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

Berlin Marathon

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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My thoughts on VLM’s GFA changes…

Shortly after the London Marathon finished the organisers took down the Good For Age table on the website.  From that moment it was clear there were going to be changes but what would they be and when would they come into play?  There were various rumours circulating, but the truth was it was the day before the ballot opened and no one knew what the GFA standards were.  This was poor, very poor.

The new GFA times were announced when the ballot opened.  Unsurprisingly, for the most part, they were tougher.  This directly affected me, my 3.49.14 Paris time no longer gave me an automatic place in 2014, I now needed a sub 3.45.  This, however, is still relatively easy in comparison to the under 40 Men.  I feel for them the most; their time goal was moved from 3.10 to 3.05.  I cannot tell you how many men I’ve seen tweet/blog etc about training specifically for a sub 3.10, with the goal of achieving a GFA who have now missed out.  Their achievement is now redundant.

I wouldn’t classify myself as good for age, in all honesty when I ran Paris I didn’t even know what the qualifying  standards for London were, but the fact remains that I got my 2013 place through the good for age system and I was proud of that.

The actual time changes aren’t an issue, and some would claim are long overdue, the problem lies in the lack of notice.  Assuming the deadline is still July, as it has been in the past, people don’t have time to achieve these new standards.  The Spring marathon season is almost over, even if there was an opportunity to race, there wouldn’t be enough time to train or recover sufficiently from an earlier marathon to race hard again.

It isn’t about the time, New York is tougher, Boston is tougher (or now the same), but we know what these standards are and what we would need to do to achieve them.   What it is about is expectation, it’s about knowing where you stand, it’s about slogging your heart & guts out for months, even years, to achieve a goal and then find out it stands for nothing.  Actually, you failed, sorry about that.  And that’s what isn’t right, that’s where London have got it so very very wrong.

The London Marathon drives a huge amount of revenue & support for charity, I get that, and I fully support it.  But the London Marathon is also part of the World Marathon Majors Series and with this comes a certain level of responsibility and respect for runners.  On this occasion I think it’s let us down.  On this occasion I think the London Marathon has failed.