Thursday, October 2, 2014

Berlin Marathon 2014

Two days after the race and still thrilled from the weekend. Fantastic event!

Getting there & getting settled ...
We arrived a little late on Friday evening in our hostel. The hostel we stayed -Jugengästehaus Hauptbahnhof -  is really close to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and hence to the Start- and Finish area of the Berlin Marathon. Turned out to be a perfect selection. Kids had fun and the hostel is run by nice and friendly people. Extensive breakfast buffet. Perfect.

BIB pickup
I left the family in the hostel to quickly get to Tempelhofer Flughafen in order to pick up my BIB. A little stressful to get there in time, but the aim was to have the whole Saturday for a relaxed Berlin sightseeing event. The whole train station was full of runners with the same destination. I got in touch with a couple from Nürnberg, Germany so we could head together towards the Berlin Vital Messe - located in the Tempelhofer airport.

We had some nice chat on the way, and actually I got a question answered which I had in my head for a long time. Usually the BIB pickup is surrounded by opportunities to buy new gear - including running shoes. Usually I'm in a hurry and quite focused on the race, so buying a new pair of running shoes would be the last thing, I could actually think of in this kind of situation. So would be buying a pair of running shoes at the day of/before the race? Well, the guy from Nürnburg as he had left his shoes at home;)

Tempelhofer Fluhafen is such is a great location. I was amazed of the scale of the running exhibition - I couldn't come up with any brand not being there with it own presence. Fantastic. Given the fact that I arrived 30 min before close of play, I didn't spent to much time there, but it was a fantastic, relaxed and well organized atmosphere. I think I spent less than 5 minutes to pick up my BIB.

Saturday - Berlin as a tourist
On Saturday,  I spent a relaxed day with my family. We walked to the start/finish area to see where we would to go on the race day. Already quite some runners around - scouting and having a loosening-your legs run. I missed this in favor of spending more time with my family - something which I might want to differently in future. During the day, my legs felt more and more stiff - a sign of what going to happen on the race day - more of this later.
We spent some time to visit the typical tourist locations like, Brandenburger Tor, Alexander Platz, Hackescher Markt, ...

Overall a nice trip, which we partly explored per pedes and partly with public transport.

For the first time I visited the east side gallery, which left a deep impression with me and the entire family. It was a perfect location to provide our boy with an insight, how cruel the separation of family&friends actually is and how cruel this has been enforced. I'm sad to see this momentum to fade away in favor of making money buy removing it to build new houses.
East Side Gallery - Each year is represented together with the individuals being killed a the wall per yer (represented as red flower shapes)

East Side Gallery - People floating through a gap in the wall - I watched this live on TV

Where money is to be earned, it will be earned. So monument is fading away in favor of new buildings

We finished the day early with some race preparation and final Italian lunch. Aim was to get to bed early - a challenge on its own ...

The race day
After a night of interrupted sleep (mostly my own nervousness - so no need to blame the family ;)) , I silently picked up my prepared running gear, dressed up an arrived at the breakfast buffet at 6:10.

Quite some marathon runners already have been there. For me, breakfast as such is an unusual thing and requires - specifically that early in the morning - quite some push. I started hydration/eating according plan - everything smooth. Around 7, I returned my key card and slowly walked toward the start area. Starting from the HBF I was part of a huge stream of runners heading to the race. Hydration kept going.

The weather forecast has promised a beautiful day and - hold true. This means it was pretty cold, so arriving at the start area, I located the bag deposit, but kept my stuff with me. Kept hydrating and finish food intake with on final banana. I guess around 8am the first sun rays hit the ground and it was getting warmer. So I changed cloth and deposited my bag in order to head to the starting block. All easy and without any queuing or ambiguity about where to head. Nice.

Listening to my body was less nice - still the legs felt quite stiff. Not good at the race day.
Arriving in the start block there was a nice spectacle to observe. Block E was next to the TV station podium, where they already prepared for moderation of the start. The camera was already mounted and guess what - almost all runners in the relatively empty block gathered in the area which could be covered by the camera ;)

I spent my time with some warm up and some visits to the toilets. Thinks got a little bit worse - actually I had a first, little muscle cramp before the start in one of the toilets - not what I have hoped for at race day. So I decided to carefully monitor it. I decided to stick with my plan: Aim for a 3:10 finish time, which would require a 4:30 pace in a homogenous race pace. Quite an ask, given that this was almost 10 minutes faster than my current personal best, but this is a race - not a kindergarten right ;).

The block - I was located in Block E (3:15-3:30) time filled up continuously and I was surprised how close I actually have been to the elite runners. This looked promising. On the speaker the racers have been welcomed in all possible language -including Bavarian ;). The last minutes and the start itself have been quite emotional. The large crowd, the view of the Siegessäule behind the start gate, the huge number of balloons being started on the race shot and the large crowd added to it. Unforgettable Experience.

Interestingly the start was quite fluently and there was no traffic issue. So I could take up my planned pace without any external hassle. Only my right leg was sending some low-level warning signals. Like said - to be monitored during the race. The first past 10km passed by relatively relaxed. System worked, HR and perceived stress value where quite OK. According to my watch I was even a little bit faster than planned - not quite true, but more on this later. So all good.

Well, some other signals came up more present. Hydration is good, but you need to balance this - like everything in life. So a toilet would be nice - just nice at this moment not - yet - mandatory. Half a year back, I had a bad experience with this kind of challenge. Back at the Vivawest Half Marathon, the start time has been delayed by around 40 minutes. Eventually as the gun went off, I only had one single thought in my mind - where is a toilet?! I think I hold it until like km 7 - lost quite some time on the toilet break and more importantly, lost the focus and motivation. I finished the race - actually in quite a good time, but it could have been way better if I only would have kept the focus.
Back to the current race in Berlin it was less of a problem - just before km 15, I spotted somebody leaving a toilet like 100m before I arrived. I kept my eye on it and it was still free as I arrived. So it was mine. After leaving the toilet, I run a little fast and only lost like 30s on the km. That was fine - all good.

What is amazing in the Berlin Marathon - and that might have burned my future marathon experiences - is the crowd of supporters. There are not single 100m where your are not cheered by the crowd. Awesome. Music all over the place. All different flavors - including private parties on balconies. Marvelous.

At half marathon, I had my first reality check. I already recognized that my lap alert - 1km laps - has been de-synchronized significantly from the actual km marks on the track. My math capabilities where already a little weak, but the half-marathon time displayed, didn't looked like it would totally back-up, the data provided by my watch. But still I trusted the the lap alerts of my watch.

So I kept pushing with mixed emotions. Still I felt good overall only my right leg worried me more and more. As you can digest from the diagrams below, everything went fine until around km 27. Already before the legs got more and more tight, but around there, I definitely had an issue.

From the heart rate graph above, you can see the little toilet at around km 15 quite nicely. You a also can see that the hear rate increased relatively slow over time, which corresponds with my perceived relatively low overall stress level. Everything get's a little bit more spiky after km 27. Potentially more easily to digest from the pace diagram below.

The graphs also show, that my watch had measured more distance than I actually have been running - or should have been running. This lead to the slightly better than reality paces being reported.

But back to the amazing race itself. On positive aspect of the race is the huge amount of runners. You never run alone. Though I didn't run in a fixed group - maybe I should have been running with the 3:15 group - there where always people around you, who run in a similar pace. Quite good for the moral. One minor observation on this one. I used to be able to recognize my own "Piep" while crossing the time measurement stations. Overall sound like "Piep - Piep, Piep - - Piep" in other races - at least at later stages. In Berlin it was "Piiiiiieeeeeeep" all over the place.

Another nice encounter was a paper sign hold up by some of the spectators, announcing "New World Record 2:02:57" - quite some extra push for us hobby runners as well.

The rest of the race was mainly fighting with myself, enjoying the atmosphere and not looking at my time. Around km 40/41 I spotted a collapsed guy, who already got medical support. A gently reminder not to over pace, I think. While I remember this and it obviously touched me, this was gone soon later, as made the last turn, providing me with the first view on the Brandenburger Tor. I was super happy and pushed my arms into the sky - Almost there. Body reacted immediately, at both legs the hamstring contracted. Autsch - so back in old running form and don't overdo it.

The feeling to actually pass the Brandenburger Tor and then do the final meters toward the finish line are quite hard to describe. Actually while you can not spot it on the video being taken, I got quite emotional and finally reached the finish line, totally exhausted, super happy, proud of my new PB.

The after race support was fantastic as well. I got everything I needed, the medal, food and drinks without any queuing. I spent some time on the loan in front of the Reichstag with the other runners, before I stepped out of the closed area to meet my family.

Meeting point of the family was well organized as well and it was super relaxed atmosphere. I learned from my family that they got a good spot to watch just next to the Brandenburger Tor and even saw me finishing. As a nice topping I met a former colleague of mine, who I haven't met for ages. All fine.

My take aways:
  1. I must come back to the race - it was fantastic
  2. I need to figure out how to proper loosening my legs in situation like this
  3. Hydration: I guess I need to stop earlier
  4. GPS Watch: Trust level with my current Fenix 2 is still broken. So either I need to replace it or - maybe better in any case - prepare better to be able to conclude my progress just based on the time spent.