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!

1 comment:

  1. LOL I definitely did not hear the "Poor but sexy!" comment when I was in Berlin. Berlin shares the motto of every millennial and grad student in the US!

    I need to blog the Paris Marathon. I am so proud of myself for doing it and it was such a good trip! You are so good at doing your blog homework!!! :)