If you are a runner, then at some point in your life you will either run a marathon or imagine what it’s like to do so. It’s the pillar of long-distance running and has been around for thousands of years since it originated in Ancient Greece. Many people make the pilgrimage to Athens to run what is thought to be the ‘original’ marathon route but many more still travel to Germany each September to run what is fast becoming the most popular marathon in the world – the Berlin Marathon.
Berlin has a reputation as being one of the flattest and quickest routes in international marathon running and as such is favoured by top athletes looking for a world record, serious runners looking for a personal best, and first-time runners looking for a marathon they won’t die trying to complete. I fall into the last category.
I travelled to Berlin four days before race day to get settled in, rest up and make sure I knew where I was going on the big day. The sign-in was the day before at Tempelhoff, a huge abandoned air base in the centre of the city that has been now turned into a very popular public park where people regularly play sports, picnic and fly their kites. This in itself is worth a visit. I chose to stay in an Airbnb in Neukolln; a hipster/Turkish district with good transport links and plenty of amazing falafel shops to load up on in the days leading up to the race. Berlin is scattered with hundreds of really affordable Airbnbs in all of its many districts and so you really should never struggle to find somewhere cool to stay when you come.
September is, in my opinion, the ideal month to be visiting Berlin and the ideal weather for running. The walk down from the U-bahn on race day had me tingling – people were streaming toward the Reichstag from all parts of the city and the sun was climbing higher. It was a perfect early-Autumn morning. Absolutely perfect. I checked in my bag and chatted to a couple of people, but really, I was on my own. I’d signed up for this on my own, got myself to Berlin, got myself out of bed that morning and I WAS going to do this.
The start went off and there was a huge cheer – everyone was in great spirits. Runners are crazy people. I took the first few KM really steady (it was impossible not to with the crowds, 75000 people run the Berlin marathon every year) and sped up between 10-20km. 25KM to 35KM was really, really difficult. It was a realm my body was unused to and post-30 had never even been to. But this is where you start relying on the crowd and the beautiful sights of Berlin when you can’t rely on your legs. At 35KM I knew I’d done it, because who gives up with 7K to go? I pushed through and with 1KM to go I gave it all I had and ‘sprinted’ towards the spectacular finishing line at The Brandenburg Gate. It was a feeling of achievement I don’t think I’ve ever had before. I was handed my medal and wrapped in another plastic sheet; I grinned and broke down into tears. It was an extremely emotional U-bahn ride home!
If you are considering travelling to complete a marathon and combining it with a holiday, I can’t recommend Berlin as a destination enough. In the days after as you recover, allow yourself to simply sit in one of its many gorgeous cafes, hobble slowly along the river and daydream about where you will run next.