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thestudadam FIRST-TIMER '21

This was my first international marathon & my 2nd World Marathon Major. Berlin is a very unique city with a lot of history and it really behooves you to spend … MORE

This was my first international marathon & my 2nd World Marathon Major. Berlin is a very unique city with a lot of history and it really behooves you to spend some time after the race seeing the city and it’s history. From it’s government buildings to the Berlin Wall to the Cold War History and of course the WWII history there really is a ton to see. A nice walking tour in the days after the race will help you get your mobility back and something I would recommend.

Rather than comparing this race to other smaller local races which this of course blows out of the water, I’m going to compare it to the other Marathon Majors which is more apt comparison. This was also the first Major Marathon to take place in the Covid world so some of my observations may only be truly applicable to 2021.

Getting to the Expo was very easy. It was held at the old Berlin Airport so public transit by bus or the U-Bahn (Subway) were both easy options. There was a long but fast moving line to get into the expo for participants. Considering they were checking for ID proof and Vaccination proof the line went smoothly. Sadly we didn’t notice a seperate line for visitors until we were near the front so that cost us some time. They used this ID check to give you a fabric ribbon that they tightly put around your wrist that you then have to wear until the race was over. We went on Friday and wearing it for 3 days was only mildly annoying. The old airport was a unique place to have any event. The baggage claim area serves as a lobby after the wrist band area and from there you walked out onto the old runway/gate area to walk to some maintenance hanger where the expo proper was. You first had to enter a racers only area to pick up your bib and bag. They print the bib when you arrive at the front of the line and this part was pretty easy. It being a piece of paper meant that it tore more easily than a normal bib and I had to re-pin a torn corner mid race. I run mostly half marathons so although they say you can use a full or half time to prove you pace my bib said I was in the very last corral because i didn’t have a marathon time recently, not accurate at all. There was another line to get this fixed, I was able to move through this line in 20 minutes but I heard many people say it took them well over an hour. When I reached the front the volunteer took a swag at what my full pace would be based on my half marathon time (His opinion a 1:31 half last month => 3:25 full) I disagreed but he didn’t care and put me in the slow corral, I was pretty disappointed by his attitude. Another 30 minute line in the regular customer service/question line got me in the proper corral. My advice, print and bring with you a proven Full marathon proof time recently if at all possible, worst case a half marathon time. I heard many many people say they had registered with a proof time that didn’t process so they had to stand in line to fix their start corral as well. If you didn’t have proof of a recent race time for your desired corral then you were out of luck. Lastly in the runners only area you could pick up any merchandise that you pre purchased.
The rest of the expo had a large gear purchase area (I spent my fair share as I do at majors but rarely at small races), get there early so everything isn’t picked over in your size. Also heads up several items are only in the women’s section or vice versa. I found my favorite T-shirt over there and another shirt that I couldn’t find in my size in the Mens area. None of them were Women’s cut so it is worth your time if you can’t find what you want in your area. The rest of the area was large with quite a few vendors but in comparison to an expo like NYC this was a tiny expo.

Parking/Access: Either get a hotel near the finish or take the U-Bahn(Subway). Don’t drive there. Getting into the start area was a breeze with the wristband and bib, zero line very easy. The start area is the Tiergarten (Really big park). This meant tons and tons of room to warm up and stretch with nobody around.

T-Shirts/SWAG: Oddly the default race shirt is NOT provided for free. I suppose it is nice to not be forced to buy it but it is the only race I have ever run that has done this. The shirt was nice with some track suit stripes on the shoulder which felt pretty European (See picture). The medal seems to follow a similar look each year. German flag ribbon which is very cool and distinct but made out of a cheap fabric. The medal is a silver color and come with quite a few chips and dings which happens when you have medals in a stack but felt like more than usual. One side of the medal was a unique Berlin highlights collage, the other side is apparently always a person. I lucked out that this year it was Kipchoge setting the world record. A few years ago they had the face of the retiring race director, I can’t really imagine anybody wanting that on their medal. I would have been really disappointed with that, but this year was ok.

Aid Stations: Aid Stations in Europe are different than in the US. Until about the 30k mark they were spread out closer to every 2.5-3 miles rather than every 1.5-2 like you would find in the US. They all had water and some kind of “energy” drink that I had not heard of so I didn’t trust it. They also had tea which was odd but I guess common over there. The other unusual and a little frustrating thing is the cups they use. You are likely used to paper cups that you can crush/crimp to make it easier to pour the water in your mouth. These were more like small clear Solo cups so they didn’t really crush well without breaking. Getting water down your throat without soaking yourself was extremely hard. Also those cups being tossed all over the ground make incessant noise of clacking that you will take weeks to get out of your brain. The aid stations were long and well stocked through and also had food at a ton of them. Aid station frequency did increase near the end, like every 2 miles instead of 3. Also of note each aid station had a hydro pack filling station.

Course Scenery/Elevation Difficulty: There is a reason the World record was set on this course. It is really really flat. The scenery is a real mixed bag. The start area is pretty and has you run past the victory column like .5k into the race and the finish at the Brandonburg gate is one of the most iconic in the world. That said the rest of the course is really blah, I do tend to laser focus during a race and not notice much but it was mostly just running down residential streets in a major city. The shortest route blue line was well marked and easy to follow and most of the course was kept clear of spectators crowding the runners. In several areas people would cross when there were no barriers but I didn’t see any collisions. I heard the crowds were maybe 50% of normal so it could be a bigger issue in normal years. The course is overall also quite narrow and has some bottlenecks. Again not a huge issue in a year with “only” 25k instead of 43k but certainly something to be aware of in a normal year.

Weather: This race is held at the very end of September so the weather could be anything from 35-80 during the race. In my case we got upper sixties changing into mid to low 70s during the race. This of course slowed down everybody’s pace. Even the race winner was nearly 5 minutes slower than 2 years ago. If those guys lose 5 minutes I feel great about only losing 6 minutes from my goal time.

Race Management: Overall pretty good but also a bit of a mixed bag, of course some grace has to be afforded to the organizers for actually pulling off the first major since Covid happened. Communications in the months leading up to the race was really lacking in my opinion. I found the event Facebook page comments from other runners to have better info than the emails from the event during planning. Eventually the race would send info or respond to emails but it took forever.

The unique fabric wristband/ribbon system for the event to get into the start area worked well. At first I thought it was odd and useless to make people wear the wristbands but it ensures there is zero bib swapping because only a person with a wristband and a bib was allowed in the start area and on race day it meant the lines to get in the start area were non existent since you just walked up flashed a bib and a bracelet and they waved you through.

The bathroom situation was however less than ideal and lines were LONG. Men everywhere (and a few women) were making use of the bushes and trees to make their own bathrooms. This race only had 25,000 people instead of the 43,000 they had pre covid, did they have fewer bathrooms? The same? If it was the same then it would have been truly crazy in a normal year. FYI there are additional bathrooms near the start corrals which are a bit of a walk from the warm up area. They also had standing 4 person urinals near the start area, very fast and convenient but probably not the favorite visual for most ladies.

The start corrals were guarded to make sure you were in your proper area which was nice but of course a few people made it into other areas. They had fun pump up music and a clapping “Skol” chant before introducing the elites on video boards they had throughout the start area. They did a good job making it feel like an epic event in the start area.

The finish area was a little confusing to navigate and shaped like a cross where you had to go down different arms to get things like a free beer, finisher poncho, bag pick up, or food. Eventually you spill out into the park again with plenty of room to recover before leaving for the family meet up area.

Pictures for the event are reasonable $35, and I ended up with 266 pictures with me in them (lots of them very similar). I heard that there was an official photographer after the finish where you could take your picture with your medal but I never saw it and nobody I talked to seemed to have done it either. So either be aware to look for it immediately after finishing or use your own camera to take a picture on the podium they had set up in the park after you exited the finish area.

Overall this race has quite a bit to nit pick about compared to other majors but when compared to other non Majors events it is still epic and very well done. I would highly recommend it as part of both your 6 star journey and just a race that you do as you travel the world.

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