The 42nd BMW Berlin Marathon or…
How not to “hit the wall” in Berlin…
When I took up running in the spring of 2012 my goal was to run the Amsterdam Half marathon that October, something I thought of as almost unachievable. Unable to run before due to breaks and fractures, I trained on the dreadmill of the Virgin Active Barbican day after day until I was able to run my first race, the BUPA London 10K in May, the one that hooked me in, tapped the vein and turned me into a race junkie. A few more 10s were completed over the course of the next 6 months, as was an unexpected tester at my target distance, at the Royal Parks half and, when it finally came to Amsterdam, I was ready. I even ran it despite my leg being strapped up with the kind of bandage you would ordinarily see on a shire horse.
Fast forward 6 months, and twenty races, including the Semi de Paris, and runs in Edinburgh and the US, plus another BUPA London, and I was ready for a marathon, or at least the challenge of getting ready for one, and so booked a place at the Berlin Marathon 2013, incidentally the last year before it went completely ballot based. I ran a lot that year, but playing around with shoes and lack of any real training meant I picked a lot of injuries, was bitten by something nasty on a Thames Path run that knocked me on my ass, and ultimately was too injured and too unprepared for the marathon. It has been my biggest regret in running, and as I sat in Gendarmenmarkt with a giant beer watching the tail runners walk by at KM40 back in September 2013 I thought I could have limped around in 6 hours or so.
And so the Berlin marathon became my nemesis, the race I had to complete for closure. Sure I had DNSd a few times, a dozen in that year of sickness, divorce, and injury, but this was THE BIG ONE. And I swore that it would be my first marathon regardless of how many other 10Ks, 10Ms and halves I ran. And so I entered the ballot in 2014. No dice. And was about to for this year, when Pancreatic Cancer UK asked me if I would fill one of their charity spots. The game was finally on.
Here are the plans. In the end the pattern of Tuesday 10K, Thursday 10K, with those including hills, or sprints, or fartlek training, parkrun on Saturday, and either a race or a LSR on Sunday really did work. I ended up blowing away all PBs (1K, 1M, 5K, 10K, half, furthest run, and longest time running) in the build-up.
And so to the trip. I have been to Berlin several times before. I do love the city. I have visited all the museums, found all the good places to eat, and even taken friends and loved ones around there a few times. The Currywurst museum has been the venue for giant French fry related japes, Check Point Charlie has been snapped, the Wall museum, the DDR museum and it’s virtual wall, curtain of steam (still don’t know what that is about) and Trebant you can sit in, the Bauhaus Museum, the cathedral and surrounding museums, food at 1840 at Hackescher markt, all amazing. In short, I know my Berlin. So there was no real plan to do any open topped bus tour, or shop at KaDeWe. I was there for the sole purpose of a completely relaxed overseas marathon weekend starting, as they do, with the EXPO.
|Graffiti at the DDR Museum virtual wall for my virtual running community|
I have been to many EXPOs. It is the given for the larger races, and all those foreign races where they do not send out your race packs. If you have not experienced a big one I highly recommend it, and the Berlin EXPO, at the disused Templehof airport, was HUGE.
The numbers were in Hanger 5 apparently, and so I walked by Brooks, and Asics, and the Riga Marathon, and the Tromso Night Marathon tents, and On, and On, and On before arriving at a large line of people queuing in front of a cardboard replica of the Brandenburg Gate.
|The British are supreme queuers|
This queue was slow moving and eventually made it to the gate to be told “runners only from this point.” This point turned out to be another zig-zagging queue that lasted for a further quarter of an hour or so. And at the end, did I get my number? No. This queue was to get the blue runner wristband that allowed you to…. Hold on, what did the wristband actually mean? From what I recall, it made no difference at all. Next room, and another queue, I finally got my number. 3 queues to get a number.
From there it actually got worse. The next bit was the runner only Adidas store for competitors. You could get all manner of race related clothing, well green tee, yellow tee, green windcheater, yellow windcheater, black hoodie with the race emblem and name emblazoned on it. The problem, well one of many problems, was that this area was so terribly laid out that the runners were falling over each other to look at the merchandise.
|10% tills, 70% queue, 20% oversized merchandise|
Now, the merchandise, as I got to it, was so poorly planned that only XXL and XXXL was left. There were no mediums, no smalls. Let me tell you about runners, 90% of them are M or S. When I finally found a M, in a hoodie I didn’t really want, and would have bought out of pure desperation, I started following the mass of people that zigzagged through the queuing system and out, taking up over half of the Adidas store. The queue, as I did eventually find the end, went as far as the edge of the shop so I gave up and dumped the hoodie and left miserable.
Things did get better though. I picked up a Berlin t-shirt (black with a pink skyline) that will be ideal for the Run with Girls (my next race). And, after grumpily stomping around, after chatting with the ING Luxembourg Night races peeps (excellent event that one), I walked back through the hangers, back outside by the inline skaters, and out the first room where I noticed the race tees at the information desk. They had all sizes for both sexes and so I got one. Job done. Just a lot of stress in the meantime.
Oh, apparently the race is so big it has it’s own mascot (I am thinking back to the pengiun at the Two Oceans).
On a side note; the same merchandise was also available at the Adidas Store in the West side of the city but, as I went by, the queue was out the store and along the street. Inside looked like a jumble sale. Clothing was discarded, and thrown all over the place. There was no way I was going in for a memento.
Although we were not off, as there was a huge bottle neck at the exit of the castle before we could start up residential streets all the way to the stadium.
The breakfast run is called so because, well, it is in the morning and at the end you get breakfast. This sounded great in the land of cheese and meat and beer but in the end was rather disappointing dry brioche, donuts, bananas and a strawberry yogurt drink. Nothing I would normally eat, especially at breakfast.
UKRUNCHAT TWEETUP 1.
|We like cake!|
Caffeinated Jelly Belly jelly beans
A mini mars bar I was given at The Martian exhibit at the Humbolt Museum the day before
Gu gel (lemon and lime, my old go to flavour)
Torq gel (raspberry ripple, never tried before, and now my favourite)
A small running bottle of coke, that I dumped on the way to the start
Some jelly babies
And so physically it was fine, and my plan worked, although I did use the water tables more than planned as it was a hot day. I guess we should all have a plan, but realise that circumstances may well make you need to adapt it and I ran until KM37 when, as you can see from the reddening of the line, things slowed down. I felt I could run, but I didn’t want to burn out, especially so close to the line. I was under my 6 min/KM plan for much of the way. Although if you look at the splits the slowdowns all coincide with water tables and almost stopping to avoid fellow runners and the sea of plastic cups all over the wet ground. They gave apple slices and bananas, which were good. Tee, but not as we know it, was served from time to time, although it was the spiced apple tea you get at German Christmas markets, and the foulest of energy drinks.
I finished my first marathon in 4:38, although it measured long and my Nike+ says 4:34, half hour slower than I wanted, but I know I can take 45 mins off that and now have at least one opportunity to do so at Copenhagen in May. I also felt good finishing it, I felt comfortable. Was it easy? I do not think running for over 4 hours is easy, but I finished, got my medal and walked back to the hotel to shower, change and go out.
It is not brilliant, to be fair, on par with the BUPA/Great Run medals we get every year but it is precious to me in the same way my first medal, the BUPA London 10K, and my first half, Royal Parks, is. They prove to me that somehow I managed to do it.
Oh, and I forgot to hand in the damned timing chip (AGAIN!) and so have been charged for it.
So would I run it again? It was an amazing race, superbly supported etc and you can see why it is one of the majors but no.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
(Infinitely more scary)