Running: Berlin Marathon 2021

The Berlin Marathon is part of the prestigious Abbott World Marathon Major series which currently has six members, including Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo. You collect stars for each of these majors and when you complete all six you get the biggest and greatest medal of all time. Taking part in Berlin would see me pick up my 4th star after what feels like the longest wait ever since number three in Chicago 2019. Especially when I should have been on five at the end of 2020 (but that is a different story). 

Anyway my road to Berlin was not straightforward at all, in 2020 I had a charity place secured with Alzheimer’s Society and this was rolled over to 2021 when the 2020 race was cancelled. Great, I can just do that no problem. Although there was Covid just didn’t seem to be slowing down with the fact that travel restrictions were not the biggest issue rather than the actual race taking place which was naturally a big worry. Do you book flights and hotels? Still obviously traumatised by the Tokyo experience. It was a tough one, anyway as it got closer the end of July I think I booked flights and a hotel. My flights got changed, mainly due to a smaller amount of flights being available, which became a blessing (maybe) because I could then get a full refund because the airline changed them! Then all UK charity places for the race were cancelled! Through a Facebook group someone posted a link to a competition to win places in the marathon through #RunForJoy so I entered it! 

As it got closer to the race though I thought I best get a refund on my flights and cancel the hotel, the Berlin dream was over once again. Or was it? A few days after I did that I had an email informing me I had won a place! I mean how often can you win places in these major marathons (ok, yes I have won a place in the London Marathon before). SO this meant rebooking flights and the hotel, luckily the hotel was now actually cheaper. Oh as were the flights, but I didn’t book them straight away did I? Two days later they were more than double the price, small panic . . . But I think booked one airline out and another back so it was all good. Oh and two days after confirming the place I went for jab number two! 

Covid regulations, right these are fun right? Needs must if you really want to go away, Germany had been on the Green travelling list for the longest amount of time and nothing would actually change in that sense. However, trying to ensure you are following the correct guidance on the countries government website is something that is rather difficult. Everywhere has different rules and restrictions, it actually got very stressful, how many PCR’s do you need to have, when do you need to have them? How quickly will things change? All of this panic certainly makes it rather nerve-racking. I didn’t need one to fly to Germany because I have been vaccinated, yet I would then need one three days before returning to the UK. Then another on day two of returning to the UK (if this was a week later I wouldn’t have needed to and it would have saved me £50). I then opted to book the one that was available at the marathon expo, which meant I had to ensure I went 3 days before my flight time, which is a slight shame as I always like to get across to the expo as early as possible to collect my number and then being able to relax. 

The Expo 

As some runners needed to have a PCR test to actually take part in the race that was a separate queue, I wasn’t really sure if I needed to go in that as I had obviously been vaccinated and was therefore allowed to take part in the race with just that. Having booked the PCR for the flight home, I was swiftly moved to that queue and not given my blue band, but a white one for the test. I went down to have the test which was a great time to go as one person was in front of me in the queue, someone was administering them and said you should have the result within two hours. By this point I hadn’t been to sleep much for about 50 hours and I was extremely tired and ended up really anxious and upset that it was going to come back positive (I had been taking lateral flow tests in the days before travelling and felt absolutely fine health wise) but that absolute doubt is horrendous. So much so that I didn’t really look at anything in the expo or take any photos with my race number. Basically I had to go and get some sleep! 

I decided when I calmed down and after two hours the PCR came back as negative that I would head back to the expo quite early on the Saturday. I started Saturday by planning a shake out run up towards the park where the Brandenburg Gate was, and as I was coming out of the lift at the hotel I met some lovely American women and ran with them and chatted. Even arranged to head to the start line with them as well as Tory was in my wave! Then back to the expo which was a great idea as I took photos, bought another Adidas t-shirt (and ordered more online as it was so much cheaper with voucher codes etc than at the expo). I met two fellow Brits Jon and Paul, half the Beatles as they put it as we were drinking ERDINGER Alkoholfrei the alcohol free isotonic beer, we then queued to have our photos taken on the stand, which took awhile but they were great to talk to! I resisted buying anything else really as the prices just seemed more expensive than normal and online deals, other than the Maurten race kit pack for €20 which has a lovely branded Berlin bottle in it. Ok I got it mainly for the bottle, but I did also take a caffeine gel with me (thanks Iain!). 

Considering this is the first major since November 2019 the expo wasn’t as big as usual but I guess that makes perfect sense with the reasons why, still everything you could possibly need for race day that you might have left at home. I usually forget my magnets but didn’t this time (hey I am learning). 

Race Day
I met Tory and Katherine in the lobby of the hotel to walk to the start line, we were staying in the Movenpicken Hotel and it was about a 15 minute walk to the Gate. It was pretty exciting to see the finishers area all set up and makes you think about being back there in a few hours time, with the medal around your neck. Being in wave G my start time was 10:05am so we were there a good hour before and found some toilets that didn’t really have any queues and each went about 3 or 4 times before heading to the start pen. We met Susan along the way who was from New Jersey and she joined myself and Tory as we went searching for Pick up the Pace Paul, who was bringing his sub 4 hour fun bus back to a major marathon! I have had that goal for many years now and I really thought this race was going to be the one, you know I’d take 3:59:59! 

It wasn’t meant to be though as the humidity and heat really took its toll on me at around 25k, I was bang on 1:59 for half and was managing to stay just in front of Paul and the group, along with Tory and Susan was also looking strong the first 10k were really busy with so many runners that it was difficult. The amount of bodies certainly made it feel even hotter that’s for sure! I missed an aid station and I think that was probably the biggest mistake of my race. I even had to do a quick toilet stop and then from around mile 16 I had to change the plan. I knew sub 4 was gone but thought its fine I can still get in a new official race PB. I adopted a run/walk approach and walked the aid stations taking on as many fluids as possible, even some banana and apples. The gels I had on me just were not enough on this day! 

I even ended up counting the 0.01 miles, its between 13-15 steps for me and I did this for quite a lot of miles. The counting just focusing me to keep going and keep the same pace. I was counting in 30s this time though knowing that five was then 0.10miles. This might sound utterly crazy but its something I do quite often but it’s usually to count down the end of a run. But hey it worked and I did try to keep that going through each aid station. 

The course being only marked in KMs wasn’t actually as bad as I thought although I am convinced the final 3km from 39km was actually about 30! It felt really tough but the crowds around that area were utterly fantastic. Coming towards the Brandenburg Gate (eventually I might add, each turn of the corner I thought this is it, no this is it) was a great running moment. The crowds made up of spectators and runners who had already finished made it super loud. Although always remember that the finish line is actually still quite far from the gate! Although I didn’t really care as Sweet Caroline was playing as I ran down that home straight and it was brilliant, especially when people saw my name on my bib/vest. 

I actually didn’t know my official finish time and didn’t really look at my watch when I stopped and saved it. I found out when I got my medal engraved! I pre-booked this online for €11 and on the day they were charging €12. Well worth having done as only took minutes and it looks great on the medal. Before that you collect your poncho if you selected that option rather than a bag drop! Along with the bag filled with snacks and water. I think I had about 4 cups of water not long after the finish line, it was seriously that hot! 

This was my 8th marathon and do you know what, marathon’s are so hard. 

I love the challenge though and the goal of sub 4 and picking up a six star finishers medal goes on. I can honestly say that I don’t enjoy every second of the marathon and they hurt, but being able to push your self both psychologically and physical is something that I really do enjoy and I do keep improving with it all the time. I actually love the phase where you question why you have actually decided to do this (again) and then you remember how amazing the community is before, during and after the marathon and you wondering when your next one will be. 

Obviously I had to get some Currywurst to sample in the finishers area and had a slow hobble back to the hotel, stopping in a few different places along the way and being able to cheer on some of the runners who were still going. By the time I eventually had a bath and got ready to head out for more food, so many places were closed. I had admitted defeat of Five Guys but then remembered about restaurants at Potsdamer Platz so had a look round and decided on Lindenbrau as it was German food and I had three courses along with two flavour infused beers, the cherry was certainly the better choice! 

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