Training for the Berlin Marathon was hard. Proper hard. It was literally like starting from rock bottom and building back up to 26.2 miles. My enjoyment was limited but I point blank refused to let another opportunity to run Berlin slip away because it was ‘too hard’. I’m not that kinda girl.
I was supposed to run it last year but luck was against me and a string on injuries put me firmly on the sidelines. I promised myself it would be me next time and I couldn’t let myself down because that would totally suck.
On the bright side, spending last year being a Berlin tourist meant that I could concentrate on all the important things this year such as laying down, eating carbs, napping and eating more carbs. Luckily I found some pals who were up for doing the same and we got an apartment near Hermannplatz in the south of the city.
The Expo: The Stressful Bit
Arriving on Friday afternoon meant I could head straight to the expo to maximise the opportunity for resting and napping on Saturday. Situated in a disused airport, it was big and busy.
They’re quite hot on ID but, once you pass all the checks, you get given a wristband and sent on a mammouth trek to the opposite side of the airport to get your number. Berlin gives you a choice of opting for a bag drop OR a poncho. If you choose the poncho you can’t drop anything off on the day, but they will give you a poncho at the end of the race which promises to be both warming and multi-faceted. Obviously I wasn’t that silly, but Charlotte and Cathryn seemed to think it was a brilliant idea and couldn’t stop raving about how jealous we would be…
It’s worth noting that if you want a finishers t-shirt you need to pay €30 and buy it in advance. It’s a bit offensive on top of the €108 entry fee and a bit worrying if you’re not entirely sure you’ll finish but, for me, it wasn’t an option, I wanted a finishers t-shirt. I also came away with an event jacket and a pint glass but I didn’t spend much time at the other stalls because I just wanted to get away from all the people.
Hasenheide Parkrun: The Warm Up Bit
Our apartment was rather conveniently, and maybe a little bit on purpose, located next to Hasenheide Park which is home to one of the 10 parkruns in the whole of Germany.
Hasenheide usually attracts a field of less than 100 but a whopping 517 people turned up to run this weekend. They were awesome. Truly brilliant. Although totally out of their comfort zone, they had put on a host of extra marshals and could not have been more welcoming or excited to have us. Hasenheide was the epitome of running spirit and it was lovely to be a part of.
The course is pretty, especially under the morning German sunshine, winding around the park and including a short, but very sharp hill. I loved it, thanks for having us!
The rest of the day was spent as planned, sitting, and eating, and napping, and eating and laughing uncontrollably on the carb high. For dinner we headed to a local Italian called Masaniello for a massive bowl of pasta with a side of garlic pizza bread and another side of, ermm, bread. It ticked all the boxes – definitely recommended.
Berlin Marathon: The Main Event
The marathon starts in Tiergarten Park where you will find some very long and unorganised queues for toilets (not your usual German style), some inconsistent bib checks (it’s easy to jump the fence if you’re so inclined) and some questionable starting corrals. You’re placed into your start zone based on your marathon PB, no matter how old it is, and if it’s your first time you’ll be at the back.
Runners are set off in three waves, 20 minutes apart, which helps with crowding on the course, especially with over 40k runners, and you head straight through the park towards the Victory Column.
As planned, I started off slow and tried not to get swept along, it wasn’t long before Cathryn trotted past me and it was nice to see a friendly face. The race is well supported with spectators cheering on either side.
The water stations are plentiful and well stocked and they also supply some kind of warm herbal tea (slightly odd when you’re expecting a cold electrolyte drink) and a rather ‘interesting’ beetroot sports drink. I don’t think I liked it but in the latter stages I knocked it back anyway. Needs must.
The miles ticked by and my first focus was to get to the halfway point. My longest training run was only 18.5 miles and I only did that once. It wasn’t my normal prep so I was a bit worried about how I was going to get to the end. However, I knew people at home were tracking me and I kept thinking about the finishers t-shirt and jacket I had already bought…finishing was the only option really.
I kept progressing, half way came and went, and I took my planned walking breaks where I had mentally scheduled them. If you’re going to walk, I really recommend having a structure to it (ie 0.1 mile walk, 0.9 mile run) so you don’t get disheartened, honestly, it works.
I didn’t take the gels they offered (there’s only one gel station), but I did take some pieces of banana towards the end. I’ve never done this before but, as usual, I couldn’t face my last gel so opted for my pre-packed Haribo Smufs and banana. It really seemed to do the trick so I’ll be doing that again!
The last few miles are a bit of a blur, everything hurt and it was hot, but I knew I was going to make it. I took water at each station and plodded on until I finally turned the corner and saw the iconic Brandenburg Gate. From then on I just kept running until I crossed the finish line.
It was a road marathon personal worst time, but I had already accepted that and was more relieved to finally complete my 14th marathon after 2.5 years out of the game.
After I collected my bag the only thing I could do was plonk myself on the ground and not move. It hurt. I was just going to have to sleep right here. Luckily a super perky Alice came and found me and scraped me off the floor before taking me to the group and bounding off to find me a goody bag which I had missed (where does she get the energy from?!)
We had a successful day all round with everyone finishing the race. Alice and Sam got new PB’s, Ed smashed it as usual, Charlotte and Cathryn ran strong times and were awarded multi faceted ponchos, Ellie completed her 2nd marathon despite struggling with an injury over the last few weeks, and I completed my 2nd Marathon World Major. Most importantly, I think everyone had enjoyed it.
10 Things I learned from the Berlin Marathon
1. You can’t blame the conditions for your poor performance when Kipchoge decides to totally obliterate the world record by a massive 78 seconds. You also can’t expect the UK to give this any kind of decent news coverage because apparently it’s not significant enough.
2. If you have any adverse feelings towards beetroot make sure you swerve the bright red sports drink on the course. It won’t end well for anyone.
3. If you forget to pack any pants and are forced to buy new ones at the expo, you will be at considerable risk of bankruptcy, but you’re highly likely to get a new PB. Sam forgot all his pants. Sam has a new PB.
4. If you fancy running a sub 3 marathon, getting a new PB AND coming home as 6th Brit you should do as Alice does. Alice likes to swop running for pilates, water for Aperol Spritz and excited race morning banter for solo quiet time. If it works, it works…
5. When you’re faced with a pre-race portaloo without an inch of toilet paper in sight, you can always rely on tearing off strips of your pre-race foil blanket. Almost as genius as actually remembering your own toilet paper right?!
6. If you decide to have a little sit down after 25 miles like Ellie, be prepared for a friendly but persistent German lady called Brenda to repeatedly shout ‘nine’ and drag you on your merry way. We like Brenda. Ellie is undecided.
7. The Berlin Marathon does NOT end and the Brandenburg Gate, there is still 400m to go. If you’ve run this before you will know this. Unless you’re Alice. Who promptly stopped running and stopped her watch whilst wondering why everyone else was still powering past…and she still got a PB!
8. If you haphazardly opt for the warming and multi-faceted poncho over the traditional and sensible bag drop, be sure you’ve mastered the look of unequivocal joy on the outside to mask your deep, crushing disappointment on the inside. Charlotte is available for advice on how to nail this…
9. Don’t expect four post marathon runners to agree on a post race cuisine in any less than 58 minutes. Also do not expect Charlotte to even remotely tolerate a vegetarian menu, even if the restaurant has a cute name like ‘Burrito Baby’ and you’ve already conquered the challenge of sitting down. After further debate, we ended up at Jimmy Woo’s.
10. A personal worst marathon time on the clock does not equate to a personal worst marathon experience. Far from it. Marathons are about so much more than just the time, most importantly they’re about the people you share them with. Thanks guys!
I know I’ve been suspiciously quiet for a while now. Being quiet isn’t really my thing. But being completely rubbish at running isn’t really my thing either. At least I’d like to think so.
I’ve been so rubbish that I haven’t really had anything positive to say about any aspect of running at all because the last few months have been physically and mentally painful. It’s physically painful to push your body through runs it doesn’t want to do because you know it’s the only way forwards. And it’s even more painful to tell your running friends you can’t run with them at the moment because you just can’t keep up. They don’t even believe you. And yet it couldn’t be truer. I got beaten in a 5k race last night by a friend who’s half way through growing a baby…and yes, I tried.
However, I think I’ve started to turn a corner. Not in terms of how my running is progressing, because it barely is, but in terms of my attitude, and that comes down to one thing…I’ve dumped the Garmin.
OK, not LITERALLY, because that would just be ridiculous and it’s pretty, and purple, and it gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. But I have stopped looking at it and I’ve genuinely stopped caring. Because I’ve found that caring and worrying about my speed is the biggest barrier to getting me in my trainers. So I can’t realy afford to care right now.
I’ve been running for a long time now and during that time I’ve witnessed many friends go through cycles of going from the top of their game to the bottom, and then back to the top again. And the common denominator? Consistency. A consistent and sustained effort to climb back the ladder…slowly.
So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. After coming up with every excuse in the book not to go running (ie, the wolf of Wandsworth is on the loose so it would be too dangerous), I’m finally back in the habit and it’s much less of a chore and more just a part of daily life – mostly because the Berlin Marathon was creeping closer and closer and so it was either fight or flight and I ended up paying so much for the actual flights that fighting was the only option.
I’m literally running the slowest miles I’ve ever run but I am getting fitter. It doesn’t feel like it, it feels bloody horrible, but it wasn’t actually that many weeks ago that my ‘long’ weekend run was 8 miles and last week I ran 18.5 miles, slooooooowly. It was actually supposed to be 20 but much to my frustration and annoyance, it just didn’t happen.
I’m on track to run a marathon personal worst in two weeks time (except the time I ran around Medoc drunk, but I’m not sure we can count that one) but I’m more interested in the fact that I’m on track to run a marathon full stop. And it’s been a while since I can say that.
Done is better than perfect. A PW is better than a DNF or, worse still, a DNS.
Tough Mudder is one of those events I always swore I would never do. Mostly because the price tag is simply offensive, but also because it’s 10 miles of obstacles…and I am not good at anything that involves upper body strength. However, it also bugged the hell out of me that it’s the one I had never done. So I had to do it.
When my work pals decided to get a team together, I found myself parting with my hard earned cash to roll around in the mud collecting bruises. What else are Bank Holiday weekends for right?
MediaCom Mud Runners: The before photo
It was an early 5am start to head down to Henley for the London West event but the sun was shining, it was going to be a beautiful day and I was in high spirits. Our start time was 9:30 and we were ushered into a holding pen with a fairly small group of people for a little warm up and to get down on our knees to make the Tough Mudder pledge.
The course is 10 miles broken down into two laps. And it’s hilly. Like, proper hilly. In fact, one of the obstacles is Killa Gorilla and is simply running up a very steep hill, and then down again…and repeat. Bad times.
The obstacles are a mix of having to climb over things of various heights, often involving people lifting you up, running up things, water based challenges and rolling around in the mud (in Devil’s Beard you literally get on the floor and roll down a hill under a net).
My favourites were the water based obstacles:
Block Ness Monster: Jumping into cold, muddy water you have to grab and hold a large rotating block to get over the other side…before moving onto the next block
Shawshanked: Pulling yourself backwards up a dark tube, you reach the top and have to fall backwards into a water pit below. Loved it!
This isn’t anyone I know but perfectly depicts why I loved the water challenges!
Cage Crawl: You float under a cage elevated just above water and pull yourself along. Just don’t freak because there’s no way out until you get to the end!
Arctic Enema: A simple slide down a tube into an ice bath that takes your breath away. It doesn’t end there cause you then have to fully immerse yourself again under a beam to get out. It’s a tad chilly
My least favourites were the ones with high walls, they had a narrow edge at the top and you were totally reliant on other people to get you up there. However, Everest was quite fun where you had to run at a curved wall with people at the top to pull you over, and the Pyramid Scheme was also good where you made a human pyramid to get to the top of a high ledge.
The Best Bits
The Worst Bits
The Ugly bits
MediaCom Mud Runners: The after photo
It’s fair to say that Tough Mudder exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. It’s a lot of fun and it’s totally do-able if you don’t mind some hard graft and getting bashed around in the mud. Importantly, it genuinely is a really inclusive event that brings out the best in human spirit, everyone is willing to lend a hand…literally.
Is it worth the price tag though? I’d have to say no…but it’s not far off. If you love this kind of thing it’s very much worth getting your mates together and having a go. I mean, no one messes with people wearing this little outfit now do they?!
Sooooo, it’s that time of year again. London, Boston, Manchester, Paris, Brighton, Rome, Hamburg… All the big cities are hosting their annual Spring marathons with hundreds of thousands of people putting months of hard graft to the test and crossing those finish lines with pride and glee. Wonderful.
And it truly is a wonderful, magical and pretty remarkable thing. But not being one of them? Without any particular good reason (I can’t blame a broken foot this year). Well, that totally sucks. It sucks on every level.
1. You just can’t escape it
No matter how hard you try, if you have friends that are runners, it’s everywhere. I even tried deleting my Facebook account. But then there was Instagram…and Strava…and Twitter…and, well. the news and, errrm,, the actual outdoors.
I’ve already switched it back on again. So that went well.
2. The FOMO is real
It’s difficult to put into words, and to get any normal person to understand, why exactly it pains you so much to miss out on putting your body through the wars and your mind through hell just to run 26.2 miles. For fun. So just take my word for it.
There is no greater pain that being on the spectator side of those barriers.
3. You feel like the laziest person on earth
It doesn’t really matter how much exercise you do, even if you workout out daily, if you’re not running 20 miles on a Sunday when everyone else in the whole world is, then you feel like the Mayor of Slobtown.
4. It makes you grumpy and unreasonable
Yes, more grumpy than usual. Yes more unreasonable than usual. No, I can’t control it. Yes, I’m sorry. No, I don’t wanna talk about it.
It’s best to just stay away from me really.
5. You’re just another muggle
This one is probably the worst for me. Marathon running is magical. It’s magical because it’s made of a unique combination of a strong body, a strong(er) mind, and a lot of bloody hard work that only comes with resilience, dedication and willpower . It’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been there. And when you’re not there, you’re just a regular ol nothing-special kinda muggle on the sidelines. And that sucks.
Putting my jealousy aside, I wish nothing but the best of luck and positive, strong thoughts to everyone running over the next few weeks and, if you’re running London, I’ll be in the usual Chaser spot with a can of cider throwing jelly babies at you. You’re welcome.
I want to be special again by the end of the year. And I’m going all out for Berlin in September because, this time, I do have something to prove. In fact I have everything to prove.
But only to myself.
When I joined the Clapham Chasers five years ago, I quickly developed a network of friends who love running, and talking about running, as much as I do, and who know the science bit behind making you a faster and more efficient runner. They also like a drink (or seven) so it worked out rather well really.
I’ve been lucky to have people around me who have been incredibly supportive through the highs and the lows, by putting training plans together for me and pacing me to PB’s. However, I can’t help but feel like a burden and, more often than not, I feel like I let them down when I miss my goals (which happens A LOT).
Recently, I’ve been introduced to Runners Connect who offer runners bespoke online coaching programmes within a community of people who simply love to run. Based on the principle that runners tend to do their best when supported by others, they created a community that connects people with other runners across the globe, to motivate and inspire, however you may be feeling.
How does it work?
Founded in 2011, Runners Connect have a team of expert coaches that help you to train smarter, stay healthy and run faster based on your current running ability and your goals.
There are three options you can choose to get you started:
Once you’ve chosen your package, you’re asked to give as much information as possible about your running history, experience, current level of fitness and your goals. The more you can tell them, the better your experience will be. I’ve already learned it’s best to be honest about your current training if you want to get the most out of it, they really don’t judge you at all!
Basically, don’t claim to be like this…
…if you’re currently running more like this….like me
Your training plan is built around your preferences, lifestyle, and other commitments. So, if you prefer your long run on a Friday, and you always do weight training on a Monday, your coach will build this into your plan. This is my favourite aspect because my life doesn’t always work to a schedule and I really need that flexibility without feeling like I’m having to compromise.
When you log into your account you’re taken to your dashboard where you’re given your training plan for the week and can upload your activity either manually, or by linking to Strava. You also have the option to add comments if you were feeling good/tired/strong etc which gives the coaches some added insight into how your training is going.
There’s clear guidance on the pace you should be targeting depending on what type of run is scheduled for the day such as ‘easy’ or general’, and why you should be running at that pace. You also get regular contact from your coach and they soon get in touch if you haven’t been logging your runs to make sure everything is OK (so, no hiding…)
Depending on your membership, you also get access to a ‘newsfeed’ which allows you to see what your fellow runners are up to and what they’re thinking & feeling so you can share your experiences and support each other.
It’s worth having a good look round the site too as there are lots of blog articles and podcasts to listen to on all things running!
If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a training rut, or are unsure as to how to get fitter or faster or achieve your goals, I can recommend giving this a try. I always find that a good motivational technique for me is to tell other people what my goals are, that way I’m more accountable, and Runners Connect is a great way to do this within a supportive environment.
No matter what your current fitness level is or what you want to achieve, they have the right people to help you get there. I’ve been impressed!
I was invited to try Runners Connect as a guest, as always, all views are my own.
In fact, we’ll call it the LOT of time on feet one. But that’s OK. It’s allllll just part of playing the long game….the really long game.
After the Beast from the East hit London last week it was touch and go whether the first ever Big Half would actually go ahead, but a combination of slick organisation and snow-thaw meant it was full steam ahead.
London a few days earlier
Sunday morning was actually beautifully sunny when I headed to the start at Tower Hill, positively warm in fact after the arctic blast. As the race is point to point, finishing in front of Cutty Sark in Greenwich, all baggage had to be dropped off by 8.25. I was in a later start wave than usual which meant I had over an hour to wait in my race gear before running. I took advantage of a sunny London whilst I waited, I mean, who would even know we were blanked in snow just a couple of days before?!
The Big Half is run by London Marathon Events, so organisation was pretty smooth with the 15,000 runners setting off across 8 waves at 5 minute intervals. I started at around 9.30.
Tower of London
I’ve had the Big Half in the diary for some time now, but I still managed to go into it undercooked (by which I actually mean totes raw…) with my longest run in preparation clocking in at 7.3 miles. Not my usual preparation by a long shot. However, the route looked awesome and I really wanted that medal to add to my collection so bowing out was never an option.
In stark contrast to my usual race day strategy (ie suicide pace until I vomit), I took the more sensible* approach of not really giving a damn. Genuinely, I had no expectations other than to get to the finish and it was really refreshing. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t worried, and I didn’t have a target pace.
*As sensible as running a half marathon on no training can be. Don’t try this at home kids.
Starting further back in the field meant I couldn’t start too fast even if I wanted to, so I just jogged, and looked around, and high-fived some kids, and jogged some more. The only real plan I had was to switch a a purposeful run / walk strategy when I needed to. And I was totally OK with that.
The route is actually pretty cool and takes in a lot of the same roads as the London Marathon. Running on closed roads, it starts near Tower Bridge by the Tower of London, and goes east to Canary Wharf before doubling back to cross Tower Bridge and follow the river and finish in Greenwich.
Given my lack of training, I only expected to get to about 5 miles before running out of run-love but I surprised myself by making it to nearer 9 (small wins right?!). I learned a long time ago that the key to a run/walk strategy is to make a deal with yourself and stick to it, without that deal it all goes to s**t (trust me!). My deal was to run for five minutes and walk for one, which I honoured until the last mile when I was struggling and all I really wanted was for it all to be over and a Lucozade.
Running down the home straight did nothing but remind me why I love this stupid, wonderful, heart breaking, glouroius and painful hobby of mine. With the crowds lining the street either side, the commentator cheering people by name, runners giving it their all in the final push and the finish line in sight, I was in a happy place.
There it was. The first race of 2018. Done and did. And I had absolutely qualms about my time.
Generally I though this was a well organised race with huge potential to become a solid fixture in the race calendar, attracting a strong field of all abilities. Finishers got a fun medal, which I really like, a technical t-shirt, and a goody bag of drinks and snacks. My only negative comment is that it was a nightmare to get on the DLR to get home because you had to cross the race course to get to it…maybe a consideration for next year.
It wasn’t pretty (my run, not the course), it wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t even in the same league as my PB, but it was a half marathon. And it was my first half marathon in 18 months. And I loved it. And, more importantly, I loved the people that were running around me, the people that got out there and did it, the people that were supporting each other on the way round, the people that reminded me that us runners stick together. You guys are just brilliant.
Thanks Big Half, you were special.