BMW Berlin Marathon 2019
Race Report By FatBird Anthony Sum
Photos @ Sportgraf, Jessy, Beverly
After completing my 2nd World Marathon Major (after Boston Marathon twice) at the New York Marathon 2018, I hatched a plan to complete the rest of the Marathons in the World Marathon Majors series. I was delightfully pleased when both Beverly and my applications for Berlin Marathon 2019 were accepted.
Therein started my 9-month planning for a Runcation with Beverly through European cities of Berlin, Prague, Paris, Inverness, Glasgow, London and completing Berlin Marathon and Loch Ness Marathons back-back. The search and booking of the accommodation and various modes of transportation (air, rail, bus) around the cities created much excitement and anticipation for the both of us.
We did not begin training for Berlin Marathon until 12 weeks out, along with PowerFLIGHT trainees who were going for WMM Marathons Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
Travel To Berlin
Within an eyes’ blink, it was Tapering time and we hopped on a direct Scoot flight to Berlin on Wednesday, giving us lots of time to condition ourselves with sight-seeing and shakeout runs in the few days before race.
FatBird Jessy Fung was also with us training and traveling right up to race day.
The weather in Europe was wet this year, and Berlin was experiencing intermittent days of showers. Still, that did not dampen our spirits as we went for recce runs to the start and end points near the vicinity of Brandenburg gate as well as special sights around our Hotel.
We spent Thursday traveling to the Berlin Race Expo and soaking in the pre-race atmosphere. The Race Expo at Berlin was smaller in scale compared with New York and Boston, but was in no way lesser in degree of excitement and fun-filled activities. There were the usual frenzy with getting official race apparel and shopping around the halls of running merchandise and fuel offerings.
I had a minor scare when I discovered I dropped my race chip (older system which has to have the chip tied to shoes) when preparing my race gear. We immediately rushed down to Race Expo to report ‘lost chip’ and got a replacement by paying a small ‘fee’…Phew!
We had a very good carb-loading dinner at Peter Pane Burgers (one of the best tasting burgers I have had anywhere) on Friday evening – We were to return to this place 2 more times as the food was so good. We had an easy Saturday with some walking about the shopping neighbourhood and loaded up with Waffles, Ice-cream and yes, Peter Pane Burger meal in the night.
I woke up at 4am and lazed about in bed till 5am before beginning my ritual of breakfast, visiting the toilet and some light stretches. My race was to start at 9am in Corral A, while Beverly was to start slightly later at 10am.
We met Jessy at the lobby for some photos before walking to the race site which was about 1.5km away. The weather forecast was for showers and we were amply prepared for a cold and wet run. We reached the race site at about 7.30am and I immediately headed for the long queues at the Portaloos. I chose the ‘No Baggage. Post-Race Poncho’ option and so had no need for bag deposit.
By the time I finished with the Portaloo, it was near to 9am. I promptly jogged to the race start to get warmed up. I arrived at the start pen just 10min before, and was lucky to squeeze in with the crowds. The 3:15h and 3:30h Pacers were nearby. Everybody were in high spirits and raring to just get started before the rains came.
The Fast Course
The Berlin Marathon course (surprisingly with some net elevation recorded) is known to be one of the fastest Marathon courses in the world, and certainly the fastest among the 6 World Marathon Majors (WMM) races. The 30,000 odd participants come from all corners of the globe, many to record their Personal Bests, Boston Qualifiers and even Olympic Trials Qualifiers.
The course feels flat, with very gentle slopes both up and down but with a good amount of sharp cornering turns, which to a certain degree disrupt the runners’ momentum. It is normally cool and dry weather which makes for excellent marathon running conditions.
However, we were to encounter the rains 90 minutes into the run, which made the roads slippery and weather colder. That did not dampen the rousing supporters who were lined up along the city and neighbourhood streets to cheer the runners.
The elite field, comprising of Kenenisa Beleke (which would miss breaking Eliud Kipchoge’s World Record by a mere 3 seconds) were introduced and flagged off. Minutes later, the main group of runners in Pen A were started off. The crowd of runners were rather thick in the beginning, and I was just running along at 4:50min/km pace amongst the sea of Green and Pink Vaporflys.
For a WMM race, it was unusual for the hydration points to be quite limited. The first hydration point was at the 5km mark, on both sides of the road. Thereafter it would be every 2.5km, alternating between isotonic and water-only stations, but only on the right-hand side of the running path.
I was able to find more space and settled in after about 3km. We entered the neighbourhood streets from the City Centre and there were lots more foliage to provide some shade on sunny days.
At about the 9km mark, I saw the 3:00 Pacers running past us (who were in the group probably running at 3:20h pace). I was shocked and for that moment, I thought I might be in the wrong route. There were other baffled runners who shook their heads and pointed out that the 3:00h Pace Group might have taken a wrong turn instead.
The 3:15h and 3:30h Pacers were nowhere to be seen. I chose to follow a group of local runners whom seemed like they were very familiar with the course.
I continued to soak in the support and cheers from the crowd, and soaked in the different sights of each neighbourhood. I reached the 10km mark in about 48min, averaging 4:45 pace for a 3:20h finish.
The showers came at about the 15km mark, starting with a light drizzle and then getting stronger with each km. It was nowhere as ‘bitterly cold and windy’ as in Boston 2018, but it was still an unwelcomed distraction and discomfort running with wet clothing and shoes on slippery surfaces.
In addition, there were various incidents of people and bikes just crossing the roads randomly, posing danger and loss of momentum to the advancing runners. I had to put on the brakes to avoid a few near misses. I heard from Jessy later that she was involved in 2 incidents, causing her legs to get some seizures, and probably causing her to lose the BQ opportunity.
Another feature of the course is the roads with its many metal plates and some potholes which we have to gingerly manoeuvre. I was following the blue line, which runs close to many of these round covered holes. I found myself side-stepping these ‘mini obstacles’ in addition to getting my way around the thick crowd of runners.
Time and distance seemed to pass quickly when I am soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the cheers of the crowd. I felt good but was uncomfortable with the lack of good grip on the damp roads.
I reached the HM mark in 1h39min.
I took in my gels and electrolytes according to my fuel plan. I tried a gel provided by the Official Nutrition sponsor (about the 26km mark) and almost puked on the weird taste. I did not get to sample the official gel during the race expo, and that was not a smart move to try it during the race.
I quickly recovered from that small hiccup with some water to clear the mouth. I popped an electrolyte instead.
The rain was heavy during this stretch and I was spending much time making out the front with limited visibility. The 3 Blue Lines marking the course route was very helpful in guiding us the shortest path and alerting turns ahead. However, many runners were also crowding those Blue Lines making it hard to track them throughout.
My pace dropped to 4:45min/km average as I felt my engine getting colder and not firing well. The legs were feeling alright and I was body sensing to check on my running form.
In spite of the heavy rain, the cheers from the crowd remained boisterous, providing some motivation for me to push forward.
I reached the 32km mark (which is where the actual Marathon race begins) relatively unscathed and generally feeling good. In the absence of any undulating terrain, the legs just felt overworked on the calves and hamstrings.
I could feel some tingling sensation in my left hamstring, and I slowed down the pace a tad to prevent any unwanted cramps from erupting.
Till then, there were no sights of any of the Pace Groups. I was maintaining my slightly reduced pace through to the 36km mark, when my left hamstring started cramping up, probably due to the cold. I took an electrolyte tab and reduced pace even further, hoping to stave off the pain till the final 5km.
Final 5km (Brandenburg Gate)
The rain was still beating down on my face and body, with my shoes splashing all over puddles of water.
The tingle at the hamstrings went away and I was able to pick up pace. Sensing that it was only 3km to the finish, my energy levels were raised and I was responding to the thickening crowds of supporters lined along the twists and turns of the City Centre.
One last turn onto the long straight and I could see the glorious Brandenburg Tor (Gate) in the distance. The cheers grew louder and stronger as I picked up the pace along with all other runners. I was careful to maintain strong form without getting any final bouts of unwanted cramping, as we neared Brandenburg Gate.
The feeling was exhilarating as I pass through Brandenburg Gate with arms raised for some good photo shots. The scene reminded me of all the past World Record Marathon finishers like Haile Gebrselassie, Dennis Kimetto, Eliud Kipchoge zooming through the final km.
I picked the path with the least water puddles for my final approach as I crossed the finish line in 3h 23min. Not a Personal Best, but still a good Boston Qualifying time with 12min buffer.
I collected the hard-earned finishers medal as we were ushered out from the finish area to collect our post-race recovery goodies (Isotonic drinks, protein milk shake, protein bars, salted chips, apple), ponchos as well as return the timing chips. The walk was not as long compared with Boston and New York Marathons, but was a lot less organized with not much signs and ushers showing tired runners where to go.
I felt really cold and wet (the rain was still going on) once I stopped running. My only target then was to return to the warmth of my Hotel as quick as my tired legs could carry me. I didn’t make time to go for any of the free beer, massages and food on sale.
Great Results For FatBirds
Upon reaching the Hotel, I rushed up to my room to have a hot bath. The feeling of warm water on my ‘frozen’ body was heavenly, and I stayed under the warm shower for a good 10min at least.
Once I have cleaned up, and settled down, I logged in to check my results which were available live. I then checked to see if Jessy and Beverly had completed their races, and was very happy to know that they both scored Personal Bests. Beverly’s 4:07h timing was a good 11min better than her last PB at Gold Coast Marathon 2018, and she missed BQ by a mere 2min for her age group.
Post-Race Europe Holidays
We had a short afternoon rest before going for post-race dinner. And yes, it was our favourite restaurant Peter Pane again haha. We returned to the hotel to do some packing as we were to check out on Monday morning for holidays in Prague, Paris, Inverness (for the scenic Loch Ness Marathon), Glasgow and then London to meet with my son and visit his Campus, before returning home 18 days after we first set foot in Berlin.
We did our recovery runs while vacationing the cities in Prague, Paris, Glasgow. The only place we did not run was in our short stay in London.
It turned out to be an exciting and most enjoyable for Beverly and I, traveling, exploring and navigating through the European cities pretty much by ourselves. We met with interesting people, visited must-go tourist spots, and sampled delicious must-try local foods of each city.