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Where’s the Wall?

Jools Maskell reports from the Berlin Marathon 2009

Having always wanted to visit Berlin and see the historic sites the idea of running the marathon seemed like the perfect excuse to go.

Having left it a little late to book accommodation (there was a big conference on at the same time and accommodation in Berlin is not cheap) We managed to find a small privately owned apartment in the Schoneberg area, out of the city centre but the bus and train networks are so safe, quick and reliable it was not a problem.

This was to be my second marathon having done Dublin last year and Simon’s (my other half) first proper marathon. His only previous experience of marathon running has been after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike, i.e. at the end of an Ironman….

The marathon itself starts in Tiergarten park. A huge green area in central Berlin, not far from the Brandenburg gate (you run through it at the finish). The day before the marathon the inline skaters get their turn around the course, there were thousands of them of mixed abilities, the quickest get round 26.2 miles in an hour!! It was fascinating to watch as the tactics are similar to cycling with the fastest skaters drafting each other and taking it in turns to do the work at the front.

On the morning of the marathon it was obvious it was going to be another warm day, as we arrived at the U-bahn (underground station) there were many runners already there and we picked up more and more as we got towards the city centre. The start area was huge and very well organised (Dublin has 10,000 runners, Berlin has 40,000). The only drawback was the number of port-a-loos compared to runners (I won’t go into detail but their loos are a little different to ours too!) this resulted in many finding not so discreet locations to do their business in front of the Reichstag (German parliament building).

The start was once again well organised and it took me barely five minutes to get across the line which didn’t seem bad considering the number of runners, I spotted a Poole Runner, a Littledown Harrier and a lady from Southampton who tapped me on the back on spotting my Wimborne vest as she sped past!

I discovered early on that there’s a definite difference between running races in the UK and in other parts of Europe. The etiquette at water stations was more like a rugby scrum than anything I had experienced before. Having been pushed out the way by a Frenchman and knocked sideways by others I learnt it was every man (or woman) for themselves and get in there quick, get your water, banana, apple, etc. and get out of the way!!

From about 5k I knew this was unlikely to be a PB, I had set my sights on a sub-4 hour but knew that I had not done enough training for this and decided to aim to get as close to my Dublin time as possible (4.09).

The course takes you past many of the famous city landmarks within a few miles you head well into the old east Berlin and the architecture still shows reminders of its past. It’s a very flat route with few curbs or obstacles to watch out for. Not surprising really that the world record has been broken here.

The crowds lining the route were fantastic, I had got my name printed on my Wimborne vest and thought ‘everyone can pronounce Julie, surely?’ However the first cries of ‘go Hoolia go!’ had me chuckling. Many local communities had organised themselves into bands and the music and atmosphere was exceptional all the way. Most of Denmark seemed to have come to run the race and those not running lined the route making lots of noise to encourage all the runners.

By the halfway point I was settled into a nice comfortable pace and really enjoying myself, I thought if I can keep this up maybe I can beat that Dublin time?

However it wasn’t to be, by the last 8 kilometres the temperature had risen to around 25 degrees and I started to suffer. The pace of all those around me had slowed as well and I was reduced to walking a few sections in order to keep going. By now my aim was 4.20.

The last part of the course takes you back into the city centre, through the ultra-modern Potzdam Platz and finally back along the beautiful Unter den Linden, under the Brandenburg gate and past huge grandstands full of spectators which line the last 200 metres to the finish. Passing the line at 4.22 I was relieved and happy to have finished.

With typical German precision you are whisked through to collect medals, plastic covers to keep you warm (not needed!) and then on to get water, there’s no stopping to catch your breath!

Simon had finished in a very respectable 3.32, not bad for someone who had not really trained for a marathon!

The train back to the apartment has us thinking of plans for next year…maybe Vienna…maybe New York?? I aim to run a different one in a different country for as long as my legs will let me. Simon (who may join WAC when he returns to work in Poole next Summer) has signed up for a double Ironman, a mere 4.8 mile swim, 224 mile bike and 52.4 mile run. I think he might have to train for that one….

Jools Maskell




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