By: Holly Amend
Earlier this year I had the great privilege to represent Runners Roost and Adidas at the 43rd annual Berlin Marathon. How fun! Prior to the run I hadn’t run a marathon in nine years and the last time I traveled for a run was High School XC. And NEVER overseas. So when Adidas offered to send me to Berlin with a race entry, I was ecstatic! Terrified and ecstatic. I quickly sought as much advice as possible for “cramming” for a marathon (thank you to those who helped- you know who you are!), and started my training.
Berlin Marathon Special Edition Adidas shoe
Nine weeks later, I was on the airplane to Berlin, as trained as I could possibly be, excited, and nervous. I took a short stop- a 7 hour layover- in Munich to get lunch and check out Oktoberfest, then finished with a 1-hour flight north to Berlin. Having booked my trip from Wednesday through Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to have a week in Berlin to see the sights, go to a Berlin Philharmonic concert, and visit a friend outside the city.
A portion of the Berlin Wall that has been painted with murals
But let’s be real- I was there for the marathon, and the marathon was AWESOME! The expo on Friday was so much fun, very well-run, and organized. I started out by getting a cloth wristband when I walked into the runners’ entrance, which would give me access to the runners’ staging area at the starting line. Also, it helped me identify all the other participants walking around Berlin for the next couple of days, and there were lots: 41,283 runners, not counting all the roller skate, handbike, and wheelchair racers! After picking up my packet, timing chip, number, and shirt, I had the opportunity to get a 20 minute shake-out massage, check out the course map and start/finish line setup, and of course shop a variety of vendors. Then I ended up spending some time at the Expo just checking out the booths and enjoying learning about the German and Euro-specific sports products that haven’t made it over to the United States. The most intriguing was “Taxofit,” which I believe is a German vitamin company that also does a sports energy drink. After about two hours I was ready to go home, and walked the less-than-a-mile back to the AirBnB I was staying at for the first couple of nights. That night the Philharmonic concert was incredible: Claude Debussy’s La Mer was on the concert for any other musician/runners reading this, and it brought me to tears. The next day I left the AirBnB and checked into the hotel room I had reserved and was only a short distance away from the marathon start.
Sunday, race morning, I woke up in the hotel, went down to eat a breakfast that opened early just for the runners, and made my way over to the nearest train stop, which was three blocks away. Let me just say that the public transportation system in this city is amazing. Anything I wanted to see, any restaurant recommendation I received or square I wanted to visit was within just a few blocks of the nearest bus stop, train station, or subway. It was incredible! Anyway, I met a few other runners along the way and we navigated our way to the starting line together. Runners everywhere are the same, at least in this way: they are friendly, helpful people, and feel immediately like family. These family members happened to be from France, Australia, and Italy! So cool. And did I mention Berlin made public transportation free for runners going to and from the race?
My international running family
So we got to the starting area and went our separate ways to find our gear drop-off areas and prepare for our races. It was a little chilly but not cold. Everywhere, volunteers were handing out plastic blankets and ponchos for the runners to stay warm after checking our bags in. Again – so well organized. I dropped off my bag, found my starting corral, which happened to be the last one (not recommended if this is not your pace! Put yourself in a corral that reflects your planned finish time rather than trying to dodge around people the whole race. Live and learn, I guess), and just as I was settling in to wait for our time in the staggered start, a crew of women in matching exercise gear climbed up onto a platform about 100m away and started the “pre-race warm up to music.” This was probably the most unexpected fun I had during my whole experience. And as you may know, there are lots of opportunities for the unexpected when you’re traveling in a foreign country alone. These ladies led us through a dance routine, not unlike line dancing, but the moves concentrated on the running muscles and keeping us warm and ready while we waited. I guess I can’t describe this more; you will just have to experience it for yourself if you go. Definitely recommended.
After the warm-up we started slowly moving forward as corrals in front of us started on the course. There were giant TV screens set up on the street every few hundred meters or so, and they were showing short video clips of family members of the racers from around the world. What a great way to send your encouragement across the world! So we got to the starting line and started the race. The first bit of it went on the street past the Berlin Victory Column and through the giant park, the Tiergarten, which is at the center of Berlin. Another aside (I like tangents, if you haven’t noticed) is that apart from this giant beautiful green park, there are also other very beautiful and quite large parks all throughout Berlin. AND there is a river, the Spree, which goes straight through the city! So green and so beautiful. At the risk of revealing my ignorance, I have to tell you I had NO idea about this before I visited the city, and it was the second coolest unexpected thing I came across on my trip.
Okay, onward to the race! This, obviously, was the most physically painful part of my time in Germany. I guess I just haven’t learned how to run a marathon without putting myself through excruciating pain before the end. But I was expecting it, and such is the life of a runner. At any rate, running through such a historic city and being supported throughout by cheering fans lining the route was not a bad experience. The Berliners come out in droves to cheer on the runners, often reading your name off your bib and cheering for you personally.
I started my race feeling pretty rested and taking it relatively easy. I started at a pace I thought I might be able to keep for the whole marathon, or at least for the first half. Apparently my plan, which was unbeknownst to me until about mile 1.5, was to go out comfortable and steady, in control until the half marathon, then see from there. At the half, everything was still feeling pretty good, with the exception of one thing: my feet were killing me. Learning experience #2: even if you live in an area of the world with some of the most beautiful trails in the world, train on the roads as much as possible if you’re racing a road marathon (for goodness sake)!! So, at the half marathon mark my next plan was to go easy on the tootsies until about mile 20, at which point I would see how I felt and re-evaluate. At about 19.5, they must have gone numb. And I started thinking about all the times during training that I just wanted to run faster, but kept myself back in order to get the distance I needed. And I started thinking about the previous 20 miles and how I was still holding myself back, unsure of what the last few miles would bring.
So, here I was at mile 20 and I nothing to hold back for anymore! I was delighted to be done with my training and to be so close to the end, and I realized at this point I should just run however fast I wanted! So I picked up my pace and, interestingly enough, mile 20-25 felt the best in the whole race.
Then came the last 2k and everything started to hurt really badly, due to the pounding, due to the miles, whatever – did I mention I don’t know how to run a marathon without putting myself through excruciating pain by the end? Anyway, that last 1.2 miles felt so long. I would keep going around the corner, hoping to see the Brandenburg Gate, the indication of the finish line, and not see it. Finally it showed up (after about a lifetime), and I felt so grateful to my friend and run club member, Emily, for telling me the finish wasn’t over for another 200m after the gate. I crossed the finish line and stopped running. And started crying a lot (due to pain, due to emotional exhaustion, due to my happiness that I didn’t have to keep running anymore). And I sat down about five times between the finish line and my bag pick-up (1/4 mile or less from the finish line?) because my legs just wanted to give out from beneath me.
I finally got to my bag pick-up, drank a recovery beverage I had left for myself, and then a very very nice gentleman came by handing out pints of Erdinger beer. I believe it was non-alcoholic; either way it was so cold, refreshing, and carbonated that I couldn’t think of anything else I would want more at that moment- a little piece of post-marathon heaven. I sat for as long as I needed to recompose, then gathered my things and “strolled” along the Spree River to my hotel (3ish miles? Maybe more? It felt like forever). And by stroll, I of course mean “walked gingerly” and it was no more than a strolling pace.
“Relaxing” on a bench along the Spree River post-marathon
But honestly, I think all that walking is what started my recovery effort on the right foot. Monday I walked around a small city north of Berlin with a friend of mine all day, we got to see a 20 minute organ concert in a beautiful cathedral and have dinner beside a lake. By the time I got back on the plane Wednesday morning to come back home, my legs felt almost recovered from the race, and I was able to get back out on those beautiful mountain trails pretty much immediately after my return.