. I don't know if it was the gels kicking in or the paracetamol numbing some pain but I kept my pace steady incase it was a fleeting burst of energy and held out to the 30km mark where you turn back towards the city. Jon and mum had made it to 35.5km so I thought I'd try to speed up to see them and I was running my fastest splits so far without my HR getting too high. It was exhilarating to think I could finish faster in the second half and maybe still sneak under 4h30.
I was overtaking quite a lot of runners now as they started to struggle and the 4:30 pace group were back in my sights and soon behind me again. My legs felt strong and my breathing was steady. I saw mum and Jon for a quick hug and my final gel and carried on with 40km my next goal. The crowds started to build up as we headed through the Postdamer Platz where you start running the wrong direction to the Brandenburg gate further east. It was a long straight road to 40km where we finally turned back towards the finish. I even passed that first 4:30 pacer who I think had overdone it as she was on her own at 40km. My heart rate was over 170 now but it was the last push. A little zig zag and you can see the Brandenburg gate! The crowds were nice and loud here but still only one or two deep so easy for spectators to see you here compared to London which is 4-5 deep in the last few miles. I ran towards the gate as if it was the finish on the verge of a stitch/vomiting (I couldn't be sure!) but then as with London when you get past Buckingham palace there is still about 300m to go! I checked my watch and knew I would come under 4:30 even if I walked the last bit but I managed to continue to run through the line to finish in 4h28!
The finish area is well organised with massages and alcohol free beer on offer (snickers was brought by me)!
Even though it was not my best time I was so pleased to have run a negative split and felt that good in the second half. I think having enough nutrition on board and pacing the first part slowly helped me no end. Berlin is not the most pretty city to run around but the course is flat and wide which definitely lends itself to good marathon running.
On to the next one...
Splits from Berlin (top) vs London: