The Berlin Marathon – Race Report

This time last week, I had just completed the 39th Berlin Marathon. My first ever Marathon.

Almost a year ago, Hauling My Carcass beat his existing Half Marathon time and vowed that he would tackle a full marathon within the following year. I wished him well and said I’d come along and cheer him on. And then, over time, I began to wonder how I’d feel watching him finish a marathon whilst I stood on the sidelines. It wasn’t long before I’d decided that I would run the marathon too… we just needed to find one that met our requirements: European if possible, the ability to enter without a ballot and also as far into the future as possible but within 12 calendar months. Ideas were batted back and forth and eventually we settled on Berlin – There were places available and we had both heard good things about the race, so we signed up.

I was still in denial about the race until about May. I had been sent a 16 week training schedule that I could start in June and once it was started, I followed it as closely as I could. Psychologically, if others had used the same schedule successfully, there was no reason why it would not work for me.

The last few weeks before the race flew by – I still did not feel ready, my longest training run had been just under 34kms, I was bored of running to a schedule and checking paces and distances. I honestly didn’t know if I could do it.

Our flight to Berlin was early in the morning. Really early. We left for the airport at a little after 4a.m. Arriving in Berlin, we made our way to the apartment – far nicer than it looked online and well stocked with everything that we might need. Once settled in, it was off to the Expo to collect race numbers, timing chips and instructions. Suddenly, it all seemed very real and I struggled to sleep on Friday night as the thoughts of Sundays race filled my head. Saturday was spent doing as little as possible, we took a walk around Berlin but really just rested. And ate. Ate a lot. Saturday nights sleep was a lot sounder – I had convinced myself it was nothing but a “long run”. I’d decided on a time that I would be happy with, that I would aim to run to that time and to enjoy it as much as possible.

Sunday morning, race day. Breakfast was had and HMC and I set off at 7a.m. Getting to the race was fine and you soon realise what a massive event it really is. Baggage storage areas are the size of a small village, there are hundreds of portable toilets with thousands of people queuing. It is so big that after I dumped my bag, I lost HMC and had to make my way to the start alone. I would not see him again until the race was over. Joining the enormous throng at the start (split by expected finish time and whether you have ever run a marathon before – as a first-timer, I was in group H, the last to start). The race has a staggered start – bang on 9a.m. the elites and fast finishers set off…. I crossed the start line half an hour later.

I was conscious of setting off too fast so watched my pace from the outset. I neither wanted to go too fast and run out of steam before the end nor too slow and risk missing my intended time. The race is largely flat and well supported throughout. There are bottle necks where the field slows, but overall you are able to get some space, find your pace and stick to it. Bands and sound systems pepper the route and these, and the support from the crowd, spur you on. I love running in big cities and Berlin gives you plenty to see as you make your way around the 42.2km route. Water stations are frequent and well stocked with water, energy drinks and fruit – pieces of banana piled high on trestle tables, grabbed whilst passing.

I had a minor struggle at about 19kms but hooked onto someone that looked to be running about the pace I needed to be and followed her. Once the half-way point was passed, I felt I settled into my race proper, hitting a good comfortable pace and breaking the rest of the race down into manageable chunks. 8kms from 22 to 30kms. From there, 4kms to the “Inspiration Point” – large digital screen that would display personal messages to you triggered by your timing chip. From there, less that 10km to the finish line. I knew a friend of mine was in Berlin that weekend and she had texted to say that she would be watching from somewhere near the end of the race. At about 37kms, I heard someone call out my name. It was her, and I ran over to give her a quick hug. I thanked her for coming and then dashed off – aware that I was very close achieving my goal time. You cannot under-estimate how much of a boost it is to have someone there to cheer you on. I set off for the finish with renewed spring in my step.

With 2kms to go, I tried to pick up the pace. It was tough, my inner drill sergeant kept me going (It was like having Mr T as a personal trainer… “you didn’t come all this way to WALK!!!”). My Garmin, once it ticks over into hours, no longer shows the seconds, so I knew how long I had to get to the finish, but not exactly how long I had. The final corner brings you onto the approach to the Brandenburg Gate – impressive under any circumstance but even more so after 41kms. I just ran. Passing other runners, I just picked up the pace, desperate to cross the finish line. Although the Brandenburg Gate is the focal point, the finish is a good 200m further on. A glanced at my watch as I went through the gate (some people stopping believing that was the finish) and on to the finish line. I remember crossing the line, hitting the Garmin, shouting loudly (probably containing expletives) and then suddenly feeling very weak and tired. Drained, I sat on the kerb at the side of the road and closed my eyes. One of the medical team came to see if I was OK. I told them I was. I just needed a moment.

I’d wanted 4 and a half hours. I got 4:30:39. That’ll do.

3 Responses to “The Berlin Marathon – Race Report”

  1. October 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Grant, congratulations, a great result and well deserved! Did you struggle with the sun at all? I know the temp wasn’t too high but the sun beating down all the time got the better of me. A bit much for a Scotsman used to running in less exotic weather!

  2. October 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Oh man, big lump in my throat! Well done, I was so pleased to read that you enjoyed it and got the time you wanted, very impressive. I was thinking of you and Tom a lot that day, willing you on 🙂 Enjoy your glow of achievement.

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