The 44th Berlin Marathon, September 24th 2017…and my name was on the guest list!
Berlin was to be my 5th marathon, 2nd World Major, 1st solo 26.2 adventure and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
Friday 22nd September
My alarm went off at 4.15am, am early start to catch my flight to Schoenefeld Airport. Arriving late morning after successfully navigating the S-Bahn (phew!), I made my way to Banhof Potsdamer Platz close to the Scandic Hotel where I would be staying for the next few days. The location was perfect, essentially a big square with shops, bars and restaurants and only 1km away from the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate…Perfect for race day as this was the start/finish area.
A little too early to check in, I left my luggage at the hotel before visiting the Berlin Vital Expo at Station- Berlin to register and pick up my race pack. In the heart of the city, Station-Berlin is a cool building with some nice architecture and is pretty much the German equivalent of the Excel or Hydro, used for lots of conferences and exhibitions throughout the year.
Runners are issued with a wrist band that you need to wear to get access to the start line on Marathon day. From then on, you can’t help but notice people around the city that are wearing them too, like you’re part of a special club. Registered and race pack collected, I learned that ‘laufen’ is German for running. It was actually quite amazing just how much of my high school vocabulary came back to me!
The race expo is always fun with an infectious buzz of nerves and excitement, with runners in the hall from all over the world. The atmosphere is just brilliant! That said and not to be negative, I don’t think it was just as good as the London expo for me; no Paula or Martin, it seemed super crowded and I didn’t love the merchandise quite as much (though I did still manage to spend some pennies on a few souvenirs). For this race you don’t get your finishers tee with your goodie bag and medal at the end, it was pre-order and buy one yourself or do without. Being a sucker for a momento, I had to get one. The usual photo opportunities, a wander round the stalls and a blether with some lovely fellow runners, it was still a great way to spend the afternoon and get some final motivation for Sunday.
After checking in, I went for a bit of a wander around the city and landed up at the finishers village area. I managed to find my name in the Hall of Fame; a big wall with the names of everyone running in the race printed on it. Finding your name amongst 47,000 others is like looking for a needle in a haystack but thankfully they were in alphabetical order so I managed to find mine eventually!
In the evening, dinner on route back to the hotel and an early night after what had been a jam packed day.
Saturday 23rd September
I was sorry to be missing the International Breakfast Run; a 6K jog from Charlottenburg Palace and finishing in Berlin’s Olympic stadium. Runners traditionally wear their national colours and flags to represent their home countries and enjoy some breakfast afterwards to fuel for the big day ahead.
My coach suggested this wasn’t the best idea, given that I had just been getting back on my feet (literally) at the latter end of the taper from managing an annoying niggle (why we give them such a cute and endearing little name when they are so completely maddening and frustrating I’ll never know) The issue, tightness in the muscles had been pulling my SI joint out of place, so you know just the small matter of a dislocated spine!…not quite that dramatic but ultimately this was the problem. I did a 20 minute shakeout jog instead which was just the best. There were runners everywhere wearing Marathon attire from almost every country you could think of and every mix of club colours imaginable.
Breakfast back at the hotel… no porridge…my pre-race breakfast of choice… disaster! I should have known it wasn’t such a thing on the continent, but all was not lost. I would find some at the Eskada (supermarket) later. The plan for the rest of the day was to take the hop-on hop-off bus to see the city whilst resting the legs. Great idea I thought, see the sites, just a shame I shared this idea with just about every other runner in Berlin! Plan aborted, instead I took a slow and easy walk to see the Wall, the Tiergarten and some other landmarks before pasta time!
Dinner at Vapiano was a marathon runners paradise! Every member of the carbohydrate family available little canteen style windows where you ordered whatever you wanted and watched as it was cooked to order, any pasta, sauce, toppings, the lot. Everyone had the same idea as they fuelled up ahead of the racewith heaps of delicious, fresh pasta being devoured for the ‘last supper’.
Next up, compulsory kit check, early bed, sleep! Oh and make porridge in a mug for overnight oats…where there’s a will…jings!
Sunday 24th September
Race day is always exciting!… infact, Race Week is exciting! A little anxious to see how my back would hold up and with a lack of long runs in the build up, today’s plan was simply to enjoy it. No time pressures, no real strategy other than to keep it comfortable until at least the half way point and if there was anything left beyond that, build a little to a steady pace.
I always feel the need to check out the start area before the big day so that I know where I’m going, forgetting of course there are 39,999 other runners making there way there so I am pretty sure I wouldn’t get lost, but you just never know!
The porridge was…well, different, but I managed to get it down. We will see how that works out come mile 18! Im not convinced! A short walk to the Brandenburg, the start area was fairly well organised. Unlike London where there are three, there is only one start here so I was prepared for it to take a little longer to get going.
There were the usual expected queues for the toilets but I have to say this was just beyond ridiculous! After waiting for almost an hour in line (yes, an hour!!!) a very kind lady with wipes and hand gel in tow convinced me it just wasn’t worth the wait to risk making yourself late for the start…I may never wait in line for a portaloo again! Take from that what you like!!!
Only an hour (yes, another hour! Just as well I was excited!) after I was due to start did we get going and across the line…so a long time on the pins before the off. Still the atmosphere was unreal and it was quite a vision, lined up in the mass of thousands looking out towards the Tiergarten in the distance.
The run itself was brilliant. The people of Berlin (and beyond!) came out in their thousands despite the rather driech and wet weather and offered such amazing support and encouragement.
One of my only grumbles about the organisation of the race (ok, in addition to the lack of toilets) was the water stations. Utter chaos is really the only way I can describe it. Although it was suggested in our programme that cups (plastic, so very slippy, even more so on the wet roads!) were thrown in to the side of the road after use, so not to impede fellow runners, with the best will in the world, they end up everywhere…just everywhere! It looked like it had been snowing and you could barely find anywhere to put you feet. It was super crowded with the route getting pretty narrow at times and so the only way to successfully get through the aid stations safely was to walk. Aside from the issue of not slipping, walking was essential because if you tried to run and drink from the cup at the same time you inevitably end up wearing most of it! So pretty tricky to take on water otherwise.
This small criticism aside, it was a brilliant race. An amazingly flat route (which I must do again when I’m more in PB shape), great supporters and pretty nice scenery with thee most incredible finish at the Brandenburg gate…a very welcome sight!
The memory of turning the corner with the view of the pillars in the distance before running through the gate is a special one that I’m sure will stick with me for a long time. Just as special as the finish at The Mall in London but for different reasons.
Having not opted to do a bag drop for my kit at the start line (2:09 recommended it would be much quicker not to), I was trialling the new very trendy and somewhat spaceman like post-race ponchos. They actually worked a treat, no faffing or queuing to go and collect your bag. My feet were just missing my flip flops!
Berlin was the first time I had the luxury of staying in the city on the day of a run to soak up a bit of the post-race atmosphere. Usually when races are on a Sunday, there’s a bit of a rush to get back home for work, but not today! It was lovely to cheer some fellow runners over the finish line…And how else are you going to celebrate in Germany than with a Frankfurter and the lovely cold Erdinger they were giving out at the finish!
A trip to a proper Beer Garden/Hall in the evening to finish the celebrations… well, when in Berlin and all, rounded off what had been the most brilliant weekend.
Every time I get to the end of a race (no matter the distance), I am usually quite overwhelmed and a little emotional by all of the wonderful support and by the fact that I feel so incredibly lucky to have had another amazing experience, not to mention that my body has been strong enough to get round another run…not everyone is so lucky. I love the marathon…but the distance is always to be respected. Today even some of the elites, with all of their specialist, and really quite phenomenal levels of training DNF’d (does that mean I beat Wilson Kipsang today?!) You just never know how things are going to go… I am very grateful to have beaten Berlin42.
Monday 25th September
On route back to the Airport, I managed to pick up a copy of the Berlin Morgenpost Newspaper which had a special souvenir marathon pullout with all of the race result, another nice wee something to keep.
They say you have to forget your last marathon before you try another as your mind can’t know what’s coming. It will be interesting to see how that pans out over the next 2 weeks, where for now it will be all about the recovery!…
Next stop, Windy City 26.2…14 days and counting!