Race Report – Berlin Marathon
September 25, 2016
Probably the best lottery I’ve ever won!
When I received an e-mail congratulating me on successful entry to the Berlin Marathon, I didn’t hesitate one minute in confirming. Because, you know…what if they made a mistake and it wasn’t me…maybe the e-mail address was wrong…there are a lot more deserving runners than me out there…must be the wrong guy! But ‘no’…they confirmed and the e-mails kept on coming: it was me and I was going to Berlin to run the Berlin Marathon on Sunday, September 25.
It was awesome!!
I arrived three days before race day to try and deal with the six-hour time change and simply find my way around. This one was big and I will freely admit to being a little bit nervous, scared and anxious all at the same time. I know everyone has asked themselves the same questions before a race…like…what am I doing here…this is way out of my league! But…I’m here…and when I checked-in to the Race Expo my Bib was there waiting for me. ..with my name on it. And I got my wrist band (which you needed to get into the race area on Sunday) which then became like a ‘private members’ club pass’ so that whenever you saw someone else around town with a similar wrist band, you felt like giving them a little nod and tip of that hat because…it is a club…and…you don’t have to say anything…it’s just a little…’I know…you’re cool…I’m cool…and we’re so cool we don’t even have to say we’re cool’….
My hotel was less than ten minutes from the starting area so I checked that out in advance and knew pretty well where I’d have to be on Sunday morning for a 9:15am start. What I didn’t know, however, was the same for most of us in every race: how early should I get there…how crowded will it be…what if everything is in German and I can’t find my corral…what if my alarm doesn’t go off…do I have everything…what if I get lost…? Sound familiar? Don’t tell me you don’t do it too?
I relaxed a lot for the few days leading up to the race. I didn’t walk all over the city sightseeing…really took it easy…tried to eat properly…sleep well (which was pretty difficult)…do a little loosening up with a short run on Saturday And then it was Sunday morning.
I don’t think I slept much all Saturday night. It felt like I was waking up every fifteen minutes just in case the alarm (of course…I had a wake-up call as well but…what if that messed up as well…can’t trust those electronic systems you know…) didn’t go or I had set it incorrectly. Morning came…it was still dark…I had my breakfast…and sat in my hotel room (which overlooked the main plaza in front of the Berlin Hauptbahnof/Train Station) and watched early morning runners walking across the plaza en route to the starting area on Strabe des 17. Juni. At some point, I couldn’t stand it any more walked over myself: it took five minutes.
The organization was incredible. Everything was in English and German…thousands of volunteers were all over the place, and I was in my Corral just a few minutes after arriving. Security was minimal: all I needed to show was my wrist band and that let all the runners into a cordoned-off area where the race started. It was still a bit cool and they gave us warm-up plastic bags to wear (which was ok…just enough to cut any wind) while we waited. The sun came up…not a cloud in the sky and it was warm. Now…warm is ok if you’re a spectator but…it’s not exactly my friend on race day. It is what it is and if that’s all we’ve got to complain about well…get over it!
By 9:00am the street was full. It was amazingly quiet, organized and peaceful. Yes…there were helicopters overhead…but that simply added to the “man, this is a really big event’ feeling. And…everyone…absolutely everyone looks fast, right? Man…see that guy beside me…he’s got really fast shoes. Whoa…over there…look at those sun glasses and the racing singlet…she must be fast ’cause she’s got compression socks on…. Of course, they’re saying the same thing about you but you’d never even dare to think that. Hey…look at that guy with the BRC shirt on…looks pretty relaxed and cool…must be fast if he came all the way from Toronto…
The start, you ask…
So, imagine this. If you know University Avenue in Toronto, imagine the entire Avenue surrounded by High Park with runners from about Bloor all the way down to Dundas or Queen. That’s what it was: 41,000 runners from 123 Countries in a mass start. We could hear and watch the count down, and when the gun went off the sky was filled with white balloons…and here’s the kicker….we were crossing the Starting Line at 9:30am…that’s only fifteen minutes after the Elites took off. It was so quick…so efficient…and so smooth that I couldn’t believe it.
It was wall-to-wall runners as we headed down the street…around Siegessaule (a monument at the end of Strabe des 197 Juni) and on to what was basically a 42.2 km. urban tour of the City of Berlin. It was like a ‘hop on/hop-off’ tour except that we were running. And we did hit all the ‘high spots’. (Let me digress: friends who are non-runners often ask me…’so…what do you think about when you’re running for three or four hours’ and I usually respond by saying everything and nothing. Well…I have to admit that while this great urban run through one of the world’s great cities was going on…and I was a participant and really in the middle of it…I don’t really remember much of it all. It seemed to go so fast). A few days after the race, I went back and saw a few places where I’d run (I digress again: they had three blue stripes painted on the streets for the entire course) and when I saw the stripes, I knew the course had been here…but…I had absolutely no recollection of anything along that particular street.
Temperature was warm…probably in the low 20s. But…at least there was a lot of shade on most streets and it wasn’t oppressive.
One of the sounds I’ll remember most is from the water stations. It was the sound of ‘crunch…crunch…crunch’ of thousands and thousands of plastic cups as runners ran over them. Towards the end, those areas were very slippery and I saw a few runners hit the deck and slip on the pavement just as if they’d hit a patch of black ice. I almost ‘tip-toed’ through those areas.
It was a real high throughout the course. Tons of people lining the streets (think Boston)…lots of music…and while you were almost always running in a crowd of people, I never experienced any jostling or elbows (even at the start) coming out. You’d think we were all Canadians: sorry, eh…no…sorry….!
I ran exactly the race I wanted. I was keeping a good pace…was happy with how I was feeling…hit my marks…and was all geared to get in under four hours. I even made it through my normal ‘wall’ which happens about 30-33km into a Marathon. I felt mentally strong, and with about 5km. to go I was already savouring the finish.
My legs had other ideas. About 36km. they just said ‘enough’. I had reached the absolute end of my physical limitations and while I kept saying to myself that I only had to do another 5km…and I could just do it slower…it just wasn’t to be. When I finally pulled around the final corner and saw the Brandenburger Gates (which is one of the grand finishes…kinda like when you turn the corner onto Boylston Street in Boston) and ran under the along the final few hundred metres to the Finish Line (right back to where we started four hours earlier) I knew I had finished…but it had pretty well finished me as well.
I was spent. I gave it everything I had and I couldn’t have done more. That’s what motivates me: I run every single race to win and I don’t leave anything out there on the course. Now…I realize that not every race is going to be a PB…but when I do win and get called up to get my prize…I feel like I’m five years old again and have just been called up in front of the whole class to get my gold star. It’s as simple as that!
Got my medal…walked to a refreshment area and found a space leaning against a fence with thousands of other runners. I just sat there. Funny thing: the timing chips were the kind that you put on your shoes through your laces…and you return them after the race. One of the hardest thing I had to do was actually get my leg to bend so I could reach my shoe to remove that timing chip!!
The entire post-race was fantastic as well…and…again…so smooth and quiet and peaceful. As I left the area to walk back to my hotel and then sat in my hotel room again…I watched all of those runners I had seen earlier in the day head back to the Train Station except this time…well.. .you know what it’s like. Legs were like boards…everyone is hobbling…walking slowly…taking escalators no stairs…and every single junk food place was full of runners just eating real crap…as was I a few minutes before I got into my room: I just had to have something and…hate to admit it…but Burger King looked pretty good. As I watched everyone with those same wrist bands on…it didn’t feel like a band of wounded warriors or the ‘death walk’ back home…it felt much more like an army of heroes. As my best running friend reminded me…it made me feel like going up to a stranger and saying…”…hey…I just ran a marathon this morning…what did you do with your Sunday morning?” Yes…there’s a bit of arrogance and self-congratulatory bravado there…but…I think you should be allowed just a bit of that every now and then.
Well…a few days have passed and my legs still work. I finished the Berlin Marathon in 4:12:47 which put me in 86th place or the top twenty percent of my Age Category. (I digress again: one of the things I like to do is put my time into an Age Graded Calculation formula just to see where I come out when compared with the general running population and, also…because if you’re an older runner like me, it usually makes you feel pretty good. So…my time for Berlin calibrates into a 3:15 when compared with world times. Try it…it sure helps with motivation!). I didn’t win…I didn’t even come in where I wanted to. But…you know what…I’m pretty happy.
I found out that my two colleagues from BRC had very different days. Melanie battled through stomach cramps and gutted out an entire Marathon feeling like all she wanted to do was stop…go over to the side of the road and relieve herself of everything she had in her entire system…but she didn’t…she kept moving and ran one heck of a gutsy performance. And Bill…well…Berlin was the 6th and final Major f(that means he’s done London, Tokyo, New York, Chicago, Boston ad Berlin) for him…and he finished every single one in under 3:30: how’s that for am amazing performance over time?? Some of us can only dream and…not envy…but respect!!
Here’ a few reflections. Now…these aren’t just made in hindsight when you look at a race time that should have been better and you want to justify your performance: it’s how I feel.
I DID IT! I ran 42. 2km or 26 miles in the Berlin Marathon. When I was at the Starting Line…I had a tear in my eye. I felt so lucky to even have the opportunity, ability, and good fortune to just be standing there….and we were all just people sharing the same thing regardless of anything else..and I was running behind the fastest Marathon runners in the world…in their footsteps…on the same streets…on probably the fastest course in the world!
It’s a bit like being alone in the middle of a food court!
Motivation you ask? I honestly thought of all the people I run with every day…and all of those ‘other’ people who will never get to do what I do…and I felt both very, very special and, at the same time…very humble. I thought about that day…September 25…and how it would have been my parents 67th Anniversary. Just to stand there and step outside of myself and look back at me…and take it all in…and realize what a privileged existence every runner lives. It’s pretty special.
Now…before we all break out in tears and I get too gushy and sentimental…let me assure you that I don’t exactly feel like that on a Sunday long run in the middle of August in downtown Toronto when we’re struggling through a brutally hot and humid morning and it’s only 9:00am and we started at 5:30am to beat the heat and I just wanna quit…I’m never running again…who does this…are we nuts…I’m walking from here…anybody got any water…how many more k’s do we have to go…? And despite all of that, we keep coming out…and we laugh…share our misery and pain…so very much want our best friends to do well…and share in a camaraderie that is earned…not given.
And it’s supposed to be tough.
You know…they don’t give medals for good training runs!
PS editor’s note:
Mitch finished 3rd in the Great Scottish Run 10K in Glasgow on Sunday, October 2 in a time of 47:22.