Berlin Marathon 2018
I’ll tell you this now, it’s gonna be a long one! Grab a cup of something warm and settle in, or if you’re not up for it, then this is your warning to come back another time!
A weekend maratholiday is just about one of my favourite things. Marathoning in a new city is awesome, teamed up with bumping into familiar race faces, eating local food and generally having a ramble around. What’s not to love?!
This time it was Berlin. Kev and I were kindly offered places to run for Mind in connection with the ongoing charity work we do for them both individually and together. We talk a lot about scheduling a race a year to tackle together, and this one was too good to pass up! Back when it was booked in the diary we were both going to be going for our Boston Qualifying times. As we’re all way too painfully aware, and probably quite bored of hearing about, that wasn’t going to happen for me. Up until the start line I had run a precarious amount of very painful miles, hopped up on painkillers and strapped up to within an inch of my life with KT tape. It wasn’t smart or pretty but it was my new normal.
We arrived in Poland (yep we drove from Poland to berlin) without too much of a hitch. I mean Kev insisted on going to the post office before we left, which meant we were running late and I was left speeding up the M25, but yeah apart from that very few hitches… We picked up the hire car, well actually we sat in the wrong hire car for a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out how to turn it on, before quickly realising it wasn’t in fact our car, finding the right one and getting on the road. The drive to Berlin was easy as anything, and it all felt pretty good. See hardly a hitch!
On Saturday morning we woke up to try out Park run Germany style. Hasenheide Parkrun is a delightful route through a really pretty park that was essentially 2 larger loops and one shorter (hillier) loop. We met up with some of our friends who were also running over the weekend, and it was the perfect morning, finished in park run style with a nice coffee. The parkrun marshals were superb. Their race had jumped from an average of 70 runners to over 500 over night, they adapted brilliantly with bi-lingual and extremely humorous race briefings! I felt really comfy, and even thought my limp had cleared up, but when I checked in with Kev he assured me I was still carrying the gangster lean. It didn’t matter, I felt good, and I needed to feel good because 26.2 on a limp is quite a different scenario to a 5k. I knew if my head wasn’t in the game this would be one tough day at the office.
This was followed by the quickest dash possible to the expo, where I refrained from buying even more new shoes. It was heaving, and I’m not great with huge crowds so kept it short and sweet, numbers, pictures, and go! The rollerblading marathon also takes place on the Saturday, it’s the craziest thing to watch, and well worth standing around to catch a glimpse of. It only takes them about an hour to go round the marathon course, which is frankly insane, and slightly terrifying! I considered taking up the sport for all of about 4 seconds before realising it would be a surefire way to break all the bones in my body.
Sunday brings us to the main event and the meaty chunky ‘I thought I was reading a blog about a marathon not your travelling escapades’ section! The Marathon!
Getting to the start line felt incredibly easy, public transport across Berlin felt easy and the starting pens were, well, easy. I queued for the ladies and didn’t even have to wait 5 minutes. I was amazed, it was packed but it didn’t feel hectic. I’m not sure if my pen was just a little less busy than others, or if I was just there early enough to get settled in, but I felt comfortable hanging out there. Martine found me wandering around aimlessly, we stretched and chatted and had a few pre race lols – the build up felt epic watching the Elites start! We did the Icelandic football chant, had a good dance, some slow-mo running to chariots of fire, and then we were off.
I felt incredible, like actually incredible! Being on that start line had been such a hit and miss thing for me. I’d wanted to be there so badly but even up to last week I was seriously considering a DNS.
The route was fast, I could feel it, and it definitely felt hectic now as runner’s elbows came flying at you as people tried to fight for a place at their pace. The sun was shining and Martine and I settled in to a comfy pace, chatting watching the crowds and buildings go past. It was WARM! I was a sweaty mess pretty early on and by water station two I’d opted to chuck a cup over my head and one down my neck.
Can we just talk about water stations for a minute? I have never heard a noise like it. The water was in plastic cups, and the carnage at every one was insane, runners fighting for a cup and then running off crunching down on this plastic. I had to mentally prepare myself every time we came up to one, as the noise level was just through the roof! It was unreal and something they just have to figure out and get better at.
The first half literally flew by, and we came in just under 2 hours, which was quite frankly astonishing to me. My dream was just to finish, so to be running really steadily seemed unreal. I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline or the spectacle of it all, but I wasn’t in pain. I knew the pace wouldn’t last, although it’s way off PB pace for me, it was still good going.
I strolled a few times at water points to save myself form getting trampled on, and took theses as opportunities to check in on Kev’s time and my other friends, stretch out any niggles and continue on feeling strong. It was just over half way when we found out Kipchoge had set a new world record, which was such a boost. Being out on a course running whilst history is being made is something else!
Now let’s talk about crowd support. I was a little disappointed if I’m honest. I think I have been spoilt by Brighton/London/Iceland memories and so when things don’t live up to that hype I get a little judgey. Now the streets were pretty packed with people, and maybe they’d lost their voices screaming Kipchoge home, or they’d just had enough by the time we came through, but I found the majority a bit lacklustre. There were some insane points, weirdly when ever we ran under a train track or underpass, but I was honestly expecting a bit more from the stories I’ve heard of previous years.
After about the 15/16 miles point I started to slow down, my fatigued lack of marathon fitness started to show, and I pleaded with Martine to leave me be. She was running incredibly strong and I knew she had sub4 in her, and I also knew I didn’t.
There would have been a time when that would’ve broken me, a feeling that I wasn’t as good as I once was, or as good as I needed to be, but after this year I knew better than to play that game. Progress isn’t linear, just because I’m not running a BQ now, doesn’t mean I won’t, and if I never ran ‘my fast’ again it wouldn’t ever take away from the fact that I once did. Wherever you are right now is good enough, and as long as you maxed out on your effort level in that scenario then you’ve done everything you set out to do! I knew I was maxing out on giving it everything I had, and I was so happy for that. In those moments, my mental strength showed me how much I’ve grown as a marathoner.
Martine of course didn’t leave my side, and although I had to dig deep in to the pain train, a smile never left my face. I was running a marathon again; and unless you’ve once had and then lost that ability for any length of time you won’t get how that feels. By 32km, I was struggling to hold my pace. I knew I had 5km to go before seeing friends and then a little over 5km to go the finish from there. So I sliced it up in to 2 park runs. Seeing friends cheer is the best, but seeing Becca and Lou especially lifted me, they both get it, and I cried and hugged them because I knew they knew what it meant for me to be out there.
5km to the finish, although my watch was wildly out of sync so I’d end up running an additional .6 of a mile somehow! The crowd support here where you need them most was probably my most disappointing part of the day; I’ve never known such a lack of noise so close to a finish line. If I think of the last 5k in Brighton as an example, it’s the craziest sea of noise to carry you to the end, and I needed that crowd support bad. It’s not until you turn the corner and your eyes set on the Brandenburg gate that the volume picks up! Note the Gate is not the finish, my watch had long ticked over 26.2 and I couldn’t believe how far after the gate you have to keep running. It was the longest stretch of sleepy leg time I’d ever experienced, and if you’d kicked it up gear for a sprint finish before the gate, there’s no way you’d keep it up to the end .
I’d done it!
I cried hard like the strong ass woman that I am. I hugged my friend and thanked her for the selfless performance she’d put in by staying with me, when she had everything in her to go harder.
I was emotional for all the reasons you’re emotional in a marathon, but for so many more. There is so much that goes on outside of blogs and posts and pictures. I have been broken this year, tested in ways that I don’t often feel I deserve, I rise to them the best I can, but I also am human, and I bend and break, and do stupid shit, and feel real things in real ways. When I run 26.2 or 26.8 in my case, I am reminded of the immense strength that I have. That reminder that against all the odds I can still come out fighting gets me through so much more than just running miles. It makes me who I am. Every single marathon delivers you something, a new perspective, something to fight for, something to go hard after. I’m in love with the way it challenges me and changes me. This moment refocused my mind about what I want, and how I’m going to get to that place. I very nearly typed get back to that place, but there is no going back, there is only going forward.
I posted after the race that this was by far my personal best effort, and I stick by that. The time is just numbers written on a page, that don’t add up to times I’ve run before. But what I did in Berlin far surpasses a perfect training block and a perfect race. I fought for so long just to be on that start line, and then I carried on fighting for 4 hours and 14 minutes, to make sure I crossed the finish line with my head held high.
Kev found us and I gave him a huge hug, I knew he was hurting, but that’s not my story to tell. He did what I expected he would and shifted focus telling me how well I’d done. I asked him questions about his race and we both agreed we didn’t want to spend the rest of the day sobbing, so we parked those for another time/place and headed for a pint/5.
Sunday came and went and Monday was spent strolling the city streets, finding roads we thought would have been better/prettier/more interesting to run down. Our flight was leaving Poland at 10:30 so we left Berlin in plenty of time at 18:30. We drove to within 4 minutes of our destination on the sat nav when I turned to Kev and said ‘this doesn’t look like where we flew in to’, realising quickly that we were in fact not going to the right airport at all! We had an hour before our flight left and some 40km in the other direction to the correct airport. It was time for the second marathon of the trip, albeit by car! Heart rates were through the roof as we raced through the streets of Poland. Thank god for tiny airports, as we got there with about 20 minutes to spare, running form the hire car drop off, they let us straight through security to get on the plane – thanks for that one mate!
All in all Berlin is a great fast and flat* marathon, the course is interesting enough, the start and finish line feels are good, but know it’s busy, super super busy, and the crowd supports a little tired.
Now it’s time to rest my legs as I have another 26.2 in 5 days…
*definitely felt a few gradual inclines