Monday, December 09, 2013

Berlin Marathon 2013 – race report

So you want to talk about Berlin?...

See this if you want to see nos

Over the last 2 months or so, I have evaded making this post. However I have been asked “So how was Berlin? What happened?...” so many times and answered the question in some fashion that I decided it was time I wrote down my thoughts on my 2nd most awaited event for 2013, before my memory began to fail me. (I got married about 6 months ago – so that was easily THE event for my year 2013). And honestly I am hurting mentally much less now than I have for the past couple of months.

I had run the Ave of the Giants in May 2011 in 3:09:46 (I had also run the CIM in Dec 2012 in 3:10:07, but the organizers needed only one time) based on which I was allotted the D Corral which was for runners with an expected finish time of 3:00-3:15 hours, mostly based on prior times, although some people who looked like they could not have run even a 3:30 had managed to sneak in. Humility check was done by the fact that corral A is for elites.

I had trained well for Berlin. I had kept away from doing any races – even shorter ones except for 2 runs. I did a circuit of Nandi hills in preparation for my Hyderabad HM, which I was treating as a run at race pace for Berlin. And that was done in 1:32:53 which was a big plus, given the elevation profile of the Hyd HM route. The only gap, if there was one was that I had not managed to run my tempos at my tempo pace since I find it difficult to run 4 min/km pace in India, while I manage that comfortably (if tempo pace can be called comfortable at all) when I am in the US, perhaps due to the temperature difference, although there is a mathematical chance that the Bay Area/New York (places where I have spent over a month training in the past) being at sea level may help as well. I had counted on accumulating mileage at planned race pace, which I did manage with some difficulty. So Hyd HM was the longest I had run at race pace in training and I thought that was good enough. 2 weeks before Berlin, I did run at Cubbon Park and finished in 1:34 or so, on a route which was relatively flat compared to Hyd. While that was disappointing, I put that down as due to running the first 5-5km in darkness since I had started my run at 5:30 am or so. Also, due to tying the laces in the front part of my shoe rather tightly due to hurrying in the dark, wanting to finish my run before 7:30 am, I ended up with blisters despite running in my tested shoes and socks. Good lesson. Thankfully the blisters vanished by the time I left for Berlin.

I had one another annoyance. My left shin had bothered pretty much all through. But the pain had never escalated since I didn’t do too many hard runs. Since the tempos were at race pace, impact was much less. (I now know that my suspicion that it was a stress fracture is true. I am now recovering)

We landed in Berlin the evening on Thursday after some flight snafus from Qatar Airways, well in time for the race. Once the bib collection was completed the same evening, we had little to do except some sightseeing on Fri. Although I had planned on not doing much to stay off my feet, I changed my decision and went out and saw 2 museums on Fri. My legs weren’t very taxed by the trip and I didn’t expect any disruption from that. I stayed at the hotel for almost the entire day on Sat and that helped me feel fresh for Sun. I developed some inexplicable pain in my abdomen on Sat afternoon which diminished as surprisingly as it had appeared by Sun morning, after some anxious moments on Sat night. But not sleeping well on the night before the race is normal for me. I had slept well on the previous nights. So I wasn’t bothered by this at all.

I had a breakfast of sugarless and mostly milkless coffee. 3 large bananas and half of an apple, which weighed 840g (I had bought it only the previous evening!). So I was adequately fueled.

I had worn one of my favourite sweatshirts  -  a red one, over my race gear to the start in addition to Adidas plastic wrapper given in the corrals to protect myself from the cold. Some of my trainees and I jogged to the start from the hotel. By the time I got to my corral, my Garmin showed 2.5 km. However I had begun walking from Brandenberg gate to conserve energy. So it was not like I was sweating or something. I threw that and the wrapper off just before the start.

The race was off to a great start. Haile flagged us off! I could see that most people in D corral were perhaps closer to being 3:00 hr finishers rather than 3:15 from the rhythm they established from the beginning.

My 5K splits as well time for the last 2.2K are as below

I am not sure if I missed the fuel stations or if there was nothing beyond water till the 9km mark. My head was completely forward (so I didn’t look sideways for a while) till I realized that I hadn’t had sugar sometime after the 5K mark. I had taken 4 salt pills and decided to pop one of them in stead at around the 5 km mark. I did feel a mild panic about missing sugar but the cold weather meant I wasn’t going to really go low on sugar that quickly. The salt pill got stuck in my throat and I carried that silly annoyance in my throat till the 9 km mark or so when I managed to down it with some water. It didn’t hurt in any fashion but I wasn’t exactly happy about it either.

I didn’t see anything other than a water stop, till the 15th km mark. So I caught up at the 15 km mark with the Powerbar stall where I had about 150-200 ml of the electrolyte drink and thereafter at every Powerbar counter, which was every at every 5th km from thereon. So I never felt weak from an energy standpoint during the run. I have hit the wall before and know the feeling.

There’s a mild bump in the elevation in Berlin from around the 25-29 km mark and everyone does slow down a bit. If I had any anxiety about the few seconds I lost in that segment, it was mitigated by the fact that the same people were around me till the 34km mark.

I did feel a mild left calf strain during the run before the halfway mark and a mildly tight right hamstring before the 25 km mark. I tried to elongate stride to ensure hamstring loosened, which seemed to help.

The first time I noticed that I had slowed down was at the 34 km mark or so, when I noticed that some people who I had been with for almost 2.5 hours had suddenly moved about 25m ahead. I checked my watch for the next split and it told me I was about 20 seconds off my target pace for that km. I wasn’t really alarmed then but when those people kept piling on more metres, I realized my race was over. At around the 37 km mark, which is what I had planned for picking up pace, I was certain that I was going to miss the 3:10 mark since I was unable to maintain 4:30 min/km. I was hoping to somehow manage the 3:10 mark since I had been on 3:05 pace till the 33-34 km mark, but sometime around the 38th km or so, the 3:15 pacer went past me. That settled it. My last few kms were miserable mentally although the crowds were amazing.

I had also thrown my beanie off at around the 34 km mark since it was no longer as cold. My head felt cooler once I threw it away but I am not sure it had done any harm.

Some guy in my corral had asked me before the start what time I was planning to finish in and I told him I would very happy to finish in 3:05 but 3:08 would do as well. He said that was too fast for him but he’d try and stick to me. He stuck to me till 31km or so and kept asking if I was on pace. But I was too slow for him. (He picked up after the 31st km and eventually finished under 3:10.)

At least 2000 runners must have passed me in the last 7-8 km.

I had nothing left by the time I came round to the last km. So there was no surge to the finish. I finished with more than a tinge of disappointment since this meant more than 6 months of training were wiped out in about 3 hours. I went to the medical tent since I felt a little woozy but recovered within minutes with some sugar. With body fat levels that you get to, from training, and a hard race, this isn’t much of a surprise. It isn’t like I blacked out. I also needed a blanket in addition to the wrapper they give all runners since I was shivering. I also learnt that Wilson Kipsang had broken the WR.

I went out and had all the nice goodies for finishing. I had promised my wife that I wouldn’t get all sulky for the next 2 weeks if the outcome was poor and I stuck to it. As I tell her now, I spent my breakfasts for the next 2 weeks, privately grieving (She isn’t much of a breakfast person. So she never saw me wallowing in self-pity J)

Was I stupid to do museum tours on Fri? I don’t know. The more plausible explanation I have for my slowing down in the last 5K is that I had not run much race pace in such weather in that geography unlike my previous attempts (Ave, Grandma’s and CIM) when I have stayed in the US for a month or so prior to my raceday.

My only positive is that despite the slow finishing time, this is the longest I have carried on at ~7 min/mile. Previously, I have crashed from the 20 mile marker or earlier although in Ave, I had held up better pace for the last 10K.

I have some sage advice based on my annus mirabilis 2011 - The best things may not come to you when you expect them. Don't stop working till you achieve your goals. It is best to die trying. Dissatisfaction should not be a reason for death. Exhaustion is a much better way to die. As Greg Cass said in this wonderful article in the NYT, the gift of the marathon is a curse as well - the number of variables are not easy to control. On that perfect day which all runners chase, you get it right. Most times you will fail. But don't stop trying.

I have no races planned till mid 2014 when I might return to CA to try again. Until then, I shall rest and relax.

p.s. In case it wasn't obvious I finished in 3:18:40, about 10 min slower than I wanted to

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks For Sharing This Great Post Dude
Plots in Hoskote

12/18/2013 3:10 AM  

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