This time last week I was pounding the streets of Berlin, but now I’m back on home soil and the legs are feeling normal again so it seems the perfect time to write up my Berlin Marathon experience.
As I’ve written previously, I’d found training for Berlin a bit of a hard slog. For various reasons it just hadn’t really come together for me, so by the time I got to Berlin my primary objective was just to get round. My 10k and half marathon times had been slower than during my preparation for the Paris Marathon in 2014, so I knew it was unrealistic to hope to beat my previous marathon time (04:53:27). I hoped to beat the 5 hour mark, and hopefully raise a bit of money for the Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in the process.
I arrived in Berlin on the Friday and went straight to the Expo after landing in Berlin. Held at Tempelhof Airport, it seemed like an age before I actually got to the hangar where you could collect your number. However, on the way I did find about 10 different marathons around the world that I vowed to enter at some point or another. Fortunately once I was there the process was relatively straightforward. After going through a cardboard Brandenburg Gate, you were presented with a wristband to give you access to the start area. Then you picked up your number and chip, then you collected your t-shirt/s if you had pre-ordered one. I was very glad I had pre-ordered, because the Adidas shop was total chaos. I had pondered seeing what other merchandise was on offer but quickly decided against it, instead heading to the Erdinger stall for an alcohol-free pint with my dad.
Slightly achy from trudging around all day, I opted for a chilled evening to save my legs. Saturday was spent enjoying a chilled boat trip, a less chilled hunt for a replacement watch and plenty of carb loading.
My smugness at booking a hotel close to the start soon evaporated when I realised I would have to walk round the edge of Tiergarten just to get into the start area. While it seems sensible to keep the area near the start for runners only, fencing off what seemed like the whole of Tiergarten seemed a bit excessive and made the trip to the start a bit of a mission. The info staff were very helpful though!
Considering how big the area for runners actually was, toilets were few and far between but I eventually made it to the front of the queue just as my wave started to head off. Nerves largely at bay, at this point I was just keen to get going.
10k in and I was feeling at tad underwhelmed by the whole thing. After leaving Tiergarten the route was a little drab, while support was muted at best. Having seen my cheer team at 7k, knowing I wouldn’t see them again until near the halfway point was a little deflating. Then I ran past a nursing home, saw some residents watching the route out of the window, and got a little choked up. After pulling myself together I started to get into my stride, although I could already feel blisters on my little toes. Given that I hadn’t had a running blister for about two years, I was a little concerned but figured I just had to keep going. Thankfully the support along the route started to pick up at this point!
At the halfway point I was feeling good. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, I had actually finished the first half 2 minutes quicker than I did in Paris so was starting to believe I could beat my PB. But while I frantically did maths in my head to work out the necessary splits to beat my old time, I started to feel myself getting slower. All the aches and pains that had plagued me during training hit me, with a few new ones thrown in. I decided to just go as quickly as I could comfortably and just enjoy it.
I saw my cheer team again at 27k, 32k and 37k, which really helped break up the second half of the race. I soon realised that my ambitions of a new PB were slipping away, but knew I would be satisfied if I just kept below 5 hours. While my legs (and my two little toes in particular) were feeling the strain, I managed to keep running (albeit at a glacial pace). After the initial slightly lacklustre support the final half of the race was brilliant, with plenty of enthusiastic support to get us all through those final miles.
The scenery picked up too. I love Berlin, but the route largely skips some of the more beautiful parts (presumably for logistical reasons) and is a little on the grey side. The marathon saves the best until last though, swinging by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (agonisingly close to my hotel) before heading to Potsdamer Platz, then just a couple of turns until the big finish past the Brandenburg Gate.
MORE: Why I run
Ah, what a finish. For me this was one of the big draws of the race; running through the Brandenburg Gate as you approach the finish line. On some of my tougher training runs I had even visualised it at the end of my road for a bit of extra motivation! It did not disappoint. The crowds approaching it were brilliant, I had a great time running through it and the finish line was just close enough that I could enjoy the final stretch. Although that did not stop one person near me stopping as they went through the gate, prompting a marshal to remind them that they weren’t quite finished yet.
After the high of the Brandenburg Gate and finally reaching the finish line it was great to get that medal round my neck, but after that it was a slight faff. Having not carried my info map with me during the race, it wasn’t immediately obvious where to get the goody bag or my much-desired alcohol-free pint. The place to return your chip was nowhere near the finish line, and I probably would have missed it entirely if I hadn’t paid for my medal to be engraved. While the info staff were great (kindly responding to my broken German with very helpful instructions in English) a few signposts wouldn’t have gone amiss. But I found everything eventually and after a long walk round the edge of Tiergarten I finally found my family!
Not quite as big or flashy as other marathon medals, but the ribbon is a nice touch. Although having your time engraved above the world record time does make you question your own achievement somewhat. Simple but effective.
A few minor annoyances at the start and finish aside, I loved the Berlin Marathon and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone keen to take part in a big European race. For me Paris still has the edge, mainly because of its beautiful route, but I think that is in part because it was my first marathon.
I probably won’t do it again any time soon – I’d rather try a few new races first – but I wouldn’t rule out a return one day.
I ran the Berlin Marathon for Stroke Association and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. You can sponsor me here.