It’s been a little bit hectic recently with work and getting very excited about the MLB playoffs that I haven’t had the chance to really sit down and type out my thoughts about my run at the Berlin Marathon in September. It also seemed like a slower news day as far as track and field, cross country and road racing goes so I decided to hunker down and finally try to get my thoughts onto the keyboard. I know that I’m not fast by any means but I run for own personal goals, health and to really understand what these athletes that I cover experience. I understand that the exploits of a 3:37 marathoner are not as interesting as someone gunning for the Olympic Marathon Trials but I’ll bring you along for this little cathartic exercise of moving on from my last race. It’s very cliche but Frank Shorter’s quote: “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another” has come to mind for me recently because I have pacing duties for one of my best friends at the New York City Marathon in a couple weeks. So let’s put this baby to bed…
What? Berlin Marathon
When? September 24, 2017
How far? 26.2 Miles
Where? Berlin, Germany
Goal: Set a personal best. I entered the race with a 3:53 from the 2016 Boston Marathon, where it was a hot day. I was confident in my training that 3:45 was certainly possible.
Splits and GPS: Available on my Strava!
I think in the previous marathon training blocks that I’ve done, I’ve realized that my peak fitness usually comes around September and then school would get into full swing or I really had to wait until November to race. Being patient after seeing all these fantastic performances in places like Berlin and Chicago was always tough for me. I was very happy with the timing of Berlin because training in the summer had been going well. I set a personal best in the half marathon at the Brooklyn Half in May and those were some warm conditions. I decided to continue training pretty hard after that and roll right into September. Two personal bests in the half got me very excited for what I could run for the full 26.2. A couple personal issues took over in August and that disrupted my training a little bit. I was out in Flagstaff for 10 days and while I was very mentally drained, I took the time to push my body. On my first day, I went on a run with Paul Snyder and Jeanne Mack and altitude immediately kicked my butt. I think the last time that I ran at altitude may have been on a short vacation to Medellin, Colombia or filming a documentary in Alamosa, Colorado. I got used to it and I knew that 10 days in August wasn’t going to do much for a late September race but it felt good to mix things up and clear my head. My best session out there was a 10-miler on one of my last days and I just hammered. I wanted to leave it all out there and I was shot. I get back to New York and just mentally kept telling myself that everything was easier after that. I managed to clock a mile PR out of nowhere. A 20-miler with a near-half marathon personal best in the middle of it felt great. Maybe not the smartest of training but after a period when I was really down in August, it was good to reap the results of some hard work and I especially wanted it to come together in Berlin.
The world was getting excited for a possible world record. I totally took in the atmosphere and tried to feed off that energy. My friend, Matt, from college came out for a vacation and I was really thankful to have a good friend there for me. I needed that. It also guaranteed that it wouldn’t be anything like my first marathon in Chicago 2013, when I crossed the finish line and my friend, Joe, who had come down to see me had already headed back on his train since I blew up and didn’t finish in time. Berlin always had perfect weather for a possible world record but this year it was a little rainy at the start. It’s one of the main reasons why Eliud Kipchoge didn’t break 2:02:57 but that didn’t give me any excuses. The temperature was just right. I was unfortunately in the second wave of runners so I knew the first mile was going to be slower than I hoped because of all the ducking and weaving. The race goes off and I settled into my pace fairly early on. 7:30s would’ve felt easy but I kept telling myself that it wasn’t a half. For the first 10 miles nothing slower than 8:03. My coach, Pat Dormer, decided our plan would be to go out in 1:45 and then hold on. Make the first 15 miles comfortable and then push. I was locked in. I went through the half in 1:46 but that’s probably due to some of the early traffic. For months, I’ve been experimenting and testing out Maurten (the same drink that Kipchoge was taking in Berlin and in the Breaking2 project). I wrote about it in February and then finally decided to give it a try for the marathon training. I firmly believe that it has been a major addition to my training. There is a boost of energy that I get from it because it helps get those carbohydrates in my system for when I’ll need it late in the race. Matt was responsible for handing me three bottles along the course but I totally missed him at the 11K mark. I panicked for a little bit and hadn’t taken any fluids at that point except for some water. Luckily, I managed to find Steve Dutko of the Black Roses NYC around the same time. His squad had Maurten bottles on tables along the course so we shared a bottle and ran together for six miles. He told me it was OK to snag some of the leftover bottles because some runners had opted not to take some at certain points. That was a life-saver.
Everything was going according to plan. I got through the first 15 smoothly and just kept trucking along. I found myself doing a lot of math in my head to distract myself and also calculate how much of a cushion I had built up for a personal best. I was confident. I told myself to take in Berlin a little bit but I had no clue what I was looking at or where I was. My focus was on the next kilometer and getting to it one piece.
In my two New York City Marathons, I had trouble with my left quad after the 59th Street Bridge or cramping after 21 miles. I had no pain until I hit the mat at 35K and just immediately cramped up in the same spot that I strained in 2014. I pulled over for a minute or so to just massage it out. I just told myself to get back out on the course and finish it because I was going to PR but let’s make it as big as possible. Maybe two miles later, my right quad felt tight but I didn’t stop. The splits clearly show when I hopped on the struggle but at 22 and 23 but then it was right back to 8:45 miles or faster. They’re slow when I really think about it but in the moment that’s all I had.
Some of the German run crews coordinated a fantastic party scene at 37K. I knew about it ahead of time and just kept telling myself to show up to the party looking good. From there, it’s just another 5K. These little mental checkpoints are highly recommended.
I spent quite some time sightseeing in the days leading up to the race so I knew when I hit the downtown area and would be approaching the Brandenburg Gates. Once I saw them in view, I was in the clear. A PR was going to happen. For those who know a little bit of my background, I used to be a high school sprinter so at the end of most races I try to empty the tank and go back to those roots. With maybe 25 or 50 meters remaining in the race, I was zoned in on that finish line. Michelle Sammet of SPIKES said she was yelling at me but I don’t know if I heard it. Regardless, I appreciated it. She has photo evidence.
I looked my watch and saw 3:37. This wasn’t the easiest marathon to train for – none of them are. August was a rough patch and it was particularly important to get back to being happy. This was something I set my sights on for a while and the clock was just what I needed to see to get me back and truly happy again.
Jason Suarez, who you all probably follow closely for his photographs on here, was waiting right at the finish line to take pictures of people he knew. He sniped a photo of me throwing my fists up in celebration and letting out a big “Wooo!” He can give me some crap for it but I’ll admit what happened next. I gave him a big hug and let out a couple tears. This was the culmination of many highs and many, many lows so I was thankful to have someone there for me. It was a good day.
Once I got myself together, I started to cramp up a little bit and walking got tougher. Germans are known for their beer but I couldn’t believe the ones being offered after the finish line were non-alcoholic! C’mon! I just gave that my everything and I’m trying to catch a buzz. I worked up the strength to layer up and rejoin my friend Matt. The thought of a nice warm shower sounded amazing but first we needed food. We found a spot near our AirBnB and I just devoured an entire pizza and lasagna. I ordered a beer that maybe took me a whole hour to finish because I was so tired. I knew I had the Rock ‘n’ Roll Brooklyn Half slated for three weeks after but at the time, I wanted to think about anything but racing again. That’s the post-race thrill of the marathon. A good shower and nap was key before putting on some dancing shoes to waddle at a post-race party organized by one of the running crews. It’s all fun and games until you realize you have another one to do in six weeks.
Here we are. I got back into running after a week off. I ended up clocking a personal best in Brooklyn again. Now we just put some final touches on training before New York. This is one will be more for fun but my training partner, Pete, is in very good shape for his first and last marathon. My job will be to take him through the first 20 miles and then hang on while also enjoying the city I call home. Berlin was unforgettable and I want to make more memories like it.
Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York are done. London maybe next in April and then Tokyo 2019 before I’m all done with the World Marathon Majors. Let’s do it.