Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune
Wait a minute? This sounds very familiar and feels somewhat like déjà vu. In the immortal words of Talking Head’s David Byrne “How did I get here?”. Having written a race report for the Berlin Marathon this time 12 months ago it seems somewhat unfair that the duty be thrust upon me once more. Yet here we are. One might ask, how? Well you have Aoife O’Leary to thank for this one. You see Aoife, facetiously, took advantage of my semi inebriated post-marathon condition, when I had all of 5 pints on board, managing to subterfuge her way out of the race report whilst in the process landing me with the honour. The subtlety in which the precocious track talent turned club record marathon holder turned the tables on me has me believing that I was gaslighted. You see Aoife’s identical twin, Crona, was also present. Like most people I struggle to tell them apart, even when sober. Could it be possible that they were in cahoots and were manipulating me the whole time by using the power of suggestion and tapping into my neural conscience? Or perhaps not.
In 2022 I finished the race report with an anecdote about Eliud Kipchoge breaking the men’s world record and how thrilling it was to compete alongside him. This year saw another world record being set so it seems appropriate to begin this report by commenting on Tigest Assefa. The Ethiopian obliterated the previous world record by over two minutes in a time of 2 hours 11 minutes and 53 seconds. This finishing time is incredible, especially given the hot conditions on the day. To put it in perspective, Eliud Kipchoge was over 90 seconds slower this year, than when setting his own world record 12 months ago, which evidences the tougher conditions. Another year, another Berlin world record, another story to tell the grandchildren.
It was manifestly obvious to everyone who knows me that I had some unfinished business in Berlin. Last year I didn’t enjoy the experience which left me with many regrets. I had travelled over solo and the entire weekend, including the marathon itself, seemed like a slog. The finish was an anti-climax with nobody to celebrate with. This year I was determined that things would be different so when convincing my wife Michelle to allow me to sign up again it was with the promise that my mindset would be a lot more positive and that I would enjoy the weekend, whatever the outcome. It was decided that not only would Michelle and our two children join me this year, but we also brought my parents along to give a helping hand. So on Friday morning the Mother, the Matriarch, a two year old, a four year, an OAP, and I began our voyage. I pitied those sitting near us on the plane.
Berlin is a wonderful city. So much has previously been written about the history and the culture of the place that I won’t bother going into any detail here. This was my 4th time visiting the city so I am quite familiar with it at this stage. It is a very inspiring place. In fact it was in Berlin where Sportsworld’s own Timothy Morahan won two gold medals in the Special Olympics barely three months previously. How much more inspiration do you need?
So on Sunday morning I set off from the hotel with a smile on my face. I’m quite an organised person who doesn’t like leaving things to chance. So when packing for the weekend I brought a couple of packets of instant oats porridge & an Aeropress machine with some of my own favourite ground coffee. It meant all I needed was a kettle and I could have my usual breakfast in the hotel room. I’ll be honest and admit that initially I did pack a kettle before being talked out of it at the last minute. After breakfast I dressed myself and set off for the Tiergarten which is where the race begins. I knew exactly how long it would take me to get there so I left precisely one hour before the race started. On the train to Potsdamer I enjoyed people watching and earwigging. There’s a nice 15 minute stroll then to the start area in which you walk by one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall and also the Brandenburg Gate. I soaked all of this in and was in my starting block bang on schedule with 15 minutes to spare. I don’t subscribe to the whole waiting around for an hour thing before a marathon. Especially on a warm day. Less is more. For me personally this is when the nerves really kick in and I just want the event to begin. My stomach was doing somersaults, my head was in a spin, and my resting heart rate was at 110bpm. Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait and after the introduction of the elites and (I probably shouldn’t write this but I believe in being in honest & transparent) a couple of very risky farts later we were off. It was the nerves.
This year I was in Block A so literally with the elites. The start line is split between two sides of the same road. I opted for the right hand side, out of habit mostly having chosen the same side last year when slightly further back in Block B. This year though the right hand side seemed to be way more congested than the left. You could see from over the barriers that the left side was moving whilst we on the right were stuttering. Those in Block B on the left actually reached the start line before a lot of Block A did on the right. As you went under the start gantry it was like a spontaneous combustion as the fireballs blasted off above your head. The pyro team clearly had a bigger budget this year but you could really feel the heat off the flames. Then about 200 metres into the race we ran through some fresh orange paint which had just been thrown on the road by protestors. After that we ran around the always impressive Grober Stern monument before the two sides of the road merge and it really feels like you have begun.
The first 15km were an absolute dream. Conditions were ideal and everything felt easy, as it should do. It was nice to see Maura Ginty, who was over supporting the tyrannical Aoife O’Leary, at the 12km mark. Ginty was sporting a tricolour and roaring support.
Fortunes changed literally the moment I went over the 15km timing mat. It was like there a parting in the clouds and the sun came out beating strong. I felt for those who were in later waves who hadn’t even begun yet. Anyway I still felt strong and the landmarks I had set in my head were ticking by nicely. I knew that my family were going to be just beyond the half way mark so I had that to look forward to. A successful bottle handover took place and from then on I was counting down the kilometres.
By that point I was fighting a losing battle with my heart rate monitor. I should have just jettisoned it, or even thrown it to Michelle, as it kept slipping down. When trying to adjust it I bust the top two safety pins on my race number. So my number flipped downwards and was back to front. This needed regular adjustment as it kept rubbing off my legs. A minor hindrance but one I could have done without. It also meant that from that point on there are no official race photos of me as my number was out of sight. The heart rate monitor ended up around my belly button giving some comically incorrect readings. An unintended consequence of this was that it gave more publicity to Sportsworld as the singlet was in full view and not being covered by a race number.
Every so often the sun would go behind some clouds, or you would be on a shaded street, and it was glorious. Other times the sun was beating down and it was necessary to try prevent yourself from overheating. Thankfully it wasn’t humid on the day. Every water station was spent throwing cups of water over me. I can’t drink from those hard plastic cups, I don’t know how anyone can. Out of nowhere Ginty magically reappeared at 32km and handed me an unexpected, but extremely welcome, bottle of water. I knew that Michelle and my travelling entourage would be at the 37km mark so my focus was trying to get to that point. Everything was on plan at 35km but then I started to cramp and everything got so much harder. By the time I reached the gang I was gasping. The bottle handover went smoothly though and I was also handed a facecloth which had been in a bag of ice. This was recommended to me by a friend and it was most welcome. I attempted to use the cloth to cool myself down around the head & neck areas, and I guzzled down the drink. It brought temporary relief however the effort was really taking its toll at this point. My right calf & hamstring had gone to cramp and I struggled to adjust my stride. I fought on to the finish even though the pace was dropping. I knew that I wasn’t going to pb but I was absolutely determined to keep going and to soak up the experience. Those last few kilometres seemed to last forever but I enjoyed every single step.
My finish time in the end was 2 hours 44 minutes and 5 seconds. Just over 70 seconds slower than last year. I was delighted though. On another day the time could have different but you can’t control the weather. I was very satisfied that I had given my absolute all, both in the build up and on the day itself. There is no such thing as an easy marathon. Each one gets harder as you get both older and more ambitious. This is why it is so important to enjoy the experience and the process. I’m glad to report that this year was night & day to last year in that regard.
Runners are a funny breed. We operate somewhat in our own little bohemian world that non runners can’t, don’t & won’t ever understand. It was lovely this year to have my family over and have them witness this event. The BBC might tell you that London is the best marathon in the world. They are lying. The Americans might tell you that Boston is the greatest. They are misinformed. Absolutely do not listen to them if they claim that New York or Chicago is. For me Berlin is the Wimbledon or the Superbowl of marathons. My family now have a better understanding of why I keep putting myself through this ordeal. I think they are also beginning to realise that running isn’t just the superfluous hobby they may have once thought it to be.
After the dust had settled we all met up for some drinks. It was nice to share war stories with Aoife who ran a magnificent race in 2 hours 52 minutes 59 seconds, not too far off her own club record. This was even more impressive given the less than ideal preparation she had over the previous few weeks. A good gang of us gathered and celebrated in the sunshine. Berlin 2023 truly was a magical weekend.