Berlin Marathon 2019

Berlin is one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors which is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world. The races take place in Tokyo, Boston, London, New York, Chicago, and Berlin. Many a seasoned marathon runner will try to tick off all six.

Dublin in 2018 was my first year to train properly for a marathon. My plan was just to cover the distance in around 2.45 but as fitness improved the speed picked up and a sub 2.40 seemed quite possible. The race went well and despite a tough last 10K I finished with a strong PB of 2.37. That got me a guaranteed entry for Berlin 2019.

This year I had ambitions of getting close to 2.30 which equates to 3.32 per kilometer. It was always going to be a stretch but I set out my easy, tempo, long, half and 10K paces based on running 3.30 – 3.32 a kilometer on September 29th.

After a tired and painful attempt at running a sub 2.40 time in Copenhagen in April, I was all set for Berlin with my last long run being an 18K effort at 3.30. I learned halfway through the Dublin 2018 training that once you have the strength and can cover the 42.2K distance the pace becomes more important than the distance. I tried a new plan with higher weekly mileage and allot more focus on race pace efforts for Berlin and ran some very hard sessions, I ould have run scared from. a few years ago  

The main phase of training was just 10 weeks leading up to the race. The majority of my training was focused on getting comfortable at that pace. Lots of 35 minute 10Ks.

I booked my flight and hotel quite late but managed to get a hotel 1.5 kilometers from the start. Unfortunately, the flights to Berlin were booked solid so I ended up on a flight to Dusseldorf and train to Berlin. I arrived in Berlin at 4 PM on Friday for the Sunday race. The rain was pouring which was to set the tone for the weekend weather-wise.

My first stop after dropping my bag was to get to the expo and pick up my number. I wanted to stay off my feet on Saturday. The former Airport Tempelhof is one of the most spectacular and historically significant expo locations in the world. Famous for the Berlin blockade the building ensemble is being used for different events since it closed as an airport in 2009. The expo was fun but even the Germans struggled to get 48,000 numbers handed out. Queues were long and the place was generally disorganized. I am not sure what to suggest here, get there early. After 90 minutes I left and joined Will Greensmyth for dinner.

Expo

All signs were good leading into the race. I felt fresh, well-rested, carb-loaded and eager to get going. I intentionally started out way below the target pace and ran 18.15 for the first then started to pick up. The plan was to break the race into 3 x 14K and progressively pick up at 14K and 28K.

Photo at 15K

Between 5k and 16k I found myself in a nice group that were running 3.35s. I felt comfortable but was sweating allot. I tried to take on water from early but the plastic cups made it difficult. At 14k, my second checkpoint I started to feel a bit sluggish but worked through it. But then at 18k fell off the back of the group and almost immediately started to really slow.  Although I didn’t feel anything, the post pace data is eerily similar to Charleville a few weeks ago. My heart rate started to drift towards 170 and beyond and at that point, it’s game over, you have to slow.

Course map

At halfway I could not believe how much ground I was losing. Plan A and B out the window I tried to pick up again but had nothing.  Under normal circumstances, I would normally try to compose myself and work back up to the group over 2-3K but after going through in 76.54 I was already thinking towards Dublin. If it hadn’t been so costly to get there and the chance to run through the finish I would have pulled up. The rest of the race was less than enjoyable. You might call it a GDR death march. My focus and concentration were gone. I maybe should have stopped at a waster station for 2 minutes and then got going again. It’s devastating how you can train for months, start so positive and see it all fade away in a matter of minutes. Because the race is so far, having the resilience to keep going and push through the pain is I think a better skill than being fast.

I was glad to have finished and get to run through the Brandenburg Gates. The weather had been good for the race with an occasional light shower. Five minutes before I finished it started to rain and almost immediately after crossing the line the heaven opened. I felt terrible for anyone running more than 3 hours as the last bit must have been a miserable last quarter.

Upfront the race was amazing with Bekele, the greatest of all time over 5 Kand 10K coming within 2 seconds of last years world record.

Follow the blue lines

As races go Berlin is epic. The field is stacked beyond belief, nowhere else do you see times like 2.30 leaving you in 300th position. The course is flat, I mean it there is not a single hill and you won’t find many races with that atmosphere.  Organisation could be improved, particularly at the expo, where the lines were just insane. People say you can practice drinking from plastic cups but I can’t figure it out. I wish they could figure this out and provide a better solution. Its something the top runners don’t have to deal with.

The lottery for Berlin opened on October 1st. Here are the time standards you need to nail in order to guarantee yourself the chance to test your own record in Berlin, broken down by age group:

  • Age 18 to 44 (2:45 for men, 3:00 for women)
  • Age 45 to 59 (2:55 for men, 3:20 for women)
  • Age 60 and up (3:25 for men, 4:10 for women)

I was going to focus on running shorter distances next year but now I think I will go back and do it next year. Unfortunately my race time puts me a bit further back in pen B but there may be a chance for a reprieve in Dublin. If you don’t fancy a marathon they have a great half in April with open entry.

It’s a class city to explore. The recent history is fascinating.  The weather wasn’t amazing for most of the weekend so a weekend back as a fully-fledged tourist is needed. .

Beautiful sunset with the Television Tower at Alexanderplatz in Berlin

After the Second World War, Berlin was left completely destroyed and demoralized, (a bit like me at 12pm on Sunday) squeezed in between the East and the West, and divided both physically and metaphorically by a long wall that cut across the city. Today, now that the Cold War and the events of 1989, which ended in the knocking down of the wall, begin to be just far off memories, Berlin is beginning to think about its own future.

A construction site of some new office buildings seen in Berlin

New buildings, designed by world-famous architects, have sprung up everywhere in this new Berlin, and although a large part of its historical and artistic heritage was destroyed during the last war, the city has kept its cultural identity and great wealth, with its museums and many monuments. However, Berlin is still a city with two souls. The western part has modern, alternative lifestyles, its nightlife is busy and exciting, while the Eastern part is still a kind of trip through what remains of socialism, a living museum made up of state buildings and grey condominium buildings, but with many hidden beauties.

It wasn’t all about me and my love for seeing new places. Sportsworld had just 4 runners taking part this year. Myself, Gerard Neenan,  Martin Doyle, and Nicola Lenehan. The extended Sportsworld group included former email writer Will Greensmyth supporting his speedy wife Siobhan.

Congratulations to Siobhan (2.44) and Gerard (3.29) on their new PBS. Myself (2.41), Martin (2.51) and Nicola (3.34) were a little more dissatisfied with our runs but a good dinner, some company, and few drinks made up for it. Not pictured is Martin who was warming up the bar.

A big thanks to Will for his support and for all the texts and messages of good luck and congratulations from everyone. When you are visiting a different city to run a marathon, it becomes a very anticipated event! To take all of that excitement and preparation and then have a disappointing race is tough but it is important to remember, it is just a race! It’s good to try and not make it a bigger instance or event than it actually is. There are elite marathoners who run for a living who actually drop out of the Olympic Marathon because of injury or a really bad race. If they can do it, there is nothing wrong with the amateur runner having a bad race.

Don’t over-analyze. This is especially for me.  I looked at every little thing after the race to try and determine what it was that had caused me to be run poorly. I picked apart each thing that I had eaten in the couple of days leading up to the race, I checked the humidity and temperature levels from my previous races to see if that had been the cause, I checked my heart rate and pace – everything I could think of. I do want to find out what is causing the high heart rate spikes. I had a hunch that it was down to dehydration but temperatures weren’t hot or humid. I’m going to change my gels and carry more water in Dublin. The numbers are in the training runs and the fitness won’t go to waste.

I can’t recommend this race enough. Its always harder not sleeping in your own bed, eating the normal foods the days before a race etc so you could make the call to not make it your goal race and just run it to enjoy it. I hope to do that in New York and Tokyo someday.