I have given myself a few days of reflection before writing this blog post. Berlin is my 3rd marathon and first of the six marathon majors. I came into this with the best bit of training I have done for a marathon, I did however miss three weeks with injury, returning to running 5 weeks before the big day. Secretly I had been working on a sub 3:20 pace during the 21 weeks of training, I haven’t mentioned this on any of my Berlin Marathon Training updates as I didn’t want to put it out there putting pressure on myself. The plan was to run around 7:30 pace which I have managed to do on my longest runs of 16 and 17 miles during training. The injury did for the planned 20 miler, however I did run the ROCK n ROLL LIVERPOOL MARATHON back in May so I do have some long runs in the legs.
Arrival & Breakfast Run (Saturday)
I flew out Friday evening arriving at my hotel just before midnight. This wasn’t ideal getting in late and losing sleep but it meant I could avoid using one day of leave at work. The taxi from the airport to the hotel was an experience, the guy clearly wasn’t interested in taking his time to run the charge up, at one point going close to 150kph!! At least I got to the hotel quicker.
The plan was to run the 5k Breakfast Run Saturday morning and then travel over to the expo to collect my race number and attempt to get a finishers tee. These are not included at Berlin and you need to buy one at the Expo beforehand, but more on that later.
After the late night I was up at 7, ate breakfast and on my way to figure out how the U-bahn works. I took this out to the start of the breakfast run with a short walk to the start. Having taken part in the Paris Breakfast run, which I really enjoyed, I had high hopes for the Berlin Breakfast Run. The start area was lively with music banging and lots of free BMW balloons handed out.
The run was just over 5k and finished up in the Olympic Stadium. When we got going it was difficult to get running. Now I wasn’t expecting sub 20 5k pace but running at 12 min mile pace was too slow for me, it was walking pace. I took to the pavement and joined a group of people running over there until I reached the front. Back in Paris, the lead vehicles were playing music as we ran so I thought the same in Berlin, which they were doing but the same three songs on repeat and it wasn’t very loud at all, once you dropped 10 people back you could barely hear it. The route didn’t seem that great to me, just past apartment blocks and shops, not past any of the sights of Berlin. When we arrived at the Olympic Stadium we went in through the tunnel and ran a lap of the track which was good. The it was time for some coffee and croissants, the real reason I took part in the run.
After running the Breakfast Run, I went straight back on the U-bahn getting the U2 line from Olympia-Stadion to Gleisdreieck. Having walked past the station I couldn’t help thinking “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”……… lets allow that tumbleweed to blow off and continue.
So going to the expo on a Saturday has always been my worst fear and arriving at 11am I was expecting it to be busy. The queue to get in took around 40 mins but once inside there were so many race number collection desks, I had my race pack, bag drop pack and event wrist bands within 5 minutes of entering. Now I wanted to have a look around and find where the finishers T-shirts were. Before getting to Berlin I had taken a look at the finishers tee and was impressed with the look or colours, but its Berlin and a major so I can’t not have a finishers tee.
I found the Adidas section which was packed, you could hardly move around. Then saw a piece of paper stuck on the wall informing us “Finishers Tops – SOLD OUT” WHAT!!!! this put me in a bad mood, but I decided on planning ahead and brought myself a long sleeved BMW Berlin Marathon 2017 tee and jacket, these will come in handy over winter and I can wear the long sleeved tee in New York. After this I battled my way out, I had wanted to take my time and look around but it was just far too crowded for my liking, I just find myself getting more and more wound up in places like this when it is too busy.
So after a busy morning it was time to relax and have a wander around Berlin. I went to the start / finish area to have a look around, see where things are and where I will have to go in the morning. Hoping to make my morning smoother and less stressful. Which on the start area I got the chance to watch the start of the inlineskating marathon, the speed these guys went off at was amazing and it looks so much fun. Although I am sure I would be terrible at it, it does look like something id like to try one day.
After the start of the inlineskating I went back for a shower and headed out to meet up with some of the Prostate Cancer UK runners for a meal and chat. By the time I set off for the meal the weather had turned and it was pouring with rain, the idea test of my new Berlin Marathon rain jacket and it came through with flying colours, very impressed with that. This was the first time I met my fellow PCUK runners and was a great evening getting to know peoples stories and motivations for running the race and for Prostate Cancer UK. I ducked out at 8pm to get back to the room and arrange all of my gear for the marathon, again, planning ahead to make the morning less stressful. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail….
Marathon day!!!!!!!!!! (Sunday)
So its race day, up at 6am to get breakfast. The hotel (Hilton Berlin) put on a special marathon runner breakfast opening at 6am rather than their usual 7am opening slot which was really nice. Once fuelled up I went back to the room, changed into my running kit, packed my drop back and put on my rain jacket. Yep, it was raining still and very dark and grey outside. Still feeling a bit rough with cold I took some paracetamol to help the cold symptoms out which should last me until at least half way into the marathon. With the hotel being 0.8 mile from the start area I did some stretching in the room and took a slow run to the start, a nice warm up before the big one.
Getting into the start area was simple, then I struggled to find the bag drop for my number, the tent was hidden away behind the trees and the queues for the toilets, omg, I have never seen anything like it and I have ran races with more runners than this one. The queues were huge everywhere, I waited 30 minutes to go but they were positions along the walkways to the start pens, the congestion around these areas was terrible. Once past all of that and into the start pens there was a lot of space. The start is down both sides of the road and there seemed to be a reasonable amount of people in each pen, not overcrowded at all.
They split the start into eight pens which went off in three waves, A-E went at 9:15am, F & G went at 9:35am and H went at 10am. I was in pen F which was at the front of wave 2, when they put me in this pen initially I wasn’t happy with it, I wanted to be in pen E with the sub 3:30 runners but in hindsight looking at it now, being in pen F with a 15 minute gap to run into was perfect. I was around 10 rows back from the start line when wave 2 went off which meant I should be able to run my own pace.
Mile 1 – 6: 7:42, 7:32, 7:27, 7:35, 7:32, 7:31
After five months of training, over 700-miles of running, countless training races it was finally time to do the business and BeatBerlin42. The gun went and off we charged, whereas I usually go off and get caught up in the moment running too fast, this time I kept a very close eye on my watch ensuring I wasn’t going too quick, The road was wide, I was near to the front with a huge gap of 15 minutes to run into so I was quickly in my stride not feeling crowded and feeling good, if it wasn’t raining and I didn’t have a cold this would have been the perfect start and perfect conditions for a fast run. My target was to run as close to 7:30 as I could. The first mile as you can see from the splits above and below, was actually my slowest of the first 15 miles as I was that focused on not going too fast I ran it too slowly. I didn’t let that bother me, I thought what is 12 seconds over the course of 26.2 miles, for me, 12 seconds doesn’t mean the world so I wasn’t going to run faster to make that up.
My fuelling plan for this marathon was to take an SiS Go Energy Electrolyte gel at mile 5, 15 & 25 (for a sprint finish) and an SiS Whey 20 gel at mile 10 & 20 to help with muscle strength and recovery. In my previous marathons I have taken a SiS Go Energy gel every 10k but if I had felt good at that stage I had delayed taking it, which I now realise is silly, I need consistent fuelling throughout a race, taking it when needed, is too late.
So mile 5 came up and I was feeling good, running a fast pace and not tired, I took the gel and continued on. The water stations were around every 3k but they were absolute chaos. People were diving into the first few tables, stopping to drink and walking back out, I tried to go towards the ends of the water stations to avoid most people but even then it wasn’t great. To make it worse they hand out cups of water rather than bottles, I really do not like cups of water as I spill most of it down my face and chest and just don’t take on sufficient water to hydrate as I would like to.
Mile 7 – 13: 7:37, 7:34, 7:38, 7:37, 7:33, 7:31, 7:32
Miles 7 through to half way were pretty much smooth sailing, everything was going to plan. My split times were coming out fairly consistent my legs felt ok, around mile 9 my left knee started to ache, nothing too concerning and something I thought I could run off. At this stage I couldn’t help but remember back to my German Oral exam at school, the teacher asked me how are you? my response….”mein Knie tut weh” (my knee hurts), so I was running down the road laughing at that. The things we think of to pass the time when running eh.
I took my first SiS Whey 20 gel at mile 10, thinking this may actually be handy for my achy knee as well. Now I had taken plenty of Whey 20 gels in training, but I hadn’t actually taken one during a long run over 10 miles with missing my last two long runs due to injury so this was kinda new territory but I knew my body can stomach them without issue. The half marathon point came up in 1:39:55, which is actually the third fastest half marathon I have ever ran, faster than all of my 2016 half marathon races but I have done this during a marathon? I started to think, am I running this too fast but quickly talked myself out of that as I felt really comfortable running at 7:30(ish), the rain was keeping me cool, but soaking wet. Then it occurred to me, it hasn’t actually been raining since I started this race, I am actually this wet because I am sweating so much due to the humidity as well as throwing the cups of water all over myself at every water station. I was a little concerned that I wasn’t taking on enough water at this point now.
Mile 14 – 21: 7:38, 8:30, 8:04, 8:03, 10:08, 8:28, 8:11, 8:36
Okay so here is where things start to get interesting, if you like a disaster story. Mile 14 went without issue as did mile 15 really, I took my next Electrolyte gel reached the next water station and ended up getting boxed in costing me a few seconds, then decided to have a toilet break when I spotted a vacant portaloo or Dixi as they are called in Germany. In total I lost the best part of a minute messing around in mile 15. I got back running and instantly got a stitch in my right side so lost time in mile 16 and 17. Then mile 18 my stomach felt so tight and like I had stomach cramp which made it difficult to breath properly whilst running so I had to stop and walk a little way resulting in a 10 min split time, not looking good now. I managed to get back running and decided to slow things down for a bit and see how it goes, making it to mile 21 at a somewhat reduced pace over 8:11. Mile 21 came and I reached the next water station, my heart wanted to just grab a cup and carry on, no doubt chucking the majority of the water in my face as I tried to drink and run but instead my brain won the battle, I stopped got a cup and drank the whole lot, not in one go, but a few sips. I thought what is a minute drinking properly and not gulping it down, given I was losing time left, right and centre now. I had decided against taking my 20th mile Whey 20 gel as I don’t think I could have kept that down.
Mile 22 – 26.4: 9:11, 9:23, 10:43, 9:14, 12:53, 8:49
Continuing on with the self destruction theme from the last 4 miles, I stopped twice during mile 22 and once in mile 23, again struggling to breath properly due to my stomach, at this stage I changed my focus to just finishing this marathon, I felt so ill and so cold from the rain. I guess by this point the cold & flu medication taken earlier in the day had worn off and I was feeling the full effects of my cold, the cold damp Berlin weather plus stomach cramps. Not a nice combo 23 miles into a marathon. Again half way through mile 24 I had to stop and this time walked for a good quarter of a mile, I just grabbed a couple of cups of water and walked off down the road feeling sorry for myself but making sure I was hydrating fully, along with all of the other issues I was feeling thirsty and any Bear Grylls fan will tell you, once you feel thirsty, it is too late, you are already on the road to dehydration. I also opted for my Electrolyte gel now rather than at mile 25, at this rate I wont be reaching 25 miles so may as well enjoy the kick now while I can.
As I was walking I reached the Prostate Cancer UK cheer point, there were loads of the PCUK supporters gathered here and hearing the roar when I got to them, shouting at me that I can do this, its only 2 miles to go, this gave me a big lift and I set off running again, this time at a very slow pace, nearly 2 min/mile slower than I set off at. I made it to 25 miles, running past my hotel, thinking, I could just turn left into the hotel lobby now and be done with all this sh*t, stubbornly deciding that there is not much point tapping out at 25 miles before feeling really sick and dizzy, like I was about to pass out, back to walking it is, this time for half a mile, past the Red Bull zone, now I love Red Bull but I am not sure how anyone could drink it during a marathon, but plenty were, I hope they had trained using Red Bull before the race, doubt it. Now into mile 26 and turning onto the really long finishing straight with 0.8 mile to go I set off running again, past the bar handing out free beer to runners, I just could not stomach a beer at that point, I think it would have finished me off.
Once you are on the final straight the crowds were so vast, especially around the Brandenburg Gate, by now I was just on auto pilot coasting home to finish line, not really taking it all in, just hoping that there was some water pretty damn soon after I crossed that line.
I ran over the line, stopped my watch and went to lean on the railings, a big German security / marshal guy came over to see if I was ok, I guess so considering I said. He seemed ok with that and left me to it. Really pale and looking quite green in my official finisher photos (not the one below) I had done it. I had completed marathon number 3, a marathon of two halves, a really good half that went without issue and a second half that was a battle to finish in the end. What shocked me the most was my finish time, 3hrs 41mins 4secs. Despite those last 8 or 9 miles, I had ran 1:48 shy of a marathon PB. Rather than feeling proud I had nearly beat my PB, I felt so so disappointed that a.) I hadn’t maintained my 3hr 20min pace and lost 21 minutes in 9 miles and b.) that I had felt so ill and rough during those last miles.
Right so a brief roundup, if I can keep it brief. This is why I wanted to wait a few days before writing this one up, my initial emotions were completely different to those four days on.
This is only my third marathon and I have only been running for 21 months, 9 months running seriously, last year was a finding my feet and getting injured a lot year. I have now ran two of my three marathons under 3:45, my original goal was to run a marathon under 4hrs, I nearly did it in Paris, I did it in Liverpool and I have done it again today.
This marathon did not go to plan, but its a marathon, it is a big thing to run 26.2 miles, to run for 3hrs 41mins with an average heart rate of 144bpm. If it was easy and always went to plan, where would the challenge be in that right? I had a target pace of 7:30 in mind, which would have taken probably around 25 – 30 minutes off my PB, was this too much of an ask? I don’t think so, I maintained that pace for pretty much 18 miles, I ran my 3rd fastest half marathon. I beat myself up a lot in the hours after the marathon, feeling like I had failed. Yes I had failed to hit my target of smashing my PB but I had succeeded at running a marathon, I had succeeded in running a sub 4hr marathon and best of all, I had succeeded at running a marathon for Prostate Cancer UK and raising nearly £500.00 for them. In the midst of running, hitting a target pace, trying to beat my PB and get a BQ, feeling ill etc I had lost focus on why I was really running. I wasn’t running for myself, I was running as part of a team of 260 runners who between us have raised over £175,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. Just five weeks ago I was out injured, I hadn’t ran for three weeks, so that is going to have impacted how things went today, having a cold certainly will not have helped matters, the damp cool weather and 99% humidity will have had a massive impact on my race. I need to learn how to hydrate better at races which only have cups on their water stations.
Next up for me is the New York City Marathon in 6 weeks time. I need to use that time to maintain my fitness levels and avoid injury and learn from what did not go as planned today. Stay healthy and avoid falling ill just before hand.