Sunday 30th March 2014
By Hayley, Ann & Rob
5 excited people arrived at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, which was the location of the race expo. As Expo’s go this was fairly dramatic located in one of the few remaining examples of Nazi architecture. This imposing and impressive building was the airport used to save the citizens of West Berlin during Berlin Airlift. Walking into the building you enter the old check-in hall a vast space with all the check-in desks still in-situ with old defunct airline signs above them. This was an awe-inspiring space and it felt like you could check-in for your flight.
Leaving the checking hall you then went through a boarding gate onto the airfield with an old American Air Force propeller plane on the runway. The expo and number pickup was situated within a dual aircraft hanger where there were the usual spread of sports stalls. We had to leave Pete and Ed behind at a fake Brandenburg gate to pick up our numbers and future runners take note that Photo ID was required. An added and unusual bonus was the branding with our orange wristbands that we had to wear for the next three days (fairly annoying).
In the spirit of German efficiency all went well until we arrived at t-shirt collection. Rob was given a women’s t-shirt and Ann’s t-shirt was far too big. After much fretting Pete stepped in and showed vital diplomatic skills despite a distinct lack of ability to speak German but somehow secured Ann the right size t-shirt.
When we got our numbers out a terrible discovery was made, which we did not stop hearing about for the next three days. As Hayley had failed to include a predicted finish time with her online entry she was automatically placed in the last pen at the start.
A warning to any future entrants – failure to fill out your form properly will result in a “Pen F” allocation.
Being one of the most vibrant city’s in Europe there is lots to do and see in Berlin. We managed to fit this all into 48 hours before the race. This involved a lot of walking around, hunting for the perfect Currywurst and plenty of stops for coffee and beer especially with Hayley “Pen F” Mason complaining she was ‘All walled out’.
Perfect race prep in anyone’s book.
On race day we all met at Alexanderplatz runners and supporters alike. As you can imagine German efficiency shone through and getting to start on public transport was seamless – especially considering there was 32, 000 entrants.
On a glorious (unseasonably) sunny day the supporters managed to wish us luck and take a few photos, surprisingly close to start before heading to their first supporting position. Rob headed off to Pen A to play with the big boys leaving Hayley “Pen F” Mason to contemplate an escape route into a higher pen.
Eventually as Rob set off Ann & Hayley jumped the barrier into Pen D and awaited the second start (20 Minutes after Rob).
It starts in East Berlin on Karl Marx Allee next to the iconic TV tower, goes past the cathedral and museum island. At 3k you run through Brandenberg Gate where our loyal support crew cheered us on.
You then run through Tiergarten past the victory Colum through another decorative gate.
There are then a few KM’s run through suburban West Berlin where support was sparse, only broken by passing the (Palace).
After the 10km point, the support along the route increased with a number of drumming bands, some singers and an inconveniently located mellow jazz quartet to get you pumped.
The return towards East Berlin runs past the zoological quarter, Kaiser Wilhelm Cathedral, and Check Point Charlie.
The route infrastructure was spot on, water stations were well managed, with an additional station allocated due to the day’s hot weather (Sheffield Half take note), Marshalls and Race Officials were incredibly friendly, and there were clearly marked KM signs. The only exception to this was the location of the 17k marker which inexplicably was positioned at 17.5km – causing confusion to all three of us. Luckily this was where our support crew were waiting for a much needed morale boost through the final stages.
The final landmark on the route was the Rathaus, where the crowds swelled in size and on the final turn back into Karl Marx Allee you were cheered across the finish line.
As someone who doesn’t really ‘do’ road running and prefers being up in the hills I didn’t know what to expect of the race. I started the day without any expectation of what I wanted my time to be, I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere, have fun and chip away at the kilometres. This was helped by the fact of not having a time on the Garmin screen, just the distance. Thanks to Pete for the watch as mine decided to die on the morning of the race.
We started about 20 mins after Rob set off. It was a comfortable pace and I was looking forward to running through the Brandenburg Gate and past our loyal supporters, Ed and Pete. We gave them a cheer and a wave as we went past and then settled into the race. I’d made the decision to carry a water bottle with me rather than stopping at the water stops. It was a warm day and my main concern was to keep hydrated throughout. I was aware early on in the race that Ann and I were close but I didn’t know she’d dropped back due to a stomach issue. I was convinced she was on my shoulder throughout and it helped me to plough on.
I felt really good up to about 15km, it wasn’t my legs or cardio that was suffering, rather it was the heat which became energy sapping. But I just carried on. I was slightly apprehensive about hitting the 16km mark as none of my training went beyond this but when I did I felt ok and knew I could wing the remaining 5k. I basically got on the green line and just ran.
As I headed towards the 17km marker, I was on the look out for our supporters again, their loud cheers from across the road really helped to spur me on and I knew I was pretty much on the home straight. Turning right onto Alexander Platz and towards the finish line I managed a sprint finish, elbowing a few people out of the way as I went past, but that’s what you do in a big city race isn’t it?(!) Although I’d really enjoyed the race I wasn’t sure I’d do another one. That was until about 20 mins after I’d met up with the others and we decided it was the Madrid Half next year, I’m already looking forward to it.
After a winter plagued with injury (plantar fascitis in my left foot and a sprained right ankle courtesy of an ill placed twig) however much I had harboured an ambition of beating my half marathon pb of 1:51 (set in hilly Leeds in 2012), realistically I knew it wasn’t going to happen.
The race started well enough and Hayley and I ran together in the first 3-4km. Soon after we had run through the Brandenburg Gate my stomach started to make some funny gurgling sounds and Hayley started to pull away. The next 5k through West Berlin suburbia were bereft of toilets and so I had no choice but to just hold it all in and carry on albeit fairly slowly. Thankfully at around 9.5k I spied a bus stop and after a quick Paula Radcliffe inspired pit stop I felt much better and headed back out on the course.
As I rejoined the race the following questions went through my mind. How far ahead was Hayley? Could I try and catch her? If I was to run under 2hrs I needed to run a negative split! All these thoughts spurred me on and the return leg of the route was more enjoyable.
After a quick kiss from Pete and lots of loud cheering from Ed at the 17.5k point I pressed on, mustered a sprint finish and managed to creep home in 1:59:50. I had managed to run under 2hrs but I never did catch Hayley!
Like Ann I had a disappointing winter, I pulled my Hamstring in December and had to have almost two months of running. When I started training again I was doubtful I would be able to ‘race’ the Berlin Half – I’d be content just getting round the route.
The nearer it got to race day, the stronger my hamstring felt, and when I got to the start line at the I knew a PB was going to be a big ask, but how often does one run an international race? I was going to give it my best shot.
Lining up on the start race was pretty nerve racking, but I managed to get a good position in my pen and got of to a great start. It was great to see Ed & Pete at 3km when you run through Brandenburg gate – that has to have been the highlight of the course (followed closely by Checkpoint Charlie around 19km). After that I was running through Tiergarten park with two Swedish guys who were the archetypal Scandinavians – tall, blond and toned. They were great to run as they kept me going through a difficult 5-10km. I’m not sure if I went off to fast, or I had mistimed my morning coffee (coffee burps are disgusting), but I was struggling.
Then at 11km on the return journey I some how managed to pull myself out of the slump and got back into the rhythm of things. At 17.5km where Pete and Ed were supporting I was feeling strong, I knew a PB was still going to be tight but I was not giving up. I ran with all the ferocity I could muster, pushing all the way to the finish line.
At 77 minutes and 15 seconds, I was in the top 100 to cross the line and the second British man.
It may have only been 50 seconds improvement on my PB, but after the winter training I’ve had I’m pretty damn proud of it.
The three main talking points about the finish was:
1. The Free Isotonic Alcohol Free Erdinger – Who needs Lucozade Sport – Rob enjoyed it so much, he had 3 whilst waiting for the Ann & Hayley to finish.
2. The Medal – For such a massive race we all concurred that the medal was piss poor and attached to a piece of string.
3. Loosing Hayley ‘Pen F’ Mason.
POST RACE IN BERLIN
Once reunited with our support crew we headed to hipster central, wandered round the well known flea market and then spent a nice afternoon sunbathing, drinking beer and listening to buskers in MauerPark.
In the departure lounge we spotted other runners wearing their Berlin Half t-shirts and got chatting to a few of them. What was noticeable was the variety of people that came to Berlin to run this race. Reaffirming the fact that running is for everyone no matter your background, ability or age.
If any Roundhay Runners are contemplating an international race all three of us would thoroughly recommend the Berlin Half Marathon which is a flat fast course with PB potential. As a city it’s amazing to explore with a great atmosphere and lots of history, good for supporters and runners.