Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Berlin Marathon Race Notes

I'd set my alarm for 6am as I wanted to eat breakfast three hours before the race, but woke up around 15 minutes before my alarm.

I'd laid all my race gear out and packed my bag the night before, so I was pretty efficient at getting dressed, having breakfast and applying sunscreen etc.. and had finished everything I wanted to do by around 6:30. At 6:45 I left the flat and headed for the start.

I was concerned that the underground trains could be pretty infrequent at that time on a Sunday morning or they'd be packed with runners and I'd struggle to get on, but I hardly had a wait. While nearly everyone else on the train was a runner, I was still able to get a seat on both trains.

I had a 10min walk up to the start and knew roughly where I was going from my last visit to Berlin, but I also knew I'd be able to follow all the other runners heading in the same direction. Because the journey had been much quicker than I expected I stopped, along with quite a few other people, to take a photo of myself in front of the Brandenburg gate.

It was colder than I expected and I considered putting on another layer, but didn't. That was probably a mistake as I spent the next hour feeling cold.

Once inside the starting area I decided to use the loo before the queues got to long. I also grabbed one of the disposable plastic tops they were handing out to put on as an extra layer. I then stood around near my baggage tent for a good 20mins trying to catch some sunshine that was rising up over the Reichstag to stay warm. Unfortunately the sun was a bit to weak to be much help that early in the morning.

Around 8:15 I decided that I'd done enough hanging around, so I handed in my bag before heading to the start area. It was much further than I expected to the start and the paths were more crowded, so I was pleased that I had left enough time. When we were close to the starting pens I did a short warm up jog around the paths in the Tiergarten. I realised I need the loo again, so the warm up was useful for one thing at least.

Thankfully I found a toilet which didn't have too long queues on the far side of the starting pen and didn't have any stress about not being able to make the start on time.

As I was heading back into the starting pens I saw Lawrence from Kent also going in so had a quick word with him. I was looking out for other Kent runners, but was quite surprised not to see anyone else. With ten minutes before the started I decided that I needed another (!) wee so nipped out of the starting pen to use the nearest bush and then I was back in for good.

The start had two lanes. I was on the left hand side, furthest from bag drop, and I did notice that it seemed a lot emptier than the other lane. I didn't have too many problems with the start, but speaking to other people later on who were in the right hand lane found that start quite congested.

With the minimum of fuss were were off at exactly 9am.

Kilometres 0 - 5
I was telling myself not to go out too quickly and was consciously trying to start off in as relaxed a way as I could. Too relaxed it turned out as my watch was showing 4:11 as I went past the first km marker, 11 seconds behind my target pace. I told myself not to panic and I'd bring the time back gradually over the next 10km. I didn't need to try and make the time all back in one kilometre.

Around the 1.5km Amy came past me and we exchanged a few good lucks. She must have started way too far back I thought.

As I went past the second km marker I realised I was obviously doing far too good a job of holding myself back as I'd run the second km behind target pace as well. It was time to consciously turn up the pace (just not too much).

Around the 2.5km point I was running on the blue line and I could see everyone in front of me peeling round to the right. It looked like the blue line (the official route) crossed the central reservation a bit further up, but spectators were now standing on it, so I had to make a slight veer to the right to make sure I got on the right side of the crowds before the turn.

At 3.5km I could feel something underneath my right heel. I'd tried to be really careful putting on my shoes and socks to make sure I didn't get any grit in them. Do I stop? I should stop. I don't want a huge blister under my heel crippling me later. I thought I'd give it a little longer before stopping and thankfully the annoyance went away after around 500m.

Then I started worrying about my left foot. Am I getting pins and needles? When I attached the timing chip to my shoe yesterday did I do my laces back up too tight? I've had a similar sensation on really cold mornings out training and my feet have come good again once they've warmed up. I hoped it would be the same again today.

The 5km marker came up and my watch was showing 20:20. I'd lost 20 seconds in the first two km and had then stabilised.

Kilometres 6 - 10
Just after the 5km we hit the first drinks station. There were going to being drinks stations every 2.5km along the route. I didn't want to take on too many fluids during the race and risk cramp and had only made a very last minute decision that I would pick up a cup at every water station on the way round. A small sip and then the rest over my head to keep cool.

Just before the 7km marker Peter, one of the coaches from Kent, gave me a cheer as I run under a road bridge. It was good to get some support.

I missed seeing the 8km marker and feared that they might have stopped being every km. I still didn't trust my ability to pace and was using them as a support to know I was on track.

My second 5km split was 19:57. That was exactly what I wanted. I'd pulled back three seconds of my 'deficit' in a very controlled way.

I took my first energy gel

Kilometres 11 - 15
The race had definitely begun to stabilise at this point. The runners had thinned slightly and all the people who had gone out too fast were beginning to pull back. I started to slowly over take and work my way through people as I bashed out the metronomic kilometres. Something that would continue for more of less the next 20km.

I was sticking to the blue line painted on the road. Something I'd keep doing until more or less the end of the race.

Just before the 15km marker I started to catch a gentlemen in red vest with 'Wales' written on the back. I don't know why, but I felt like I needed to speak with someone, so guessing he must be an English speaker, I asked him how it was going as I pulled level and we had a short conversation before I pressed on. He seemed to be running the marathon to a target heart rate rather than a specific pace.

19:47 A bit quick, but feels good.

Kilometres 16 - 20
Things were beginning to go well, very well. I was cruising, it felt comfortable and I wasn't too far off half way. Mentally breaking things down in to 5km blocks was working well. Take this feeling through to 30km I told myself and then see what I can do from there.

It was somewhere around this stage that I started to notice the bands along the side of the course. They were pretty regular. Maybe around every kilometre. Good musicians and good for the spirit.

The Kent AC vests can be a bit grating, so I'd put plasters on my nipples that morning. Unfortunately one of the plasters had started to fall off and with all the sweat it was never going to stick back on. With so much of the race left I know I could be in trouble by the end. I'd seen on the course map that there were supposed to be first aid tents and they usually have Vaseline. Slightly worrying I'd not seen one yet, but if I did I was going to grab some Vaseline.

While I'd be running a few people had come past on mountain bikes. They had signs attached to the front which I couldn't see, but I was pretty certain they were officials.

Somewhere around the 19km marker another cyclist came past and he was playing with his mobile phone and had a selfie stick. I didn't see it happen, but I heard a noise and looked up to see that he'd fallen off his bike around 30 / 40m in front of me. He hadn't taken out any runners thankfully and I didn't have to break my stride to get round him. I'm pretty sure he fell because he was playing on his phone. Totally unacceptable in my book and it could have caused a nasty accident.

19:54 - a more sensible split.

I took my second energy gel. As I hadn't seen a medical tent I decided to apply some of the gel to my chest working on the basis it was thick and gloopy like Vaseline. I'm pleased to report it worked.

Kilometres 21 - 25
I don't remember a lot about this segment. I was just knocking out my consistent rhythm.

I went past the half way point in 1:24:20, ten seconds inside my target time. I'd manage to pull back all of the time I'd lost in the first two kms and got a little bit of the time in the pocket. I started wondering if I was actually going tiny bit quick. Should I settle down and save it for a push at the end?

Approaching the 25km marker I could hear some rock music. I thought that the live bands along the side of the road had taken a turn for the worse and I wasn't particularly impressed. When I got a bit closer I could see a women had set up a sound system under a gazebo by the side of the course and was enthusiastically playing air guitar in front of it. It brought a huge smile to my face and gave me a little lift.

19:54 - exactly the same as the previous split.

Kilometres 26 - 30
I noticed that it started to feel like harder work at this point. Not in a bad way, in fact it was really positive that I'd got to this stage and only just started feeling like I had to 'work' to keep up the pace and I'd been able to cruise for so long.

However, it did make me feel that it would probably be unwise to ramp up the pace at the 30km marker.

I'd done what I wanted to do by getting to the 30km marker in a nice an controlled fashion and feeling relatively comfortable. My aim became to keep it going and consider a ramp up at 37km depending on how I felt.

19:51 - another excellent split.

Kilometres 31 - 35
It was a this point that it started to get hard.

At the end of the 31st km I realised I hadn't taken my energy gel so got that down me. It was time to focus and I managed to get back onto pace for the remainder of the split.

I was still steadily over taking people and very few were coming past me which was a positive sign, but the rate at which I was reeling people in had definitely slowed.

It was around this stage that two German runners came alongside me. It appeared that one of them was fitter than the other and pacing their friend. I know next to zero German but I think they were aiming for 4min per km the same as me. I had thoughts of joining them to form a little group, but the more fatigued runner couldn't hold a straight line and I feared he might take me out. I pushed on.

Somewhere around this phase of the race I caught up with three runners who I thought looked like they were working together. As I knew I was beginning to get into trouble I decided to get on the back of them and see if they could help pull me along. I seemed to still have the pace to run through them and pulled away when I got to the front of the group.

The watch of the strongest looking runner in the group was regularly beeping. You can set alarms on your watch to alert you if you drop below a certain pace and I suspect that is what he had done. If we were going to be occupying the same space of road for the rest of the race as beeping man it could get very irritating. I never saw the other two members of that group again, but I did see the beeping guy quite a bit towards the end of the race. Frustratingly he beat me.

19:59 - very respectable. Could I hold this pace? It would be a dream if I could.

Kilometres 36 - 40
The 36th km was a gentle incline and into a head wind. Two challenges I didn't need at that stage. It was a bit of a slog and I did a 4:11 split for the km. I hadn't run this slowly since the first km! This was bad news.

I resolved to lift the pace. I wanted to beat 2hrs 50mins and none of the gremlins from Wokingham were entering my head. I could still hit my target. I wouldn't say I wanted it above everything else, but I was managing to stay positive.

We ran past the end of the road where I'd rented an apartment, not long to go now. There was going to be no lifting the pace for the final 5km, but I needed to maintain and stay on it.

I touched my wedding ring.

Things were beginning to annoy me now like banners over the road that weren't actually km markers. Why are they there being distracting?

Beeping man came up onto my shoulder and then fell back again.

20:50 for the split. That was just about acceptable, but I couldn't afford to lose any more time.

Kilometres 40 - Finish
Having been over taking people for most of the race I was now definitely starting to go backwards. There were a couple of people struggling more than me and I managed to overtake them, but I was canon fodder for most!

I didn't feel resigned to my pace dropping like I have done in previous races and started to put in mini surges in an effort to lift my pace. The change actually felt quite good in my legs, although looking back at my splits I was still getting slower at this stage. However, I think psychologically it was important to do.

Beeping man overtook me and this time I knew it was final.

As we turned onto Unter Den Linden I could see the Brandenburg gate in front of me. I'd seen them put timing mats out underneath the gate earlier that morning. Was it the finish? Oh I hope it's the finish. There isn't enough paraphernalia on the gate for it to be the finish. Oh, no I'm going to have to run on.

I could hear a couple of shouts of my name. That was a help. I made a pathetic kick for home.

As I passed through the Brandenburg Gate I could see the official finish. It seemed a terribly long way away. I wasn't fully conscious of my time, but I had a feeling sub 2:50 was still on.

I was happy to stop my watch at 2:49:53. I'd done it!

I immediately realised how light headed I was feeling so sat down on the kerb about 5 meters from the finish line. There was a doctor standing next to me and he didn't look remotely concerned so I can't have been too bad, but I did take it as a sign that I'd probably given it my maximum if I felt like this.

I decided it wasn't good to be blocking the finish so stood up and moved on. I only made it around 10 meters before feeling the need to sit back down. After a couple of minutes I saw people handing out cups of water a little further along the finishing shoot and decided that is what I needed so stood up again and went to get some water.

I grabbed a goody bag containing some food and then walked further up the finish to see if I could find anyone else from Kent. Due to a security alert in the baggage area we were all being held at the finish. I found Phil and Amy and saw some more Kent runners in the distance. I was feeling pretty nauseous as we stood talking, a state I'd be in for quite a while.

After 20 - 30 mins we were allowed back to start making our way back towards the baggage area. On the way they were handing out alcohol free beer so we all grabbed on and I started to sip it.

I collected my bag. Initially they couldn't find it and I was standing there like an idiot gazing into space. Finally I told myself to stop being dozy and to look for it and point it out to them. I spotted it and with some pointing and a few mutterings managed to retrieve it.

I changed on the grass and began to feel a bit more human again. Once I'd composed myself (and posed for a photo), I went in search of the pre-agreed meeting point to catch up with everyone else. Non-alcoholic beer in hand slowly sipping it as I went.

The data from my watch is here.

The official results are here. I was the 729th finisher and 183rd in my M35 age category.


  1. Fantastic result Richard, well done,. Married life must be agreeing with you! It was a great effort to keep such consistent pace throughout the whole race, you really must have nailed the mental gremlins. I must tell Pete Pfitzinger the result!! Best wishes and congratulations, Peter.