This Is Berlin
If you’re a veteran marathoner looking to set a personal best — or a newbie seeking a flat, fast course for your first marathon — the Berlin Marathon could be the race for you. It’s the third-largest marathon in the world (after New York and London) — and the fastest.
The Berlin Marathon route treks through a wonderful, vibrant urban city steeped in history and stunning landmarks such as Victory Column, Reichstag, and of course, Brandenburg Gate!
BEFORE THE MARATHON
Arrive Early – I arrived 20 minutes before the doors opened to find a Disneyland-style line of runners looking to enter the expo. To be fair, the line moved pretty quickly and the excitement of the Berlin Marathon officially kicked off.
First order of business: your wristband – before you enter the main expo, all runners must place their right hand over a machine that secures a Berlin marathon wristband around your right wrist. Without this wristband, you can’t enter the race corrals. Despite my initial thoughts of this thing falling off in the shower or ripping in my sleep, this puppy was not going anywhere.
Swag disappears quickly! – I am not one to buy a lot of swag at marathon expos, but I will say, the rumors are true on this one. Race jackets (heavily coveted by runners like their own children), running shoes, and even finisher T-shirts were flying off the shelves like no expo I have seen in the past five years. Forget Caveat Emptor; arrive early if you want to get your swag folks.
They serve beer – I shouldn’t have been surprised being in Germany and all, but I was still slightly caught off-guard that they served tall beers for 2.5 euros at the expo. And no, I didn’t buy a beer, but only because it was 11:00 am and I was more interested in waiting 45 mins to capture one shot on a podium at the expo.
In-line Skating Marathon – The day before the main event, Berlin hosts one of the largest inline skating marathons in the world. This year, Berlin saw around 5,600 inline skaters race on the 42-kilometer loop. This was a very impressive event to watch from the finish line in-person.
World Record Buzz – Every year, runners and spectators alike hope to see the marathon world record fall of 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28, 2014, at the Berlin Marathon. – This year’s race hosted a record of 43,852 marathon runners from 137 countries as the marathon celebrated its 44th anniversary.
Miles 1 – 8– We all want to be a small part of history. Unfortunately, no world records were set this year, maybe due to the 99% humidity…more on this later.
The race began with overcast skies, drizzling rain and a rising humidify. For some reason, it takes about five miles (for me) to feel comfortable until my mind and body settle down several miles in…
Signs are in kilometers – for those of you used to seeing mile markers, remember this race takes place abroad. I am a big fan of counting up from 1 to 42 km because it feels I am making faster progress knocking out km after km.
Miles 8 – 18 – This race course was fast and flat and for someone who stops to capture different film footage, takes pictures of creative signage and sometimes backtracks to get a particular running shot, I found myself flying through this stretch despite the rising humidity. Runners race by iconic buildings in Berlin including the Reichstag, Berlin Dom and the CN Tower. I was beginning to understand why so many runners PR’d (personal record) on this course and why world records will likely continue to fall in this city as the years trickle forward.
Bands play every half-mile – 50+ bands, every half mile or less, played their music on the streets of Berlin. There were small kid bands strumming their tunes on sidewalks to a mini orchestra of senior citizens showing off their skills standing in a park.
Mile 19 – at 99% humidity, I hit a wall. I had nothing left in my legs. At that moment, I was on pace to finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes, almost 30 minutes under my fastest marathon time (London Marathon, 2000, 4:57:57), and that dream came to an immediate halt.
Miles 20 – 26.2 – Yes the humidity was out of control, and yes, my legs felt heavy as all heck, and without a doubt, I was not going to PR this race despite how flat and fast this course was designed to be for racers.
BUT, I fought hard those last 6.2 miles.
Every race is different and you never know how your mind and body are going to respond. I ran by stretches of people on massage beds whose race was over due to cramps, dehydration, and god knows what other ailments. I see this type of thing almost every race, but the last six miles was a reminder that nothing is ever promised or guaranteed for a runner in any marathon. Listen to your body, is my best advice.
AND on mile 25, I did just that. I was thirsty, salivating to be precise. Instead of a water or Gatorade hydration station, there were some friendly spectators serving full mugs of beer and shots of Jägermeister. When in Germany, right? I stopped and took a big gulp of cold beer, and boy, was that refreshing!
My favorite part about the Berlin Marathon was the final two kilometers because once you turn the final corner, it’s a straight shot through Brandenburg Gate and over the finish line.
From incredible sights along the way to an infectious energy on the speedy course, this was a truly unforgettable experience. For anyone looking for an international marathon to run I would recommend adding this race to your bucket list.
With Marathon Major #5 of 6 in the books (London, New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin), I have set my eyes and stomach on Japan.
Next up? Tokyo baby.