Berlin Marathon 2017
This isn’t how I expected to be writing this blog, it isn’t what I expected to be writing, the whole experience has been completely different to how I expected. Probably why I’m sitting here in Tegel airport having just replied to Adrian at Runners World saying I don’t believe it actually happened yet, did I really do it?.
So how did this happen? Well it nearly didn’t, but once I got over the whole “London has to be my first” thing I was on the hunt for another marathon and a Berlin just seemed to fit. I can remember why I entered the ballot apart from talking to Darren (@runnersknees) over coffee (yes and cake) and having his confirmation that it most definitely was possible and it’s probably one of the best marathons in the world.
I remember the mega disappointment of not getting into the ballot and starting to look for another marathon around the same time. But I just couldn’t shake off the thought of doing Berlin and took to looking for a charity or tour company to go with. I’d almost given up hope, but then an advert for Prostate Cancer UK popped up on my Facebook timeline. They had a sensible fundraising target (£500) and with matched giving from my previous employer it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I had a good idea what I needed to do in training but I was struggling to get over 13miles, figured it was a mental thing. So I got in contact a coach (Michelle @mileswithshell) that I knew from twitter and Michelle put an awesome plan together for me which was achieveable, would get my to Berlin, fitted in all my races (even Chase the Sun’s) and amendable where needed.
I updated my blog on my training to keep me accountable…
No major injuries but I was struggling particularly with the mid week miles and longer distances on my lonesome. I did one 14, one 17 on my own and 17.5 at cakeathon but that was it and I hoped the difficulty of cakeathon (hilly and trail) would see me through.
Bailing – let’s talk about the elephant in the room. On my last update I said I was contemplating deferring for another year. I wasn’t too concerned about the distance, but the 6.15 cut off time and the heavily enforced grim sweeper (aka sweeper bus). It would set off as the last runner crossed the start line and move at a pace I wasn’t planning on going from mile 1.
Instagram said go for it, twitter said defer, Facebook just didn’t give a….monkeys. My katzenjammer crew kind of called an intervention on our what’s app group and I had a chat with Michelle and the ongoing theme was, go for it, you never know & you’ll probably regret it.
I was in the last pen, Pen H and I figured given what I’d found out from previous years, if I was at the front of the pen, I’d have approx 15mins head start and I’d get to 15miles without being caught. Going to Berlin I’d decided I was going to start, see where I got caught and depending on where I got caught I’d decide if I carried on the pavement or got on the sweeper bus.
By the time I got to Berlin and been to the expo, that had all changed, I was doing 26.2 miles, whether there was a finishing gantry, timing mat or medal left I was going the distance. I was incredibly relaxed about the whole thing, which was probably more nerve racking that actually being nervous about it. I put it down to the fact that I’d decided I’m just going to cover the distance no matter what and I was fairly certain I could do that.
My plan was to arrive Thursday afternoon and make my way to the expo that evening before all the rush the following days but I was a bit slow in unpacking and tired so I planned to go the following day.
I got there just after opening to discover the queue was beginning from inside the u-bahn station and I couldn’t see the end of it. However German efficiency rules and within half an hour I had a machine tying a band around my wrist & my race number was being printed out – oh that’s when it became VERY real!!!
It’s not as organised as London expo with a nice flow, it’s separated into three halls and the merch is just one huge scrum for the (sorry to anyone that bought one) poo-green finishers tee that I wasn’t going to buy as it was a finishers tee and none of us had finished yet and, well, it was poo-green.
I met up with Sarah for a chat and tried out some of the Erdinger alcohol free citrus beer which was heavenly – so much that I’ve told Erdinger UK have to get some of that over here.
For the rest of the day I tried to do some sightseeing as I wasn’t going to do much at all Saturday.
Saturday, I did exactly nothing all morning, finished off my book that I promised myself I’d finish before the race and got my kit ready for Sunday.
I joined Angela (@Duffrunning) and some of her Ealing Eagles friends for ‘first dinner’ in a delightful Italian restaurant with the inline skaters flying past. Interesting to hear from some of the faster runners who weren’t feeling it so we’re going to pootle round at 3hr pace!!!
Then it was off out West for dinner with ukrunchat crew and quite possibly one of the biggest pizzas I’ve seen.The idea was that we’d all try to meet again in the morning for a team photo, until Ciara jinxed me (she doesn’t know about this yet). “We’ll try do a team photo in the morning, unless you do your usual trick of turning up just before the start Carl” ehm….
Kit rechecked and bag drop bag packed for an early night for the big day ahead
Alarm goes off at 6.20 (on my phone), I get kitted up, shoes on, bag together and I trot off down to the communal kitchen to have my porridge, bun, banana and fill up my water bladder and flask. I was just about to step outside and my insoles just didn’t feel right. I took them out the other week to try them in my new shoes and it just didn’t feel like it’d slotted back in the right position. So I popped back upstairs to change to my spare shoes which had only done about 10k in previously so not ideal. This also meant changing over my chip which had to be fed through your laces. Done and I was out of the door for 7.00 which was exactly what I was hoping for and I might even make the Prostate Cancer UK team pic at 7.30.
I pop out of Potsdamer Platz station, following 4 Americans dressed as a caterpillar. I get opposite the Brandenburg Gate to take a quick Insta story video before getting in the zone as I usually do and very little social media stuff happens then. Why does my phone say its 8.30, my Garmin says 7.3….ohhhhhhhhhhh……… Phone had of course updated to the new time zone, Garmin had not – queue mad rush for pee (in a rather natural setting) find my bag drop which was nowhere near the others and a bit of a panic, put some anti-chafe stuff on anywhere that could possibly chafe and that was it.
Then, I was a bit naughty. You read the bit about the sweeper bus right? Well I needed as much time ahead of the sweeper as feasibly possible. So I snuck past the people checking the numbers and into Pen F I went. Now, I’m not proud and I know if everyone did that,it could’ve jeopardised others races but I did what I could to stay out of the way as much as I could.
Startline was rocking, we had some Brazilian pop music, Highway to Hell and sooner rather than later Kipchoge and Co were off.
I tried chatting to Maria who was also running for PCUK and we had a lovely chat, Including an entertaining moment when she must have clicked and said “What time are you aiming for” realising I was in the pen for 3:30-4:00hrs.
Matt Bodkin turned up behind me and it was really nice to see another friendly face after seeing Jo and Janet briefly earlier. Quick seflie and I was across the line and I’d started my first marathon, 26.2miles, 42.2kilometres to go.
Pacing, well, actually, I haven’t discussed this yet, goals, although they’re probably fairly obvious
- Finish/cover 26.2miles
- Finish and not die/at least walk away
- Finish and beat sweeper bus
- Finish under 7hrs
Right then, over the start line, let’s do this.
Don’t go off too quick, why does my watch say I’m doing 8min/mile, it’ll sort itself out in a minute, still says 8m/m, oh flip, it’s in minute/kilometres. Get phone out and start working out the conversion between min/mile and min/km.
Alerts are still coming up in miles so that’s a relief, first mile way too quick, got my calculation wrong, slow it down while I can. Support is good, lots of Germans telling me to die and saying things I’ve got no idea what. It’s really busy, working hard to try and stay out of peoples’ way and going the long way around the Victory Column and corners.
5k done, little quicker than I planned but feeling good, the weather is good, the rain isn’t too bad. Skipped the water station, looked like carnage, dodging over plastic cups in the road.
Ok, get comfortable, slow the pace down a bit, it’s a marathon not a sprint!
Shit, pacers, I didn’t know where to go, do I stick to the side of the road, do I go more central to let people past both sides. I decided to stick to the right and hung behind a lady who was moving slower than me until the big group went past.
Spotted some photographers on the way back into the city and had a little run and pulled some shapes. I knew my hotel was right on the 10k point and it was nice to know exactly where I was for once. I took an opportunity to relieve myself in some bushes all new experiences!
Water station was complete and utter carnage this time, it looked more like Next on Oxford Street Boxing Day, it was manic. I was glad I didn’t have to stop but running after the water station was impossible there were cups everywhere. It was slippery as hell too.
Next aim Halfway.
First off, this felt like a long haul, halfway just felt like it was never going come, the KM’s just were not counting down at all.
Fortunately I was still moving well and on pace. When I say on pace, I mean not above a certain pace, I had got mile splits in mind that were slow enough to get me round. It means I could probably go quicker, but this was all about finishing and if I hit my splits it would bring me in spot on 7 hours.
Support was great and I wasn’t listening to my music – the bands on course were fantastic and as soon as you lost sound of one, another appeared in front. They were everything from DJ’s, choir’s, brass bands, steel drums everything and they were so loud I couldn’t listen to my own music anyway.
Sarah, who I met with Nic at Wings for Life run and at the Expo joined me for a bit and was smashing it so I let her take off again without wasting too much time with me.
At 20k there weren’t as many runners so I decided to stop at the aid station to pick up some banana and energy drink. But I still had to ask someone to move out of the way who was just stood there right next to all the bananas chatting away.
Not long after I heard a shout from behind it was Emma (@Tunster82 on IG). We stuck it together to the halfway point and it was tantalising seeing a blue archway up ahead, we were saying to each other that could be it, that could be half way – if anything calls for a selfie that does!
Halfway done and finally I could start counting down the miles.
I felt good, I felt exactly how I wanted to feel at halfway, I just knew that at some point the pain was going to come.
21 – 30k
I’d been feeling good, I was still running well and the next target was 30k. I knew if I could get to 30k I knew I stood a good chance of finishing.
I promised myself that if I got to halfway, I could ring my parents and check my phone for tweets and instagram messages. Marijke joined me for a run for a km and before I knew it I got to 24km and I called my parents. I needed a boost to hear from them and I thought they would appreciate an update from me too. I had my aftershokz on and it helped me keep running but keep my breathing in check as if I could still talk and run I was doing ok. Although I was really quite choked actually talking to them, Dad kept on saying “you’re getting out of breath” I wasn’t I was choking up. After that I felt such a boost and it just confirmed to me that no way was not going to let them down.
The km’s were ticking away really quickly now and I wasn’t having to concentrate on my pace at all as I was just plodding along really nicely. The field thinned out a bit more and 30k came up before nothing. The support in this section wasn’t great, but the marshals were shouting random German words – I hope of encouragement and I put my music on and plodded along.
I got to 30k and had a read of the incoming tweets and messages and it was stunning to see so many people tracking me and having conversations about how well I was doing.
I did a bit of maths in my head to figure out what 30k was in miles and I figured the next goal was 32k or 20miles and then only 10k left and 1hr 45 to do it in to get under 7hrs, easy right?
30 – 35k
32k sign came up and I dared say to myself “you’re going to do it, you’re going to finish a marathon ffs Carl, you can do 10k”.
The next target was 35k and I have nothing, absolutely no idea what went on between these kilometres, my head is just a ball of fuzz, I’ve got nothing! No idea whether I was flying or struggling, what sights were on the course, what the spectators were like.
I remember at one point two Brits coming up being me properly power walking and I tried to keep up with them but they were walking at my running pace – I think that was somewhere near 35k mark where I stopped and held onto some railings and did 10 squats to try and reset my legs. I stole a look behind me at one point and I couldn’t see a sweeper bus along a tree-lined stretch with coffee shops and fancy boutiques – could I actually do this and beat the sweeper??
I hit 35k and kept in my mind that there was just 7k to go. I went through the Red Bull station and taking what was advertised as being Red Bull and water, but I’m convinced it was just water. Not long after that I just remember my legs saying no more, the head was willing but the legs were not. I knew this was it, the Berlin Wall was pulled down years ago but there was one hell of a wall standing right in front of me. I’d hit the wall, but I was surprised how quickly it came on – one second I was trotting along nicely, the next boom, my legs said they were no longer wanted to move. I slowed right down, barely moving forward, hoping it would help. I took on my last gel hoping for a second wind.
A marshal said something in German too me and I just have him a really confused lol. He then said in English – only 5k to go, go, go, go!
One more parkrun. Now I owe someone an apology – When I saw Lou (@TheRunnerBird) at the London marathon I informed her how many parkruns were left and I was politely told where to go and do something to myself which I didn’t really get at the time – I thought it was helpful?
After 23miles a parkrun is a ducking long way guys!!!
I was done, I turned a corner and hung myself over some railings trying to do some form of a stretch. I took a look down the road where I’d just come from and there they were…..two double decker grey sleek German Coaches, the grim sweepers!
Purely because I could see them I felt like they were on my tail, this was it, I had to keep moving, and moving swiftly too. They were a good couple of hundred metres, maybe even half a kilometre behind me, but they were there and it felt like they were looming over me ready to snap me up!
I had no more gels, a few sticky maoam’s that I really didn’t fancy so I gave myself something the only thing I could, a good ole talking to:
“are you going to tell your parents you quit with 5k to go?”,
“what about all those tracking you on twitter and Instagram Carl? Are you going to let them all down?”
“What about all the people you’ve told you’re doing Berlin marathon, at work, Runners World, Facebook eh?, you going to tell them you got to 37k and called it a day?…….hell no!”
It gave me the second wind I needed and I took off again moving better.
Only I’d missed the 37k sign and in my head it wasn’t 5k to go until I saw that sign , it was still 6k to go. It’s got to be round the next corner, it HAS to be!!!
It wasn’t, and wasn’t round the next one either. I could see a sign up head convinced I’d missed the 37k sign when I had my head in my phone trying to find some motivation.
Please say 38k, please god, please make it 38k. Tantalisingly they’d positioned it so I could only see the “km” and not the number until I got close – “it says 38, it says 38…..I knew it”
Working my way down a long stretch, of road and I’m passed by a flying bottle of beer, squints, rechecks, yep, that’s definitely a bottle of beer, running. Suprising though, because compared to London or Great North there were very few fancy dress costumes apart from the 4-man caterpillar and a lady with a plastic bottom over her shorts – they’re a bit odd over there, but I guess they just don’t do fancy dress.
Through Potsdamer Platz which was awesome because I finally knew where I was on the course as I’d walked to the start from there. I was trying to picture the course in my mind, right turn, adjacent to Unter-den Linden then double left and finish…..where’s that bottle of beer going, he’s turning left, I’m already adjacent to Brandenburg!!!! This is nearly it!
I chased after the bottle of beer and crossed the 40k mat, sneaking a look behind for the sweeper buses and they were still close enough to cause concern but I was certain I could make it. I was going to use the portaloo at 40k but I didn’t want to risk the buses catching me so I tied a theoretical knot in it and cracked on.
This part was agonising, left turn, right turn, left turn, right turn, this must be the last one and I’ll see Brandenburg. A guy in front of me broke down when he turned left and didn’t see the gate. I told him we were super close and we just had to keep moving.
This is it, I could see the crowds on the next turn, there are barriers up, this MUST be it….. I got there and hit by a wall of noise, I got a couple of shouts from the Ealing guys and Helen and Jenni from 1vision2girls on twitter, I was trying to keep an eye out for people but it was impossible with so many people on both sides of the road shouting my name I was looking everywhere and trying my hardest to stay composed.
Now, I don’t know about anyone else but when I read there was an Erdinger Powerzone on the final stretch, I thought you’d at least get some Erdinger….alas you got a tunnel of people cheering you and two people standing right on the blue line who I had to dodge and some bouncing music, but I didn’t really need it.
The support was incredible, I’d queued up the Top Gun theme tune on my aftershokz for the finish but I couldn’t listen to it – the shouts and cheers were a million times better and I wanted to take it all in.
Through the gate, I’d done it, I’d finished my first marathon, I was going to do it, under my own steam and beating the flipping grim sweepers behind me – after having one final check…..
I’d been down to the finish on Friday and scoped out the distance from Brandenburg Gate to Ziel – the finish. I swear some git had moved it down – I could barely see it.
I got a shout from my left and it was John (@jbeaton1993) who came to bring me home. The rest is a blur, I pulled some shapes for the photographers and just kept my head down and ran towards that finish line. I was looking for the blue carpet but it wasn’t there so I just shuffled on with tunnel vision focussing on that finishing gantry!
It was done…..I did it….
Medal round my neck and that was it, I’d finished. It all got a bit emosh from there really, if I wasn’t already!
John was a superstar and got me water, goody bag full of food that I’d have totally missed otherwise and he even went to get my bag for me from the drop tent as they moved them all to one central drop. I didn’t see any evidence of any Erdinger which I could’ve downed in one but I really wasn’t that bothered and it turns out others missed it too.
First thing I did was call my parents to tell them I’d finished, their reaction was worth recording. They were as stunned as I was. I’d obviously told them about my concerns about the sweeper etc and I think they just expected me to get caught and have to ride home on the sweeper – I mean I did too!
I recorded a little message for everyone who supported me then had a read through my messages. Sorry if this is going to embarrass you ladies but, people were crying and getting emotional because I’d finished a marathon, H told me she’d just had a little weep and whooped when she got the message on the tracker to say I’d finished and the Katzenjammer group chat went nuts – I couldn’t take it all in. So I sat there talking to John stunned by the whole experience.
I decided to lay down and put my feet up in the air on one of the concrete blocks while laying on my plastic blanket. An official came over and asked “do you need medical attention or are you just resting?” On confirmation I was resting he was a darling, screwed up some other discarded plastic blankets and stuck them behind my head as a pillow before informing me I could stay there but only for two more hours until they closed the park.
I took a cab home and shivered my way in despite getting changed fairly swiftly post race.
Celebrations that evening, I imagined beers in the local beer hall, dirty massive burgers while wearing our medals……in reality, me laying on my bed in just my compression shorts slowly eating a pack of 12 Jaffa Cakes….rock and roll or what? I didn’t even get an early night apart from napping through ukrunchat hour.
Monday morning I jumped out of bed, excited for a day of walking tours and cycling around tempelhof field…..and if you believe that you can have the sponge that they give you at the expo.
I edged out of bed Monday morning, feeling, actually much better than expected but still a bit delicate and wobbly. I didn’t have any blisters, my toenails were all still in place, steadfast and I just had the usual and expected tightness in my legs. I managed to get out and walk down to the Adidas store (the only time my walking time has actually been longer than google maps’ suggested time) to have my wristband engraved with my finish time but the queue was so huge I just decided to do some shopping and go back later.
Bussed it down to Brandenburg Gate to take a few selfies with my new best friend (my medal) before heading back to the Adidas store to get my engraving done and then heading out for dinner, beers and a weird in-restaurant massage at the table with Jo, Janet and Will.
I did ask if they did legs as I would’ve been quite happy to clear the table and pop myself on there. I definitely made up for missing the celebrations Sunday night.
So, first marathon, done. Not what I was expecting at all. I was expecting it to start hurting a lot sooner than 35-37k, I expected to be pretty much on my own for the whole second half and yet I wasn’t at all, I expected to get caught by the sweeper bus and I didn’t, I expected to really have to dig deep at some point to tell myself to carry on, and in truth I had one word with myself and that was it, I never considered bailing once. I expected to say never again……..I didn’t!!
I have a lot of thank you’s, too many to mention individually and because I don’t want to miss anyone out. But obviously everyone who had faith in me and told me to go for it, Michelle for keeping me going, telling me I could do it and I’d regret it if i didn’t and getting me to the start-line, Darren, true friend but he knew when to give me a kick up the arse, katzenjammers, for the intervention, Jen for doing an alternative training plan that was a bit lower in the mid week miles, telling me to put my big boy pants on and go for it and the support en route, while you were all out there yourselves.
But everyone who sent me a message pre, mid or post race, honestly you guys kept me going, kept my spirits up and got me round – if i could divide the medal up between you all I would.
Where next? Well I didn’t say never again, but I said that before I’d finished Royal Parks last year and now look. Marathon Majors is definitely a target, London of course is on the list – I’d love the opportunity to run it with Dad next year as we said we’d run it together. Ultra-marathon eating is on the agenda for this week and already I’m scouring the internet for my next marathon – I was warned this would happen…..
I feel like I should sign off with something really poignant but I’m just looking forward to running for real fun again, going out without a set distance in mind, going without my Garmin, going for some speed sessions with the club, going splashing in the puddle and mud (yeah, alright that one’s a lie), doing Parkrun without getting up a silly o’clock to do 13miles before you get there or thinking about having to do 14mile afterwards.
What’s the best thing to come from this, yeah the medal is nice, the warm fuzzy feeling comes from your friend telling you she’s going to try to do a 10k, someone else saying they want to give a marathon a go and that I’ve inspired them – that makes all the shitty runs, the I can’t do it’s, the why am I doing it…..so worth it.
I look forward to having some fun, seeing some friends at Royal Parks and Manchester Half in the next few weeks and enjoying life being a marathon runner, me, the fat kid who couldn’t even walk 5k in August 2014, just did a marathon…….ha!
I told you, you’d need tissues! 🙂
One last thing, I promise – if you enjoyed reading that and my other posts, I am up for nomination at The Running Awards in the Publication & Online – Blog category – I’d love your vote, thank you!