The Berlin Marathon 2017, in its 44th year, I had my international pacing debut. Wow, what a fantastic experience… but more of that later. This was my 1st time pacing internationally, but the 37th event I have paced. This was my 29th marathon, but 35th towards 100mc (2x Ironman and 4x 100k). I took my standard race kit picture to make sure I had everything I needed.
I will let you into a little secret, this was my second Berlin Marathon. I took part in the 41st edition in 2014, aiming for sub3, and it was my worst marathon experience. I didn’t want to say this before I paced #sub4 but I had a terrible time. I am so glad that I was able to remedy this with a fantastic race. In 2014 it was hot, I mean heatwave territory. The biggest criticism of this event is the water station, it’s chaos. I was aiming for a time that was stretching me beyond my limits, I couldn’t afford a delay at the water station. The water is in cups and it was so hard to get in and out quickly, so I ran past them. No water and heat equalled dehydration. I crashed at 20 miles and when I slipped past sub3 I just gave up and walked coming in in 3:30. When I got a bottle of water I downed it and threw it up, the only time this has happened and a big German medic grabbed me and took me to one side and looked after me. This was a bad year.
But looking forward to Berlin Marathon 2017, my first time driving an International #funbus, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The expo was a bit of a let down for me, it was busy and crowded and frankly I didn’t have to go. I went because I didn’t want to miss out #FOMO but I got given my bib elsewhere.
The expo isn’t that bad, but I was late and frankly didn’t want to buy anything. I got some nutrition as I left mine on my bed at home 🤔 and I got an event top. Not overly impressed with the finisher tee, but the event top was good. Only large left which is fine for me, but if anyone really wants an event top I would suggest getting there early.
An early start to get to the marathon start, but the public transport is really simple and easy to use. I arrived in plenty of time for a few selfies and to collect my pack for my flag. I was nervous at the start as many people trying to talk to me didn’t understand English. It worked out really well in the end, as there were far more English speakers and they all gravitated towards me. This was my first #international #funbus. What do you get if you cross someone from: England; Germany; America; Holland; Poland; Wales; Mexico; Japan and many more… you get the #sub4internationalfunbus
Getting to the startline was a little stressful. I queued for the toilet for 45 minutes, then it was really hard getting to the pens. When you compare somewhere like London this is nowhere near as well organised at this point. Once in the pens it’s really spacious and there was plenty of room to get around. There were 4 of us pacing sub4 and we naturally split up. To be fair one of the guys who clearly paces Berlin every year came over and started telling me what to do. I just went with it. He directed me to where some English people had been looking for me, and my group followed me. The start is so big that the 4 of us stood nowhere near each other and it was needed to manage the start.
We watched the screen for the start of the elite field, had some fun and dancing, and before long we were off. I wore two watches, one for miles (with my pace pocket) and one for kilometres. I linked both to GPS as soon as we arrived and ensured they were both ready.
It was a relaxed start. I thought it would be really busy, but it wasn’t too bad. I had told people that 9:09 min/miles were the desired time but I would be running 9:07 to dip under. I managed to hit 9:07 for my first mile which was fantastic. Then all of a sudden the course narrowed and we slowed. I reassured everyone around me it didn’t matter, I would not run off, if we slowed I would slow with everyone and build up again gradually. So I hit a 9:19 for the second mile, but comfortably did 8:54 for the third to even it out without losing anyone. I was pacing perfectly, but heed the warning, pacing is not all about hitting the perfect time. It become apparent to me early on that the kilometre markers were further than my watch was saying. So although according to my watch I was just below time, I was above according to the markers. This is the hard part. Actually, it’s really hard. I need to run faster than desired time, meaning I can’t run perfect splits, but I have to kind of make it up as I went along. I sped up for a few miles, still falling shy of pace according to markers. I remained confident, reassured everyone around me we were ahead of schedule, and I increased our pace very gradually.
I had a great group of people around me. Some asked me when the course spread out, the answer, never. It was busy, it was packed, but fantastic. Although it was busy, we mostly were able to keep to pace, with a few minor hold ups.
As I’ve said previously, the biggest and only real criticism of this event is the water stations. Not only is the water in cups, a big no for me, but each station was just chaotic. No wonder in 2014 I ran past them. You took your life in your hands going in for cups, and were given no warning it was coming. They need to look how the big events in England do it, because it really was awful. At one point I ran in, and was blocked in, surrounded by lots of stationary people and I literally had to push my way out. I felt bad, I said sorry, but I had to get out, I was stood still watching my group pull away. You can’t have a #funbus without a driver right.
Apart from the water stations the course really was fantastic. I was nervous with my watch being out, and my pace pocket in miles, I was working out the kilometres in my head and thought I was about right. The half way point was the crucial point for me, I thought I was just under, but it turns out I was 2:00:02 I can live with that. It’s really stressful knowing I’m running 10 seconds a mile too fast and I’m actually going a little slower than I want. But that’s my job, so I get on with it. I kept encouraging, telling everyone how we were doing by my watch and confirming we were on schedule. I managed a few spot on miles, and just adjusted accordingly, no more than 10 seconds out.
As a group we had a lot of fun, in the last 15k I kept shouting out to see how we were doing and there were lots of people around me aiming for their first sub4. By 5k to go I lost a few of the British guys that had been with me the whole way. There were many more around me. I love this part of the marathon. I pass so many people that have stopped or slowed, they look broken, and with my encouragement I get so many going again. I spent this 5k hugging people, putting my hand on their shoulder and telling them what they have left to do. It is a great feeling picking people up and them sticking with you.
With 2 miles to go my right hamstring started tightening. To be honest I started to worry at this point. I didn’t show it as my hamstring completely seized and left me in pain. Fortunately because I was at a more comfortable pace I blocked it out and ran through it, and after a mile it had eased. If I was pushing harder this would have slowed me. It was good as when others shouted out in pain I said “I have cramp too, don’t worry, we got this, just 10 minutes of running to do”. There is always this worry towards the end, what if the markers are completely out? I have that balance, I could speed up but risk finishing too quickly, or trust my pace. I trusted my pace, but it is a shame that they don’t do the count down. In London you get a 500 and 200 metre count down. Oh well, after 42k I could just about see the finish, and I had about 2 minutes to go. “Come on you got this” I shouted to those around me “get in front for sub 4”. I kept my cool, of course I was nervous, if I wasn’t I don’t care enough, but I was confident, deep down I knew I had it. As I approached the finish I looked nervously at my watch. As I approached I shouted around me for people to get ahead, I knew now I was under and I had hit it pretty perfect. My watch said 3:59:52 but my official time was 3:59:51, I couldn’t have asked for a better race.
At the end I was greeted by dozens of people who thanked and hugged me. It is so rewarding seeing how happy I had helped make these people. I set the pace, they put the effort in, and now we were all being rewarded with our medals. The end is very congested and it took a long time to get through, find my Erdinger (2014 was the first time I experienced this wonderful drink).
I got my bag and then went to meet the family, it was so great to see them.
Before I finish, a bit of a plea. I’ve been nominated for the Running Awards best blog. If you like my blogs it would be great to receive a vote, you need to register but it’s quick and easy and would mean a lot. If you don’t mind click HERE and go to Pick up the pace Paul.
When we finished I had one thing in mind. Pork knuckle and a stein, and although I was initially turned away without a reservation, my persistence paid off.
For more reviews of Berlin Marathon check out Racecheck.