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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




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Interview On Why You Need To Take Part In a TEAM Running Relay?

On Sunday 16th July 2017, together with my sister Gosia, hubby Lukasz and friends Martyna, Ania, Magda and Tomasz, we took part in Team Marathon Szakala in my hometown Lodz/Poland. The idea of that race was brilliant – 7 team members running 1k x 6 times. Minimum of 2 females required in the team. So, although me and a hubby went to Poland just for the weekend, we couldn’t miss that. Grandparents were thrilled to look after our son anyway 🙂

So, we formed a team of 7 – 5 ladies (3 mums) and 2 gents (2 dads) with age range between 30 up to 45. We were all coming with different running experiences, some of us never took part in any races before, some completed few marathons already, some were running regularly while others just for fun here and there. It was completely different experience for all of us, no one has ever run in a team race plus no one has ever run just 1k in one go. It’s such a different type of effort compering to standard 5k or 10k races, much faster, more challenging and demanding. Anyway, we were all ready to smash it having fun at the same time.

I must say that we did amazing, I’m so proud of our team, everyone gave over 100%, everyone ran much faster than expected, the guys off course were our sprinters however ladies were not far behind them. We finished the race in 3:05:10 and I wish I have such a time during my marathon. We were running alongside professional sprinters who were simply amazing. The winning team completed marathon in 2:15:53 and the team in the last place in 3:35:51. WOW, so everyone really did great job.

Overall it was such a great day; good form check-up and we want to make it again. We all can highly recommend this event to everyone. That will you your PB marathon time for sure 🙂

After speaking to my fellow team members, they agreed to share their running experience with you, so read on, we hope you will get inspired by their stories and next time we may even run together 🙂 Ok, so let’s dive in.

How long have you been running for, when did you start and why?

Martyna (mum to 4yr old): I started around 1.5 year ago, when my husband called me a “doughnut” …and I didn’t want to be his doughnut… As a present, he gave me a starter pack for 10k run. I needed to train for it and that’s how my running adventure began.

Tomasz: I started in 2012 and the reason was simple – my weight was far too much, 105kg compared to 84kg right now.

Gosia: I started running in autumn 2014, my friend suggested to give it a try and go for 10k run race in November. I like sports challenges, I thought – so many people run nowadays, so maybe I can add some variety to my fitness schedule too.

Ania: I started running in 2016, so I’m quite a fresh starter. The reason? As for many others – I wanted to lose weight. My friend persuaded me to take part in running events.

Magda (mum to 8yr old): My running adventure started in high school, so like 20 year ago 🙂 For good few years I trained athletics, that was short distance running. When I finished high school, I stepped running. But few years ago, I met some crazy people, who love running and decided that it would be great to be a part of that team and remind myself about positive aspects of running again.

Alex (mum to 22months old): I started running in 2013 out of the blue, as before I always thought that running is boring.

Lukasz: I started in n April 2017 in preparation for a triathlon.

Did you take part in any races before? If so, which ones?

Martyna: Yes, I did. I started with that 10k in 2016 and since then I completed few 10k races, 15k and debuted in half-marathon distance in October 2016.

Tomasz: Yes, I’ve done quite a few so far. I started in Lodz marathon in 2014 with the time of 3:35, my PB is 3:17 in April 2017. Few half-marathons with PB 1:30, plenty of 10k with PB 40:12

Gosia: Yes, I did take part in various races 5k, 10k, half-marathon, muddy challenges and obstacle races Runmagedon, Tough Mudder. I’ve also taken part in various group fitness challenges at my fitness club.

Ania: Yes, I ran in few Parkruns and some 10k races.

Magda: Yes, I took part in various 5k and 10k events plus completed one 15k race and last year I debuted in half-marathon distance.

Alex: Yes, debuted in half-marathon in 2013, done few 5k, 10k and half-marathons, plus completed first marathon in April 2016, also Tough Mudder.

Lukasz:  Yes – Tough Mudder, Rat Race, which are crazy muddy races and obstacle team challenges.

Why do you take part in races?

Martyna: I’m taking part in races together with my running team. It’s 5-6 of us, 4 beauties and 2 beasts 🙂

Tomasz: I like atmosphere, competition, satisfaction after reaching my goal plus that’s a great opportunity to meet other like-minded runners.

Gosia: There are many reasons for that. First, I feel that the atmosphere during races is phenomenal – amazing people, both runners and supporters, great energy that helps overcoming your fears. Secondly, I love setting myself up new fitness challenges. Thirdly, getting a medal feels amazing.

Ania: My friend Gosia invited me to take part in running events. I still remember her saying: “Kaminsko, you can run 5k, so you can as well run 10k, come one, you need to sign up! I will run with you and I will support you!” – so, I signed up and… she was away, so she didn’t run with me…:)

Magda: It’s my challenge to check whether I can do it plus I want to share joy of running with my friends.

Alex: I love the atmosphere, setting myself up for a challenge and reaching my goal. Also inspiring others what’s possible.

Lukasz: I want to push myself, to check how far I can go plus have fun at the same time.

Why did you take part in Team Marathon Szakala?

Martyna: …I was „forced” as they needed extra team member…hahaha but seriously – I thought it would be great to spend Sunday morning in the forest with other crazy runners 🙂

Tomasz: I wanted to take part in team racing as I haven’t done it before. I wanted to experience something different, passing the baton in the relay – really cool.

Gosia: I wanted to try something different, add the variety to my running events. I have friends who I always run with, that event was for running teams, so just perfect for us.

Ania: My crazy friends invited me to take part in this adventure.

Magda: So far, I was running on my own, so this time I could feel what responsibility for a team result feels like.

Alex: To take part in team relay for the very first time plus do this with my sister, hubby and Polish friends in my home town. My sis and hubby are not interested in marathons but I kept saying that we would do a marathon together one day, and so we’ve done this one 🙂

Lukasz: My wife invited me to do so 🙂

How long have you been training for Marathon Szakala and what was your training like?

Martyna: What training…? 🙂 this race for me was about having fun.

Tomasz: I didn’t have any specific plan for this race. I run 4-5 times a week, so some sessions I used for speed training.

Gosia: I train all year round – indoor cycling, cross fit, plenty of fitness classes, running. I believe that keeps me fit all the time. Normally I run longer distances, so in preparation for that event, I added some trade mill workout to check myself in much faster 1k runs, rest and repeating that process few times. I needed to learn the pace that will allow me to cover the whole 1k plus being able to speed up on that last 150m.

Ania: Hmmm. There is not much to say in here…I didn’t really train. I’ve done couple of runs as I had quite a long brake. I had no training plan whatsoever.

Magda: So far, I was running around 10k. 2 weeks before the event I was doing 5k runs plus adding faster interval sessions.

Alex: I’m training for a marathon in September, so have a running plan in place however, I needed to check myself with 1k fast run to see what my pace needed to be like.

Lukasz: I was training for a triathlon, started 9 weeks before Marathon Szakala.

So, how was that team marathon for you like, what thoughts were going through your mind before, during and after the race?

Martyna: My team wanted to be amongst first 6 teams to get a trophy…until it turned out that professional sprinters are taking part in that race too J I wanted to give 100%…and I did, before the race I didn’t believe that I could run that fast 🙂

Tomasz: Great experience, unforgettable moments with friends and other runners.

Gosia: At the beginning – excitement because of the unknown, during and after the 1st 1k, I felt that I didn’t want another one 🙂 It’s just 1k but because of the pace, I could really feel it. Long rest paradoxically wasn’t helping that much as it was quite hard to go for another 1k again. After couple of rounds I had my own plan, knowing when to speed up, etc. After the race I felt fantastic, the best part for me was that it was a team work, we motivated and supported each other and we had fun together at the same time.

Ania: Before the race my mind was going crazy: „OMG what am I doing here?”, “What do I need this for?”, “I will probably have a heart attack in here”, “They all run so fast, and me…I will slow them down”. Generally – I was stressed out and in a panic mode… During the race I gave 100%, mainly for people who I was running with. On one hand, it was supposed to be fun, on the other hand, I didn’t want to let them down. I was trying to pass anyone I could. And once all these sprinters were passing me by, I was thinking: “what do they eat?” 🙂 After the race I was happy, that these fast 6k are over and I was proud that I managed to complete them all.

Magda: Before the race: I was afraid whether my endurance let me run each 1k with a pace I had planned to and I was quite curious how it feels to run in relay. During the race: to run as fast as I could, after each 1k I thought that I would not be able to move again but apparently, I could. After the race: Very happy that I’ve done that and big satisfaction that I run much faster than I expected.

Alex: Before the race: I wanted to get a trophy 🙂 During the race: I enjoyed the atmosphere, the run was challenging however I was very pleased with my results, and I was shocked how fast some teams were running and our trophy was fading away… After the race: Very proud of our team, especially 3 females who did not believe in themselves and ran much faster than expected.

Lukasz: That I’m super-fast 🙂 and it was great fun.

What’s next for you, any other races planned?

Martyna: Unfortunately, I need to limit running for now but I’m sure there are still plenty of races ahead of me.

Tomasz: August 2017 – 10k Bieg Fabrykanta in Lodz, October 2017 – half-marathon.

Gosia: For sure. I like the energy, atmosphere and fun with my friends. Next run – 10k Bieg Fabrykanta in Lodz in August.

Ania: Yes, 10k run in August Bieg Fabrykanta in Lodz, and then? I have my little plans and I hope that I will make them.

Magda: Yes, 10k Bieg Fabrykanta in Lodz in August.

Alex: Yes, Berlin Marathon in September.

Lukasz: Yes, more triathlon sprints and Olympic triathlon next year.

What would you say to the ones thinking about taking on running? Any tips to get started?

Martyna: To start with – don’t set your expectations too high, that you are going to run 5-10-15k on your first run, give yourself time! If you want to smash your records, you need to run regularly but if that’s not the case, just run to be able to feel better and for fun J Running is great, you need to believe that…so put on those snickers and go wherever you want to 🙂

Tomasz: Running gave me: -30kg !!!, feeling great in my body, appreciation for myself and confidence that I can accomplish ANYTHING I want to. Tips: Start slowly, start smart, most importantly run regularly and records will come. In long distance running – head is the most important, everything starts and finishes in your head and somewhere in between there is body, legs, arms. Attitude and belief that you can do it – that’s the key to success.

Gosia: I believe that you need to find physical activity that you like. There is no need to force yourself doing something if you don’t feel like it, as it will be only a short-term adventure. And if you find something you like, you’ll do great thing for your body as well. It’s a good idea to give running a try, go for a few runs, don’t give up as it’s hard at the beginning. I would say – finding a running buddy is great, if my sister lives closer, I would definitely run much more!!!

Ania: Run with people who give you great energy and positive attitude but also who will tell you straight when you don’t believe in yourself and that you are capable of much more. Go outside your comfort zone, even though it’s difficult. Run and smile. I love smiling to people in the park with my running red face 🙂

Magda: At the beginning, it’s not so cool. There is a fight for every single running meter, but afterwards there is satisfaction with longer and longer distances and you feel less tired as well. Everyone should give running a try, if you like it, that’s great, if you don’t, there is always a way to find another reason and keep running 🙂

Alex: Give it a chance, you will be surprised how amazing you will feel. Running is my little escape, time only for myself when I could recharge my batteries and be back as a better mummy, better wife and better person, I’m sure you will feel the same way. Tips: get good shoes, proper sports bra, start slowly, set realistic expectations, get a running plan and believe in yourself. You can do this!!!

Lukasz: Buy good shoes, push yourself to overcome your physical limits and have fun.

As you could see – every single runner on our team had different running experience before the race. Every single one of them started running for different reasons and they all didn’t find it easy to begin with. However, ALL of them said that running is great and everyone should give it a try. Once you do, you will enter completely new world – world of positive, smiley people, world of races with amazing atmosphere, world of pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and saying to yourself that you will never do it again, until you…sign up for another race 🙂 you will step into the world that will make you more confident, you will feel that you can accomplish anything you want to, the world that is quite addictive and you will want to stay in it for sure. I hope to see you in the RUNNING WORLD 🙂 Good luck.

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