After a week of reflecting and thinking about the marathon, I’ve come to realize that this marathon hurt more than any other because I put so much of myself into training. My heart and soul went into this year’s training, pushing my body to try new things and reach new paces that I’ve never felt before. I’m very accustomed in my life to working hard for things but then, at the end of the day, seeing the rewards of that hard work come to fruition in either grades, business results, increased readership, etc.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, after weeks of training the results I saw when I crossed the Berlin Marathon finish line were not the ones I expected based on my training. There is a feeling of sting and disappointment that comes with this realization. In years past I had put myself through the training but never pushed the way I did this year. I had spread myself too thin whether across different types of workouts, commitments, or second guessed my body’s abilities and therefore not pushing to that next level of speed, hill training or long runs.
So now, a week later, it’s time to set aside all the emotion and give you a run down of the 2014 Berlin Marathon.
First and foremost, would I run it again or recommend it to others? Yes, yes yes! I loved Berlin and believe that they put on a great event complete with special activities such as the Breakfast shakeout run the day before to the enormous expo. It is a great race for anyone, whether it is your first or your 20th marathon!
Marathon morning I left the hotel around 7:15 to head over to the start area. The streets were already filled with fellow participants heading that direction so it was easy to follow participants from our hotel (The Sofitel Gendarmenmarkt) to the start. The weather was crisp and fresh, perfect for a marathon. Within a few minutes I could hear the crowds and excitement coming from the starting area as people started to organize themselves near the bathrooms, bag drop and grassy space. The announcements were primarily in German though due to the friendly people, many quickly would translate when anything was announced.
Before leaving, I tried going to the bathroom three times as I remember reading that the bathroom situation is a bit crazy and lines could get quite long. As soon as I arrived I grabbed a spot in the nearest bathroom line, already twenty people deep even though it was still more than an hour until the start. Once I finished I navigated my way towards the starting area, hoping I could find Charlie before the start. The signs and paths seem to go on forever, until after two separate bib checkpoints, I found myself in my starting corral. The race used metal barricades so people couldn’t easily duck in and out of corrals, instead having to literally hop over them due to the crowds and chaos at the few entry points.
I made friends with ladies around me in hopes to calm my nerves which suddenly were appearing out of no where. Out of months of training, race day was finally here. I did my best to stretch though due to the tight starting area I could barely lift my leg without kicking someone. Instead, I made sure my phone was in airplane mode and my Garmin was ready to go. Right on time we heard the start and the elites were leading the way. Just 10 minutes later it was time for our corral to cross the starting line.
My goal for the race was pretty simple. I wanted to run the first half strong, but not push my pace to the point of being unable to sustain it. I didn’t want to see any paces in the 8 minute or 10 minute range for as long as possible as one was too fast and the other was slower than I’d run my half marathon or training runs. In addition, I knew that I was running all 26.2 mile by myself which is a change versus previous years. I figured that the first half I would enjoy the sights and crowds then put in my headphones around the halfway point to break up the race and provide some motivation. Bo, who wins the award for cheerleader of the year, was going to catch me at three different spots – 10k, 20k and 40k. This helped me break up the race.
The first few miles were quite crowded but I barely noticed. I stayed to the far right side, and focused my attention on the absolutely incredible crowds. While they weren’t lining the streets for all 26.2 miles they were certainly present and unlike in some races, both here and in the states, they were actively screaming and cheering. There were people waving their country flags and holding signs. I felt strong and happy, barely noticing as we passed kilometer markers.
Are there mile markers and kilometer markers or only kilometers? There are only kilometer markers but I used my Garmin in miles since that is what I’m most accustomed to at this point.
The race featured 8 fluid stations (water and/or energy drink) and 6 fuel stations featuring either fruit or energy packs. The crazy plastic cups that people complain about is a real problem as you not only have to be careful not to run into people stopping to take fluid or avoid sticky messes but you have hard, plastic cups to complicate things which are breaking and cracking all over the streets. I avoided the water stations for the 5k mark as I had plenty of water in my handheld water bottle at this point.
Each mile, when I heard my Garmin beep, I glanced down to ensure I was on target, hovering somewhere in the 9:40-9:55 range. At the 5k point my average pace was 9:51, perfectly on target for my secret reach goal of 4:25. When I hit 5 miles I took my first salted caramel Gu. My plan for the day was to take a Gu at 5, 10 and 15 miles. When I reached 20 I would switch to either the half of granola bar or margarita Cliff Shot Blocks. A few minutes later, as we passed the 10k point, I started watching for Bo’s red hair. When my Garmin beeped it showed 1:01:05 or 9:51. I was all smiles when I heard Bo yell my name. At this point I was starting to feel the warm weather as the temperature had increased significantly since the start. Bo noticed that I was already looking salty so I took note and decided to start taking water and energy mix at the upcoming stations.
The miles weren’t necessarily coming easily but I felt strong. Focusing on the sights, even when it was a statue or a foreign building, helped take my mind of the running. I refused to start counting down as many readers had reinforced that once you start counting down the miles you stop enjoying the race. I kept moving forward, making sure to grab something to drink at each water station.
We crossed the half marathon mark sooner than I expected, at 2:11:15 or a 10:01 pace. Considering that I’d walked through the last water station, I was fine with this pace. It was still within reach goal range. My body was starting to feel the miles, but in a different way than I’d felt during my training runs. I felt as if I couldn’t take in enough water, always chugging the full cup at the water stop and had emptied my handheld bottle by the 10k point. Unwilling to focus on this more than necessary, I finished my 2nd Gu and grabbed my iPhone, switching on Spotify, ready for the boost that the music would provide.
I saw Bo around mile 14, telling him that I was starting to feel thirsty and a bit tired. I asked him if he had the extra pack of Gu I’d given him the night before as I may need it. He looked at me confused, clearly having forgotten the GU. I gave him a hug and moved forward.
Around the 24k point, or 15 miles, I started searching for a bathroom. I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to hold it for the rest of the race regardless how hard I tried to sweat out the liquid I was taking in through each water station. Just as quickly as I’d felt the urge, I felt an immediate need and luckily found a bathroom, just as promised, before the fuel station. I will save you the details but I lost a lot of fuel during that stop and without any toilet paper, dealt with some unfortunate chafing
Learn from my mistake – NEVER RUN A RACE WITHOUT TOILET PAPER IN YOUR POCKET!
Based on my pace I lost a few minutes in the bathroom but pushed forward, refusing to let it get me frustrated. I hoped that I’d gotten whatever I needed to out of my system and could just focus on the home stretch. My overall pace had dropped to 10:15 between that bathroom stop but I hoped that I could pick up the pace once I cleared the fuel and water area. I tried to do math in my head, to figure out what a 10:15 pace would equal for a marathon finish. This is a great way to entertain yourself on a race course as I swear it took at least a mile to figure out that it had to be within the 4:30 range.
Since I’ve never been a negative split runner, regardless how much I try, I decided that the better goal may be to just slow the pace and sustain the 10:15 range versus pushing it too early. I didn’t feel great after the bathroom stop. The next time I saw Bo I looked less than fabulous.
Yeah, I think I was yelling, can’t stop to talk, must move forward. Since I’d left the bathroom, back at mile 15, the marathon had stopped being fun or even enjoyable. My mind started questioning why I sign up to run one each Fall. I tried to change my watch to just clock setting, hoping to zone out and get my mind back on track. By the time my watch beeped 19 miles my pace had dropped, now at an average of 10:45, off my reach goal pace. As I tried to take another Gu, hoping it would help, I lost everything and started vomiting. There wasn’t much so it was more just liquid coming out but regardless wasn’t fun. I knew I had 7 miles left. Only 7 miles until I could be done with marathons forever, if I wanted. I dropped the Gu and just started walking. I wanted so badly to not walk at all the marathon but I remembered what others had said. I needed to keep moving primarily and walking is not for the weak. Some people run 8 and 9 minute pace miles with a run walk combination.
By the time I reached mile 22, which felt like an eternity, my entire right quad and groin were in pain. It felt like a charlie horse in my upper leg, versus the calf area. During these tough moments I am proud of myself for not stopping all together but I definitely walked more than the planned 1 minute of each mile.
I know that these were the moments that separated me from being a sub 4:50 marathoner this year. I knew all those mantras such as pain is temporary but at the same time, I thought of all the wonderful things I could enjoy after the marathon. Ski season, relaxed fun runs with friends, hiking in Chamonix, running the trails with Renaud, going to yoga more often, swimming with the P&G swim team. If I injured myself, none of that would be possible for a few months. At the end of the day, I wanted to finish the race uninjured versus push through the pain. This is a decision that is very personal and that every person has to make and be comfortable with in the moment and afterwards.
When I finally saw the famed Brandenburg Gate I couldn’t even smile. My body ached, my heart ached and I just wanted to be done. I wanted a hug from Bo and I wanted a cold beer. As I finally crossed the finish line at 1:53pm, 4:55:51 minutes after I started, I was filled with emotions. I thought I’d just barely pulled out a PR but knew I’d lost my sub 4:30 marathon which for so many miles had been within reach.
Now, looking back, I realize that this is why I felt a different type of pain this year. For over half the race that goal was in my hands. In fact, up until mile 20 a significant PR was in my reach. But, over the course of those miles my pace dropped from the original 9:55 to the 10:30 and finally ending at an 11:17 pace overall.
Was it the marathon i wanted and hoped for over the weeks of training. No, not at all. But, as I study the splits via the Berlin Marathon site I see something shiny within all that gloom. For 30km I held a pace that never before had been feasible for that type of distance. I am stronger than I was a year ago and even just a few months ago. I finished the marathon and today, as I ran a speedy 5k during lunch, I was thankful for the decision not to risk months of injury for one race. So there you have it, 26.2 blurry miles jaded a bit by sweat, salt and disappointment.
Thanks to Charlie for the starting line picture since mine is all sorts of blurry!