Berlin. The divided city. Lots of history, great beer and sausages and third up on my list of marathon majors to tick off.
Berlin was the “only” logical option for me to choose for an autumn race due to its ridiculously flat profile, consistently good weather and no doubt typically efficient german planning. After a relatively disappointing Boston marathon in April I had adopted a 12 week summer training plan and crossed all my fingers and toes that I was able to get to the start line injury free.
The 12 weeks actually flew by (unless you have had to read my tedious Sunday training summaries on facebook) and with lots of confidence boosting warm up races undertaken I arrived feeling relatively confident that my goal of achieving a sub 2:45 time was not just possible but potentially comfortably so. Or at least as comfortable as a marathon ever can be.
So, having flown out on the Friday me and the mrs headed to the expo to pick up the race pack and meet up with Dan Vaughan, who was also running, for a couple of Erdinger Alkohol Frei beers at the old disused airport and chat through race goals, strategies etc. Both of Dan and I had begun looking at a 2:45 target, but Dan’s unfortunately timed injury the previous Sunday meant a late fitness test and uncertainty over how it would hold up during the race. Luckily the big man is made of tough northern stuff and passed the late fitness test and was able to toe the start line, although with his lurid orange calf guards perhaps would have been more suited to the local cabaret bars.
It was reasonably early start on the Sunday but the sun was shining, the temperature pretty cool and only a very light breeze. Perfect PB conditions, happy days! We headed in to the race village, which is in the beautiful Tiergarten Park in the centre of the city just west of Brandenburg Gate, and almost immediately lost each other due to me queuing up for the toilets like the English gentleman I am, and Dan heading for the woods for… well, enough said.
Oddly, bag drop was pretty un-german and very difficult to find our drop off tent, which meant that I was probably a bit late to get to the starting pens and so they were pretty rammed and difficult to get in a good position. We were both in pen B about 50m back from the start line, but in hindsight being at the front of the pen would have been more sensible as once the gun had fired, I spent the first 2 miles of weaving and overtaking and subsequently putting in 2 slower miles than hoped. However after that the field stretched out a bit, I hit a nice rhythm and nerves slipped away and started to enjoy it.
Having not seen Dan since before the start, suddenly i was alongside him where we shared a quick hello and good luck and inched away. The first half of the race takes you out of the park and loops round following the river east past the Reichstag and in to East Berlin. At about kilometre 12 it turns south and then west at kilometre 17. The course is all on good roads, is pretty much dead flat and no hairpins, so for the first half of the race I managed to keep up a relatively steady pace of 6:04 min/miles, well within my sub 2:45 goal.
I was still feeling good at the halfway point where the split between East and West Berlin lies. Speaking of splits I crossed the halfway point in 1:19:59, well within my planned target pace. The route then heads southwest out towards the suburbs. This section is less interesting than the centre, but the miles were still being ticked off pretty steadily and the race plan still going well.
Then I hit mile 21. Every marathon I do I start to falter at this point. The legs started to get heavy and joints were seizing up but pretty much managed to hold the pace until mile 22 (2:13:10 at 35 kms) where I thought “bosh the last gel and power home!”. This did not happen.
The final 4 miles were pretty horrendous and I more than lived up to my nickname by shuffling along getting slower and slower for 4 miles which seemed to take forever, and every time I expected to see the Brandenburg gate round the next corner it was more open road.
Thankfully the only wall I hit though was a bit of the Berlin Wall on the way home, and I was able to shuffle over the finish line in an immensely pleasing time of 2:41. Mission accomplished! Wooohoooo!
A short wait for Dan who came through in 2:55 and still running, so good news on the injury front, and then a stumble off back through the woods to pick up the free erdinger alcohol free pint (much nicer than expected ) and bags.
A quick shower and it was off to try and find a Brau Haus for german beers and food. Alas, a mexican restaurant with terrible service had to suffice, but the beer was cold and food hot so we tucked in analysed our respective performances and “rehydrated”!
All in all the marathon is a great well organised race, Berlin a cracking city, the beer pretty dam good, and the sausages? Well they were the wurst! (Sorry)