I wasn’t a blogger when I ran the Berlin Marathon in 2012 so I thought I would do a race re-cap a year on to reflect on my experience, especially in the run up to the New York Marathon. Word of warning, it’s a long post…
Running a marathon was on my bucket list. I had always envisaged London being the marathon I would complete, but after seeing that my friend Holly had signed up for the Berlin Marathon I thought, right, I can do this. I think it helps hugely having a friend training for the same event as it meant we could share our anticipation together.
My training leading up to the marathon was tough. I was crippled by injury on multiple occasions and seriously had to consider dropping out a week before.
My training focused primarily on intervals and strength training; x2 interval sessions, x2 strength sessions and one long run per week. This was a gamble as the miles during the week were low, but I was assured that this plan could get me through the marathon. I was apprehensive at first, but after being able to run 15km with no problem after 3 weeks of training I was sold. The plan is specifically designed for busy people, and I have to say it really didn’t take up much time. I was recommended this plan because I had already had a lot of problems with my hips so this plan centered around fitness and strength rather than the miles.
About half way through my 14 week training plan I was plagued by hip flexor pain, so excruciating that I remember stopping to cry in Richmond Park and calling my boyfriend to say why on earth am I doing this to myself. My boyfriend was an absolute hero and ran to meet me in Wandsworth on my way back to try and help lift my spirits. My physio, Brad, at Pure Sport Medicine soon helped me fix my hip flexor pain and I felt much better and started to regain some confidence in my abilities.
A few weeks passed and I went on an away weekend with work to Spain. In hindsight, I should have listened to my wise boyfriend who has completed 5 marathons, and not gone on this trip. It was only three weeks before the marathon so I should have been looking after myself. I didn’t drink and even ran on the trip, but I had a fateful slip in a restaurant one evening and hyper extended my left knee. At the time I felt a twinge and in my heart knew something didn’t feel right, but I put it to the back of my mind and everything felt OK.
Two days later I set out for my first taper run, 14 miles. After 5 miles I had to stop because I was in an excruciating amount of pain. I couldn’t bend my knee at all and every step was painful. I sat on the grass on Clapham Common and cried to myself. Anyone that has trained for a marathon will know how much effort it is to train, it really does take over your life. Feeling sorry for myself I hobbled to the bus stop and went straight to an NHS walk in center near my house. The doctor gave me some very strong pain killers and recommended RICE. So I went home, put some ice on my knee, elevated my leg and the pain killers took over and conked me out.
The next day I went to see my physio, Brad
at Pure Sports Medicine
. On initial examination it wasn’t completely clear what the problem was. Running was out of the question, so the physio recommended using the cross-trainer to keep my legs moving. My knee felt OK and after a few days a gave running another go. The first 2km felt fine and then the pain would come back. I would stop in fear of making it worse. The next step was to see a consultant who thought I had done some nerve damage to the fat pad in my knee (news to me that we have ‘fat pads’!). Knowing that the only real cure for this was rest I decided to do everything I could to do this marathon. I spent my month’s earnings on sports massages and saw the physio 6 times in the two weeks leading up to the marathon. The sports massages really helped as my therapist Kerri
(who was an absolute star) located some pretty big knots in my ITB band which seemed to be impacting on the pain in my knee. My physio, Claire
at Pure Sport, taped me up with KT tape during the week and then again on the Friday before I flew out to Berlin. She also kindly helped me find YouTube videos so that I could put the tape on myself for race day (couldn’t have done it without her determination and positive attitude). I looked pretty hardcore with all my tape…or like someone who shouldn’t be running!
The day before race day Darren and I flew out to Berlin. Holly kindly picked up my race number the day before just in case I had any delays, but I wanted to have a quick wonder around the expo. It was huge and quite overwhelming. The nerves started to kick in a bit.
We checked into the hostel we were staying at late afternoon. I had done some research and the hostel had good reviews and was in a good location for catching the Bahn to the start line. When we arrived at the hostel I was relieved to see it was full of runners and very injured inline skaters who had taken part in the inline skating marathon that day! Once we dumped our bags and did the kit check-list we wondered out to find dinner. I really struggled to eat, the nerves had set in and with every mouthful I thought I was going to get sick. Darren forced me to finish my plate persuading me that I needed the energy (he was right of course). After dinner we headed back to the hostel to get an early night. I had agreed to meet Holly at 7am the next day at her hotel so knew I had to get up at 6.15am. We had a private room in the hostel, but I can safely say I will never stay in a hostel again before a race. The noise was infuriating, the other guests were rude and inconsiderate, and I got woken up multiple times during the night (by other marathon runners!).
At 6.15am when the alarm went off I got up and got my KT tape out. I had cut the strips to size in London knowing that I wouldn’t have much time in Berlin. Darren helped me put the tape on and then I got dressed and put my stuff together. We went over to meet Holly and her family. Holly had an unfortunate nightmare to deal with, her ipod had been stolen out of her hotel room the day before. Luckily her boyfriend’s iphone was full of music, but she didn’t have an armband so had to strategically place it in between her top and sports bra! Very impressive. I think going forward I will carry everything I need for race day at all times!
We took the tube to the nearest stop near the start line and then walked for about 15 minutes. It all felt very surreal. I couldn’t actually believe I was about to do a marathon. I concentrated hard not to think about the fact that I would be running for about 5 hours! Holly and I had to say goodbye to our support crew quite early on in order to head to the start line. It was very comforting knowing we had support from Darren, my mum and her friend Ruth, Holly’s boyfriend Tom, as well as her mum and dad. We arranged beforehand where they would try and support us (10km, 21km, 30km, finish).
|Holly and I before the start
Holly and I made our way to the start line. It was pretty nippy. I had decided to wear some old leggings and long sleeved top that I could throw away to keep me warm. Time was slipping away and we couldn’t find any toilets. We quickly noticed that the small forest area in the park near the start line had become somewhat of a communal toilet. Looking at each other with a cheeky grin we thought ‘fuck it’ and went a peed in the wilderness. Thankfully I didn’t need more than a number one…Holly and I hadn’t trained together so decided against trying to run together. We said our goodbyes and wished each other luck at the start line and went our separate ways.
In my head I had split the marathon into 4x10kms. I had trained in KMs as a new the markers in Berlin would be in this metric unit. Plagued by injury, my only aim was to get round in one piece. In my head I gave myself a pain threshold of 1-10. I said to myself, that if it got to 8-10 I would stop and consider whether the pain and risk of long term damage was worth it. I had taken a few ibruprofens just before I started. I saw Darren, Tom and Clare (Holly’s mum) just after the start line which was a nice surprise. During the first 5km my knee felt weak and then pain was probably at around a 5. I kept going and the pain seemed to ease – I presume this was the drugs! When I reached the 10km I felt good. I was keeping a steady pace. I was averaging between 5’59 and 6’21 per km. I was hoping to see my support crew at 10km, but Darren was off trying to find me Jelly Beans as I had forgotten them in my suitcase so missed me (I really do love him!). At about 13km I spotted my mum and her friend Ruth which was a nice surprise as I hadn’t planned where to see them.
|Berlin Victory Column
There were quite a few sites around the course, but to be honest, I didn’t really take them all in. The crowds were great and really kept me motivated. Having my name on my top really helped so I highly recommend it!
I finally spotted Darren, Tom and Holly’s mum and dad at 21km. I had done 20km in 2:11 which I was really happy with. Seeing them all was such a boost. Darren ran along side me helping to fill my water bottle. There is plenty of water around the course, but I always carry my own just in case.
|Marathons are fun!
I can’t quite remember where, I think around the 31km I spotted a message from Darren on a big screen – one that only I would understand :) They were much needed words of encouragement as I was really starting to struggle after 30km. At about 33km I spotted Darren and the team again. Darren handed me a lucozade and ran along next to me. I remember saying. ‘this is the hardest thing I have ever done!’ At 35km I had a little toilet scare; I hopelessly search for a portaloo with no success. I tried to put the thought to the back of my mind and luckily by the time a toilet appeared the need to go had gone.
I knew I was slowing down quite dramatically. I began to feel my body asking for food. I had only had a flapjack for breakfast (note: this is not enough food for a marathon). They were giving out pieces of banana apple along the course. Aware that I had never tried eating fruit whilst running I was a little apprehensive about eating them, but boy was I hungry. I could stomach any more of my gels by this point. I grabbed a piece of banana and chewed it as much as I could in my mouth before swallowing it, hoping that this would aid digestion. It seemed to be OK with no sign of a stitch.
At 35km I saw my mum and Ruth. My mum, caught up in pride ran up to me on the course to give me a hug – oh mum! I’m sure the other runners weren’t best pleased. Unlike London, there aren’t barriers lined up the street to pedestrians just stand on the side of the course (apart from my mother I had no issues with any of the crowd getting in the way).
I was stopping at each water stop and taking a few steps by the 36km mark. I can honestly say it’s not worth even taking a few steps – it’s so painful to walk as you feel like your knees have locked.
By 39km I could feel the end in site. The atmosphere had lifted with more and more crowds lining the streets.
At 41.52 km my iphone died (!) – yes how annoying is that!!
|60m to go…only in a little bit of pain!
About 20m later I could hear cheers from Darren, Holly’s parents and Tom. I waved with the biggest grin on my face. Then a few meters further I saw my mum again. Next thing I knew I was running under the Brandenburg Gate (luckily I had done my research; although they say the finish line is here, there is probably about another 60m to go). I started to well up. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I couldn’t believe the injury had held out! I crossed the finish line – phew! Quickly I realised that there was no one to share my joy with – couldn’t really hug the guy who gave me my medal. In a complete daze I headed towards the ‘meet friends and family area’. Spotting Darren I ran (well kind of) towards him and jumped into his arms. It was the best feeling in the world.
|Darren, me, Clare, Holly, Tom, Iain
I finished the marathon in 04:50:32. I was ecstatic. My goal was under 5 hours and I achieved it, injuries and all! I couldn’t quite believe that I had actually done it! My splits were;
05km – 31:51
10km – 1:03
15km – 1:35
20km – 2:08
25km – 2:16
30km – 3:20
35km – 3:58
40km – 4:35
As you can see I slowed down a lot in the second half so I definitely need to work on my pacing!
Holly, Tom, Darren and I headed straight for a Maccy Ds once we were finished. When I told my physio this she said, well that is the best time to have one as all the food is so salty!
We did some celebrating in the evening…
Running a marathon has to be my greatest achievement. I’m pretty proud of myself. It’s not just about the race day, but all the training that goes into that makes running a marathon such a huge challenge.
I had only been running for a year and a half when I ran the Berlin marathon. I signed up after 6 months of running. I do believe that if you set your heart and mind to it anyone can run a marathon. When I finished, I didn’t think, I’m never doing this again. But, it has taken 11 months to actually want to do one, and that’s why I signed up for the New York marathon. It will be interesting if I get into London this year…
I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone that came to support Holly and I in Berlin. I really couldn’t have done it without you all. Knowing that I would see everyone at different points around the course was very motivating and ensured that I kept a big smile on my face for all the photos!
***I’d like to dedicate this post to the lovely Clare Griswold whose amazing support I will always remember. Thank you for being there with a big smile and loud cheers all the way around the course. xxx.