Guest blog by Gill Bland
Berlin Marathon. The Marathon that wasn’t in the plan. The Marathon that I’d wanted to enter before but was (I thought) 1 second off the qualifying time. Then Adidas Runners London offered me a place and, in consultation with BenFP, it was too good to turn down. Thus the three marathons in three months became reality.
I had a bit of a sub-ideal taper for the race. A weird “injury” plus a weird lack of stickability in a couple of sessions meant I was feeling genuinely unsure about how things were going to go. In fact, I wrote my thoughts down as I was flying out to Berlin so that I could look back on them after the event and to try and sort my head out and get it out of my system.
Skip ahead to here if you want to know how the actual race went.
Skip to here to see the splits
Here’s what I wrote:
I was belligerently confident until a week ago on Thursday. yes some of the last two big runs had been less than honest but I’ve had a summers of PBs, trail runs and loving running. Then last Thursday that pain in my leg. My last big Marathon Pace session was cancelled and every run since has been tinged with concern. That final run to give me confidence is gone and looking at sessions pre-Manchester I wonder if they were better. So, now I wonder. What if the injury flares up? Will I know when to stop? What if it’s just in my mind and I don’t have the fortitude to push through? Can I really run at pace for that long on my own? But, I HAVE to go out fighting. It’s a WR course and the AR crew is there too. Remember that I do this because I love this. Because I am made in a way that lets me do it and that gives me a heart that wants to. Take the moment and stand on the start knowing the hard work that has gone in. Knowing the people that are behind me. Decide to try. Decide to do myself proud.
It’s now 10 past 7 and my plane is about to take off. Online I’m seeing everyone else out there picking their numbers up. What a buzz. What if my number pickup goes wrong tomorrow? Argh!
Having arrived into Berlin at 10pm…well, I got on the wrong train from the airport, didn’t get to the hotel until after midnight, ate half my race breakfast on the train because it took two hours and I was hungry. I had about 5 hrs sleep (max) ran 3 miles trying to find the race number pickup point (which when I found it was incredibly efficient) Dashed to meet the Adidas gang and thankful had the benefit of their fantastic hospitality, loos, coffee, bag drop etc. Was not so quietly panicking, but totally geed up and calmed by the rest of the group (thankyou).
The start for us was very chilled. Loads of toilets and space. We were really close to the elites. I’ve heard it was very different for others and that they had to climb fences to get into their pens. Yikes.
I was with a couple of AR guys in the pen and I expected to be running close to them but I also knew I needed run this race myself and prove I could do it solo.
As we ran under the gantry and around the Siegessäule to join into one stream I picked up the pace from those around me as the start was looking pretty steady. My watch flashed low battery. Great. All the way through I was trying to keep a metronomic pace so that if it died, I should have an idea of what I was doing. I don’t remember much on the way to 13.1 miles but I was alternating between trying-but-not-killing-myself and having to sit on it a bit when I noticed the pace creeping up. I was glad to see half way and it was feeling a little like hard work by then but I was excited to see that I was on for a PB. I knew that I was going out at a slightly faster than necessary pace and I knew people were tracking me. This was really helpful as it made me think ‘well, I don’t want them to think I’ve been an idiot and misjudged it, so I better stick to the pace’. Nothing like pride to get you through!
I’d been warned that the water stations were cups-only and got congested. It was a warm day so I decided to take a sip at every station going. This was hard to navigate but it was either that or use less water stations and stop, walk, drink lots and then get going. I wasn’t brave enough to risk that. Every time after I’d got water I felt it was really hard going, but once I’d realised the cause it was ok.
The crowds were evenly spread but not crazy. Despite having my name front and back I think I only heard it shouted twice. I tried to engage with the bands on the route but they weren’t interested. Actually though, it was quite nice. London was way too intense this year and it’s one of the things that scares me about Boston. This was much more chilled out.
As I ran I thought about Mr B back home, training sessions I’d done and other runners (Kate, Adrien, Ben with big targets, Melanie battling injury, Matt with his hectic schedules, Coren on her first ever Marathon, James and Claudia running as team speedXfun and many many more). At times I prayed and gave thanks. I love the moments when your brain just goes into free flow. Also, the thing that running with a group has taught me is that there’s no point hating a race. Look up, smile and carry on. It makes a huge difference.
It started to bite a little after about 30k as you’d expect but I was still on pace and occasionally having to make myself ease off and not go too fast. That said, I was grateful to see Sarah shouting like a crazy woman at the Adidas cheer point. Exactly the boost I needed. James ran past me just before that and let me know that Kate was nearby. I asked him how Adrien and Ben were doing but he hadn’t seen them. I thought I’d keep up with him for a bit but he was powering ahead and there was no way I was going to let this go by being foolish now. I held it in and stuck to my pace.
As with Manchester I had a list of people in my mind for miles 20-26. The last 5k were tough. I could feel my lower calves tightening and I was hanging on in there but I knew that even if I went down to 10min/mi now I could go sub three. I planned to try a bit of the caffeine drink just before the end to see if I could get a tiny bit of a boost but bad handling on both mine and the drinks-station’s part meant that it ended up all over me. Knowing that I had a decent time in the bag It was so tempting to kick back and relax. The Brandenburg gate seemed to take forever to arrive and this was the point were I could have done with some London style cheering. I kept saying to myself that if I just kept it together and smashed this race then the next two can be a whole load more fun. I crossed the line in 2:56:34 absolutely STOKED. James was a minute ahead of me and it was so exciting to see him there and then be joined shortly after by Ben.
Thinking back, the last time I exceeded my expectations that much was the North London Half. I’d similarly had a late-night journey and only 5 hrs sleep the night before. I wonder if the lack of sleep stops your brain from any kind of sensible damage limitation?!
Fuelling wise, as with other race I’d planned on half a gel at 7 miles, then 1 gel 40mins later and another half 40mins after that. However, because of my lack of sleep I decided early on to use all three gels fully. Talking to others afterwards I think I use a lot less than others so maybe that’s something I can think about. I would rather keep it as natural as possible though.
The next day I couldn’t sleep so I got the Berlin newspaper becasue they print all the runners names in it and went to get a coffee in the sunshine. I opened the paper to see my name above the male winner and holder of the second fastest marathon time in history. i’d made top 50 female (now upgraded to 48th somehow). Wowzers. I think I might just retire from running now!
I don’t remember many of the sites of Berlin as it’s not got those iconic parts in the same way that London was. It’s not a beautiful marathon but it IS flat, fast and from my experience, very well organised. Also the food and drink is great for post-race re-fuelling!
I am well aware that I’ve been lucky with my marathons and I’m gutted for those whose races didn’t pan out how they would have hoped, through now fault of their own. I only hope I can handle it as well when it doesn’t go to plan as when it does.
I want to go back to Berlin. Last time I went Berlin got a little hook into my tourist’s heart. Now it has grabbed my feet as well.
Run along with Bland via her blog: Bland on the Run