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!

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