I woke up on marathon morning in a cold sweat, panicking that I’d slept through my alarm and missed the start of the race. I lay awake unable to get back to sleep, thoughts ticking over about how the race was going to go, and if my ITB would hold out.
I started absolutely miles back in the field, in fact it took so long to start that I had time to dart out of the pens for a second toilet break before I eventually got going. The race started in the beautiful Tiergarten, I was in the last block: H and didn’t start until 9.12, I had been standing in the cold for well over an hour by this point, so was raring to go!
The atmosphere throughout the entire race both amongst runners and along the very well supported route was fantastic, I enjoyed it so much, that I only put some music on when I started to struggle later on in the race. Berlin had turned out in force to support, and I was massively glad for the cheering and entertainment provided. My mission was to enjoy the race, and I did smile my way through it- at least the first half anyway!
The first few miles ticked over nicely and once I got to Alexanderplatz, my next thought was keeping an eye out for Nick, as the 12k marker was about 5 mins walk from our apartment. I heard him call my name as I ran round the roundabout, and went over to let him know I was OK! By this point I knew I was nearly a third of the way round and pleased with how it was panning out.
I was enjoying the race, and taking everything in, chatting with other runners, and laughing about how Kimetto had broken the world record while I was only at mile 11- he did get a head start to be fair!! One of the most amazing things I saw along the route was a guy in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy who was being pushed round the course, get out and start walking some of the route around the 11 mile mark, it was so inspiring, and we all started clapping and cheering, there was not a dry eye on course! This really gave me a boost when the going got tough as I kept thinking about how people had so much more to deal with and overcome than me and my stupid ITB!
Another thought that kept coming into my mind was a story that we were told when visiting the Sachenhausen concentration camp a few days prior. We were told that one of the punishments would be to make the prisoners test out SS shoes by wearing them and running with a heavy pack for 14+ hours, 400m laps over different types of terrain, and if they stopped or fell they would shoot them in the head. It’s pretty grim, but it just kept coming into my mind- they couldn’t stop, they had no choice.
It was all about the mind games throughout the second half. I hadn’t done much training, so for me this marathon was pretty much all down to mental strength. I find playing little games-like breaking it down into segments where I would have a few sips of water after ever 15 minutes-keep the mind going and the body moving forward!
I was starting to need the toilet and decided I would stop at the next chance, which came at 17.5 miles. As I waited and waited behind 3 others in the queue I knew I had made the wrong decision to stop. After about 5 minutes of no-one coming out of the toilets, we frustratingly realised that most of the portaloos were actually empty. I have no idea why the person in front didn’t check this initially! Anyway I returned to the course, and I could barely walk, my knee (ITB) had totally seized up, so I stopped for a good stretch and tried to walk it out. It was extremely painful to walk on, and I knew it was going to be a tough 8 miles to get to the finish. I text Nick and said I was going to be a while! Honestly this was the one point where I wish the crowds hadn’t been there, to be painfully hobbling along the course so far from the finish, you just want the ground to swallow you up!
After tweeting about the injury I got a lot of awesome messages of support, which really spurred me on. After about 10 minutes of walking it had started to ease, so I tried giving running another go, as the thought of walking for 2 and a half hours was pretty grim. I had to really grit my teeth for the first few minutes as the pain was awful, but it did ease, and I actually managed to run it off. I had to slow down a lot from my pre-injury pace, but I was running and moving forward! I knew at this point that I couldn’t risk another stop, so I just had to keep driving on. Although I did manage a brief stop along with several other runners to help up a Swedish woman who absolutely face-planted around 20 something miles, thankfully she was OK and I think she may have actually finished ahead of me! Hardcore!
Having not run over 13 miles since May, this was totally uncharted territory, and I just didn’t know how my body was going to react. I actually managed to run for another 4 miles after I started running again which I was pretty pleased with. I had to stop around mile 24 at Potsdamer Platz for another 10 minute walk, I didn’t want to stop again but this time my stomach was feeling decidedly dodgy and it was not going to be good times if I carried on, so I walked to let it settle down. I think not having run any long distances and been used to putting in fuel, really messed with my stomach during this race.
After the break I knew I just had to power on to the finish, getting back into the city centre gave me a boost, there was no way I could walk past some of the epic sights- these streets needed to be run!
As we came round the final turn I could see the Brandenburg gate in the distance, it looked so near yet so far! As I drew closer, I paused and pulled over to the side of the course, I took some photos, soaked up the atmosphere, and actually just took a moment to appreciate the significance of the gate and how amazing it was going to be to run under it. I also realised that I must have been way off the ideal course line having done 26.8 miles total! After the brief stop I shuffled down the home straight, cried when I ran under the gate, and was so delighted to have finished a race that a few weeks ago I didn’t think I was going to start.
All the tears, and tantrums and thinking I would not be able to do this race, and here I was, a Berlin marathon finisher. I finished in 4.52.29, breaking my 4.30 something streak from the previous 3 marathons-which I later found out before I stopped at 17.5 for the toilet, I was on course for!- but really not giving a damn. This was a big personal worst, but a big personal best for enjoyment, mental strength and sheer grit and effort. Berlin might be my slowest marathon to date, but it is undoubtedly my favourite. I just feel a really strong attachment to the city, and I feel absolutely privileged to have been able to run the race.
The course was absolutely flat as a pancake, and would be perfect for a PB, had I actually been able to train for one, and not spent the week before walking miles, eating all the food and drinking all the beer Berlin could offer! It was a beautiful route, and there were plenty of leafier sections and sights along the way. The weather was a bit of an issue, I’m not kidding when I say I had 4 layers including 2 jackets on for the first few days we were there, in contrast on Marathon day the sun came out, and it hit 20 degrees. I drank my entire 2 litres in my Camelbak way before the finish and had to use the cups of water en route and my legs were also covered in salt at the end which has never happened before, it was really tough conditions, when you are out there for so long!
My only small gripes with the race were that I disliked the water in cups, particularly as the things are absolutely lethal on the floor, and it causes the race to come to a complete congested stand still as everyone has to stop to get water to avoid spilling it. The portaloos as expected were absolutely vile. The finish area was a bit on the disorganised side, as you had to go miles in one direction to get the goody bag and alcohol free beer (also really?!) and then go in the opposite direction to leave the runner area. Other than that it was an all round winner!
I would absolutely love to come back and run this race in future, and give it a real crack, but for now I feel content with my achievement. I ran a marathon with an injury on very little training, and I loved-almost-every second of it. There were a lot of times when I didn’t think I would get to this point, but I always clung to a little bit of belief that I could do this race, and ultimately that is what I did!