Friday, October 7, 2016

Berlin Marathon & Bavarian outing

After enduring months of hot and sweaty training through the summer, I flew to Berlin via trans-Atlantic flight and made it to Berlin early morning on Thursday September 22nd. My biggest panic at that moment was not knowing a word in German. My plans to quickly master basic German on the flight was a miserable failure.I stepped off the flight knowing only "Danke" & "Bitte" :). Took the U-bahn trains (super easy to navigate) to the Airbnb I had booked 15 minutes south of Tiergarten Park in Central Berlin.Race location was about a 20 minute walk from my place of stay. Later figured that 38th KM aid station was on the street where I was staying just in front of my room. I checked into my room and spent the day walking around and getting oriented with the city.Despite my best efforts to stay awake during the day, Jet lag kicked in and I couldnt sleep at all that night. Next morning took it easy and woke up late, did a 30 minute easy running visiting some historic monuments like Berlin Wall, Topography of terror and Brandenburg Gate. Race expo was a zoo and ridiculously crowded. This expo was bigger than any of the race expos I've visited in the past. Made it back to my room in one piece. Next morning did my own shorter shake out run and it was amazing to finish the run at Berlin Olympic stadium. Returned back to the room and spent the whole day off my feet and trying to gather things for the race.

As the street where I was staying was on race course, the roads were closed on race day and buses were not running. I walked to the race location for 20 minutes and another 20 minutes from bag drop off location to the race start area. Activity monitor on my phone was impressed with my 4 km walk and I hadn't even started the race ;) . Elites took off right on time at 9:15 am. Few more minutes passed and they announced Elites had crossed 5k mark in under 15 minutes. I was in the last wave and I finally crossed the start line at 9:45 am. Weather conditions were comfortable and temperature was in the low 60s. My wave was the most crowded and it was difficult getting any sort of rhythm and I ran my first mile in 8:35 min/mile pace which felt like a comfortable pace at that point. I continued to elbow runners left and right and crossed the 5k mark in 27.12 and felt great. I told myself to stop grinning and start focussing on the race. Weather was slowly warming up as I crossed 10k in 54:46 and half marathon point in 1:56:11. I saw some one holding a poster saying Ethiopia's Bekele had already won the marathon in 2:03. Dang .. I felt like a crawling slow poke. They were predicting a warm second half of the race and I made sure to drink at every aid station. I also chugged down a Gel at every 45-50 mins. By mile 15 my calves started tightening and twitching and I was bit concerned as it was way too early in the race. My strategy for second half of race was to pick up the pace a bit and catch and pass runners as much as possible. I stuck with this plan from mile 13-17. Fatigue was slowly creeping in and it got very warm to 80s. I kept telling myself im not tired and focussing only on the runner in front of me. I crossed the 30km mark in 2 hours and 45 minutes and felt I had run my fastest 20 miler. It took few minutes to realize you hit 20 miler after crossing 32 km and it was still not bad as I made it to 32km in 2:57. My calves were twitching harder by then and I continued to ignore it as I was on top of fluid and nutrition. I had to badly goto bathroom and wasted few minutes at a porta potty. I was seriously pissed at myself but there was nothing I could do. I tried to stay calm and worked through fatigue and cramping. My mind had wandered off from focussing on the runner in front of me. I crossed 40km in 3:45 and told myself to run like hell as there is only 2km left. Miraculously I was able to run faster than previous few miles and sprinted under Brandenburg gate to the finish line and looked at my watch to see it had clocked 3:57:35. At first I was disappointed as I felt I would be under 3:50 but within few minutes I cheered up as I realized my original goal was to go sub 4 hours and I had done it.

Felt awesome picking up race medal and walking slowly towards to recovery area. After about 30 minutes of sitting in the recovery area ,I saw my runner friend Heather at the recovery area. We spent the next few hours walking around, eating and taking pictures. Race course is really as flat as they claim. It seemed hard to break through the wall of runners and I felt my pace was pretty much controlled by folks running around me(not that im fast anyways.. lol). I guess this is what happens in big city marathons with 40K+ runners.

While I was sitting in the recovery area I met few runners in their 60s and they told me they were from East Germany and they were not allowed to run the marathon until the wall came down in 1989. It made me realize how historic Berlin Marathon truly was. They had tears in their eyes and the conversation made me tear up too. I spent the next few days sight seeing and some of historic WW2 and Cold war sites around Berlin that brought me chill and sadness. Its amazing how Germany has rebounded from the dark historic times. After spending 6 nights in Berlin I went to Munich. Munich truly is a green city and surroundings are spectacular. Oktoberfest is fantastic time to visit Munich. Beer everywhere and festivities and dancing in the city is ridiculously impressive. My legs felt great and was able to hike up Zugspitze mountain which highest peak in Germany and also tripped to Berchtesgaden, Eagles nest and also did some hikes in Austrian Alps. I was finally feeling homesick and ready to head home. Besides I was worried if I stay any longer in Germany I'll baloon up by over loading of chocolate crossants and pastries. Europeans do rob you before handing out an American sized cappuchino. Near perfect running vacation came to an end and I feel ready to get back to work and get back to running again.

Here are some pictures taken during the trip:
Munich & Bavarian Alps