It’s about time I pulled my blogging finger out and chatted about Berlin.
To set the scene, this year (2018) was all about training for a spring marathon, and smashing a Good For Age (GFA) time to qualify for a spot at London Marathon 2019.
You can read all about Brighton (once i’ve blogged it, I mean, I don’t know how I missed that but clearly I was busy…i’ll link here when it’s done!) but long story short, I trained well, the day was perfect in every way and I managed a 3:44:31, and i’ve now confirmed my London 2019 place!
Between Brighton in April and now, I ran another marathon (for fun) in Liverpool at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend, then over the course of 6 weeks in the summer, I ran all three Threshold sports ultra marathons, which i’ve NEARLY blogged all about…
Race to the Tower / Race to the King / Race to the Stones
It’s safe to say, I knew my pace would suffer because of the change in training for the Ultras, and I also had a two week holiday around the Med on a cruise ship with no deck for running. And also also, I had two little kids who were off school for 6 weeks, and work to fit in when they were asleep at night.
August took a hit and I think I ran 8. miles.
So there’s the back story, the scene is set to me tackling Berlin marathon, my second World Marathon Major and my first ever international race.
Jordan (@projectmarathongirl) and I travelled and stayed together in Berlin, and it was an early alarm to drive to Gatwick from Kent, and my 5th flight in as many weeks (flights have been like buses for me the last couple of months – for someone who doesn’t fly often or go on holidays much, i’ve been 3 times in the last 2 months and about to go again!).
We found each other in Departures, and having already checked in online, we tried to cram all our toiletries and gels into one small plastic bag…
There wasn’t much waiting around and we were soon boarding and taking off towards Germany. Our plan was to land and go straight to the expo, and in true mum/anxiety riddled/ocd planner person style, i’d worked out trains, cost of tickets, exactly where we needed to be etc. I think Jordan was rather pleased as it was all a bit of a ‘remember what I booked back in March’ type of affair. Was she bag dropping or getting a poncho?!
We soon worked it all out (She was bag drop, I was poncho) and we landed in Berlin. We caught the S Bahn and arrived at the Berlin Vital Expo, held at the former Airport Templehof, and it took us around 45 minutes on the train from Schöenfeld Airport, and then we walked up the road to the expo. All in it probably took around an hour, hour and a half ish.
We happily bumped into a friend at the airport, who had just landed and we travelled over together. We also bumped into Clare (@thinkingclarely) and Kev and had a chat as we all went towards the enormous terminal building, shaped like a horseshoe. There were so many people.
Once we were inside there was a whole bunch of walking to do. We found the gates to get through to register (with race registration info and your id) where you had your fabric band attached to your wrist. This was your ticket into the start pens the next day.
We processed behind thousands of others to try and pick up our numbers. Unfortunately, Berlin marathon doesn’t seem to be laid out as well as London. In London you collect your numbers at the very start of the expo, and then go into the event with the stands and merchandise and stalls etc. However, at Berlin, we had to walk through 4 very large and crowded hangars, full of stands and people, and to boot, it was super stuffy in there, and we both were feeling a little anxious to get outside.
We made it to the number collection and got back outside as fast as we could! We took hardly any pictures and didn’t really stop at any stands (apart from when we found the Swiss City Marathon stand – which we are running with #runswitzerland in October!) so that gives you an idea of how uncomfortable it was in there.
Both hungry and tired after an early start, and after the disappointment of an AWFUL plate of pasta at the expo, we decided to make our way to our Hotel in Friedrichshain, another 20 minutes or so on the U Bahn this time (cute yellow underground trains!)
We were staying at a Hostel/Hotel called Hotel PLUS, and it was really perfect. We’d booked a private room with our own bathroom. Everything was very clean and apart from the crazy massive doors blocking every corridor off like we were on some sinking ship, it was great. They offered a buffet for runners, which we didn’t end up going for and wished we had, but instead went exploring and found basically an entire restaurant dedicated to pasta dishes. The hotel had a really lovely bar and a courtyard garden, and it was right next to the U and S Bahn stations, so amazing for getting around easily.
We both were ready for bed at 8pm, but we made ourselves stay up, drank plenty of water and called it a night around 9pm. I know. P A R T Y.
The next morning we roused ourselves, going about our own pre race routines, neither of us knew exactly what might happen today, but we were both very chilled and didn’t feel rushed. We got our things together and walked off to the train station. After meeting some other German runners and being advised to take the S instead of U Bahn, we followed like sheep to the better train and boarded, familiarising ourselves with the smell of deep heat and expectations as we were met with so many different nationalities and languages on the busy (but not packed) train.
Another 10 minute walk up to the start area, we said our goodbyes and made our way off to our time pens.
Jordan went off to D being the speedy girl she is, and I found my way to pen E. I’d given them my time from Brighton, and under any other circumstance, the course would have been PERFECT for me to smash my Brighton time. I was playing it safe though, I knew I was FAR from the shape I was in at the start of the year, speed wise, and so may main aim was to finish in one piece, with the vague possibility that I might scrape in a sub 4.
I’d been chatting to a few running friends who all had a similar goal, including Paul (@pauladdicott) who is an incredible pacer and fellow Brooks Running ambassador, and we had agreed to try and find each other at the start. I knew from experience this could be almost impossible, there were around 43,000 people running and it was an enormous mass start.
Luckily, Paul had a visibility advantage with his 4:00hr pacer flag, I spotted the pacer gang near bag drop. I was SO HAPPY! Someone I knew and could hang out with. Phew.
We walked down to the start and I let a few others know I was with Paul. Then out of nowhere, Mel appeared (@little.runner.mel) who i’d chatted to on IG for a couple of years but we’d never managed to meet at anything. I was so excited to see her and we chatted a bit as we made our way to the start area.
As I came out towards the pens, as if it was meant to be, who did I see but my friend Anna (@anna.the.runner), beaming back at me. I hopped over the fence to get to her but the realised the others had carried on to go in the CORRECT way (oops). I needn’t have worried though, as they made their way back to us. A little bit of conversation and anticipation passed, and then from nowhere appeared Alban! (@banbaninlondon) We were all together and it was such a good vibe. The sun was out, the elites were off (World record breaking race btw…) and we were larking about, not the average way to start a marathon but it was so good and I felt so relaxed and ready to start.
As a group our goals were similar, and we managed to stay together for the first 5km. Alban, Anna and I pushed ahead of Paul and the pace group, only a little, to sort of line up a buffer. Anna was hoping for a sub 4 (which she totally got) and Alban was helping pace her. I had no goals really. I wanted to finish and as usual I had a few a, b, c goals.
a. P.B so anything UNDER 3:44.
b. Sub 4.
c. Sub 4:30
d. Finish the thing.
It was our turn to start and in the most casual wave start I think i’ve ever experienced, we just ambled forward, and started underneath a couple of towers that had been put up and that was it, we’d started!
As soon as we were running I knew it was going to be tough. Not impossible but I could feel the run in my shoulders and breathing and tried hard to keep them both easy and steady. My shoulders quite often ache in long distance. I’m imagining it’s a combo of holding myself upright, carrying a hydration vest and probably, weak shoulders!
I kept shaking out my arms and rotating them, getting in arm circles and trying to concentrate on anything but the ache as it was so distracting. Luckily this time I didn’t get any swelling hands – that’s always a fun one to cope with.
One of the things I loved about running around another country was the differences between theirs and ours. For example, McFit. It’s ironically a gym… I guess some things don’t translate too well. Wonder if they serve cheeseburgers post exercise class?
Not just that but it seemed that each new long, long street you turned onto, there would be another grand looking building, adorned with gold or of incredible architecture. Unfortunately that’s pretty much it on the sights. The course wasn’t exactly attractive, and apart from the odd statue, it didn’t offer much in the way of sights.
I mean, I wasn’t too bothered. I was mainly just trying to stick with it and stay afloat.
Around 18 miles (at least I think it was) Anna and Alban broke off from me. They pulled ahead and I let them go. I just didn’t have it in me that day to push for more. I’d managed to stay under 4 hrs up until this point, and actually only from mile 22 ish (my new dead zone, it used to be 16) did this really start to slip out of my reach. Until this point my splits had actually been pretty consistent i’m happy to add. They ranged from 8:46 to 9:13, with most hovering around 9 or just under. At 18 miles I had my first 9:33 and although I got a good mile in at 19, the deed was done and the last few miles went from 9:33-10:12.
The sub 4 slipped out of my hands, but as I said, I knew I wasn’t on form and I didn’t want to push for a race that wasn’t mine to take. And it meant that I wasn’t on a time schedule and I stopped for hugs with the FABULOUS cheer squad and motivational encouragements from Becca! I crossed the line in 4:03:32 official time (I was over, at 26.4 miles, some people were at 26.7!).
So let’s just address a few things about Berlin Marathon.
- It’s busy but it didn’t feel super crowded.
- There are toilets along the start pens. Go there.
- The crowds aren’t lined up the whole way, and they’re nowhere near as loud as London. Lots of drums too. Mainly just drum-based-bands. And they clap in time with each other, sort of like an instructional encouragement.
- The absolute CARNAGE through the water stations. Saving the planet by not using bottle but instead using PLASTIC CUPS is not the one. The noise through these stations was so horrendous, as thousands and thousands of feet crunched and crashed over the discarded objects!
- Free travel on race day, but no free drinks or money off food etc like in London.
- If you choose ‘Poncho’ instead of ‘Bag Drop’ you WILL NOT be able to change, so make sure you work that one out.
- It’s flat. Apart from maybe 2 bridges, and even then it’s not really anything to write home about. It’s definitely a p.b course.
- The portaloos don’t have sanitiser. They also don’t have a flush. And there is just a hole. You can see EVERYTHING down there…
- The beer at the end is ALCOHOL FREE.
- Get a Bredzel at the end. It will rock. your. world. Carbs and salt. Done.
One other thing I was super disappointed with was the fact I only had 1 actually good picture. In total, there were just 6 pictures of me, and all but 1 I was behind someone else. Such a shame really because I wasn’t flat out. I could’ve got some good pics. But hey ho. At least the good one I did get was under the Brandenburg Gate. WHICH by the way is NOT THE END. Nowhere near. There’s still another 0.20 miles to go…
We were staying until Monday evening which was great, so we had plenty of time to sightsee the next day. After we had finished the race and met a few of our friends at the end, Jordan and I made our way back to the Hotel to wash and change and basically go and stuff our faces and celebrate. After all, she had smashed her p.b and I had survived.
Our hotel was next to this really cool restaurant on the river called ‘Pirates Berlin’. It had a beach in it, and we’d walked past the evening before and eyed up the menu, both food and cocktail. We decided we’d probably come back Sunday night when we didn’t have to worry about eating or drinking the wrong thing! We ordered an ENORMOUS pizza, like seriously it was huge. And it wasn’t even the biggest one they did. We had puddings and cocktails and enjoyed our evening so much.
The Monday we woke up after an incredibly rubbish nights sleep. we both had restless legs and were too hot… Jordan went off to get a coffee while i desperately tried to sleep a bit longer. Once we gave up on that, we went to get breakfast and do a bit of sightseeing.
We started the day by walking along the old Berlin Wall, or East Side Gallery, and admired all the many different styles of artwork painted there. It’s quite the collection of different styles, some very political, some iconic and some just bizarre…
We met up with a few of the others after walking up the wall (which started right by us, and up along the river) and had coffee and pastries and compared war stories. It was really hot and we were all thankful that it hadn’t been quite as warm the day before. The others went off to explore the wall, so Jordan and I ventured in to the centre to have a look at Checkpoint Charlie (well I couldn’t NOT go there!), and we bumped into Clare and Kev again! We chatted for a little while and then made our way back out to the hotel to pick up our bags for our onward journey to the airport.
I really really loved Berlin. I loved the city, and being there with so many other running friends made it so special. I had a race that ‘on paper’ wasn’t particularly good, I didn’t p.b on a p.b course. But I did have an incredible time.
Berlin, I think I might have to come back and give you another shot.
P.S. I downloaded a brilliant app for travelling around Berlin. If you search the App store for FahrInfo, it’s a little yellow logo with the Brandenburg Gate in black, and it says BVG on it. It was priceless in helping us get around. Also the daily travel card was brilliant. It was €7.70 and covered Berlin zones ABC. Depending on where you were staying, you could get an AB or B/C one also for slightly cheaper. It covers ANY travel like London would, S and U Bahn, the trams, buses, and it is valid from time of purchase until 3am the following morning. You HAVE to validate your ticket in the machine next to the ticket machine, and as far as we could find, you have to buy these travel cards from the machines on the platform. A mainline train station worker won’t know what you’re talking about, apparently…