How to Run the Berlin Marathon

The Berlin Marathon has a reputation as one of the world’s fastest courses. We sent London Marathon Social Media Manager Carys Matthews to the German capital to run and review the 2014 race – and hopefully score a new PB in the prorocess. Here’s how she got on…

There aren’t many sports where you can say you’ve ‘competed’ with the world’s best, or taken part in an event where a new world record is set. But that’s exactly how 40,000 runners felt at the Berlin Marathon on Sunday 28 September 2014 when Dennis Kimetto set a new world record for the 26.2-mile distance at the race – admittedly, most of us finished a good hour or two after he’d crossed the finish line, showered, changed and had a nice cup of tea, but there was still a great sense of being part of something special as we followed in the footsteps of the elite athletes to take on our own marathon challenges.

I didn’t find out that Kimetto had set a new world record until I crossed the finish line roughly an hour and a half after him, but it was an amazing feeling to know that I’d run along the same blue line (at times) as the world’s fastest marathon runner.

Making history

Kimetto also made history by becoming the first person to break the 2:03 hour barrier in a marathon by running an astounding 2:02:57 – an average pace per mile of 4 minutes 41.5 seconds. Runner-up Emmanuel Mutai finished in at impressive 2:03:13 – still inside the old world record of 2:03:23, set in Berlin in 2013 by the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon winner Wilson Kipsang.

I also discovered once I’d cross the finish line that Ethiopia’s Tirfi Tsegaye scored her first Berlin Marathon win in the elite women’s race after finishing runner-up at the 2012 event. Tsegaye took just over a minute off her personal best to win in 2:20:18, just nine seconds ahead of her training partner Feyse Tadese.

Great expectations

As one of the World Marathon Majors events (London, New York City, Tokyo, Boston and Chicago Marathons), Berlin has all the hallmarks you’d expect from a great international marathon – excellent organisation, a stellar elite field and a stunning course lined with enthusiastic supporters. The city is also the perfect place to raise a post-marathon stein or two, with runners and spectators alike helping to create a real party atmosphere.

Race day

The day of the marathon dawned a little warmer than I’d expected but the bright blue skies meant that Berlin really looked at its best. Despite suffering from a few pre-race nerves the day before, on the morning of the marathon I felt surprisingly calm and didn’t have my usual pre-event jitters.

I was staying in Potsdamer Platz, so was lucky enough to enjoy a leisurely 10-minute stroll from my hotel to the start line. It felt great to soak up the buzz of excitement from all runners who were eagerly sharing their training and injury woes as they trooped towards the start area in Tiergarten Park, which is also home to the impressive, and slightly domineering, Reichstag building. The start village was busy with runners warming up and tucking into bars and gels for a last-minute energy fix.

As so often happens, my marathon training hadn’t gone quite to plan. A busy work schedule, illness and a lower-back strain played havoc with my training, but I managed to recover in time to get some all-important long runs under my belt and felt ready for the challenge ahead.

Start right

In previous marathons I’ve ended up in the wrong starting pen due to overcrowding and general disorganisation, so I was pleased to reach the correct starting pen for runners aiming for a 3:15 to 3:30 finish time with relatively minimal fuss and was soon casting aside an old hoodie and running towards the start line gantry. 

After a brisker-than-planned first mile I settled into my target 7:30-7:45 minute mile pace and enjoyed the entertainment and crowds lining the route. Support along the course was excellent as there was plenty of music and entertainment from live bands helping to spur the runners on. You’re less likely to see hordes of fancy-dress runners in Berlin, compared to London, but the atmosphere was still fantastic from start to finish. 

Riding the rollercoaster

As with any marathon there were some great highs and challenging lows. Thankfully, I experienced more highs on this occasion with my only real low coming at mile 23 when I suffered from agonising cramp in my leg and was forced to walk for a couple of minutes. It was at this low moment that my spirits were lifted by a family with young children all shouting ‘come on Carys’, which made me feel compelled to oblige and I set off running – or limping towards the finish with gritted teeth.

I’d been advised not to sprint for the line until I’d passed under the spectacular Brandenburg Gate, roughly 200m from the finish, and this proved to be excellent advice as I had enough energy left in the tank for a final dash to the finish line.

One of the many reasons I love running international marathons is the chance to visit a new place. Having never been to Berlin (or Germany) before the course offered a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a sightseeing tour of many of the city’s greatest historical sights, passing through West and East Berlin and taking in the Reichstag, Siegessaule (Victory Column), Platz am Wilden Eber (Wild Boar), Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and, of course, the Brandenburg Gate.

I had imagined that I would fell a sense of elation by the time I ran under the iconic arches towards the finish line, but by this point my mind and body were slightly dulled and I felt strangely unemotional. I soon perked up though once my finisher’s medal was slung around my neck and I had a post-race German beer in my hand to celebrate my new PB of 3:29 after a year of injury woes. Well worth raising a stein to. Prost!

For more information about the BMW Berlin Marathon, visit: