Race Report: Berlin Marathon

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Another wet one.

So many mixed feelings with this one. But I learned a lot—about myself, my running, my body, what I need.

I felt strong going into to the race. I hit my times at 5k and 10k. But after I passed 15k I thought it’d be an off day. My stomach wasn't right from the start, even though I took every precaution I could think of! I was thinking about my stomach during the early part of the race, and also my pacing. All I was thinking about was my pacing. Trying to make sure I stayed on track for the sub-4:00. I was so preoccupied with it, but I kept pretending I wasn't, reciting “run your run” to myself. I dealt with the stomach pain and kept pushing.

I crossed the half marathon mark at what I thought was 1:59:21, though the marathon tracking app says it was 2:00:30. I was about 3 minutes off the pace I wanted but figured I had plenty of time, and a reliable back half to make that up—I had just wanted to give myself a buffer. All I had to do was negative split, which is what I did in Tokyo, in awful conditions.

But shortly after the half is when the whole race fell apart for me. I had been monitoring my pacing and breathing, and pulling back when I was getting too far ahead of myself, but at some point, the pullbacks weren't doing the trick. My quads, and eventually my hip flexors, started—something. Not quite cramping, not quite seizing—they were just sore. I had a hard time keeping good form and felt like I was shuffling.

Of course, at some point after 10k, it started raining. For context, I have run every star in the rain—2017 NYC, 2018 Chicago, 2019 Tokyo—the latter in a downpour for the entire race. I've run nearly all my halfs in the rain, too, and countless training runs. I can run in the rain, and I know how to do it successfully. I want to say that it had no effect on me, but I think this time it did. I couldn't find a good line for most of the day. The course was PACKED for long stretches. Constant heel clips. I certainly felt like I was weaving more than I wanted to—even though I was doing everything in my power to stick to the tangent. I also had major trouble fueling. I took my gels at the proper intervals (every :35, more frequent than in the past), but there weren't always water stations to take them with, and this definitely limited the positive impact they could've had on my energy stores. As it was, I started feeling depleted around the time I should have—after 2 hours.

At some point, I shifted my mindset and gave up on sub-4:00. First I downshifted to 4:05, but stopping in the final 10k blew that goal. This would’ve been my second consecutive 8-minute PR, so of course, I liked the symmetry of that. So then I downshifted to 4:10, figuring it was a nice round number, and i could be a “single-digit 4-hour” guy. That eventually became dicey, too—and unfortunately, I had to start focusing on simply beating my PR of 4:13, which was no guarantee. I was disappointed, but had a lot of time (too much time?) to think about it! I hit the wall for my legs probably around mile 17 or 18. I’m not really sure why, actually. I’ve done longer training runs, and I’m strong.

As expected, once I was within 2 miles, I could easily calculate what I needed to do, and fortunately I'm good at rising up and speeding up in those moments. The final 1.2k I booked it, particularly that final .2. I crossed where i thought I had an even 4:10, but my calculations were off, so I just beat 4:11. We’re going to count it as 4:10 anyway. By the time I crossed, I was so relieved to be done that I didn't really even think about the surgeries, the anniversary of them, the fact this was my fifth marathon, 4th major, I PRed all of them, they were all in the rain, etc. etc.  I just wanted the clock to stop.

Of course, after a few minutes, the emotions came—as they did for so many other people I saw nearby, and for so many of my previous races.

After a long finish area milling about, and a long walk home, I had some time to reflect on this one, and while I’m mixed about it—I do have some positives, and some overall takeaways:

  1. Strength and flexibility were severely lacking this cycle. I felt it. I didn't feel I had the reserves of strength the way I did in Tokyo. And mobility/flexibility/stretching/foam rolling is sorely needed (pun intended) to be put back in the regimen.

  2. I PRed. This is a PR course. I’m happy about that. The bar is lowered once again. Was it possible to hit a 13 MINUTE PR here, and get sub-4:00? Maybe. But perhaps it was too ambitious. I looked too much into the paces of my training runs, and assumed they would just carry over.  They did for a while, but not once I started getting depleted.

  3. Run your run. Cannot stress this enough. I enjoy having goals, but today they distracted me. It’s all I thought about. I didn’t take in the sights, the history, the crowds, the moment. I missed out on that part of this race. Let go of 4 hours. Just worry about doing your best, finishing strong, and hopefully beating your last time. You just ran the fastest course in the world and set a PR—its HIGHLY LIKELY your next marathon will be slower than this. So get used to that feeling.

  4. I definitely felt alone on the course. It felt like a training run. I missed having supporters (besides Jaclyn, of course).

  5. The conditions had an impact on me today. Maybe not a lot, but it crept into my head.

  6. All of the above led to an overall diminished focus. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, but I didn't feel as locked in today as I normally would be.

I’m proud of this race. I did my best—I unspooled all the energy. And I’m thrilled I PRed. It shows the progression of training. 4 hours will have to wait for another day. I didn't quit today—though it was quite difficult to keep going at some points. But I didn't quit, I had the resolve to push forward. And now I’m two away from that precious Six Star!