My apologies for this being a week-and-a-half late but I wanted to make sure I had enough time and energy to tell the complete story of my Berlin Marathon experience. Given my journalism experience, I won’t bury the lead.
My goal for this race was to run a personal best time. I felt my training plan and fitness level would allow me to run under 2 hours, 49 minutes, 21 seconds that I ran in Boston in 2014. I succeeded! I ran 2 hours, 48 minutes, 48 seconds! I set a new PR (personal record) by 33 seconds. And I did it in so-so weather conditions. The temperature was in the mid to upper-50s for the race which was fantastic but it rained before and during part of the race which left the streets wet. The rain also led to thicker and more humid air. This killed any chance the elites had at finishing under two hours and also derailed an attempt at breaking the official world record of 2:02:57. The winner, Eliud Kipchoge, still ran 2:03:32 which is one of the fastest times ever run.
I didn’t feel the rain or thicker air slowed me down that much. The rain was light and didn’t fog up my glasses or hinder me in any way other than getting me wet which I dealt with. I wasn’t going to let some water derail a chance at setting a PR. I did slow down more than usual during turns, however. That was to avoid slipping on the wet streets. There weren’t too many turns so I don’t think I lost a lot of time slowing down to make them.
Now that I got that out of the way, I’ll go in chronological order of the events leading up to and during the race.
ARRIVING IN BERLIN
The race was on Sunday, September 24th. My wife and I arrived in Berlin on Friday afternoon from Los Angeles. The time difference is nine hours. We got to the hotel and slept for hours and hours and hours and hours. We were tired from the long flight and jet-lagged. Before the marathon, I wanted to make sure I would be as rested as I could and if that meant sacrificing a day of sight-seeing then so be it. We slept until the early morning on Saturday. We both felt better. We ate a great breakfast at the hotel and headed to the marathon expo to pick up by bib, timing chip and shirt.
The wife and I arrived at the expo around 11am which was perfect because when we left about 90 minutes later, the line to get in was packed. The process to pick up my bib and timing chip was smooth. I headed to another room to get my shirt which is optional. The marathon doesn’t give everyone shirts. You have to pay extra for it. That wasn’t so bad because even with the shirt, the Berlin Marathon was still cheaper than New York, Chicago and Boston.
The expo had a lot of different booths. Running shoes, clothing, gear could all be bought. Reps from other marathons were there to promote their races. We got in some pictures, of course, which is part of the fun.
After the expo, we took a river boat cruise and did some sight-seeing. We ate dinner and went back to the hotel early so I could get lots of sleep. I was drinking water throughout the day to ensure I would be properly hydrated for the race. I set the alarm for 4:30am even though the race was to start at 9:15am. This would give me enough time to wake up, eat, make sure I have all that I need and give us enough time to get to the race. I didn’t sleep all that well though. I’m sure some of it was because of jet-lag and sleeping a lot the night before. Also, excitement and some nerves contributed. It was a big day.
I woke up around 4:30am. I rolled out of bed around 4:45am. I ate a banana and granola bar and drank a pre-race hydration drink which helps the body deal maintain energy during intense efforts.
We left the room around 6:15am and walked a few blocks to the subway station. The staging area to drop off my bag of clothes and other items was basically in a nice grassy area in front of the Reichstag which is where Germany’s lawmakers meet. It’s Germany’s Capitol Building basically. The race’s start and finish are about a quarter-mile apart on the same street in the city’s biggest park called the Tiergarten. The wife and I scouted the area so she could have an idea of where to watch the race and where to meet afterwards. This was a smart idea as she was not allowed into the staging area. I had to leave her around 7:30am or so. I parked myself near where I had to drop off my bag of warm-up clothes. I relaxed and drank beet juice. Yes, beet juice. Beet juice contains nitrates which open up blood vessels. This allows more energy to get to muscles. It helps me so I drink it. The earthy taste isn’t so bad.
I sat then started to do some static stretches around 8am or so. I had until 8:35am to drop all my stuff off but I wanted to head to the start (about 400 meters away) early so as not to get caught in a crowd. Around 8:15am, I took off my warm ups and dropped off my bag and headed to the start. I did finish my beet juice.
I did more warm up exercises after I got to the start. Because it was wet, I really didn’t get to sit. I didn’t want my shorts to be soaked. I didn’t feel nervous, really. I didn’t think much about strategy or anything beforehand. I didn’t want to clutter my mind and overthink the race. It wasn’t until I entered the corral 15 minutes before the race that I changed my mindset. I went from thinking about all kinds of stuff to focusing on the race. I told myself I could do set a PR. I reminded myself not to start too hard and to plan on a first mile of between 6:30 and 6:45. I then told myself I’d run around 6:30 per mile pace for the first 10 miles then pick it up the next 10 miles and then see what’s left for the final 6.2. I reminded myself to run my race and no one else’s. Don’t get caught up in the excitement.
It was exciting though. The crowd noise and the energy from the 39,000-plus runners could pump up the most stoic runner.
The gun sounded and the runners took off! It took my about 10 seconds or so to cross the start line after the gun went off. This was the quickest for me out of any big marathon. It was because I started in the B block right behind the sub-elite runners. The first major landmark you see is the Victory Column or Siegessaule. It’s a few hundred meters from the start. It’s in the middle of a traffic circle. Runners can go either left or right. I chose left since I was already on the left side of the road. I felt in control despite the initial excitement of starting another major marathon. My first mile was too fast–6:24. I didn’t want to burn all my energy so early. I slowed down the second mile and ran 6:37. I felt better about that. I noticed a lot of runners passed me during the first 5k of the race. A lot. This didn’t bother me though. I wasn’t going to go with them and disrupt my plan. I also thought I’d probably catch many of them later in the race. I was right.
There were no mile markers during the race, only kilometer markings because metric system. Germany doesn’t use miles. There are 42.2 kilometers in a marathon. My GPS watched vibrated each mile so it was no big deal. I figured out early in the race that I would need to average 4:00 for each kilometer. It’s harder to do math later in the race as you fatigue.
I felt comfortable early. My pacing was good. After the third mile, I started to run under 6:30 per mile consistently. Between miles 4 and 21, I ran each one under 6:28 except for a 6:30 mile 8.
A light rain poured early in the race and lasted for 30 minutes to an hour maybe. It was hard to tell. The streets were wet so I tried to avoid puddles as I didn’t want wet shoes. They are uncomfortable and can possibly cause blisters.
The wet conditions didn’t derail my pacing. I ate a GU energy gel around the 5.5 mile mark and got water every three miles or so. My legs felt good for the first 10 miles and so did my mindset. I ran those first 10 miles in roughly 1 hour, 4 minutes. I felt good about that.
MIDDLE OF THE RACE
For miles 11 to 20, I decided to pick up the pace a bit. It worked. I ran miles 12 to 14 under 6:20. I crossed the halfway point at 1 hour, 24 minutes, 18 seconds. This put me on PR pace but not by a lot. I had to make sure I didn’t slow down too much in the second half.
I made sure my pacing was around 4:00 per kilometer. It was. The crowd noise and people shouting my name carried me forward. I ate a second GU around mile 11 and a third around mile 17. I usually try to take GU energy gels to replenish carbs and other nutrients lost during the race every 5.5 miles or so. I crossed mile 20 under 2 hours, 8 minutes. I believe it was around 2:07:20 or 2:07:30. This was good. I ran the second 10 miles of the race faster. I had 10k left.
FINAL 6.2 MILES
The Berlin Marathon is flat. Knowing this, I knew I didn’t have to hold anything in the reserve tank to prepare for an incline. I also know the final 6.2 miles are usually tough for me as I tend to slow down more than I’d like. Physical fatigue sets in but so does the mental fatigue. You feel you’re so close to the finish but yet you have a few more miles to go. That can be a little disheartening because you’re starting to ache more in the legs and want to finish ASAP. Physically, my legs were starting to get more achy but they still felt stronger at the 20-mile mark than they have at any other marathon. I was encouraged by this as the mental fatigue that started to creep in didn’t affect me as much as it has in other marathons.
I did, however, slow down. Miles 22 through 25 ranged from 6:31 to 6:36. I didn’t like this but I knew I banked some time the previous 10 miles that a slowdown wouldn’t kill a chance at a PR. I could feel the end was near but I still knew I had some work to do to ensure a PR. It wasn’t going to be easy.
Since I could feel the PR was in reach, I gave the last 1.2 miles everything I could. I ran through the famous Brandenburg Gate feeling about as good as I could with 400 to 500 meters left in a marathon. I could hear the crowd near the finish line roaring. I ran mile 26 in 6:13 which was my fastest for the whole race. I saw my wife about 250 meters before the finish and waved. I ran the final .2 miles at a 5:50 per mile pace according to my watch as I crossed the finish line in 2:48:48. I ran my fourth World Major Marathon under three hours. I did it! A new PR! 672nd place overall and 163rd in the 35-39 age group for men.
Euphoria gave way to pain quickly after I crossed the finish line. My legs were achy and sore. The walk was slow and tough back to pick up my bag. Every step was painful despite the thrill of setting a PR. It was a good pain though if such a thing exists. It was pain that told me I worked long and hard for this accomplishment. Training for a marathon is a grind and a slog at times. It’s grueling and feels like it’ll never end. But it does and the reward is the sense of knowing your hard work, mental and physical preparation, execution and focus all lead to accomplishing a goal. It wasn’t easy to run a 2:48:48. I had to train for weeks, some of them away from home. I woke up at 2:45am on two days just to train. I dealt with hot, humid weather and nagging little aches and minor injuries. I dealt with being tired and not wanting to run. But I forced myself to get out of the door. I had some bad runs that forced me to stop before I could finish. I learned bad days are ok if you learn from them and keep them to a minimum. I also learned good days show your potential. All in all, I stuck to overall plan and it worked.
WHAT NOW AND AFTER?
My wife and I explored Berlin, Prague and Zurich before returning home. I didn’t run after the race. I wanted to give my body time to recover before I start again, which will probably be tomorrow. But it’ll be an easy run.
I plan to run local 5ks and 10ks along with a half marathon or two coming up. The next race probably won’t be until November at the earliest. As for marathons, I have to run Tokyo and London to complete my 6-star journey. Tokyo won’t happen next year. I may run London in April but probably as a charity runner which I will look forward to doing as I’d like my running to help a good cause. I could skip London and run the Paris Marathon in April. It’s not a World Major but it is a big marathon and one I want to run at some point. I’m eyeing the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis/St. Paul next October. That’s another popular marathon here in the United States. For right now, I’m just going to relax and not worry about racing or focused training. I’ll start to figure all that out in a couple of weeks. Right now, I want to enjoy my accomplishment and new medal before I’m on to my next goal.
Running With You,