Race Report by Cathy Keay
I entered the Berlin ballot in October 2017, not thinking that I’d be lucky enough to get a place, but in late November I received the “CONGRATULATIONS: You made it!” email – OMG. This would be marathon No 6, and the second in 2018.
Fast forward 10 months – Marie O’Connor and myself had booked a flight for early on Saturday morning, Brian Boyle was also on the same flight. I’d also booked a hotel fairly near the start for an easy walk on the Sunday morning. The Expo was being held at the former Airport Tempelhof and we’d arranged a private car to take us straight from the airport to the Expo, to try and beat the crowds. The Expo was huge, with loads of exhibitors and the bib pick up was right at the very end, where you needed to show your “start card” and passport. The German efficiency was in full force and your bib was printed out in front of you and your hired chip (for your shoe) was also passed over. It was all getting real now.
There was the usual “fight” for event clothing, and I picked up my pre-ordered “finishers” t-shirt (which seemed strange the day before and some people were actually wearing these to run in on race day !!!). As the Expo was getting busier we didn’t hang around too much and then it was a quick U-Bahn trip to the hotel.
That afternoon we wandered around the start/finish area getting our bearings for the following day. There was an inline skating marathon, which was very bizarre seeing all the different skating clubs (who knew it was such a popular sport) and I watched the end of the race with them doing speeds of up to 60km/h, and the winner finishing in 57 mins !!
That evening we met up with Rach Hogg, Sam and 3 of Rach’s friends from Spa Striders, for the usual carb loading meal, and discussed the plans for the next morning. Although the elite start was 09:15 our start (Pen H) wouldn’t be starting till 10:05. Pen H was the last pen and was for anyone with a marathon time over 04:15 or any first time marathoners, so it was a real mixed pen.
Sunday morning was bright and promised a hot day ahead. The secure runners area and bag drop was just outside the Reichstag Building and when we arrived at 08:00 it was already buzzing with runners. I love these big international events, loads of different nationalities; chatting with runners from all over the world and a fair bit of flag waving !!
We met up with Rach, dumped our bags and walked slowly down to the start area. Once we got there the countdown for the elite runners started and the crowd cheered and balloons were let off. We chatted to loads of runners, then dashed for a final toilet stop before our wave started.
The weather was getting warm now, but the blue sky looked great on the photos !! My race plan was to go out nice and steady, to try and stick between 09:45/10:00 min/miles and not to go off too fast, and to try and not to slow down in the final 6-7 miles.
The roads were very wide, although very crowded, and the first few miles flew by in a nice steady pace. I had read reports that the water stations were horrendous, and they weren’t wrong, I had decided to carry water for the first 5-10 kms so that I didn’t have to fight my way to the tables and could try and stick to my pace, this was a good idea, all the water was all served in brittle plastic cups, which made the most horrendous noise as runners ran through them discarded on the roadside – (I’m sure I could still hear that noise for days afterwards !!)
Sam had told us he would be spectating at various points and the first point was 7kms, I spotted him before he spotted me ! and he duly shouted loudly and waved the Massey flag.
Berlin is a funny capital city, it doesn’t have the number of landmarks or famous tourist spots as Paris or Rome, and the route was relatively boring, but the support and music was fantastic. There was so much entertainment from drum bands, rock bands, brass bands, Oom-pah-pah bands etc… it was so noisy (but unfortunately didn’t drown out the noise of the plastic cups and you knew a water station was nearby !!!).
From 7km we headed into the “old East Berlin”, nearly 30 years on you can still tell the difference between east & west, mainly due to the architecture of the buildings. You could see the Fernsehturm television tower in distance close to Alexanderplatz between 10-11km’s, this part of the race must have been slightly downhill as my mile splits were faster than they should have been, so I put the brakes on and made an effort to slow down. (In fact the Berlin route is exceptionally flat, with only very small inclines over the river).
Sam’s next cheering point was going to be at 21km (halfway point) and I got there in about 2 hours 10 mins, at this point we’d been going past lots of bands under bridges and underpasses, the noise was great and I was happily singing along, things were going well. I spotted Sam and we shouted to each other.
The course was fairly non-descript, I hadn’t really got a clue where I was, but I knew I was past halfway, and it was now just a case of carrying on with the pace. At 22km I told myself just two 10k’s to go now – although I do all my distances in miles, it was good have km markers as these seemed to go quicker and it was good counting them down.
The water stations now had banana’s and apple slices, plus electrolyte drinks and tea !, but I just stuck to the water, and I had sussed the best way to grab a cup and carry on running (having elbows that stick out when I run definitely helped !!!). There were also now cheer squad areas supported by Abbott, BMW & Holiday Inn, these were great for keeping you going.
At 32km things were still ok and I’d only got 10km to go, around this time I started to notice that locals were holding up signs with “Berlin claims a new World Record” and “2:01:39 for Eliud Kipchoge”. The roads were still full of runners, although lots were now walking, or stretching out cramping legs. I knew Sam would be somewhere around this point, so I spent most of the time scanning the crowd to see a friendly face, I spotted him and knew I’d probably got less than an hour of running to go.
Miles 21, 23 and 24 were my slowest and I did walk through the water stations to make sure I drank enough as the day had turned out very hot, but unlike other marathons I soon got going again and my pace didn’t drop below 10:30 min/mile.
At 40km I felt as if I was the only person running, nearly everyone was walking or walk/running – with only 2km to go I looked at my watch and knew I just needed to keep going to hopefully achieve a PB. This part of the course was quite twisty and turney compared to the rest of the route which had been mainly long straight stretches. It made a pleasant change to have corners to turn, knowing that soon I’d see the Brandenburg Tor
When I’d watched the skaters the previous day I was at the 41km point, so when I turned the corner and saw this marker I knew where I was, I’d been trying to follow the blue lines throughout the race to take the shortest possible route, but my watch was already nearly at 26 miles. I thought S**T I best speed up if I’m going to claim that PB, as I knew that the Brandenburg Gate wasn’t actually the finish, the finish was about 500m through it.
By now the crowds were huge, the noise was fantastic, I heard Sam again and he’d got other spectators shouting my name “Come on Cathy” – I picked up the speed and ran as fast I was able to, I went through the Brandenburg Tor on the right-hand side, a quick look at the watch told me I was well over marathon distance, but the finish wasn’t getting any closer, I was now speaking to myself “just dig in and bloody run”.
Finally I was on the blue carpet, the finish line was near – I’d done it – I’d run the Berlin Marathon – and I’d got a PB. My watch distance said 26.6 and 04:24:17.
We were then ushered down the road towards where we’d started, I got presented with my medal, all the marshals were saying “we’ve broke the World Record”, “Berlin holds the WR” – they all seemed so pleased and happy. We eventually came to some water, goodies bags with fruit and cereal bars in, and then I followed the crowd to the Alcoholic-free Erdinger Beer Tent – by this stage I didn’t care, it looked like a beer and tasted like a proper beer !
I sat on a kerb stone and chatted to a chap from the US who had just completed the Majors series of races. After a while I wandered to the bag pickup, got my kit, wandered to a grassy spot to check my phone – there were loads of messages from Massey people, it was great (thank you !). The official time came through 04:24:01, so a 1 min 50 second PB.
Rach then got in touch she was at our pre-arranged meeting place, so I grabbed another free beer (why not !) and wandered outside to meet her and Sam. Rach had had a fantastic run and had smashed her previous marathon time (I was so chuffed for her as she’d put in loads of work). We sat around in the sun, people watching and catching up on social media, and learning that Sam had hired a bike and cycled all over Berlin to see us.
The place was buzzing, completing a marathon is such a fantastic feeling, and watching others celebrating (or some commiserating) was great. Sam was tracking Marie and said she should have finished and then, she came wandering around the corner waving her medal, we had a fantastic group hug and got the flags out for the traditional photos.
That evening all 8 of us met up for a celebratory meal, and discussed the experience over a few beers, and I’m sure we discussed which marathons we’d sign up for next !!!
I’d definitely recommend applying to the Berlin marathon ballot if you like busy, flat road races. The only down side was the plastic cups and the toilets (which I have managed to avoid mentioning so far !!)