Berlin Marathon - 16 September 2018
Before I write properly get started I just want to make it clear how fortunate I am that I can even be disapointed by finishing the Berlin Marathon in 3.13. There are millions of people across the world with real problems; whose lives are a real battle every day for any number of reasons. I'm just a lad who can't run a marathon as fast as he'd like.
I've got an awesome family who support me no matter what and fantastic friends who just want me to be happy. My life is very comfortable with so much to be grateful for; I'm incredibly lucky. The huge disapointment I'm feeling right now will pass, life will go on and I will get over it.
When I started out on this journey (essentially the second I finished the San Sebastian Marathon in November last year) I knew it was going to be tough. The excellent American marathoner Peter Bromka wrote recently 'the marathon doesn't owe you anything'; his piece is absolutely spot on and descibes exactly why I'm obsessed with it.
Despite knowing all of the above, right now I'm absolutely crushed. When I first picked up my peroneal tendon injury a few weeks ago I wrote about how difficult blogging was when things weren't going well. Now that my my dream is over and the story hasn't had a fairytale ending I'm feeling as low as I can remember; it's already taken me an hour (OK I had to stop to feed Francesca) to write four paragraphs.
There are many things I could blame. A good place to start is the peroneal tendon injury I picked up right when marathon training was peaking, another could be my daughter Lexi getting ill; on Friday night (our first in Berlin) her temperature shot up so high we thought we might have to rush her to find a doctor. It did come down, but on Saturday night she was awake for ages, crawling all over us, not ideal when I find sleep the night before marathons difficult anyway. Ultimitely though all that matters (in terms of my perforamnce) is that I was unable to sustain goal marathon pace for the time I wanted to sustain it for.
The marathon started at 9.15am so I set off just before 7. It was a 10 minute walk from our apartment to the station, a 20 minute train and then another 10 minute walk to the bag drop; it went smoothly. I was able to do everything at a leisurely pace, warm up and get the start line in plenty of time. I saw Pete and Chris from my former club Leighton Buzzard AC and wished them well. Pete was in the front pen with me and was targetting halfway in 76. I thought about running with him, as I knew that he'd be very consistent; but thought it impossible that I'd run a sub 74 second half. I'd come for the sub 2.30, the dream was the sub 2.30. I already had a 2.32 PB and if I set off at a pace any slower than 2.30 and then didn't make 2.2x I'd have just been left wondering what if?
Unlike at London (when it was 23 degrees after training all winter in freezing tempt) as the countdown was on I was excited, I genuinely believed I had a good shot despite everything. We couldn't see them, but the pros were just meters away from us and thousands lined up behind us; there was nowhere else on the planet I'd have rather been at 9.14am; it was a good sign. We set off bang on time and I got into a nice rhythm bang on goal pace. The first few km felt very confortable (as they should!!) and I had a chat to a few runners around, there were Brits everywhere. There were plenty of others going for sub 2.30 so I settled in and tried to relax. Goal pace was around 17.40 for each 5k split (just over 5.40 per mile); I passed 5k in 17.46 (quick wave to my dad!) and second in 17.48; pretty much bang on where I wanted to be. I took my first gel trying to learn the lessons of past marathons, it settled nicely.
The atmosphere was brilliant, lots of support all the way along the course, not as busy as London but to be honest London can be a bit overwhelming.
The 3rd 5k split was also 17.48, all going well. 3 of the 5Ks down, just 5 (and a little more) to do. Sarah, Lexi, Francesca and my Mum were just before 16km, I loved seeing them; not that Lex was looking!
We hit halfway in 1.15.14; almost the identical point I went through at San Sebastian, I took my 2nd gel and suddenly it got hard. What on earth was happening? How could I be suffering this early again? It's not too hot (London '18), I'm not running at an unfamiliar pace (Brighton '14, Manchester '16). Oh no.
Pete pulled alongside me and we had a quick chat, I knew I was in for a very tough 2nd half where as he looked like a gazelle. I wished him well and he disapeared into the distance. When my pace dropped at London I pulled out, nothing would have been achieved by continuing, here though there was no way I wasn't finishing without a medal for my girls. Going at goal pace was always a risk and I'd told Sarah I'd crawl to the finish if it all went wrong.
I kept going and saw my dad around 25km, he could see I was in trouble, the game was up. I said it wasn't my day (again!) and I was going to try and enjoy it. It's very difficult to enjoy something when you're dreams are crushed, but I really felt a privilage of just being there. I got to 30km and stopped looking at my watch, there was no point. My legs started cramping up and just striding forward became very hard. My cardio system felt pretty good, but my legs just didn't want to go. There was only one thing for it, walk for a bit and hope they loosened up. I walked for 2km to get to 20 miles, people all around me were encouraging me to get running again. I started, it was horrible. I was like trying to run through treacle, my quads were on fire. I tried to break the remainder of the course down into manageable chunks. The plan was for my dad to be just before 35km, I couldn't spot him and he missed me, argh! I had 7km to do and the clock told me I had just under 45 minutes to still break 3 hours, but I just couldn't do it. My legs were completely done for. I started to walk again and just focussed on high fiving kids and trying to soak in the atmosphere.
After seeing me in some terrible states towards the end of marathons my mum feared the worst (seeing my splits on the tracker), but by the time I got to just before 40km where the girls were waiting I was just strolling along smiling, I couldn't wait to see them. Of course I was gutted, I could still walk, but in my situation most others wouldn't have even started the journey and definitely would have stopped after getting injured. But I'd come this far, I was going to cherish passing under the Brandenburg Gate no matter what. I stopped for a second to kiss Lexi and let them all know I was (physically!) ok and set off again. Dad was there at 40k with a bottle of water, but I was perfectly hydrated I felt bad for refusing it though! At 41km some kind people were handing out beers, I took one gratefully.
When I reached the last corner I'd promised myself I'd try and run to the finish, no matter how slowly. I tried, but my quads gave way; it wasn't happening...ah well, walking it is. I'd spent so many early mornings dreaming of the Brandenburg Gate, despite the circumstances I felt proud to have got there and strode through. I put my arms up to salute the crowd who went absolutely mental, it wasn't the ending I'd hoped for, but it still felt good. I crossed the line and collected my medal; it was a thing of beauty.
All around me people were jubilant and exhausted. The strange thing is I'd been walking for so long that my cardio felt absolutely fine, but my legs felt horrific. I collected my bag as quickly as possible and hit the showers; pretty odd experience showering in a tent in the middle of a road, but at least I was clean.
I waddled to the Reichstag to meet my family, they'd been absolutely incredible. Pete came past, he'd run 2.31 and taken back my (now his!) Leighton Buzzard AC record; fair play lad, a brilliant performance. I gave him a congratulatory hug, what day for him.
Of my other friends running the other stand out performance was from Tom Dell, who'd trained hoping to break 2.40; he did 2.35, awesome.
The Hind family spent the rest of the day drinking glorious Germany beers together, I hadn't run the time I'd wanted, but we did have a great weekend together and I'm so fortunate to have their support. The most important thing in life is family and to have them there (and throughout my journey) meant the world to me. Thank you Francesca, Lexi, Sarah, Mum & Dad.
I'm now going to concentrate on being the best father and husband I can be. I'll still run and exercise, but for the next few years my family will come first. Maybe one day I'll be back to have another crack at the sub 2.30 marathon; I'm certain I'm capable of it, but now it's time to let my body recover properly and enjoy my kids growing up.
Throughout the last few months I've been overwhelmed with kind messages and support. Both from friends I've known my whole life, but also complete strangers who have been following my journey. I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone the running community is a really special one and one I'm immensely proud to be part of, I'm sorry this story didn't have the fairytale ending.
I'll keep blogging, but only when I have something worthwhile to say. Right now, one of ,my main priorities is to be able to walk downhill without wincing. This was me on Monday; d'oh!
Review of the Berlin Marathon 2018
Very flat course, only a few slight undulations.
Excellent smooth road surface.
Awesome support throughout.
Plenty of accomodation.
Great public transport.
Very little; if you can, do it.