The Berlin Marathon

By Tompky - 5:52 AM

This Sunday saw me fly out to Berlin, to take on the Berlin Marathon, widely renowned as one of the quickest, flattest marathons in the world, and certainly the qucikest of the 6 Abbott World Major Marathons.  This is the marathon where everyone expects to set a PB, and there is always the potential that a World Record will be broken!

I set off early Saturday morning across to Manchester for the mid-day flight, arriving in Berlin mid-afternoon.  The expo at these events is always one of my favourite parts, and definitely worth spending a bit of time wandering around if you have a marathon coming up.  I had met my brother-in-law, who was also running, at the airport, and after we had both picked our race numbers up, we spent an hour or so wandering around the stalls.  There is normally a pretty charged atmosphere at these expo's, with excitement in the air in anticipation for the following days event.

After visiting most of the stalls and picking up a couple of energy chews for the race, we decided to check into our apartment, get some food, and an early night.  We were staying in Tempelhof, a short walk from the expo.  Whilst this was a little outside of the centre of the city, the transport links in Berlin are excellent, and it was a 15 minute ride on the underground right into the centre of Berlin.  We went to a nearby Lidl, and topped up on pre-race essentials, a mountain load of spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread for tea that evening, and porridge and bananas for an early breakfast.  It is only really the evening before that you realise how underprepared you are for these events, and we realised we had no idea of where we were meant to be or what time.  Fortunately we had been given short info booklets at the expo, and a quick read told us exactly where we were needed and the time in the morning the race would get underway for our 'wave'.

I had one of the best nights sleep I have probably ever had before a race, and as we were put in the last wave which wasn't starting until 10.10am, I was able to have a relative sleep in until 7.30am.  A bowl of porridge and a couple of bananas later, and I was on my way, arriving at the entrance to the runners enclosure at just after 9.15am, which gave plenty of time to drop my kit off at the stalls and soak in the atmosphere.

I was concerned that being in the last wave, I would get 'boxed in' and find it difficult to make my way through slower runners, however unlike London, Berlin does not have a rolling start, leaving gaps of around 10 minutes between each wave starting.  This meant that it felt a lot more spread out than London, although with over 46,000 runners there is inevitably times when you can't get through the crowds.

Moving up to the start line the atmosphere was electric, with music blasting out large speakers, people on microphones sending out motivational messages, and a nervous hum of chatter between the runners.

From the start line, the imposing 'Victory Column' stares from ahead, but it is great to start ticking off the sites within the first 200 metres.  This is the first of a couple of occasions when you have a choice to go round a monument or piece of road either left or right, which thins the field even further.  I had had a couple of extra days’ rest ahead of the marathon than I usually would before a race, and in the early stages I felt really strong.  Bouyed on by a large and loud crowd, I felt like I could be on for breaking through the 3.30 barrier for the first time, which I had missed by 8 minutes in London.  I never really have tactics as such in marathons, and I don't wear a watch reporting how quick I am running, I prefer to run as quick as my body feels is capable.  Looking back at my Strava times, I set a 10k PB, 10 mile PB, 15k PB, 20k PB and Half Marathon PB in the first half of the race which was massively surprising.  I went through the half way point in 1.37, and still felt strong.

At this stage it is worth mentioning how excellent the marshalls and refreshment stops were throughout the race.  There was an aid station every 2-3km's along the road supplying a variety of drinks (water, ice tea, energy drinks) and fruit if you could stomach it.  I have always struggled to keep down food in 'shorter distance races' (marathons rather than ultramarathons) so had chosen to take 2 packs of Clif Gel Blocks which I had used at London.  I would definitely recommend giving these a go, they aren't the cheapest product on the market, but are tasty, digestable and easy to manage.  You get 6 in a pack so my plan was to take them every 3-4km's.

This nearly caused my whole race to unravel, and definitely caused a much slower second half of the race for myself, reaching in for my energy blocks at 25km and to my panicked realisation finding my pocket totally empty.  I must have dropped them all when taking one out at the half marathon stage.  I normally stay pretty calm in race situations but this started to cause genuine panic, never a good thing when you are trying to preserve energy.  I had knocked off around 4 minutes from my Half Marathon PB in the first part of the race, so knew I was pushing my limits, and to keep up the pace I would need everything to go in my favour.  With no energy blocks I knew that keeping the pace would mean I would inevitably bonk around 30-33km's in.  I made a conscious decision to slow down, and if I did that but still kept a reasonably consistent pace I would still manage to scrape in under 3.30.

I slowed from about 4.40km's to around 5.15/5.20km's in order to try and preserve my energy for as long as possible.  I was still not sure that I would be able to manage to get to the finish line without bonking, and the next 10km's or so became a real battle of willing my legs to keep going, battling to ready myself in case I did hit the wall, and to try to keep as calm as possible and not waste any additional energy.

Around the 35km mark I really started to struggle, my legs feeling heavy and really struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  I thought the only way to get through was to try to eat some fruit, which I accepted at the next aid station to try to get me over the line.  When you start to struggle in a race is when you realise what a great community the running community is.  People in the crowd start willing you on, and as people run past they often will shout encouragement in your direction.  This got me through to 40km when stomach cramps really took over, and I had to pull to the side twice to be sick.  This was a first for me and I was relieved that I was so close when it did happen.  The next 2km's seemed to last forever, although seeing my girlfriend, mam, dad and auntie in the crowd with 500 metres to go gave me just enough of a push to get me over the line.  Official results had me crossing the line at 3.31.56, which I was pretty pleased with in the end, knowing I could have given no more and managing to knock over 6 minutes off my PB.  I can't say enough good things about the race, the atmosphere, the course and the infrastructure were all brilliant and I would definitely recommend anyone who is considering this event to stick your name in the ballott and see what happens!

After the race we had the Monday and Tuesday wandering around Berlin, which is a great city, and enjoyed some of the local beers at Oktoberfest!  This was one of my favourite challenges to date, the city was brilliant, the race was good, and to run it alongside my brother and brother-in-law, cheered on by the family made it extra special!  A few days rest before training starts all over again!!

I am doing all of these challenges to raise money for Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.  If you would like to donate to the cause please do at 

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