Monday, October 16, 2017

The days before the marathon

On the Friday afternoon before the marathon, after touring around Berlin with Marathon Tours, we were dropped off at the race expo to get checked in. As soon as we walked up, the race expo felt very chaotic to me. My friends and I got our bibs as a group, but then went our separate ways because it was way too crowded to stay together and everyone has different ways they like to handle an expo. One thing I do at every expo? Take photos.

The "official" photo spot had the largest line to take a photo, so we just scooted off to the side and snuck in some snapshots. The long lines for photos was the first thing we saw walking into the actual expo area after checking in and from then on, it was just chaos everywhere.

As soon as I started walking around, I started to feel hot and overwhelmed and a bit dizzy. It was just too much. However, I wanted to get race gear so I first went into the clothing area to check out the merchandise from the official race sponsor, Adidas.

The clothing area was completely insane. It looked like movie scenes of Black Friday where people are just tearing through clothes and grabbing whatever they could. There was nothing hanging on hangers and just piles of gear and jackets and shirts everywhere that people were snatching up when they could, trying on, and then tossing what they didn't want. I snagged what I could hoard and found a mirror and tried things on and chose a few items that I liked and were in my size. I ended up really happy with the gear I chose but the selection was not great and the environment was stressful.

Some of my friends had gone the day before to the race expo and I highly recommend that you go as early as you can. I can't imagine what it would be like on Saturday. The Berlin Marathon gave you the option to choose whether or not you wanted an official race shirt. I had declined, knowing that I would likely be buying my own gear, so I would have been really disappointed if there was nothing in my size or colors left I liked.

Following the clothing, I walked around a bit, but didn't find the expo all that exciting. I didn't know the brands or anything that they were promoting and there were no free samples. There was no logical way to walk around the expo as there were all sorts of random wings to the building and areas to check out. I couldn't figure out what to do so I did a quick loop around, signed my name on the wall and then attempted to ask a question before heading out.

I was looking throughout the expo for information about the availability of different pace groups in the race corrals, which was one of my reasons for sticking around after getting clothing. I walked around though and could not seem to find it anywhere. Eventually I realized that it might be back in the room where I got my bib and attempted to go back in there. However, the security guards would not let me go back that way and told me that I would have to exit and walk alllll the way around and go through entry again. I tried to ask a few other people and sneak my way back in, but nobody was really having that and I was not about to exit the whole expo and enter again. Especially when I didn't even have confirmation that doing so would get me the answers I needed.

My last attempt was to ask a random "Info" agent about the pace groups but he seemed to be just telling me what he thought I wanted to hear vs. giving me actual information. Frustrated and tired, I eventually just gave up and left.

As soon as I walked out of there, I felt much better and I wanted nothing more than to get away from the swarms of people and the crowd. I stopped for ONE MORE photo in front of a map of the course, and then slowly and by myself, walked back towards my hotel. I didn't check in with my friends and put my phone away and just took some moments to regroup after the race expo. I was really working to try and keep myself focused and my nerves low, since I was feeling them pretty strongly. Another thing that I did before this race was to really avoid social media in the days leading up to the race. I posted a photo then logged off social media for the most part until after the race.

From the race expo, I stopped and grabbed a snack of a turkey sandwich, which I ate alone, continuing my quiet time, before dropping things at my hotel and heading out to connect with friends. The expo really did overwhelm me a lot and I needed something to just take my mind off the race itself and luckily I had the perfect plans. First, I stopped at a local restaurant for a Radler beer (half beer / half lemonade) with some friends, Lindsay and Krystle, who had just finished lunch. The restaurant was in the weird in between hours from lunch and dinner so it was quiet and mostly empty, which gave my mind the downtime from stimulation that it needed. The conversation with friends and the beer did not hurt either! It was perfect and time flew by before I jumped in a car to head across town for a totally non-race related activity next.

Two of my good friends from mu Upstate NY days, who are married but I each worked with separately at different GE businesses, have since relocated to Berlin. It was actually right around the first time that I visited Berlin that they had JUST moved there. They had a baby a year and a half ago, so I was able to go see them and meet their adorable little girl, then catch up while eat mass amounts of different kinds of mozzarella cheese at a place called Mozzarella Bar. It was so fun to just not talk about run stuff (although yes, of course, we did talk about some run stuff) but to just catch up on life and work and old friends and have a couple of glasses of wine and eat good food. Cheese might be an odd choice two days before a marathon but I actually went out for fondue the Friday night before Chicago Marathon so I felt pretty confident that my stomach could handle it. Which it did.

And I ate bread without abandon! It was a really fun night.

I was looking through old pictures to see if there was a good throwback image of the 3 of us circa the early years of 2009, but nothing was appropriate enough to pull out of the archives. Rest assured, we've all done a lot of growing up since we all first were sharing drinks together! I did find this picture from my last trip to Berlin in May 2013 though.

Friday evening was really great and I went to bed feeling happy. However, I struggled sleeping that night, which had me feeling a little bit stressed and anxious again because the night before the night before the marathon is really when you should try and get a solid night sleep in case you end up with race nerves.

On Saturday morning I slept in a bit, then peeled out of bed to go do a short 2 mile run. I really didn't have much planned at all for the day so I was a bit lazy in the morning, which was great. I wanted to get the run over with and knew it was short so I forced myself to go. However, I had a hard time getting started because I woke up in the morning feeling groggy, a bit stuffed up, and like I was getting a sore throat. It totally had me in panic mode. Plus, it was chillier and a bit drizzly in the morning and I went out to do my run, feeling less than confident.

I ran in the same area I had run the couple days before and it was filled with other runners doing the same thing. I chatted with a woman while running who had done it the year before, tried to find marathon pace, and also did a few pickups to make sure my legs were nice and loose. Returning to the hotel, I actually took a hot shower and then got immediately back into bed!

The run outside had given me a chill, I wasn't feeling well, and I was still tired from the poor night's sleep. I had snagged some tea so I sat in bed in the warmest clothes I had and under the covers and started my race prep. I read through old blogs, listened to music, pulled together quotes that inspired me, and started to organize my thoughts and mental plan for the next day. The way I was feeling when I woke up on Saturday gave me a lot of nerves and I was feeling very anxious. As I centered myself, I started my race plan by writing down at the top that my main goal was to just go out and have fun and run my best with whatever the day gave me.

Although my body was scaring me, it turned out that my watch had some confidence in me and was telling me that I was ready. The Garmin Fenix 5S has a feature that tells you, based on your workouts, what the status of your training is. Whether it is productive, unproductive, detraining, etc. and the day before my watch status had turned to "Peaking" which meant that I was race ready. I hadn't been paying too much attention to it while training, but that was pretty cool to see.

After I finally got myself up and ready, I had a big carby breakfast, consuming a number of the yummy breads and toasts in the hotel buffet and thoroughly enjoyed every bite! I meandered my way over to the Nike store at the Mall of Berlin, to check out the shopping there, before meeting up with Krystle and Lindsay. We return to Brandenburg Gate for one final look at the finish line area before the race the next day.

I was thankful we had gone on Friday to actually see the Gate, because the area was way more crowded and set up on Saturday. It was cool to see where we would be running and made me feel like no matter how I the race went performance wise, it would end up being a good day to run through this historic city and a feeling that it would just be fun.

While walking around Berlin the day before the marathon, we stumbled upon some of the other events taking place marathon weekend in addition to the 26.2 mile run.  These activities included a kids fun run and also inline skating races. What is inline skating you may ask? Oh well, it's a fancy way of saying rollerblading. And they were ALL. ABOUT. IT. It was so cool to see people competing in a different sport and this weekend featured both an inline skating sprint race as well as an inline skating marathon. We were able to watch bit of each of them and the marathon actually took place on the same marathon course. This is a sport I know nothing about and it was so cool to watch and cheer.

The rest of the afternoon was very chill. We had purchased tickets in advance to go see a documentary called Skid Row Marathon, about a Supreme Court Justice in Los Angeles who began a running program for those living in one of the homeless shelters off of Skid Row. He helps people get back on their feet, develop self worth, accomplish goals, and rediscover themselves and their lives through running. And as part of that, he trains people to run marathons and takes a group each year to run an international marathon. He chooses international races to expose people that at one point had nothing, to new parts of the world and new experiences. To give them dignity. To make them want to reach for things that they may never thought were within their grasp. It was a really incredible movie and I may have shed a few tears! We had been able to meet a few of the people who were a part of the Skid Row marathon club, as well as the Justice, throughout the weekend, and that experience made me feel so grateful for what I have in my own life.

The movie was put on by our tour group, Marathon Tours, who also as part of our whole package, had a pasta dinner that night. Our group chose to take part in the dinner so went right from the movie to there, where I had some pasta with different sauces and a small bit of salad. My pre-race meal wasn't exactly delicious or amazing, but it got the job done and was pasta so it was good nonetheless! There was no bread to go with the meal that didn't have olives in it, and I hate olives. And the chicken that they had for the pasta was rubbery and not something that I wanted to eat. Between those things and the weird sandwich I had bought earlier in the day that ended up having gobs of a strange mayo with crushed pickles hidden it (more things I hate), my food in the afternoon was a bit boring, but that was probably for the best. I had a Quest bar and rice cakes and peanut butter as snacks, which are my normal foods. My body didn't NEED anything else, but delicious carbs are part of the fun of marathon-ing. I was thankful I had my yummy breakfast in the morning!

While we're talking about food, I should also mention that Berlin was the first race where I did not have a beer the day before! I have always had one beer the afternoon or evening before my marathons/races, but this year I went without. I like to have traditions, so part of me was a little nervous about no beer and wished I had one. However, I figured I didn't think I had ever heard anyone ever saying that they did poorly in a marathon for LACK of beer the night before, so just put it out of my mind!

On our way out of the dinner, it started to drizzle a little bit and the Marathon Tours group distributed ponchos. I can't say enough good things about this organization and how well they prepared the little details for us! With a quick stop on the way back to the room to use their foam roller/stick for a little, we called it a night.

Back in my hotel room after dinner, my roommate Olga, went to sit in the lobby and read, and I enjoyed more much needed alone time with my race plan and music. I was putting together my pace charts and texting my friends and my coach. I meditated. I got myself race ready.

When Olga came back, we got into bed and I immediately felt concerned about not being able to sleep. The night before when I went to bed, the main challenge to my sleep was that I could hear loud music playing and bass thumping from somewhere outside that was keeping me awake. I felt really frustrated with the hotel for playing music so loud (I assumed it was their lobby bar) in a hotel where they knew a lot of marathoners were staying. I had thought about complaining, but my roommate had said that it really didn't bother her. I didn't want to make a fuss about it if it was just me being overly sensitive so I never said anything about it to the hotel. However, when I went to go to bed on Saturday night and still heard it - early! at 9pm-ish -  I was immediately wishing that I had!

As we tried to go to sleep this night though, my roommate, Olga said to me, "Okay I can actually really hear it tonight as well and it is very annoying!!" Her acknowledgement caused me to get out of bed and go look out in the hallway and then out our window to try and figure out exactly what the noise was. When I checked the windows, I realized that one of the windows in our hotel room was actually open! I hadn't realized we had any windows open, so I shut it and IMMEDIATELY after I shut it, the heavy seal stopped any bit of sound or music or bass. OMG I WAS SO HAPPY.

I could not believe that a window was open and it was something I had been cursing all day long and the night before. It was a silly little window open. Ugh! I was SO thankful that we figured out the issue and with that solved and a quiet, dark room - all went to sleep on marathon eve!

More to come. But you know what happened next :)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Made it to Berlin!

Okay, so my headline is a bit anticlimactic at this point, because, duh. But, I want to catch up on the rest of the trip and the experience in Berlin. Given that when we left off before the race, I was in Warsaw, let’s start there and jump back in where I left off before the race recap.

My last night in Warsaw, I had dinner not too far from my hotel, choosing to go with a non-traditional Polish meal and have some steak. I was craving food more in line with what my body needed. I ate outside and enjoyed the view of the city before calling it an early night. I was up early in the morning to pick up my rental car and begin my drive to Berlin.

Driving to Berlin was supposed to be about a 5.5 hour drive if you went straight through but I knew I was going to be stopping quite a bit so I wanted to give plenty of time. I try to have travel be a part of my vacation experiences vs. a means to an end. Sometimes it can go better or worse than planned and this drive from Warsaw to Berlin was actually very enjoyable.

I stopped almost every hour to use the bathroom as I had been working really hard in the week leading up to the race to stay hydrated. I listened to music and enjoyed navigating the crazy Polish highways that required me to stay alert the whole time.

The highway was a two lane road and from what I could tell there were no set speed limits and the right lane just went REALLY slow and the left lane went REALLY fast. Whichever lane you were in, you constantly had to be aware of what was going on around you - whether a car was coming speeding up behind you wanting you to move out of the way - or you were fast approaching a slow moving truck and needed to maneuver around them.

Throughout the drive I would enter through areas filled with wind turbines, which always amaze and excite me with their beauty. Since I left the Renewables business, I have not gotten to see these iron giants as much as I used to so I was loving their sights along the side of the road and trying to determine the manufacturer of the turbine by the nacelles, hubs, blades and towers (wind nerd alert!) 

I stopped once for lunch along the way at a small town where I was on a mission to not eat fast food. I ended up finding a roadside stop where local people were all ordering chicken meals from a food truck and I joined in grabbing some chicken and French fries. I ordered with the help of the seemingly only English speaker around who was summoned when people realized I could not speak Polish.

It was a fun experience and I finished my meal with a small ice cream cone. I had been working to avoid sweets and desserts leading up to the race but I love exploring ice creams around the world and as this was my first time in Poland, I couldn’t miss out on my last opportunity to try Polish ice cream and grabbed a tiny cone of mint chocolate chip.

When I arrived in Berlin, I checked into my room at the Berlin Marriott and immediately changed into running clothes to head out for a run. I had originally planned to do it in Warsaw but the morning was cool and rainy before I left and figured I would hold off until Berlin to be able to explore a bit and experience better weather. Luckily, that choice panned out for me (I always think its a gamble when I put off a run!)

I did a short 3 mile run and felt pretty good but as soon as I was done, for whatever reason a wave of nerves washed over me. I started to walk back to the hotel and it was a beautiful, bright early evening in Berlin. I had just arrived. I was finally here in this city that I had been focused on and had in my mind for the past year. I had done one of my last marathons before the race. And I just started crying.

I felt so nervous and anxious and overwhelmed with emotion and I wasn't sure where it all came from but before I knew it I was walking down the street with tears down my face. I felt so scared and unsure if I could reach the goals I had set for myself. I didn't want to go back to my hotel room, which I was sharing with a friend, crying, so I sat outside for a little bit and texted my friend Lauren and Jerome, saying that I was starting to freak out. I was scared I couldn't do it. I was scared I had just had too many good days and I wasn't going to be able to execute. Somehow being IN Berlin for the first time made all these emotions wash over me all at once.

Jerome did a really good job of explaining to me that how I was feeling was exactly how I was supposed to be feeling. That the fact I was nervous and feeling a little scared meant I was going after a worthy goal that made sense. Lauren reminded me how strong I am and to channel that energy. Both things were exactly what I needed to hear.

Those pre-race nerves are always uncomfortable and they never get easier. They feel different and brand new before every race and I did my best to swallow them and save them until Sunday.

The hotel I was staying in was booked through an organization called Marathon Tours, which I chose to book through since a number of friends were doing the same and the hotel really couldn’t be beat in terms of proximity to the race. I knew that would come in handy and I would thank myself later so it weighed out for me. But the other good thing about booking through them was that there was a number of activities and events that the group put on that I was able to partake in. I actually highly recommend Marathon Tours if you are looking to travel for a race and will likely use them again in the future!

Thursday evening began with an opening reception of drinks and light appetizers that actually turned out to be a full meal. I met up with some of the girls from Atlanta at the reception, which was so fun to see them outside of the setting of being in Atlanta and I think having that familiarity helped to settle my nerves as well. And food buffets. Food buffets help everything.

There was a large number of people that traveled to Berlin from Atlanta for the race, including members of the ITL group I coach and train with, members of the Atlanta Triathlon Club, which I am a part of socially, and others from various running groups. The rest of the evening on Thursday I was able to meet up with a number of them, and meet some new people in person for the first time that are actually based in Atlanta. This is the second time that my network and community in Atlanta has grown while in other parts of the world. It is really funny to think about that way, but seems to be a pattern for me! It was exciting to officially be in Berlin.

Friday morning, the girls and I who had all booked through Marathon Tours were able to take part in another activity through the group, which was a bus tour throughout Berlin. We had a really fantastic guide with a PhD in German history who shared so much knowledge with us as we drove throughout the city stopping at various points for photo ops.

I will share a few of the highlights of the tour. One of which was the location of the Berlin 1936 Olympics where Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals. I had watched the movie titled Race, about these Olympics the year before on the plane when I traveled to Australia for the Half Ironman. It felt full circle to be there and was pretty cool. As an Olympic nut, I love being able to see former Olympic cities.

We also had a good laugh because right after we asked someone to take our group picture, I made a comment how in the past I have had random people ask to take pictures with me while traveling. Well, from that moment on, it felt like where ever we went there were people who stopped us and asked to take pictures with our group. This first time though, it was pretty epic and the group picture kept getting bigger and bigger! The Marathon Tours group we traveled with attracts run tourists from all over the world!

We also stopped at the Brandenburg Gate, which is a former gate/entrance into the city of Berlin and the location of the race start and finish on Sunday. Before completing the marathon, you would have to run through the Brandenburg Gate, which is an iconic image and moment in the Berlin Marathon. It has been the focal point for a number of historic events and the monument at the top of the gate symbolizes victory, which is a pretty fitting thing to have as the finish to a marathon.

Surrounding the Brandenburg Gate is a number of embassies, including the U.S. Embassy. One of the most noteworthy buildings (depending on how you define noteworthy) is the Adlon Hotel. It is where Michael Jackson notably held his baby out the window!

Whenever traveling in Germany, I always find it very interesting to learn how the country handles the troubling parts of their past for which they are not proud of. Especially in today's times with what is happening in the United States, I have been reading more about World War II and how radical ideas become normalized. In Warsaw and Berlin, I read and learned a lot about the Holocaust and I always feel somewhat amazed thinking how really recent it was that such atrocious things were taking place in Europe. We visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as well as saw a number of other reminders/memorials throughout Berlin.

One thing I thought that was very interesting that I wasn't able to get a photo of, is that outside one of the most prominent Subway stations, there is a giant plaque with the names of the various concentration camps on it. The sign reads "Places of Horror, Which We Are Never Allowed to Forget" and it sits in a point in the city where thousands of people walk by every day. I thought that was really impactful. We also saw the location where Hitler committed suicide and there is literally nothing there at all - basically a dirt parking lot - as the city wanted to make sure it was not something to be celebrated or memorialized.

The guided tour brought us to the Berlin Wall and to Checkpoint Charlie, before dropping us off at the race expo. The Berlin Wall is another period of history I would love to read and learn more about. After World War II, the Soviet Union, the United States, the UK, and France (for a small portion), each controlled different parts of the city. The wall was built as a way to keep people from leaving the Communist Soviet portion of the city and leaving/escaping to the Western side. I am not a historian by any means, but the Wall symbolizing taking away of people's rights. Hundreds died trying to get over the wall throughout the years it was up. I am planning to read and learn more about this so I encourage you to as well!

I really appreciated that I had the opportunity to go on the tour through Marathon Tours. Although I had been to Berlin before, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the city and its history - much of which has a troubled past with interesting historic significance that is incredibly relevant today (hello - the wall!?) We were able to see a great deal and learn a lot.

Our tour guide was fantastic and extremely knowledgeable. One of our favorite tidbits that he shared with us was the fact that the city of Berlin is in massive dept. There are various public works projects that never get finished because the city doesn't have funding. One of the previous mayors, when asked in a press conference why nothing was getting improved in Berlin, sort of fed up replied, "Because Berlin is poor." but then wanting to recover he added "... but sexy!" So the city took claim to the tagline - poor, but sexy. Which we claimed for ourselves as well on this trip.

At the end of the tour, the group dropped us off at the race expo. I will wrap up this post at this point and check back in with the race expo and day before the marathon!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Berlin Marathon 2017 Race Recap

I had been looking forward to and anxious to write this blog for the past week now since the Berlin Marathon. I will recap the time before the marathon, the expo and travels throughout Europe later but needed to spend time putting into words every detail of the race so that I can relive it over and over in my mind. I jumped right from race mode to vacation mode but that didn't change that every free moment, I keep thinking back to the marathon. Or thinking ahead to what is next. And those thoughts and feelings have been filled with happiness, pride, excitement, and some nervous anticipation. There's been a lot of goosebumps going on over here lately!

The Berlin Marathon went really well for me and I am so proud of what I am accomplished. I completed the Berlin Marathon in 3:39:57. A personal best time by almost 20 minutes from Chicago Marathon in 2015 and almost an hour faster than my first marathon, Paris, in 2014. My goal time was 3:45 and I didn't just achieve that, but achieved my stretch "what if?" target for the race as well.

This was the first race that I have done where I went into the initial training period with a goal. It came about last December when I decided to begin coaching with ITL and met with my now coach, Jerome, to talk about goals for the year. In that initial discussion, which took place in a Panera on a cold and rainy morning, I told him that I wanted to race Chattanooga 70.3 in under 6 hours and that I wanted to PR in Berlin. The goal time I threw out was 3:55.

Jerome, who had only met me a handful of times, replied back, “How about 3:45?”

My initial reaction was “Uhhhh… cause that’s really f***ing fast and I am not that fast.”

However, just having met this guy and not wanting to disappoint I replied with something along the lines of “Sure, if you say so!” All while thinking that he was just totally crazy.

I never actually believed I was capable of that time. When asked about my goal for the race, I would say, "Well, Jerome thinks I should aim for..." and with the follow up, "I guess that's why they call it a goal, right? Ha!" Not wanting people to think I was delusional setting something so far outside my capabilities. Internally I thought to myself that if I set a huge stretch goal, I would at least end up somewhere faster than what I had previously run so why not.

This was my mindset around my Berlin Marathon goal at the beginning of the year. And slowly and slowly and through consistent hard work, I started to think "Maybe... just maybe..."

Leading up to the race I had a few key workouts that I can pinpoint in my mind that built my confidence and made me realize the improvements I was making (ATL relay, my birthday run, my run in Chattanooga, my 10 mile tempo run with 4 at half marathon pace, etc.) I was regularly nailing my workouts and hitting the target paces that were set for me, which made me feel strong. However, I still was not sure what to expect. I was training so differently from how I had in the past and therefore didn't know how to judge what I was capable of.

I kept my focus on the short term and just took training one day and one workout at a time. Moving forward week by week and focusing on each new, big, week as my mileage grew way outside anything I had done before. One week I was pumped at running 49 miles for the first time and then before I knew it, I was above 60. I just kept going and didn't really look big picture at my progress.

The week before I left for Berlin, after one of the regular Thursday morning runs with ITL, I was having coffee with a group of girls and one of the other athletes, Jodi, said to me, “Katelyn, you’ve been getting so strong. Have you rethought your goals for Berlin Marathon?”

The idea of it surprised me a little bit because 3:45 still felt scary to me. But since I hadn't looked at anything big picture in a while, it also planted a little tiny bit of a seed. Could I be capable of more?

The days leading up to the race I began to get really nervous. The task at hand seemed big and hard and I wasn't sure if I could do it. It seemed like so many other people had noticed progress I had been making and were expecting big things of me. And of course, I wanted big things of myself as well. But all I kept thinking was, "What if I can’t do this?"

One of the things that Jerome has driven home with me throughout the year was maintaining a positive mental attitude. So I began responding to the little voice in my head asking "What if you can't do this?" with "But, what if you CAN?"

I arrived in Berlin on the Thursday afternoon before the race, after a few days in Warsaw. I was happy to be adjusted time zone wise and had been working really hard to stay hydrated throughout the week. I am pretty sure I stopped at least once every hour on the 6 hour drive from Warsaw to Berlin to use the bathroom.

The day before the marathon, I spent a few hours in the morning and in the evening sitting by myself with music on, going over my race plan. This is something I have begun to do before every major race and it is a practice that I really enjoy that helps me to get focused. I put together and review my plan for the race, pull together motivational and inspiring thoughts to lean on in tough times, and I reread past blog posts and comments/messages that remind me how far I have come, how strong I am, and inspire me.

What I put together as my plan for the Berlin Marathon, word-for-word, was the following:
  • 20-30 minutes before the race start eat a Gu Chew
  • Dance party and get adrenaline from the crowd
  • Find the pace group within the corral, if you can’t, that’s okay
  • Start out just running by feel, get settled into a pace
  • If the first few miles feel like crap, that’s okay – you usually need a warmup.
  • Run 4 10Ks 
    • First with the pace group and just get settled, find my pace.
    • Second feeling settled, be able to have a conversation. Be in control. You’ve done this at Brookhaven so many times. Focus on my breathing and heart rate. Ask myself “Am I where I want to be?”
    • Third hang on, this is where the mental focus comes into play. Just hang in. Use mantras.
    • Fourth, start to open it up. Go fishing and pick off runners throughout the course. Keep energized by passing people. Dedicate the miles to others and those who encourage me.
    • Last 2K take it home. Leave it all out there.
  • Focus on nutrition – Gu every 45 minutes, Salt every hour. Treat every aid station like a transition and plan what I need. Switch up water and Gatorade.
  • Focus on my form. Keep my head over my shoulders. My shoulders relaxed. My arms swinging. My hips under my shoulders. My feet landing under my hips. Be MINDFUL of my run and my form.
  • If my knees or my hip are bothering me, just keep going. It will go away. Be gentle. Run easy. But keep going.
  • Run the turns tight and do not slow down. Stick to the blue line.
  • If it gets windy, find a pack of runners to duck behind and draft.
  • Thank the crowd and volunteers. ENJOY IT. HAVE FUN.
  • Don’t take any bargains your mind asks you to take
In addition to my plan, I wrote out a few things that I called "Things to Remember:"
  • You only get stronger as time goes on. 
  • Leave it all out there. Last race of the year. Fight and push through pain. 
  • Channel my training. Remember how I felt at the ATL Relay. Remember how I felt at all the Brookhaven runs. Remember my birthday workout. Remember Chattanooga Half. Remember all the times I was tough. Channel that. This is nothing. 
  • Think of Lauren doing Chattanooga. Think of Grampy. Think of Jerome. Think of all the people who think I can’t and prove them wrong. Think of all the people who think I CAN. Remember Tisha saying, “I am so proud of you.”
As well as a few mantras for myself if I needed them:
  • What if I can?
  • I did the work. Trust in my training.
  • Flat courses favor the mentally strong – you are strong. Stay focused.
  • Pace, pace, pace.
  • Find the mental place you feel strong and stay there.
  • I am not the athlete I was a year ago.
  • At some point, this is about you.
  • Just keep smiling.
I'm not sure why I broke things out for myself this way this year, but it made sense to me.

The morning of the marathon, I woke up around 7:00 a.m. and took a shower, got dressed, then ate my breakfast in my hotel room. I sipped water and some Nuun and reviewed my race plan I had put together and did some last minute prep. I ate my Special K Chocolatey Delight cereal that I had brought from the U.S. with some milk I had stolen from the hotel and some strawberries I had stolen from dinner the night before. It is the breakfast of choice I have been doing before every major race or big workout I've ever done. I chose to wear a pair of shorts and a sports bra that are my most comfortable and have least history of chafing (this is my first marathon in shorts!), an ITL shirt with a little meaning behind it, and a headband that my mom had given me for my birthday. I was ready.

At 8:00 a.m. Krystle met me at my hotel to walk over to the race start together. We were in different corrals but had the same start time. I was unsure at first if it would be better for me to be alone i the morning. I kept thinking back to Chicago Marathon and how I was alone, and how good a race that turned out for me. Part of me just wanted to recreate that. However, I had the thought to myself, “You’ve been doing your training different for this race – why not do everything different?” and I said, you know what, sure, let’s meet up.

I am really glad I did! Krystle is the exact right kind of person you want to have with you before a race. She met me at my hotel, which was just a 2 minute walk from hers and we head over, a 10-15 minute walk to the start. I was worried about it being cool in the morning, so I had over my clothes a sweatshirt that covered my bum, an Atlanta Track Club throw away paper jacket I had gotten at a past race, the Marathon Tours yellow rain poncho that had been given to me the night before, and a pair of gloves I had gotten at a race and planned to throw away. It ended up being way too much clothes as the weather wasn't even that cool in the morning.

As we walked over, we talked about our first marathons and followed the crowd of people all headed in the same direction. When we walked up, we were right by start line. We were able to watch the wheelchair athletes take off and then see the elite field of men and women warm up. I was looking for the top athletes who were expected to win and break records but I didn’t actually get to see them. It was cool nonetheless to be able to see the elite field.

We wanted to watch them start, but opted instead to head to our corrals. The elite took off around 9:15 and our start wave was 9:35. The corrals were broken up based off of past finish times and Krystle was in F while I was in G, for people with past 3:50-4:00 hour finish times. Our wave went off at the same time but she started in the group in front of me. Because of this, we said goodbye and gave hugs about 25 minutes before the start.

I sipped water and did some dynamic stretches, making my way to the entrance to G corral. There was music blasting, videos featuring runners playing (some of which I knew!) and lots and lots of people packed into the corrals. The energy was so good that I did not do my usual routine of putting on my own music selections and having a dance party. Instead, I just had a dance party by myself to the music they were playing.

Part of my plan for the race to help set a pace for myself and prevent myself from going out too hard was to start with the 3:45 pace group. Even after asking about it at the race expo, I was still a bit unclear if I would be able to get with a 3:45 pace group at the start since I was in a corral for times 3:50-4:00. I prepped myself mentally for either scenario and when I entered into Corral G, I only saw pacers for 3:50. However, once we started to move forward after the first start group took off, they removed the barriers between Corral F and G and I was able to weave my way forward to where I spotted a 3:45 pacer. She had a big flag tucked into a waist belt with a 3:45 time on it. It was not hard to miss!

I was able to get right behind her for the start of the race, although not immediately next to her. I was very close though and feeling really good that I was able to find a pacer before the start. I ideally would have liked to have introduced myself but instead I just hung behind. I didn’t plan to race the WHOLE race with her, so I didn’t think it was necessary.

I danced around to stay loose and there were others dancing too which made me smile. I left my phone in my waist belt, not wanting to take pictures or feel discombobulated at all. I told myself this race wasn’t about pictures and I was there with a job to do. I thought back to how I would nail every workout with paces that Jerome would give to me and told myself this was just another day like that.

I felt good.

The day before everything had been achey, I had a sore throat, I hadn't slept well. Then the morning of the race, I had slept better than previous nights, I was in positive spirits, and my body felt in tact. I was excited and nervous for what was about to happen.

Without much fanfare that I can remember, we started the race and began to move forward. I started my watch as we crossed the start line (which had no problem finding signal, thankfully!). I started out with the pacer right around me and told myself to turn my mind off and follow her lead. I tried to channel when I did the Publix Half Marathon in March with Adam. It was the first time I had run a race with a pacer and allowed me to shut my mind off a bit and just stick with him.

When I talked with Jerome the night before one of the last things he said was to not go out too fast and that it was ok if my first miles were slower than goal pace. When we hit a mile and my watch beeped, I checked it and saw that it was 8:14, which made me a little nervous as it was a bit fast. Okay, I told myself, maybe the pacer just went out fast the first mile – there are big crowds and she just wanted to get around them and settled. Let me just keep with it.

The the second mile? 8:10. Third mile? 8:14.

I started to wonder what the heck this pacer was doing and get a bit nervous that I was going out too fast. I was planned to use the pace group to STOP me from doing exactly what was happening - running the early miles too fast! I felt great for those 3 miles but did not understand what was happening and why we weren't running closer to 8:30 min/mile. Even my stretch pace (which I will get to later) was about 8:20 and this was faster than that. This was more like Boston Qualifying pace!

On one hand, I was happy that those miles were feeling effortless, but on the other hand – it was the first miles of the race. I wanted to back off but was scared to let the pacer with the 3:45 sign get out of my sight.

I started to wonder if maybe my watch was off and my mile splits were incorrect. I was debating whether or not I should trust my watch or trust that the pacer was running a 3:45. I thought about asking her what was up but there was a swarm of people around her. I wanted to ease off as it began to feel like I needed to run a little beyond where I was comfortable to keep with them. I didn't know if I should let them go, for fear that I was personally making some sort of mistake and by letting them go, I would be giving up my goal so early.

Which brings me back to my goal and where I had actually ended up in my line of thinking.

I spent a lot of time in the week and day before the marathon playing around with pace calculators. For my pace runs during training, I always targeted 8:30 min/mile but would often run between 8:20-8:30 after getting warmed up. When I did the ATL Relay, I ran it at an average of 8:27 and felt really good. I thought I could potentially target that and started to play around to see where that would get me as a finish time and how much I thought I could push it.

Once I saw paces get close enough to 3:40, I started to wonder, could I run 3:39? I didn't think I could go much lower than that but thought if I am going to aim for 3:40 as the lower end of my range, might as well aim to see 3:39, right? To try and get into the 3:39s, as part of the final part of my race plan that I had put together the night before was a pace chart, with pace ranges from literally 3:39:59 - 3:45. A screenshot is below.

It's funny to me looking back on this now and how close I know I actually was to that exact stretch pace that I had mapped out. For the race though, I wanted to start out conservatively, aiming for the 3:45 pace, and ease into running a bit faster later on if I was feeling good.

The morning of the race I had written two things on my hand and wrist.

On the inside of my left wrist below my watch, I wrote out the pace ranges for 3:39:39 to 3:45:00, along with the words I had been repeating to myself over the past week of, "What if you can?"

On the outside of my left hand I wrote something that Adam had texted me the night before that really resonated with me. He told me do not take any bargains your mind asks you to take. It might seem like a weird thing to say but it exactly resonated and made sense to me. During a race, or anything, when it gets tough, your mind will tell you all sorts of crazy things to "bargain with you" to get you to ease off and feel better in the moment. It tries to trick you into thinking you’ll be happy with something that gives you more immediate satisfaction. The challenge is to not let it.

I have heard that voice many times before. I wrote those words on my hand as a reminder to shut it up if it came up in the race.

So back to the race.

When I ran by the 5K timing mark, I was a little over 26 minutes which according to my chart confirmed we were running too fast, but also confirmed that my watch was off a little bit from actual race time early on, since my watch 5K split was faster than that. So I didn't know what to do.

Miles 4-6 continued similarly. 8:24, 8:07, 8:18.

At around 9km mark, as I was playing cat and mouse with the pace group, debating what to do, and after navigating through an aid station, I ran into a familiar face on the course. I was so excited to see Krystle and shouted hello to her. She told me that I was strong and to have a good race and cheered me on as I went by. Somehow in that moment, seeing her and getting that encouragement, the anxiety about the pace group seemed to go away and confidence fell into place. After seeing her, things clicked and I knew I was going to have a good day. I was feeling good. I let go of the pace group, letting them get ahead of me, and knew I could manage this race on my own.

A few words about the aid stations at the race for those reading this as a recap of what to expect. Berlin Marathon had aid stations about every 5K, which felt a little less than what I ideally would have liked. I had to be sure to time taking my nutrition correctly since I didn’t carry any liquids. There was water, tea, and a sport drink called Multipower, that I wasn't able to get ahead of time but felt good on my stomach and the flavor tasted good to me. I have bad memories of trying to choke down the gross tasting on course nutrition from the Half Ironman I did last year in Australia, so was really happy that I enjoyed the flavor. The course had signs AHEAD of the aid stations indicating that they were coming up, which I love. This helps me to be prepared as I come through them. I would see a sign, start eating my Chews or get my salt ready, so that then I would have my hands free to grab whatever liquids and start it right away.

In preparation for the race, I read a number of race reviews and listened to a number of podcasts recapping the race. Almost all of the recaps I read started with "I did better than I thought!" which gave me confidence. But one the most helpful logistically was “The BibRave Podcast” episode 10 where one of the hosts recaps his experience running Berlin in 2016 - which, to be honest, wasn't entirely positive (which I didn't love.) Part of his complaints did help me know what to expect though as they were about the aid stations. He did not like that (A) Volunteers at the aid stations stand BEHIND the tables (B) The water is distributed in plastic cups and (C) Aid is distributed water first, then sport drinks.

The other things that he mentioned in the podcast that were negative were that the crowd support was a bit minimal and that the course was just mind numbingly flat. More on that later though.

So, the volunteers behind the table and plastic cups were not ideal, I agreed with that. The plastic cups on the ground made a loud crunching noise as people ran over them and seemed slippery. The stations were definitely a bit crowded and involved some dodging but I also think that is something that comes with any big race so it didn't bother me. I checked my mile split after every aid station to see if it slowed me down and it didn't seem like it did. Plus, the entire race was crowded. There were a lot of runners everywhere so there was a lot of dodging and weaving not just during the aid stops. A few times on corners, trying to run them tight, I got elbowed/pushed by other runners. I had to navigate around people a lot and a few times got boxed in around runners. When I did get boxed in behind others, rather than let it frustrate me, I tried to use it as a forced pacing mechanism, forcing me to be able to slow down and remain in control. I didn’t let it bother me.

So now back to the race.

First 6 Mile Splits (according to my Garmin):

Mile 1 - 8:14
Mile 2 - 8:11
Mile 3 - 8:15
Mile 4 - 8:25
Mile 5 - 8:08
Mile 6 - 8:19

The second 10K of the day, my plan was to just hang out in the pace that I was in. It was still early on in the race and I used it as a time to reevaluate where I was, checking in on my breathing, my form, how comfortable I was at the pace I was running, etc.

I still was feeling good, even though I was at the faster end of my range, which meant it was time to chat some people up and just hang out for a bit. I wanted to be at conversation pace so what better way to test that out than to start up some conversations! But nobody really was seeming chatty. I asked a few people how they were feeling, where they were from, if they thought that the world record had been broken, etc. But nobody really wanted to talk to me.

The most conversation I could muster was with two guys discussing the differences between Chicago Marathon and Berlin Marathon, to which I interjected into the conversation for a bit before they ran off. Whatever. They were lame anyways.

In my struggle to make friends out on the course, I was looking around me at everyone a bit and one thing I noticed was that the people around me, there were a lot more males running nearby than in other races (not complaining!) It was significant enough of a difference for me, a non-observant person in general, to notice. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I attributed it to running a faster pace..

Throughout the first half of the race when I would look around at the runners on either side of me - lots of men. Fit people. Strong, serious looking runners. People I normally don’t equate myself with. Yet, here I was running alongside them! I would look around and then remind myself “You belong here. You are one of them. This is where you belong.” And I imagined THEM looking around at ME thinking, “Look at this fit, strong girl.” In this crowd. In this moment. In this race. Running this pace. This is where I belonged. I was not the runner I was a year ago.

Second 10K-ish splits (according to my Garmin):

Mile 7 - 7:59
Mile 8 - 8:19
Mile 9 - 8:01
Mile 10 - 8:18
Mile 11 - 8:15
Mile 12 -8:24

As I went into the 3rd 10K and hit the half marathon point, I was starting to feel tired. I saw that my half marathon split was a little bit over 1:50:00 and I thought to myself that it would mean I would have to run a negative split in the race in order to be under 3:40 and as I was starting to get tired, I wasn’t sure I had it in me. I was running way under my 3:45 goal which made me happy currently, but didn't know what would happen in the 2nd half and if I would drop off.

Since I was starting to struggle, I told myself to get in control now and slow myself down to running closer to 8:30s for the third 10K. I kept thinking over and over, “Hold back now, so you can have fun later.” I wanted to dial back a bit to be sure I had enough for a kick at the end.

Part of my plan to run mentally run four 10Ks had to do with the fact that I knew the race would be marked in kilometers. Maybe that makes this next point not so noteworthy, but I never actually thought about my distance run in mileage throughout the race. Yes, I looked at mile splits but otherwise didn't pay attention to if the split I was looking at was for mile 15 or 18 or what. I really just worked to stay focused on the mental segment of the 10K race that I was in. Sometimes I would count/repeat to myself in my head “3 kilometers in, 3 kilometers in to a 10 kilometer run” or something like that. I just took each of those 10Ks as a different challenge.

The challenge for this third 10K was to slow down. Whenever I had a mile that the watch told me was a little too fast, I kept hearing Adam’s voice in my head telling me “Easy…. Eeeeassy…” which was what he said to me over and over during the Public Half Marathon in March where he paced me.

“Slow down now, so you can have fun later.” I imagined myself being smarter than all the people around me and if I could hold back now than I would be able to pass them all at during the last 10K.

During this third 10K some of the hurt really started to settle in. I started to dig deep into some of my mantras and the things I had built into my race plan. I kept reminding myself that it was a mental race. I thought back to what George had said in his podcast about how flat races aren't harder physically but mentally, as their is no relief in having to maintain a constant consistent pace. I told myself I was mentally and physically stronger than this course, thinking back to hilly runs and trail runs and all the mental toughness I knew I had. I told myself I could win this race mentally.

As I am writing this blog and recapping my thoughts, I am still surprised at how well I ran. I told myself over and over to slow down during that third 10K but looking at the numbers, apparently I didn't do a very good job.

Third 10K-ish splits (according to my Garmin): 

Mile 13 - 8:25
Mile 14 - 8:04
Mile 15 - 8:18
Mile 16 - 8:09
Mile 17 - 8:11
Mile 18 - 8:25

As I hit the 30K mark, I didn't think I was ready to start my fourth and final "10K" (which would have then been followed by a fast 2K). I decided to reverse my pace and run another 2K conservatively before starting my kick. I knew I was still under my target goal of 8:30 min/miles and figured holding back a little longer would be okay. I started to mentally prep myself for my 10K kick at the end, but was getting really scared I would have nothing left. I was starting to hurt.

Mile 19 - 8:20

I ran the race without music. Whether or not to even bring my phone with me during the marathon was something I had been debating leading up to the race. I hadn’t listened to music or even carried my phone with me at all for a lot of my long runs. I was worried during the race it would flop around in my waist belt and annoy me. However, I wanted my phone at the finish and I didn’t choose the option for a checked bag so I had no choice but to carry it with me. In case I wanted music at some point during the marathon, the day before I made a play list that was about 2 hours long and carried my phone and headphones in my waist belt.

Towards the end of the third 10K, as I was struggling, I contemplated trying to get my music out and putting it on. I chose not to for a couple reasons. First, I really enjoyed the crowds. I thought they were awesome and so energizing, as well as densely populated throughout the race. The podcast that had given me good insights about the aid stations had commented that the crowds were really sparse, but I felt this was wrong. I was enjoying hearing the cheers of the crowds in tons of different languages and loved engaging with the crowd when I could (little kid high fives = instance adrenaline boost.) There was also a number of bands all along the course route, as well as people blasting music and SO MANY drum groups. I remember thinking, “Wow, Berlin has a lot of people who own bongo drums!” Because there were SO many drum crews set up along the route. Those drummers got me fired up and energized me so much. I didn’t want to miss out on any of that.

Second, I was concerned about trying to get into my race belt. Somewhere earlier in the race course, I had noticed that my bib was falling off. The race bib was huge, the material was thin and papery, and the safety pins were flimsy. Between those factors and me being in and out of my race belt a lot accessing my nutrition, at one point it just tore through the holes. The timing chip was in my shoe, but I didn't want to lose the bib, so I had wrapped it around my waist belt. I had begun shoving my Gu and salt into my bra, trying to access my phone, I thought would be too complicated with my bib situation.

So I went the whole marathon music-less, which really was the right choice for me and this race. I am proud of the fact that I didn't need it and glad that I got to experience every element of the race course and support. Even in those tougher miles.

As I hit the 32K mark in the race, I knew it was time to stop holding back. There wasn’t much left at this point (yet still so much in many ways!) I didn’t want to finish the race with anything left in the tank. So, I told myself, it was time to have fun and open it up and see what I had left. It was time to see what I was made of.

Mile 20 - 8:13
Mile 21 - 7:53
Mile 22 - 7:58

Annnnnndddd then after a few miles pushing the pace, I thought "Okkkaayyy, maybe not so much." and couldn't maintain it.

Those miles had spiked my HR and now I wasn’t sure if I could recover. I was really struggling at this point. Reflecting after the race on the phone with my coach, I asked if I had done the wrong thing there and if I hurt myself in the end by spiking my HR there. He said he didn’t think I gained or lost anything and it probably would have evened out. However, you can clearly see my spike in HR at this time. My HR is the red line below (green is my pace.) Right at the end you can see my pace drops and my HR spikes.

Also, I should point out, this chart looks like Berlin has some major hills in it but in reality it does not. The elevation gain is very minimal and it is for sure a flat course but I will say that I could notice slight changes in elevation from time to time. Whenever I did, I tried to mentally exaggerate the change in my mind telling myself, "You're going uphill now! Stay strong!"or likewise for downhill. I remembered George saying that flat races can be tougher mentally and so I thought that by tricking my mind into thinking the small changes were bigger than they actually were, it would help helpful.

At the 35K mark, which was the last pace range I had written on my arm, I was EXACTLY where I needed to be for the lower half of my pace range. To the second. I did some math in my head and knew that I was right on the cusp of people able to break 3:40 if I could keep the last miles under 8:23.

Mile 23 - 8:19

The end of this race, as with any marathon, was a real challenge and I had to dig deep. Every step forward felt like a victory. My legs were screaming at me to slow down, to walk, to ease up. This little voice in my head was feeling not so little and telling me to just stop, to just slow down, that I had worked hard enough and couldn't do any more. Take what I had accomplished and just cruise in. The other part of my mind was telling me NO, JUST ONE STEP FURTHER. JUST KEEP GOING. Every step further was a step closer to the finish, which was my only comfort.

Mile 24 - 8:38 

I pulled on all of the mental thoughts that I had prepped ahead of time to carry me through the tough times. I thought of my coach Jerome believing in me. I thought of Tisha telling me back in Chattanooga Half “I’m so proud of you” and how that had made me feel. I thought of my grandfather and how proud he always is of me. I thought of Lauren and my friends in Chattanooga who at that exact moment around the world was getting ready for their own race. Thinking of them kept me moving and chokes me up even as I write this. I knew with the timing that I would be finishing my race about 20 minutes before they began their swim.

In the off chance that Lauren heard from someone how I did before she started, I wanted my own success to give her confidence. I didn't want someone to have to report that I had been close, but dropped off at the end. I didn't want her last thoughts before getting in the water to be anything but positive and strong. Thoughts of my friends carried me through the last miles of this race.

Mile 25 - 8:35 

Throughout the whole race I had been sticking to my nutrition plan well, I grabbed water or sport drink at every aid station so far. In these last miles I missed one, thinking it was too much energy to get over there and grab it. I took my last Gu Chew with about a 5K left and was down to my last few salt tabs. At one point I had felt cramps coming on and swallowed two salt tabs dry, to fight it off, which helped.

The end of the race took us through a part of town near where our hotels were located, we had been walking around there the days before and I knew the layout of the streets and course. You ran straight down one road then took a left, then another left, making a U-turn into the finish. As we were running down this first straight away, I just was thinking, PLEASE, when is the turn? When do I turn?

I could see by looking to my left, people heading towards the finish a couple blocks over running the opposite direction and I just wanted to be there so bad. I was hurting everywhere, my HR was high, and I just was telling myself that the faster I ran, the faster I would be done. Done with the race. Done for the day. Done for the vacation. Done for the year. Just get to the finish. Just keep pushing.

Mile 26 - 8:43

Early on in the race, from the very first 5K I had realized that I was running long. It had been a concern of mine due to so many turns and at about the half marathon marker, I had realized my watch was tracking me quite a bit long. I had been trying my hardest to run on the blue line painted on the road, marking the shortest and most accurate route of the course. Since it was so crowded and there were so many turns, it was often difficult. And at times the crowds of fans supporting and cheering had migrated so far into the streets that they were actually covering up the blue line!

I often found myself trying to look ahead to see if the next turn would be to the right or left, to try and position myself well. There were also some parts of the road that split with a center median, and I would look to the line to help advise me which side to choose.

This year, the marathon fell on the same day as Election Day in Berlin so there were parts throughout the course where citizens were crossing the street to get to their election place. We were warned about this in the race booklet and it was bizarre to randomly have someone shouting at you to move to the right or left during the marathon. We ran through roundabouts and all throughout the city.

At the time, I didn’t think much about it but my watch ended up tracking me a half mile over. When I hit 26.2 miles on my watch I looked down and it said something like 3:36:40 and I thought to myself “Holy shit!”

At this last stretch in the race I was looking down at the mileage, forgetting how many 10Ks I had run or how many kilometers left in my little mental game. All I could think of was “where the heck is the finish.” My watch said I had run a marathon already and everything in my body was screaming.

I could see the finish. Or more accurately, I could see the Brandenburg Gate. The giant iconic gate that you literally run through on your way to the finish. The course is a bit of a mind game in the sense that you have this giant Gate that is pulling you forward and you’re mentally fixated on trying to get through. But thennnnn the finish is actually a little bit of a ways AFTER you run through the Gate.

I was looking at my watch and looking at the finish and thought to myself, “Can I get from here to there in 3 minutes?” I didn't think I could. I was fighting to get in under 3:40 but felt like I was running in place. I didn't feel like the finish was getting any closer. I was doing everything I could to push my legs forward but it felt like I wasn't moving. It was the slowest couple of minutes of my life as it felt like it took forever to be arriving at the finish and crossing the line.

There is nothing I can write in words that accurately would explain that feeling. Such relief. Such happiness. Such pain. Exhaustion. Pride.

It felt so good to stop running although it did not feel good to walk. I was hobbling forward and I looked to my watch, which I had hit as I crossed the finish line. Exactly 3:40:00.

I had no idea if my official time would be faster or slower than what I had hit manually and I was a little scared to look. I stepped forward, stopping to lean against the railing to catch my breathe. I wanted water. I wanted my medal. I wanted something warm.

Before going to far, I pulled out my phone from my race belt to see what my official time was. I saw I had a few text messages - one from my mom and one from Adam - but before I opened them I opened the Berlin Marathon official app and pulled up the results.


I immediately started crying. I dropped my hands to my knees and cried. I was so happy and proud.

Moving forward, I was given a medal and then a plastic tarp like wrap. I had someone take some pictures with the medal and I stood there in disbelief and in pain a bit more. My feet had been hurting from early on in the race, with blisters developing on the bottom front pad of my right foot. Although the rain held off on us for the majority of the race (we just had a bit of drizzle), it had rained the night before and I had not been successful in avoiding all of the puddles on the route. Wet shoes usually means blisters and although it was hurting throughout the course, I had pushed it out of my mind. Now that I was finished, every step was painful.

I stopped to just take everything in and look at the finish and I started crying more. I was just standing in place looking around and when I thought of what had just happened, I would choke up. A man saw me, who did not speak English and came over and touched my face with his hands and smiled at me. It seems odd but it was so moving and a moment that brought me back to the end of the Paris Marathon and felt so poetic to have happen again.

I moved forward, finally being given water, where I chugged a few glasses that were in more of those stupid plastic cups. Then moved forward again to get a bag of some food and a bottle of water. My next stop was to pick up the finisher poncho that I had selected as my post race option. I had high expectations after NYC Marathon last year, but this one did not live up and left me still feeling really shivering and wishing I had chosen the option of doing a bag check. I hobbled around looking like an idiot trying to wrap myself in the poncho and with the plastic wrap they had originally given.

There was the option to pick up a beer but I skipped it (it was non alcoholic.) Continuing forward, I left the runners only area and moved on to the family meet up to connect with the other Atlanta triathlon people who had run the race and wait around as people trickled in after finishing. Everyone was so enthusiastic and positive about my time and it was great to have other runners who knew how exciting it was to hit a goal like that be around.

When I finished one of the first calls I made was to my mom. We both cried. She has seen more than anyone how much running has progressed and I knew was up early cheering for me. I still remember calling her and crying from the finish of the Paris Marathon. She was in an early morning spin class and I guess had her cell phone sitting on her spin bike waiting for me to call. I love calling her when I finish a race.

I also had a text message from Adam, who I knew was in Chattanooga with Lauren and the other athletes who were about to start that race. When I finally opened them, his messages were “F***ing amazing. Congrats” and I responded to him with “Tell Lauren it’s her turn now.” And immediately thought of my friends getting ready to race. I knew that my good day was going to transcend overseas to them and that energy would just be infectious.

Messages came in from my coach Jerome, letting me know how proud of me he was. We spoke later on and I shared with him all the details of my day, which I loved being able to do. He reiterated to me how consistent my race was and how well I executed and reviewed some of my data, which I will share here.

According to my watch I ran 26.7 miles in 3:40:01, which is a pace of 8:15 min/mile. Official time of 3:39:57 is a pace of 8:23. TrainingPeaks tells you various tidbits of data that I thought were pretty interesting. Specifically, the peak paces by distance. This means, that for various distance segments, what my fastest was. Everything is pretty consistent for me which is I believe a good thing.

TrainingPeaks peak paces by distance:

My peak 5K was at a 7:57 min/mile pace.
My peak 5 mile was at a 8:06 min/mile pace.
My peak 10K was at a 8:09 min/mile pace.
My peak 15K was at at a 8:09 min/mile pace.
My peak 10 mile was at a 8:10 min/mile pace.
My peak 1/2 marathon was at a 8:12 min/mile pace.
My peak 30K was at a 8:12 min/mile pace.

My splits for the two half marathons were 1:50:06 for the first half and 1:49:51 for the second half. Just ever so slightly negative splits and each alone would be a massive half marathon PR for me. And, by the way, that peak half marathon pace was from about mile 9 to mile 22 and was a 1:47:34, which would be my fastest half marathon by 8 minutes, 21 seconds. But that’s pretty freaking amazing to me.

Official Splits by 5K: 

5K - 26:06
10K - 52:13 (26:07)
15K - 1:18:16 (26:03)
20K - 1:44:24 (26:08)
25K - 2:10:18 (25:54)
30K - 2:36:19 (26:01)
35K - 3:01:48 (25:29)
40K - 3:29:08 (27:20)

Overall, the race was amazing. Not just for my time, but because it was a beautiful course with great support, through an amazing city. For a majority of it, I did mostly run with my head down and was very focused on my task at hand. However, numerous times throughout the marathon, I looked around me at the architecture and scenery around me. Where I was. The history, the buildings, the people, and just took it all in.

I felt so lucky to be in this place, at this time, and have the means to do what I love. To have coaching. To have support from loved ones. To be able to get myself to Berlin. To be healthy. To be surrounded by people and loved ones who support me. I took all of that in.

The night before one of the things that calmed me was writing into my race plan and remembering that the main goal in all of this was to have fun. My friend Kevin had texted me the night before and when I told him I was nervous he said “Just keep smiling.”

I thought of that a number of times throughout the race when it was hurting as well. Just keep smiling. Everything that I had worked for from this year. All the good. All the bad. Everything was built up to these moments. I wanted to leave it all out there. I wanted to finish with no regrets and I really feel like I did.

Someone asked me if I had any thoughts of “If I had just done XYZ, I could have gone a little faster.” Or if there were any areas or portions of the race that I felt like I could have gone faster. I don’t think I did. I think I ran a very smart, very consistent race.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a very crowded race. I ran extra, which I don’t like. But I don’t know if it was because of the course itself and the turns or because of weaving/navigating that I had to do. I am curious about whether or not I could have run faster on a less crowded course without so much navigating around other people. I always personally think that what I GAIN from the adrenaline of having so many people around makes up for what I lose of having to weave around those people. But I am not sure.

I am so happy with the Berlin Marathon. My fifth marathon. My third world major. My second international marathon. My first time setting a goal way in advance and crushing it. I continue to impress and amaze myself with my ability to run these races with consistent paces and so close to the targets/goals that I have. Yes, I was way under 3:45, but the night before I had written the pace times for 3:39:59 on my arm and I ended up running a 3:39:57. That's insane. It was a successful day all around with no chafing, execution of plan, on point nutrition, smart decisions, no music, and just being happy and enjoying myself.

My pride and happiness around this race is a different type of pride than when I finished the Chicago Marathon. When I ran that race and broke 4 hours for the first time, I was shocked and surprised. This time, I feel pride and happiness deep rooted inside of me. It feels like the difference between getting rich off of winning the lottery vs. earning yourself a fortune through hard work.

I didn't train to break 4 hours so was elated when I did it. I worked hard for every second and every minute I cut off of my personal best and achieving my goal feels satisfying in a way I haven't experienced before. This time is mine to own and nobody can say I didn't work for it.

When I finished Chicago, people were like, "Where did that come from?!" whereas this time around, the race was what I worked for and everyone could see that.

It was the first marathon I have ever done where I didn't have a single person to look for throughout the course spectating. At first that felt a little sad and I was wondering how I would do without that rush of adrenaline, but at the end it worked out well. This race was always about me and I was able to stay focused on that. This race was mine from start to finish and I couldn't be happier or more proud of myself.

The day before the race, I took this picture of a sign in the dressing room of the Nike store. I will leave you with this for today. There is no finish line. There will be more!