In Outdoors

I Ran The 2023 Berlin Marathon – Here’s What Happened

The Berlin Marathon––one of the preeminent athletic events in human history. And one of the few of such caliber that would let a shmendrik like me join in the fun.

The festivities begin with the expo out at the former Tempelhof Airpot. This place was built by the Nazis and used for the Berlin Airlift after the war from 1948 – 1949 to fly in food and fuel from Allied airbases in West Germany during the Soviet blockade. After it closed in 2008, the surrounding runaways and green space were turned into a city park and the airport eventually became home to the Berlin Marathon expo.

There are all the usual accouterments at the expo. Things, stuff, and headless monsters frozen in time forced to shill tech tees, shorts, and shoes for all eternity.

Me? I’m not much of an expo guy. Just give me my bib and leave my wallet alone, thank you very much. I just want to get home, carbo-load, and rest.

First time in Berlin? Check out my travel guide on things to do in Berlin from a local’s perspective.

Shake Out Run and Carbo-Loading

It’s Saturday morning and I’m heading out with Melanie’s group of Lift Run Perform runners visiting from as far as San Diego to Maine. She takes us through our usual stomping grounds, in and around Volkspark Freidrichshain with the Neo-Baroque Märchenbrunnen spitting out water like a pro.

We end at Zacharias for coffee and a slice of toasted banana bread, continuing the final stretch of our carbo-load.

Speaking of carbo-loading, I’m making my pasta with Sicilian pesto and eggplant that’s become a go-to weekday meal that I make at least once a week. (You can find the recipe for that on my channel and get a taste of my Sicilian travels from earlier in the year.)

For now, it’s face-stuffing time.

Race Day

Transit’s a bit altered on race day, so we opt to meet up with a running friend (who’s done all kinds of runs with us from the Harz Mountains and Spreewald in Germany to Greece and Austria) and take the U-Bahn to Alexanderplatz.

Which, judging from the crowds, is a mistake. The trains are wildly packed and people are just monsters, shoving their way onto the train, nearly swallowing an innocent bystander in the process.

We bail on that plan and head upstairs where three different S-Bahns are running to the Hauptbahnhof main train station. Hardly a runner in sight and we can even grab a seat. The moral of the story is: Don’t always listen to Google Maps.

From Hauptbahnhof, we make our across the German Reichstag and the Platz der Republik, winding our way over to the start line along with 47,000 other runners from 156 nations across the globe.

Shuffling up to the start, I could sense what it must be like for a cow heading to slaughter or a lemming mindlessly walking off a cliff. Except unlike the cow or the lemming, we fucking paid to do this.

The Berlin Marathon

I didn’t know what to expect out of my run. Two years ago, I ran the marathon in 3 hours and 54 minutes––and felt pretty crappy at the end. I trained for it, but I couldn’t really tell you what my training plan was or what plan I followed.

Something I know I really neglected was fueling. On race day morning in 2021, Melanie mentioned packing some gels and said she’d eat two every 30 minutes.

“Guess I should, too!”

So I took some and chowed down on gels throughout the race. Except, as any experienced runner will tell you, you don’t experiment with nutrition on race day. So at the end of the race, I sat down and couldn’t get back up without feeling like I’d pass out. (Not an entirely unusual feeling for me.)

This time, I came prepared with my own nutrition that I practiced with. So right out of the gate, I feel strong, hitting a 5:05-minute kilometer and pretty much following that for the entire race. Initially, I planned to start slower and speed up every 10 kilometers. But I decide in the moment to listen to my body and run at whatever pace it wanted to.

There are few greater feelings in this world than rounding the corner onto Unter Den Linden with the Brandenburg Gate in sight and the crowd continuing to celebrate each and every runner, even though the elites have long since showered up by now. I could feel my heart bursting, not from running too hard, but with pride in what’s become my city.

Across the finish line, the zombie shuffle through the exit begins. But not before grabbing that glorious little medal.

Over the next hour, our group of runners reassemble and we slowly make our way over to the Zollpackhof beer garden, a post-marathon tradition of sorts. I’m eager to eat all of the food and drink a beer that’s bigger than my head.

Cheers to Berlin, the marathon, and doing hard things.

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