Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

Boston to Big Sur 2023 the graphic novel

In 2017 I ran Boston to Big Sur. This is a special registration for special (aka crazy, committed, or stupid you decide) people. You run the Boston marathon on the East coast then 6 or 13 days later depending on the year you run the Big Sur marathon on the West Coast. I’m not that crazy I chose a year with a 13 day gap.

In 2023, my friend Christopher was running Boston for the first time, so… we decided to go all in and do Boston to Big Sur. The following is a comparison illustrated by yours truly (if you need a family portrait I do commissions) comparing the day in Big Sur to the day in Boston. This is the sequel to my Boston 2023 graphic novel race report.

2:15 AM Alarm goes off. When I registered nobody warned me I’d be getting up at 2:15 AM

2:15 AM in Boston, sleeping, get some rest I’ve got a marathon to run today

2:30 AM Stumble into the kitchen to make my brown sugar and cinnamon instant oatmeal. Nice to have a kitchen so I have a real bowl and spoon!

2:30 AM Still sleeping

2:50 AM Apply the body glide. Toes, feet, and other places that make we wonder why body glide with built in sunscreen exists

2:50 AM Zzzzzzzzzz

3:25 AM Christopher and I drive to the Embassy Suites to catch our assigned shuttle bus.

3:25 AM Roll over

3:35 AM hand over our ‘purple ticket’ for the 3:45 AM bus from Embassy Suites. Excited to be on a ‘real’ bus instead of a school bus

3:35 AM Still snoozing away

4:05 AM Try not to think about the fact this big bus is navigating a windy twisty road in the dark along a cliff.

4:05 AM Still snoozing

4:35 AM Our bus is one of the earlier ones to arrive so we nab spots on the grass next to the plastic fence race organizers set up to remind all the boy runners the risk of seeing all of nature as your urinal, since this particular region of nature is widely infested with poison oak

4:35 AM blissful sleep

4:45 AM It’s still dark out. Some of the port-a-potties are in areas without lighting. Once you close that door it’s pitch black. Ripping the wrapper off a new roll of toilet paper is remarkably difficult in the dark, but the fact I am the very first to use this stall makes me slightly less terrified of what might lie on the surface of the port-a-potty hidden in the dark

4:45 AM Alarm goes off (blanket magically changes color from red to green because I’m too lazy to redraw and I accidentally used the wrong color on the previous pictures)

5:20 AM Runner sleeping has a large spider sitting on his shorts, Spend the next 15 minutes discussing with other runners waiting around whether to flick it off. Because the spider doesn’t look poisonous and is right on his butt, decide to leave it unless it starts moving.

5:20 AM Grabbing the brown bag breakfast our hotel prepared for Boston runners since we leave before the breakfast buffet opens

6:00 AM Drop off gear check bag at the truck. Too late we realize Christopher’s inhaler is in his gear check. No they will not go sifting through the pile of bags in the truck to try and retrieve it

Cartoon of runner on subway train going to start of race

6:00 AM Sitting on the train headed to the finish line where you drop off gear check and catch buses to the start

6:20 AM Start heading to corral, Find Yvonne standing in massive line for the port-a-potty. She accidentally left her gloves in her gear check bag. I had already been toying with not wearing mine, so hand them to an appreciative Yvonne. Also tell her about the shorter port-a-potty line where we had been sitting earlier

6:20 AM Switched from red line train to green line train

6:43 AM In Corral B waiting to start, no plastic fencing and no poison oak in sight, so several male runners visit nature’s urinal

6:43 At the port-a-potties beside bag check, why are the seats always wet? No don’t answer, I don’t want to know and I will use the hand sanitizer when I leave

6:53 AM Crossing the start line, Start the Garmin

6:53 AM Walking with masses of other runners from the buses towards Boston Common for bus loading

6:55 AM Realize shoelace is untied. Move to side of road but runners are packed tight and faster runners are dashing to the side to get by. Christopher acts as barricade so I can tie my shoe without fear of being run over.

6:55 AM Walking along Boston Common to the security entrance for bus loading

7:20 AM 3 miles in (~5 km) Big Sur has the best mile marker signs! Despite the near perfect running weather. I do not get a speeding ticket.

7:20 AM They aren’t letting my wave go through security yet, sitting under a tree staying off my feet

7:44 AM 5.5 miles (~9 km) Meet a guy whose run Big Sur over 20 times! Ask him what he thinks of the weather today, his answer “We don’t know the weather yet”

cartoon of runner bundled up waiting for race start

7:44 AM It gets cold just sitting here waiting, bundle up in my mylar blanket and put on garbage bag and plastic shower cap to try and stay warm

8:10 AM at 8 miles (~13 km) OMG the wind, now I know what that guy meant

8:10 AM Seriously is any guy capable of not splattering the seat in a port-a-potty?

8:38 AM at 9.5 miles (~15 km) There goes another hat! I’m carrying my visor in my hand this wind, the only sound you can hear is bibs flapping in the wind

8:38AM Sitting on the bus on my way to Hopkinton, the start of the Boston marathon, glad I’m not sitting in the back like I did last year, less bumpy up front

8:46 AM 10.5 miles (~17 km) Group of Japanese drummers on side of road providing motivation on the biggest climb of the course. Stop to play one of the drums, because this is a great race for a PR (Photo record)

8:46 AM Are we there yet?

9:02 AM at 12 miles (~19 km) Take a photo of the amazing view at Hurricane point, genuinely concerned that the wind will blow my phone out of my hand and over the cliff

9:02 AM Try not to think abou tthe fact we have to run all the way back

9:04 AM Start running downhill from Hurricane point to Bixby Bridge but I’m not running any faster because the wind is blowing me back up the hill

9:04 AM Are we there yet?

9:17 AM 13.1 miles halfway (21.1 km) Pose for a photo by the grand piano at the halfway mark and amused by his girlfriend standing nearby wearing a shirt that says “Dibs on the Piano Player”

9:17 AM No really are we there yet?

9:45 AM at 16 miles (~26 km) See ponies on side of road and a sign saying “Free Pony Hugs”. Stop for pony hug

9:45 AM Yay! We finally got to Hopkinton and I was able to secure a dry spot under the tent

10:53 AM 23 miles Another hill … really?

10:53 AM Gun sounded for Wave 3 at 10:50 but haven’t crossed the actual start line yet ‘cuz I’m back in corral 8

11:10 AM 25 miles (40 km) ANOTHER hill? Not even the guy on the accordion playing Roll out the Barrel can make this fun

11:10 AM .5 miles (1 km) High fiving all the kids on the sidelines, running too fast because it’s that nice downhill at the start of Boston

11:20 AM, 26 miles (41.6 km). The sign says it all

11:20 AM thoroughly enjoying having lots of people in the crowds yell GO SUSAN!

11:22 AM 26.2 miles (42.2 km) Crossing the finish line!

11:22 AM 3 miles (5km) Overhear another runner asking out loud who is Susan? as they’ve been listening to people yell Go Susan for the past 2 miles.

12:54 PM Awards ceremony completed, hanging out in the VIP Tent with the other Boston 2 Big Sur finishers rocking our jackets, medals and Yvonne’s plaque for 3rd place in her age group

12:54 PM Running through Wellesley getting a kiss on a cheek from one of the girls

3:58 PM Showered, changed, and out celebrating two marathons on two coasts in 13 days at the pub with glasses of wine for Yvonne and I, non-alcoholic beer for Christopher

3:58 PM Sitting on the curb in the family meeting zone huddled in my mylar blanket looking for Christopher

8:35 PM Fast asleep

8:35 PM Celebrating finishing Boston with Smores and friends

Thank you to Christopher for sharing this coast to coast 52.4 mile adventure with me and to all my run buds, friends and family who support this craziness from near or far and to anyone who humours me by reading my race reports! Below are the photos that inspired my artwork. Any resemblance of the artwork to an actual photo is an unexpected surprise.

If you enjoyed this post check out my other race reports, running quizzes, tips and more!

Boston marathon 2023…a day in the life

Inspired by a clever New Yorker article sent to me by my friend Chris Randall, my 2023 Boston race report compares my Marathon Monday routine in Boston to a typical Monday at home. Hopefully it provides a few knowing chuckles from my running friends, and a few behind the scene peeks for my non-runner friends.

4:45 AM Marathon Monday in Boston, my watch alarm and phone alarm go off, don’t want to risk sleeping in today!

4:45 AM Monday at home I’m sleeping

4:55 AM Stumble down to the hotel lobby to put my oatmeal in the microwave, didn’t add enough water so go to the washroom to add a bit more water and another 30 seconds in the microwave

4:55 AM Sleeping

5:00 AM Apply Body Glide to toes, feet, and many other places including those places which are the reason runners do not share Body Glide

5:00 AM Zzzzzzzzzzzz

5:05 AM finish packing gear check bag that includes warm clothes to put on after I finish, recovery sandals, Boston 2023 jacket, Advil, and a Twix chocolate bar

5:05 AM Sleeping

5:15 AM Head down to the hotel lobby with Judy to meet Yvonne and Mike to drive to the train station

5:15 AM did I hear something? Nah go back to sleep

5:20 AM Grab one of the brown bag breakfast bags the hotel made for all the marathon runners who are leaving before breakfast buffet is open

5:20 AM Zzzzzzzz

5:38 AM Make it to the platform in our stylish pre-race wardrobes with 2 minutes to spare before the train arrives

5:38 AM Yup, still snoozing away

5:40 AM OK, got to the train, breathe. It’s not hard to tell which people are going to the Boston marathon as we clutch our gear check bags

5:40 AM Still sleeping

6:13 AM Change trains from Red line to Green line. I find someone asking for change and offer him the extra banana and bottled water from my brown bag breakfast

6:13 AM Have I mentioned I work at home? So yup still sleeping

6:35 AM Drop off gear check at finish line. Yvonne and I stop so a stranger can take a picture of us in our stylish onesie and bathrobe

6:35 AM Clock radio alarm has gone off, lie in bed listening to CBC local news

6:45 AM Pulling up my shorts in port-a-potty and hear someone say “Oh I think there’s someone in that one” just as the door to my port-a-potty opens… I guess I didn’t turn that latch completely to the locked position

6:45 AM CBC Radio morning

7:00 AM – Follow huge mass of runners making their way from gear check to go through security for bus loading. Mike tells us we can cut across Boston Commons and the security lines will be shorter. He’s right.

7:00 AM National news

7:05 AM They aren’t letting anyone through security until their wave is loading onto the buses. Judy & Mike are in wave 2, Yvonne and I are in wave 3 which isn’t loading yet, so find a tree and settle in to wait. Glad it’s not raining.

7:05 AM Feed the cats

7:40 AM It’s cold sitting here waiting so I break out the garbage bag to put over the top of my robe and put on a shower cap to try to trap the heat and stay warm. Yvonne has gone to Starbucks in search of a bathroom because there are no port-a-potties this side of security. Starbucks gave out free coffee to the runners in line for the one bathroom in the store.

7:40 AM Breakfast of champions.. oatmeal with almonds, maple syrup and blueberries

8:10 AM Wave 3 is loading, so we’ve gone through security. We don’t miss our last chance to use a port-a-potty before we get on the buses. I carefully ensure door is properly locked and wonder why yet another port-a-potty seat is covered with mysterious drops from the previous user. Wipe off seat with toilet paper and take advantage of Purell upon exit.

8:10 AM Complete Wordle, Quordle, and Unwordle with help from Cluseau and Oola

8:25 AM After navigating very chaotic bus loading lines, Yvonne and I sit on the bus and settle in for the long ride to the start and try not to think about the fact we have to run all the way back. Amused to spot a driver in the lane beside us with a bowl of oatmeal in his lap, casually eating the oatmeal as he drives along

8:25 AM A little pre-work yoga, Cluseau sits on my lap during shavasana

9:40 AM arrive at Hopkinton, the athlete’s start village. I assume the wave 2 runners are gone so I just nab a spot in the first tent which keeps me dry as the rain moves in. Try to relax and stay warm. Time to put on my bright pink, shiny new, carbon plate super shoes.

9:40 AM work my way through the piles of email that arrived overnight

10:20 AM Wave 3 corral 8 is called to the start line. I drop my old running shoes off in one of the many clothing donation bags held by some of the thousands of volunteers rocking the blue and yellow volunteer jackets

10:20 AM Online meeting

10:40 AM Stop at the last set of port-a-potties on the way to the start corrals. Unexpectedly find some of my run buddies (Rita, Vincent, Faye & Diane) doing the same thing so we stop for a quick selfie showing off our fine assortment of disposable rain gear. Experienced marathon runners who knew what to pack!

10:40 AM Document review

10:50 AM Wave 3 has started, but it takes a while for Corral 8 to start moving. Bid farewell to my stunning purple bathrobe but keep the garbage bag because it’s still a bit cold

10:50 AM More email

10:56 AM Rip off the garbage bag and cross the start line. Hit Start on my Garmin. I’m about to run the Boston marathon, how terrifying awesome is that!

10:56 AM still answering email, Cluseau is helping

11:34 AM 6.5 km (4 miles) into the race, running through Ashland. I high five one of the many cheering kids spectating as he counts off each high five he receives (298, 299, …) My Garmin says I ran my last km in 5:13/km. Feeling good, lots of downhill in the first 10 km. I’m warmed up now, I take off my arm warmers and tie them to my bib belt.

11:34 AM Team meeting

12:15 PM 14 km (about 8 1/2 miles) into the race, running through Framingham. I hear people shouting GO CANADA! The person in the Canada shirt is Helene from Ottawa! I take my phone out of my pocket for a selfie and we end up running the same pace for a few km. After about a mile she calls out “They are yelling Go Susan more often than Go Canada” did I mention I have my name prominently displayed on my shirt. My Garmin says the last km took 5:40 min.

12: 15 PM Lunchtime, clam chowder, Oola waits hopefully in case there are any table scraps for her. At some point I should probably change out of my pyjamas

12:31 PM 17 km (about 10 1/2 miles) into the race, running through Natick. I see one of my favorite landmarks, Santa Claus is at the top of the hill on the right hand side. My Garmin told me I ran the last km in 5:27.

12:31 PM Done lunch, get distracted reading book 6 in the Wheel of time series, Matt just arrived in the Aes Sedai village.

12:54 PM 21 km (13 miles) into the race, running through Wellesley. This is where all the Wellesley college girls hold up signs offering to give you a kiss, I’m not out for a goal time today so I head over to the fence and get a kiss on the cheek from one of the girls. “Kiss me I’m blonde” though she’s not blonde, I’m confused but don’t have time to stop and enquire. My Garmin says I just ran a 5:29 minute km (8:51 min/mile pace) I’m pleasantly surprised by how good I feel running this pace, the cool weather must be working for me.

12:54 PM The chapters with Matt are the best chapters in this series. I really should get back to work.

1:48 PM 31 km (19.2 miles), running through Newton home of the infamous Newton hills. The last and best known of the Newton hills is Heartbreak Hill, the last big climb in the race. Got caught in rain a few miles back so put the arm warmers back on. At 32 km another runner comes up to me and asks “Is this heartbreak hill?” I apparently can’t keep track of hills and answer “Yes” he looks at me and says “Let’s do this!” we fist bump and head up the hill. Apparently, even after 6 Boston marathons I can’t keep track of the Newton hills, because Heartbreak was actually the next hill, whoops! My Garmin says I ran the last km in 5:08, and the one before that in 5:09, it also reported a couple of sub 5 min kms in the last stretch. As much as I would love to think I am running that fast through the hills I know better and realize I can no longer trust my Garmin.

1:48 PM Another meeting, still in my PJs

1:55 PM Around 32.5 km (~20 miles) running past Boston college. The students read the name off my shirt and cheer loudly. When I reach out to high five one of them, everyone else leans out for a high five and screaming encouragement. My hand hurts by the time I get past them all. My Garmin says I ran the last km in 5:00 (8:00 min/mile) sufficiently inaccurate that I no longer have any clue what my pace is.

1:55 PM Still in the meeting

2:22 PM 37 km (23 miles) into the race, running through Brookline and I’m not completely miserable which is a treat at mile 23. I can’t trust the pace on my Garmin (5 min/km), but the elapsed time is accurate and it says 3:26:08 which means if I can maintain a sub 6 min/km, I could finish in under 4 hours. I’ve only managed that once in my past 6 Boston marathons.

2:22 PM Back to email

2:40 PM 40.6 km (25.2 miles) running past the Citgo sign in Boston. One mile to go and elapsed time on my Garmin is 3:44:15. I am solidly on pace to finish under 4 hours and I’m actually on pace to run my first ever BQ in Boston! Fuck yeah, time to leave everything on the course.

2:40 PM Take a break from email and meetings to pet the cat who has settled in on my lap

2:48 PM Cross the finish line. I just ran my first ever BQ in Boston! 3:52:15! Start to feel dizzy, make sure I keep moving so I don’t pass out.

2:48 PM Unexpected chat with co-worker, kicked Cluseau off my lap because he was being a nuisance

3:22 PM Kept moving and got my medal and mylar blanket. Picked up my gear check time to put on warm clothes because as soon as you stop running it is COLD! Wonderful surprise as Yvonne, Mike and Judy find me. Don’t care whose watching, I rip off my running shirt and put on long sleeve lifa and Run K2J Hoodie. I give Yvonne my sweatpants since I have both sweats and jeans in by bag. Finally I put on the 2023 Boston jacket. Shortly after we find Rita, Faye, Dianne and Vincent as well! We did it! Now lets go find somewhere to get warm before someone gets hypothermia.

Back to email

4:02 PM I find Christopher who crossed the finished line at 3:33 PM, his hotel is walking distance from the finish so he didn’t check a bag and he is shivering! He informs me I need to walk him back to hotel and untie his shoes so he take a hot shower . Hopefully the hotel has an industrial boiler from all the runners thawing out with hot showers.

4:02 PM Still getting work done but Cluseau is starting to get hungry and is dropping hints that I should stop work and feed him

4:55 PM Christopher’s support team (Karin, Abram & Julia) finally get back to the hotel despite the derailed train. It was wonderful to see them at mile 6. We pose for a quick pic before they head out to the pub for celebratory drinks (the carefully selected pub has Christopher’s preferred NA beer) and I head back to my hotel

4:55 PM Cluseau says feed me now!

8:35 PM Stumble from Christopher’s hotel to the red line since train lines are still messed up from the derailment. Take the train back to the hotel. Judy picks me up at the train station in the car so I don’t have to walk the extra 800 meters. We drive to a celebratory dinner with Yvonne, Mike & Pat at Gyu Kaku where I can have my traditional pre or post marathon dessert Smores! Smiles all around. Sneezes and sniffles from Yvonne because she is allergic to cats and in case you hadn’t noticed, I have cats and the sweat pants she borrowed apparently had cat hair on them.

8:35 PM Watching John Wick 2 with Trevor and the cats. No Smores, no medals… but on the other hand I can walk down the stairs without a railing.

Thanks to all the crazy runners who joined me training or running this adventure and of course a huge thank you to all those who cheered on site and remotely! Any resemblance to persons real or fictional is entirely intentional but highly unlikely given my artistic ability

Boston Marathon 50 years later – 1973 vs 2023

How has the Boston marathon changed over the years? I’ve run it a few times, including 2022 and I’ll be back in 2023. But what was it like fifty years ago? I had the opportunity to find out from Ken Parker who qualified for his first Boston marathon in 1972 and ran his first Boston in 1973. I hope you enjoy this peek into the Boston marathon time capsule!

You may also be interested to read about what is was like for Ken to qualify for Boston before you could Google ‘marathon training plans.’

By the numbers

The 2022 Boston marathon had 28,604 runners. The temperature reached a high of 54F. The men’s winner was Evans Chebet of Kenya in a time of 2:06:51. The women’s winner was Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya in a time of 2:21:02. The men’s wheelchair winner was Daniel Romanchuk of the USA in a time of 1:26:58 the women’s wheelchair winner was Manuela Schär of Switzerland in a time of 1:41:08

The 1973 Boston marathon had 1,384 runners. The temperature reached a high of 78F. The men’s winner was Jon Andersen of Eugene, Oregon beat out the favorite Frank Shorter with a time of 2:16:03. The women’s winner was Jacqueline Hansen a college student from Granada Hills, California in a time of 3:06:26 beating out the other 13 women.

Ottawa Citizen article on 1973 Boston Marathon

Race Hotels

dollar sign

Susan – 2023 “The Courtyard (not a fancy hotel) nearest the finish line is $769 USD a night Boston weekend. Too rich for me, so I stay further out and take one of the trains down to the Commons to catch the buses to the start. Regardless of where I stay, I always meet other Boston marathon runners walking around in Boston jackets from past years. The breakfast buffet inevitably runs out of bananas.”

Ken – 1973 “I used to stay at the Boston Sheraton right beside the finish. I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the military in Canada covered the cost of hotel and travel for us if we qualified for Boston. You could tell it was a popular hotel for Boston marathoners because there were always plenty of runners walking down stairs backwards in the hotel the day after the marathon.”

Race Swag & Expo

Susan – 2023 “When you pick up your bib you get a technical long sleeved shirt, a laptop sticker, a printed program and various strange goodies from sponsors including a ‘Boston Cream Pie’ flavoured gel from Gu. The race expo has just about every running shoe company, and running gear supplier on site. In addition there is an entire section of official Boston marathon clothing and souvenirs. The ‘must have’ for every first time Boston runner is of course the $125 USD celebration jacket.”

Boston marathon 2022 race souvenirs

Ken – 1973 “There was no race expo, there was no swag, or celebration jackets, all you got was your bib and a basic cotton t-shirt.”

Boston marathon 1975 race shirt

The route and getting to the start

Susan – 2023 “We catch the buses to the start from Boston Commons. You have to pass through security who ensure you are only carrying the official clear bag onto the bus. Volunteers co-ordinate the bus loading, and you have to show them your bib or they won’t let you board the bus. The bus drops you off at the school in Hopkinton, and you wait outside until your wave is called to the start. There are 4 waves each with 8 corrals. The wheelchair racers start around 9 AM, and the first runners leave around 9:30 AM.”

Ken – 1973 “The race route was the same as it today. We started in Hopkinton. There were buses by the hotel that would take us to the start. Jock Semple, the race director (the same Boston race director who tried to push Katherine Switzer off the Boston course in 1967) used to manage the bus loading and would get quite grumpy if runners weren’t following directions. You had to make sure your bib was visible or you’d be sure to get an earful.  Once we arrived at Hopkinton, we would hang out in the gym at the school until it was time to start. The race started at noon. There were no corrals and waves, just one bulk start.”

1975 Boston marathon start

The cheering crowds

Susan – 2023 “The city really gets behind the marathon. There are 30,000 runners and 40-45% of them are women. Police, firefighters, and military are everywhere keeping runners and spectators safe. Spectators line the entire course cheering us on. I always look forward to the insane cheering at Wellesley and Boston college. If you see anyone in a Boston College shirt, tuck in behind them as you approach the school, they will get extra cheering that you can use to give you a burst of energy. The other runners who get the biggest cheers are usually people who were injured during the Boston marathon bombing and have returned to run the race”

Wellesley College Boston marathon 2022

Ken – 1973 “One of the most wonderful things about the Boston marathon is the way the city gets behind it. This was true even in 1973. Even though there were only one thousand runners, the Boston police were out firmly keeping everyone off the course reminding them it was marathon day! Locals would be out on their lawns and on the streets cheering us on. And yes, even in 1973, the loudest cheering section were the college girls at Wellesley (Marathon Monday | Wellesley College) . 1972 was the first year they officially allowed women to enter Boston, and the Wellesley girls cheered even louder when a female runner went by. Some of the male runners would tuck in with a female runner as they went past Wellesley to soak up that extra energy.”

Wellesley College Boston marathon cheering 1970s

Pacing and Support

Garmin watch

Susan – 2023 “Boston doesn’t have pacers, but they do have clocks every 5 km and mileage markers every mile and of course almost every runner on the course is wearing a Garmin. You do get the occasional spectator who yells out ‘you are almost there’ when you still have 10 miles to go, but you know exactly where you are and exactly how far you have to go at any given moment. No need to carry water or electrolytes as there is no shortage of water and aid stations along the course, supplemented by spectators offering beer, coke, freezies, paper towels, orange slices and more!”

Ken – 1973 “Pacing was a little more challenging than it is now. They had timing stations, but they were portable, and instead of placing them at specific distance intervals they would be placed at geographical landmarks along the route like Natick or Wellesley. But even those didn’t help most of us because after the lead runners passed the timing stations, they would pack up and head to the finish. We didn’t have Garmins to keep track of our mileage either, so we mostly relied on the locals who would yell out “10 miles to go.” This could be a little unreliable as inevitably a few minutes later someone would yell out “only 15 miles to go.” There were no water stations either, but the local residents would come to our rescue standing in their front yards with garden hoses. I didn’t care, it was still amazing, because even then it was *BOSTON*!”

The finish line

Susan – 2023 “We all have timing chips on our bibs, and there is a mat ahead of the finish line so the announcers can see your name before you cross and call out names of runners as they come in. In every finish line photo, you can spot runners runner reaching down to stop their Garmins, and within minutes of finishing we can look up our official finish times on our cell phones.”

Boston marathon Finish line 2022 runners stopping their Garmins

Ken – 1973 “I had no Garmin, but I did still run with a watch that I would check to see my time as I crossed the finish. Capturing official finish times was a little more complicated. There were no timing chips and mats. At the finish, as you ran across the finish line a volunteer would press a button on the Chronomix timer. The Chronomix would record the time for each runner in sequential order. As soon as you crossed the finish line you were corralled single file into the finish chute which kept all the runners in the order in which you finished so the volunteers could write down our bib numbers in order of finish position. Then the volunteers would map the order of the finishers to the finish times captured by the Chronomix.”

Chronomix timer

Medals & post race snacks

Susan -2023 “After you cross the finish line you head down the chute where an army of volunteers hand you a mylar blanket, your medal, and an assortment of snacks to help you refuel. Medics with wheelchairs at the ready scan the hoards of finishers in case they need to whisk a woozy runner to the med tent. You stumble out of the secure area to the meeting area or the Commons to meet up with any friends or family and ideally head out for a celebratory meal and drink afterwards. In 2022, I finished in 4:07:03 18420th overall. My time is more than 20 minutes slower than my qualifying time, but I really don’t care, I just finished the Boston marathon!”

Ken – 1973 “There were no finisher medals (Note from Susan: It looks like the first finisher medals were handed out in Boston in 1983, a pewter medal with no ribbon) but we would celebrate over drinks afterwards and the next day the Boston Globe would publish all of the results in the paper. I checked the paper and I ran 3:22:10 placing 541st overall. But to be honest, I was not too concerned or excited about my time, It was a major achievement to run and finish Boston!”

Celebrating Boston marathon finish 2022

Who are Ken and Susan?

Ken Parker has been active participant in the development of marathon as a mainstream sport and in particular with the development of competitive women’s running which he champions to this day. He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and coached the OAC women’s running team in Ottawa well into his 80s. This post is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts, as I hope to continue interviewing Ken to learn more about his experience in the marathon space and in particular his involvement with the evolution of competitive women’s running!

Susan aka hockeygeekgirl, got into marathon running in her 40s and was lucky enough to find a great group of running friends who make the long runs more bearable and join her on many a fun run adventure including 6 Boston marathons. If you enjoyed this post you may want to check out her other running posts, everything from race reports, to practical tips on how to make the most out of your Boston marathon weekend, to running disaster stories from runners just like you!

Everything you need to know for the Berlin Marathon

If you are running or thinking of running the Berlin Marathon, here are a few practical tips based on my experience at the 2022 Berlin Marathon.

In this post you will find tips on

Decisions you have to make when you enter the lottery

Solo vs Team lottery


One of the things I love about the Berlin marathon, is if you have a friend you want to run with, you can enter the lottery as a team of 2-3. When you enter the lottery as a team you either all get bibs, or none of you get bibs. Just make sure everyone selects the team option. I entered the lottery three times, each time as part of a team, so when I finally got in, I had someone to share the experience with me.

Can you qualify for Berlin?

There are qualifying times you can use to get a guaranteed bib for Berlin, but they are tougher than Boston. To register as a “fast runner” in the 2023 Berlin marathon the required times were

  • Male runners up to 44 years (born 2005 to 1979): under 2:45 hours – Runners up to 59 years (born 1978 to 1964): under 2:55 hours – Runners 60 years and older (born 1963 and older): under 3:25 hours
  • Female runners up to 44 years (born 2005 to 1979): under 3:00 hours – Female runners up to 59 years (born 1978 to 1964): under 3:20 hours – Female runners over 60 years (born 1963 and older): under 4:10 hours

Are there other ways to get a guaranteed bib?

inline skaters race berlin

Just like the other marathon majors there are tours and charity partners, so if you are willing to pay for a tour, or raise several thousand dollars for a charity you can get a guaranteed bib. There’s one other rather unique way to guarantee a bib, if you do the inline skate the day before the marathon, then you get a guaranteed bib for the marathon the following year.

Gear Check vs Poncho

Gear Check or Poncho. If you do gear check, you get a mylar blanket at the finish line and you get to check a bag in the start/finish area.  The Berlin marathon is a loop so this makes gear check simpler, you don’t have to worry about a cut-off time for dropping off your bag on race day. Runners who selected Gear Check will be provided a clear plastic bag when they pick up their bib. Random bit of trivia, the bib numbers are different ranges for runners who chose poncho vs gear check. At the New York marathon a lot of people choose the ponchos because it’s such a long walk to gear check. In Berlin the walk to gear check is similar to the walk to pick up your poncho. Also, anyone who selected poncho is NOT allowed to take a mylar blanket.  I chose gear check, my sister chose poncho. I am glad I chose gear check. My sister said if she were ever to run it again she would choose gear check as she was quite cold after the race and found it a long walk to get the poncho.

Do you want a finisher shirt?

Berlin marathon t shirt

You do not get a Berlin marathon shirt included with your race registration. You have the option to pre-purchase a shirt when you register. If you do, then when you pick up your bib you will have a little code on your bib indicating you pre-purchased clothing and you are sent to another line up to pick up your items. I pre-purchased a finisher shirt, but there were lots of nice shorts, jackets, hats, etc… in the Berlin Marathon race store at the expo. So, don’t stress too much over this decision. If you don’t buy a shirt when you register, you will have the opportunity to pick something out at the expo. The store is a bit crowded with all the other runners around and finding a specific size can be a bit of a challenge. On the flip side it was nice to be able to try things on to make sure they fit.

Got your bib? Time to plan the trip

Where to stay

The runner’s entrance is on the Northeast corner of the park, Grosser Tiergarten, about 400 metres from the Brandenburg Gate making it a useful landmark. If you book a hotel on the South end of the park, don’t assume you can cut through the park or enter from the South side. You may have to take a significant detour to get around the start/finish area to the runner’s entrance. There are a fair number of hotels and apartments you can rent near the park. I stayed near Potsdamer Platz and found it a fairly easy walk to the start area. I saw a few clever runners who took advantage of the rental electric scooters to get themselves to the start.

runners entrance berlin marathon start area

There are many hotels listed on the marathon website, but there are lots of other hotel options that are not listed. Berlin also has apartment rental services such as AirBnB.  I know in cities like Chicago and Boston on marathon weekends, there have been incidents with hosts cancelling bookings and reposting for higher prices, I personally did not hear any stories of this happening in Berlin.

It’s not essential to stay close to the start. The Metro system in Berlin is very efficient and because the race doesn’t start until 9 AM, you can absolutely take the Metro to the start line (it’s also free for runners on Sunday).

Getting from the airport into town

International flights will likely land at Brandenburg airport. There are Ubers and taxis available, and it’s a 30-60 minute drive depending on traffic.

Brandenburg airport has its own Metro stop, so public transit is a reasonable option. See the section on using the Metro for details on how to navigate the Metro system. What you need to know specifically for the airport, is that the airport is located in zone C, so you require an ABC ticket when travelling to or from the airport. In addition to the regular metro (U & S trains), there are express trains (labelled FEX) that may pop up as options as well. The fares and tickets for FEX trains are the same for these as the regular metro, so don’t hesitate to take FEX if it pops up as an option. If you are landing at Terminal 1 or 2, there is a train station on the lower level (level U2). You purchase your tickets from the ticket machine on the train platform don’t forget to put the ticket in the validation machine to be punched after you buy the ticket. Terminal 5 was not operating flights in 2022, but there is a Metro station there as well.

Taking the train to/from Berlin

Unlike in North America, the train is a very practical way to travel in Europe. The high speed Inter City express (ICE) train stops at Berlin Central Station. This is the main station in Berlin and is located about 2 km from the Brandenburg Gate. Even if you are flying to Berlin, the train is a convenient way to visit other European cities during your trip.

You’ve arrived in Berlin!

Shopping for marathon essentials

Since they lost our luggage and it did not get back to us until 7 days after we landed (9 PM Sunday AFTER the marathon), I learned a lot about where to buy what in Berlin.  I am not into high fashion, jewellery, or shoes, so I can’t help you there, but here’s what I can help you with.


Groceries – REWE is the main grocery chain where you will find your pre or post race food including bananas, bread, single serving oatmeal packets, chips, cookies, chocolate, wine, beer, champagne

Drug store – DM is the main drug store chain where you will find sunscreen, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste and such, but you will NOT find Ibuprofen, Antacids, etc… – You won’t find these at the hotel gift shop or grocery store either. In Germany, pharmacists have to dispense all drugs, even over the counter drugs. You don’t need a prescription, but you will need to go into an Apotheke and wait for a turn to speak to the pharmacist. 

Running gear – The race expo will probably have everything you need, but you can also check out Decathlon sports at AlexanderPlatz, they have a basic running section, and I found the German equivalent of Body Glide near the checkout counter.

Local SIM Cards, general clothing needs – The Mall of Berlin is centrally located and has three floors of shops and a food court. Vodafone is in the basement and can set you up with a SIM card, though I suspect we got oversold based on what my sister paid for hers. You will run past the Mall of Berlin on race day, but I recommend shopping before rather than during the race.

Funky local shops that are fun to visit – the Playmobil and the Lego shops in Mall of Berlin are cool. Advent calendars are popular here and will be on sale in September. Some of them are really impressive! You should also check out one of the Ampelman shops. Ampelman is what they call the little light up guy on the cross walk signs. There’s an Ampelman shop not far from Brandenburg Gate.  If you are into record shopping, do a little research and you will probably find the record shop of your dreams, as there are lots of different ones many of which specialize in a particular type of music (Coretex has an impressive selection of heavy metal). Sadly for metal fans, the Rammstein shop is only open one day a month but a must visit if you are a fan and the timing works out. Keep an eye out for funky art galleries as well!

Getting around in Berlin

metro directions berlin

The public transit system is impressive and efficient. In 2022, all runners got an email that allowed them to download a ‘card’ that provides them with free transit from Thursday through Sunday. For those not running, or for travel outside Thursday – Sunday, you can buy single one way tickets (ABC to get to or from airport, AB for travelling around in the city). But, the simplest solution is to purchase a Welcome Card. You can buy 24 hr up to 5 day Welcome Cards.  You have to choose between zones AB and ABC.  The only reason you would want ABC is if you are going to the airport, chances are everything else you are doing is in zone AB. All ticket types can be purchased from ticket machines on the train platform. After you purchase the ticket or the Welcome card you need to validate it. There should be a little machine with a slot, you insert your purchased ticket in the slot and that punches it with a time stamp making it valid for travel.  There are no machines or people checking for train tickets at the entrance or exit, instead random checks are done on trains to ensure passengers have a valid ticket.

I used Google Maps to navigate the Metro system. Google maps will tell you to take a U or an S train.  Look around for an entrance with the U or S. Some stations have S and U trains. Your Google map instructions may say U2 or it might say S1/S2/S25 if there are multiple numbers listed that means any of those trains will get you to your destination. All you have to figure out now is which direction train you want.  The last stop on the train line will be listed on the signage e.g. Bernau vs  Blankenfelde on the S2. If the train itself is not going to the end of the line it will be listed with the name of the station where it stops running, but as long as you have the right platform it is taking you in the correct direction. There is a metro map on just about every train platform you can use to double check if you aren’t sure. Most trains have maps and a electronic sign that tells you which stop is next. Google maps will also suggest which of the multiple exits of the Metro to use. Unfortunately, I found the signage didn’t always match the Google Maps exit suggestions, so often found myself walking out a random exit, going outside and had to walk a little further or cross an extra street or two because I never mastered finding the most efficient exit. 


Uber is readily available in Berlin, I don’t know about Lyft or Grab. You can also get taxis.  I have friends who took Ubers everywhere. I took the Metro unless I had a lot of luggage to carry around. It cost me about 50 Euro to get from my hotel at Potsdamer Platz to the airport. One word of warning, on Saturday they have an inline skating race on the marathon course, so that means lots of road closures. So even if you generally take Uber, you might want to take the Metro between 2-7 PM Saturday.

Race Expo

Bib Pick up

The Race Expo is at Tempelhof airport. Quite a cool location actually. If taking the metro you will want to exit at Platz der Luftbrucke. When you exit the station you will see volunteers pointing you and all the other runners in the direction of the expo entrance about 400-600 meters away. The location makes for interesting scenery as you walk past abandoned check in counters on the way in, walk out through the gates onto the tarmac and into an actual airplane hangar for the expo itself.

tarmac tempelhof airport

Signage in the expo is limited and I found it very confusing, but the volunteers were helpful if you stopped to ask, so if you are lost or can’t figure something out, ask a volunteer, most of them speak fluent English.

In 2022, Once you enter the expo stay to the right and go all the way to the end to pick up your bib. If you pre-ordered any clothing there is a separate line right after you pick up your bib for pre-ordered clothing pick up. If you selected Bag Check you will receive your clear bag for bag check with your bib, if you selected Poncho you’ll just get your bib. As you exit the bib pick up, you will find yourself in the official Berlin marathon store area where you can find Berlin marathon, jackets, t-shirts, shorts, etc… Be prepared to hunt for sizes. If you are in the Men’s area and everything appears to be size Medium, you might be looking at the “M” for Men label instead of the size (learned that the hard way). In 2022, all the race gear was Adidas so the jacket is similar fabric and style (different colors) to what you get at Boston or London.  Nice that they had some colorful clothing for the men!  Not all guys want to spend their entire lives wearing blue, black and grey.

clothing store race expo berlin marathon

If you have friends and family coming with you to the expo to cheer you on, they will not be able to enter the bib pick up with you. Instead, when you enter the bib pick up line on the right, there is a little aisle on the left which they can take straight into the official Berlin marathon clothing store to meet you after you have your bib. Once you exit the marathon store the rest of the exhibitors are spread out across the airplane hangar which is a nice big space. We were able to find t-shirts, recovery sandals to replace the ones in my lost luggage (I love Oofos), gloves, body glide, compression socks, etc with little difficulty. There were about 3 different running shoe vendors on site as well, and because it’s Germany, you can wander around the expo with beer in hand (Non-alcoholic Erdinger is a race sponsor, Germany in general has a great selection of NA beers and drinks in general, be great when North America catches up on that front). When you exit the expo hall and go back on the tarmac there are a few food vendors around as well.

Expo Hall Photo Ops

There’s a wall you can sign and there are a few big posters inside and outside that make for good pics if you don’t want to line up for the official one. Outside on the tarmac you will also find the Candy bomber which is a neat little part of Berlin history.

As is often the case at the big races, the sooner you can get to the race expo the better. Thursday evening is busy, Friday morning is worse, Friday evening is even worse. Also, the later you go, the harder it is to find clothing in your size. 

There are some additional photo ops near Brandenburg gate and the Finish line. In 2022, they had a wall of fame with the names of all the runners.

Exploring Berlin before the race

Eating out in Berlin

pasta dish

There are no shortage of Italian restaurants for your pre-race meal Saturday night. I do recommend reservations for your evening meals. More than once we selected a restaurant, arrived, saw empty tables and were told they were all reserved. After three nights of wandering around trying to find alternatives, we learned our lesson and made reservations for the all subsequent dinners and found that much less stressful, and we got better food since we weren’t limited to whatever nearby restaurant had an empty table.  If you can’t reserve online, you can always ask your hotel concierge or front desk to help you call to make a reservation.

Tipping is always confusing in a new country. So lets be clear on this, you do leave tips in Berlin. When you pay by credit card you do not have the option of adding a tip, so you need to bring cash, or you need to ask them to add the tip before they enter the total. A Berlin friend told me 5 % is an average tip, 10% is a good tip, 15 % is a very good tip. On one or two occasions we had no small bills and left a 20% tip which is not that unusual in North America. These did result in big smiles from the wait staff who clearly appreciated it, and seems to re-affirm the guidance we were given.

Playing tourist in Berlin

It’s very easy to spend a lot of time on your feet walking and standing in Berlin, so plan your tourist time carefully. If you have a limited amount of time to play tourist the most famous quick stop landmarks are probably: Brandenburg Gate (you will run under it at the 42 km mark), the Berlin Wall (the section called East Side Gallery is the best place for photo ops as it’s covered with murals by artists from around the world), and Checkpoint Charlie.

berlin wall art

There are also an incredible number of museums in Berlin. I have never seen such a variety. Yes you have the typical science museum, and nature museum. Since you are in Berlin which was famously divided by the Berlin wall there is a Checkpoint Charlie Museum, a Berlin Wall museum, the DDR museum (which gives you a really interesting peek at daily life in Eastern Germany), the Spy museum complete with actual gadgets worthy of James Bond plus an exhibit about James Bond. Still too mainstream? How about the David Hasselhof museum (well more of a display really, but an entertaining distraction if you are in the neighborhood), Samurai museum, Museum of mass produced things, museum of curry wurst, museum of disgusting food (I am not making any of these up).

Speaking as a well traveled zoo fanatic, the Berlin zoo is one of the finest zoos I have ever visited, with decent sized enclosures that provide wonderful views of the animals, and species I had never seen before. If you book it well in advance (months and months in advance, like the day you get your bib for Berlin confirmed) you can also book a behind the scenes visit with one of the animals. We met the hippos as that was the only tour with an opening left, but it was still a really cool add on (80 Euros for the behind the scenes tour, up to 5 people can participate)

Berlin is very bicycle friendly, a lot of roads have dedicated bike lanes, so another great way to explore is to rent a scooter or bicycle. A boat tour or hop on hop off bus tour is another great way to explore while staying off your feet.

Race Day

The start area

One thing I found REALLY frustrating was that the race kit provided a map of the course, but it did NOT provide a map of the start area. So finding details like what time your corral actually starts, or figuring out where the ONLY entrance for runners is located, or what paths are blocked so you can figure out how to reach the runners entrance from the other side of the park, or which of the three different bag check tents you needed was not obvious. The phone app and website kept pointing me to the online interactive map, which was better than nothing, but was still missing a lot of detail. You had tiny symbols on the interactive map, and when you zoomed in on the map the tiny symbols didn’t get any bigger so they were really hard to read. The day before the race I highly recommend walking over to the finish area and walking over to find the runners entrance and family meeting area. When you get there look for the big maps of the start area printed on the fencing. Take a picture of that map on the fence, that was the best map I found of the start area.

Start area map berlin marathon

Bag Check

Because the start and finish are at the same place, you don’t have a deadline for bag check. Just drop them off before you go to the corral using the bag you were given when you picked up your bib. In 2022, there were two sets of tents fairly far apart for different bib numbers. Hopefully, by 2023 they will fix the interactive map and you can tap on the gear check and it will tell you which gear check is which bib numbers. In 2023, that didn’t work but one of the maps on the fence beside the runners entrance had a legend in the bottom corner explaining which bag check tent is for which bib number. Since the two bag check tents are about 400 metres apart this was very helpful.


port a potties

There were a decent number of port-a-potties on the race course itself, but there were not enough in the start area. The line ups for the port-a-potties around the gear check tents and on the walk to the corrals was longer than I’ve seen at any other marathon. If you really want the luxury of a port-a-potty then I suggest you head straight for your corral, there are a few port-a-potties right next to the corral entrance and those were the shortest lines I saw.  At those port-a-potties they also had urinals for the gentlemen. Now keep in mind this is Europe, so they don’t put big fencing around the urinals to avert delicate eyes from men taking a pee. Nope these urinals are right beside the path in clear view, do what you gotta do guys, especially if that means one less person in line for the port-a-potty. Now I did say if you want the “luxury” of a port-a-potty, beside the corral entrance is your best bet. In Boston, there are dire warnings telling you that if you go pee in the bushes in the start village you will have your bib taken away. After running Berlin, I now understand why they give all those dire warnings, because that is clearly not the case everywhere. In Berlin, with the shortage of port-a-potties, that gap in the fencing with runners sneaking through, yup they are off to find a tree. That line of garbage trucks beside the fence provides some modicum of privacy for runners male and female who decided not to wait in line, so step carefully around that puddle coming out from behind the truck cuz it’s not water. If you couldn’t find a gap in the fence or a spot behind the trucks, there is a more forested bit near the start corral that had a fair number of male and female runners taking one final opportunity to empty their bladders before going into the corral.

Water and food

The start and finish area are the same open space. When you finish the race they have water and food, but I didn’t walk past those areas when I was starting. I went from the runners entrance, to the gear check, to the corral. I did not pass anyone giving out water or food along the way, so I would recommend bringing something to drink or eat with you if you want it. If anyone reading this post knows if there is a place to get food or water before you start please let me know so I can add that information to the post.

The Race Course

Water & nutrition stops

If you are used to the big North American races you will probably find the water stops at Berlin a bit lacking. The first water stop is at 5 km, and the first stop with electrolytes isn’t until 9 km. After that you basically have alternating water and electrolyte stopes approximately every 3 km. In 2022, the electrolyte stops had water, then Maurten drink, then tea. Yes tea, warm tea in fact. Kinda nice actually, but I admit I don’t know how that helps my body on marathon day. I may need to do some research on that. They also had bananas which I know many runners appreciated.

course map berlin marathon

The water stops had plastic cups so which meant the pinch the cup to make a spout trick does not work, so expect to spill water on yourself if you don’t stop to walk at the water stops. In the second half of the course some of the water stops were only on one side of the road, and since they weren’t at predictable intervals you had to stay alert to avoid missing one. I was happy with the number of volunteers working at the water stops, I really appreciated that! so before I forget a HUGE THANK YOU to the 7,500 volunteers who help out with the Berlin Marathon!

The Mall of Berlin water stop had Coke, which I appreciated, it was only at one table on the left side of the road.

There was one gel stop on the course handing out Maurten non-caffeinated gels. So if you are planning on using gels, even if you are using Maurten you will want to carry your own. Some runners carried their own water or electrolytes as well. I have never considered that for a North American major marathon, but I might consider it if I ran Berlin again as I have been spoiled by races like Boston where I have the option of electrolyte or water at every stop, and I did have trouble with cramping int eh last 10 km which could have been caused by not enough electrolytes, but of course it could just be that I was undertrained for the pace I set out to run.

The route (can I run a personal best?)

elevation profile berlin marathon

Berlin is famous as a fast course. Eliud Kipchoge set a new World Record at berlin in 2022 running 2:01:09! Part of the reason it’s so fast is because the Berlin marathon is flat. It’s not ‘track’ flat, but it’s flatter than any other marathon I have run, including Chicago which a friend of mine aptly described as ‘waffle flat’ because it has a number of small elevations where you have overpasses. My hill profile from Berlin on Strava says the race had a total of 61 m elevation gain. It does have a fair number of turns, and you go around a couple of roundabouts, so if you are really focused on a fast time, stick to the blue line on the road that marks the most efficient route.

This is a big race with a lot of runners, so especially near the start, expect to get trapped behind other runners. Even later in the course there are a few spots where the road narrows and you get caught behind other runners. I found it more crowded than Chicago or Boston, but not as crowded as New York. But despite the crowded spots and turns, you can definitely run a personal best on this course.

Mileage markers

They had markers every km but they do not have markers for the miles which I know threw off a few American runners. There are timing mats every 5 km so friends can track you online,

The fans and atmosphere

band at berlin marathon

There were fans along the entire course which I appreciated. According to the media guide there are an estimated 1 million spectators cheering you on. According to the media guide there were 157 nations represented among the runners. The majority were of course from Germany, then U.S. Canada had 772 runners which might account for the fact I only saw one Canadian flag among the fans, on the other hand Denmark had 958 and the Danish fans seemed to be everywhere and were always making lots of noise for their runners. Canadian fans have some work to do! Berlin prints your name on your bib so you will get strangers and volunteers cheering you by name which I think is awesome. By the way in case you were wondering the most common First name of a runner in the 2022 Berlin marathon was Michael and the most common last name was Muller. For the women the most common first name was Sarah but the most common last name was also Muller (fascinating the stats they share in the media guides!) One of the highlights of my race, was a random person cheering who called out “this is your day Susan” as I ran past. Thank you! There aren’t as many silly signs as you see at North American races, and of course many of the signs are not in English. My friend Christopher spotted a sign that said “I can’t believe you are doing all this for a free banana” but the sign was in German…I’m impressed he was able to do that translation mid-race. My husband had a sign that said “Go random stranger go!” and he had lots of fun interactions with runners calling “hey that’s for me, I’m a random stranger!” That’s a sign I’ve seen at a lot of other races, but it was a much bigger hit in Berlin, so if you are cheering, make a sign it will be appreciated! If you are running, you won’t have walls of fans 6 people deep until the very end, but you will absolutely have fans cheering you the entire way. It’s a very spectator friendly course. Because it’s a loop and the metro system is quite efficient, you can easily find a friend at least twice on the course. I highly recommend looking at a metro map and planning the day before where you plan to be and on which side of the road. It is much easier for the runner to spot their friend or family in the crowd than for the friend or family to pick you out of the endless parade of runners going by. Another neat trick to make it easier to find family or friends is to have them purchase a big mylar balloon to bring with them. That’s easier to spot from a distance.

There were also no less than 100 spots along the route where music was played according to the media guide. I wasn’t counting, but I did notice a lot in the last 10 km or so.

The weather

Many a great training plan has been thwarted on race day by bad weather. Your odds of good weather in Berlin are pretty good. At the start of the race in 2022 was 51F, 2021 was 58F, 2019 was 55F. Over the past 20 years, the cooler races are in the mid 40s, and the hot races are high 50s with winds ranging from 0 to 12 mph. However, the race has a fairly late start and fairly long breaks between corral starts, so if it warms up during the day and you are in a later corral you may have to contend with hotter temperatures. 2022 started out 51F and cloudy, but was 63F and sunny by the time I hit the half way mark.

You Finished!

Timing Chips

I was surprised to discover the Berlin marathon uses the old school timing chips that you put on your shoe. They don’t give you zip ties for them either. That means you have to tie them into your shoelaces. That’s all fine and dandy before the race, just make sure you put them on before you leave the hotel. The problem is that means AFTER the race, when bending over to untie a shoe can seem like an unsurmountable task, you have to take them off and return them before leaving the runners area. I had recovery sandals in my bag check, so I just removed the timing chip after I had taken off my shoes. Some runners had their own timing chips which you can register and use, that saves you having to return them post-race. They are allowed on your ankles, so I saw a suggestion that it you are a triathlete and have one of the old ankle straps for timing chips, you could bring that with you and wear it. Finding the place to return the timing chips was also a bit confusing. In the end I asked a volunteer where to return it, and she was kind enough to just take it for me. I heard there were volunteers with buckets near the runners exits as well, but I didn’t see them. When in doubt ask a volunteer.

Post race food and drink

There was one water table right after we got our medals, but honestly, I was ready for anything but more water. When you get across the finish you don’t have one nice long finish chute to follow that takes you to all the post-race goodness, so it’s a little confusing, especially when you are exhausted from the race. I had found my gear check bag, got changed, and then had to go back out to find the food bags. Turns out they were at tables near the beer tent. They had banana, apple, pretzels, and a couple of chocolate goodies.


Susan holding berlin marathon medal

Berlin is one of the Abbot world majors, and it’s one of the few where you have a decent chance of getting in through the lottery. It’s a good race to try for a personal best and I highly recommend it for your marathon bucket list.

If you found this helpful, check out my page of running posts including a guide to Boston, other marathon reviews, gear reviews, tips to survive on the treadmill and more. This post was written by Susan Ibach aka HockeyGeekGirl, Berlin is Susan’s 4th Abbott World Major, and she is a proud Boston squeaker, looking forward to running Boston in 2023 thanks to running 43 seconds under the BQ time at California International Marathon in 2021

Best presents for the runner in your life

Looking for something to buy the runner in your life? Not as easy as you first think it is, but here are a few suggestions a non-runner can purchase that most runners will appreciate at a variety of price ranges

Pocket Kleenex packs ($1-$5)

If I am doing a long run with a pack, I throw one of these in a pocket. In winter I keep one in my jacket pocket, and year round I keep Kleenex in my car in case I need it after my run. It’s not the most exciting thing to buy the runner in your life, but they will use it!

Road Id ($20-$40)

You need to order these online but they are something every runner should have. This is a metal tag you wear on your shoe or watch strap with your name and contact information just in case something happens during your run. If your favorite runner has any medical conditions you can also pay to register the Road Id so it acts as a Medic alert bracelet. I prefer the version you slide over your watch strap vs the one that goes on your shoes because as a runner I have multiple pairs of shoes and its a pain to move the Road Id between shoes, but I never run without my Garmin, so by keeping it on my Garmin strap it’s always with me when I run.

Reflective Vest $40-$140

These do come in different sizes and styles, so you will need to have some idea of sizing to order it, but still easier than trying to figure out the size for a jacket or shirt. I bought one because it was required for a Ragnar type relay race which included overnight runs, but since I bought it, I have found myself wearing it constantly for low light and night runs. The Noxgear light up vests are very popular at the moment as well. Here’s a very good article by Trail and Kale sharing some of the best reflective vest options.

Reflective gear

We all want to be safe running at night, and there are a fair number of options to help ensure you are seen running at night, including but not limited to

I’ve seen reflective stickers as well, but never used them, Most runners I know prefer the reflective accessories or clothing. I also saw reflective iron ons which is pretty cool but I was totally paranoid about trying to put an iron on on my expensive high tech running gear, so that didn’t work out for me.

Dry bags ($10-$40)

Many of us run with a phone and want to keep our phone dry as we sweat or run through the rain. Yes, you can use a Ziploc bag, but they aren’t as durable and waterproof as Dry bags like this e-case from MEC or this waterproof Phone pouch from Joto. Find one big enough to hold the cell phone, but don’t get one so big it won’t fit in any pockets or belts, it’s not helpful if you can’t carry it on your run.

New shoelaces

No seriously, it’s not a must have, but can be nice to have elastic laces that don’t require tying, generally called Bungee or Lock laces. These are particularly great for triathletes or duathletes because it allows them to improve their transition time when they put on their running shoes. But you don’t have to be a triathlete to appreciate them, they are also popular with those of us who are just lazy and hate untying and retying laces. I actually like them for travelling by air in the US because they are easy to slip on and off at airport security. Another excuse to buy running laces is maybe the runner in your life got stuck buying boring black running shoes and would like some colorful regular laces just to give their runners a little more color. I have more than one runner friend who is disappointed when their go to running shoe only comes in black or grey.

Running gloves/Mittens $30-$80

When it’s cooler out it’s nice to have a pair of running gloves or mittens. Like running shoes, many runners have multiple pairs of running gloves for different conditions. Even if your runner has a pair of running gloves, if they are anything like me (and I know I am), they lose at least one glove a season because you take them off mid-run and shove them in a pocket, when you get to your car or back home you discover one glove fell out somewhere during your run. You do need some idea of sizing, so hold on to the receipt in case they need to get a different size. Be warned that if you buy them around Christmas, the size they need may not be in stock come January if they go back to exchange them, most running stores don’t bother restocking items like winter running gloves in January and you won’t be the only one buying someone a pair as a gift. I could probably write an entire blog post about all the different running glove options out there (hmmm mentally filing that idea away for the future). Here I’ll limit myself to listing the basic options for different weather.

  • Lightweight gloves for those days when it’s just a touch cool out at the start of your run, these are usually listed as “liner gloves” look for a pair that says touchscreen compatible so you don’t have to take off your gloves to use your phone.
  • Hybrid gloves – These are gloves with a flip over top (usually reflective as an added bonus) so when it’s a touch windy or rainy you can flip the top over your fingers to keep them a bit warmer, or you can tuck the cover part into the built in pocket on the back of the glove as your hands warm up or when you are running with the wind and don’t have the added temperature drop of windchill.
  • Windproof running gloves – You can get windproof more insulated gloves for those days that aren’t just cool but are downright cold. These are popular with cross country skiers but are great for runners as well.
  • Overmittens – For serious cold weather running, mittens keep your fingers warmer than gloves. Big downhill ski mitts are too warm for running. Cold weather runners already know how to layer, so we just apply that same idea to our hands. Use a pair of liner gloves with a pair of overmittens. As you warm up you can take off one of the two layers as needed. This concept is popular with downhill skiiers and snowboarders and works for running as well.

I actually own all of the glove/mitten styles described above! (Hey, I live in Ottawa we get ALL the weather up here!) I use liner gloves for those late fall runs. I use hybrid gloves for those rainy spring runs, and I use liner gloves with overmittens for the January February. I don’t use my windproof running gloves very often because I prefer liner gloves with overmittens as it gives me the option to switch to just gloves or just mittens during my run.

Race Bib Belt ($15-$30)

If your runner likes to enter races, this is one of those items they may not know they want but will likely appreciate. When you are handed a bib at a race you get safety pins so you can pin it to your shirt or shorts. This means puncturing holes in our favorite race gear. You can buy these nice simple belts which come with tabs you can use to attach your race bib. If they race with a favorite water or gel belt, you could get bib attachments which can be connected to their existing belt (tip: don’t assume if they train with a water or gel holder belt that they race with one, a long way of saying, you should ask your runner if they wear a belt when they race, if they do then these attachments are an interesting idea, they are are loops you put over your existing belt which to hold your bib. If they hate wearing any belt at all, the other option is running bib buckles. These are clips that allow you to snap the bib on through your shirt without putting a hole in your shirt. You buy them in packs of 20 or so, they come in multiple colors, I’ve never had chafing issues with them and I definitely prefer them to safety pins!

Arm Sleeves ($25-$50)

This is another of those items, the runner in your life may not know they need. Arm sleeves are perfect for those runs when you start out trying to decide whether you need a jacket or long sleeves because you suspect you will warm up once you get going. They do come in different sizes though so might be good to hold onto the receipt because I’m not sure how you subtly check the bicep size of your favorite runner to figure out the correct size. They are really great because it’s a lot more comfortable to just roll down a pair of arm sleeves and leave them on your wrists if you warm up than it is to roll up the sleeves on a long sleeved shirt or to run with a jacket tied around your waist. There are versions with and without thumb holes. I prefer wearing them without so they don’t interfere in any way with my gloves, but if your runner loves long sleeve running shirts with thumb holes they would likely prefer the sleeves with the thumb holes.

Medal hanger $40-$80

Is there a pile of running medals sitting in a box or drawer? Have they recently completed their first marathon and that marathon medal deserves a place of honor? You can get quite creative providing them with something they can use to display their medals. There are pre-made one you can order, a quick search on Etsy will give you lots of options, or if you are creative and crafty you can make one yourself. My twitter handle is HockeyGeekGirl so my husband gave me a hockey stick and told me it was a medal holder. It’s now mounted on the wall above my desk.

Socks $20-$40

I know some of you were waiting for this item, yes you can buy someone else running socks if you know their shoe size but it’s harder than you think! First and foremost you need to know if you are buying socks for warm weather or cold weather. Socks that advertise themselves as ‘wicking’ are generally the best (e.g. wool). Wicking is desirable because it will wick away moisture from your feet, specifically sweat, but it does help a bit if you step in a puddle or slush too. There are few things more miserable on a run than wet feet! Try to find a sock with a ‘seamless toe’ because that means we don’t have a seam rubbing against our toes (we get enough blisters as it is). Then you need to find out what height of sock they prefer or sneak into their sock drawer and to try to deduce it from their current sock inventory. Your basic choices are ankle/no-show/micro, ankle/1/4 cut/mini, crew and knee high. Popular brands include Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Feetures, your local running store should have a decent selection as well. The knee high socks are usually ‘compression socks’. I put compression socks on the what *not* to buy for someone else list. I love compression socks, but to buy the correct size you need to know the size of their calf, kind of hard to subtly grab a tape measure and wrap it around someone’s calf without making them suspicious! By the way, don’t panic if the smaller socks you find say they are compression, that’s fine, it’s the knee high compression socks that are really hard to buy without exact sizing.

A good paid of toenail clippers $5

Not the most awesome present to unwrap, but, any runner doing serious distances is going to be clipping their toenails regularly to avoid losing toenails, so they might look at you funny, but I promise you they will be used.

Lube ($5-$20)

Yes, lube. If you are running 2+ hours and in particular if you are running that in any sort of heat and humidity you will want lube. There are degrees of lube for different needs. The best known product is BodyGlide. If you do purchase BodyGlide, don’t stress over pink vs blue vs foot glide, vs outdoor. most of us just buy the blue and put it where we need it. Bodyglide goes on like a stick deodorant, rolling it on any body part (including feet and nether regions) that is prone to chafing. For guys, a stronger product like Squirrels nut butter may be required for the nether regions. Want to avoid the fancy products? many runners just use Vaseline (hey not everything has to be made for runners), unwraping a tub of Vaseline under the Christmas tree could result in some interesting reactions. But I guess the same could be said of Squirrel nut butter!

Nip Guards $20-$30 per pack

Not required for anyone who wears a running bra, but for those who do not and run any serious distances in a lot of heat or humidity, this prevents bleeding nipples. You can order them on Amazon.

Nip Guards

Pull on Wind blocker skirt $70-$150

For the runners who are happy to wear a skirt, this is a very handy layer you put over your running tights to keep your butt and quads a little warmer, it’s less restrictive than wearing two pairs of tights. There are different sizes, so you will need some idea of what size they need. They do ride up a little bi while you run, but they do not restrict your stride, and they still keep the glutes and upper hamstrings protected. I bought one at a sale three years ago and once the cold weather hits I wear it all the time. It doesn’t make me toasty warm, but it’s just an easy layer to add to give me a big of protection from cold wind. Your running shop may have them, if not check out sites like Smartwool. Some runners do just wear a pair of mid length shorts over their tights instead, so this is definitely a what to buy the runner who has everything sort of gift, or a oh look it’s half price, I’ve always wanted to try these out sort of gift.

I’ll just add a note here on what NOT to buy until I get around to making a separate blog post on this. If there are other good gifts for runners I have missed, please post to the comments and I can add them to the post!

What not to buy your runner without exact details

With the best intentions buying the items below may just result in a trip to the running store for an exchange. Not because they don’t need or want the item, but because they probably need to pick it out themselves or try it on to ensure a proper fit. So unless you have been told the exact brand and size, just give them a gift card and send them to the store to pick it out themselves.

Running shoes

you need to know the size, brand, and model, ideally you also want a picture of the shoe in case the model changed from one year to the next so you can cofirm with the salesperson that any changes are only cosmetic

Compression socks

You should have not only a foot size but also a calf measurement to purchase the correct size of compression socks

Running tights

Sure you know they told you small, medium or large, but are they looking for lightweather tights for cooler days? compression tights for racing? windproof tights for cold wind, tights that fit over their existing tights for colder weather, tights to go under their existing tights for cold weather, insulated tights for cold weather.

Running jacket

Running jacket you thought the list of tights to choose from was long, it gets even more complicated with jackets! windproof, lightweight, breathable, lightweight, water resistant, cold weather but breathable, something you can crumple up and shove in your hydration backpack mid ru if you get warm

Garmin/Smart Watch

If they don’t have one, they probably want one, but there are a lot of different features that affect prize, there are also different sizes and styles. What battery life do you need? Do you want one which allows you to store music so you can listen to music without a phone? Do you want one that you can use when cycling or swimming? If for swimming lap or outdoor swimming? Do you want one that will sync to your phone so you can get notifications while you run. If you are spending $200-$1000 on a Garmin you want to make sure you get the right one! If they already have a Garmin, they might appreciate an extra charger though 🙂

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!


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

Boston Marathon 2022 Race Report

I’ve often said, half the battle of marathons, is getting to the start line. Boston 2022 was a stark reminder of that reality!

The training…

  • Go me! I did real hill training for this cycle +10 points (thanks for the company Judy)
  • Not only did I buy kettle bells but I used them to get in some regular strength work +10 points (listen to your Physiotherapist, right Richelle?)
  • Made sure to have fun running by going to Chicago to run Shamrock Shuffle +5 points (thanks Molly & Christopher)
  • Cut my long run short the day after the Shamrock Shuffle, because I was just feeling lazy -5 point
  • Realize all that good food in Chicago + pandemic, I am a full 10 lbs heavier than I was just before COVID. – 5 points
  • Hard to believe I did 3 long runs on the treadmill (the weather was that bad) +10 points
  • Uh-oh ran out of musicals and concerts on Youtube to motivate me when running on the treadmill, weather sucks, skip at least one long run completely -10 points
  • Yikes! Sidewalks were so icy I had to walk for an entire km -10 points (+20 points to Terry and Harold for waiting for me, so I didn’t just go straight back to the car and bail on the run completely)
  • Post-Chicago, managed to drop 2 lbs before race day +1 point

Getting to Boston…

  • Sorry Air Canada, we are allowed to drive across the US border now +10 points and save $$$$
  • Sweet! No COVID tests required if you are fully vaccinated +20 points and save $$$
  • Ottawa is in a 6th wave of COVID, with a record number of COVID cases, turn into a hermit for 14 days before we leave -10 points
  • Whoah, that’s a serious line! Easter weekend Boston means everyone is cross-border shopping, and the NEXUS lane isn’t open -10 points
  • Why are we stopped on the highway? A truck caught fire and they had to close a lane of the highway in Vermont – 10 points for us, -100 points for the poor truck driver
  • Why are we stopped again? Three more lane closures in Vermont because they are picking up litter -30 points
  • What can I say, depending on my mood I pick different beverages, so yay! the New Hampshire liquor outlet gives me a chance to buy my go-to non-alcoholic gin, a four pack of canned bubbles, and some great scotch +10 points
  • Despite all the delays, we made it to the expo before it closed Friday night +10 points
  • Oooh! Boston marathon running tights +10 points -$50
  • That’s cool, after the expo closes, the fan fair is still open and there is no line to get a free custom badge on your Boston jacket + 20 points
  • Oooh they also have a really nice hoodie at the fan fair +10 points -$50
  • The hotel reception has awesome “welcome runners” signage and super friendly staff, and unlike the downtown hotel rooms, our room is spacious, has a view of the water and it’s sunset +10 points
  • Hotel bar has decent food +10 points
  • My husband hid Easter candy in my luggage +5 points

Marathon weekend…

  • Thanks to my awesome sister Judy we snag an invite to the 261 get-together, maybe we can meet Katherine Schwitzer, lots of cool, passionate women at the event, free smoothie and oooh nice bracelet, singlet and arm warmers +10 points -$75
  • Fun, but no sign of Katherine Schwitzer, so can’t get our jackets signed -2 points
  • Find this guy in the Boston Commons, +10 points
  • We make a donation and he asks if we’d like to request a song which results in me accompanying him to Sweet Caroline +5 points
  • Find Yvonne and Pat immediately afterwards and convince them to come back so we can all sing Sweet Caroline +20 points
  • Desperately need new jeans and there is no Lucky jeans in Ottawa, but there is one in Boston, oooh and a nice jean jacket too, I’ve been looking for a jean jacket +10 points -$90
  • Hotel is cheap but too far away to have time to go back before supper -5 points save $$$$
  • Need something to do until supper. Stand in line to visit secret store hidden behind a Snapple machine (no really it’s a thing, not a very well kept secret though) +10 points for being cool enough to find this store
  • Still got time before supper so visit the Christian Science library which has a 30 foot high stained glass globe of the world you can walk inside +10 points for finding new weird things to do in Boston!
  • After trying a Unitarian, Baptist, and United church realize dinner is in the Italian district and there must be a Catholic church here where we can light a candle for a friend’s mom who recently passed. We did leave a prayer request for a few friends and family who are either dealing with loss or dealing with other challenges at the big church on Boylston as well (worth going inside, quite beautiful). Take a moment to appreciate being healthy. Can’t score points for that, just take a moment and appreciate it and say a little prayer for someone.
  • Dinner with Run K2J members and friends, the dish that fell on the floor was not Judy’s supper, Pat has big balls, the owner has big Italian hair, and they were nice enough to do separate checks +10 points
  • Amazing location for a shakeout run Sunday morning along the beach, 2.5 km of shoreline +5 points
  • Stop to write Run K2J in seashells +5 points
  • What the F****? Turnaround and start running back to the car, 300 meters in my upper back start to spasm causing considerable pain and preventing me from running at all -50 points
  • Oh SH****! Walk all the way back to the car, and have Yvonne and Judy do the shoulder checks because I can’t turn my head without considerable pain -20 points
  • Panic! Spend the next hour freaking out and asking Yvonne (who is a PT), and Christopher (who has had back spasms) what the heck I can about my back +10 points
  • Fortunately I packed Advil +20 points
  • Fortunately our hotel room is big enough I can lay out my yoga mat and go through a 60 minute gentle yoga class +20 points
  • Fortunately the guy at the hotel bar is great company, and it’s just me there for lunch, and he tops up my wine for free, +10 points
  • Stoned on Advil and free wine I feel up to going into town for the team photos at the finish line +10 points???
  • Confusing my family, I spend the family zoom call from lying on my yoga mat using my yoga tune up balls to roll out everything connected to the back muscle that is messed up +10 points
  • Controlling what I can, I go to bed carefully positioning pillows to be kind to my back +5 points
  • Lie in bed thinking, damn I can’t return the jacket because it has a custom patch on it. If I can’t run, how far can I actually walk before they kick me off the course? How long do I have to walk to feel I earned the right to wear the jacket?

Marathon Monday…

  • Well my back is no worse now than it was when I went to bed, so time to break out the stylish zebra bathrobe and head to the start with Judy and Yvonne +10 points
  • Wow, dropping off bags at gear check and getting back to the buses was crazy slow -10 points
  • Holy cow our bus driver is cruising, we passed at least 10 other buses +10 points
  • Whoah! we are at the back of the bus and at this speed really feeling those bumps -10 points
  • Bwahahaha! That last bump triggered my Garmin to say I reached my step count for today +1 point
  • Yikes! they are calling Wave 3 to the start and we haven’t even got to a port-a-potty yet -5 points
  • Score! I still remember where the shortest port-a-potty lines are located +20 points
  • I forgot my sunscreen, and the sunscreen dispensers are all empty -10 points
  • Found one dispenser with sunscreen and a huge crowd of people around it but manage to get a tiny bit for my face and Judy’s shoulders +5 points
  • I guess I’ll find out soon if my back is better, hello corral 5
  • Pretty happy with the name bib I made so people can say “Go Susan” +5 points
  • Cross the start line, start running, every km I manage to run is one less km to walk

The race

  • Wheeee I do love the downhill at the start
  • Maybe I’ll start counting the uphills as a way to distract myself
  • That’s one hill
  • “Go Susan” – excellent, the name bib is working
  • That’s two hills
  • “Go Susan you’ve got this”
  • That’s three hills
  • Wait that’s the 5 km mat, I ran 5 km, my back is okay, I think I’m running a marathon today, woot!
  • High five all the people!
  • “Not far now, Susan” – dude I’ve barely started that’s cruel
  • Oh how I wish I was on the other side of the road where they have a giant Will Smith carboard face for runners to slap
  • “You can do this Susan!” – from a little 8 year old girl I was giving a high five, okay THAT was awesome
  • I have totally lost track of the number of hills
  • At this point I think the back will be okay!
  • Oh wow, there was so much news about Spencer the dog that you can’t even see him so many runners stopped and surrounded him to take pictures
  • “Looking good Susan” – so sweet when spectators lie and tell us that
  • Santa Claus!
  • Diane hi! great to see you, you are running faster than me have a great race!
  • “Susan! Susan! Susan”
  • Oooh there’s Karen ahead of me, she’s having a good race, I won’t catch her she’s pulling away
  • Big Bird! Was Big Bird there last year? I feel like he was but I can’t remember
  • 20 km mat which means must be time for yes, Wellesley college and the scream tunnel
  • I miss having Jonathan on the right hand side in his CBC shirt after Wellesley cheering us on
  • “Oh my god there she is we found her, Susan, Go Susan, you’ve got this Susan!!!” – from a total stranger, okay that made me laugh
  • Yvonne? shouldn’t you have passed me a while ago? oh stomach issues, yikes! Go Yvonne Go! Bye Yvonne
  • Hi Diane good to see you again, just in time for… ‘dramatic sound effect’ the Newton hills.
  • Okay the first hill is a long one, I know this, I got this
  • It really is long!
  • I’m going to keep running beside Diane, hope that works for her but it’s helping me on these hills
  • “Go Susan”
  • Second hill, this one is nice and short, is this actually one of the Newton hills or just a bonus hill
  • “Go Susan you’ve got this”
  • Okay now this one is definitely a Newton hill, there are three right?
  • “Susan, Go Susan!
  • Well this is another hill so at that’s definitely three solid hills in Newtown, but is this heartbreak hill or is there another?
  • “Woo Hoo go Susan!”
  • I’m thinking all this Go Susan stuff might be getting irritating for Diane
  • I Hate Newton! Seriously how many hills are there?
  • Okay THIS one has a banner at the top saying heartbreak is over, so that MUST have been heartbreak
  • Diane – look a photographer let’s get a pic!
  • Boston College has great cheering, but having a guy in a Boston college t-shirt in front of me is causing next level screaming!
  • Ha! As soon as we got past Boston College the guy in the Boston college shirt started walking
  • Hey that’s a Run K2J shirt up ahead. That’s Chris!
  • Who is that tapping Chris on the shoulder, it’s Vincent, Diane’s husband!
  • That big downhill after heartbreak helped me a lot I’m feeling pretty good for 35 km in I’ve got enough in me to pick it up and catch Vincent
  • Hi Chris! (who apparently when realizing he would not have a great race decided to get his money back by collecting extra Maurten gels at all the gel stops)
  • Vincent! Diane is about 20 meters behind you
  • Diane says run with Vincent, okay.
  • “Go Susan” wait a sec that’s JR not just a random stranger!
  • Vincent points out “all the times I’ve run this race this is only the second time I’ve noticed the Citgo sign”
  • I realize this is the first time I’ve noticed the Citgo sign up close, and I would have missed it if Vincent hadn’t pointed it out
  • I feel good, I’m going for it
  • “Go Susan”
  • I kid you not, my arm is actually getting a little sore from waving back to all the people calling my name.
  • Hey there’s Karen, Hi Karen!
  • One mile to go I know this stretch, follow the blue line, go, go
  • Right on Hereford
  • Left on Boyleston
  • That Boyleston stretch is always longer than you think

Cross the finish line of the Boston marathon!

  • Feel light headed, trying not to pass out -10 points
  • Wow long walk to the heat sheets -5 points
  • Oooh cookies in the goodie bag + 20 points
  • Gyu Kaku complete with smores with my run buds to celebrate +20 points

Thanks to everyone who got me through the training and the race! 21 km into the race all I could think was I never want to run another marathon, but now that it’s over, I’m hoping my 2021 run at California International Marathon will get me a bib for 2023 (1 minute 39 seconds faster than my required BQ ). If not, I’ll be there to cheer!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other Boston related posts and race reports

Shamrock Shuffle (8km) 2022 race report

The Shamrock Shuffle is a very popular 8km race in Chicago. This post will give you an idea of what to expect if you choose to run the race. The key takeaway: It’s a fun race, I highly recommend it.

shamrock shuffle t shirt and hat

There’s something to be said for going out to run big races that are NOT marathons. If you fly or drive to a town to run a marathon the 24-36 hours leading up to the race you find yourself constantly wondering did I walk to much? am I drinking enough water? too much water? meals are carefully selected to provide the calories you need without upsetting your digestive system. You lay out all your gear ahead of time to be sure you haven’t forgotten the tiniest detail and you are usually in bed by 9! The Shamrock Shuffle gives you a lot of that big marathon experience without all that added stress. You can go out and eat deep dish pizza or cannolis the night before along with your beverage of choice and all you need to do is get to the start by 8 ish to get into your corral.

The Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago may only be an 8 km race but with 16,000 runners to organize, the pre-race experience is reminiscent of a major marathon. My friend Christopher was picking up a bib for feelow Seattle Greenlake runner Molly, a Shamrock Shuffle regular. So we walked to the race with her and she summed it up perfectly “All the fun and energy of the Chicago Marathon without the pesky 20 miles in the middle.” Both races you’ll see random reminders of the race around town. Both races have the same sponsor, Bank of America. Both races start beside the fountain in Grant Park, with corrals lining up on the same stretch of road with that stunning view of the Chicago skyline from the start corral.

Shamrock Shuffle start line

The two races also follow the same route for the first mile, and both races finish with the infamous hill on Roosevelt 🙂

Shamrock SHuffle route vs Chicago marathon route

The race is extremely well organized with an impressive number of volunteers taking care of packet pick-up, t-shirt pick-up, t-shirt exchange, info desks, gear check, managing start corrals, and all the other details that go into a great race. They even have a small store beside the t-shirt pick up where you can buy branded race gear.

shamrock shuffle waiting to start

At marathons and half marathons it’s rare to see people wearing their race shirts on race day. But this race is all about green! The majority of runners are sporting their emerald green race shirts. I had not realized what a faux pas I had committed by wearing my usual out of country red Canada t-shirt. Even the race announcers at one point were making jokes about the sea of green and the 5 people wearing red. At least, I was wearing the green race hat and bandana.

I was worried with only two aid stations and not much opportunity for runners to spread out over 8 km that it would be difficult to get hydration. I was happy to see the tables were well spread out and were set up on both sides of the road so it wasn’t difficult to get water or Gatorade at either of the two aid stations located at mile 1.6 and 3.6. Now to be fair, it wasn’t particularly hot today, that may have reduced demand, also it’s 8 km, so not all runners will bother hydrating (I didn’t) .

One other important thing to mention in any race report! The port-a-potty situation! There were port-a-potties at both aid stations and in ample supply at the start/finish area. We actually found port-a-potties with no line up on our way from gear check to our corral

Shamrock Shuffle runners

The race was generally a lot of fun! if you want to go fast, there are plenty of people running fast, but if you want a PB you need to be right at the front of a corral. They pause between corrals, so that provides an opportunity for those trying to go fast to avoid getting caught behind other runners in that first mile before runners start to spread out. You will likely post a faster time at the front of a later corral than at the back of a faster corral. Remember the race is only 5 miles, so if you struggling to find space to pass people for a mile that’s 20% of the race!

Of course, you don’t have to go all out! This is a great race to just jog and enjoy yourself. Regardless of your pace, you will be surrounded by runners the entire race. There are also options for family or friends who aren’t runners to dip a toe in the green water (side note: green water in Chicago around St Patrick’s day is a thing.) There were plenty of people walking the 8 km, and there was a 1 mile race and a 2 mile walk.

Of course there were lots of runners who took green to the next level with costumes and accessories. The most famous among them is “The Green crew.” The Green Crew are such a staple of the race that they have one of those photo ops with cutouts set up in near bib pick up. I took a quick pic after I picked up my race packed and was thrilled to meet two members of the actual Green Crew at the finish line for the live version of the same photo op 🙂

Like any big race you have the option of buying race photos, but like any big race, if you want to get good race photos you will need to keep an eye out for the photographers and make sure you get in front of that lens! I will say the red shirt made it easy to figure out where I was in the group shots! At $24.95 for a single print, I didn’t feel the need to purchase an official download. But maybe I’ll talk to Molly and Christopher and see if they want to split the cost of buying 1-3 prints, since we have several with all three of us in the shot and it passes the Marie Kondo test, the photo will bring me joy.

So if you are looking for a race that’s got big fun without the big miles, get your green on and head out to Chicago! If you’ve run Chicago and are looking for other unique or big destination races where the main event is shorter than a half marathon, you might want to check out Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, the Perth Kilt Run in Ottawa, I can also recommend City2Surf in Sydney Australia (haven’t written a race report for that yet.) If you have suggestions please add to the comments below! I’ve already added Vancouver Sun Run, Atlanta Peach Tree, and Bolder Boulder in Colorado to my wish list.

You don’t need to be a marathon runner to be a runner and you don’t have to run a half or full marathon to justify a trip for an amazing race experience!

If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of my running related posts with everything from gear reviews, to running disaster stories!

Boston history – The challenges of qualifying for the 1973 Boston Marathon

Ever wondered what it was like to try and qualify for Boston before you could Google “Boston training plans?” Ken Parker discovered marathon running in the early 1970s, this post takes you through his journey to earn a Boston Qualifier and will be followed by a post about his experience running the 1973 Boston marathon.

I didn’t start out as a distance runner. I was a sprinter, and my best event was the 100 yards. I had no coach, and I ran in a pair of thin leather shoes with spikes. Like many sprinters, I was occasionally drafted to take part in a relay, so I considered the 4X400 distance running. I was pretty good, but there was another kid from North Bay who always passed me around 70-80 yards, so I had no illusions of winning gold medals at the Olympics.

Boxcar C119

When I joined the Canadian Air Force, as a navigator in Squadron 436 in Ottawa (flying in the vintage gas guzzler, Boxcar C119,  for the aviation fanatics out there), there was a fitness test. My commander took this test seriously, if you failed you were grounded. Not a desirable situation for a navigator! Part of the test included a mile and a half run. I played flag football and basketball, I’d run track, I wasn’t concerned, and I did pass the test, but I was shocked these skinny guys were leaving me in their dust on the run, humbling for someone who thought of himself as a runner.

Not long after, I was posted to Winnipeg and I heard a news story about the Boston marathon. 26 miles!  Wow! One day I want to do that! I started researching and finding out everything I could about the marathon and discovered Boston wasn’t just “a” marathon it was “the” marathon. For a competitive runner like myself the lure was irresistible. (side note from Susan: The first New York marathon was 127 runners running loops around Central park in 1970, the London marathon didn’t start until 1981, the Chicago marathon has been around since 1905, and is a great race, but does not have the prestige of Boston)

Run to the Top by Arthur Lydiard

Now keep in mind this was in the early 70s. I didn’t have the option of doing a Google search for marathon training plans. I had never seen a copy of Runners World (side note from Susan: apparently the first issue came out in 1966). So, I researched training for a marathon the way everyone researched in those days: I went to the library. I asked the librarian to show me the section on running books. Well they didn’t have a section, but they did have a book by Arthur Lydiard called Run to the Top.

Arthur Lydiard was a controversial New Zealand runner who created his own training plans using trial and error. He was somewhat controversial as a coach, but it’s hard to argue with his results. He coached New Zealand’s running team which dominated the middle distance at the time. His team included Peter Snell, New Zealand’s Sports Champion of the 20th century, who won gold in the 800m and 1500m at the 1964 summer Olympics.  Runner’s World has since hailed Lydiard as the ‘All Time Best Running Coach’. Lydiard believed in building an endurance base by putting in a lot of miles, and he believed in designing a training plan to reach peak performance on the day of your goal race.  His training plans combined strength work such as hill running and sprinting, anaerobic training, and every marathon runner’s favorite part of the training plan, a taper. Sound familiar?

Fun fact:  We used to do seminars every month from the fall leading up to the Ottawa Marathon in May partly because, in the early years, the general public didn’t really know how to train for a marathon. In the late 1970s we brought Arthur Lydiard as a speaker to talk about how to train for a marathon. So I had the chance to meet the man who wrote the book I used to train for my first marathon. He was really great!  

Meme What if I told you its not that simple

So, back to my training. I started training for a marathon. The biggest change for me was adding a lot more long runs. But of course, those of you familiar with Boston know that you don’t just register for Boston, you have to qualify for Boston. Boston introduced qualifying times in 1970 because the number of runners registering for Boston had been steadily increasing. They had 1,342 runners in 1969. The Boston Athletics Association officials felt that a field over 1,000 was too congested on the course so the 1970 Boston marathon application stated “A runner must submit the certification of either the Long Distance Running chairman of the Amateur Athletics Union of his district or his college coach that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours. This is not a jogging race.”  

This new requirement reduced the field size in 1970 to 1,174 but that still exceeded the target field size of 1,000 runners. So, in 1971 they updated the race application again “An athlete has to have run a marathon in under three hours, thirty minutes; or, in the last year to have run ten miles in 65 minutes or under; 15 miles in 1:45, or 20 miles in 2:30.” That’s right, they reduced the qualifying time by 30 minutes! (side note from Susan: I guess I should stop complaining about that 5 minute drop in Boston qualifying times in 2020). This resulted in a 1971 field size of 1,067.  They kept the 3:30 qualifying time until 1976 but added requirements that the time must be achieved at a B.A.A. or other sanctioned marathon, or an A.A.U. sanctioned long distance race. They continued to allow runners to qualify at races shorter than the marathon distance because there were a limited number of marathons at the time. 1972 was also the first year women were officially allowed to run the Boston marathon, but they had to meet the same qualifying standards as the men.   

So, to qualify for the 1972 Boston Marathon, I needed to run a sub 3:30. In May of 1971, there was a charity event organized for the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Winnipeg called the Spacewalk. People walked various distances. The Spacewalk was my first opportunity to run the marathon distance. I ran it in 3:20:05. But it was not an “official” marathon so I could not use it as qualifier.

Spacewalk race newspaper article

But the timing of my quest for an official marathon worked out well, as 1971 was the year they founded the Manitoba road runners association. In May 1972, they put on a marathon in Birds Hill provincial Park. The park had a nice running loop around the exterior. I ran it in 3:30:50. At this time I was running around 250 miles per month with a long run of 16 miles.

I had an opportunity to improve my time in September 1972 when I ran a marathon was in St Vital, a suburb in the South end of Winnipeg. I remember being interviewed by the CBC and I had to explain to the reporter that a marathon was a 26.2 mile race because he had never heard of marathons before. 13 runners entered the St Vital marathon. The route took us winding through the suburban streets, up and down crescents and side streets. My wife came to cheer me on. When I spotted her on the course she called out “you’re in third place!” I finished in 3:11:54.

I had my qualifier and I was on my way to the 1973 Boston Marathon!

Boston Marathon Qualifier

Who is Ken Parker?

Ken has been active participant in the development of marathon as a mainstream support and in particular with the development of competitive women’s running which he champions to this day. He was inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and continues to coach the OAC women’s running team in Ottawa. This post is intended to start setting the stage for a series of posts, as I hope to continue interviewing Ken to learn more about his experience in the marathon space and in particular his involvement with the evolution of competitive women’s running!

If you enjoyed this post you may want to check out my other running posts, everything from race reports, to practical tips on Boston, to running disaster stories from runners just like you!

All I want to do is run Chicago! Running Disaster Stories

In running as in life, things don’t always go as planned. This series is meant to remind us of those times. Sometimes we look back and realize that perhaps we made some poor choices, but sometimes events occur that are completely outside our control. This tale from Rita of her plans to run the Chicago marathon falls into the second category.

This is part of a series, if you missed it, check out the previous post “The 1958 Beer mile”

In 2011, I decided to run the Chicago Marathon. The sequence of events that followed are a reminder that there are things in life you cannot control, but patience and persistence (might?) pay off.

In the good old days of 2011 there was no lottery for the Chicago marathon, you could just register.  It has a great reputation as a fun and fast race, so, a group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2011.

Alas for me …it was not meant to be …  my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was not a difficult decision, I stayed close to home to spend time with him.  Chicago could wait.

In 2013, there was momentum to return. A group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2013.

Alas for me … it was not meant to be… my father passed away the week before the marathon. Once again Chicago could wait.

By the time 2014 rolled around, Chicago had switched to a lottery system. It’s one thing to have a fun group trip with all your running buddies running the Chicago Marathon, it’s just not the same to go all by yourself. With the lottery system we couldn’t figure out how to plan a group trip, so my dreams of Chicago had to wait.

Fast forward to 2018, one of my running buddies noticed that you could get a guaranteed entry to Chicago with a qualifying time, and a good number of us had times fast enough to qualify! Enough to gather momentum, I registered once again, hopeful that I had correctly provided all the necessary details required to show I had run a previous race fast enough to qualify. As soon as I received the email informing me I had a bib, joyfully, I did a status check with my run buds, yes! They had all received the same email. We were in!

I set my sights on a 3:30 marathon… that would require taking more than 4 minutes off my Personal Best (PB), but my training that summer indicated that it was surely possible! Finally I was not only going to run Chicago, but I would use it to try and set a PB!

The Chicago Marathon is on a Sunday morning. I live in Ottawa, which is a bit far from Chicago to drive, and trains were impractical. Chicago does require you to pick up your own bib in person at the race expo by Saturday at the latest. Due to work and family reasons, my time in Chicago would be limited to a three day weekend trip.  I booked a late Friday afternoon flight from Ottawa to Chicago via Montreal.  On the  day of the flight I had all my bags packed and ready to go. I had planned to leave my car at the airport, and I set off for the easy 15 minute drive from my home to the Ottawa airport.

Clearly I hadn’t accounted for traffic patterns at that time of day….minutes passed, cars backed up, the clock ticked away. No, it couldn’t be, after all this, would a simple traffic jam keep me from running Chicago?

I arrived at Ottawa airport much later than anticipated. I thought I had been prepared, I even had prepaid parking, but when I got there, all the spots were full! I circled, and circled, and finally found a spot! I parked the car and ran into the terminal. To my dismay there was a huge line up for check in. I walked up to the airline staff and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  He answered “sorry to hear that, we’ll try to get you through as quickly as possible.” I get the feeling they deal with this sort of thing a lot. But I got checked in, and then  dashed to security and of course today was the day they pulled me over for a random check. I gave the security agent my best puppy dog eyes and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  FYI that really doesn’t work on security agents, no sympathy, they took their time, did their thing, and off I went again. I ran to the gate, the doors hadn’t closed yet, I  boarded. Okay breathe, I’m on my way to Chicago. Well actually I’m on my way to Montreal, but I’m on my way! 

The flight to Montreal was blissfully uneventful. I arrived in plenty of time to make my connection and boarded my plane to Chicago.  All good you are thinking? Maybe not…

Mid-flight I had the inflight entertainment system displaying the flight map that shows you the progress of your flight. It’s about 90 minutes from Montreal to Chicago, so it wouldn’t be long now. As I was watching the screen, I noticed the little line showing the route the plane was taking made a U turn. That’s odd, surely a technical glitch, or maybe not. 

No sooner had I decided this mysterious U-turn was nothing to worry about, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us there was a terrible rain and wind storm in Chicago making it unsafe for us to land so we were… you guessed it… heading back to Montreal.

In disbelief, but convinced I couldn’t possibly have yet another Chicago Marathon attempt thwarted, I got up and asked the airline attendant “are they going to put us on another flight later tonight?”

“Oh no,” she said, “by the time we get back to Montreal, customs will be closed so you won’t be able to go anywhere tonight.”

Deep breath. I texted my friends already in Chicago eating deep dish pizza, to let them know my flight was heading back to Montreal and to stay tuned. I’ve got until 5 PM Saturday to get to the race expo and pick up my bib, it’s only a 90 minutes flight, surely…

We landed in Montreal and were directed to follow the crew’s instructions at the terminal. When we got off the plane, names were being called and hotel vouchers were handed out. I didn’t care about the hotel “What about a flight?” I asked.

“You’ll have to call this number on the back of your voucher, and they’ll rebook you on a new flight” was the reply. Okay I can do that. I started walking to catch the shuttle for the hotel with the rest of the passengers, and suddenly it dawned on me that every single passenger on that flight would be calling this same number with the same goal of getting an empty seat on one of the next flights to Chicago. I’ll be smart, I’ll call now *before* we even get to the hotel and beat the rush!

My plan worked, I got through to an agent, and explained my situation. The agent said sure I can put you on a flight tomorrow at 5 PM. Noooo! I protested and pleaded, “I’m running the Chicago Marathon (at least I hope I am) and I have to be there early Saturday so I can pick up my race bib in person before the expo closes.”  “Ok” she said sympathetically, “let me see what I can do, I’ll just have to put you on hold.”

So I sat there, with my cell phone, on hold. The hotel shuttle arrived, I was still on hold. I boarded the shuttle, I was still on hold. The shuttle started driving to the hotel. I prayed that the line didn’t disconnect as we drove under overpasses and down the road. We arrived at the  hotel, I was still on hold. I picked up my hotel room key, I was still on hold. Then “Hello?” the attendant came back on the line.

“So, I was able to get you the last seat on the 6 AM flight from Montreal to Chicago Saturday morning.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

It was around this point that I realized I hadn’t eaten and that to catch a 6 AM flight I would have to get up in about 2 hours to catch the shuttle back to the airport. Well, luckily I had a protein bar in my luggage. I at the protein bar, set my alarm and fell fast asleep.

At 3 AM my alarm went off. Groggy but determined, I got my belongings, went to the lobby, jumped on the shuttle, arrived at the airport and was greeted by a huge line up at customs.

At this point, you can probably imagine how I felt: tired, frustrated, hungry, defeated. But it was actually at this moment I stopped and did a reality check. Ok Rita, in the grand scheme of things, how bad is this, you might miss a flight and not get to run the Chicago Marathon. Talk about first world problems! There are people out there in food lines at refugee camps, you’re ok Rita, get a grip, get some perspective. Take a deep breath, and move forward, whatever happens, happens. 

Mentally in a much better state, I got in line, and I did in fact get through the line and arrived at the gate where I was thrilled to meet Anderson who was also running the Chicago Marathon.  We became fast buds.  Chaos and stress is much easier to deal with as a team. We agreed to work together to navigate our way to the race expo after we landed. Having someone else with me was such a boost to my mental state. The flight landed on time, I’m in Chicago, maybe it’s really going to happen!

No time to go to the hotel, we went straight to the expo from the airport, suitcase in hand. Next thing I know I’ve got my bib and I even had time to wander around the expo! With that out of the way, I boarded a shuttle to my hotel for the next two top priorities: food and sleep! Not necessarily in that order

After  a two hour power nap, I hopped on a bus to the restaurant where my running buddies were already settled in for supper. I think the grin on my face says it all

Pre-marathon dinner with running friends

Not quite the relaxed pre-marathon rest day I had envisioned, but I’m here! Sunday morning, I’m in the starting corral. I’m finally going to run the Chicago marathon! My corral starts moving towards the start line. I remind myself that despite the chaos of the last 36 hours, my training went well, I’m fit, and I’m ready for this. No excuses, let’s do this!!!

5 km I’m on pace; 10km, hmm that was an impressive downpour but I’m still on pace; 21km I’m still on pace, 32 km I’m on pace. Of course the real race starts at 32 km! 35km, ok I’m off a bit on that one, it’s raining a bit, it’s a bit humid, no excuses Rita, hold the pace, keep going!

40k okay yeah I’m lagging 3:30 is not in the cards, but I so some quick calculations in my head, I can still get a PB (personal best). No excuses Rita! Leave it all on the course!

41km, seriously whose idea was it to put this hill here, 42 km, ok Rita time for your signature 200 metre sprint down the finish line, I just finished the Chicago Marathon YAY!! 

I glance at my Garmin, interesting. My thoughts turn to more practical things, walking back to the hotel, getting my medal, taking photos. I received a congratulatory text from a friend ”nice run Rita.””Thanks”, I replied, “you’re not going to believe this but I think it is the exact same time as my current PB.”

I grab a quick shower and when I come out there is another text from my friend “Rita, your previous PB was 3:34:10, your chip time for Chicago time is 3:34:09” I PB’d by one second (nine years after I set the previous PB)!!!  Woo hoo!!

Rita holding her medal at finish line of Chicago marathon

So after a seven year wait and more hurdles and obstacles than I care to remember, Chicago 2018 was my year. Sometimes races have their own beautiful timelines and we just need to go with it. It was so worth the wait 🙂 On that note, remind me next time to tell you about the time I  registered for Berlin 2019…

Who is Rita?

Rita is a marathoner who trains in Ottawa, Canada through wind, rain and snow.  Her basic philosophy towards life is: Live Life Large, every day is a new adventure, giv’r your best and enjoy the ride.
She ran her first marathon in 2004 as a bucket list item. 24 marathons later, she recognizes that running has given her so much in life. Her basic philosophy towards running is to give it the respect it deserves as it serves so many purposes in her life including but not limited to social convenor, therapist, problem solver, and immune system booster. So much bang for your buck with every step you run. Her philosophy on racing is similar to her philosophy on life: giv’r and have fun but not necessarily in that order 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, check out the previous disaster story “The 1958 Beer mile” or check out the rest of my running related posts which include race reports, gear reviews, and other posts I write to amuse myself but that do occasionally amuse others.