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.

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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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“The biggest mistake is doing nothing because you can only do a little”

I don’t know who said that but, for now, I’ll credit it to Dad French.  Not long ago I came back from a 5 mile run (I say run, this most definitely fell into the ‘jog’ category) downhearted about both pace and distance. ‘When will I get faster again, it was so slow I may as well not bothered’ I moaned to my Dad.  He simply turned around and said:

There aren’t many people that can just go out and run 5 miles, they say the biggest mistake of all is doing nothing because you can only do a little

And he was right.  As I try and get myself out of a real running rut it’s time to hit the reset button and shake off the mindset that anything less than 10 miles isn’t worth getting out of bed for.  Easier said than done though.

Instead of going out for shorter runs I found I was making excuses not to go out for 12 mile runs.  My thought process went a bit like this

  • What if I can’t run that far?
  • What if someone I know sees me?
  • What if I forget to switch my watch off before it uploads to Strava for the world to see  how slow I am?
  • What if I get attacked by a dog?
  • What if I get attacked by the Beast of Wandsworth Common?
  • What if I can’t actually run at all anymore?
  • What if I fall over?
  • Well, 12 miles is quite far isn’t it, maybe I should just go for a run round the block?
  • No, that’s just stupid, what’s the point?
  • Maybe I’ll just stay here and watch the next episode of Stranger Things then…

And so that’s how it went.  Of course, eventually I ran out of excuses and finally managed to bribe myself into running 3 miles round the block with my favourite smashed avocado on sourdough.  I even managed to face the Beast of Wandsworth Common.  Don’t be fooled by those friendly eyes and little twitchy nose…

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I think it’s all so easy to get swept up in marathon madness and forget that it’s actually OK to run shorter distances (even at the weekends, yes really) and it’s much better to run a little, not matter how slowly, than to not run at all.

A couple of weeks ago I ran the Cabbage Patch 10.  That’s 10 whole miles.  I was dead nervous.  I woke up early on a Sunday morning to a miserable day pouring with rain and felt sick.  Honestly, if I hadn’t of promised Graham a lift to the race there’s a 90% chance I wouldn’t have turned up.

But I did turn up, I ran, and I got the t-shirt.  Plus, if you take out the pain of seeing my Garmin flash up embarrassingly slow miles, and the fear of coming last, I actually enjoyed running.  I needed that race to kickstart my confidence again.

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Sure, I’m slow.  Sure, I’m scared of long distances right now.  Sure, I can’t see myself improving.  But I know I will as long as I keep going.  Besides, I don’t really have much choice now I’ve signed up for the Brighton Marathon in April…

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Barry’s Bootcamp – London East

I’d heard of Barry’s Bootcamp, they call it ‘The Best Workout in the World’.  I’d heard it was popular with the A Listers over in Hollywood and New York.  I’d also heard it was pretty tough.  But hey, I ran 37 miles round the Lake District, I ran down a fell mountain in high winds and rain, I’ve pulled myself out of the darkest places just to cross a finish line – I’m tougher than anything Barry and his Bootcamp could throw at me.  Aren’t I?!  I thought it was time to give it a try.

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On Tuesday I headed over to the London East studio with a couple of girls from work, we I was really looking forward to it!  I have to admit, I didn’t really know what would be involved but, checking out the website beforehand, I was a little concerned that the first question on the FAQ’s was ‘Will I die?’ but, really, how hard can a 60 minute workout be?!

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When we got there (an hour early, we were a little keen!) so had plenty of time to have a look around and check out the selection of post-workout protein drinks available from the Fuel Bar.

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There’s only one room, it’s not a gym, it’s just one room where the bootcamp takes place with a row of 20 treadmills and 20 floor stations.  When you book your place (which you have to do pretty fast!) you choose to start on the treadmill, or on the floor, we chose the treadmill.

It looks swanky.  The lights are low with floor to ceiling mirrors on each wall, the trainers are all ripped and the other fitness fanatics all look like they know what they’re doing.  Still, I know how to work a treadmill and I remembered to pack my favourite lycra so I didn’t feel too intimidated!  Our trainer was Sandy, Sandy is is responsible for bringing Barry’s to London, so he must be good…

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You’re assigned a workstation at reception so there’s no fighting over your spot.  I hopped on treadmill 2 and waited for instructions.  We started with a warm up and were given 3 different choices for beginners, intermediates and advanced.  It’s running on a treadmill, clearly I’m an intermediate verging on advanced, right?!

Barry’s treadmills are set at miles per hour rather than the usual kilometer per hour and we were given the choice to start on 6, 7, or 8.  7 mph is 8.30mm (not that I could do that kind of maths at the time but I started on that pace anyway!).  Over the course of the next 8-9 minutes Sandy had me working up to 9 mph (errr, 6.40mm) on an incline.  I wasn’t sure I was intermediate anymore. Warm up over then…

We then moved onto our floor spot – Tuesday is ‘leg and butt’ day so we were in for 8-9 minutes of weighted lunges and squats.  This wouldn’t be so bad but the lightest weights they had left were 7.5kg, and I needed 2 of them!  Jess managed to get some 6kg ones, I didn’t like her anymore.

We were then straight back on the treadmill for another round of fast paced running, with the incline going up to 10% my pace dropped to somewhere inbetween the beginner and intermediate pace.  It was 8 minutes of solid hard work and I only made it up to 8.5 mph this time.  Back on the floor we did some weighted side lunges and box jumps before jumping back on the treadmill for round 3 (where I managed 9.3 mph without falling off!)

By the end we had done 3 sets on the treadmill and 3 sets of leg and bum floor work.  Honestly? I was knackered.  When we headed back upstairs our pre-ordered protein shakes were waiting for us, I went for Cool Runnings, a blend of pineapple juice, coconut milk and vanilla whey, it tasted pretty damn good.

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So, it turns out Barry’s Bootcamp is actually a bloody tough workout, the runs are pretty fast paced and the floor work is brutal.  As with everything, you get out what you put in, but I think you would struggle without a good level of fitness beforehand.  When I woke up on Wednesday I was quite pleased not to ache as much as I thought I would but, after a morning sat at my desk I quickly changed my mind…my legs were suffering post-Barry’s depression.  However, I loved it and I want to go back!

Whilst it’s pretty swanky, unsurprisingly, it also has a pretty swanky price tag.  For a one off class it’s £20.  There are savings to be made by buying packs of 10 if you have a spare £170, you can even buy a pack of 50 for £700 but, either way, it’s quite pricey.  Throw in a fiver for a post workout protein shake and you’ve easily spent £25 before walking out the door.

Is it worth it?  I’m definitely going to give it another go, maybe on abs day…

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I went to Barry’s Bootcamp as a paying customer.  All views are my own.