The Berlin Marathon, one of five marathon majors alongside New York, London, Chicago, and Boston Marathon, prides itself in being the flattest and fastest course in the world. It’s where world records are made (seven world records were set here in the past 15 years)…and broken.
The race accepts 40,000 registrants from all over the world. Majority are signed up for the 42k and only a few for inline skating, wheelchair, or power walking. The race starts and ends at one of Berlin’s most majestic landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate.
For its 39th year, 34,900 runners from over 165 countries showed up on September 30, 2012 to run 42km. I was among them. It was my first time in Europe. My second marathon major next to New York City Marathon. And, my 8th marathon.
One great thing about running marathons abroad is the later call time for cold cities. For Berlin Marathon, our race start was 9 am. I woke up at 6 am with enough time to prepare my stuff and eat a hearty breakfast with Ton, Angel, Lit, and Miriam.
We arrived at the race start at around 7:00 am excited about our marathon and thrilled about the near perfect weather. Temperature was about 11 degrees. We wore trash bags and plastic bags provided by adidas for the next couple of hours to keep ourselves warm.
We checked in our baggage before the 8:30 closing of the baggage check in then we enjoyed a mini pre-race picnic by an open field (I had Gatorade chews and a granola bar) where, due to the unbelievably long lines at the portalets, all of us—yes, even the girls—were forced to do our “little business” behind the bushes!
– Angel and I sorting our stuff before baggage check in –
– Ton and Mir –
– Angel and I (accompanied by my three layers of trash bags) –
– The best running buddies! We couldn’t believe we actually made it to Berlin after months of planning and training! –
After a relaxing picnic in the chilly air, we made our way to the race start. In Berlin Marathon, runners are grouped into waves, just like in New York, but there are only Waves A to H. Majority of the runners are in Wave H, those with expected finish times beyond 4:15, and this is where my friends and I were in.
The first wave was set to start at 9:00 am. We were in Wave H, the last wave, and we waited at the assembly area among a sea of trash-bag clad runners from over 165 countries with the Brandenburg Gate before our very eyes.
The host, first in English then German, introduced the elite runners participating in the race. Music was blaring. The runners roared and cheered. Hundreds of blue balloons were released into the air and we watched them drift away against the backdrop of the pristine blue Berlin sky. (Who would’ve thought that only a few days ago forecast was 75% chance of rain?) In the cold, the 20 minutes it took for us to start the race was quite long, but with such intense energy and to be among great friends, I couldn’t complain.
I came to run Berlin Marathon for fun. Finishing Ironman 70.3 Cebu didn’t allow me to enough time to train seriously for a marathon PR. And, after experiencing a couple of injuries in my left foot, I didn’t want to risk pushing too hard either.
We all join marathons for our own reasons. And, even for each runner, we have various goals for each of the marathons we run. It used to be that I was obsessed with my time. I always had to be faster and stronger. But, I’ve reached a point when I’m more focused on how much fun I have training for and running marathons. In the future, sure, I’d love to beat my 4:26 PR, but I just felt that this was not the right time in my life to attempt it.
Having said that, I won’t lie to you. I still hoped to finish as strong and as fast as I could given the preparations I made. I expected a sub-5 finish, but, hey, if I could hit 4:30 then all the better!
Game plan? What game plan? I didn’t have one until the last few minutes before the race started. I told Lit, who was pacing Ton for a 4min run-1 min walk interval that I would join them for the first 15km to ensure I take a conservative pace and then see from there.
The first 25k came and went by fast. To my mind, these were the reasons:
1) It was a flat and fast course with lots of sights and entertainment and spectators cheering for us along the way. There were bands every 50 meters—in total 80 bands for the entire race—each one with a different personality. My personal favorite were drummers who, in sync with the beat of their drums, chanted “You can do it!” It was a pleasant surprise to have so many Germans, who I initially had the impression were fairly conservative and reserved, yelling their lungs out to cheer for us. We also passed some of Berlin’s landmarks such as the Reichstag, Fernsehturm, and Sudstern to name a few. There were minor hiccups along the way—specifically high-traffic areas along some narrow roads—but, all in all, it was a course that was flat and fun.
2) The race was well-organized. Hydration was enough with water every 2.5k after every 21k and every 1.5k after 35k. The sports drink was Powerbar at every other station so I carried a sachet of Gatorade endurance formula and mixed my own drink every other station. Fruit and tea (I didn’t want to risk trying this for the first time) were provided too. Lots of marshals and medical service were present. From 36km and up, there were actually “accident assistant stations” every kilometer. At one station, I got some help from a friendly medic to tape up a blister on my pinky toe. Roads were clean, safe, and traffic-free (as it is anywhere else in Berlin!) Basically, one didn’t have to worry much about anything except running their best.
3) The weather was perfect. For us Pinoys who are used to training under intense heat, running in cool weather seems almost effortless. At 10k I remember Ton and I agreeing that our legs felt so fresh!
4) I ran with friends, Ton and Lit. We peed by the bushes at 2k (hey everyone was doing it!), laughed about the many aromas in the race, gave high-fives to spectators who cheered for us (Ton even stopped to dance with a capoeira group), and before we knew it, we hit the 15k mark.
At 15k, Lit asked me if I wanted to go ahead. I replied: No. From the start of the race, my legs had actually felt slightly heavy because of the cold. Only at the 15k mark did I feel like I finally warmed up!
We ran steady with Lit leading the consistent 4:1 run-walk intervals. This took me through another 10k with ease.
At 25k, Lit suggested I go ahead as they were going to modify their run-walk intervals to 3:1. I agreed, wished them luck, and took off on my own.
It was at this point that I felt like a runner with a mission. I thought: What if I attempt a 4:30? I didn’t train for a 4:30, but what if? And, with that thought, I pushed a wee bit harder.
I only stopped to walk at hydration stations. I focused on my form and maintaining a consistent pace. I allowed myself to enjoy the sights and scenes of the marathon, but didn’t allow it to distract me from the goal.
Minor discomfort was setting in, but, as I learned in Ironman 70.3, the pain can be controlled by the mind. It was nothing. I pushed it back to the corner of my mind.
I covered another 10k to hit 35k feeling strong. Then, boom…
THE BIG FALL
As I slowed to stop at a water station, I glanced at my Garmin to check my time. Suddenly, my foot slipped off the road and, in a matter of seconds, I found myself falling forward. If your entire life flashes before your eyes before you die, in my case, the entire marathon did. I flew into the air and skidded on the road on all fours. First thought: F#@%! Then, a male European runner appeared out of nowhere and stretched out his hand toward me asking: “Are you okay? Are you okay?” I got up in a daze, barely even looked at him (what a waste, I know!), and repeated the only words in my mind over and over: “F#@%! F#@%! F#@%!” followed by a polite, Maria Clara-like “Thank you.”
I gave myself a minute or two to check the damage. Nothing major. And sped away.
As I ran, all I could feel were the burning in my hands. I recalled that the night before, a friend had read champion triathlete Noy Jopson’s Facebook status aloud which said: “Pain only hurts.” My friend laughed heartily saying: “What the hell does that mean?” I didn’t think anything of it at that time, but, as I ran in pain, it became my mantra: “Pain only hurts.” I repeated this over and over and over again and it kept me focused on the end goal.
My knees were badly bruised (as was my ego), but I could run and that was more than enough.
I was so focused that I barely even had time to think about slowing down. It was almost mechanical for me to place one foot in front of the other, drink at a station, then run off again towards the finish line.
The last few kilometers were familiar roads. I was happy to see the Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt again, where we ran a few days ago, but, at the same time, it also told me that I was still a bit far from the finish.
Surprisingly, I managed to run at a strong steady pace until the end, stronger than I ever have in the past. I didn’t break my PR nor did I finish at 4:30, but, man, did I feel great.
I finished at 4:44 for a distance of 43.14km on my Garmin. With an adjustment for 42.195k, I would’ve finished at 4:38, beating my last marathon time at California International Marathon in Sacramento last December. But, hey, I wasn’t complaining. Each marathon finish is something to be proud of. Big surprise bonus was that, for the first time, I ran an exact even split. For this positive split runner, that’s a feat!
– Crossing the finish line of my 8th marathon –
Geoffrey Mutai from Kenya won the Men’s Marathon with a time of 2:04:16. (World record was set in Berlin Marathon last year by Patrick Makau who ran 2:03:38) For the Women’s Marathon, Aberu Kebede from Ethiopia won at 2:20:30. Of course, it makes all of us feel better to know that these elites crossed the finish line while we we were only making our way through half of the marathon. tsk tsk.
From the Philippines, there were 32 finishers, 15 women and 17 men.
We all had a great time running Berlin Marathon! Yes, it was a flat course, but it didn’t feel like the fastest course to me. Honestly, the California International Marathon felt faster for me probably because there were a quarter of the participants and more descents. Still, it was fun. (Is there any marathon that isn’t?!)
As soon as I crossed the finish, I collected my bag at the baggage claim. No lines and all my things were intact (unlike Lit whose jacket was stolen!) I quickly changed my clothes while other women completely undressed around me without any hint of shyness. (Welcome to Europe!) The free non-alcoholic beer was a welcome delight for this non-drinker runner while I rested my weary legs.
– with Janejane, Nica, and Drew –
I met the rest of my friends for another mini picnic at the crowded Family Reunion area. After downing my beer, I took out my little “baon”, a serving of Enervon HP for my recovery to prevent soreness the next day, and happily munched on an apple while chatting away with friends about our marathon experiences.
That evening, Ton, Angel, Lit, Miriam, and I walked towards our favorite restaurant area near our hotel, around Km 40-41 of the race route, not to run but to celebrate our marathon finish. We feasted on Thai food at a restaurant fittingly called “Good Time.” Good times, indeed!
Previous: Part 3: Berlin Marathon – Team Pilipinas!
Next: Part 5: Berlin Marathon – Prague and Our Recovery Run…to McDo
Thank you to Unilab Active Health for my Berlin Marathon adventure!