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Berlin Marathon 2023

Julia Hardy | Published on 10/22/2023

Berlin was my fourth marathon, and my fourth Abbott World Major Star after Boston, London, and New York, all in 2022. I’d been looking forward to it for nine months, ever since I’d secured my entry through a tour package with Sports Tours International. I’d done a lot better during this training cycle than my last one before London and New York the previous year. I’d begun to view my upcoming marathons (yes, marathons, as I was going to run the Chicago Marathon two weeks after Berlin) as “dragons,” and my training as preparation for “slaying” them. So imagine my surprise when the day before the Berlin Marathon, while out on a guided tour, I saw a statue of Saint George on his rearing horse, holding a flagged spear in his left hand and raising his sword in his right hand, preparing to slay the dragon being trampled under the horse’s feet.

The morning of the marathon, I ensured I had everything together and double-checked that my timing chip was securely attached to my right sneaker, and made my way to the lobby of the hotel where I was staying and met the sports tour organizers I had booked my stay with. When all the runners who had registered with this tour group were assembled, maybe a few dozen of us, we paused outside the lobby for a few photos before the organizers escorted us to the start area. Now, when I'd read the word "escort" in the announcement on the itinerary board, I had thought that this had meant they'd put us on a bus or something. Instead, we walked for roughly 45 minutes to the start area. Not such a bad thing, however, as I was wearing a new pair of running shoes, and the walk broke them in pretty well. Along the way, I exchanged words with a few people, asking which Major this was for them, how many marathons had they run, and so forth, which helped ease my nerves a little. It was cool and cloudy, which felt ideal.

We approached the Victory Column and then turned right, and then walked a little through a park to get to the start and finish area, which was on the grounds in the government sector right outside of the glass-domed Reichstag. At the expo when I had picked up my number, the event organizers had fastened a ribbon wristband to my right arm, which served as my entry into the start area. I was in Corral K, which, as it turned out, was the last corral in the start area, and part of Wave 4.

As I and several thousand other people waited, I kept an eye on the massive Jumbo-tron screens on which they were showing coverage from the start line. The announcers introduced the elite runners over the loudspeakers, Eliud Kipchoge among them, and welcomed them to the field. The runner waves started at 9:15 AM with the elites in Wave 1. Wave 2 went out at roughly 9:40 AM, Wave 3 at 10:05 AM, and my wave, Wave 4, at 10:30 AM. As each wave was sent off, someone at the start line pressed a palm-sized button which made a sound like a massive foghorn, and sparks and flames shot out from the top of the start line scaffolding. By the time I went over the start line at 10:34 AM, the sun had started trying to break through the clouds, indicating it was going to get warmer.

The Berlin Marathon course is in the shape of a hare, beginning with the start of its ear, continuing to its face, then to the front of its body and front legs, then its underside, its back legs, its back, and finally the back of its head and the remainder of its ear. I’m fairly certain this was done on purpose, to emphasize the fact that this course was flat and fast, and one could easily set a PR if they tried or wanted to. The course visits many of Berlin’s neighborhoods, and along the way are included the highlights that the city has to offer, inclusive of the Victory Column, the Reichstag, Alexanderplatz (the former center of East Berlin), Potsdamer Platz and the Mall of Berlin, and perhaps the most recognizable site, the Brandenburg Gate.

Support along the course was excellent, as far as aid stations are concerned. Not only do they offer water and electrolytes, but there are also specific aid stations which offer hot or cold tea and sliced fruits. And for what crowds there are, if you point at anyone in acknowledgement, they will cheer for you, shouting your name and all. I also high-fived a few young children who were spectating, as well as my friend Maureen right before the half-marathon checkpoint.

For me, a lot of the route blurred together and looked the same. The reason I don't remember much about it is because I was so focused on how I was feeling and performing that I didn't really take in as much of what was around me as I probably should have. I tried incredibly hard to maintain control over what I could control (my pace, breathing, hydration, and so on), and tried not to scuff my feet on the pavement or trip over any above-ground train tracks. I felt reasonably warmed up after the first 5K and attempted to maintain what I was doing through the rest of the marathon. However, as they do when you pound pavement for a long time, my feet started to get sore about halfway through, and though I tried my hardest to push with my glutes and hamstrings, my quads still got sore enough that I slowed myself down with about 8K or so left, and then with around 1.5 miles remaining, loathe though I was to do it, I began to use an interval strategy of two minutes running and one minute walking to help them recover. And that made what felt like a big difference. I also kept worrying a little at various intervals that my timing chip would somehow malfunction or not work (as I'd never worn one fastened to my shoe before).

Then, with only about a half-mile remaining, we turned left onto Unter den Linden and Pariser Platz, and I saw the Brandenburg Gate ahead of me. For me, that was like the left onto Boylston at the end of the Boston Marathon. I felt my last surge of adrenaline mixed with both joy and relief and I vowed to run the last half-mile to the finish line. And running under the Brandenburg Gate itself, and then crossing the scaffolding of the finish line, was quite possibly the most memorable moment of this race.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:45:48, my second-fastest marathon after Boston. It was a good day. The weather was not unbearably warm or humid, it was very nice in the shade (which was a good fraction of the course), and I earned my 4th Abbott World Major Star. I guess that finish makes me a Berlin Legend.


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