Berlin Marathon 2015 – A review by Lloyd Richardson
So how did we get here? Well back in October 2014 Scotty Brenton and I had just completed the Amsterdam Marathon and had such a jolly time that we were considering our next challenge. Together with fellow Flyer Peter Cole we decided to put our names into the ballot for the next Berlin Marathon – it came highly recommended by Flyers Farr and Lovett and it is one of the World Marathon Majors.
A couple of weeks later we all found ourselves lucky in the ballot and had secured a place each. Plans were laid for another Flyers European tour.
Fast-forward 3 months, Scotty picks me up on the way to parkrun one Saturday morning. “About Berlin,” he says, “… there’s a problem.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“It’s 9 months away,” he says.
Oh wow! After I congratulated him on his life-changing news, he assured me it wouldn’t be much of a problem, he would get around Holly, he would still be going to Berlin. And then sure enough he had to drop out, but with a pretty good excuse that no-one could argue with.
So that left me and Peter.
Fast-forward another few months. Peter had been suffering with injuries, he was making a comeback but was progressing slowly. Sadly he had to accept defeat because he wasn’t going to be ready for the marathon and had to drop out. Bummer. Disappointing for both of us, but understandable.
So just me then. I didn’t even think of not going – Richard and Hugh had told me how great it was – so I drew up a training plan to get ready for it.
I started out with an 18-week plan, which was disrupted, so I re-worked it down to a 12-week plan, which also didn’t go as planned. I was struggling to do any quality runs and speedwork – it was aggravating some injuries, so I decided to drop all speedy stuff and just do long runs instead to build up endurance. I did this on a 9-week plan and by the end was feeling confident. I knew a PB wasn’t possible but I shouldn’t be too far away. Or so I thought.
Anyway, with training in the bank, it was time to travel to Berlin. I’ve never been to Germany, don’t know more than 2 or 3 words of the language, and have spent years growing up hating their football team. So it should be fine then.
The flight to Berlin from Southend Airport was a breeze. I managed to figure out the train system and boarded the next train towards where I was staying. At the next stop a few people got on and 2 German men sat in the seats opposite me. They were in full on German costume: lederhosen, green velvet hat with a feather, scarf tied around their necks. Big furry moustaches. Surely this was a joke? I was looking for the film cameras playing a trick on me. Then at the next stop a guy sat next to me wearing everything white – coat, shirt, shoes, hat, face – and had a big bag of beer bottles that he drank one after the other. Strange characters.
Then I had to change trains and in the next train there were more people in lederhosen and ladies in traditional german embroidered dresses. This appeared to be normal and not for any kind of event. It was acually kind of quaint.
Everyone else seemed to have long unruly hair, heavy metal t-shirts, unkempt facial hair and stern expressions. How can a country that gave us Hugo Boss have such unfashionable citizens?
I arrived Friday evening and went straight to the Expo. Usual arrangement for these things except it was in an airfield. It was once Hitler’s own personal airfield but nowadays is not used. We had to walk through the length of the airport building, through all the retailers and exhibitors, pick up our numbers and then walk all the way back through the retailer stands again. The goody bag was just a few leaflets written in German and a finisher t-shirt you had to pay extra for.
Now that I had my number, I could go and check out Berlin.
On Saturday morning I went to the Breakfast Run as recommended by Richard Farr. This was laid on as part of the marathon weekend but anybody could take part. It was a bit like a parkrun and had a real party atmosphere. Maybe 2,000 people turned up. Most people were in fancy dress and waving flags for their home country. Every nation was doing its best to cheer for their country and there were a was a multitude of nations – Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Holland, USA, Italy and many others were all well represented – but nobody out-partied the Danish who seemed to be everywhere. With thousands of balloons, a band playing music, cheerleaders and lots of groups running together we all set off on a gentle jog through closed roads and finished in the Berlin Olympic Stadium where we all did a circuit of the running track. At the end there was free breakfast for everyone. The Breakfast Run is a must-do if you ever go to the Berlin Marathon – but make sure you take a flag or dress up a bit to join in the fun.
The rest of the Saturday I wandered about the city taking in some of the sights. Plenty to do here and lots to fill up a weekend and I probably ended up doing a lot more walking than I should have done before the big race. I also watched a little bit of the in-line skating marathon which happens on the same route as the running marathon but on the day before.
So then it was time for a bowl of pasta, to prepare the running outfit and gear for the next day and an early night.
Then the sun was up and it was race day. I scoffed my porridge and was dressed and took the short walk from the guest house I was staying at to the start.
40,000 runners all making their way to the start, dropping off their clothing bags, lots of excitement, friends and families saying goodbye, and massive, massive queues for the portaloos and everyone else going off into the bushes for a wee. Just the same as for most other big races I have been to.
Berlin has 8 starting waves, A to H, and I was in wave F. Your start group is based on your best recent marathon time and group F was for those with a time between 3:30 and 3:50. This means that the first 5 waves were all runners who had a recent marathon time of 3:30 or quicker. Lots of good runners and all quite serious. I hardly saw anyone in fancy dress, but that wouldn’t be very German would it?
Anyone that had never run a marathon before had to start at the very back wave. That is regardless of the time they expected to run. So if you’re a speedster then I wouldn’t suggest that you do Berlin as your first marathon.
Obviously, with 40,000 runners it was going to be very busy. And the starts were staggered in waves. But the race was just so crowded. It starts on a big wide double carriageway and most of the streets on the course are wide. However, it probably needs to be staggered even more as it was the busiest race I have ever taken part in. Bodies were everywhere and there didn’t seem to be much personal space. And what with people being idiots there are people that run from side-to-side, people that can’t run in a straight line, people that overtake and then slow down, and then there would be a curve or a narrowing of the route and everyone became bottled up. It didn’t start to spread out and feel like there was enough space until after about 20 miles. It was that crowded.
And being crowded and with everyone wanting a good time there were people trying to overtake and getting in each others way and barging through. I saw two strongly built German men have a proper row when one barged past, the second then punched him in the back, and then they chased each other while arguing about it. At one point I was running alongside a man and we were both pushed out of the way by a female runner and this other guy forcefully pushed her in the back. It did get tetchy at times.
The water stations were absolute carnage. Berlin has a lot of history from wartime and every water station was like WWII being re-enacted all over again. I’m sure I saw a Frenchman waving a white flag at one of them. I didn’t take a drink for the first 15km just to avoid the water stations.
While it was very busy, everyone was moving in the same direction, most people were sensible and as long as you kept your wits about you and ran around the idiots you could steer a course through it.
I have to say the support was very good. Spectators line most of the route and are vocal with their encouragement and banners. There are many bands playing music on the course and as usual some were better than others. Some individuals had taken it upon themselves to set up their own drum kits and beat out some tunes. They were excellent.
Note to marathon organisers:
· Drummers , rock music, house music and reggae, all with a good beat, are perfect for running to and help motivate.
· Brass bands, country and western and ballads are rubbish for running to. Don’t let them near it.
Lots of spectators were ringing cow bells. It was like the background noise on Ski Sunday. This was interesting to begin with but started to get on your nerves after a while. Also, many spectators were blowing whistles and playing vuvuzela trumpets. These did not help!
Before the race I had decided to dedicate the race to my father who passed away earlier this year. I didn’t tell anyone this beforehand but with this on my mind, at about 17 miles in one of the performers played an old song from the 50s. One I’m sure my father would have enjoyed and I started to get a bit emotional thinking about it. Very unlike me! But after drifting off for a short while I refocused and carried on.
The route is all on wide roads with a few tram lines and cobbles thrown in to make sure you keep your eyes on the road. Berlin has more trees than people I am told and most streets on the course are lined by large mature trees. There are also a number of sites and interesting buildings along the way but as I didn’t know too much about Berlin I passed them by. What with having to dodge all the runners and keep your eyes on the road I can’t say it was particularly scenic (as opposed to Paris or London that both have easily recognised and famous landmarks on the route).
The main points of interest were the television tower, which looks like a disco glitter ball on a stick, and the Brandenburg Gate which is right before the finish line I couldn’t really tell you much more about the course.
For my own run, I set out to run at 8 min 40 secs a mile (giving a finish time of about 3hrs50) and try not to get carried away and run too fast in the early part of the race, something I have been guilty of in the past. I managed to keep a fairly even pace throughout most of the race. But really tired in the last 3 miles.
I took 4 gels with me. This is fewer than for previous marathons as I find them hard to digest and none of them taste that great. I wore them on a gel belt but lost 2 on the way round.They had fallen out. I had taken 2 and then realised I didn’t have any more. I tried the Powerbar gels they were giving out but they were sickly sweet, had the consistency of peanut butter and nearly made me heave. So I made do with just water. This meant that I ran out of energy sooner than I expected and had to really grind out the last 3 miles. They really hurt and I had to stop and briefly walk at the water stations from this point while I drank a cup of water each time.
Having said that, I managed to finish just 5 minutes outside my target time in 3:55:32 and, very importantly for me, under the 4 hour mark.
Once across the finish line there is enormous crowds of runners flaked out here and there and you have to walk for ages and queue for your medal and a banana. Once through the finish area there is a large space for people to stretch or catch their breath and free massages available. There was free beer too (but alcohol free).
I didn’t have time to hang around as I had to catch my flight back. (If Scotty had come he would have needed to get a PB to catch our flight.) I took the train back to the airport and reached the gate 20 minutes before boarding closed. And I touched down and was back in Southend by 5:30pm.
And then I could relax!
Berlin Marathon was probably not my favourite race but it does have lots of positives and I’m very pleased to have done it. It does have a handsome medal.
Ballot for Berlin Marathon 2016 opens on Monday 19 October 2015.
“Dedicated to the memory of my father – Ian Rowland Richardson (1934-2015)”