Posts Tagged ‘Berlin Marathon


Working… Like a dog

People often comment that they feel a little lost after completing a big race. There is a gap in their life as they are no longer training for a specific event and the event they had been working towards has passed. I think I may have experienced this a tiny bit but before I had time to recognise it, I started a new job and that has filled the time that would have been spent training and thinking about the upcoming race. It has filled it with work. Lots and lots of work. And commuting.

Commuting was something that I hadn’t done in a long while: my previous position was mostly home based and when I did need to travel, it was mostly on my own terms and outside of rush hour. So to be hurled back into an hour each way motorcycle commute was a bit of a shock. Now, don’t get me wrong, a motorcycle commute is one of the finest ways to get to work (weather permitting) but I’d forgotten how much I take my life in my hands each time I put the crash helmet on and set off on the bike. Cars pulling out in front of you, drivers opening their doors as you whizz alongside them, abuse from van drivers as you nip past whilst they are stuck in traffic.

Even with my wonderful motorcycle commute, it means I am out of the house for usually 12 hours every day leaving not much time left for being a Dad, a husband, oh, and a runner.

So I have managed to squeeze in about 2 runs a week since starting the new job, one by the light of a headtorch after work one evening and then usually another longer run (17-18kms) at the weekend. What is disheartening is that I can slowly feel the fitness that I had attained whilst training for Berlin ebbing away as 18km runs feel like they’re getting tougher. Although, there might be a small light at the end of a tunnel as today I struck up a conversation with a colleague at work who was about to do a running commute 7kms back home. I asked if she ever went out for a run after work rather than just running home. She doesn’t, currently, but did seem interested when I mentioned that I might try and start getting in a few laps of Regents Park some evenings after work.

So currently not much to report on the running front although I hope that I can strike a better work/life balance that means I don’t spend my entire day working or commuting. Although, on a brighter note, Hauling My Carcass and I are working on a fiendish plan for next years European Running Adventure… watch this space.



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.


marathon training – passports, tickets, money…

Safety pins, micropore tape, passport, ibuprofen, vaseline, short sleeve top, long sleeve top – this scenario will be familiar to many of you. There are items of running gear spread out over the bed alongside the above. There is a small suitcase on the floor that looks way too small for what is required. I am standing over this random array of stuff trying to check off in my head everything that I will need for my 4 days in Berlin for The Berlin Marathon.

I am excited and a little bit scared. My 10 day taper has so far consisted of a 13km run, a 16km run, half an hour scampering about at a gentle pace and finally, later today, a little 20 min jog with Hauling My Carcass before we set off tomorrow morning at an horrific hour for the airport.

The 13km run before the weekend was horrible. I felt sluggish from start to finish, wasn’t enjoying it and, worse, I had all sorts of little aches and niggles in my knees, ankles and the soles of my feet. I had one of those dark moments of self doubt… “If I feel like this for 13k, how am I going to get through 42k??”. Fortunately, Saturday’s 16k was a fabulous affair – it was a clear, crisp morning. Not too hot but with a clear blue sky – and the running came easily. For the first time in a good few weeks, I was actually enjoying going for a run. The past 16 weeks of running to a schedule had stripped any trace of enjoyment from my runs and made them feel like a chore, an obligation. So to bound along effortlessly in the sunshine was a revelation. All of a sudden, 42kms sounded like a long way but definitely do-able.

So here I am, days away from a race that has been planned for the best part of a year. It is the latest in a series of adventures for myself and Hauling My Carcass that began back in 2008 when we decided “maybe we should enter a half marathon, you know, just for fun.”. It has seen us travel about Europe to run in races that have been both euphoric and challenging in equal measure, to places that have been interesting and cool and has given us some great fun and plenty of anecdotes. This time tomorrow, we will be in Berlin, dragging wheeled suitcases noisily through the streets in search of our accommodation for the weekend.

Now where was I… Garmin? Check! Lucky socks…?

Soundtrack to this post: Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man In The Universe


Xero Shoes

Here’s something a little different this week. Rather than bore you with yet another blog about my Marathon training (the taper begins this week so only 24kms were run on Sunday, thanks for asking…), I thought I might try out a pair of Xero Shoes which are now available in the UK through Born Barefoot.

Anyone who has read Born To Run (which, by now, is probably quite a lot of you), will be aware of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who run in homemade sandals consisting of a sole and a cord that fastens the sole to the foot. They cover enormous distances and “running related injuries” are practically unheard of. The Xero Shoes are a modern day take on those sandals and the kit I ordered contained a pair of pre-cut soles, some cord and a metal punch.

There is something inexplicably exciting about assembling your own shoes and once you have the kit, it is just a case of logging on to, watching the instructional videos and then creating your own footwear from the kit of parts. The videos are easy to follow and have many different tying and customisation options once you have the basic construction complete. I opted for a “slip-on” style which allows, once the cord has been adjusted, the sandals to be put on and taken off with no additional tying.

They are more comfortable than you imagine they are going to be too… I have now done a couple of short runs with them and, once the initial adjustments regarding the “lacing” have been done, they stay on remarkably well. It is an odd sensation as you run – the sole affords some protection from the ground but the feel of the breeze over your feet makes you realise how much shoes shelter your feet from the world around them. For me, they are perfect to take on holiday somewhere hot – they take up virtually no space in a bag and it means you could get out and run (virtually) barefoot without your feet getting too hot or the soles of your feet roasting on hot tarmac.

The kits are available with either a 4mm sole (the ones that I have) or with a slightly thicker 6mm sole. Normal running shoes are designed to be changed after about 500 miles – Xero Shoes are guaranteed not to wear out for an astonishing 5000 miles which means they should last 10 times longer.And they cost about a quarter of the price of a normal running shoe.

Born Barefoot are also stockists of Vibram Five Fingers (I have been eyeing up a very nice pair of Vibram Spyridon Ls for after I complete the Berlin Marathon and I can start running sensible distances again) and next day delivery on the Vibrams is free.


marathon training – week 13 – dunstable 20 mile challenge

I’d had a good week. I’d trained well and ran a fast 8k training run, knocking 4 minutes off the time I had set at the beginning of my marathon training 13 weeks ago. I was set for the Dunstable 20 Mile Challenge that I had entered, along with a friend of mine, in the hope that it would be something a bit different for our final long run before our respective Marathons in 3 weeks time.
There were 2 small flies in the ointment – The first was that we were both out the previous night at the magnificent Africa Express gig in Kings Cross and much of the energy in our legs had been used up by a solid 5 hours of dancing. The second was that temperatures were forecast to be between 25 and 27 degrees on race day. Gulp.
So, with 6 hours sleep in the bank, I arrived in Dunstable and collected my race number and stored my bag at the start. The facilities were exceptional, clean, bright, lovely toilets, helpful organisers. I had printed out the directions that would guide us round the course and the talk on the start line was of getting lost and perhaps accidentally ending up on the Marathon route. There are 3 concurrent races all starting out on the same route – a Half Marathon, the 20 mile Challenge and a Marathon. Competitors quickly chatted and made friends with anyone who was running the same race as them – the thinking being that they could either help each other round or at least recognise someone running the same route to know they were going in the right direction.
So for the first 6-7 miles, everyone runs the same route – out of the park and straight up the downs, the steep, chalky inclines giving way to fantastic views across the countryside as gliders swoop overhead. The 3 routes then split and the fun begins. Instructions are as good as can be expected but much of the time you are following a bridlepath and looking for just a gap in the hedge which signals the next turning. I took the executive decision that it was better to stop and check the instructions frequently and sacrifice some time rather than bowling on and risk going the wrong way, potentially adding miles to the route. There were check in points along the route and also water stops. Every one of the helpers was lovely, asking how we were doing and plying us with water and jelly babies. Parts of the route are really tough – either because of the inclines or because of the ground underfoot – a recently harvested wheatfield on an incline is difficult to traverse in the midday sun, especially if you’re not sure that your are heading in the right direction. From about 7 miles in, we hooked up with a few other runners and decided to work out the route democratically, stopping and deciphering the instructions at each potential intersection. This also helped us grab a moments rest and some respite from the blazing sun.
At about 17 miles, things started to look familiar again and we split off from the others to complete the run. People out for a day on the Downs shouted encouragement and we arrived back at the race HQ after a punishing downhill and a bit of last mile confusion as we headed to the finish.
All the organisers cheered us over the line, we got a celebratory “Buff” emblazoned with the race name and people couldn’t do enough for us. Free tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake had all been laid on for all the participants and there were showers too if we wanted. This has to be one of THE friendliest races: organisers seemed genuinely interested in our thoughts and it was more akin to getting back to a friends house to find that they had made lunch for you rather than arriving at a Race HQ.
It is a tough course (I was more than an hour and 20 mins slower than my previous 32km) and is, at 33.9km / 21 miles, slightly longer than anticipated. From the general air of camaraderie amongst the runners and the attitude of the organisers, it is clear that this is a race for runners organised by runners. Tough… But I wish every race were as well planned and enjoyable – I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So, 21 miles in the blazing heat, across tough terrain is possibly the best bit of last ditch training I could do. If I can do that, another 5 miles with reasonable temperatures in Berlin and a flat course should be do-able.

Soundtrack to this post: Suffer – M.anifest

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