Last year, I surprised myself and ran Chicago in a sub 3:40 time. That led me to think that I had the capability of PR’ing in the marathon distance (my PR is 3:37:30). And I had signed up for Berlin for 2018. Berlin is known to be a fast course, and it would be the first time that I could qualify for Boston 2020 (when I will be qualifying in the 50-54 age group, so my qualifying time is 4:00) – so going after a 3:40, or a PR would allow me to register with the 20+ min group. Something I would love to be able to do. I told my coach Terry that my pee-my-pants goal would be to run a 3:35 – and hit the open qualifying standard. I wasn’t sure that was possible, but in the aftermath of Chicago, I was bold and optimistic.
So for 2018, the Berlin marathon was my A race. My goals were:
- Gold goal – sub 3:40
- Platinum – PR (sub 3:37)
- Pee-my-pants goal – sub 3:35
I had good races during the season, yet my build-up for Berlin seemed odd. I was hitting the paces and the distances, but for some reason I felt underprepared, not ready. Maybe I always feel this way. The 8:12 pace I would need, seemed manageable even for a 9 mile tempo. Admittedly, I did these on the treadmill because of my work schedule and the darkness, but the last time I had tried to go after a 3:35, the pace felt harder. Terry thought my build-up went well and that I was ready.
We left Albuquerque Wednesday evening and arrived in Berlin Thursday afternoon. I have been battling some weird pain in my left leg (maybe sciatica? Maybe piriformis? Maybe something with my hamstring?). I didn’t tend to feel it when I ran, so I figured I’d be ok for the race. I got a couple of treatments and the last one I got the Monday before we left seemed to help quite a bit, but then over the next few days, the pain starting creeping back. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it had left me in crippling pain about a week before the race. It was mostly painful when I sat – so the plane flight over was challenging. I had also been managing a low-grade plantar fasciitis issue in my right foot and, of course, it chose now to be a bit angrier with me.
I made it through the long flight and was grateful to have arrived. There was a welcome reception that night and then we hit the hay. I generally adjust to timezones decently well, but to make sure to get some rest – I took Benadryls to help me sleep. 2 each night until the night before the race when I only took 1. This is fairly common for me – although I think I took more this time than usual. Friday we did a bus tour, then the expo (which was kind of a mess). Saturday was the International breakfast run (~6k). We came back for lunch and then made a quick trip to see KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) a famous flagship department store here. We ate at the pasta dinner included in our Marathon tours trip. Then I got ready for the next day.
The weather looked decent – presumably starting just under 60 degrees and finishing just under 70. A little warm, but given how marathon conditions have been going recently, not bad. I decided to try and go for it – go out around 8:10s and see how it felt.
We left the hotel around 7:45am (for a 9:25am start) and walked over to the corral area. I was in the corral super early. So I sat on a curb and just chilled. I stood up around 9am, took my Ucan, and shook my legs out. It was a beautiful day. Jacket off, it was go time. My watch took forever to pick up the satellites. I turned it on at 9am and it didn’t fully pick up the satellites until we had already started moving up to the start line, so probably around 9:20am. There were trees lining the street – so perhaps the trees got in the way.
Then we were off! I could run pretty much right away, which is unusual for a big city marathon. I settled into a good pace. My watch told me I was running 8:10 in the first mile – great! Right on target, felt pretty comfortable, heart rate was low (in the low 140s). I didn’t see any mile markers or kilometer markers until 3km. I didn’t see any water stops. I tried to follow the blue line (the best course) and just ran with my watch – mile one 8:10, mile two 8:06, mile three 8:03. Right on track, actually figured I should take it back a notch. Then I hit the 5k mat – I had calculated that my kilometer pace needed to be about 5:05 so at 5k I should have been at 25:25. I looked down at my watch and it said 26+. I was shocked. At that point, I was more than a minute behind the pace I wanted (as opposed to slightly ahead, as I had expected). I looked again to see the mileage and I think my watch read 3.4-3.5. Way off already. I knew I wasn’t weaving that much and I was running a smart course – so either the 5k was in the wrong place (that was my hope) or my watch was messing up the gps (more worrisome). This discouraged me as I didn’t feel like I could run faster at that point. So I just kept running to my watch, hoping that the 5k was somehow marked long.
I think the first water stop came at 6k (at least the first one I noticed). These were a bit of a cluster. They were generally only on one side of the street, there was little to no warning that they were coming up, and they weren’t that long. So everyone was dive-bombing to get to the tables. Plus generally there was no one handing out water, you had to pick up the cup from the table. And they were plastic cups – so you couldn’t fold them into a nice V to make a convenient drinking spout. Every water stop seemed like it added 15-20 seconds. And was a real dodgeball effort. But it was a hot day- so I needed to stop. It made me wish that I had carried my own water.
Speaking of the weather – it felt hot from very early on. I started feeling hot in the first 5 miles. I was sweating quite a bit already. This surprised me as I don’t think I felt that hot until about the last 6 miles in Chicago and I thought the weather was similar. But maybe it had been a little more overcast in Chicago?
I saw Derek, Beth and Noel at 11k – and by this point I knew this wasn’t going to be my day. The 10k mark had come and I was still similarly over my goal. I had no idea what pace I was running – I was still doing my best to maintain pace on my watch. I had started backing off in my head to a PR (which still would have been amazing). I thought I could hang onto that – except apparently my watch was telling me paces that I wasn’t actually running.
The course was tough mentally. It’s super flat – the flattest course I have ever run. But because I don’t know Berlin (and truthfully, it’s not the most scenic city), I had no landmarks. It just felt like endless miles. Compared to the other big city marathons that I have run, the first half to 2/3rds of the course was pretty sparse in terms of spectators. And where there were spectators, they were “watchers” – you know, the kind who just watch and don’t cheer (or maybe they were just cheering for their runner). In the cold, rainy, windy conditions this year, Boston had more spectators who were way louder.
At halfway, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 1:50:5x – that wouldn’t even project to a 3:40! Man, that was heartbreaking. My legs were already tired. I wasn’t looking at a negative split, unless somehow the second half of the course was shorter. I just tried to focus on getting that sub-3:40. But the wheels kept coming off the wagon. I saw Derek again around 32k – which was much needed, I needed something cheerful, something distracting. He told me at that point that Eliud Kipchoge had broken the world record and run 2:01! That was super exciting and fun to think about. I continued my focus on the blue line – telling myself that I was running in his footsteps.
Since I knew that I would not meet any goals, I tried to really focus on enjoying the experience. Which isn’t easy to do when you still have like 10 miles to go and your legs hurt. I saw a group of alpenhorns and some belly dancers. There were some good bands and drum groups. I read German store signs. Maybe I could still salvage a sub 3:45 and that would feel respectable for the day.
The last three miles, it was all I could do to keep running and not walk. I just kept telling myself- just don’t walk, just don’t walk. You can jog this in. You’ll finish. I still had no idea what my final time would be, since my watch was so extremely off. I had given up paying attention to time, I was just trying to get done.
I saw Beth, Noel, and Derek in Potsdamer Platz around 39k and that was super nice. I was ecstatic that 39k was only 3 more k to go (since I had somehow thought I still had 4k to go), but that felt like the longest 3k I’ve ever run. Finally I hit the finishing stretch – Derek was there right before the Brandenburg Gate. It was cool to run through that gate.
Then a bit more to the finish line. There was no sprint – “marathon sprint” or otherwise. There was just a slog to the finish line.
What can I say – I am a bit disappointed. It feels like a wasted opportunity. I’m not sure what went wrong. Looking back at it – I didn’t have it from the get go. Was I not fit enough? I had gained some weight (a few pounds), so was I too heavy? Was it the Benadryl? Was it just traveling and the time change? Did I walk around too much in the previous days? Was my taper too aggressive? I had a pretty aggressive taper partly because I was struggling with pain in the weeks leading up to the race. I wish I knew.
Nevertheless, I persisted and got my 5th world marathon major under my belt. Next stop – Tokyo!
In Gender 1708 / 12337 (13.8%)
In Division 222 / 1996 (F45-49 Age Group) (11.1%)