I’d had a shaky lead-up to it race day though. 5 weeks out I could barely walk to work without being in agony after a hamstring injury threatened to completely derail my chances of running at the event. It was heartbreaking. I reluctantly came to terms with the fact I may have to sit this one out and cheer from the sidelines instead. But with some expert physio help and some serious dedication to recovery time, I managed to get myself in shape to actually start. The first hurdle was overcome.
PRE RACE DAY
I flew out to Berlin with my support crew of my mum and her partner Paul on the Saturday morning before race day. It was an early start, drinking beetroot juice in departures at Birmingham Airport at 5:30am, which meant I was straight off the plane and onto the UBahn to the Expo which is held at the old Templehof airport. It was really odd being inside with all the old check-in desks and clocks on the wall, making it look exactly how it used to be when people flew from there.
The entrance to the Berlin Marathon Expo at the old Templehof Airport
There’s a huge outdoor area out the back too with some of the old runway and a massive plane just sitting on the tarmac. This is where they had a large area with food and drinks stands, with all the exhibitors selling kit, nutrition and other running paraphernalia inside. The weather was ideal for those people choosing to sit around and soak it up.
Berlin Marathon Expo at Templehof Airport
Also at the Expo was an imposing Nike experience which can only be described as a massive container. It was dedicated to the much-hyped Nike 4% Vaporflys that had been developed by a team of specialists for Kipchoge’s World Record attempt. The queue was quite long for this and I was getting hungry, so didn’t actually see what was inside, but it looked impressive!
I’d got what I came for - my race bib and timing chip. A quick photo by the big branded boards and now it was time for me to head back into the city to meet up with my supporters and find some carbs!
The whole morning had been exhausting for me after getting up at 4am for my early flight over to Berlin, so I headed back to my Airbnb for a much-needed power nap while the others went off to explore. Apart from venturing out for some pasta in the evening, race day eve was done for me. Time to get my kit out ready and take the traditional flat lay picture for social media!
Then all that was left to do was pack my bag drop bag for after with all of my post-race go-tos; chocolate milk, Oofos, a jumper, malt loaf and sweets, and get some more sleep ready for the big day.
RACE DAY – THE PLAN
I woke up refreshed and excited on race day. This is in stark contrast to the mornings of my previous 3 marathons where I felt sick with nerves and anxiety because I’d always been chasing one goal. Running a marathon in under 4 hours was something I’d dreamt of being able to do but never quite got there.
In Edinburgh in May 2017 I’d picked up an IT band injury in training which reared its’ ugly head 14 miles in and I’d finished in 4:07:05. In Budapest in October 2017 it was really hot, I’d had a few calf issues leading up to it and had to battle my mind in the final 10km to finish in 4:06:54. London Marathon 2018, as so many people will know, was not the time to be smashing PBs because of the heat, so I’d enjoyed that one, soaked up the atmosphere and finished in a leisurely (for me) 4:39:49.
Because of my hamstring injury in the run up to Berlin I didn’t really know what I was ready for time-wise. I went in with 3 goals which those closest to me knew, but I had kept others in the dark so I didn’t feel the pressure.
A – Under 4 hours
B – New PB (faster than Budapest)
C – Faster than London
RACE DAY – THE EXPERIENCE
The alarm went off at a more acceptable time on race day morning, 6:30am. I had my usual pre race breakfast of a bagel, scoffed down a bit of porridge and was on my way to the start area by UBahn. Arriving into Berlin’s main train station, Hauptbahnhof, I was greeted by a sea of colour of runners from all over the world who were headed to the start line in the Tiergarten. More than 107 countries are represented at this race each year. We all trudged across the river to the start area where there was the bag drop tents and toilets before heading off to our respective start pens.
The start area in Berlin is a little confusing...the bag drops are done by your race number, but instead of all being together in one place, there are two separate areas depending on what your number is. I couldn’t find mine and spent far too long wandering around and being sent in the opposite direction by volunteers looking for it! Also, the queues for the portaloos are like no other race I’ve been to. I’ve queued in my fair share of portaloo queues, but these were LONG. I ended up swerving them entirely and felt lucky I wasn’t desperate to go!
There’s a bit of a trek down to the start line pens, through a lovely wooded area which a LOT of runners were making the most of as a portaloo alternative! But it wasn’t long before I was in my start pen and texting the runners I knew who were going to be there to see if we could meet up and run together. I found a bunch of them and we waited excitedly together for the gun to go off.
Me with Alban (@banbaninlondon) feeling excited in the starting pen
Me with Charlie (@whatcharlierannext) at the start line
The elites were away at 9:15am and it wasn’t long before we were at the start line too. Usually in massive races it can take up to half an hour - sometimes more depending how far back you are - to get over the line. But I was off just over 15 minutes after the official start time.
THE RACE – FIRST HALF
The weather was perfect. Blue skies, bright sunshine and a cool breeze. Nothing like the boiling hot races I’d done previously. I quickly set into a rhythm with Charlie and Alban and we eased ourselves in to the journey ahead of us.
The first water station came a little over 5km in and this was the first experience of the plastic cups they were handing out. Brittle plastic that underfoot made one hell of a noise. It was so loud as they crunched under the feet of thousands of runners. They were also incredibly difficult to drink out of as you couldn’t pinch them together and sip. Mine ended up all round my mouth, over my face, down my vest and leg. My race number had seen better days by the end because of how soggy it got!
My support team missed me at the first agreed marker at 8km because I’d got over the line so quickly and was maintaining a faster pace than any of us thought I’d manage. That wasn’t a problem though as the first part of the marathon route’s very central so there were plenty of other supporters out making noise for us and I knew I’d get the chance to see my crew further along the way. I’d managed a couple of poorly written texts in a hurry mid-race to let them know I’d gone past and they headed for 15km instead.
At 15km I spotted them in the crowd. They’re pros at this now and had set up camp on a roundabout with their inflatable giraffe and zebra safari animals. I applied the brakes to run over for a quick sweaty hug and some words of encouragement then I was off, back to join my pack.
Brakes on ready for a hug
Sweaty hug with my mum
Back to it
The kilometres soon ticked by. I’m a miles girl normally but the route had km markers the whole way along and it felt good to see the numbers going up and up and up.
We hit halfway and I saw a guy with a handwritten sign which simply read ‘2:01:39’. I knew what this meant. History had been made. 21km ahead of me Eliud Kipchoge had not only broken the World Record, he’d smashed it into pieces, taking 78 seconds off the previous best. It was inspiring. It was a boost. It made me more determined that today was the day I was going to finally hit my A goal.
THE RACE – SECOND HALF
It was at this point Alban and I made the decision of how the second half was going to go. Did I want sub 4 today, or did I want to enjoy it? I chose the former. We were going to get the job done. The first half had been exciting and enjoyable. I’d had a beaming smile across my face the whole way. Now it was time to knuckle down and get to work.
I still smiled my way through for the next 10km or so. This was my last chance to grab a mid-race selfie and then focus on the task at hand.
Up til 33km the pacing had been spot on. 28 mins per 5km on average. Then I had a wobble. My legs felt heavy. They weren’t moving as quickly as I wanted them to. I was heading for the dreaded wall. I knew it. But I wasn’t letting that stop me today. A quick boost from an energy gel and a reset for my mind and I was back in the zone.
The final 7km was tough. It had started to warm up a bit and I was starting to flag. The road signs had started to point back towards Tiergarten and I knew the finish was within my reach. But if I was going to come in under 4 hours I knew I had to dig deep and find one last boost. I began reciting my mantra to myself, over and over and over. “Be Strong. Be Brave. Be Fearless”.
As I turned the corner, expecting to be faced with the Brandenburg Gate - the last stretch of the route - instead I came onto another nondescript city-centre road. A supporter to my right cheered my name. I looked at him and cried ‘Where’s the Brandenburg Gate?!’ He assured me it wasn’t far. And he was telling the truth. The next turn of the course and I was face to face with it. Phew. Cheerleaders in their blue and white uniforms with pom poms lined each side of the street. I had 4 minutes to go til my watch ticked over to 4 hours. This was going to be tight.
I ran through the arches of the Brandenburg Gate and over a mat. To someone at the end of a marathon, this could be mistaken for the final timing mat. The finish line. But I’d been given good advice from friends who’d run this race before. ‘Don’t stop at the Brandenburg Gate. This is NOT the finish line.’ I saw people stopping and hoped for their sakes it wasn’t because they thought they’d finished. It was another 200m at least to go to the finish line (my judgement of distance is poor) and somehow I still had enough in me to pick up the pace and ‘sprint’. I felt like Usain Bolt, but definitely wasn’t moving that fast! It took all I had, but soon enough I was over the finish line.
I stopped my watch. I took a moment to take it in. 3:59:40. I’d done it. I’d achieved my dream on a day that will go down in history. I had a little sob to myself and a marshall asked if I was ok. All I could muster back was ‘I’ve done it.’ He will probably never know I didn’t just mean that I’d finished.
Messages started coming through on my phone from friends back home who’d been tracking me. They knew I’d done it too. I checked on the app for my official time. 3:59:21!
I walked along to collect my medal and tried to let it sink in. This was special.
As with the start area, the finish area is a little confusing, especially for those disorientated from the effort of running for the last 4 hours! It’s the same area as the start, you just come at it from a completely different angle. I finally found my bag drop tent, collected my things and went through my post-race ritual.
There were free pints of alcohol free Erdinger being handed out to all runners post-race. A nice touch.
Then a quick few photos with my MASSIVE medal and back to meet up with the supporters.
Berlin Marathon was always going to be a special one for me, but I didn’t know how special it would truly be until I got across that line. I’ve already started thinking about what the next goal and next marathon will be. But for now, I’ll sleep well knowing I got what I came for.
THE MORNING AFTER
You can’t come to Berlin and not see the sights, so I made the most of the trip and went on a hop on, hop off bus tour around the city. I’d been here before as a tourist but it was good to see it again. The city is so interesting and steeped in history.
We were treated to a gorgeous warm sunny day (too hot to run a marathon in) so it really felt like being on holiday. And of course, my trusty OOFOS got me around town and gave my feet and legs a break.
Follow Anna on Instagram: @anna.the.runner