Berlin Marathon, 9/16/18
How did I find myself running my first marathon?
Well, in two words – team entry! Berlin is the only marathon that I’ve come across so far that allows runners to sign up in groups, so I signed up with my boyfriend Bryan, with our other friends signing up in their own groups. Bryan and I were the only ones who got in, but we weren’t going to wait around for our chance to run a marathon (especially a World Marathon Major!!)
I followed the Hal Higdon Intermediate 1 Marathon Training Plan (what a mouthful!). Hal Higdon had served me well in the past – I ran 3 of my 4 half marathons, at that point, using Hal Higdon plans – so I had full hope that he would serve me well again.
I closed the first week with the Harpoon 5-Miler on May 20th, a local race that my friends and I had signed up for all together earlier that year and happened to correspond with the beginning of marathon training. Harpoon and Reebok, the race’s sponsors, held 3- and 5-mile training runs in advance of the race, which I used to get myself back into shape, as I took a break after running the NYC Half Marathon on March 18th. The training runs were so, so humid – a good preview of the weeks of training to come! The 5-Miler itself went fine – I just about met my time from the year before and got to enjoy some free beers and good company (while sitting on cardboard boxes in the middle of a parking lot…) afterwards.
A few weeks later, on June 23rd, I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon. I had never run the race before, but I do love hanging out in Portland and the timing was right to fit it into training! The race itself was interesting, going through a lot of the town of Portland and ending in the historic Old Port district. While I did PR, I ran into the same problem in Portland that I did in NYC a few weeks earlier – stomach issues! Though I still haven’t gotten to the root cause of these issues, I do know that I spent a good amount of time after the race in port-a-potties and I could barely bring myself to stand in line for food without getting light headed. My friends brought me snacks and I eventually felt well enough to sip a beer and take celebratory pictures with friends.
Other than those races, training was a hot and sweaty mess – the summer was humid, humid, HUMID. Even though I knew it would help tremendously, I couldn’t bring myself to wake up earlier to run in cooler temperatures. That being said, even in 90 degree heat, I never missed a long run, knowing that they would be the most important runs of my training.
Out of the four scheduled runs a week, I initially tried sticking with all four per week, but near the end, could only bring myself to do three (a long, a mid-length mileage run, and some track work, usually). I had previously religiously stuck to a training plan and all I got was a never ending grumpy mood, plantar fasciitis, and NOT EVEN a PR! So, lessons learned, I was a little more kind to my body – if not lazier – this time around.
So I stuck to my 3-4 runs a week, maxing out at a little under 30 miles per week (which, yes, I know, should have been higher!). I supplemented my running with yoga, the occasional boot camp class, and lots of muscle rolling. (I actually got my butt kicked by a boot camp class during a down week and used it as an excuse to take the whole week off – which was definitely good for my psyche!)
The long runs were definitely the hardest – the first 15 mile run hit me very hard and I almost cried at the end, but from there, it was all about pushing more and more. I found new, interesting routes to take, and tried to limit straight-up stopping as much as I could (though I couldn’t help but be generous with walking breaks, especially since I planned to during the marathon anyway).
We took an overnight flight to Berlin, leaving Boston around 7PM local time, getting into Reykjavik for a layover around 5AM local time, then finally getting to Berlin around 12PM local time. There was just enough time and seat comfort on each of the flights to get a decent sleep in, and our layover was not long at all, so we were able to get a quick bite in as well before heading out.
From there, we got a little lost on the U-bahn but eventually found ourselves at the pre-race expo. (We even had to check our bags before going in, which – surprise! – cost euros, which we didn’t have yet because we had just landed!! Oops!!) The venue for the expo was an old, decommissioned airport, which was very cool, but it also made for an awkward layout and lots of walking through old hangars to finally get our bibs. We didn’t hang around the expo too long because we wanted to stay off our feet (and we also didn’t have any room in our luggage for new running things).
After checking into our hostel, we met up with a friend and got an Italian dinner at Vapiano in Alexanderplatz. We were definitely not the only runners who had this idea, and we waited nearly an hour and a half on our feet for pasta! (At least it was tasty!) We did some exploring afterwards before heading back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep.
I was actually surprised at how easily I got to sleep! We had been out and about, dragging luggage around for almost the entire day with no rest, so I knocked out fairly quickly. I woke up refreshed before my alarm and ate a banana and a croissant (ordered from a Biomarkt entirely in German, thank you very much) before we were out the door, on the train, and walking to the starting area. We still had an hour to kill, so we checked our bags, hit up the port-a-potties, and watched the elites run their first 10K before heading to the starting area around 9:45AM.
0 mi – 13 mi
(I am breaking down my marathon by mile because I live in AMERICA, OK?? No but seriously, the kilometer markers killed me – I have no sense for how long a kilometer is and it KILLED my mental game… but I’ll get to that later.)
The first half of the race was not bad at all!
It actually wasn’t as flat as advertised – I had run the Las Vegas Half Marathon the year before, which had a net elevation gain of less than 200 ft over the entire 13 miles, so my perception of a “flat” course is probably skewed. Nevertheless, I do, weirdly, really enjoy hills, so this was actually a pleasant surprise! The beginning of the course went up and over bridges and modest bumps which satisfied my urge for “elevation change”.
I don’t check my pace during races, but I was able to approximate my time using the clocks at each kilometer marker. (Again, lots of mental math – “I just passed 5 kilometers, I started 45 minutes after the clock started, that leaves x minutes, what should my 5K time be?” – etc.) Using my quick math, I figured out that I was running slower than my half marathon pace, which was exactly what I wanted. I was aiming for around 12 minutes per mile, which is about where I was at this point.
Because my body was still doing fine, I was paying a lot of attention to the people and the sights around me. We passed by several Berlin landmarks in this first half (I’m the worst – I enjoyed them when I saw them, but can’t really name them anymore…). Lots of other runners were stopping at statues, nice views, kilometer markers, etc. to take pictures. There were a modest amount of people out cheering, but definitely lots of flat, long, empty, honestly kind of lonely stretches.
I expected to get a little tired, and I did, around 20KM, which I thought was the halfway point!! Because I don’t know kilometers!! So imagine my surprise when the 21KM mark had a “HALF” banner hanging off of it!!
13 mi – 20 mi
My training long runs went up to 20 mi, so this next stretch was definitely difficult but not completely new. I managed to run the first half slowly and walking only through water stations. (I was actually hesitant to run through some water stops because I saw someone step on one of the plastic cups and watched it snap up and hit someone else in the calf!) However, I started taking walking breaks at this point, probably a minute or two (or three or four or five…) of walking for each kilometer.
There were a lot more spectators as we ran through more residential areas and main streets. There was a bar blasting techno music with an entire bar’s worth of people partying outside, lots and lots of drummers performing, and many people sitting al fresco at cafes and restaurants grabbing a morning cup of coffee or brunch. (“Did they know the marathon was today?” I wondered, with nothing else to think about while running.)
I was definitely starting to get annoyed at random things at this point, which is definitely a reflection of the degradation of my mental state. People and their bikes were trying to cross the road and couldn’t time themselves properly, so I had to stop or go around multiple people. Some bikers were actually ringing their bells, honking their horns, or whistling to cheer runners on, which, while I appreciate the cheering!, definitely threw me off, as I’m used to those being a signal to move over if I don’t want to get hit by a bike. Some spectators started jogging alongside their friends and cheering them on, which also threw me off, mostly because I’m so used to the Boston Marathon being very strict about people jumping onto the course. Part of me was definitely annoyed at how much energy these friends had, but that’s neither here nor there…
20 mi – 26 mi
The home stretch!! Because I refuse to fully learn the metric system, I had broken the marathon down into “four 10Ks and some change”, so once I passed the 30K mark, I thought I was golden! “I ran tons of 7 and 8 milers in training,” I thought, naively, “surely I can finish one more 10K.”
I’m not exactly sure when every step felt like walking on coals. It must have been gradual, as these things tend to be, but it definitely became more apparent as I took more and more walking breaks. At some point, it even hurt to walk at a regular pace! What the heck was I supposed to do, then?? The weird part is that the rest of my body was completely fine – tired, yes, but I could definitely push through. However, my feet were ready to completely burst out of my shoes and melt into jello.
Because I couldn’t even manage to walk like a normal human being, every thing that previously annoyed me a little bit suddenly became the worst thing in the entire world. How dare that girl jog next to her friend for several kilometers! In Vans and ripped mom jeans even!! And backwards, so she could face her friend to cheer her on? Who does this bitch think she is??
I definitely almost hit my breaking point around this time. A man tried cheering me on, screaming as he pointed at me, “You got this! You can do it!” I distinctly remember thinking, “You don’t know me! and I can’t do this!!” while wiping away a few newly-welled up tears.
Because, again, I do not know the metric system, I was completely convinced that a marathon is 41K. I learned the hard way that it is actually 42K. The hard way, in my case, meaning sprinting for several city blocks, assuming that the arch at the end of the street is actually Brandenburg Gate, then realizing that it isn’t after turning and seeing a regular old “41K” sign, and panicking.
The last kilometer was tough, not only because it was the last kilometer of a fucking marathon, but also because there were photographers around every corner and significantly more spectators! I stubbornly refused to appear like I was walking in any photos – even other people’s – so I stuck it out and sprinted (and tried! so! hard! to smile) to the very end.
Final Time: 6:07:59
My legs felt surprisingly fresh as I stumbled through the short post-finish line chute to grab my medal and my poncho. The problem was my feet – every nerve ending on the bottom of my feet felt completely wore down, and each step I took made me want to yelp in pain like I was walking barefoot on broken glass.
I saved my run on Strava and texted Bryan about meeting up before getting my medal and my bag of much needed food. I grabbed my gear check bag (side note: I got my bag in a different place than where I dropped it off, which was very strange in retrospect, but definitely didn’t occur to me at the time), laid my poncho on the ground, dug my Oofos slippers out of my bag, pulled my shoes and socks off of my feet, and let out the most relieved sigh I have after let out in my life. I then laid out on my blanket, staring up at the sky, until Bryan found my corpse laying out in the sun.
We went back to our hostel, where I took the most frustrating shower of my life. Our hostel room had a private shower – which was great! – but it was easily the smallest shower I’ve ever been in in my life. It included a short step up to the actual shower, which would have been fine any other day but, after the marathon, was probably the hardest step (up and down) I’ve ever come across in my life. The shower also didn’t have any shelves, so we had to put all of our toiletries on the floor, where we’d have to bend over to grab them. On top of all that, the shower shut off every 30 seconds, so I couldn’t even enjoy a continuous hot shower!
(I didn’t expect to rant about the shower so long – sorry about that imagery.)
After a quick nap, we went to a biergarten for some celebration – but that’s another post for another day!
Will I ever run a marathon again? I would love to – but not in the near future. I have a lot of work to do.
My main issue, both during training and during the marathon itself, is that my “baseline” pace is much too slow for a marathon. For comparison, my half marathon PR (A.K.A. my “I finished with this pace but at the end I wanted to die” pace) is about 11:21 minutes per mile, 2:28:45 total time. If I were to continue with this pace (again, see “I wanted to die” above), I would have finished the full marathon in close to 5 hours. Because of this, my final time, over 6 hours, was absolutely not a surprise.
I told someone about my foot issues and they responded with a (paraphrased) explanation that makes perfect sense – “6 hours is too long to be standing on your feet, let alone run!”
My plan moving forward is to work on my overall speed by racing shorter distances, like the 5K or the 10K. I’ve already proven to myself that I have the stamina and mental grit to push through a half marathon (and barely enough to finish a full marathon), so this seems like the logical next step to getting my running to the next level!