We got to Berlin via the train from Bologna. Pretty much a 12 hour trip, with the big portion being on a very comfortable Austrian train to Munich, then a German ICE from there. The first bit was in the daylight and passed through magnificent countryside which included the Alps. Well worth a numb bum from sitting so long. The first train also had a good restaurant car…..so I delayed my period off the booze a little longer……..
Post the marathon, we got to enjoy Berlin properly. When I was based in Germany, I visited Berlin a few times and invariably this involved token sightseeing then dedicated boozing in areas well known to those who had been based in Berlin before the wall came down. Basically, I spent time in dodgy bars around the old British sector.
This trip was a little different. The few days around the Marathon were spent slap bang in the centre, in a reasonable, international hotel, surrounded by huge buildings and Berlin ‘sights’. It was nice, if a little sterile and dull. Very far from the Berlin I knew. We did a little sightseeing, but mostly it was about the bloody long run.
Post the marathon, after Mike and Liz left, we were joined by our good friend Tom and headed east to an Airbnb in a part of town undergoing gentrification…… but not quite there yet.
Our place was in an old East German school house, not too far from the Stasi museum and with a rather industrial feel to it. There was nothing much in the way of restaurants locally but I did find a bar with reasonable reviews a short walk away, so we popped out for a few quiet drinks. We had those, and as we were leaving, got chatting to a couple of locals, and so had a number of increasingly noisy drinks. One guy, Alex, was an architect, originally from the Ukraine, and the other, Sergei, was a management consultant originally from Kazakhstan. They were good friends and for a while we chatted about lots of stuff until the subject of the Crimea came up. It appeared it was very important to them both, they had very differing opinions on the subject and had never chatted about it before. We had a fascinating night, drinking beer and Berliner Luft shots, listening to reasoned discussion between intelligent people who realised that they had many areas of agreement. A very refreshing change. Our quiet night ended at approx 1am…
The next couple of days were spent exploring East and West Berlin and eating and drinking, mostly in the very funky area around Boxhagener Platz.
Our initial exploring was done on a ‘hop on, hop-off’ bus tour that had a leg which went around the traditional sights and another that concentrated on the East. I have a feeling that the tour is a collaboration between two companies, one from the east, one from the west. One had modern red busses with a headphone accessible recorded commentary, consisting of normal facts etc delivered along with appalling, stilted banter. The other was in older green buses with a real person on board that gave a commentary in English and German whilst ad-libbing in accordance with their own political views and sense of humour. They were hilarious. If you go, stick to the green busses!
We enjoyed being in the East, and Boxhagener Platz. It is a bit grimy, very lively, has every flavour of food you can imagine and shops that just sell beer, where people go, buy beer, then just hang around in doorways drinking beer, all in a ‘what a nice way to spend an evening kind of way’, rather than ‘I’m a tramp’ kind of way. All very relaxed and lovely.
We concluded that we liked Berlin. Whilst there is some tension in some areas, it is multicultural, it works, without being too efficient and character less and it is very liveable. We wouldn’t live there of course. Too bloody cold in the winter.
As we had our last drink there before heading to the airport, we got some news, that whilst was tinged with a little sadness, was mostly good. The sale of Mum’s house had made it to the exchange stage! The trip is now very likely to be fully funded. Hurrah!
Next stop: Tunis, and the wedding of the wonderful Bridge and Mohamed!
I have done one marathon, in London in 2008, and a number of half marathons since being in Oz. I have often wondered why some people walk close to the end. Why don’t they just push it out a little bit longer? I now know why. They are completely and utterly fucked.
The marathon prep had gone reasonably well. I had managed to put in the miles, starting from a reasonable base, I had tried and tested stuff to wear, I had eaten lots of pasta and had even been off the vino for 24hrs. Other than somehow pushing out 22,000 steps the day before, going to the expo to pick up my number and hunting for pasta (not on the plan) all was well.
There is a real sense of excitement at events like the Berlin Marathon. 45,000 people had trained hard to be there. For some it was their first and perhaps only marathon. For some it was one of many, but perhaps the first of the big ‘world major marathons’ For one, it was a chance to beat the world record.
People have come from all around the world to be there (133 countries to be exact) and from about 7am, they all making their way to the start line near the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
I was joined by my ‘cousin’ who was my mother’s cousin but nearer our age than hers, who has done a number of marathons, and his wife Liz, who was doing her first. As I am a bit of a lone runner, we split up in the start area and I tried to savour the atmosphere. It’s a bit like a party where nobody drinks but everyone needs to pee. And poo. Mostly in portaloos but not exclusively. I wouldn’t want to take a seat in the woods in the Tiergarten for a couple of months after such an event.
There is loud dance music in the start area, every language being spoken, people of every age, people who have tattoos marking every marathon they have done (the Berlin one looked a little raw........ and was perhaps a little premature......), and people who had a routine of not washing their running kit for the entire prep period. At least it smelt that way.
Then we were off! The course is flat, historic and reasonably well organised. There were two shortfalls. The water stops only have beakers rather than bottles so it’s a compromise between slowing down or stopping to take on lots of water, or keeping going and having a swig on the hoof. I took a bottle bought the previous day and hoped that would be ok. The other shortfall is a lack of shade, and we started at 9.45 on a warm, cloudless day.
Those who haven’t done many marathons get given the advice to ‘start slow, then get slower’ and I knew this. I checked my times at each 5k and was rather chuffed with myself. I was hitting 5 mins per km, the top end of my target and 15 secs faster than my expected. It stayed like this for a good distance. I met Mike at the 21km point and we discussed how we felt. For both it was ‘ok I think. A bit faster than anticipated, but ok. Let’s see what the second half brings’.
7 km later, I was hurting a bit, so took the decision to slow. Too little, too late. By 35 km I was in proper pain and beginning to cramp, but hey, you can run through cramp. At 37k, my arms cramped, my feet cramped, my torso cramped and I had to stop. I almost didn’t stay upright, but kept it together, had some strong words with myself, began to walk then into a slow jog. Anyone can jog 5km so I certainly could. But I couldn’t. The cycle of cramp, stop, walk, jog, cramp then repeat got increasingly shorter, just as the kms seemed to be getting longer. Even with just a km to go, as I passed a paramedic team treating a fellow runner, I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I knew my target was missed but still had the achievement of ‘finishing’ to hit. The last 500m was a bit of a blur but I managed to hobble over the line in a run type movement and didn’t fall in a heap. Hurrah…. Perhaps.
I had three aims for the event and one prior to it. Prior to it was to have the discipline to put in the miles. Job done. During it was to 1. Finish. 2. Enjoy it. 3. Do it quicker than a JFT 10 years younger had done the London Marathon but preferably between 3.30 and 3.45. Well, I managed 1 and for the first half, I managed 2 . I even beat my 2008 time by 10 seconds (that’s right…… 42 km and a 10 sec difference)…..3h, 54m and 44s. I was faster than 75% of the field and my gender/age group but the last few km kept me way off my real target.
I should be really chuffed. I wish I could be really cuffed. It is ridiculous that I am not really chuffed, but I am not.
I walked. I didn’t do the things I knew I should do. I nearly didn’t get to the end. I am not sure which is worse. All the stuff involving walking and lacking discipline on the run, or not being able to see past it.
Now, logically, there are a few things to take into consideration. I have had a wonderful 10 weeks in Europe leading up to this. I have seen some lovely places, done some great things and significantly learned that I love good Nata, and can’t resist a good Ginja in Portugal, Negroni or Apreol Spritz in Italy, Vermouth in Barcelona, cap Corse in Corsica and wine/champagne in France. Cause and effect perhaps?Or perhaps being off the vino for 24hrs was more than my body could handle..........
Perhaps I, like a yacht, have a ‘hull speed’. No matter how much sail is up, no matter how hard the wind blows, it will only go so fast and if you try to make it go faster, it breaks. Who knows.
I was hugely chuffed about one thing though. Even though Mike and Liz both had a hard last few km, they stormed home in times that they can be hugely proud of. Liz, in particular had an incredible event and was only behind a very small percentage of her age/gender. A brilliant achievement. It was also lovely to have them both there before, during and after the event.
My plan was to do all 5 majors, one a decade, between now and the year that I am 78. Two down. But I have a problem. There may be six majors (Amsterdam), and I have a desire to get over my slight disappointment of this one. Hmmm.
To end on a high…… getting up early in the morning when the roads are empty, when only a few people are on the streets, when nature is beginning to wake up and when the sun begins to work it’s wonderful magic on the truly incredible place we live is a most uplifting thing and my running has given me that….. in over 30 different towns and 6 different countries during my prep. I have been supported by many lovely people who have encouraged me along the way or just ‘liked’ my insta snaps. And J has persevered with me as I get out of bed at hours that we all should be sleeping soundly, as I got a bit buggered half way through a day because of the above, as I post dull videos on insta and as I occasionally bleed slightly after one of the longer runs (Lisbon…… wrong shorts….chafing…… bad chafing………)
There is much to be grateful for.