It’s getting late and I fly home tomorrow but I know I won’t sleep. I never do after a marathon.
Today I ran the Berlin Marathon and placed 12th with a time of 2:32:27, my 5th fastest time (2:28 in 2013, 2:29 in 2015, 2:32 x 2 in 2012). I was ranked 15th by personal best times (I may have had one of the oldest personal bests) entering the race. I also finished as the first masters runner, which makes a good headline, but wasn’t what I came for. Berlin was about speed, running fast according to my abilities on the fastest course in the world, with what often has the best conditions. Now I’m not going to go on and on, complaining about the conditions. The message at the technical meeting, which proved to be true was, “It won’t be terrible and it won’t be great. It will be somewhere in between.” It was.
I know I was in ~2:30 shape, hoping to squeeze under the 2:29:30 Tokyo 2020 Olympic standard. Very similar to my first 2:32 when going after the London 2012 Olympic standard of 2:29:55, race day would have to be perfect. We had some wind with gusts, humidity of 90 at the finish, and in the second half, light rain that made the roads slick, almost mossy-like. In my 19 marathons, I’ve only had one race with perfect conditions – in 2013 when I ran my personal best of 2:28:32 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. There certainly were some incredible performances today—Bekele just missing the world record by 2 seconds and Sara Hall’s 2:22, to name a few. There were some disappointments. And a lot of us were somewhere in between.
I knew there’d be a handful of women with male pacers, aiming for 2:29:30, so I didn’t concern myself with bodies with whom to run. What I didn’t expect was the very large number of men also going for just under 2:30. For a good chunk of the beginning it was almost too much, particularly when we had to move to the side to get our drinks. It was necessary to signal your turn and check your blind spot. Really. Fortunately I had no major contact with anyone and was able to retrieve and consume all 8 Eload bottles with taped Endurance Tap gels, as well as the additional ⅘ bottles in the later parts of the race (I chose to leave the first of 5 extra bottles), a Berlin bonus thanks to 2016 Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge who requested this last year when he earned his world record time in Berlin. Running with others certainly had its advantages. There was never a time I was on my own and I likely had some moments where I was protected from some wind. I was focused on the blue lines in order to keep the tangent, and kept my thinking simple, “You came here for one thing.”
I went through half at 1:15:04. I’ve never had a negative split so knew that I’d really need to push in the second half. The problem was knowing how much to push while still respecting another 21.1 km and not wanting it to get ugly. With the extra bottles I could consume more energy, but again had to ride the fine line between just enough and not too much. No one wants GI distress. Been there, done that (fortunately just once).
The crowds were wonderful and I enjoyed the Canadians cheering my name. I plugged away, one kilometre at a time, knowing it was slipping away. I wasn’t going to mentally check myself out of the race so continued to give. It didn’t have to be all or nothing. Like Boylston of Boston, once I saw the Brandenburg Gate I decided I’d finish with a smile on my face.
When chatting in the recovery tent after with another finisher, I asked her if she’d mind checking my placing. A top 10 at a world major or top 10 at major championship (like Lyndsey Tessier’s 9th in Doha at world champs, just two days ago! We’re on the cover of the current Canadian Running magazine with a focus on masters, including new-to-the-club, Reid Coolsaet) or top 5 at a gold label was as good as a 2:29:30. I figured it was unlikely, but you rarely see drop outs and it’s often impossible to know your placing during the race. It was somewhat disappointing that I was so close to 10th but I think I’d rather be a few minutes off 2:29:30 and placings off 10th, than off a few seconds and one placing. I later learned that the 9th, 10th and 11th women, who wanted sub 2:29:30, were all 2:31-mid, one minute ahead of me so at least it wasn’t close.
I headed back to the hotel, checked and sent some messages then met up with my cousin and his wife and wonderful group of Team Hoyt friends. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon together and some pizza for dinner. On my way back to the hotel I got some baklava with a scoop of vanilla ice cream from a nearby Greek restaurant to be savoured back in my room in my pyjamas.
I’ve got a dark chocolate bar and new book on my kindle for the trip home. My hamstrings will be thrilled with two empty spots beside me on the plane, like on the way here, but that’s highly unlikely. One can hope.
In a day I’ll be back to making school lunches, my dietitian job, coaching cross country and hockey, and taxiing kids to the pool and rink.
So much to be grateful for.
Photograph by Trevor Dickie.