In this episode of the Podcast It's a long road I'll bring you as close as I can and describe what it's like to run on Berlin Marathon (BMW Berlin Marathon) one of the largest and most popular Marathons in the world with a course that crosses the former East and West Berlin. Since 2006 it has participated as one of the 6 routes in the series World Marathon Majors (WMM). Founded in 1974, the Berlin Marathon is held every year in the last week of September and is famous for its fast pace. The race record is held by Eliud Kipchoge with a time of 2:01:39.
The year I went (2021) and due to the COVID pandemic, the number of participants was relatively small. Total number of participants Marathon there were 24,796 from a total of 139 countries. A total of 23,097 runners finished and for history the Ethiopian Adola with a time of 2:05:45 was the great winner of the race. Among the women, the big winner was Gotitom Gebreselase from Ethiopia with a time of 2:20:09.
Hello to all of you!
I told you in the previous episode about some setbacks I had two years in a row. In 2020 with COVID and the following year with the traffic accident in Thessaloniki. It all set me back a bit but I never gave up. So since time heals everything, it didn't take long for the moment to come when I would run my first of the total 6 Marathons I had set my sights on!
Three months of preparation is not enough for a Marathon, especially when the first month is recovery from an operation-injury and in fact there were two months left to get back to normal. I trained relatively hard from mid-July onwards and in a period of increased heat due to the season, which allowed me to initially raise the bar in my mind in terms of race pace due to the reduced temperature expected in Berlin (<20C).
The body got stronger, the pace was assimilated, about three kilos were gone, and I had really begun to envision and believe, having assessed my strength, my finish in good time. It may be that in the two months after the operation I never sat down and deprived myself of physical activity in order to keep my physical condition as much as possible, but another misfortune knocked on my door 2 weeks before my first big race.
Tendonitis the diagnosis in my left ankle and where I felt great and in good condition, this came to make me stop training on the 12th of September, which is 2 weeks before the race. Rest, ice and anti-inflammatories entered my daily routine and a new road race began to see if I could be ready for the first race and a cap on the one in Chicago 10 days later. Although I followed my doctor's and trainer's instructions to the letter, the pain in my leg subsided but there was always a little bit of a reminder that something was wrong. Friday morning, September 24th, 3 hours before going to the airport for my flight to Berlin, I visited my doctor to have another look at my leg. As a souvenir I had an injection to be able to run, he also prescribed some anti-inflammatory the day before the race and I left with my wife on a direct flight from Thessaloniki to Berlin.
To get an idea of my preparation I will describe my training 5 weeks before Berlin Marathon:
5 weekly trainings with rest on Monday and Friday.
5 weeks ago: total weekly training time – 6h 50' with a total of 5 trainings – 1 easy 45', 2 intervals with one uphill, 1 aerobic with 16' race pace, Sunday 3 hours very easy long run
4 weeks ago: total weekly training time – 5h 20' with 5 training sessions – 1 relaxed 45', 2 intervals, 2 aerobics at 16' race pace, Sunday 1h:30' in aerobics and tempo Long Run.
3 weeks ago: total weekly training time – 6h 20' in total 5 trainings – 3 intervals with one uphill, 1 aerobic, Sunday 2h very relaxed.
The last 2 weeks would normally have been 4h 45' and 2h 10' respectively of total weekly training time, but my injury turned everything upside down as I ended up not following the schedule:
In the last 2 weeks I replaced my indoor cycling workouts just to be able to maintain a bit. In the end, everything went well even with a few pains and at least as things looked I would be at the starting line of the Berlin Marathon.
The Berlin Marathon (BMW Berlin Marathon) is one of the largest and most popular marathons in the world with a course that crosses the former East and West Berlin. Held annually in the last week of September, the race is famous for its fast pace, hence the many world records set, and draws a large number of elite athletes as well as amateur runners. The race starts and ends near the Brandenburg Gate. Due to the division of the city, marathon events before 1990 were limited to West Berlin only. On September 30, 1990, athletes were able to run through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time, and since then, the course has covered both halves of the unified city.
The route is traffic-free and completely flat since it runs between 37 and 53 meters above sea level. This relatively zero incline of the course makes the race quite fast and engaging. Another element that is quite interesting has to do with the weather conditions, since the choice of the date is not accidental. The average temperature during that time in Berlin is 15°C, humidity levels are quite low and the weather is usually fine and windless. Of course, the year I ran, the temperature was particularly high for the season, as it reached 21 degrees on the day of the race.
The Berlin Marathon was founded in 1974 by Horst Milde, a baker and running enthusiast. The first race had 244 entries. In 1989, a children's race was added to the event, and eight years later a skating marathon was added. The race record is held by Eliud Kipchoge with a time of 2:01:39. Since 2006 it participates as one of the 6 routes of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) series
During the week of the match in the city of Berlin and centered on the match on Sunday, many events take place, something like a celebration of sports with many concerts, parallel matches and other events. The race route, because it is all within the city of Berlin, has been embraced by the citizens very much, with the crowd cheering the athletes on throughout the race. The atmosphere in Berlin is world class. Runners are energized by the musical support along the course, as I counted a total of 36 music bands of all genres from percussion, jazz, rock, pop, samba, soul, funk. It is an unforgettable experience for every marathon lover.
The year I went (2021) and due to the COVID pandemic, the number of participants was relatively small. Total number of Marathon participants was 24,796 from a total of 139 countries. A total of 23,097 runners finished and for history the Ethiopian Adola with a time of 2:05:45 was the great winner of the race. In the women's race, Gotitom Gebreselase from Ethiopia emerged as the big winner with a time of 2:20:09
Friday afternoon we arrived in Berlin, we went to the hotel where the people from the travel agency were waiting for us to help us settle into the room and give us relevant instructions for our stay in the city. Immediately my wife and I went to the exhibition of the organization to pick up the race number, so that we would have the next day completely free to go back to Berlin and see the sights of this beautiful city. The fair because we arrived relatively late didn't have a particularly large number of visitors, which was for the best, but it also didn't have many booths to browse, due to all the pandemic measures. The whole process of registering and submitting the participation number was quite quick and we had some time left to buy a couple of the wonderful t-shirts of the event and to see the rest of the few booths of the exhibition. Then, back to the hotel, for dinner where I had a wonderful pasta dish.
Saturday was the city tour day, which you could clearly see moving at a marathon pace. Many tourists had made their appearance on the streets of the city and you could tell that they had come for this event since they were wearing the typical marathon wristband or carrying the event bag. Our walk started from Alexander Platz, the largest square in the most central and busiest part of Berlin, where we were staying. Although we expected the weather to be good, the first sprinkles made their appearance and later it turned into drizzle.
We continued our walk towards the Berlin Cathedral (BerlinerDom) located in the heart of Museum Island.
From there we visited the famous Brandenburg Gate, where the start of the race would take place the next day. The preparations there had reached their peak and everything seemed ready. It is the famous Gate-symbol of Berlin and was based on the Propylaia of the Acropolis of Athens.
A little higher dominates the imposing German Parliament and a short distance south of the Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust Memorial in memory of the murdered Jews by Hitler's forces. We continued our walk but a coffee stop was imperative, as well as time to eat my much needed snack full of carbohydrates and energy.
We completed the small and short tour of the city with our visit to two historical places. Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror museum.
As it was getting late our day ended with a visit to a shopping center near our hotel and a good carb rich dinner. Early evening return to the hotel, preparation for the next day and early to bed so that I can get up on time in the morning to prepare for the race.
Sunday, September 26, 2021. Race day has finally arrived. I will not hide from you that my anxiety was very great and did not let me sleep well at night. My mind was constantly thinking about the race, the pace and tactics I would follow, if I would make it and my leg would not betray me, if I would go to the bathroom before and various other things. It was the first time I felt so anxious, I admit.
In terms of tactics, I would try for the first 5 or so kilometers to go reconnaissance and not get carried away by the pace of the other athletes. I would run in my aerobic zone and at a pace of 6l/km. That way I would also see how my leg is doing and accordingly I would go up and up gradually every 5 kilometers.
That was my plan and with even more details that I won't mention, for example I would try to stay in my aerobic heart rate zone and then go into tempo.
At the beginning of the race you always feel rested and fresh and look for a fast pace, but if you haven't done it in training don't try it because later on your strength will logically leave you. Usually in the first 10 kilometers you feel so strong that you say, "Come on, if I go like this I'll break the record. I think I have it. What is; Slowly! Three more like that!” But that's where your body usually has a different opinion. That's why never forget that the Marathon starts after the 30th kilometer and stay in your aerobic zone for at least half of it.
At 8 in the morning we would leave the hotel for the Brandenburg Gate where the start of the race would take place. This meant waking up at 6.30am, packing my pack and an energy packed breakfast about 3 hours before the race started. Next is the toilet, OK and that and an anxiety that all runners have before the start of the race is gone. With me in the race I would have my belt with 2 bottles of water with electrolytes, 4 gels, 5 saltsticks and a magnesium. Two hours before the race I drank 500ml of water with electrolytes and another same bottle half an hour before, as well as a gel a quarter of an hour before the start of the race. Generally my pre-race diet was very low carb on Tuesday and Wednesday and carb overload with double calorie intake on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That meant bananas, plenty of rice cakes, rice, spaghetti and plenty of wholemeal bread with honey.
My wife and the rest of the runners in the group go to the metro station where we meet other runners heading to the Brandenburg Gate. As soon as we get there and get out of the metro, that's when I finally got into the mood of the match, A bad mess was happening. Thousands of runners from all over the world. I don't know which country to mention first. It was like I'd seen them all! I would say that I was a little more impressed by the Italians and Mexicans, which seemed to be most of them. By 9 o'clock I was ready at the starting line and full of anxiety about this whole new venture of mine that was finally taking shape.
My anxiety is particularly high, which I found very strongly just before the start for my block which was about an hour after the official start of 9:15, after my heart rate from 70 half an hour before the race reached suddenly 100 without even starting! Two more times in a short period of time I visited the toilet for the essentials and now I was ready!
3…2…1 Bam launch!
I tried as hard as I could to go with the plan I had in mind and would like a time under 4 hours. I knew that I had insufficient preparation, a problem with my leg and that in 10 days I would have another marathon to run, so I would have to do some energy management, but I believed that I would manage to complete the time goal as well.
The first 5 kilometers I wanted to go easy with 6 l/km until the leg rolls a little and see where I am. Of course, there were many runners coming from behind me who kept passing me at an intense pace as if there was no tomorrow and giving me the impression that they wanted to finish under 2 hours. Carried away by the crowd, the impatience and excitement of the race, they seemed caught in an unorthodox rhythm and gave you the impression that they will be the would-be winners of the Marathon, which of course is impossible since the most logical thing is after an hour and especially because of their competitive profiles to run out of power completely.
I passed the 5th km in 29:39, slow but satisfactory and based on my plan. But what made a special impression on me is that, in relation to the pace I was going, my heart rate was particularly high. At a relatively slow pace and I was on the borderline between aerobic zone and tempo which means between 155 and 162 pulses! It was the first time this happened to me and I'm sure it was due to the anxiety I had for the race, since compared to my training, my heart rate should be close to 140 and below. So throughout the race, unfortunately for me, I was moving at particularly high heart rates and most of the time at high tempo and racing pace. I continued on my own schedule and at the 7th km I drank my first salt, out of the total of 5 I had with me and I would take one every 7 km. I intended to take the Magnesium somewhere in the middle of the race, while of course I would also take advantage of most of the refueling stations especially with the bananas and water.
Passing in 28:38 the next 5 km and in total at 10 km I had 58:16. I say fine and continue without hesitation, picking up the pace, since I didn't feel any discomfort in my leg either. 1:54:41 I pass at 20 km, with the 2nd ten taking place in a time of 56:26 and a pace of 5:38. All along the route, and especially in some squares, there was an awful lot of people. There is nothing better when you are so exhausted, lost in your thoughts and sweat, to see people applauding you and trying to push you to keep going. Many call out your name which is written prominently below your number, but the best of all are the faces of the little children when they give you their hand to shake as you walk past them.
The ten from 20 to 30 needs attention and I know it. I now began to overtake runners who had already begun their torture. 58:21 was the passage of the 3rd decade and from the moment I was under one hour in the tenth I say I am fine. 2:53:02 was my time in the 30. A little slower than I expected but I thought the last ten would be faster. But I was counting without the innkeeper who is none other than the fatigue that slowly began to make its appearance, especially in my legs.
An even more pivotal point is after 30 and up to 35. That's where you see how things are going and if you have any strength at all. The last part is generally the most difficult. I tried to speed up but the body wouldn't listen. I did the next 5km in 30:05 and now reached the 35th km. I feel like I can't speed up any more, instead I had to slow down. I understood now that the goal of under 4 hours is not possible. Every kilometer from there on was even more difficult. I gritted my teeth and with whatever reserves of energy and determination I had I gave it my all for the final stretch of 7 kilometers. Everyone was more or less in the same situation. The faces of most were tight, many were now walking, the legs of many looked disintegrated, some were lying on the side of the road, while some of them were receiving medical help or massage from the stations he had on the side of the road.
Everyone's anguish was palpable and the strength of soul you bring out in those moments is indescribable. As time went on and my first finish of their streak got closer 6 Great Marathons that I intended to run, my excitement and emotion grew more and more. The closer I got to the Brandenburg Gate and the more the presence of the crowd and the cheers grew, the more stubborn I became and the more I felt that I would succeed. Except for very heavy and tight legs I felt good and in no way expected not to make it to the finish line. With an average pace of 6:36/km I took the last 7 kilometers and after I had taken whatever gel and salt I had in my possession.
So the straight came with the Brandenburg Gate in the background and the finish line in the background and somewhere around 600 meters before the finish line I took out my mobile phone and started running to record all these magical moments that were unfolding in front of me. The voices of the people, the other athletes, my own exhausted, tight and at the same time excited face. Everything looked so perfect! Somewhere before I finished, my wife was videotaping me. I immediately accelerate towards her to get a kiss and the required dose of energy for the last 50 meters.
I open my arms wide ready to fly at the climax of this whole undertaking and being in the juices of ecstasy just like when you make love to your beloved and finish, that's exactly how I felt and feel every time I finish a marathon. How much more so this time at the beginning of this whole marathon project of mine, when the juices of ecstasy had bathed my whole body and caused me indescribable feelings of joy and pleasure. I felt like all my cells from end to end of my body were participating in my whole delirium! A truly unique feeling, one thing to describe it and another to live it and all this I will not hide from you ended with some tears of joy right at my termination.
I finished in 9,466th place out of a total of 23,097 runners with a time of 4:13:56. Average pace based on my watch was 5:57 min/km, average heart rate 167 bpm
I walked another 50 meters to get the medal with Kipchoge on the back and hung it around my neck with joy. I continued with the flow of all the other athletes towards the exit. Great images that resembled something like a battlefield. Some athletes limping, some limping, some completely exhausted lying on the ground, some writhing in pain, others closing their eyes and trying to calm down from all the shock of the race and the distance. I, after eating a banana and drinking a bottle of water and some liquid with electrolytes, headed for the exit to meet my wife and go back to the hotel.
After getting out and taking some photos together under the Brandenburg Gate we headed to the subway where both I and many other athletes could barely make it down the steps. It was great fun watching yourself and others being held down by their attendants or holding onto the banisters at the ends of the stairs and with great difficulty trying to get down just 10 steps! It looked like a titanic effort!
Return to the hotel with an ice cold Coca-Cola in hand and two slices of pizza for the first cravings. Bathing and relaxing in the room followed, and in the evening we went to the center of the Alexander Platz square where something like an outdoor market was set up with products, food, music, dancing and beers.
I got my repulsions out that night by drinking several refreshing beers and eating the famous German sausages to end this first trip to the stars in the most beautiful way. The next day in the morning return to Thessaloniki, visit the physiotherapist to recuperate my tired body with a decompression boot, a foot massage and finally a cryosauna. The next day, Tuesday, back abroad to my work and my everyday life. My first workout was on Tuesday my day back with 35 minutes of very easy running, but also gym with the established strength I was following.
That's it for today, Thank you so much for listening!
Until next time, Be well, be healthy and always do what we love and what makes us feel good.