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BERLIN MARATHON SUCCESS!!! A Review and Recap

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.

MARATHON EXPO

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.

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Me posing with my race bib. Spectators did shout my name during the race. It was cool!
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Behind me are medals from the six World Major Marathons. I now have four. Two to go!
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The ultimate prize! By 2019 or 2020, I’m hoping I’ll have one of my own.

 

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.

MARATHON MORNING

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.

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Me in my marathon “uniform” before the race. Minutes before departure.

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.

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Pre-race selfie. Reichstag in the background. Do I look nervous?

 

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.

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The wife! She found a spot near the finish. Brandenburg Gate in the background. She looks happy because she just ate a banana nutella crepe. Isn’t she cute?

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.

RACE START

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.

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Me posing with my medal after the race. My legs were sore and achy.

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,

Donald

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One Day Away Until the Berlin Marathon!

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Berlin, Germany less than 24 hours before the Berlin Marathon. My wife and I called it an early day to make sure we get enough rest before the race. I need it for the actual run. She needs it because it takes a lot of work to deal with me and make sure I’m good to go 😉 I joke..sort of. But without her support, I don’t accomplish my goals.

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That’s me after picking up my race bib. If you download the Berlin Marathon app you can track me during the race by typing in my name or bib number which is above.

Mentally, I feel ready to go. I’m relaxed right now and am not worrying myself about time or place performance. I’ll review my strategy in my head when I start to warm up tomorrow morning. No point in exhausting myself now thinking about it. I’m going to take the same approach I did at the New York City Marathon in November. That approach is to enjoy the moment and each mile of this journey.  I soaked in the loud crowds and told myself how great it was to be able to run through such a big city.  I think that attitude carried me through the race.

Physically, I feel much better. My left hamstring is just about pain-free though it is a bit tender in some parts. I’ll work on massaging the area tonight. My calves are tight so I’ll continue to stretch them.

I enjoy both small races and major races. They have their own charm as well as positives and negatives. Usually, the positives outweigh the negatives. A major race like this has great crowd support. Spectators are loud and encouraging. They do a great job of helping push the runners. I’m going to use that to my advantage.

Do I have any predictions about my performance? No. I’m not going there. The weather is great for running and I feel mentally and physically ready due to all my training but I can’t predict what I’ll do. Lots of things have to go right to run a great marathon. Sometimes, things just happen like cramps so all I’ll say is that I’m ready to do the best I can do.

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I’m starting close to the front in the B block. Maybe I can catch a glimpse of the elites before they take off way, way far ahead of me.

Running With You,

Donald

 

Berlin Marathon Training Week #19 Day 4 Training Done!!! Onto Berlin!!!

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Mostly cloudy, 68 degrees, 75% humidity

Type of Run: Tempo

Length: 4.06 miles

Type of route: mostly flat with gradual uphill and downhill

Time: 26 minutes, 53 seconds

Pace per mile: 6:37

Reason for Run: This was a short tempo run designed to give my legs a little bit of work before the race. The goal is just to have a short higher-intensity run. I kept the pace slower than a normal tempo run though just because my left hamstring has been sore.

How did I feel? Fine. My hamstring was sore still so the run was a little awkward but it wasn’t bad. I am now finished with training! I probably will not run before the race as I will give my legs and hamstring a chance to rest. At this point, whatever training gains I made in this long cycle are already there. Running in the next few days will not help me make up for anything. I also won’t lose any fitness either. I have to have faith in my training and that I did what was necessary to run the best I can. Basically, my body is primed and ready. I will continue to massage and foam roll my hamstring. There shouldn’t be any soreness on Sunday for the race. At least I hope not. I’m excited but it still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m running in the Berlin Marathon. If all goes to plan, there’s a good chance I could run a personal best. I just have to make sure I load up on carbs, drink lots of water and stay humble during the race. A marathon can wreck a person who comes into it overconfident. I need to run smart, pace myself, start slow and buildup so I can have the physical and mental strength to gut out the last several miles. This should be quite the adventure!

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Post-New York City Marathon selfie. This was taken maybe 30 minutes or so after the race. I remember the feelings of exhilaration, excitement and exhaustion. Note the white stuff on my forehead is actually salt that was sweat out of my body. That’s what happens when you run for that long. 

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #19 Day 3 A Nice Short, Sore Run

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Cloudy, 71 degrees, 65% humidity

Type of Run: Easy

Length: 5.34 miles

Type of route: gradual uphill and downhill, one uphill climb and one downhill descent

Time: 38 minutes, 54 seconds

Pace per mile: 7:17

Reason for Run: This is an easy run meant to keep the legs active less than a week before the marathon.

How did I feel? Fine. There was no more stiffness in my lower hamstring. However, my groin, upper hamstring and a butt muscle were sore, likely from overcompensating and overworking them on the run the day before. The soreness is not a great concern as I expect it to go away after a few days. The soreness did cause some discomfort on the run though. However, my muscles did loosen as the run progressed so the discomfort decreased.

I will continue to massage the area and take care of it so I can be completely free of discomfort for the race. The fun begins after my last run. Then, it’s packing and making sure I have absolutely everything I will or might need for the race.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #19 Day 2 Testing the Waters

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Partly cloudy, 73 degrees, 65% humidity

Type of Run: Semi-long

Length: 11 miles

Type of route: gradual uphill and gradual downhill, one downhill descent and one hill climb

Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, 49 seconds

Pace per mile: 7:21

Reason for Run: This is the last run of 10+ miles I will do before the marathon. The goal is to run for over an hour just to keep the legs moving. The mileage was reduced from a traditional long run to keep the legs from getting worn out with less than a week to go before the big race.

How did I feel? Decent. I had to shut down my planned interval session the day before due to lower hamstring soreness. I wanted to be extra cautious and not cause a muscle strain so close to the race. The muscle didn’t bother me all day and there was no lingering soreness or tenderness. This is much different than when I hurt my thigh muscles in the same leg. That pain and tenderness was felt at times throughout the day. Fortunately, that went away. I knew this current soreness could not be a muscle strain or pull but, possibly, from minor cramping. I can run after cramping though the muscles that cramped are generally sore for a few days afterward.

I decided to test things. If I could make it through the warm-up process then I could make it on the run. I did my warm-up routine and that went fine. I went for my 1K warm-up run. Immediately, I felt a dull discomfort and some stiffness in the lower hamstring. Since it wasn’t painful, just not comfortable, I decided I could continue on the planned run but would stop if the discomfort turned to pain. The lower hamstring stiffness started to loosen about three miles into the run and didn’t really cause any problems. There was no real pain either. I finished the entire run. I felt fine afterwards except I believe the stiffness caused me to overcompensate and use other muscles in my leg more than I would normally because one of my butt muscles, groin and upper hamstring are now sore. However, this soreness is very superficial and is DOMS. I suspect I should feel fine in a few days. I will massage the area and make sure the muscles are loose. Even though I have soreness and stiffness, I ran because, through experience, I felt my body could handle it. However, I still have to be smart and make sure I can recover and be without soreness for the race.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #19 Day 1 Taper Time Workout Shutdown Scare

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Cloudy, 72 degrees, 60% humidity

Type of Run: Intervals

Length: 0.5 miles (supposed to have been 6 x 800 meters)

Type of route: 400-meter oval track

Time: 2 minutes, 55 seconds

Pace per mile: 5:50

Reason for Run: This is traditionally the last speed workout I do before a marathon. It’s short and helps with leg turnover since the pace is usually around 5k to 10k race pace. Basically, it’s a small tune-up before the big race.

How did I feel? I had to shut it down due to pain in my lower hamstring next to my knee. I started to feel a little discomfort there while doing some pre-workout strides. It got worse during my first 800-meter rep. When I attempted the second rep, I felt the pain get a little worse after the first turn. I decided to stop out of an abundance of caution since the race is in one week. The last thing I need is to stubbornly power through a workout then strain my hamstring so I can’t run a race I’ve been training for the past several months. I don’t believe this pain is serious or a hamstring strain or pull. I’ve had those a couple times over the past several years. I’m not sure though if the pain is the result either of some cramping. It could be what’s called a running niggle. That’s a minor pain that one can run through. Having had pulled hamstrings before, I didn’t want to take that chance to power through anything so I stopped the workout. This is frustrating and, admittedly, I’m a bit nervous about the pain (despite my thinking it’s not major) considering I’ve been training for so long to run a race on a different continent. I’m going to rest today and reassess tomorrow to see if I can complete my planned 11 to 12-mile run. If I did have to shut things down entirely and not run until the race, I could without really losing any fitness. I just would rather stick to my planned schedule though.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #18 Day 5 Winding Down With An Easy Run

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Cloudy, 72 degrees, 60% humidity

Type of Run: Easy

Length: 6.04 miles

Type of route: Some gradual uphill and downhill along with some flat parts

Time: 44 minutes, 1 second

Pace per mile: 7:17

Reason for Run: This was an easy and relaxed run during taper time. I’m significantly rolling back my mileage this week and next week so I felt 6 miles was a good distance today.

How did I feel? Good. I took it easy and felt in control. My legs felt fine. Taper time is welcome because intense marathon training can be grueling and exhausting so reducing mileage feels good. However, there’s also a little nervousness, anxiousness and excitement about the upcoming race which is in a week-and-a-half. I keep checking the weather for Berlin too. I want to make sure the conditions will be nice for marathon racing. Weather plays a bigger and bigger role in performance the longer the run. A 75-degree day that’s sunny sounds ideal for a lot of people. However, for a marathon, that’s hot. So far so good for the forecast in Berlin. It looks like it’ll be in the 50s to low 60s during the race. That would be fantastic.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #18 Day 4 A 10K Tempo Run

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Sunny, 71 degrees, 65%-70% humidity with a 60-degree dew point

Type of Run: Tempo

Length: 6.21 miles

Type of route: Rose Bowl loop (gradual uphill and downhill)

Time: 37 minutes, 54 seconds

Pace per mile: 6:06

Reason for Run: A tempo run is a comfortably hard run designed to help the body get used to intense racing conditions. If you want to race well, your body has to be able to handle the increased intensity. It can’t do that if you don’t run hard sometimes during training. I had been running 8 to 12-mile tempo runs recently but cut it back down to 6 because it’s taper time.

How did I feel? Good. I felt the pacing was solid. My mile splits ranged from 5:59 to 6:14, with the first mile being the slowest. My legs felt good and I could tell they appreciate the decrease in mileage. I was happy with the time as it shows me a personal best is possible in Berlin.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #18 Day 3 Taper Time!!

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Sunny, 75 degrees, 59% humidity

Type of Run: Easy

Length: 5.08 miles

Type of route: some gradual uphill and downhill, one uphill climb and one downhill descent

Time: 37 minutes, 26 seconds

Pace per mile: 7:22

Reason for Run: The purpose of this run was to take it easy a day after running 16 miles. This run lets me work the legs and get in a run but without the strain of longer runs. Usually, these runs are 6 to 6.5 miles but since I’m tapering I cut the length down to 5 miles.

How did I feel? Fine. I felt a little better than yesterday as far as being tired. I started this run feeling slightly sluggish but that went away after the first mile. I kept the pace nice and controlled and didn’t push it.

Running With You,

Donald

Berlin Marathon Training Week #18 Day 2 Last Long Run Before the Big Race

Location: Pasadena, CA.

Temperature: Sunset run so it got dark, 80 degrees, 50% humidity

Type of Run: Long

Length: 16.09 miles

Type of route: some flat areas, gradual uphill and downhill with one hill climb and one descent

Time: 2 hours, 10 seconds

Pace per mile: 7:28

Reason for Run: The long run builds endurance as well as increases muscle strength. It also helps improve blood circulation and increases capillary size so the blood can deliver much-needed nutrients to hard-working muscles. Running for a long time can be a mental grind too. It can be hard to stay focused for that long, especially if you are a busy person. The long run tests mental strength as well. If you can complete the grueling long run there’s a lot more you can accomplish too.

My last three long runs were of 20 miles or more. Since I’m tapering, I cut back the long run mileage to 16. Next week, the long run will only be 11 miles which isn’t even considered a marathon training long run. The purpose of this tapering is to make sure my legs are rested and recovered from training so I can race well in Berlin.

How did I feel? So-so again. The lack of quality sleep continues to affect me. I felt tired and not as energetic as usual. My legs were fatigued from the 12-mile run the day before and the 10 x 1-mile workout two days prior. Running on fatigued legs while training for a marathon can be good because you have to get used to running on tired legs if you want to run well the final 6 to 8 miles of a marathon. Also, the warmer weather and humidity doesn’t help. They zap your energy. This run will be the hardest of the week since I’m tapering. Less than two weeks until race day!

Running With You,

Donald