Rome was the rain, London was being the Samaritan and Edinburgh was my stomach. Every marathon so far this year had in one way or another hampered my attempt at improving the time I had set in San Francisco, which was four marathons and over 14 months ago. That streak of unsuccessful attempts twinned with my lack of focus on the distance itself for the last few months made me think Berlin wouldn’t be my marathon. In fact I was sure of it. My ankles had been playing up for the past two weeks and I had been gaining weight like a turkey before Thanksgiving for the past month thanks to weddings, holidays and loss of motivation.
But come race day something felt different. I was oddly calm, with no expectations I had no one to let down. “Just finish. Just keep moving. Always forward, forward always.” These were my last thoughts before I touched the floor (my pre-race superstition), dumped the plastic bag I had been wearing to keep warm and began Berlin.
At the start of the race, breaking with my tradition, I didn’t plug in my headphones. Instead, I used the first five miles to focus on my pace and soak in the atmosphere. Actively slowing myself down and not getting dragged along by the tempo of the song or the excitement of race day made finding and maintaining the right pace a lot easier. When I felt that my rhythm was firmly fixed I started listening to music and let the miles slip by song after song.
I did another thing I’ve never really done at any race which was to try to follow the racing line. It’s an actual marked blue strip the whole 26.2 miles that the lead runners use to insure an exact distance. Following, albeit a long way behind, those legends gave me some odd sense of pride. It’s also a wonderful way to occupy the time zig zagging through the crowds to get back on to it when you lose it.
The autumning beauty of Berlin is one of the most striking things about the route; gorgeous greenery turning once more to winter and the rain dwelling in the air from start to finish gave the race a movie like feel. That combined with the stunning city made this race a quick favourite for me, just behind London.
The race was going so well and I was, for once, running with my brain. Every mile was calculated, slow now and finish strong. My pace was uniform and as halfway rolled in my timing was spot on for a sub 4:30 time. Could I finally do it? That would mean taking off half an hour from my previous PB but that had been my aim for this year. The next four miles rolled by and I felt wonderful, except for the usual aches and pains of putting your body through hell that is. My motivation was clear and self-powered. Always, forward. Those two words echoed in my head as my knees suddenly began to give way. I had to slow down.
I watched as the time slowly, maliciously, slipped past the 4:30 goal. I found myself cursing time itself until I realised that I alone was to blame for this. I should be really chuffed, 12 minutes taken of a PB is an impressive feat but I know that I could have gone faster and got to that sub 4:30 target. I chose to slow down, I was the sole steerer in the moments that caused my time to slip away and yet I feel like the decision was out of my hands. With what I can only describe as “floating knees” the odd sensation that I can’t really describe any better than that made me readjust my race. It less painful and more uncomfortable so at mile 18 I slowed down to see what would happened, the pain dissipated but as soon as I returned to my original speed wham the floating began again. My slowed pace was a necessity, I simply couldn’t keep going and yet I felt like I was giving in.
As the Brandenburg Gate loomed overhead and the finish came welcomingly into view, I was literally and metaphorically on my last legs. With more of a stumble than a sprint I crossed the line, relieved to have just finished more than any other feeling.
I mindlessly wandered around the finishing area not entirely sure what to do with myself now so I headed back to the hotel I had stayed the night before. I was taken down to the staff showers since I had already checked out only to discover that there were no towels, nothing at all, which I only realised after I had showered. I spent the next five to ten minutes using small paper towels to dab my body dry. Hardly the glorious finish I had imagined!
Now finally back in the UK, after a cancelled flight and an extra day in Berlin, I am trying to sum up my thoughts on that incredible day. Firstly, thank you Berlin for your support and beauty. I cannot recommend this as a race more highly; it’s flat, well supported and with a cracking medal to finish it all off. Secondly, while I am pleased to have got a PB, it has only fired me up to go faster. With Chicago only a week and a half away now I cannot wait to get out there again because with each race I am learning more about how to run smarter and faster, always heading forward.
Next Race: Chicago Marathon
Three Song Playlist
Endlich August – Das ist Berlin
Macklemore – Good Old Days
Marshmello – Silence