Berlin Marathon – the race

16 weeks focussed on the 25th September 2016! After February’s bizarre knee issue put me behind I quickly decided April’s London marathon was too soon & attention turned to getting into reasonable shape for Highgate 10,000m in May before properly knuckling down for a full 16 week block through to Berlin. As detailed in my weekly training blogs it was a pretty good block of training, based on consistency & building towards the race rather than any particularly impressive sessions.

Having struggled with the cold in London 2015 we felt I’d ran a couple of minutes down on my fitness at the time, & this was really about coping with the training looking towards anything from 2:15 to 2:19 depending how I adapted through the weeks.

Racing well at Wilne off a long day on the Saturday a few weeks previous thoughts turned towards 2:17 or faster. Speaking with Andy through the week leading up to the race we agreed it could be anything from 2:15 to 2:19, & although sticking with 2:17 as a plan we agreed I’d run to feel & roll with whatever pace I dropped onto after 4-5 miles (a necessity as it turned out!). Anything from 5:10 to 5:15 minute miles would be fine to start.

Friday – We flew out early – we being me, Jo, my Mum & Kini, dropped the cases off & headed out for an easy run. A trip on the U-Bahn to the Expo for something to do & then back to the Intercontinental to pick up my numbers.

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Good luck

Finally a trip to Aldi (where else?) to stock up on the essentials for the next couple of days! Bottled water was top of the list this time having suffered with my stomach previously when travelling to races so not risking anything. No WiFi & a useless TV that had no signal meant an evening listening to the wireless & playing cards – possibly a sign we’re getting into the Kenyan way of preparing? Ugali would have been pushing it a little though so we stayed with some simple white pasta for now.

Saturday – Another early start as I wanted to make sure I got my run finished 24 hours before the race start on Sunday. Just a short easy run, then back for muffins & more decaf coffee with Kini while Mum & Jo ‘explored’ the Tiergarten & start/finish area on their long run.

The elite briefing was back at the Intercontinental at noon so we got the train there, sat back & waited to see if we recognised anybody! A few familiar faces came in, but the two big guns – Kipsang & Bekele – were notable absentees. I’d tapped up Kev Seaward for some race tips after his storming run last year but the briefing was definitely an hour well spent with some good detailed course information as well as specific weather, pacemaking, drinks, pre & post race arrangements etc. It was clear from the presenter’s tone that he was resigned to not getting another shot at the world record this year – citing the Olympics as the main reason – but still hoping for a 2:04 race. Whatever was finally agreed with the pacemakers later that day meant he didn’t quite get the record he’d no doubt have liked but he did get an epic race that we’re looking forward to watching now we’re home. A quick bit of lunch before I was packed off on the train for an afternoon nap while Jo, Kini & Mum did their support recce. I got a good couple of hours during the day before nipping out for a glass of red! Then an early tea of plain pasta with a little cheese, a few games of cards after checking my kit & an early night.

Sunday – Alarm was off just after 5am & I was out quickly for a brief 15 minutes shake out. Back, showered & on with the muffins & some proper coffee at last! A couple of strong espresso’s from our race mocha pot & I was starting to get in the mood. I like to have my breakfast ~3 hours before racing so everything can settle down. Some more coffee, a final check over my kit & sorting my drinks out meant it was soon 7.45am & we headed to the start.

2016-09-25-breakfast-of-champions

Breakfast of champions – some well toasted muffins & good strong coffee

Quick goodbye’s & well wishes from Jo, Mum & Kini & off they went to their first spot at around 8K (luckily they left quickly as they all started to fill up – women!). Into the elite area & it was already full & not much room to sit on the benches with the African’s showing us all how to rest properly. I soon went out to start jogging for a long gradual build up in the Tiergarten. A few easy strides at around 8.45am then back to change & pick up the gels I’d be carrying with me. 9am we were shuffled along to a small holding area & then walked through to the start area. A few good long strides taking in the first 400-500m of the course & getting in the zone then I got behind the start ready to go.

The Race

0-5km – 16:15, 3:15m/km, 5:14m/m

No dramas, settle into a comfortable pace, look to identify a group or at least a couple of strong & sensible looking runners to run with once things settled down after 5K or so. Well that was the plan! Despite hanging my arm out for 5 minutes before the start, my trusty old Garmin picked today to search for an English based satellite rather than any nice nearby German one. Not to worry, surely it would kick in once we got running & into the open…

Elite men on the right, elite women on the left. We knew there was a pacemaker (#72) for ~2:15, but otherwise it was every man for himself! We set off at what felt like a very relaxed effort & with my Garmin still not playing ball I was pleased to have Darren Deed alongside me having agreed to look for something around 68:30 through halfway. A bit of chuntering between us about feeling rubbish but we ticked off the first few K’s as groups started to form & we settled onto what would be our pace for the day! It felt about right anyway.

5-10km – 16:35, 3:19m/km, 5:20m/m

Still nothing from the Garmin so I was running completely blind, but still happy that the pace was sustainable. As we looped back round towards our apartment & opened up on one of the long straight stretches two distinct groups started to form just in front of us (us being Darren & I, followed by a few clinger’s on). A few looks behind showed that there was a big gap to the next group on the road so a bit of a pick up & we tagged on to the group just in front which included Paul Martelletti. Paul quickly confirmed that the group in front was looking for 2:15 so we stayed off the back of that! A few fairly uneventful K’s under the belt, including the first cheer from my super support crew! The first time I’d seen & heard Uncle’s Jonny & Pete with Aunty’s Chris & Jane – it wouldn’t be the last!

10-15km – 16:36, 3:20m/km, 5:20m/m

Having run at the front of the group for a few K’s Marder’s made the decision to push the pace. I felt ok at the pace we were on – whatever that happened to be – & Paul’s move was pretty decisive! I made the quick decision to let him go as despite being frustrated by the lack of any help from within the group (race photos show it pretty clearly) I didn’t feel great so was still waiting for my legs to ‘come to me’. I knocked back my first gel at this point – my stomach felt fine but I certainly didn’t feel ‘fast’ so decided to get some quick carbs & a caffeine hit to see if I could get going.

15-20km – 16:20, 3:16m/km, 5:15m/m

Having broken the race down into 5K segments I was aware this was the last part before we started the long slight rise from 20-28km. It became clear there had been some over-ambitious men holding on to our group (there were already people going backwards from the 2:15 group!) & as soon as Darren & I put some work in going up an overpass it all splintered! Two guys did their fair share of work on the front with us & other than some interesting moves each time we got to the elite drinks tables the pace felt like it remained constant.

20-25km – 16:23, 3:17m/km, 5:16m/m

Approaching halfway & one of our two friends in the group bolted off the front – he ran to halfway & pulled out! I experienced this at London last year with somebody constantly surging (from a group of just 4 at the time – me, Aaron Scott & Paul Molyneux) only to pull out at halfway. I’ve no issue with using the race to run a good half time, but some respect by telling others your intentions & preferably doing a good share of the work surely isn’t much to ask? At least this guy ran a consistent pace & put some work in, but could he not have given us a few more K’s? I ended up running as a quasi-pacemaker in London in 2014 but made it clear to all those in the group what I was doing & the pace we were looking to run.

Time to start climbing! Well that’s stretching it – this is a seriously flat course. But regardless, we’d been told that all the climbing was ~20m vertical gain through 20-28km which was followed by a similar downhill stretch from 30km.

I guess our Half friend didn’t just annoy me as immediately on him dropping out one of the group went to the front & I decided it was time to put some work in. I’d long since given up on my Garmin which still hadn’t located any satellite’s so I left that with Jo who was a bit confused by it all! We ran together for several K’s & although having to work hard now I still felt fine at the pace we were running. Unfortunately I felt fine, but never good! Time for another gel for a bit of a pick up ahead of the uphill section. The guy who pushed on was Dennis Laerte who would end up just a minute in front by the finish.

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Approx. mid-race

25-30km – 16:35, 3:19m/km, 5:20m/m

It was late in this section where I started to drift back slighty & found myself in no man’s land. It felt like Dennis was pushing the pace – perhaps that was the case given the slight uphill – & I didn’t have the legs at the time to follow that effort so maintained my effort levels. Still another reasonable 5K & I was focussed on getting to the end of this section & looking to push on from there as the downhill started & we got towards 10K to go.

30-35km – 16:30, 3:18m/km, 5:18m/m

I was soon picked up by a small group who were moving through well. As it turns out the lead woman & pacemakers were part of what was a good sized group just behind me for some time! Her lead car had been moving around myself & Dennis for a few K’s so we knew they were close. Once I was caught a few of the group immediately went to the front & started to work in front of the pacemakers. Now it was time to get stuck in & I immediately jumped on board & sat in behind a group of 4 for a couple of K’s. It was tough going by this point but still manageable & I didn’t feel like it was a major risk to go with them.

They were running a good consistent pace with no surges & sharing the workload relatively well between them (for continental runners anyway, but given that I was sat at the back I couldn’t complain this time).

This could be the last section I was my supporters who by sheer coincidence had all been fairly close together on each of the three points they’d appeared. Apparently I was still looking good at this point!

35-40km – 17:30, 3:25m/km, 5:38m/m (Damn!)

And then the wheels came off! Early in this section we turned a corner & bang, I was out the back. Looking at the final results I think the group split at that point with a couple pushing on & finishing inside 2:19 while the other two continued to work well together just off their pace. I was left floundering just was we entered one of the most exposed parts of the course.

Suddenly I was in the pain cave, I was too far from the finish to put in a big effort to get back on (I was ~50m back almost immediately so would have needed a <5m/mile to get back on). My troublesome left glute was tight although not restricting my running particularly & I had some slight cramping in my lower legs & feet! The cramping I believe was due to my wet trainers, but it wasn’t anything too extreme.

Luckily the race is superbly geared up for their star runners & as such we were surrounded by cyclists clearing the route for the lead woman. One guy had seen us running as a group & noticed me get dropped. His encouragement from 38-41K was very welcome, although a bit of drafting would have been even more welcome (he was thoroughly German about it, giving great encouragement but sticking strictly to the rules & staying well away from me so as not to offer any benefit from drafting). I was 100% focussed on the two guys in front who by 38K I’m guessing had ~200-250m lead on me (Vladimir Bondarenko & Geronimo von Wartburg) & although I was struggling I knew from previous races & the training I’ve put in that I could hold a faster pace for the final 10 minutes/2 miles.

40-42.2km – 7:03, 3:13m/km, 5:09m/m (fastest split, too little too late)

And so it was! As soon as I turned off the main wide road to start the final section through the build up area I pushed on as much as I could. It immediately felt much easier – relatively speaking – once out of the breeze & although the guys in front were out of sight for large sections as we twisted through the city centre it was simply head down, leave it all on the Berlin roads & finish with a big final K once the Brandenburg Gates were in sight!

The 41st K felt a little quicker & I could tell from my cyclist friend’s excitement that he also thought I was closing back in on the two in front. I had no idea or interest in my position & also surprisingly no idea of what time I was on for! I knew it was reasonable but not at the lower end of what I’d set out for, but regardless every second would count as this would definitely be a PB run. The time mattered, my position didn’t – but I love racing & therefore focussing on the two in front helped me muster the energy needed to finish strong. In my mind & my little race I was chasing them down for a win!

Then Jo & Mum popped up again! I knew they were planning on a flat out run from their previous spot hoping to see me near the finish but I wasn’t sure they’d make it. Clearly they were VERY excited to have got to see the last K. It was great to have some more support so late in the race & just after passing them I turned to see the Gate. I was all in by this stage but still had a big gap to the two in front, however I knew by now I was moving much better than them & drew level at the Gate. I continued to push past them both & it was only then that I glanced up to see the clocks at the finish – 2:18 was already showing & I knew there was ~1 minute to run but regardless this was going to be a big PB & well inside 2:20 at last. I was delighted to cross the line in low 2:19’s & after some pleasantries I quickly freshened up & made my way out to catch up with Jo et al.

2:19:17, a 2min+ PB, Notts AC club record by 1 second (!), 28th overall, first British finisher, 10th in the UK rankings (that is likely to be pushed down in October!) & an overwhelming amount of congratulatory messages immediately after!

Full race resultsmy results including links to photos & race video

A great event, happy with the result & it’s given me confidence to push on towards my next targets as realistic & achievable. I’ll follow this with a summary, thanks & my plans going forward over the next week, but for now I’m just ticking over to try & neutralise the beer & chocolate excesses – I’ll be the only runner at the National 6 Stage on Saturday with a beer belly!

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