25 Sep

Berlin Was My Tenth And It Will Be My Last

Derek Carswell

Derek Carswell completed the Berlin Marathon in a time of 5:04:50; it was his tenth marathon, having previously run London in 1994, New York in 1999, Paris in 2001, Amsterdam and Milan in 2004, London and Edinburgh in 2005, Chicago 2006 and Dublin 2007. SCOTTISH RUNNING GUIDE asked Derek to share his Berlin experience with us.

"Saturday evening was an early to bed night but for whatever reason it was a restless sleep, I guess I was excited! Anyhow it wasn't long till my 6am alarm went and it was up for cereal, yoghurt, tea, fruit juice and my energy flapjack type bar before showering. I then dressed, applied my Vaseline and was ready to do battle on Berlin's tarmac.

It was still early but the weather was already looking like a scorcher. I knew it was going to make for a tough race, not that I needed the sun to do that for me. I said my goodbyes to Liz (my support team) and undertook the 15 minute walk to the start's assembly area, which was located in front of the Reichstag building.

This was my tenth marathon and the longest I've had to wait at the start pens before crossing the line. I reckon I was 20 minutes before reaching the start mats. I activated my Garmin and set off to a rapturous applause from the participants around me. I quickly settled into a nice rhythm but it was extremely busy. As we made our way down the wide avenue it was a sight to behold, thousands of bobbing heads, rather impressive. Even though it was only 09:30 it was warm; by two kilometres I was sweating but comfortable. The crowds were immense from the off and never really let up during the whole course, they were noisy but not as personal as previous marathons, but this didn't matter, they were out on a lovely autumn day showing their support for everyone taking part.

My number one supporter was at her spot, just outside our apartment waiting to give out my isotonic water and obviously a hug and kiss too, they never go a miss on these events Liz had her own mini marathon to see me at 6k, 21k and 37k. Leaving our neighbourhood around Teirgarten we crossed over Willy's Bridge into the new built area around the Spree at 7k. This allowed me to see the runners in front, it was a mass of colour but this was also the first real point in the race where we were exposed to the full heat of the sun and it was getting warmer! My plan was to take on water at every fuel station and hope that the organisers had prepared for the conditions.

It's at this point I'd like to say a huge 'well done' to the Real Berlin Marathon organisers and volunteers. Also to Berlin Fire Brigade, the members of the public who had garden hoses set-up around the course and the various bands from jazz, to rock.

The fuel stations, although congested to begin with, were well stocked and I was able to grab two plastic cups at each station. I was now over the route of the 'old' Berlin wall, having crossed from the West to the East just around 8k. We were running along hugely supported streets but with one big enemy, the big glowing hot thing in the sky. At this point I was feeling pretty good, relaxed, comfortable although hot, but more importantly I was enjoying the course. I didn't receive as many name shouts as I had in Chicago but the ones that did shout were given a "danke" in response, which they seemed more than pleased with. I passed the 10k was approximately ten minutes ahead of my five hour pace band. Things were looking good at this point but as we rounded the corner I failed to notice a huge cobblestone that was loose and in the gutter and inadvertently stood on it with my right foot. Thankfully my ankle survived and it never gave me any issues during the remainder of the race.

I then got chatting to two other Scots that I'd been following for most of the 12k. It turned out that the guy works and stays in Berlin but his sister lives in Glasgow and was combining a visit to her brother with running her first marathon. Unfortunately, we got separated at the next water station and I never spotted them again. However it wasn't long until I received encouragement from another source as I approached the first of three mass participant runner actions taking place. There were loads of drums beating out a tempo with the runners accompanying them by raising their arms above their heads and clapping in time to the beat.

We crossed the 'wall' again and we were back in the West and clocking up the kilometres. Thankfully tree-lined streets provided some protection from the sunrays for a good bit, this was heaven. I mentioned thanks to the Berlin Fire Service, they'd be so prepared as to have fire engines around the course, hooked into the hydrants with hoses tied spraying the course with gloriously refreshing cold water. This was great, I'm sure when I get to see my pictures they'll show me soaked to the skin, beautiful.

At last 21k and the halfway point reached in 2h 21m 30s, I was still ahead of my pace band time and I was still feeling good. I knew Liz was just round the corner and she supplied me with my next water bottle and my energy bar. I'd previously had two gels at 50min and then 1h 40min but I decided to take an extended walk break to rehydrate properly and get food into me. I don't know if I walked for a kilometre or not but it was a long walk break. I was not taking any chances with the heat and wanted to make sure I finished in one piece.

Despite being aware of the heat, I was showing signs of a dry mouth and really salty lips and I'm sure things were going blurry. I'm normally good at remembering the route: what I pass and who's around me but at around 25k this was non-existent. This came just before the next water stop and I walked through this taking on 3-4 cups of water, an energy drink and some of my isotonic Lucozade from my belt bottle. Just after this station was another fire engine and I basked in the spray for 20-30 seconds. It just felt right to take a bit of time to monitor things. I knew that the walk breaks were starting to creep in but if I ran-walked from here to the end I'd be sure to finish, but more importantly in a healthy state. Knowing what the dangers are I was ultra alert to make sure things were improving, they did and I was off again. I managed to get running for longer periods and was aware of the surroundings again so onward I plodded.

It's amazing how a certain thing during a mass participant course can just perk you up no end, well three things in quick succession caused my spirits to be lifted. First was a left hand bend with a huge area which housed cheer leaders going mental, this was a great boost. Then just down another tree-lined strasse two Peruvian pipes were being played, one of my favourites. Then, not for the first time, I experienced a runner participated chant, clap, arms raised moment when a DJ bus thingy at around 29-30k had booming out 'Life is Life'. Remember that one hit wonder from Opus in the 80's? Well this was loud and every one of the runners and crowd were singing their lungs out along with it. This was a tear jerking moment for some strange reason; you know that lump in throat type. However things went from one end of the spectrum to the other not long after this. I started to feel dry again but I was aware of the surroundings, so straight away I took my third gel and a huge drink of Lucozade.

I really struggled around the 34-35k point but I was feeling like the worst was behind me and I knew Liz wasn't far away. I realised that the walking breaks were getting frequent but I was still on target. As I went over the 35k marker, I had a minute in hand, with 7k and a bit to go. I worked out I wouldn't make five hours but I could still get close to it so on I went. Yet again Liz was bang on her spot and provided much needed hugs, kisses and a bottle of water.

I fought the pain that was now starting to raise itself in my thighs with burning quads and the tank on empty. The run-walk method was working and the kilometre markers kept passing. We crossed the wall twice in the remaining 5k, at Potsdamer Platz then at the Brandenburg Gate. I was finding it really tough going but the end was in sight. My Garmin revealed that five hours had passed with me still on the wrong side of the Gate but I knew I was still going to bag a respectable time, considering my year so far and especially with my previous 14 days.

The crowds here were 'wunderbar' and I managed to run the last kilometre without stopping, I chose to run through the middle arch of the Brandenburg Gate and I gave a quick 'arms up moment' just for the hell of it, even though the finish line was still to come. Approx 200m before the line a German TV crew was interviewing some old guy and I could see it was on the large TVs set-up at the finish. I was oh so tempted to hijack the interview but I had a reality check and looked at the Garmin, I didn't want to go over 5h 05mins so I burst for the line stopping my watch at 5h 04m 51s, official chip time one second better. That was it my last ever marathon completed in one piece.

My ambition to run ten of some of the world's best and biggest marathons bagged and every single one of them well earned."