Just over a week ago I ventured off to Germany for a week-long vacation that kicked off with the Berlin marathon. This was not my first time running in a foreign country but the first time where I crossed an ocean and would need to adjust to the time change in < 2 days as well as navigate a city I’ve only been to once before when I was 16. I was nervous, excited and most of all – scared – scared I would have a horrible race due to multiple factors working against me in the months leading up to this race.
In the week leading up to the race my workouts could not have gone better. I started to adjust my mindset about the marathon and began to get a lot more positive. Given that I also planned to run Chicago two weeks after Berlin, I set out to run a respectable time of 3:05-3:10 – a long ‘training run’ in prep for Chicago. This would not be a PR race (although for many it’s a PR course due to its flat, net downhill course). I would enjoy the sights and just take it easy for the majority of the race – and attempt to kick it into high gear for the last 1/2. Boy was I in for a surprise.
I arrived in Berlin on Friday morning after a night of travel with my ‘superfans’ (mother who has been at all 10 of my marathons and my brother for who this would be his first time spectating a major marathon) exhausted but also excited to finally be back in Berlin. We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and set out for some lunch and then made our way to the expo. After getting lost near the finish line, we finally made it to the expo where we fought massive crowds to get my bib and some souvenirs. Once that hassle was out-of-the-way, we enjoyed our first pretzel and beer. Now normally, I would not drink much – if at all – the week prior to the marathon. But seeing all the other runners partaking, it was hard to resist. Beer is a source of carbs after all…
After we checked in that afternoon we set off for a very authentic german dinner (and more pretzels). I skipped the fried, covered in gravy options for a piece of fish and potatoes. Not what I really wanted but I could have my fill of all the german delicacies after the race. For now, I would rein it in. An early bed time followed. I don’t think any of us made it past 9pm.
Saturday I woke for my shakeout at 4:30am. I knew that this was too early, so I reviewed my race day materials until a more respectable time (and when the sun finally rose) and ventured out for a 3 mi shakeout. I took many pics along the way and really enjoyed just moving my legs again. After my run we did a bus tour of the city followed by lunch and then the 4:30am wake up hit me. I said goodbye to my superfans and returned to the hotel for a 2 hour nap. It was exactly what I needed.
After my nap we grabbed dinner at a cute little Italian restaurant on the same block as our hotel. Following dinner, my superfans talked me into a night-cap at a pub near our hotel. I was hesitant but my mom noted that prior to Boston, I had one beer in the hotel lobby before I went to bed. So I joined them. This may have been mistake number one (although it was delicious).
I slept soundly that night – which never happens prior to race day – and for which I was grateful. I ate my typical pre-marathon breakfast – bagel with nut butter and sliced banana and Nuun (all but the banana were brought from home). My stomach felt a little off but I just assumed it was nerves. I walked to the start, mom by my side, and once we got to the start area I said goodbye and we confirmed our plans for meeting up post race.
The pre-race area was very confusing for me and resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety. First — I couldn’t find my tent to check my gear. Once I did check my gear I couldn’t find a port-o-potty. Once I found that, I questioned whether I really had enough time. The line was quite long and moved very slowly. I made it through and had to jog to my corral. Once safely in my corral, I started my warm up stretches and looked around to see if I could find any of my fellow Fleet Feet/CES teammates that I knew were also in the same corral. All of a sudden I heard my name and saw my teammate Colin. We were between a barrier so couldn’t start together – but planned to meet up once we got past the first kilometer. I also noticed that I was one of the only females in this corral. A bit intimidating.
The start came and went and we were off. I settled in to what I knew was too fast of a pace. Looking at my watch I saw 6:30. ‘Control it, Allison’ I thought. But it felt so easy. And the energy from the crowd surrounding me just pushed me forward. My splits for the first 10k ranged between a 6:30 and 6:45 min/mi pace.
Somewhere around the 10k I ran into my teammate Colin. He asked me my goal and I his. We both took another glance at our watches. “I’m going too fast,” I said. He agreed and said even for his 2:55 goal, he too was going too fast. We should slow down. We ran that pace about another mile and then I decided to slow my role. Finally. Settling into a more attainable/realistic pace of 6:50-55 min/mi.
At some point I was engulfed by the 3 hour pace group. I literally had to slow down and let them pass just so I could have enough personal space. It was about this time I also had one of the worst water stop experiences ever. I often joke that water stations are ‘full contact’ in big races – but this was like nothing I had ever seen. I literally was pushed and kicked as runners made their way over to the water station. One push too many and I opted to push back. No one apologizes – even in a foreign language – just a lot of grunting and hitting. Not ideal.
I hit the half mark at almost an even 1:29. Better than I had run in Boston. Was it possible I could break 3? Should I go for it. Not even 2 miles later I quickly decided no. I did not taper for this race and my legs were starting to feel the last weeks workouts and the jet lag. I saw my superfans around this time – which was a serious motivational boost as my legs started to go ka-put. I was paying for that first 10k. I aimed to just keep the pace under 7min/mi for the rest of the race.
With about 5k to go, I was in a full on battle with my thoughts. I knew I’d finish, and that the time would be good, but I was starting to consider walking. I wanted to stop so bad. I saw my superfans again – cheering and screaming with huge smiles on my face. I could do this – just 2k to go! That’s when the hurried bathroom stop hit me. I needed to go. Do I dare stop when I’m this close to the 3 hour mark? I ran through it – but that definitely showed in my last mile – being my slowest of the entire marathon.
Running under the Brandenburg gate and to the finish line was dream like. I finished with a time of 3:02:21 – almost a minute faster than my time at Chicago in 2014 and my second fastest marathon ever. I was also the 98th female and 6th American woman to finish. That in and of itself is a pretty cool stat. And I felt good – legs were tired but not destroyed as they had been post-Boston. I grabbed a medal and immediately found the port-o-potty. I have never been so happy to see one – with no line – in my life. As I made my way to gear check, I recalled the mention that there were showers at the finish line area. I opted to check it out knowing my fans would want to hangout and enjoy the after party and despite being hot at the finish – the temp was hovering around 60. I thought this was a nice feature – a shower at the finish. While not high-tech by any means it was just what I needed – minus the number of men who clearly could not decipher between the male and female symbol on the door who got an eyeful.
Feeling refreshed, I headed over to the family meetup area. There were my fans happy as ever to see me and I them. Glad to be done with it all, we ventured over to the finish area to enjoy a celebratory beer and lunch. I opted for the curry wurst – a street food I had been told I needed to try. It was great. Once we had our fill of post marathon celebration, we headed back to the hotel and out for the night which included my first full litre of beer at Berlin’s Oktoberfest and a pork knuckle for dinner the size of my face. It was a good day and I was happy.
Special thanks to Dan Walters for his great coaching and encouragement and of course my mom and brother for making the trip to Berlin to cheer me on. I could not have done it without you!
Now… to do it all again this Sunday in Chicago…