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The Story of My Berlin Marathon

Last year, in April 2016, when my son was 7 months young, I completed my first ever marathon. It was London Marathon which is one of the Worlds Marathon Majors. When I crossed that finish line in front of Buckingham Palace, I was crying like a baby. You can read all about my journey and actual day of that London Marathon HERE.

During my final kilometres in London, I said that I would never do it again…yet in October 2016, I put myself through a ballot for Berlin Marathon 2017, another of World Marathon Majors and again I was lucky enough to get my place. It was due on 24th September 2017.

I started my marathon training in June, so 4 months before the big day. I got in touch with my friend, who happened to be a running coach. I had a choice to search the web for the plan or to work with him and personalised training plan. For me it was no brainer. I believe that the best way to be successful is to find somebody, who’s already done what I’m planning to do and having a coach was exactly what I wanted. He asked me about my goal and how many times a week I could train.

The goal was to finish sub 4 hours and I could train 3-4 times a week.

From January, I got back to work, so I needed to incorporate my training between work, family life and setting up Active Happy Mama business. Compared to last year I was in different place – I was running regularly, taking part in running events, my form was much better plus in April 2017 I stopped breastfeeding.

I was given a plan for the first 2 weeks and Mario was watching my runs on my Garmin watch app. It was enough for him to know where I was and how to plan my training. I was getting a plan every couple of weeks. It was a combination of short and long runs, tempo runs, progression runs, hill repeats, fartlek and interval training, speed work plus skips, long jumps, etc.

London marathon was in April, so training was in the winter, through the rain, cold and wind. This time training was in the summer, with much nicer weather and longer days. Having said that, it was often through the heat, still through the wind and sometimes through the rain. Alongside holidays, before or after work, when I was tired and often when I didn’t feel like running at all…

The biggest challenge was when we went on holiday to Mauritius – 2 weeks between August and September, when I had the most challenging part of the training – long runs of 30k over the weekends, quite long ones of 18-22k runs in the week, training with increasing pace, intervals, etc. In couple of weeks I’ve done over 120k.

Adaptation proccess to running in a new climate took me a long time, waking up at 5am to run before it gets too hot, I was struggling with humidity, wind (again), running in sugar cane fields, on a motorway, on the roads with no pavements praying to stay alive when big trucks were passing me by. Honestly, during every single run over there, I had a stich, needed to stop, was not able to keep going, and I was not sure whether I was prepared to run that marathon at all…

In a week before a marathon I was told what and how to eat, drink, hydrate properly, since Friday I was supposed to eat Haribo’s and salty peanuts (to keep the water in), and as the final meal on Saturday I needed to have pizza (more calories than pasta, better for the race day). We also went through the plan of the marathon, Mario said that we’re aiming for 3:45…wow, I wanted to go under 4 hours, 3:45 was quite a bit under…he said I’m prepared, so I agreed to go for it.

As with my every run, this time again, I was raising money for a charity Basket Brigade Poland, where we provide food hampers for families in need over Christmas.

It began with Anthony Robbins in USA 30 years ago, and, together with my hubby, in 2011, we started Basket Brigade in Poland creating first 10 hampers and last year we were present in 4 cities, delivering over 500 hampers. This idea is so close to my heart, it affects not only people who we are helping to but, over the years, so many of my family members and friends have been transformed. You can read more about it HERE.

Friday morning, I got period… and for me that was not good news. I know my body, I know how I feel for the first 3 days of my period and on Sunday it was supposed to be my 3rd day…I know it’s quite intimate to write about it here but, as a woman, you know how it can affect you… Well, nothing I could do about it.

We had a flight on Friday 22nd September to Szczecin in Poland, where we were about to rent a car and drive to Berlin. We got a free upgrade to Audi A3 at the airport which was a very nice start to our weekend 🙂 We got to Berlin around 9pm and shortly after my sister with her friend arrived from Poland. My sister gave me a gold necklace with 3 hangers, one of which was 4-leaf clover – for good luck on Sunday 🙂 Saturday morning, we went to expo.

I felt quite emotional…here I’m again, my 2nd marathon, 2nd of the World Marathon Majors, my son just turned 2 years and he is here with me and my hubby, my lovely sis and Magda came over to support me and after months of training I’m about to do it…

After taking some pictures, wimbling around all sorts of stands, we stopped at Abbott display, looking at all 6 World Marathon Majors medals.

And right over there I found my necklace got broken and 4-leaf clover got lost…we’ve been looking for it everywhere but with no joy. I won’t be lucky on Sunday then…well, I refused to believe in bad luck.

Saturday afternoon we spent in Berlin, walking around the city. My iPhone was playing up, from 40% battery it went dead, unable to turn on. I hoped it wouldn’t happen the next day.

In the evening, we went to Italian restaurant for tasty pizza, my companions were drinking bear, which I was craving for but didn’t touch it.

When we were coming back it was pouring rain. The weather forecast for Sunday was showing rain but I kept saying that I’ve always been a lucky girl and, with every running race, I had a wonderful weather, so this time would be the same…

When we got back home, I prepared everything for the next day – clothes, race number, pins, gels, bag, attached timing chip to my shoe laces.

I wanted to go to bed early but my son Kuba was not interested in falling asleep at all. When he finally did, I couldn’t fall asleep myself. I believe it was a mixture of excitement and stress.

I was checking weather forecast, no rain, yeahhh.

Sunday morning, I got dressed, ate my standard pre-race meal – 2 slices of wholemeal bread with peanut butter and banana. Took energy bar and isotonic drink to have before the start.

I was in the last wave H, we were about to start at 10am. We got to Reichstag around 8:30 am, few pictures together, final kisses, hugs, good luck and bye. I was told that we would meet between 11-12k, then 21-22k and then 37k to give me coca cola (Mario said that caffeine kick will help me at the finish).

Dropped my bag, put plastic trash bag on me (to protect from cold and wind), took couple of pictures in front of Reichstag, and put myself in the queue for the toilet.

Once I was uploading my pictures to facebook and saying last thanks to my friends my phone died…at 82% battery…was trying to turn it on few times…no luck…just great, here I’m, in Berlin, running my 2nd World Marathon Major marathon and my phone is dead…

I wasn’t hungry at all, so didn’t eat that energy bar, had just one energy gel and was heading to the start line. It was raining…well, my weather forecast got it wrong… I did few jumps, stretched my muscles and took my place on the right-hand side. I like running on the side, it’s easier to pass people by plus we agreed with my family that I would be running there.

The rain got stronger…but the atmosphere was great, everyone was ready to start. We got blue rain covers from the organizers, so everywhere around me was flood of blue people. Again, I felt quite emotional. Before the start, we were all clapping together with loud music, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – off we go.

My goal was to go under 3:45 to get qualifying time for Chicago Marathon and good for age time for London.

I was about to run at 5:25 pace for the first 5k. It was crowded and very difficult to pass people by, the first 3k I was quite angry, as I knew I could and needed to go faster but it was almost impossible. Anyway, after first 5k my average pace was around 5:25, good. Then next 5k I needed to speed up to 5:20, yet again was so narrow, that I was going even slower – at 6k my watch was saying 5:37…come one, I can’t continue like this…will need to make it up. I should probably run with elite runners, at least will have no one in front of me. 

7k – 5:12, Mario said not to run faster than 5:15, so I need to be careful. At 10k, I almost made up that time lost at 6k, my average was around 5:20. I was feeling very well, my legs were light, I had a lot of power. At 10k I ate my first energy gel. Drink stations – no bottles, plastic cups instead, I didn’t like it, you need to slow down to be able to drink it plus it’s such a mess everywhere…I like running with a bottle in my hand and sip it on the way.

Then, just before 12k I’ve seen them – hubby, sis, Magda and Kuba in the buggy, just waking up.

I can’t even explain how amazing it is to see the loved ones on the course. It gave me so much boost, I was flying. Ok, another 10k and I will see them again. Until 20k my pace was 5:17, I was feeling really good. If I keep it, I would be able to do this under 3:45. I took caffeine gel at 17k.

21k and narrow again…5:44…not good, big gap, will need to make it up but I still had time. Was looking for my family…22k no one, 23k no one, was wondering whether I mixed it up, maybe that was supposed to be at 26k…

For the last few km I felt I needed to use the toilet but I didn’t want to lose my time. There was always a queue and I couldn’t afford it. Then right after 23k I’ve seen open toi toi and decided “now or never” and jumped in… done my business without sitting down, off course, and I’m glad I made it then. Later, I would probably not have been able to hold my legs like that. 

And then something happened, I started slowing down, I felt that I was running at the same pace but my watch was showing 5:30.

Hmmm let’s speed up, there is no room for slowing down now. At 24k I had another gel. 25k – 5:24, 26k – 5:27, 27k – 5:19, 28k – 5:37 and I couldn’t speed up. I felt like the plug was taken out and my power is gone… At that stage I knew that my finish time under 3:45 is gone… yet still it was 14k to go. At 30k I took another caffeine gel.

At 31k my time was 5:59…and I wasn’t feeling good…what the hell. I started feeling pain in my legs, the same one as during last 10k in London marathon…come on, I need to keep moving. Next drink station and I stopped, for the very first time I stopped to be able to drink that multipower energy drink from the cap. The longer I was standing there, the more I knew that if I didn’t speed up now, I would not be able to start at all.

Managed to speed up a little to 5:38 but then 35k and 6:26…that was bad…I wanted to throw my watch away as it was pissing me off…but the way how I was feeling was worse…my legs were in pain, my lower back was in pain, my stomach was in pain, my period pain said hello too…and I was asking myself why on earth I didn’t take any pain killer for this…I said that this is my last marathon, I’m not going to go through that ever again.

I was supposed to see my family very soon again, at that stage I was almost crying and decided that if I see them, I would stop and have a break with them. 36k – no one, approaching 37k – no one…I started to worry…something must have happened, it’s not possible there were not there at 21k and they are not here at 37 if it wasn’t a reason for it…

And then I saw them, screaming for me, Kuba waving to me. Hubby gave me that coca cola, kissed me saying it’s not long to go, I kissed Kuba.

On the pictures and video from that moment – I was smiling…no sign of how I was really feeling. This is what seeing the loved ones on the course is doing.  I forgot to stop, kept running. Started drinking that coke and I couldn’t keep it in my mouth, my face felt numb, the coke was dripping down…

At 38k I was not sure if I could do it any longer…I wanted to give up, just stop here and there… 

I think that the little voice that was going through my mind should have been recorded. But come one that’s not me, I’m not a give up type of girl…the finish line was so close… That was the longest 4k in my life. On one hand, I wanted to speed up and be over it asap and on the other hand I just had no power to keep going. My head was ok, I knew that I would do it but my legs and lower back were killing me…Every now and then I was doing high knees, not sure why but that was helping. 

Final turn and I saw Brandersburg Gate…I had tears in my eyes…grand finale, almost there…

I don’t know what my face was saying but someone shouted: “Aleksandra just enjoy”. Going through the gate was amazing, it’s such an iconic Berlin landmark. I thought that was over but we still had around 500m to go. I decided to speed up and then I felt such a massive pain in my quads. I’m sure another 1k and I would have a cramp that would not let me continue…

Finish line…seeing it, getting closer to it…going through it…and it was over… I couldn’t believe it…my 2nd marathon completed, thanks God I survived and got here in one peace. 

Got my beautiful medal with Brandersburg Gate and goody bag. No T-shirt inside, which was disappointing. T-shirt is such a great reminder of the event, I like all my race T-shirts. 

I took my phone out it miraculously it turned on…Few pictures at the finish line and slowly was going towards family reunion area. First words I said to them was: “that was my last marathon”, my sister started laughing saying that she’s heard it already last year in London… At that moment I really meant it, I really didn’t want to do another marathon ever again… My sister kept asking why people are doing it to themselves and I started questioning it as well. 

How was I feeling afterwards? Relief that it was over 🙂

My official time was 3:57:30 – almost 28 min faster than last year in London. 28 min, that’s quite an improvement.

I was joking that if I have such a progress with every marathon, I will shortly win one. I was proud of myself, proud of breaking 4 hours, feeling so much respect for every marathoner again, for me they are all heroes. 

On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed of not going under 3:45. I was analysing what went wrong, why during my second half I was feeling so bad, I felt that I had 2 separate races, flying in the first half and struggling in the second. I had so many maybes, whys and ifs in my head… but I’m not going to put them in here, it’s irrelevant now.

The fact is that:

  • I’ve completed my second marathon
  • I’ve got second of World Marathon Majors medal
  • I’ve managed to do sub 4 hours in my second marathon
  • I’ve improved my PB by 28 min
  • I know how much work, discipline and dedication I needed to put into this
  • I’m my own hero and this is my moment of glory

BERLIN MARATHON – I’M A DIFFERENT PERSON NOW THAN I WAS AT THE START LINE.

THANK YOU FOR THE EXPERIENCE, IT WILL STAY WITH ME FOREVER.

 

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