The Berlin Half Marathon offered everything you could want. A fabulous flat course, reliable (proper) Spring weather and a course cutting right through historical landmarks and inspiring architecture, as well as (I would discover) uplifting crowds and awakening drums! So, something had to go and f%$k it all up.
Ros' top lessons learnt at Berlin;
1. Just Say No... to overly challenging races just 2 weeks before an A-goal race. Even if it's not a marathon... the Cleevewold 14 in hindsight was a bloody stupid idea (albeit a mega accomplishment).
2. Take care with tough sessions. In the same week as you can't even walk down steps for two days following (point 1) race, don't attempt a brutal interval session... with long rests standing in torrential cold rain...especially when you've previously had chest issues.
3. Listen to your body and your mind, especially when you are run down mentally from other exhausting life events. A week of considerable work-related stress did not help. Give yourself time to heal mentally as well as physically.
4. Recover as seriously as you train. Even eating all the fresh fruit and veg in the World with maybe some Easter chocolate.. as well as 'resting' will not resurrect your health to perfection. Repeat point 3. about listen to your body.
5. Plan stress-free travel - Lufthansa 4, Ryan Air NIL. The German Airline totally rocks with FREE snacks and drinks (inc. wine)! However, top tip, if you're transferring at Frankfurt, save some energy to manage the transfer across the vast airport(!) Who knew - it's the third busiest airport in Europe!
6. Get to the Expo as early as possible!
7. Break-in your trainers - properly! That means, run more miles in them than just a Parkrun, a club circuit and maybe a couple of other short runs/walks. Also, after getting them soaked through in puddles, then drying them out on a radiator - wear them in again! #crispy
8. Stop at every water stop and take every energy gel on offer! Especially when it is unusually warm! However, expect anything (especially abroad!) A small cola gel handed to me was thick and unpleasant tasting like warm liquorice! Yuk!
9. Open-top City bus tours FTW! I wholeheartedly recommend an open top bus-tour - especially the day before a race. You can sit, relax and explore so much - then when you race, you can remember the stories behind the sites.
10. Don't treat the week-end as though your Race depends on it. As long as you stay well-hydrated and you don't exhaust yourself too much the day before, certainly don't deny yourself any treats!
I'd spent couple of days feeling very achy and tired with a strained chest and voice, but I was taking regular paracetamol (following the docs advice) and I was eating very well. The splendour of the City and the excitement of participating in the race, clouded my judgement though and having collected a number and memento T-shirt, it didn't feel right to not even try.
My race number pinned on my new club vest and the chip was on my shoe. Surprisingly. The jog to the start from the hotel was a good indication of whether I could actually cope with this. It was warm and I was excited but anxious as we passed the steady flow of runners along the wide and traffic-free Unter den Linden. My feet were in some discomfort though, warm and encased by my crispy new Asics, resuscitated from a very wet Parkrun!
Tim was happy to run with me at my pace as his main goal is the London marathon, so this was just a very scenic easy long-run for him. Luckily his pace is not too different to mine.
Following a teary wobble in the start pen, made slightly better by a cuddle with the big fluffy race mascot fox 'Friddolin' Frink' (I fondly nicknamed 'Fiddlin' Frank)... I decided;
- The first mile would almost pass close to the hotel, I could retire if in trouble.
- If I pulled out later on, I had a travel pass in my pocket and could make my way back at the hotel.
Following the start of the in-line skating race to a very rocky AC/DC chiming bells countdown and guitar/drum intro. which made me grin, our start pen moved forward. Our pen had some quite serious looking club athletes...so I fully expected them to stampede ahead. However, I felt comfortable as we moved out, in the warmth of the sun along wide, flat roads, lined with well-wishers. I thought to myself "just get to halfway, just count down the kms."
We soon passed the Berliner Dom and moved out west along the long, wide Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. It was then onwards to the Victory Column with it's bronze 'Victoria' sculpture visible straight ahead at about 5km. Uplifting beats of drummers and the crowd support was typical of a big vibrant City. There was a tunnel with birdsong pumping out on speakers and green glowing lights!
We approached the Charlottenburg Gate and its larger-than-life bronze statues of King Frederick I of Prussia, and his consort Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, then made a left turn, and another left and back east! As we headed back towards Potsdamer Platz, I felt reassured that I could finish, but the pace slowed considerably, so an energy stop came at the right moment! However, it came in the form of a thick, 'cola' gel and was revolting! However this was soon forgotten as we turned at Kochstrasse and went right through 'Checkpoint Charlie', the historic border crossing between East and West Berlin that permitted foreigners passage.
Onwards through the final crowds to the corner of Karl-Marx Allee and I could see the Finish in sight - at least the roar of the crowd was increasing. Having not even checked my Garmin once, for fear of demotivating disappointment, I was relieved to see on stopping it, I was only a few minutes over my London time (a month previous).. 1:56:59. Greeted with a medal and a cup of luke-warm sweet tea - the finishers moved past a long bar offering pints of refreshing alcohol-free beer. We collected an official certificate and returned our rented chip devices.
Main lesson learnt, don't cram 'tough stuff' just before an 'A-goal' race. We only found out about the planned attack at the race via some BBC alerts which flashed up later that day. I certainly felt very safe with all the armed police officers visible around the City, but at the time I didn't think anything of it and took it as that was just standard. It's always sad to hear these things but you just cannot let these things worry you and put you off.
I'll visit Berlin again - possibly even tackle the marathon, but with much better planning! Now rest.