I am delighted to report that I completedthe marathon on Sunday in a new personal best time of 03hrs39mins, shaving just5 minutes off my previous time in Edinburgh this May.
It was an absolutely beautiful day. Not acloud in the sky. A bit nippy in the early morning but warming up by the timewe arrived at Brandenburg Gate at about 07h45. The we I refer to is my mateGuy, who I tempted back in January to run with me.
We arrived at our apartment – found througha great new internet startup you should definitely check out called http://www.airbnb.com – at about 01h00 onSaturday morning after a difficult trip from the airport. Notions of Germanefficiency were laid to waste by an airport train station devoid of any Englishsignage, useful information or English-speaking food kiosk operator who gave adamn. So we jumped on a train and hoped like hell we could make the change ofline at that time of night we needed to. Thankfully we could.
Saturday involved a very humorous earlymorning trip around Berlin trying to find a pub that was showing the All Black/ France match. Second big let down on the old German efficiency tag was abizarre discovery that the S and U bahns do not accept Visa which helps
FAvery little when you are in crazed dash for an important RWC game. They only acceptMastercard and some other obscure card type we’d never seen before – a cause ofmuch frustration given that all our cards just happened to be Visa.
After catching the last 30 minutes of thegame, we headed over to the marathon exhibition at the decommissioned Tempelhofairport to collect our race numbers. One of the best things about the Berlinmarathon is the Alkoholfrei Erdinger beer which tastes almost exactly like thereal thing. We managed to find a stand quite early after our arrival so wetucked into one of those without feeling any guilt about possible negativeeffects on the old pre-race hydration routine. After picking up what we needed,we headed outside onto the old abandoned tarmac to grab a real beer and somegrub.
Yes – pasta and bread were the order of theday and pretty good pasta at that. So we sat in the sun quaffing beer, eatingpasta and talking about the next day, with Guy nervously contemplating whetherhe should swap his race number for one for the Inline skating (rollerblading)event that also takes place.
From there we took a lovely walk along theRiver Spree from Alexanderplatz to Friedrichstrasse and eventually picked aspot at a riverside restaurant for an early pasta dinner before retiring to ourapartment for race preparation (pinning number to top, affixing race chips toshoes etc) and early bedtime. And with no overnight change in clocks to get mein a paranoid OCD tizz like New York last November, we managed to get to sleepat a very respectable 21h00.
Wake up time was 05h30, leaving ample timebefore we left the apartment for my important pre-race preparation of:
-As big a bowl of porridge as Ican tolerate
-A bowel movement to avoid theneed during the race
Achieving both early morning goals was toprove a good sign of things ahead and we set off to the start full of nervousenergy. The U-Bahn was abuzz with excited runners and after just 10 odd minuteswe exited into glorious sunshine at Brandenburg Gate at about 08h00.
The next hour, interspersed with inanenervous banter, was broken down roughly into the following activities:
10 minutes berating the ‘German efficiency’tag again – mainly me – compared to other marathons there were very sparse andconfusing instructions as to what one had to do and where one had to go
10 minutes looking for bag drop off point –as a result of point above
20 minutes warming up
10 minutes solid urination – noexaggeration – not one long wee, but about 20 short ones
10 minutes waking may to start
I apologise sincerely for bringing up theold pre-race toilet routine again, but I had so many wee’s before the race thatI think I probably set a new Guinness World Record and at one stage I feared mykidneys might be packing it in. Having thankfully returned to a normal patternduring the race and thereafter, the only thing I can assign the earlier frequencyto is nerves because I simply wasn’t putting in as much as was coming out.
Thankfully too the Germans have a far morelaissez faire attitude to urinating in the bushes, hedges, and general grassfor that matter. There was a distinct lack of toilets or urinals when wearrived and knowing that I can function a bit like a human sieve at times, Ifeared a painful build up. At London and Edinburgh, despite not having enoughtoilets, repeated warnings are made over the tannoy that runners weeing in thebushes must respect the surrounds, use the facilities and if caught will havetheir race numbers removed. In Berlin despite it being the park right in frontof two of the cities most famous landmarks – the Reichstag and the BrandenburgGate, no such warnings were forthcoming and the park and surrounding busheswere treated by men and woman alike as one giant toilet – as sometimes I thinknature intended it.
The start of the race runs down the mainroad through the park and towards the Siegesaule or Victory column – abeautiful monument in the middle of a roundabout – see Wikipedia -BerlinVictoryColumn, and in the glorious sunshine of this crystal clearday, the crowd clapped in the countdown of the start of my group.
I had decided the night before that Ireally wanted to try and do all I could to set a new Personal Best time. Myprevious best, established in Edinburgh in May of this year, was 3hrs43mins. Ialso have a personal goal to break 3hr30mins for a single marathon whereafter Ican relax a bit on the time component of my marathon running and just enjoy aslightly more easy sub-four hour goal thereafter.
My training had gone fairly well andstatistics have Berlin as one of the fastest, if not the fastest marathon inEurope so I formulated what I think was a distinctly sensible plan of running a3.35 pace and if things went well – tally ho – I could try and make up those 5minutes at the tail end of the race in an effort to break 3.30.
Things started well and after 1 kilometre Ifell in behind 2 guys who were checking their watches regularly and running atthe pace I wanted if not a little faster. I decided it would be more pleasantto just focus on them and be paced by them then to focus on my own watch.
And that is exactly what I did for thefirst 20km until my pace runners split up and my solitary wee break required meto pull over into the bushes. I was going well so far. Legs were feeling good,I was breathing well and there were no signs of the pesky stitches that I havebeen getting on the odd run since Edinburgh.
The race course, which was to be mirroredin the second half, consisted of a lot of very long straight avenues lined oneach side by tall buildings, punctuated every now and then by a landmark. Incomparison to NYC, it definitely lacked the grandeur of the big bridges thatyou cross and the distinctly different areas of the various suburbs of NewYork. In that respect it was unfortunately a little underwhelming. With all theinteresting landmarks and history of the city and the juxtaposition of thebeautiful old architecture with some of the new modern post-war buildings, Iwould have thought we would run along a more interesting route somehow. Butthat said it was still lovely and the shade that the buildings cast over theavenues was much needed and very welcome on the hot day.
One thing that I really disliked about themarathon was the water stops. On the other marathons I’ve run, the waster hasbeen dispensed in small 250ml plastic bottles. These are really easy to carrywhile you run, allowing you to consume the contents over some distance withoutspilling and really easy to drink from too. In Berlin, they dispense the waterin these really thin poxy little plastic cups – the very cheapest kind youwould expect to find by one of those office water dispensers. This meant youcouldn’t carry the cup very far without losing all the water and trying todrink while you ran, despite my very best efforts, was impossible without spillinghalf of the cup over your front. It really was a poor way of doing it that costme time and meant I had to plan the consumption of my energy gels verystrategically to coincide with water stops rather than just being able to keepa bottle with me and then consume the gel as and when desired.
As I eased into the second half of therace, I was feeling strong and keen to keep up my pace so that I didn’t have tobust a gut at the end. I always consider kilometres 25-35 the business end ofthe marathon. You have enough distance behind you to work out how you arefeeling and how you think you might be able to maintain till the end, while atthe same time having enough still to do that you want to make sure you don’ttire or drop your pace. And that particular part of the race went well andseemed to go really quickly. I got into a bit of a zone, monitoring my paceclosely on my Garmin watch and making sure I kept on track.
Nothing particularly exciting happenedduring that time and coming into the last 7 kilometres I started doing a fewbackwards calculations to predict my finishing time and realised I had to ruleout a 3hr30min finish completely. It became evident too that if I didn’t workhard over the last 7, I might miss out on coming in under 3hr40 too.
So I upped the tempo a bit and while thekilometres were ticking by fairly quickly, I found my mind wandering a bit andthinking I’d already covered such a big distance and could feel chuffed with atime under 3hr50. And I found myself searching the route ahead all the time foreach KM marker so I could keep ticking them off one by one. When I passedPotsdamer Platz, I knew there was only just over 1.5 km to go and that I neededto move. Rounding the corner onto the final long avenue, there was the BrandenburgGate and the end of the race. Though in terms of final calculations, I couldn’tdetermine whether the finish line was under the big Erdinger inflatablespanning the avenue, under Brandenburg Gate a little further on, or worse,beyond Brandenburg Gate. Of course if happened to be the furthest and I movedwith Cheetah-like athleticism through the last few hundred metres. A lamecheetah pulling a cart more like it.
I crossed the line at 3hr39mins, justscraping home under that goal time – very chuffed with a new personal best andthe completion of my 3rd out of the 5 major world marathons.
Looks like I will have to save the3hr30mins attempt for another day.
After some decent stretching and thecollection of my bag, I quaffed an Alcohol Free Erdinger, one of the greatthings about the Berlin marathon before heading home for a quick shower and thecollection of Gina Osborne before returning to the finish line to cheer Guy in,who finished in a very respectable 5hr45mins. Massive kudos to my great matewho took up my challenge and did it, despite a late training injury that meanthe couldn’t run for the last few weeks.
All in all it was a fabulous weekend andanother notch on the old marathon belt.