A World Record and a Hurting Knee

Event Stats:
Name Berlin Marathon
Date 09/30/2007
Location Berlin, Germany
Event Marathon
Finish Time 04:00:08

Berlin, my last marathon for the season and also my biggest one, in terms of participants; over 32,000 runners.

Maybe it was the sheer amount of people in a place, maybe it was the title sponsor real - the German equivalent to walmart - that set the stage, but from my arrival in Berlin airport on, I thought only one thing:

This is cheap, this is pathetic.

No sign at the airport whatsoever, you need to take a train for half an hour, walk for 15 minutes through stink of urine and overflowing trash bins to pick up the race packet (which consists of the start number and some fliers, that’s it). Then another 30 minute train ride to downtown, where the event starts on the next morning.

The good thing is that in Berlin, public transportation really works, so that it is no problem to get to the start in the morning.

The start is totally crowded, I have to walk about 1 km to get to the bag check for my number range and then another good 2km to the start, passing about a million people doing their business in the woods, since port-a-potties seem to be non-existent.

At the starting area, a six-lane road, warm-up is in full swing, only half the speakers seem to have faulty wiring.

From the time the gun goes off to the time I cross the start line a good ten minutes have passed (and I have started from the 3:30 block). The road is packed, runners crossing left to right and right to left, pushing their way to the front or idling along.

A great thing about the marathon course is that you pretty much do the whole Berlin sightseeing tour in 42 km. Alexanderplatz, Reichstag, you name it, you will pass it.

From the beginning on, I feel a pain in my right knee, the same sort of pain I felt the week before. Nevertheless, this is the last race, so I figure, I just run for a good finish time and then have all winter to go slow. This works out fine, at the halfway point I’m still reasonably fast, considering that the it was still totally crowded. At about km 24 I feel the pain in my knee getting sharper. I take some walking breaks, but that doesn’t seem to help either. So I figure, I just bite my teeth and get it over with.

In the meantime I have heard that Haile set a new world record. That makes me immensely happy for a while, he is my favorite runner after all.

The problem with an event of this size certainly is controlling traffic. I can see how it is difficult to block off half of downtown in a huge city, and with the field packed like it is in Berlin, I can also see why crossing a street in between runners is not an option for pedestrians.

However, rerouting the running course so that pedestrians can pass which leads to a longer race course can certainly not be the solution. At various point in the race, especially in the last quarter, the race course was substantially prolonged. Both my Polar foot-pod and my GPS showed a total race course of 43.9 km for me. This is a good kilometer longer than I usually have, even in a city marathon. This is clearly something that needs to improve. The way the race was is 2007, Haile got the fast course, and I got the slow one. And I bet he didn’t even have to pay for the entry ;-)

I finished in four hours even, which is still o.k. overall, had to walk 2 km to pick up my bag. Got to the train and got home, not really happy, despite the world record.

Race conditions: 1/5

I have never run an other marathon this size, so maybe my complaint about this one would be the same for all of them, but nevertheless, this was totally crappy. Endless lines, crowded for the whole race, significantly longer course (see above). No fun.

Scenery: 4/5

Berlin, Germany's capital has a ton of sights, and you will pass most of them on the run. The best course for a city marathon I've ever seen.

Difficulty: 3/5

The course is pretty flat, road quality is good, but you allways have to watch out for what is happening around you because of the never ending crowd.

Information: 3/5

If you have 30.000 runners running the downtown of any city, it's rather hard to get lost. But aside from that: No info at airport and train stations, OK website.

Finisher medal: 4/5

Very nice medal depicting a famous runner, and a different one each year.

Goodies: 0/5

What goodies?

The Cheer: 5/5

32.000 runners in a city. Enough said.

Overall: 5/10

I think every serious marathoner should run one of the big five once. But probably only once.