Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Berlin Marathon Weekend

My 4th marathon, my 1st international marathon and my first mass participation marathon, it’s been in the diary for 11 months and although most of my recent training has been focused towards next year’s goal of the West Highland Way Race I was really looking forward to both the weekend and the race.

I’d banked a PB at the Dumfries Half Marathon the Sunday before and although my training for the last 6 weeks had been severely curtailed by work commitments I was still optimistic about achieving a PB on what is virtually a billiard table flat route, right?...... wrong

Having ran the D33; the Highland Fling; the Edinburgh marathon and put in a lot of hard trail miles in training this year, I made the error of failing to treat the marathon distance with the respect it deserves! For those that want to cut to the chase and give my ramblings about the weekend a miss I ran a personal worst of 3:37:35, but I loved every bit of the weekend, the race, the city in fact the whole experience.

Fawlty Towers
Perhaps I should have seen the portents when I went to check in online for my Easyjet flight booked 10 months ago only to realise I’d booked the wrong day for my flight out, thankful that there were still seats available on the Friday flight but I still found myself £153 lighter. What should have been an easy week at work actually involved  900 miles of driving, 2 days on my feet at a timber exhibition (yes there really is such a thing), a black tie dinner in Cambridge on Wednesday and an epic drive home on Thursday to pack my bag and set my alarm for 4am, I collapsed into bed and the seed of doubt was planted.

The drive to Glasgow Airport was uneventful, the flight was on time and Caroline and I amused ourselves by trying to spot the fellow marathon runners on the flight, Ian and Steve having flown out the day before. Reasonably straightforward rail transfer from Schonefield airport to Potsdamer Platz, although I did have a train spotter moment and insisted we sit on the top deck of the two storey train. Our hotel was allegedly on Potsdamer Platz and on asking the local bicycle taxi for directions they assured us it was quite far away and we’d be better off letting them take us there. Now I’m not that green, having been stung by bicycle rickshaws in London before, but the bicycle boys were right, our hotel wasn’t so much on Potsdamer Platz but in the same general area of the city and a good hike away.

 The distinctive sign for the Ibis Hotel caught my eye and we were soon heading for the front door, passing the skips, builders vans, pallets of construction materials and 6 German builders who were busy building the reception area. In a true Fawlty Towers moment the girl behind reception assured us that renovations to the foyer and bar were running behind but breakfast would be served in a Bavarian style tent in the garden, which in reality turned out to be a bog standard drafty white marquee with wooden floors, patio heaters and a withered palm presumably to give it “Bavarian atmosphere” and reminiscent of many a Scout camp.

Caroline not shopping
Bags dumped we met up with Steve and Ian and headed to the marathon Expo at Templehof airfield, race number, timing chip and finisher t-shirt collected we then enjoyed an afternoon of pure running pornography. Three huge hangers filled with every conceivable item of running kit and paraphernalia that you could imagine and some that you’d never knew existed. I plumped for an Adidas Berlin marathon t-shirt, commemorative beer glass and a pair of calf guards. Caroline was tempted by the Gore running jackets, returning to the stand as if connected by bungee elastic, but I’m happy to report she resisted temptation. We fuelled up with hot dogs and German sausage and strolled through the in-line skating side of the expo, where Ian manfully resisted the allure of a bright pink lycra all in one skating outfit (sadly no photo!)
Back to the hotel for a quick freshen up then we headed to the Frankfurter Tor district, which had been recommended as “the place to go for relaxed outdoor dining”. Spoiled for choice we settled for the Café 100 Wasser and enjoyed a lovely meal, several beers and great banter. So day one ended after a 4am start, a full day on our feet and beer, except it didn’t! I’m still not sure at what point we decided we had to visit an Irish pub for Guinness and I’m even less sure why we decided that midnight was the best time to visit the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, but we did – so it was a very weary and footsore Keith that eventually collapsed into bed at stupid o’clock. I’m sure you can already see the threads of my marathon comeuppance unravelling!
Never mind, a nice long lie and an easy day would set me right, instead we had an 8am breakfast parade and then a walk to the Reichstag (the big Domey thing) for a tour, obligatory photos of the team in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a Harry Worth moment in the Jewish memorial, which even on a warm day was chilling in every sense and another full day as a tourist.

After more running shops we settled into a restaurant off Kurfurstendamm, slightly footsore and hoping the service was slow, thankfully it was and our meal took around 2 and a half hours , which we passed whilst enjoying Caroline’s wasp inspired bouts of Tourette’s syndrome.
We headed back to Potsdamer Platz to watch the leaders in the in-line skating marathon by which time my body and brain were screaming for rest and I headed back to the hotel for a kip. Waking up 60 minutes later with my face glued to the pillow with drool and a numb left ear, I felt like I’d been mugged, the tendrils of marathon doubt had now well and truly taken root, sprouted and were heading for a bumper harvest.

Happily Steve had scoped out a pasta buffet in the restaurant next door, our hotel restaurant still being in the throes of construction! And we carb loaded, but without the beer this time. We’d booked tickets to an English screening of the latest Bourne movie in the Sony Centre, whilst this isn’t a film review I’d sum it up as long, confusing and a bit rubbish, the high point being watching Ian try to chomp his way through an American sized bucket of popcorn. For the second night in succession I collapsed into bed, fortunately this time sleeping the sleep of the dead right through.

As the sun rose on Marathon day the weather looked ideal, cloudless sky, 16C and a light breeze we joined the growing throng heading for the start area in the Tiergarten , stereotypical German efficiency saw bags dropped promptly, plastic “keep you warm” tabards donned and toilet queue joined. Fellow runners will I’m sure back me up, It seems to be an unwritten rule that no matter how big or small a race and no matter how many toilets are provided the queues are always huge. When I first started running competitively I adopted a pre-race 3 pee strategy, as I’ve matured this number has grown, but in Berlin it reached its apogee with a 7 pee and 2 gingerbread man total, on the plus side it filled the time waiting for the start.
Happily despite quite a variation in PB times all 4 of our party were in starting pen E, and promptly at 9am, the gun went off, I said a quick “good luck” to my fellow harriers dived onto the left hand side of the pen and a little over 4 minutes later I was crossing the start line.

I’ve always been impressed by running bloggers who can remember every mile, every landmark, who they spoke to at mile 17 and all their splits and paces, I very firmly am not one of them. I’d worked out I needed to run 7:40 – 7:45 miles for a shot at a PB, by mile 6 I’d only averaged 7:50s mainly due to sheer congestion, this would still give me sub 3:30, so I settled for this pace and held it comfortably till mile 16 (the congestion only evened out at mile 13).

At mile 16 the wheels started to wobble and my lack of speedy road training kicked in, I was logging over 8 minute miles and by mile 22 I’d dropped to 8:30s. I tried every trick I know, I gave myself a stern talking to, unfortunately my body gave me back chat and told me to sod off. I tried John Kynaston’s top to toe body check, “Is my head OK? – Yes; “Am I mentally strong? – Not sure; “Do my arms hurt? – No; “Am I out of breath? – No” sadly my legs were on a different checklist and refused to play ball. I tried to keep with the 3:30 pacer with his helium balloon, I managed to keep this up for all of 200m and he disappeared ahead, I tried my D33 mantra “You’re not out of breath, its only sore legs”, to no avail.

Miles 22 to 26 got even worse as the wheels came off completely, mile 25 coming in at 9:30 pace, as my Garmin beeped through 26.2 miles the finish wasn’t even in sight, nor was the Brandenburg gate, there were people dropping to a walk all around me, not helpful.  One final left turn and there it was - the finish straight. Before I started I’d visualised my customary Ainslie sprint finish both up to and through the Brandenburg gate and then through to the finish, sadly the tank was empty and even the stretch after the gate to the line, really dragged out, I did manage to pick up the pace for the last 100m in a belated effort to salve my conscience.

I stopped my watch at 3:37:35 a personal worst for a marathon, and a distance of 26.7miles logged. I collected my finisher’s medal and blue plastic sheet and wobbled my way towards the baggage area, I had to stop for a recuperative seat for a couple of minutes before picking up my case and lying down in the sunshine. Caroline arrived soon after having run a fantastic and well deserved PB of 3:43:26 and Ian rolled up sporting his trademark smile with a gutsy 3:49:01 which included both a trip up and a trip to the massage tent en route.

After some post-race hydration it was time for the second marathon of the day as we met up with Steve, who’d ran a very creditable 4:12:47 despite an injury ravaged build up to the race, and headed straight to the airport for our 5pm flight back to Glasgow.

We made it to our flight in ample time with no dramas, sporting our t-shirts, medals, bruises and aching legs all the way. Caroline had to suffer the flight home sitting next to the world’s fattest German tourist, sporting full lederhosen and terminal BO but retaliated by sportingly steering him to visit a famous distillery in Falkirk, which if I remember correctly closed over 20 years ago, revenge is definitely best served chilled.

Lessons learned

Whilst my training distances have never been higher, I only did one long road run (22 miles) in the last 3 months and while it was the fastest long run I’ve ever done, I was truly broken after it!

Lesson 1 – If you’re running a road marathon you need to include long road runs, not just trail runs

The 4 weeks before the race included around 3000 miles of driving and three rail journeys to London, multiple late nights and a couple of “skinfulls”

Lesson 2 – If you want to run a PB, you need to have a proper planned taper rather than simply not being able to run because you’re too tired

The weekend was a great experience, it a great city, I’ll definitely go back, I loved it.

Lesson 3 – Being a tourist and a runner doesn’t work for me on race weekend, early mornings, all day on my feet, late nights and booze = running out of oomph at 22 miles

In the month before Berlin I ran a 10K and a Half marathon PB and I’d hoped for a marathon PB too, my challenge for 2013 is to enter and complete the West Highland Way race

Lesson 4 – Specificity, if the WHW race is my objective, all my training and activities must be tailored towards this, everything else race wise has to be regarded as training towards the WHW rather than a means in itself.

Keep on running.

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