On the 29th September I took part in Berlin Marathon for the 4th time. As always I will be writing my review about the race from my perspective as an Official Pacer. This is the 3rd year in a row I have been pacing the sub 4 at Berlin.
I am really pleased to have ran Berlin Marathon 4 times, and today was my 50th marathon (59th towards 100 marathon club including 5 ultra and 4
Ironman). I have paced 23 marathons, and a total of 78 official events. Having ran Berlin a few times, and with such a busy race calendar, I decided to make Berlin a quick trip. I flew out on an early morning flight on Saturday, and returned on a 6pm flight on Sunday. Sharing the stay with Matt Pullen, I was surprised at how much we managed to fit in, in less than 24 hours in Berlin.
I absolutely love the food and drink in Germany, and was so pleased to find somewhere with a nice Pork Knuckle. Not the most traditional pre race food, but like they say, when in Rome. Pre fuelling is important to me, but when pacing within my comfort I’m able to be a little less strict. But I still had my pre race routine, even down to bringing my on porridge pot with me.
On the Saturday it was lovely walking around Berlin with Matt. We didn’t have to rush, as we didn’t need to go to the expo, as we collect our bibs from a different location. I would usually like to go to the expo, but with such little time in Berlin, I wanted to enjoy being there.
At 3pm I was invited as an official guest for World Marathon Majors to talk as a Race Captain for Berlin on their Facebook page, and about Pacing. I had a lovely 15 minute interview, Live, which can still be found on the World Marathon Majors Facebook page. I feel privileged for it to sit alongside some amazing athlete interviews including the Berlin Marathon 2019 winner, Bekele.
After my interview, and collecting my bib, we bumped into Richard who joined us for our evening meal. After this it was time to get sorted and rest for the morning, after my #flatlay of course. Race day arrived and we had a gentle 30 minute walk to the start. There is a lot of accommodation not too far away and reasonably priced. Especially just staying one night and splitting the cost between two.
As soon as we got close to the marathon start, it began to get really busy. I love running Berlin Marathon, but if you are planning to take part prepare for it to be really packed, from start to finish. We made our way to the pacer meeting point, and got ourselves ready. We weren’t there long before getting together for a group photo of all the pacers.
After our photo I left straight away to get to the start. It gets so busy, and I like to try and get to the pen early so people can find me. A big tip is there are lots of toilets at the start in the pens. So whilst I walked passed queues which must have been at least 30 minutes long, in the pens there weren’t any queues. Obviously the longer you wait the busier these queues get.
Being in the start an hour early means you have a long wait, but there is such a great atmosphere. I spoke to so many runners at the start, settling nerves. Once our group was formed and we had a lot of people around I gave a race brief. Simply the plan is to tell everyone my race strategy, talk a little bit about the course, and a bit about pacing. The end result is to fill everyone with confidence and take away some pre race nerves. I had over 200 runners with me, a few had ran sub 4 before, some of them with me. Some had ran Berlin before, but the majority had not ran Berlin or a sub 4, so it was a great day for firsts.
The weather wasn’t great today which was a shame, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. During the run the light rain actually felt good, but it would have been nicer if it was a bit dryer, especially at the finish.
After lots of waiting, and music, the atmosphere ramped up, and it was our turn. With a steady start, we were off. The start is always an important part for the pacer, as it is easy to get carried away, and what the runners need is a controlled steady pace, so that’s exactly what I did, the first KM was supposed to b 5:41, and that’s exactly the time for our first KM.
It was clear pretty quickly that my watch, which was in miles, was going to record fast. It is not as simple as just following your watch, in fact I ignored my watch for most of the time. All I used it for was to check each KM time, an ensure I was on pace.
After 8km I had my first critic for a long time. I saw it coming as there was a man pacing a couple of people and could tell he was muttering about me. He then turned and said “what are you doing”, so I explained I was running a sub 4 marathon. He said I was crazy, and going far too fast. Much to the amusement of those running with me. Now this is not good for those around me, as part of my job is to fill them with confidence that I was in fact on target. As I do anyway, I reassured everyone at each KM, telling everyone the desired an actual pace, and at 8km I was a huge 8 seconds ahead of schedule. He still said I was going too fast, and said we will see at 10km, and then half way. At half way he apologised when we passed in 1:59:53, with really even splits.
The moral of this story is to not be over reliant on your watch. If I stuck to my watch today I would have finished about 4 to 5 minutes slow. I’ve also had the opposite. In order to keep us around 10 – 15 seconds ahead of schedule I had to run mostly 9 min miles instead of 9:09, which would appear fast. Remember there are many variables such as GPS accuracy, and running long. I also like to give a buffer for water stations, again so runners don’t have to worry about it. The key is to make sure its consistent with no big changes of pace.
The roads are wide, and the course is amazing in Berlin. People were impressed by how flat the course is, and I made jokes about the “hills” as we approached them. People always ask me when the course thins out, the simple answer is that it doesn’t. I run at one of the busiest times of a marathon, so it may be a little different elsewhere. Also it is always extra busy around a big pacing group. The great thing about Berlin is the waved start really does work, and although it’s so busy, you don’t really get held up anywhere.
The only place it gets bad, and I always warn about this, is at the water stations. I have never known water stations to be so busy, and it gets worse the further through the marathon you get. Water is given out in cups which is harder to give out, and to drink. So this causes a brief congestion. Water is every 5km, an later in the course people use it as an opportunity to stop, and others get a bit more desperate to get hold of some, which in turn makes it worse.
I made the mistake in my own race in Berlin 2014 to run past the water stations. Always go and get some water, yes it is busy, yes it will cost you 10 seconds, so maybe a minute or 2 over the whole course. But it is so important to stay hydrated, and you can factor this in to your pacing. I always aim to run 15 seconds faster over each 5km, knowing I will lose it at the aid station. Doing so takes this worry away from runners so they can concentrate on just putting one foot in front of another.
I spent the whole run sharing conversations, and giving encouragement out to others. It is so rewarding running with such a large group of fantastic runners. I love the final 10km, and I love being able to count down from 10, each KM everyone believes even more that they are going to do it.
As always I lost some people along the way, which is such a shame, but remember there is always next time. I also picked new people up. As we approached the finish turning in for the last KM I encouraged everyone to pick up the pace. I kept it steady as I had from the start, and the finish line experience at Berlin is awesome. The crowd support in the final 500 metres is great, and I love it every single time.
This year I finished in an official time of 3:59:40, I’m really happy with that. I could easily have slowed down at the end, but frankly I am always cautious an speed up towards the end as I don’t want to finish late. Also I always want to finish with those I’m running with.
I received so many sweaty hugs at the end, and there were some great PB’s and first time sub 4 hour finishers. The rain meant I couldn’t relax in the su in front of the reichstag like normal, but I still enjoyed plenty of Erdinger. I then came back to meet Matt, before rushing off to the airport. I stood for 45 minutes drinking erdinger and watching people who had just finished.
It was so fantastic seeing all the emotions, and one guy in particular I saw kiss his medal, with tears in his eyes… I know that feeling so well, and so pleased for him. It was also great to see lots of people from social media, well done to you all
Next up I’m at Kingston Half Marathon next week, before Chicago, Amsterdam and New York Marathons. Who will be joining me?