I feel like this may not be the most conventional of race reports. Its a tale of two very different halves of a race.
Stop reading here if you only want to read about PB runs achieved during Berlin 2018, or any kind of commentary about Eliud’s massive new world record run.
Incidentally, I hoped that I might not hear about the outcome of Kipchoge’s run until after I had finished but there were Berliners shouting the new world record time in the streets!
I shared a moment of incredulation with a German running beside me the first time we heard the time.
I should perhaps first of all share my favourite and most memorable moment of my marathon experience first. My aunt and uncle, both Berlin residents, were waiting for me at the Kreuzkirche (church) on the Hohenzollerndamm just after 30k. That was the church where my grandmother was a member of the congregation and where her funeral was held. Many of you reading this will have found going through Brandenburger Tor, or passing a certain grandiose building on the sightseeing tour that is the Berlin marathon to be the highlight of your race. For me it was this section of the course was the most special and was the reason why I was so excited to have obtained a ballot place. So many memories of this area and I wanted to fully appreciate being back. I could just have run past and waved to them but stopped to chat and I’m glad I did.
Look at the look of admiration on my uncle’s face and the slightly crazed look on my own face.
We arrived in Berlin on Thursday evening, somewhat later than expected due to technical fault on the aircraft identified by a BA engineer at Tegel that morning. We found out the reason for the problem sometime later that day and the Captain understandably chose not to fly until the problem could be fixed and the repair authorised by the manufacturer.
The delay in getting to Berlin (We crossed our fingers that the flight wouldn’t be cancelled) meant we had to change our plans and go to the Expo on Friday morning rather than Thursday afternoon. Our experience of the expo matches those of others it seems. I did not feel settled while I was at Templehof and was very glad that there was access onto the apron outside.
I had been lucky enough to get a ballot place but we organised our trip through Running Crazy
, a tour operator we can’t recommend highly enough. We have never used a certain other tour company but hear that this operator is much friendlier and personable. We were met at the airport despite the delay, escorted to our hotel and meals (Italian and Bavarian themed) were arranged for the Saturday and Sunday evenings. Saturday was spent meeting a much speedier TDR teammate for a quick coffee before returning to the hotel.
It was my decision to rest and do as little as possible that day. Amy on the other hand went to an event Katherine Switzer attended.
Our hotel was situated very close to Hauptbahnhof and less than a five minute walk from Brandenburger Tor and the start. That made things very easy for us come race morning. Our 10:00 start in Block H meant that I/we could safely stay on the toilet in our room until 09:00!
We met two other Derby runners in Block H, Fiona, a TDR club mate and David, Derwent Runners sole representative.
Despite hopes that I would remain present and aware of everything going on around me and take in everything I possibly could, I focussed inwards for most of my run and concentrated only on arriving at each KM marker. I did shout encouragements at all of the runners wearing identifiable UK club vests that I overtook and briefly chatted with a lady who overtook me, a Derby resident who recognised the TDR vest.
Amy and I started and ran the first mile together. This meant an enforced and quite welcome slower start. The subsequent miles were quicker but within the loose race plan I had formulated. Nothing faster than 11 minute miles until later in the race, if I was able.
It was in the first few miles that I found myself catching up with a runner in a Wimbledon Windmillers vest. The Windmiller (Victoria) was running a comfortable pace just above 11 minutes per mile. I stayed on her shoulder and we spoke occasionally (her aim was to run sub-5) but our focus was on race execution. I don’t think we ever said that we would run together.
We managed to navigate the chaos that were the water stations and stay in sight of each other. Those water stations. It is extremely difficult to duck in, be forced to a near complete standstill because others have stopped to take their drink and get back out again all the while wading through a sea of discarded plastic cups. There’s then a slidy section of road to contend with and then a hundred metres of sticky tarmac. I think the only way my water station experience can ever be improved is if I get quicker and have less mess to contend with. Now there’s a PB incentive!
I remembered from memory that I was still running well at half way 21k/13 miles. I only took a moment upon returning home on Tuesday evening to look at the mile splits on my watch.
It was after Mile 14 that I chose to slow down.
I chose to slow down at this point because my legs felt stranger than I have ever felt them during a race. They didn’t feel heavy or tired but I could feel various muscles feel like they were fizzing. This was incredibly disconcerting and was when my head fell out of the race.
I chose to slow down despite Victoria urging me to plough on. Another girl who I had seen behind me a couple of times and who been running our pace too shouted at me to carry on, demanding that I keep up the pace.
Perhaps I could have, but I wasn’t convinced that I was capable of going much further at this pace with so little training. After all, I had made the decision some time ago that I wasn’t coming to Berlin to race this marathon and what was to happen now if I went with them would be a sub 2hr 30 time trial. This was supposed to be an experience to remember, not a situation where I would stress my body to or beyond what were its immediate limits. I could and can chase times on other future occasions. There are, after all, other marathons.
I’m quite pleased with my fourteen miles executed at race pace. It shows me exactly what I an capable of, but, given that I had so few miles in my legs in the weeks leading up to the race I felt like a compromise was necessary. I also have a history of recovering quite poorly from longer races. I didn’t want to end up having to be treated by medics in a foreign country.
Who knows what I might have achieved had I run on in what had become our very small pace bus but I choose not to regret my decision or linger over what might have been.
I ran walked the rest of the way taking advantage of the warm tea and apple slices available. The ease of toilet access I had been afforded still meant very little it seemed. I had needed to go since arriving at the start but chose not to waste time in toilet queues when there was such a great atmosphere. Nothing gets me amped quite like Alan Parsons Project, and repeated plays of it at that!
Anyway, it wasn’t until late in the race that I decided it was was necessary to use a portaloo. Maybe I ran blind at this point but it took several KMs to find some at about the 28k point.
Just an FYI here, since Amy reported similar findings too: German portaloos just have a hole so one can see all the delightful things many other people have left there before your own short visit.
There are a series of right and left turns through the city centre during the last 3-4k. I’ve got a fairly good idea of the geography of the city but the finish didn’t seem to be getting any closer even though I could still see my feet working when I looked down at them.
Along interminably long stretches of Potsdamer Straße and Leipziger Straße, a left turn onto Jerusalem Straße, a left turn onto Mohrenstraße… where’s the finish?
A right turn onto Markgratenstraße and a pass by Gendamenmarkt (the location of an excellent Christmas market later in the year) where I notice there are lots of people out enjoying the sun sat at tables outside that area’s many cafes. At this point I would kill for an Eiskaffee… where’s the finish?
A left turn into Französischer Straße. Französischer Straße feels like it goes on forever… where’s the finish?
Another right turn and then finally… a left turn onto Unter den Linden, but wow, the Tor and the finish beyond it seems so far away. It looms in the distance but gets no closer. I’m definitely still moving but there it stays some way distant. It’s at this point, a few hundred metres away from my watch buzzing to announce 26 completed miles that I really needed to employ one of my mantras: “its there, you can see it, just keep going”.
It was during one of those repititions that I heard my name called above a cacophany of noise. “Will!” I had been hearing encouraging shouts, or derivations of “Yes William” all day since names are written on our bibs, so a shout of Will, well that was different. I turn my head to where the shout came from and Amy is stood against the barrier. A welcome sight if ever there was one since I hadn’t been expecting to see anyone at the finish.
All I should really say in this space is that her race hadn’t gone to plan and she had made her way back to the finish.
I hoped that the feeling I would have upon finally crossing the line would be elation but weariness set in immediately. Upon getting my medal I gulped down cup after cup of water, found the nearest free spot to rip my shoes off, unclip my water belt and lay down on the blue sheet I was given at some point with my legs up a bit of fencing. I stayed there for what I think may have been twenty minutes. On at least three occasions a marshal came to check on me since I hadn’t moved for a while. I grunted a positive sounding noise each time and she seemed happy enough with that.
What I was most happy about at that moment was the extremely short trip back to the hotel. The walk that took five minutes at 9am was much slower at 4pm! I didn’t have room in my case for my Oofos and now they were all I wanted in the world. I feel for those who had longer journeys back to wherever they may have been staying that might have required use and navigation of the U Bahn for instance.
I have no regrets about choosing not to continue at race pace. Yes, there were only twelve miles left but I couldn’t know in advance whether my body would cooperate during or after.
The medal is a reward for the commitment I have shown and most importantly that I didn’t let a lack of motivation and injury problems derail my dream of getting to both the start of the finish of this race.
I now know that the marathon distance is not insurmountable. My body is capable of so much and of course with the correct training, all that is required is some courage and a belief in my own ability to run the distance without the interruptions that happened with the last three.
This is perhaps most important! I loose my appetite for quite a while after a long run. It upset me that I couldn’t eat the Kartofelklöße (a fried potato dumpling, my favourite German thing to eat) I ordered at HB München on Sunday evening.