Berlin Marathon 2022 Race Report

I just completed the 2022 Berlin marathon, my fourth Abbott major marathon. I’ll write a separate report on what you want to know if you decide to run Berlin, this report is about my race!

First you need a bib

I’ve entered the Berlin marathon lottery multiple times to no avail. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Christopher and I received the You made it email! As an added bonus my sister qualified for Berlin so yay group road trip! Berlin is clearly more interesting than most race destinations because all our spouses came along for the ride as well!

Acceptance to Berlin marathon

Gel trauma

Maurten gel

For the past two years I’ve been running with Tap Endurance. I love maple syrup, so a gel that’s basically maple syrup equals happy Susan! But crisis! In 2021, they changed the packaging. I spent the entire CIM marathon swearing at Tap Endurance as I tried to rip open the new packages with my teeth. Throughout my Berlin training, my run-buds listened to me complain and made sympathetic noises when the package finally tore open squirting maple syrup all over my shirt and hands. So I decided it was time to jump on the Maurten gel bandwagon. I ran my last two long runs with Maurten gels. It’s a bit like taking a flavorless jello shot every 6 km so not as tasty, but my stomach didn’t mind, and I no longer spent half my run trying to use my sweaty shirt to wipe syrup off my hands so I decided I was good to go with a new product on race day (what could go wrong?) and ordered the Maurten supplies listed on their marathon fuel guide for my race.

To cheat or not to cheat

Nike Vaporfly

Okay cheating is the wrong word, as it’s completely legal, but I have now run a 5 km race and a 15 km race wearing Nike Vaporflys. These are the crazy expensive shoes with carbon fiber plates that wear out faster than regular runners. There are no shortage of articles explaining how these give you an advantage, and I did notice a difference in my 5 km and 15 km races. However…. I generally run in mild stability shoes. All the carbon shoes are neutral, so this means I’d be running in a shoe with a different profile for 26.2 miles… you know what they say about don’t try anything new on race day… I’ll pack my regular runners as well just in case I change my mind (what could go wrong?)

The race expo – Sh*t is getting real

I arrived in Berlin with husband on Sunday a full week before the race so I can play tourist and completely adjust to the time zone. Judy and Christopher arrive Thursday so we meet at the race expo at 5 PM. The expo is in Tempelhof, an abandoned airport with a fascinating history that includes Operation Vittles/ The Berlin Candy Bomber. We walked past the abandoned check in counters, out onto the tarmac and into the hangar for the expo itself, we were wandering around trying to find bib pick up, and finally asked a volunteer who sent us in the right direction. I got a gear check bag with my bib because I did not select the poncho (Berlin is kinda like the New York Marathon you have to choose one of the other). T-shirts are not included with race fee, but I had pre-purchased the finisher shirt so was sent to the pre-purchased clothing area to get my shirt. Now time to enter the madhouse that is the official marathon race shop for some serious spending! The jackets are Adidas and similar style to Boston jackets, but they have a cute little windbreaker that clearly needs to come home with me. There’s also a nice running shirt. There’s the usual fun of scouring the racks to find the correct size. Super glad we got there Thursday night, because some sizes are already in short supply. Once you exit the official gear store you have a lot more space. The expo is located in a hangar so there’s a good amount of room between booths.  We spend a pleasant hour or so visiting different vendors before walking back out onto the tarmac for one last photo op with the Candy bomber plane in the background before we leave.

And now for the final touch…

For pre-race throwaway clothes I researched German thrift shops. Christopher and Karin join along with the Piel clan. Christopher and I find our go to pre-race outfits… bathrobes!

Ewwww

While at the thrift shop Christopher tried on a hoodie and when he took his hand out the pocket, pulled out two used masks. Traumatized he went in search of Judy who fortunately had hand sanitizer in her purse (thank you Judy).

Pre-race traditions must be observed!

Christopher and I have a pre-race tradition of walking the last mile of the course, so we meet at Brandenburg gate to scope out the finish area. We locate our names on the hall of fame, and as an added bonus Christopher locates a pretzel and a NA beer. After we walk the last mile we meet up with Judy, Harold, Christopher and Sam. Judy and I find a bear for our traditional pre-race photo!

Scoping out the start area

The printed map in our race kit showing the course, is unhelpful with regards to the start/finish area. It doesn’t show where runners enter, the corrals or gear check locations.

Start area berlin marathon
interactive map berlin marathon start area

The website and mobile app all direct you to the “interactive map” Well the interactive map shows a bunch of tiny icons that stay tiny even when you zoom in, it doesn’t rotate when you try to display it in landscape, and tapping the icons doesn’t do anything, and there is no legend explaining what all the tiny icons mean. That’s a few too many unknowns for me on race morning, so Trevor and I go off to scope it out in person. We find the runners entrance and family meeting area and we find a giant map of the start area posted on the fence with a legend! Apparently the little coat hangars are gear check. There are two of them in completely different areas (what could go wrong?), but at least I know which tiny icon is gear check now.

The big start area map on the fence of Berlin marathon

The day of rest

Saturday is dedicated to staying off my feet and race prep. According to the Maurten fuel guide I should drink 500 mL of water mixed with my Maurten 320 drink powder. I mix it up, take a swig and OMG what is this stuff! And why won’t it fully dissolve? It’s got floaties in it! It triggers my gag reflex. Still, I am determined to follow the nutrition guide so I take another sip. I do some stretching. I take another sip. I read for a bit. I take another sip. I charge my Garmin. I cut my toenails. I take another sip. I check the hourly forecast (cloudy and 12 degrees at 9 AM). I take another sip. I take a bath. I take another sip. Eventually I manage to drink all of it. I’m dreading the 500 mL of the Maurten 160 I’m supposed to drink tomorrow morning pre-race according to the marathon nutrition plan, but I premix it in an empty Coke bottle and put it beside my oatmeal and bowl for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Flat runner

Time to lay out my flat runner and pack my gear check bag. Now remember when I mentioned I packed my normal runners, just in case I decided not to risk the Vaporflys on race day? Smart right? Well yes, that’s smart if your luggage arrives with you. That’s right, It’s 6 days since we landed in Berlin and our luggage is nowhere to be seen. Our bags arrived in Berlin Monday, but the delivery service is apparently very very slow, and no, you can’t pick it up from the airport yourself. Fortunately I packed the absolute minimum to race in my carry on: Vaporfly shoes, Maurten gels and powder, shorts, compression tights, bib belt, hat, running bra, socks, shirt, arm warmers. I managed to find the German equivalent of Body Glide at a sports store in AlexanderPlatz, I got a new pair of Oofo recovery sandals and some gloves at the race expo, and I’ve bought lots of new clothes in general to get me through the week.

I lay out my flat runner with the Vaporflys. I pack my gear check bag with my new Oofos and I head out to meet Christopher and Karin for dinner at a Japanese restaurant because rice and fish or meat works for me as a pre-race meal. Christopher and Karin arrive a little late because they accidentally went to a different location/same chain, but I amuse myself trying to read the articles in the German version of Rolling Stone magazine and we still finish dinner well in time to get to bed early.

Sunday – Race day!

Susan in a bathrobe at the Brandenburg Gate

Berlin is a pretty late start for a major marathon. After copious searching of the marathon app, I finally find an FAQ that tells me specifically: the Elites start at 8:50 AM, corrals ABCD start at 9:15 AM, I’m in corral F so I start at 9:35 AM. I set my alarm for 6:30 so I can have my oatmeal and banana in plenty of time for it to digest pre-race. I even manage to drink my Maurten 160 and refill the Coke bottle with water to sip on the way to the start. Trevor decides to accompany me to the runners entrance. Christopher will meet me on the way. I don my stylish bathrobe and off we stroll.

Where are you?

At least I thought Christopher would meet me on the way. When we get to the designated meeting spot I get a message “I went to the wrong place because I’m an idiot, let’s just meet at the runner entrance”. When I get to the entrance I get another message “I’m at the meet area.” Turns out he’s at the family meeting area. “Lets just meet at the gear check”. While all this is going on Trevor has located a map of the start area with a legend mapping bib numbers to each gear check tent, so at least I know where I need to go check my bag. Trevor gives me a good luck kiss, I enter the start area. I head for bag check keeping an eye our for short port-a-potty lines (the next priority). I get another message from Christopher “At Bag check 26000” . Christopher has literally been getting the run around! Susan took the purple path. Christopher took the red path. Unfortunately, I’m at bag check 25000 which you can see from the image below is nowhere near bag check 26000.

Susan and Christopher runaround the start area

Because I had looked at the gear check tents on the map earlier, I know where he is, so so off I go and YAY there are Christopher and Molly (Molly who I met at the Shamrock Shuffle).

The all important final pre-race pee!

Now that we are united, we all have one thing on our minds… where are the port-a-potties! As I was walking around I scanned the start village for the port-a-potties with the shortest lines. Unfortunately, there are nowhere near enough port-a-potties for this many runners. Not even close. I have never seen lines this bad! Someone said the lines are shorter near the corral, so off to the corral we go. As we walk Christopher scans for water, but no luck there either. I have an old Coke bottle in my pocket filled with water. COVID fears be damned, the three of us share it because we can’t find any other water or electrolytes in the start village. The port-a-potty lines continue to be atrocious. We notice a gap in the fencing where security is letting runners sneak into the woods to pee. We decide we aren’t that desperate…yet. We are almost at the corrals, we notice four garbage trucks along the fence and a few runners sneaking behind the trucks. We look at each other and nod. Behind the trucks are male and female runners squatting or standing as needed. It’s full frontal or full rear view depending on the gender. It’s also a narrow gap between the trucks and the fence so runners carefully step around each other to avoid being hit by an active stream. We do what we need to do and I can now tell you those puddles you see on the other side of the garbage trucks…that’s not water. Laughing we decide before we split up to take a selfie in front of the garbage trucks, and laugh even harder when we realize we are photobombed by a guy coming out from behind the trucks who was doing the same thing we did. FYI, We did find a few port-a-potties near the corral along with urinals for the men right beside the path. Not the discrete hidden behind a wall urinals you see at some North American races, these are just urinals right beside the path. This is Europe people, yes that guy has a penis, yes he needs to pee, get over it.  There’s a lot to be said for the practicality of that at times like this.

The corral

Susan And Christopher in the start corral in our bathrobes

Christopher and I are in Corral F.  The lady checking bibs at the entrance is highly amused by our bathrobes. After all the complications, we have about 15 minutes until we start. They have a big jumbotron at the front of the corral and they show us clips of Eliud Kipchoge and the lead pack already out on the course. It’s warm enough I ditch the bathrobe right away (foreshadowing #4). We spot the 3:45 pacer but no sign of the 4:00 pacer that Christopher was hoping to follow. I have decided to try and run somewhere between 3:50-3:55 which means maintaining between 5:27 and 5:35/km pace.

We’re off

It’s time to start. Christopher and I walk to the start line together then split up, we need to run our own races. I feel good. I feel rested. It’s crowded for the first couple of km, but that’s not unusual for a big race. I take off my arm warmers right away and tie them to my bib belt, it’s warmer than I expected.

0-10 km

Did I mention it’s warmer than I expected, it’s actually a little humid as well. There are several spots where the road narrows and I get stuck behind other runners, but I’m feeling good. Easily keeping a sub 5:35 pace. Be nice if there were more water stops though.. first water stop is at 5 km, just water. I have my Maurten gel at 6 km as planned. I’m feeling pretty good, our bibs have our names on them. A random spectator calls out “Go Susan this is your day!” The second water stop is at 9 km. This one has water and the Maurten drink. Given the gag reflex it caused me Saturday, I pass and stick to the water. My pace varies from 5:23/km to 5:35/km I’m on track.

the first 10 km of the Berlin Marathon

10-20 km

Wow this course really is flat! Still keeping pace, a few spots where my Garmin is slightly off, but my splits seem to be solidly on track. Passing lots of runners. Feeling good. 12 km is another water stop so I take another gel. I wish they had the paper cups instead of plastic ones, I’m spilling half the water all over my shirt. Hey look a Canadian flag, first one I’ve seen! Woo hoo Go Canada! At 15 km another Maurten stop, I stick to the water. That sun is getting warmer. A good number of spectators, not many silly signs though. At 17.5 more water, the water stops are busy but manageable. My pace is 5:25/km to 5:35/km still feeling good.

Km 10 to 20 of the berlin marathon

20-25 km

20 km is the next Maurten stop but I’m still sticking to water. Trevor and Karin said they would be at 23 km on the left. At 22 km I meet some guy from Spain, we run together and chat for a bit, both shooting for around a 3:50 both feeling pretty good.  We hit the 23 km water stop together and he’s still with me when we meet Trevor and Karin! Hi! Always a huge boost to see family and friends cheering you on the course!  Pace is varying between 5:25 and 5:30. Even at 23 km the course is still fairly crowded. Another water stop at 25 km, glad they are getting more frequent!

Running the berlin marathon with a new friend
km 20 to 30 of the berlin marathon

25-30 km

There’s a fair number of bends and turns, my watch is about 400 m ahead of the km markers so I start following the blue line. It’s not easy given the steady crowd of runners, but it’s manageable. Gels and water are falling into a pattern: 24 km gel, 25 km water, 28 km water, 30 km gel and water. At this point water stops only have tables on one side of the road. Since the Maurten stops only have water at the first few tables you have to spot them and move over quickly. At the 25 km Maurten stop, I overhear a runner who missed the water table and at each of the subsequent tables she’s calling out asking for water to no avail. Since the cups are quite big and always filled to the rim. I’m still holding mine. I’ve had my usual three gulps and was about to throw the rest away, I look over at her and say “If you are desperate, you can take the rest of mine” COVID be damned she needs the water and gratefully accepts the rest of my water. About a km later she catches up to me and says thank you, we chat and run together for a bit. We pass the 27 km marker, “we are on track all we need to is just need to hold this pace for 90 more minutes” she says cheerily! But I’m starting to slow down, the last two km are a 5:40 pace.

km 25 - 30 of the berlin marathon

30 – 35 km

Trevor and Karin with their sign cheering

I take my gel at 30 km and it triggers my gag reflex. I manage to keep it down but that’s a bad sign. Trevor and Karin will be at 32 km. The heat and lack of electrolytes is beating me up, I stop for a short walk, my next two km are slower than 6 minutes. It’s humid, that cloud cover we had at the start is long gone, and I have not been treating this as a warm weather race. There’s Trevor and Karin, great to see them. Trevor’s sign is a huge hit! There’s a shortage of fun signs on the course today. I let Trevor know that the BQ is not going to happen today. At the next Maurten stop I try drinking some of the warm tea (no idea what benefits this has during a run, but clearly I need something other than water) and I manage to take a sip or two of the Maurten.  At the 34 km stop I dump water on my head. My pace is now closer to 6:30/km.

35-40 km

I start getting muscle cramps. For me, running at this pace, that’s a sign of heat/salt/electrolyte issues. First my hamstring threatens to cramp, then a couple of foot cramps (which I’m able to run through) but when my calf cramps, I have to stop to stretch it. On one occasion, I smile meekly at the two medics who are sitting right beside the fence evaluating me as I stretch. Clearly I pass the test as the don’t even bother moving in my direction to ask if I need help. I turn on my music to keep myself motivated. The number of people passing me has dropped considerably, maybe I’m not the only one out here hurting. I manage one full km without stopping. I don’t take my gel at 36 km because I’m worried I won’t be able to get it down and keep it down. At around 39 km beside  the Mall of Berlin there is a table giving away Coke… OMG yes please! I needed that. I want to keep going the last two km without stopping I really do, but my calf does not co-operate, so I average about 7 minutes/km as I approach the Brandenburg Gate. With 200 meters to go, my right calf tightens again and I start to limp, this will look amusing on the finisher video, but at this point I’m not stopping.  At around 100 meters to go, my other calf starts to seize as well. My running style looks a bit like Forrest Gump when he still has the leg braces, but I make it across the finish line! Woo hoo!

The finish

Kipchoge WR sign

I get my Eliud Kipchoge medal and notice a handmade cardboard sign “New WR 2:01:09” .That’s really cool! Eliud Kipchoge did set a new world record today! Part of my brain notices a single table giving away mylar blankets, I’ll just grab one further up (oh apparently that was the only table giving out mylar blankets, good thing it’s warm). There’s a table with water. No thanks honestly I’ve had enough water today. I focus on getting to bag check where they read my bib and quickly hand me my bag. I collapse on the grass feeling slightly dizzy. I change into my Oofos, and manage to remove the timing chip from my running shoe. Did I mention they use the old school timing chips you put on your shoe? And they don’t give you zip ties to attach them, so you have to tie them onto your shoes and therefore untie your shoes to get them off after the race. After some amount of time has passed, I find the energy to get up and go in quest of food which I also seem to have missed. There are some runners walking around with white plastic bags. I spot a table with white plastic bags near the NA beer tent. Success! I now have the all important free banana along with an apple and some junk foods.

Celebrating post race Berlin marathon

I start wandering to the exit so I can go meet up with Trevor. I can’t see anywhere to return the timing chip, I ask someone with an info flag, she says she can take the chip for me, thank you! I stumble out of the area and make my way to the “i” in the family meeting zone where Trevor and Karin are waiting. There’s a concrete post to sit on and Trevor has a coke for me. Happy Susan. Christopher isn’t far behind and soon the two of us are giving happy but exhausted grins for the camera.  I check the online results and see that Judy finished 4th in her age group, amazing! My official time is 4:10:57.

Post-race celebrations

We celebrate at a German beerhall with Una and Todd who I met at CIM and also ran today. We finish the evening with a photo of the runners and a photo of our always important support crew!

Now we just need to pack up for our flight to Barcelona the next morning. Packing doesn’t take long since we still haven’t received our luggage. I give Judy a call to talk about her race, and while we are chatting Trevor gets a message on his phone from the front desk. They have our bags! What! Really! Trevor rushes downstairs and returns with all three of our suitcases!

No BQ today, so, I won’t be running Boston 2024, but I have my luggage back. I’m content. I did just finish the Berlin Marathon, and my 4th Abbott World Major. For whatever reason today wasn’t the race I hoped for, I don’t think the Vaporflys messed me up, maybe I underestimated the heat and humidity, maybe I screwed up my nutrition, but maybe (none of like to admit this possibility) I was just undertrained, you never know for sure. It’s all those little mysteries that cause the strange addiction to the marathon distance. If it was easy and you always knew what was going to happen, it wouldn’t be such an achievement when you do run a good race. If you are thinking of running it, check out my (coming soon) practical Guide to the Berlin Marathon for the nitty gritty details a runner will want to know. If you enjoyed this you may want to check out my practical guides to various marathons, training tips, and other fun run related posts.

Vielen Danke Berlin!

Susan with Eliud Kipchoge medal after Berlin marathon
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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sheila Andrew on October 10, 2022 at 12:46 PM

    A great description of what’s involved and a traditional Trevor sign. Congratulations.

    Reply

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