Berlin Marathon

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Total Ledge

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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Done is beter than perfect

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why it sucks to be a non-marathon running marathon runner during marathon season

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2018: Goals, Goals, Goals

Now we’re firmly on the wrong side of the silly season, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and set some targets for the year ahead (I was going to put something self-depreciating here, but yesterday a friend  firmly challenged me not to say or think anything bad about myself…so I won’t).

1. The Big London Half – 4th March

The Big Half is organised by the London Marathon people and was created with the mission of demonstrating how sport and community can come together, inspiring people from all backgrounds to take part.  They wanted an event that mirrors the diverse demographics of London’s multi-cultural population, it’s new this year and I think it will be a big hit.

This one will be my biggest test in a while and the furthest I’ve really run since the London Marathon 2016 (ohhhhh god, it’s gonna be tough isn’t it?!).  However, I have a marathon to run and I need this to push me through the training. I’m sure it’ll be fine…just fine.

Race Goal: Not be last. Not be sick (that’s not negative, just realistic 🙂 )

2. Reading Half – 18th March

I’m super excited to be joining the Reading Half team as a race ambassador this year.  Reading has been on my list for a few years now, not least because it’s one of the largest and fastest half marathons in the UK, but also because of the incredible finish inside the Madejski Stadium.  Three weeks before Paris, this is good timing for me to practice an even marathon paced run, I can’t wait for this one!

There’s an exclusive training morning being held this Saturday (6th Jan) with an exciting line up of workouts, training advice and Q&A’s.  There’s still a few spots available here if you’d like to join in.

Race Goal: Run at an even pace. Don’t get too excited

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3. Paris Marathon – 8th April

All being well, Paris will be marathon number 14.  It was also my second marathon back in 2012 when I ran with my friend Porridge, and I have fond memories of the beautiful city (I say ran with, she beat me, but we drank champagne together at the end).

Porridge – this one’s for you xx

Race Goal: Get round. Don’t be a fool

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4. Poole 10k – 3rd June

This is one of my favourite races of the season.  Held in my home town of Poole in Dorset, the 10k is part of a Festival of Running that includes a series of minithons for children and a new half marathon this year.  The Poole 10k was my first ever 10k and I love it.

Race Goal:  Dare I utter the phrase PB…? Sub 45 would be just super please

5. Canada Day 10k – 1st July

I’m heading over to Vancouver in July, which just so happens to co-inside with Canada Day, and they’ve thoughtfully put on a 10k in my honour.  It would be rude not to wouldn’t it?!

Race Goal: Earn the post race Canada Day cake (they said there would be cake…)

6. Great North Run – 9th September

Having tried for years to get into this, I finally succeeded in 2017 but, knowing I wouldn’t be able to run with any kind of conviction, I decided to defer.  This year Newcastle and I are going head to head.  I’ll be ready.

Race Goal: To smash it.  Sub 1:45 at least

7. Berlin Marathon – 16th September

Again, I was gutted to have to pull out of this last year, but I was lucky enough to get a ballot spot for 2018 so I’m taking it as a sign that it was meant to be.  Armed with a group of Chasers, this is the big one for me this year.

Race Goal: PB please

8. A sub 21 minute 5k

A tall ask? Maybe. But, if I can go sub 22, I can go sub 21.  Goal before the year is out.

9. Complete my first triathlon

I don’t know when or where, but I fear I can no longer get through another year without succumbing to peer pressure.  You’ll find me at Wednesday night swim sessions soon. Maybe…

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10.  Swim Serpentine – 2 miles

I’m adding this to the list for two reasons, firstly I can’t bring myself to leave the list at 9, and secondly, if I do this one I get a HUGE London Classics medal that’s awarded to people who have completed the London Marathon, Ride 100 and Swim Serpentine.  Call me shallow, but I want it.  The only caveat is that I can’t find a date for 2018 and it may clash with Berlin. Fingers crossed (although I’m not quite sure for which outcome).

Let’s get cracking then…

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