Monday, September 17, 2018

Take My Breath Away

I had signed up for the Berlin marathon last year as a bit of fun, not really expecting to get through the lottery because that's what I'm used to from London, but I did and so I was committed all of a sudden. Obviously Berlin is known as a very fast course but with Irding a few months earlier I always knew that I was not going to be chasing a PB. However, I had not expected to be in quite as bad a shape as I turned out to be, and to be honest I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the trip, especially after Niamh decided not to come after all. However, I was signed up and didn't want to miss out on the chance of running another Major, so off I went.

Travelling was worse than expected because the plane left Dublin an hour late, making me miss my connecting flight in Cologne (together with about a dozen other fit and slim looking people) and I got to Berlin 4 hours late, but hey, I made it and I had all of Saturday to get acclimatised.

The Expo was big but I managed to avoid spending any money, and I did some sightseeing before relaxing back in my room. I knew I had most likely spent a bit more time on my feet than ideal but I don't expect to get to spend time in Berlin any time soon and hey, it's just a marathon.

Sunday dawned and I got ready, as I have a hundred times before. The race is exceptionally well organised, as it has to be for such a large field, and I found myself in corral C, my assigned place, though I felt a bit out of place as I had no intentions of running fast so I stood right at the very back, with a few others obviously in the same situation, and when they removed the rope between corrals right before the start I let the runners from Corral D pass me as well.

Still, the start didn't seem far from where I was standing, so I'm a bit surprised it took me 2 minutes to cross the start line. Then there was the big unknown. What pace was I supposed to run at?

Putting the time of my 5k a last week into a calculator would have predicted a 3:15-3:20 marathon but I always knew that was not on the cards. What I remembered most was when I ran Dingle as a 3:30 pacer all the way back in 2011, after taking it very easy during the summer and my longest run being a solitary 15 miler and having no problems with that pace even on a tough course, so I hoped, foolishly maybe, that something similar might be on the cards again. 8-minute miles seemed very easy at the start, though I knew full well that this was a very poor indicator of how it would go later on.

The pace felt easy enough but I was sweating profusely and felt very hot. I actually wished I would have worn a singlet but that was a bit late now. I made sure to drink at each water station, which added up to a lot of water, but felt absolutely necessary today. It felt a lot better in the shade, and after a while there appeared a few clouds in the sky that took away the worst sting of direct sunlight.

The first 5 or so miles passed by without a hitch, but with that being the typical distance I have run recently I was all too soon in almost unknown territory, and by mile 7 or 8 I was already in trouble. The hamstrings felt very heavy and with not even a third of the race distance covered I knew I was in for a very tough day, so the theme for rest of the race was damage limitation.

I eased up the pace, easy as it had been all along, ignoring the thousands of runners gradually streaming past me. It didn't help much, the legs just got worse and worse and I got slower and slower. I'm not sure how to really describe the rest of the race because the previous sentence pretty much says it all. By halfway I was already a couple of minutes behind 3:30 pac and of course it only got worse and worse. My 5k splits really tell the entire story:

split    overall    diff     min/km   km/h
5 km     0:24:41    24:41    04:57    12.16
10 km    0:49:44    25:03    05:01    11.98
15 km    1:15:14    25:31    05:07    11.76
20 km    1:41:20    26:06    05:14    11.50
Halb     1:47:11    05:51    05:20    11.27
25 km    2:09:03    21:52    05:37    10.71
30 km    2:37:00    27:58    05:36    10.73
35 km    3:05:27    28:27    05:42    10.55
40 km    3:37:02    31:36    06:20    9.50
Finish   3:49:59    12:58    05:55    10.17

There was no big disaster, no hitting the wall, no point of no return, just a gradual deterioration with the legs getting worse and worse, the pain getting more and more unbearable and the pace getting slower and slower. I had a mini reprieve at 25 km, when I took a caffeine tablet and managed to hold the same pace for another 5k, but when I tried to take my next one I realised I had none left. I was stumped, I thought I had put a few into my bag but apparently not, and so I just had to make it to the finish without a caffeine shot.

At some point the quads took over as the worst of the muscles, and I barely could lift my legs any more. This resembled the final miles of an ultra, not a marathon.

The last 4 miles were an almost complete disaster when I slowed down to 10-minute miles, which is slower than I ran in that 100 k in April! I was actually surprised by how few people were walking - I'm sure the ratio of walkers late in the race is a magnitude higher in Dublin. Never mind, at least I managed to run all the way to the finish, even if it was crawling at snails pace.

I remember running down a very, very long road with a Coca Cola sign very far in the distance, over a mile away, and wondered if we would have to run all the way to there. As it turned out we did not have to make it quite that far but it wasn't far off. There were a few more turns and eventually we did yet another left turn and there was the Brandenburg Gate. Oh! thank! Fuck! for! that!

It was actually still about a kilometre to the finish from there because the finish is still a fair distance from the Gate itself, so don't think you're done just yet. But having come all the way we managed the rest as well. I crossed the line in a dismal 3:49:59 (provisional time) and swore to myself I was done with running, once and for all (admittedly not exactly for the first time).

Well, what can I say? In June I paced 3:30 in Cork and felt so comfortable at the finish I was almost tempted to go for a second lap. A week earlier I had run a mountainous trail marathon faster than today. I've run back-to-back marathon on the murderous Howth course faster than that. I've run ultras faster than that.

This used to be a lot more fun!

Ok, I'll stop whining now.

I know I suffered because of the low training mileage since Irdning, and this time apparently my base fitness was not enough to carry me round the course in reasonable shape. The thing is, I didn't run low mileage because I couldn't be arsed to train more - I ran low mileage because I had been waiting for the legs to finally come round again, and they never did.

So, right now I'm unsure what the better option would be - try higher mileage training again, at easy pace obviously, and let the legs get stronger, or go the complete opposite way and take a complete break from running for several months, let the muscles recover, and eventually start again from scratch.
16 Sep
Berlin marathon
3:49:59, 8:46 pace (8:38 on the watch), HR 152


  1. At least you can tell the grandkids you raced Kipchoge on the day he ran 2:01:39 to smash the world record. Get yourself some Maurten and some 4%s for the next one :)

  2. I would advise a complete break for several months, say three. You really need to let your legs and body rest for a good long while.
    Don't worry - you've still got plenty of years of running left.