Losing myself, finding a way to Berlin

Honestly, I don’t really know where to start and where to end.  I don’t know how much I want to share as a lot of it is too raw but here goes.

Berlin was a dream race for me in 2017 when I was mapping out the year ahead.  The original plan was to smash a 3.30 marathon in Paris and then cruise in at around 4hours for Berlin as there would be other races coming up quickly after and I didn’t want to risk injury.

When Paris didn’t go to plan, I slowly prepared myself to give the dream time another shot; but I knew it would be harder with it being about 6 weeks after Race To The Stones. How would I go from ultra running to pace running constantly for that time?  I took just over a week off serious training whilst on holiday after RTTS, and then got back to it.

Something had changed though. I was now doing long runs on the road and I hated it, I hated every minute of those long 28, 30 and 32km runs.  I said to myself at this point, never again.  Never will I train for a road marathon like this, but for now I will just sacrifice for the goal and dream of sub 3.30.  I did all the runs on the plan, intervals, Fartlek’s, easy, steady etc.  I just knuckled down and got it done.

Then Barcelona happened, the dreaded annual work trip to a beautiful city that always falls at the end of August.  It’s dreaded because this event I work on is incredibly busy and the hours can easily tick up to 15 a day.  This year though it went on for longer, I was there for longer.  There were extra pressures and issues.  I did manage a 26km run one morning before it got super busy but there is no doubt my training suffered as physical and mental fatigue set in.

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Long run Barcelona. The smile is not real.

It’s now that I have got to the point where I am not going to share because I am just not ready and I don’t know if I ever will be.  Let’s just say I came back in a different place to how I left.

I arrived home and went for a run.  Yes I was exhausted but I needed to feel the soft ground of the woods under my feet and hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees.  To feel free is amazing but it only lasts so long.  TBH at this point Berlin was not anywhere near me.  I was under two weeks away from a WMM and a dream race but I didn’t register it.  I talked things over with family and close friends as the week went on, I continued to train, I ran with friends, walked with friends.  I then started to think, do I really want to go?  Can I face it, the travel, the crowds, the intensity, the pressure?

I had to park those thoughts though as there was a birthday to get through.  This was another really tough experience as we had organised a special birthday London Burger Run for me, which I couldn’t pull out of.  I was super nervous.  All those people and pretending to be full of joy.  It wasn’t too bad actually, in fact I did have fun and felt so loved and looked after by the team and all the amazing people who came out.  Thank you for making it so special.  It drained me so much though and by 8pm I just wanted to sleep.

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So much love for everyone here at LDN Burger Run

My thoughts then returned to Berlin and just how indifferent I was feeling towards it. I had talked to my good friend Mike about it and he said go, just run, just get round.  I took that on board and it was an option for sure but the other option was to not go.  I was literally flipping between these two most of the week leading up to travel day.  I even wrote quite an honest post in a private running FB group to ask advice and get some support.  It worked.  Such an amazing and supportive group. I also talked with certain people from my Berlin group about what was happening as I was freaking out about every element of this trip.

I decided I would take it one step at a time so as not to get too over whelmed and ask for help when I needed it.  The last piece of the puzzle was an amazing phone call from Sophie at Mind, (the charity I have been running for this year).  Again that was very private but it helped so much, and more that you will ever know.

I travelled to the airport with Louise to meet, Tommy, Cat and Michelle.  These 4 along with Lizzie and Becca would be my rocks for this trip and I know I have said it before but thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The flight wasn’t too bad.  I got to my hotel, where I was staying on my own, but only about 20mins from anyone else. It was a lovely place with a beautiful courtyard and cats!  My room had a nice little balcony and some nice artwork. Perfect!

We all headed over to the expo.  Meeting up at the U-Bahn station before heading into the carnage!  Like others have said, it was huge and you had to fight your way to get anywhere as it was so busy.  I also had to line up to collect a pre paid finishers T-shirt, which took about an hour!  Thank goodness for Michelle, as she had to do the same.  This made the waiting actually fun and we got to know each other a lot more, which was super lovely.  After completing that mission we took the standard photos with our Bibs and I ate a sausage, which is standard for Berlin!

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The rest of the day was spent doing a little sight-seeing with some of the gang, followed by some dinner.

On Saturday I was supposed to be at the “Breakfast run” put on by the marathon organisers but I felt a bit anxious about going to a big group run.  What if I hated it? Would I not be able to do the actual marathon? These are the thoughts that started passing through my head.  Luckily after my post on the group Kev and Clare said they would be doing Parkrun instead.  Initially I was worried but I know Clare quite well and she encouraged me to go along and I was so happy I did.  I had only met Kev once at the Mind post VLM event when I was volunteering but he had commented on my post and made me feel at ease.  So I went off to this Parkrun and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Apparently it only started this year and they normally have about 80 people go.  This time it was closer to 600 but as it’s fairly spread out I didn’t freak out. The organisers had anticipated the international increase in participants and added more volunteers. I have to say, they did a brilliant job and the run was lovely.  We then went for breakfast and a chat, which was fab!  Spending time with truly amazing people just cannot be underestimated.

The rest of Saturday was spent eating, watching some football, hanging out with friends and eating again.  It was nice to be with everyone but also really tiring.  I purposefully got an early night, as I was still pretty exhausted from not sleeping well for a couple of weeks.

I set my alarm for 6am but again I woke up early, 4am early and was wide-awake. It was then, that it really dawned on me that today I would be running a marathon with a lot of people. It was freaking me out, so I went through the timings in my head to get me to the start with minimal stress.  It was also at this point I set a goal and made it public.  I had been off Instagram for pretty much two weeks as I tried to deal with what was happening.

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It was at this moment that all pressure left me for real.  I just wanted to finish the race.  As I said in my post, this might seem strange for someone who had trained for a goal time to just let it go like that but the sense of relief was amazing.

I got up, showered, ate, sorted out my kit, and left the hotel in a really calm place.  The walk down to the start was nice  and easy, I ran into Chris G, Chris R and Julie, wished them well, dropped my bag off, and headed to the start.  I did a little warm up, had a wee in the woods and got into the pen.  I found a little curb to sit down and block out all the people around me, which was perfect.  The atmosphere was a little crazy and hyped up.  I listened to announcements as the wheelchair athletes, and then the main race started. I stood up, knowing it would be 10mins until I crossed the start line.  The move forward was gentle and easy, with no shoving or squashing, and then I was across the start line.

I am not going to break down the race into time periods as it wasn’t that kind of run but more moments, observations and feelings as these are what I have taken away from the experience.

The course was pretty boring to be honest. The start and finish were amazing and there was a nice fountain at some point. Maybe I was just zoned out but it was just a continuous set of streets that mostly looked the same.  I have been to Berlin a few times and this just missed so much of the good stuff.

My hydration strategy was spot on.  I carried my pack as in Paris but I consumed the 6 gels to a schedule, I also took on the electrolyte drink at regular intervals.  I never hit the wall, which was amazing. Yes fatigue comes into play later but I was expecting that.  I also only ran out of water just near the end, which meant I only had to stop at one of the horrific water cup stations once!  These things will live in my memory for years.  Imagine the sound of 100s/1000s of plastic cups being smashed, thrown crunched all at once in a small space.  It really was the stuff of nightmares.  The early water stations had it on both sides, so it was a surround sound effect, which when I first heard freaked me out so badly I sped up to get out the area, whilst trying not to slip over.  There has to be a better way!

Ok, so those are some negatives. There is much positivity about this race for me that I am not going to dwell on these.  When I started running I took it easy, listening to my music, whilst soaking it all in. then my easy pace got close to optimal marathon pace for a 3.30 but this just felt comfortable.   It was at this point I thought about going for it, I had a discussion with myself for about 10mins on the pros and cons.

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Why do you need the stress Jon? That’s not why you are here!  It was then that my sensible self kicked in and I set myself a new goal to add into the must finish mix.

To not walk at all. To run the whole damn thing!

In London, I had to walk run from about 23km after my ITB went.

In Paris it was around 30km in that I lost it.

This would be the race I was going to: A finish and: B not walk!  Plus I was going to bloody enjoy it.  I carried on at close to MP, I caught up with Mel, which was lovely and then she caught up with me.  We had a little banter but we lost each other at one of the stupid water stations. The pace was comfortable through half way, then we got to the dreaded 32km and it got tough but you know what, I just slowly eased off the pace. The running was hard but it wasn’t if you know what I mean? I was able to just keep going because I wanted this so badly.  The legs just kept moving and I ticked off the distance whilst smiling and dancing a little.

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Cheer Squad!

At around the 38Km mark, I got the biggest hugs from Becca and Louise, who were out cheering after having to defer their races this year due to injury.  I know for a fact every single one of us in the group loved having them out on the course at this point. It gives you such a lift having friendly faces cheering.  The support on the course was sporadic.  There were pockets of awesome cheering and parts where there were people but it was quiet.

The same couldn’t be said of the last 2kms, as it was crazy! Somewhere around here I had to stop for a cup of water, the only time my cadence fell and it doesn’t count.  As I rounded the last bend and seeing the Gate in front I got quite emotional.  Then I saw a ‘Croydon Striders” vest in front of me and I remembered my friend Ally said that she had some club friends running this, so I said hi to Nikki, apparently this had happened before, lol.

I then looked at my watch, noticed I could get a PB, not a massive one but some seconds for sure, so I congratulated her and sprinted off for the finish, through the gate and across the line.

24 secs faster than Paris.

No walking

Full of joy and tears, (of course).

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I stumbled around, collected my medal, some stuff and my bag and then found some of the group. Chilling out in the park and talking about our races together was such an amazing thing and something I have not had at the other two road marathons, Berlin is perfect for this!  People have said this before but the camaraderie is so strong and supportive.  We were checking the app, (when we had signal), as more people came in. PBS were smashed, hard battles were fought, photos were taken, hugs were had.  Then post race celebrations took place, well into the night.

This may not have been the race I dreamt about when I signed up or started actually training for it 6 weeks out but it was the race I needed.  The marathon is a long way and you think about a lot of things over those 42.2 KMs. I thought about a lot of things.  To be alone but not alone is a strange thing. I am now working on fixing me and this was a good starting point.  Running is not the answer but it certainly helps.  Thank you Berlin x

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