Thursday, October 04, 2012

RunDown: Berlin Marathon 2012 (#16)

Berlin 2012 was my 16th marathon since my first in March, 2009.

If you want to run more than a couple of marathons per year, you can't be peaking for all of them. Therefore, the goal of this marathon was to have fun in a new way: to one-on-one pace a friend to a new PR, something I have never done before. The theory is that because my time is normally faster than this PR I will have more extra energy to take care of other things.

I spent a little time thinking the 'other things', i.e. about what are the goals of a pacer..being a pacer in a one-on-one situation could be a pretty complex jjob if you want to do it right: Perhaps a mix of entertainer, coach, therapist and fan. I decided the main goals where:

1) Have fun, i.e. neither of us want to make the experience a downer, not matter what our time might be.

2) Offload Lynne from worrying about what pace she's actually running.

3) Help figure out strategy  before the race and deal with tactics during the race.

4) Keep the pace "properly".

5) Take lots of pictures.

Lynne had made it clear that she was dead-set against anything slower than a 4:30. This was good information: we needed to try to make this happen no matter what. However, her stretch goal was 4:15 and she suggested this as a starting pace to allow for some pace fade in the last few km. This made me a bit nervous because a 15 minute difference in time is pretty large for a 'pad' and it was a pretty big leap from her previous 4:31:xx PR. Her training had not been perfect and both of us had caught mild head colds in the previous weeks (hers a bit earlier, mine on the flight over) I prepared pace bands for a 4:15 pace just in case but figured we'd be adding time off them if we used them at all. 

In line with #4 I decided I would try to keep things to an even pace, I did not want any fade, but of course we had to figure out what that pace WAS. Lynne had also spent a lot of time with bathroom breaks in one of her previous races from what she realized was drinking too much for cooler conditions and I wanted to see if we could savesome of this time too.

The Berlin start is quite late by most standards: 9am. The morning of race day, I got up at 6am to eat a little bit and at 7:40am Toni  set off to meet Lynne and Latimer at Parisier Place in front of the Brandenberger tor. On the way we could see all the other racers converging via all the other streets. It struck me how this always looks like some solemn massing of troops..runners quiet and walking resolutely in the same overall direction as to some kind of battle. The weather was cold but it was a full sun..too bad...we were hoping for some low could be a bit warm by 1:30pm.

We met up and Lynne handed off Latimer to Toni's care. I had brought two cowbells for them to cheer with and for us to help in finding them (I hoped). I had sat down with Toni the previous day and we worked out the details of the Berlin mass transit system so they could cheer us on at km 7, 21, 32 and 40-42 km. Toni took our pictures and off we went toward the start.

We were walking in on the south side of Unter der Linden (which becomes "Avenue 17 June") but soon found some porto-pottys and Lynne stopped for a needed break. As we walked toward the start it was a bit of a mess: too many people on our side for the space ...eventually we found the entrance to Lynne's corral "H"..the slowest corral..the guy looked at my bib and said "you are for G!" I said "I'm pacing her so I'm in H". This confused him but he waved me in.

In the corral for H it was too crowded to move forward without doing a major Lynne suggested we exit the corral through a north side exit/entrance and walk on the sidewalk to the head of H. This was a great idea and when we got to the head of H we jumped the fence to get in right at the head. Yes, I know, this seems really rude and nasty but frankly, as you will learn, the Berlin marathon is a crowded place and you need to do what you need to do.

As we waited for the start the helicopters were buzzing, the 'warm up' dancers were dancing (and marathoners were burning precious energy bouncing around 8). A huge batch of balloons went was cool to see how they moved in the wind. It was really a great day to be out there and I repeated my mantra of "any day you can run a marthon is a great day!". It truly was!

The elites started at 9am and eventually they started moving us slowpokes up for our start at 9:20am. On the way, Lynne noticed a row of pottys was empty and so she stopped one-last-time for 60s or so and then we rejoined the corral. Eventually we got to the start and indeed we could in fact run. It was a bit tricky because of the usual discarded warming things that were underfoot but I did not see anybody have any problems with them. 

Over the mat and punch the watch start and soon we come upon the beautiful golden "winged victory" statue ahead. We decide to flow around to the right rather than the left as we are following the right side for most of the day (most of the looping around is right turns so we felt it would be the tangent for most of the race). Indeed, they actually paint the tangent used for measuring the race every year and we followed this as much as we could.

It was _crowded_. We could run but we were going about a 10:17 pace, not a 9:44 (4:15) pace. I was not too worried as Lynn had already commented spontanously that she was feeling the remnents of her cold (as was I) and so I was thinking we would try to make up some time by the half, but not be totally crazy about it. It was taking enough energy just dealing with the crowding at a slow pace..a 9:44 pace at that point would have burned a lot of energy.

I did not know it at the time but my HR at that point was in the 130 range for me which is insanely high for that pace...a combination of jet lag and head cold remnants plus my general lack of training in the last weeks. I felt ok but I was happy to be running a at a 10:00-ish pace! In fact, I was worried that I would need  to send Lynne on without me at some point..not just because I might have a calf strain again but also because she might just be faster than me that day. So far she was showing a lot of strength at these paces which was good.

For me the most interesting thing on race day is deciding the pace. It is very difficult to do...after 16 marathons I use a combination of data from the training cycle (HR data, mileage, speedwork mix, time trial results) plus the race day conditions (wind, temp, crowding, hills, jetlag, previous illness, weird feelings, etc). Lynne did not have any time trial results because of her cold but I knew she was in the early 'improving for free' stage of marthoning so it was quite possible that she could knock out a 4:15. She seemed not too upset with the slower paces due to crowded and didn't want to do anything too crazy with passing so we just went along as we could.

At 7km we looked for Toni and Latimer ..listening for the low-pitched cowbells..but did not find them. I was a bit worried by this but knew that Toni knew that finidng us for that marker was the least important. There were a lot of spectators..and MANY from denmark cheering on friends they clearly had in the race as well as any other Danes out there. Lynne worked this as we went along as well as the English spectors (very few) and the Spanish ones (she was wearing her Madrid adidas race shirt). 

Lynne had warned me she liked to talk a lot during a race. I felt bad because I am not a talker during a race, in fact I had never run a race with anybody else and hardly done any training runs non-solo. As a pacer it was clear I was lacking in this department...Lynne used talking to bolster the psycological component of her running..I do this internally. Of course we did have some comments all the time about the course, the music, other runners, etc but my end was generally more lacking I think. Luckily Lynne didn't really need me to say much back, it was good enough to listen most of the time.

Finally at mile 7 the crowding was down enough that we got a full 4:15 pace (9:44 min/mile) behind us. We were both feeling good although I could feel an annoying tightness in my right hip area that I hadn't felt before. Thankfully, my calfs were doing problem there so far. Lynne and I had started with small water bottles to drink from so we could avoid the 5k and 10k water stops as they would probably be super crowded (and they were). 

So, you should know that a problem with the Berlin marthon is water stops every 5k. This is not enough: the stops are too crowded because everybody feels obliged to stop when they are spread out so far. The race is already crowded enough..not having more stops just makes it worse. In addition the use of plastic cups in such large quantities in each location make for a very slippery wet surface. Both Lynne and I commentted on this at every stop...we were uber careful. (At one stop (I think at about 30km) I heard a guy go down HARD to my left and behind me. I think he slipped on the cup..but then his muscles spasmed at the sudden effort..his cry of pain was *before* he fell,  and that is when he went down.)

On we rolled. It was quite difficult to run side by side and work our way through the crowds..I don't know how many times I knocked elbows with Lynne. I knew all this was taking energy but there really wasn't any choice. Our pace was settling in on 10:00 min/mile on the Garmin (with gps noise and non tangents this was probably closer to 10:10 I knew) and there wasn't much we could do to make it faster. Lynne needed to walk through the water stops and take a bit of time to down the water and frankly that seemed the only thing we could do given the mess at each stop. But this slowed us down and the fast miles we managed to crank out were just kept up with the losses at the stops. 

Another problem: there walkers right in the middle of the road. Very few people seemed to realize that if they were going to walk WTF were they doing in the middle of the road. ??!? I was expecting the European crowed to be smarter about this than in USA but no, they were much worse in this race. Some of the people walking at this point were clearly injured but some just seemed to be walking. ..WTF? No idea what this people were doing out there walking so early in the race if not injured.

Eventually we got closer to the half point and we started looking for Toni and Latimer. I knew she would be getting out at the York Strasse U-bahn stop and when I saw a York street sign we really started scanning: success! Lynne spotted them before they spotted us and we had a nice reunion! They seemed to be having a good time spectating and not frazzled or anything so that was good to know.

There started to be more bands as we got futher on the course and I really enjoyed them. There were drummers, jazz, rock and roll, techno ..all sorts of banks as well as recorded music playing. I always get a lift from hearing good music on the course. Thankfully nobody was running with earbuds on the course (this was not allowed). 

After the half I was feeling like I was ok aerobically, but my leg muscles were definately letting me know my training was not as much as normal. My legs were a 'medium toast' at the half, which is not good. I was starting to get worried I would not be able to keep up with Lynne as she was very full of beans and was trhing to make up more time as best as we could. 

Lynne warned me that after each gel she would get a little sugar high and speed up for a couple of km, and then fall back to normal pace...I found this true. If she should miss a gel, that would result in a slowdown. I think she used like 8 big gels in the race and I used 6. I probably would have taken 5 if I was on my own. This is known difference between people ..i.e. how they deal with blood sugar changes. Definately something for a pacer to take note of: some runners might not let you know about this until they crash.

I think sometime after the half marathon point we caught up to Mike (in his trademark lime green vest) from sightrunning (see my previous post)! I think Lynne spotted his lime green jacket first and then we both caught up to him and said hello. What a small world that we should met up during the race! I told him how I had run into his Adidas team group on Friday and had met Geoffry Mutai. This was his 9th Berlin He was out doing a lot of picture taking during this race and so we bid him auf widersen and kept on going.

Along this stretch there were a lot of really nice tree-lined streets ..they were narrower than I liked but they were pretty and cooler than being in the sun. It really was in interesting course and had a LOT of spectators..but it was just too darn crowded. As we got out past mile 16 or so the numbers of walkers and slower runners just kept going up and up and making it more work for us to work through the crowed. We evolved to a method where we took different routes through the crowd...keep tabs on each other and joining up if we found a big bubble of open space. This worked a lot easier than us trying to follow eadch other all the time.

We had hit the half in something like a 2:14:xx which wasn't great but I was hoping that because we went slowly in the first half we could hold the pace for the second half. We still managed to crank out 9:44 miles (on the garmin, which with all the jinking around people and the gps noise were really 9:58-ish miles) and so it seemed like it was shaping up to be a sub 4:30 by a handfull of minutes PR.

Lynne had a plan to take just *one* pit stop during the race at 25km point but when we passed the 25km water stop she was able to pass on that..I was happy about that because I knew the 4:30 was not going to be a slam dunk. It would all come down to the last few minutes and any big fade could be enough to push us above 4:30. We had been playing cat-and-mouse with the 4:30 pace balloon people for 10 miles or so and at each water stop they would pass us and then we would gradually work back up to them and pass them. It was NOT easy to pass them because the clump of people around the pacers was blocking the entire course...very annoying.

Eventually we started closing on 32km and eventually I spotted the U-bahn sign for the stop I knew that Toni would have used and the hunt was on. We heard millions of cowbells..normally very nice but in this case making it hard for us. We didn't see them but I could see that the spectating was crowded need the U-bahn station and I was betting they had walked up a bit. Yes! Latimer was actually standing out in the street a bit and that helped us spot them. Another fun meet up for 10 seconds. I told Toni we were doing well but running on the slow side of the pacing margin I gave her and she commented "Yes it is getting hot out here". 

And yes, it was getting a bit too warm. It was nice in the shade, or even with a  little headwind breeze, but it was a bit too warm. Not horribly so but worse than what Lynne was used to. I was in probably better shape for it having training in afternoon heat for the Ragnar. Lynne was taking two glasses of water at every stop and dumping one on her head. I was drinking half a glass and dumping the rest on my head. I had not been feeling that great from miles 10 to 16 but then I realized that I was feeling better and that I had a some reserves to call upon if need be. After my Eugene finish I learned how to really push hard through any discomfort and this gave me confidence now that I was fine.

In all of her other races Lynne had stopped at km 32 and used some mental tricks to say "oh, what a nice day..lets just go for a nice 10k run". I.e. reset the clock and pretend she was just starting. I couldn't really help with legs said "don't you bullshit me, I know how far you've been running" so another pacer fail, but luckily Lynne didn't stop and just did it on the run, saving some more precious seconds.

Lynne was still going like a champ but I thought was starting to show a few signs of being more tired. She had some sinus crud like me but had not being doing the 'farmers blow' to clean it out from time to time (she's a 'lady' she says) but I could hear her sniffling a bit and that was new. She was also more head down and not working the Danish spectators quite as much. She was living from 5km water stop to water stop and the walk breaks at these stops got a few seconds longer. 

But between stops she still blasted along and many times I looked down and saw 9:44 m/m paces. I decided this was the time to let her know how good she was doing and so I embarked on making sure she knew how well she was doing. Her form was really quite excellent with no hint of a shuffle or other nasty stuff you can get when you start a major fade.  She had a bit of head down lean but that was just fine given the toughness of what she was doing. She looked great and I told her so as often as I could without seeming stupid about it. At one point when she said how she was hurting I pointed out how many people we were passing and it was true. It took extra energy but we were both weaving through zillions of slower runners and walkers.

We were getting down to the last km now...Lynne had been counting down the km since we had 10 to go..we turned left at the Sony Center and headed North...the last meet up with Toni and Latimer would be along Unter Der Linden street (a street lined with Linden trees). 

I realized at this point that I had a major fail as a pacer. If you are a pacer make VERY SURE you memorize the last 10k of your course in perfect detail. It is every so much easier for most people to endure tough patches if they know exactly what is coming. That might not be true for everybody but in any case the pacer should be totally on top of the last part of the course where the going gets tough. I wished I new every turn and twist until we would get to that final push up Unter Der Linden but I just didn't know the course well enough. 

Lynne was really head down and pushing but hurting at this point. She made it clear she wanted to walk (but wasn't), could not speed up and was doing all she could. I had been there many times and so all I could do was tell her how great she was doing. I was worried when she kept talking about and hoping for another water stop after 40km..I didn't think there was one and I new we could not spare the time. Eventually we hit a pace where somebody said there was 2km to go and I looked at my watch and my heart sank: If we did 6min kms x 2 = 12 min but we were at 4:18:xx at that point. This was Not Good. I was suddenly worried that Lynne would do all this suffering and end up with a 4:30:xx. Oh boy...

So maybe the spectators distance measure could be full of crap but even my watch showed we had probably a mile to go (I already knew I'd be reading about 26.7 at the finish from how the splits had been going)..a mile would only take about 10 min if Lynne could hold up and that would be a 4:28..damn but this was close. After what took far too long we finally made the turn onto Unter Der Linden. Lynne let me know that I would have to look for Toni and Latimer..she was in head-down-tunnel-vision-to-the-finish mode.

There they were! They made it to the finish and saw us go by..Lynne didn't stop and I was glad for that. I think I had let her know that we were tight for time. this is a hard thing to do you not take the wind out of somebodies sails letting them know that they are close to losing their goal? You have to tell them or they might fail from not knowing but it's not an easy message to deliver. 

But Lynne kept it up..I know she was feeling like crap but she was looking plenty strong, holding pace, and I almost expected her to speed up at any point. I tried to drag her along a bit faster but she wasn't fooled and let me know she just could not do that now. 

There were huge crowds lining the road and cheering but the crowds in Europe rarely cheer strangers by name (even though it's on your bib) ..I tried to get the crowed to shout "Go Lynne" down the final stretch but they just didn't get it...sigh. But anyway, It was clear by that point that we would be sub 4:30 and that Lynne was not going to slow down so a big load was off my shoulders. 

In fact, right at that point Lynne said "Sod it! Let's go!" and took off sprinting! I waved my arms around working up the crowed and across the line we went. I took one last pic of Lynne as she finished (from the back...too late ..she was going to fast!) and then punched my watch to a 4:27:19. PR TIME!   

The picture above says it all, We had just run through the gate and Lynne  knew we would be well under 4:30!  

That was a damn fine marathon. 

Splittime of daytimediffmin/kmkm/h
5 km09:51:5800:31:3331:3306:199.51
10 km10:23:5701:03:3332:0006:249.38
15 km10:55:1401:34:5031:1706:169.59
20 km11:26:3202:06:0831:1806:169.59
25 km11:58:0702:37:4324:3306:189.54
30 km12:30:0203:09:3731:5406:239.40
35 km13:01:5803:41:3431:5706:249.39
40 km13:33:3104:13:0731:3306:199.51

Look at them even splits! about 32 min/5k. That's how we like it!

I didn't think we did this well on the pacing (very crowded) but I knew we had run a very very even paced run and Lynne had put everything she had to give that day given the conditions. What more could you ask for?

After the finish we waited in a barely moving line as our legs stiffened up. The slowdown was from the handing out medals which was not being done in a very organized way. They didn't even put them over your head..just handed them to you. Lynne insisted that the person put it over her head 8)

The entire finish area was just horribly was terrible. We removed the chips from our shoes and turned them in (Why the heck don't the use more modern technology?) to avoid the 30 Euro extra fee and then got our goody bag and the glass of free non-alcoholic beer. Then we headed for the family meet up area and found Toni and Latimer....

We walked out to the Brandenburg Tor for a few pictures and then back to our hotels to shower and get cleaned up!

I had a great time running with Lynne and it was almost as much fun to see her get a PR and help with that as it would to get one myself 8)

Berlin Marathon review:

The course is flat and fun, with lots of interesting stuff to see, PLENTY of crowds.
The mass transit makes it really easy for your friends to spectate you.
The organization is generally very good.
Berlin is a really fun city to visit!

TOO CROWDED. You will not run a PR here easily if you are in the 4hr-5hr crowd. They need to limit to less than 30k people.
Not enough water stops...doesn't help with crowding. was fun to do once, but I would never run Berlin again unless they fix these two problems.

My Race notes:

I was not in very good shape for this race. I did feel strong through the last 6 miles which I attribute more to my mental conditioning rather than physical. Post race DOMS was minimal, going down stairs no problem etc. The tight hip that bothered me during race cleared up right after the finish.

With no crowding and cooler temps I think we could have run a 4:22 or so for the same effort level.

Full photo album here.


  1. Fantastic write up Paul! And you did a great job as a pacer! It's great to read things from your point of view :-) There was a lot that you have written about that I didn't even know.

    I also wouldn't return to Berlin unless things changed! The crowds were great and matched the Spanish for loudness but there were simply too many runners and the water stops were too disorganised.

    Thank you so much again Paul for all your help and see you next time you are in Europe :-)

  2. Nice job on the PR for Lynne!

  3. You had me on pins and needles...reading every line, praying for the best for your friend. I am so excited that she made her goal and felt strong enough at the end to keep it up. Great job pacing....that is tough sh!t, it is NOT easy and I salute you. Great job!! I hope you have a great rest of your vacation, can't wait to see more pics! :)

  4. Great job pacing - whoo hoo on the PR for Lynne!

  5. wow, thank your for sharing your story, keep running,


Feel free to leave a comment!