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Ich bin ein Berliner

Marathons have a mystery to them.  Almost like quantum Mechanics, it seems that strange unpredictable things can happen, despite 16 weeks and 600 miles of training.

Over the Summer, with careful planning and race selection, I had been able without too much trouble to bring down my times and get personal best times on every distance up to the half marathon, but I knew the marathon would be different.

My previous two marathons couldn’t have been more different.  The debut in Paris somehow went perfectly.  I only realised I’d missed the good for age time by 46 seconds when some-one told me back in England.  Brighton however was horrible.  I’d trained hard and was set for 3hrs 10 minutes, which was gettable, based on my other recent race times.  Then however things started to go wrong.  It was the hottest day of the year by far at that point, so much so that several thousands of entrants didn’t even turn up.  Brighton’s course was also surprisingly hilly.  I also found that I’d gone out too quick and consequently died (figuratively) at 22 miles.  I was determined not to repeat the experience of struggling along the sea front in burning heat with no wind, hating every second.

So, to Berlin.  I’d tried to correct my mistakes.  In case of overhead sun, I’d bought a cap with a long peak and ventilated sides.  I’d carefully planned to use gels that I’d had experience of and to actually rehydrate at water stations, taking 6 to 8 gulps at least for the first 20 miles.  My training had been different too,  in that I was conscious I hadn’t done enough long runs for Brighton, having done only two 18 milers, and one 22 miler apart from several 12 to 16 milers.  It seems clear that MILEAGE IS EVERYTHING in doing a successful marathon, so I made sure of one 24 miler lasting 3hrs 40 mins, a 20 mile race, two 22 milers and then several 14 to 18 milers.

Finally and probably most importantly, I managed to resist going for Glory and decided on running the whole marathon at 13.3 km per hour which was going to bring me home around 3hrs 12 mins.

Marathon’s being marathons though, events started to conspire against me.  During my training which was nearly all off-road, I was starting to get a sciatic twinge in my left hip after 8 miles or doing a fast session.  I could get this to go away by concentrating on running steadily, but it was a worry and temporarily slowed me down.  This appears to be due to the piriformus rubbing against the sciatic nerve.

To try and sort this out, I went to a physio, who, to give her credit was pretty good at locating the problem and the cause.  Mostly it seems to stem from decades of slouching and bad posture and favouring my right side.  So I had a crash course of stretches and balancing exercises to help remedy the problem.

Then of course there was the heat.   The weather in Berlin can be anything from high heat up to 30 degrees, to torrential rain right into late September.  Knowing I’m not brilliant in the heat, I was praying for something around 18 degrees.  I was slightly concerned when the forecast went from 21 degrees at the 5 day stage to 23 degrees at the two day stage and then 24 degrees at the expo the day before.

Then there was the problem that we still have imperial measurements in England.  In Paris, there were mile and kilometre markers, but in Berlin there were no concessions to British and American runners.  Only finding this out at the Expo meant last minute changes to my speed and lap times as well as re-setting my Garmin on the S-Bahn on the way to the Race.

Even German efficiency couldn’t overcome the problem of 40,000 people waiting to use the toilet before the race, so amazingly there were still queues of 50 or more people 20 minutes before the start of one of the biggest races in the world.  I hope that one day race organisers will have a large field filled with hundreds of very basic porta-cabins.  Its all we need .

The race itself though went beautifully to plan. Being in the 3hrs 10 minutes area seemed to give me a bit more space than I’d remembered from Paris, and from the start line I was able to keep a steady pace.  We went through West Berlin, crossing the Spree river 4 times, back into the old East Berlin, down to the South circling round Kreuzberg, and then back out West taking in the lovely Charlottenberg area.  The second race, or the last 6 miles were on a nicely varied and surprisingly shaded part of central Berlin, which meandered back to the Unter den Linden street, the Brandenburg gate and then 300 metres to the ‘Ziel’ (finishing line).

Looking back, I probably only made two significant mistakes.  Somehow I’d convinced myself, the Brandenburg gate was the finish, and sprinted for it only to see no officials or clock and a crowd of people 300 metres down the road.  This led to the hardest 300 I’d done all year.  The interval training at Kings School Field came to mind though, and I knew I could get to the line in time.

The other mistake was the blue line.  I ran the whole 26.2 miles without even noticing the blue line showing the shortest route.  It was only when I saw the TV coverage and Steve Cramm pointed it out that I became aware of it.  I think this is worth noting though, as I’d already done 10.2k by the 10k marker, and about 42.4 at the end.  I’d done the same thing at Brighton and thought my Garmin was playing tricks.  Note to self – stop weaving through the field.

The most rewarding part of the race was looking through my splits afterwards:

Distance                  time                                    speed                  (km per hour)

5k                                        22:44                                    13.2

10k                                    22:52                                    13.1

15k                                    22:24                                    13.4

20k                                    22:36                                    13.3

25k                                    22:55                                    13.1

30k                                    22:28                                    13.3

35k                                    23:17                                    12.9

40k                                    23:50                                    12.6

42.2                                    10:12                                    12.9

I may never run a better marathon.