The Brandenburger Tor or as we non-native Germans call it, the Brandenburg Gate. I found this picture on the wall inside a Lidl supermarket near my hotel the day before actually having the chance to pass through it as a runner.
First & third time lucky
I couldn’t quite believe it when I received the e-mail informing me I’d been able to get a ballot place to this iconic marathon, my first ever ballot for it. There’s great demand for this as it hails as being one the flattest in the Abbott world series where the professional and super-fit runners from around the globe aim to get their best time.
In comparison to other running events that I’ve entered, it’s the most I’ve ever paid for an entry fee (€125) but I considered this would be a one-off. That excludes the rental of a timing chip and there’s no t-shirt.
Seven weeks later (and my third ballot attempt) I received another ballot entry confirmation and this time for another iconic marathon, London, also notoriously hard to get a placing in. So there I had it, Berlin for the 26th of September and now London on the 3rd October, two marathons on back to back weekends. What a challenge.
The day before the Marathon
This was a travel day and an early start from Heathrow into Berlin arriving for lunchtime. A quick bag drop off at the hotel and then my wife and I walked to the Templehof airfield, as it was the convention centre building that hosted the running show and bib collection. Took about 40 minutes for the 3KM walk which I thought would help stretch the legs out. Arriving at the centre everyone had to show their vaccination status or provide a negative Covid PCR test before being allowed entry to the premises. Once in we queued outside in a hanger in a comedic switching back and forth line then arced in front of an old warplane before entering the show.
The hanger was packed full of top name brands displaying their latest and greatest running gear. Independent sports shops sold anything and everything running related interspersed with food vendors plus a few charity stalls. The area was alive with people buzzing and excited.
I queued for nearly an hour to get my photo on the podium with the Brandenburg Gate collage. By now it was nearing 15:00 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast apart from some cereal snack bars. I made a purchase of a Berlin 2021 jacket then we headed out and back toward the hotel grabbing a quick sandwich on the way.
The rest of the day had no real plan other than to find food from a nearby supermarket for breakfast and sports drinks then get to an Italian restaurant for a carb load up. Back at the hotel my wife and I pored over the route map and cross-referenced distances between areas that the official route passed through. Her intention was to run around the city and grab some photos of the Elite runners and then re-position herself to capture me and track me. With our homework complete we headed out to grab dinner at a restaurant called, Ristorante Fontana di Trevi, it wasn’t really a surprise to see that nearly every seat taken had a Marathon participant in it. If it wasn’t a wristband that gave it away it was a jacket or a t-shirt. The restaurant was rushed off their feet but I suspect they made a small fortune that evening.
The day had arrived
My wave wasn’t due to depart until after 10am so I ate breakfast a little later than normal to try and keep myself fuelled for longer. Pottering around the apartment I noticed my legs were aching slightly, I hoped stretching and the walk to the start line would ease them off, so I put any thoughts of worry to the back of my mind. The weather forecast predicted a mainly cloudy day with a chance of light rain and peering through the curtains it certainly was a grey start. My wife and I left at the same time parting seperate ways as per our map planning for grabbing photos. I wandered slowly toward the park at Tiergarten seeing many other runners all heading the same way, it was like bees returning to their hive. Roads were cordoned off and the famous blue lines could now be seen marking the fastest route for the professionals.
I took the opportunity to grab a quick selfie at Checkpoint Charlie while all the ‘other tourists’ weren’t around. Quite disappointing to have a McDonald’s sign in view, or a KFC from another angle, but I suspect money talks when it comes to positioning in prime locations.
As I passed one of the many hotels I acknowledged a runner as he exited a turnstile door and once we’d both worked out we were English we began chatting the whole walk. Great conversation and to hear this was his first marathon, about the charity he’d chosen, the training and everything in between. He acknowledged he wasn’t really into running before this event but the longer distances as part of his training became akin to the calmness and restorative elements he felt from meditation. In turn this had motivated him to complete the training and be confident to complete the distance.
Arriving at the Brandenburg Gate we parted ways wishing each other good luck.
In the time it had taken me to walk from the hotel to the starting area, about 30 minutes, the sun was now shining and the grey clouds were nowhere to be seen. It already felt warm.
Strict mask-wearing and wristband checking followed as we all crossed into the park. I sat for a few minutes in front of one of the gigantic television screens watching the live stream of the Elite runners. Shortly after my phone pinged and a couple of photos came through from my wife.
I exchanged my sunny grassy spot in the garden for a place in one of the many queues for the loo. One last chance before heading to the line. I, like many others, were inconspicuously checking out their immediate field of competitors. There were a lot of well prepared and fit looking people, some with t-shirts from other Marathons and Ironman events. In my mind, it was clear the field of runners was going to be fast.
The call for my wave of runners sounded across the speakers and with that a surge of people made their way toward the start line converging on the Str. des 17. Juni. Music blared out, excited groups of friends exchanged hugs and smartphones were held aloft as the countdowns began. We edged closer to the start line moving into the next holding block. Another countdown for the next allocation of runners. Then it was my turn.
We were off! Everyone whooped and cheered as the legs shifted from walking, to faster walking, to shuffling, to jogging along then finally being able to stretch the legs into motion. There are many standout famous features along the route but as I was concentrating on people zig-zagging across me and working around bunched groups my phone remained firmly in my hydration vest for nearly the entire run.
Fortunately there were many official photographers as well as my wife along the way so I’ve collected a bunch here as my journey unfolded.
What’s most impressive is how out of focus a lot of the professional images were. I had nearly 70 pictures in my photo bundle but in the mass crowds I was one of the many, some pictures even without me in!
Running the city was amazing. The people, their cheering and seemingly endless ability to acknowledge everyone. Names were being shouted, high fives to the kerbside runners, food offered, drinks offered, classic ‘running/driving’ tunes blared out of bluetooth speakers, it was all happening. I must of counted around ten different music sections where bands played and singers sung their hearts out. My heart felt lifted throughout my run even when the going got tough. And it got tough.
The weather forecast I previously mentioned, remember the grey clouds and light rain? Nah, that never happened. The sun shone and the temperature climbed. By the time I tipped over 27KM the heat had really gotten hold of me. I’d made a point of maintaining pace but now I could see it was slipping. Aid station visits were becoming frequent as I replenished water and threw cups over me to cool down. Every water shower that subsequently appeared I slowed down to a trot to really get a soaking and cool down. This continued. The final aid station, about 2KMs out from the finish I grabbed the largest cup of water (or what I thought was water) and threw it over me. I realised I’d just doused myself in an energy drink :-D. The rest of the run and until I got showered I felt very sticky…
Through the gate and with the finish line in sight I drained the last of my energy as I tried to pick up pace. You’ll notice the last aid station had a water shower by the look of my running gear, along with the energy drink on top for good measure.
Sadly, this is the only image I have of me about to cross the line. A few metres ahead a lady had collapsed and the medical team were responding. I think out of respect photos at point were either not taken or not made available. I don’t mind as clearly there were more pressing issues at hand.
Crossing the line I scooped up my medal and collected one the face masks being handed out. Slowly I made my way toward the exit to meet my wife. As I dawdled along the route people were scattered around in varying states of recovery with some looking better than others. I happened upon the perfect refreshment a few metres from the exit.
The picture is blurred due to the state of my phone’s camera lens. Not surprising given how much sweat, water and a final dousing of energy drink it had thrown over it. I grabbed two and left to find my wife.
Walking back to the hotel was a lot easier than I’d anticipated. At one point we needed to cross the route at around the 40KM point, while waiting for a suitable gap I watched the runners as they all dealt with their own demons and pain caves. I came over all emotional seeing them knowing it was just a short time ago I’d been those people.
After a brief shower and some food we headed back into the city toward the BRLO brewhouse to celebrate and hear about each other’s day. My wife, bless her, had notched up a half-marathon distance running around the inside circuit of the course so the pair of us didn’t last too long in the beer garden before having to get to sleep.
The strange thing about the Finisher t-shirt is that I purchased it the day before, it’s not awarded when you cross the line. How very odd…