Berlin Marathon Race Report (and all the COURSE TIPS!): NO WALLS LEFT IN BERLIN

For the touristy things I did on my visit to Berlin before race day, go here
For the RACE TIPS, scroll to the text in purple.
Patricia and I had problems sleeping Saturday night, but who on earth sleeps the night before a marathon, riiiight? Still, I woke up Sunday feeling okish and forcefed myself the usual powerbar and chomps. I always do that. Or used to do that when I did marathons. I waited and waited and the bathroom business wasn’t happening. UGH. Great. That’s a new one. I was furious, worried, upset… Great.
On the other hand, we had a little nice 10 minute walk to the start from our cheapo but nice hotel, and once we got there… it was a bit of mayhem! The start was really big and super confusing and there was a lot to walk around to drop the clothes and to the start and to do your business. I tried three times: nothing happened. GRRR. I was so upset and worried. It was making me mad but there was nothing I could do about it at that point. Or ever!
I gave up and headed for the start. fiiiiine.
I lined up in the E corral and had a pace group for 3:30 right behind me. And even though I didn’t think I could do to 3:30 (my projections are here), I had a pace bracelet for 3:30. I figured, if I was going to do a 3:33 (which I thought was my realistic goal) I didn’t need a pace bracelet for that. But if I was having a great day, and could go crazy, I’d have a 3:30 timeline to compare to during the race to see where I stood. Solid, right?
I was lined up around 300 meters from the start, lined up mostly with men (really, where on earth did all the women go????) and soon enough I heard the gun, because I understood not one word of German announcements leading up to the start! Maybe there was English and I wasn’t paying attention, who knows.
My pace would have to be around 8:10 average in the early miles, or 8:15; 3:30 was 8 pace. Don’t forget that, it’ll come in handy later. As planned, I was gonna open with a series of VERY SLOW miles, like 8:20s. I made sure I was relaxed and chill. And, it was REALLY CROWDED. Which, I thought, well, great, I can’t mess up and start too fast. But it was really too crowded, and really, it never let up during the whole race. Which I thought was kinda-strange.
Then I see it. Mile 1: 7:55. 
Ooops. I wasn’t sure what to wit that. Did I just shoot myself in the foot by going out too fast and not knowing it, am I delusional that 7:55 feels like a comfortably slow 1st mile? OR… am I in 3:30 shape, even this early on???? Should I force myself to slow down, or should I trust this? I decided not to stress, relax, and do what I know: trust my body. RELAX.
Mile 2: 7:44.
Mile 3: 7:37
It kept getting WORSE!!! That one scared me a bit. SHI@#@(#$)@(T!!!!
Really, Elizabeth, really: ARE YOU REALLY THAT STOOOPID?
1 to 3
Also, my right foot was not feeling normal. It was stiff, like it had to crack, and wouldn’t land normally. No more foot problems, PLEASE.
Soon, it was time to start fueling. I usually take my gels every 4 or 5 miles, so I was carrying 5 of them (in my bra, which caused the weirdest chafing you could think of! And no, NO pictures!). Gel in, a slowish fourth mile, as per usual, to drink and swallow, and I kept shuffling along as best as I could.
4 to 9

Worth Noting for Future Berlin Marathon races:

  • It was really crowded. It never let up. There was barely any space to move, and I am not a weaver, but I had to sometimes. NYCM has around 8 thousand people more and it will seem empty compared to this. I am not even joking.
  • Not many women around though. I would keep looking and it was about 1 woman per 30 men.
  • And these men were not into being passed by a woman. There was some elbowing action, and some cutting-me-off action. But I can curse in many many languages, don’t you worry about me.
  • The area around the water stations was a mess. The signs were not high enough, so you’d see the water station only when you were like 6 yards away (also because it was so crowded) and then it’d create a violent traffic disaster, people darting in and out. And more elbows. One guy even dumped a half cup on my shoe. Seriouslay?!?!
  • Also, you might be used to water stops every mile, go prepared, water stations are about one per 5K.
  • There as so many turns in this course, you’re constantly adjusting your pace, because as it was so crowded, on every turn the corners would get even more crowded and I’d have to slow to a walk in some of them. Insane.
2012-09-27 17.16.05
Indicating the turns and smiling because we had had beer. I had counted them but I forgot. There’s a lot. Fifty something.
  • The course is ridiculously flat. The constant turns and how crowded it was does makes me question if I’d like to run it again.
  • Learn to run TANGENTS if you haven’t. Or read how to do it right now. It is the most important thing for this course.
  • If I ever run it again, I’d bring sunglasses. I had the sun in my face the first 10 miles and it made it a bit uncomfortable.
  • Weather! Forgot. It was in the 55s. But I got hot really soon because I had to wear my marathon shirt (same one I wore to every marathon I’ve done), and it has short sleeves. I was hot, and if I had been wearing just a bra it would have been perfect weather. Not a lot of wind to help. I just kept throwing cups of water on my back!
  • The finish line… I can’t remember exactly what happened but it was NOT where I thought it’d be. You see the Bradenburg Gate getting close, lots of people, and you think that is IT. It is NOT. You will then see the 42K marker. That is not it EITHER. You still have a few meters to go. Check the map carefully. It is about 2 or 3 blocks distance past the Gate.
  • About pacing and mileage. If you are used to running in miles as I am, running a marathon in kilometers can be really confusing. This is what I did: I had a pace bracelet with just the 5K markers, that would help synchronize what was on my watch and what was on the course screens (without having to carry all 42K splits!). 
  • I know it’s really hard to race when you have NO idea where you are (I was completely lost most of the time) but just look up and get lost in the moment. You’ll have these memories FOREVER, don’t stress.
Then we got to the messy part. Around mile 9 my stomach realized it wasn’t happy with me, or with the gel. It was not good. I felt like I was gonna have to pull to the side. Or lock myself up in a portapotty for hours.THIS NEVER EVER EVER HAPPENED TO ME BEFORE. I haven’t even ever stopped in a marathon before. My stomach and I have always gotten along fine. Always. But this was not pretty. It felt like I had eaten something bad and I was gonna be sick, like not pucking but like I’d have to empty myself out and I’d have to happen FAST… It was making all sorts of noises and even moving around! And I made the executive decision that I wasn’t stopping. NOPE. I told myself that no matter what, I would NOT stop. I’d keep going, and shower as soon as I finished the race or something, I’d figure it out, but I hadn’t gone all the way to Berlin to cry and lose time in a portapotty! NO. GROSS, stooopid, ridiculous, and disgusting, yes, a wimp, NO. *see below in blue.
I shut it all down and kept trucking, hoping I could keep it together. BUT, that also meant I couldn’t stomach any gels or drinks (not that it was easy to get to the hydration tables!). That’d be the second problem, I figured I’d deal with them one at a time. So, no more fuel!!!! I am not gonna lie, these were not pretty miles. I am sure I looked like I was dying, my tummy hurt, I was worried and draining my fuel out. You know how it is when you have to run and your insides are rebelling. I saw the 3:30 balloons pass me like I was standing still and tried to keep up with them for a couple of minutes but had to let them go. Bye bye. This sucks. And this was the 3:30 group that started in the corral behind me, so I was probably at 3:33 pace there.
10 to 16
 At 15 I had started feeling a bit better. I won. I won.
—-*Really, I am not sure I would have gone through with that if it came to it, but I told myself so, to scare myself out. it worked.—-
But I didn’t want to mess with it, so I waited one more mile and had a gel at 16. Easy math: that’s just TWO gels in 16 miles. Not even close to enough for someone with my frame.
That’s when stuff went down.
Are you sitting down?
I really can’t explain what happened there. It is not something I would normally, or ever, do: I am very conservative with my pace and I never make this kind of decision, but I decided to TEAR IT UP. Like UP, UP. Yes, at mile 16. Why? No clue. I knew I could blow up by 20, or 22, or later. I knew it and I didn’t care. Something inside was telling me to TEAR IT UP.
I had written in my hand three letters: IWE. I kept seeing it and it worked.
It means: it will end. I figured it I was having a good time it’d mean Enjoy it, it will end soon. My life motto! If I was suffering, well, it’ll all be over soon too. Pain is temporary. Rip it UP.
17 to 22
Insanity ensued.
The wheels came off. I was really pushing like I was doing a 10k, the second half never felt like marathon.
I felt like I was really kicking asphalt and I could break my feet and legs soon. I was kicking so hard! I was breathing like in a 10K, I was not wasting a second, and I was completely in denial that I still had around 10 miles to go. IWE. I even saw the 3:30 group up ahead and I passed them like they were doing a 6 hour marathon, never even looked back.
I am not sure I can explain it, because, in a way, it didn’t feel like it was me. A speed demon took over and I didn’t care who was on my way. I kept thinking about how long it had gotten to get there, 18 months since my last marathon PR and how horrible my last NYCM had been, injuries and all, and how I couldn’t really believe what I was doing: that I was going sub 8s in a marathon and I was going so fast and could end up walking the last few miles and DID NOT CARE. Bottled it all up every 5 seconds and kept kicking like my life depended on it. I kept telling myself to stop thinking: IWE.
I ended up having one more gel around 20 and 1 Scap. That would be it for the whole marathon as I never take anything after mile 20 or 21. Three gels and one Scap is not much for me. I was wondering if I’d start fading off from lack of energy at 23 or 24, or 25… BUT I REALLY DIDN’T CARE.
Once I got to the last few miles, and realized I never saw the scary wall, and I still felt ok, it was insane. If things were going down before, now it was throw-down. I was fighting the street, and I was gonna win. I hoped.
I have always said that I don’t have much physical talent as a runner, but my mind is what compensates and gets the job done. I was on overdrive now and not letting go. The pace bracelet said I was going under 3:30. I was a minute or two ahead and I kept telling myself that not only this was not the time to give in, but this was IT. IT, you know… IT!
And I started racing like I was doing a 5k. AT 5K PACE. In a marathon. In the last miles of a marathon!
23 on
I was scared that I would not have enough fuel in me and end up closing with a 10 minute mile at the end! But really, it was not my body racing. I was breathing heavily, I was racing a 5K there. Please don’t think I don’t see how insane this is, and what a huge risk this was. And there is no reason why I would make it out of it ok, unless I am truly capable of something like 3:24 and then I started super slow… Or that I am batsh!t crazy.
The last 3 miles, I was going so fast, it felt like people were coming at me, running backwards! And it was hard to believe that it was happening. Seeing a 7:10 there, on my last mile… completely incomprehensible stuff. I saw the Bradenburg gate, I let it all out, I run a bit more. And then I cried. I cried for about 5 minutes until my friend Patricia crossed the finish line and picked me up for a hug, and the Blaise found us there, all 10 yards from the finish because I couldn’t walk out of emotion-overload. 3:27 flashing on my watch. I’d keep ripping into hysterical crying the whole day. It was truly unbelievable. If you have any explanations, I’d LOVE to hear them. This makes NO sense to me.
Fullscreen capture 1042012 24031 PM
We walked, got some food, met a few more friends, got real food, eventually showered and was in a daze all day. Not tired, just completely over the moon.
Fullscreen capture 1042012 70825 PMIt ended.
My Stats:
Finish time: 3:27:44. Average Pace: 7:55
Previous PR: 3:37: 57. From: March 2011
Age Grading: 66.87%
Gender Place: 367 of 7898
Age Place: 82 of  1053
Their Stats:
2012-09-30 10.52.18
2012-10-03 12.54.22
Now… look at this:
First Half: 1:45:45
Second Half: 1:41:49
that’s A HUGE negative split!!!!
ALSO, that’s a HALF MARATHON PR! Yes, IN the second half of a marathon.
Again: ridiculous. Wake me up sometime before NYCM in four weeks.
All the miles together, I stare at this all the time:
The medal has the Bradenburg gate on it!
2012-09-30 19.37.27 2012-09-30 19.37.39
And the world record holder, from last year’s Berlin, Patrick Makau on it. I took the medal for a trip to the gate again the day after. I DIDN’T wear it, I swear, but took it out for a picture. I needed some proof that this was all real.
2012-10-01 12.58.18

10 thoughts on “Berlin Marathon Race Report (and all the COURSE TIPS!): NO WALLS LEFT IN BERLIN

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  3. Sounds like you had that magical performance that defies odds and expectations. And despite pre- and mid-race difficulties too — very impressive! I’m running Berlin in 4 weeks so I’m out to learn as much as I can about the course. I’ve heard that it’s narrow and crowded, so that I should try and line up toward the front of my wave. There’s also been advice about aid stations and BYO toilet paper to the start. Oh the things I’ve learned.

    But I’m also hoping to PR by as wide of a margin as you. So this was inspirational. Congrats on this epic run — I’m sure you still remember it fondly.


    • I do… I still read this once in a while. Plus looking at those splits, and remembering that something like this is possible always makes me hopeful in any race. you know… things always look awful but then magic happens!
      well, i did this in 2012 so hopefully things are better. i was at the front of the E or D corral, and it was crowded. but managing to get water was tougher, hopefully there’s better signage this year!
      Have the best day!!!


  4. Hi, I am running the Berlin marathon this weekend and I came across your race report and loved it. I am actually targeting 3:30. My PB is 3:34 at Philly in 2012. I ran a 3:38 last October.

    I just wanted to get some of your thoughts, I thought I could follow a pace group I am in block F. I also wanted to know if they have mile markers as well as Km (I don’t do Kms!!!)

    P.S I saw you were born and raised in Argentina, I was born in Venezuela but moved to the UK in 1993 and then moved to Canada 5 years ago

    Liked by 1 person

    • hmmm, my 3:27 Berlin PR was a year after a 3:37… you’ll do great!!!! i did 3 years ago and I remember seeing red balloons for the pace groups. check the site, maybe that’s a good option for you. I don’t think they had mile markers back then, but I made a pace bracelet in miles, with all the 5K, 10Ks, and stuff like that so that helped a lot!!!!!!! you need at least every 5K target to compare with the course!


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