Germany is the new big running destination. Popular marathons with flat courses in historic cities are a real attraction for the British traveller...
It would be a convenient simplification to suggest that the image of Patrick Makau, set against the iconic backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, striding across the finish line en-route to setting a new world record, was the moment in which the running world took note of Berlin and German events in general. Indeed, the athlete Makau displaced in Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie, set the city alight with consecutive world record performances in 2007 and 2008.
Apart from being a course in which the elite excels, the marathon has established itself as one of the most popular and stands as one of the five Marathon Majors. In the last decade - apart from a small trough in 2004 - the event has seen over 30,000 successfully complete the race each year. There are a number of reasons for Berlin marathon's popularity. Established in 1974, the event only began to attract widespread interest the year after the Berlin Wall collapsed. The 1990 event took place three days before re-unification and the history and drama of the occasion brought tears to many of the 25,000 participants who ran through the Brandenburg Gate to complete the race. Spotting the city's most iconic monuments - the route passes the Reichstag and the Kaiser-Willhelm Church - is one of the highlights of this marathon classic.
One of the most appealing features of German marathons is their flat profile. Berlin and Frankfurt stand as the fastest courses in the circuit, with even surfaces and mild autumn temperatures highly conducive for runners looking to set PBs. Indeed, Frankfurt marathon has a total height differential of just 27.8 metres.
As much as the events are ideal for fast times, they are also renowned for setting the cities alight with running fever. Frankfurt marathon stretches over the course of a weekend and the festivities include street parties, concerts and a sales fair. Berlin, meanwhile, has become famous for its comprehensive expo, with over 200 exhibitors showing off products relating to sports performance, footwear, nutrition, and health. Over 85,000 visit the expo each year.
On the eve of both events, all competitors are invited to a breakfast run. This has been especially well attended in Berlin, with around 10,000 runners gathering in front of Charlottenburg Castle before an easy 6km run to enjoy a free, hearty breakfast in the grand setting of the Olympic Stadium. The Breakfast Run is said to be a great way of getting a quick glimpse of the city and meeting fellow competitors prior to the race.
This idea of a festival type atmosphere is channelled through to the support competitors receive from locals. Last year, over 250,000 spectators lined the streets of Frankfurt to encourage the 12,000 runners - which means if you are a participant you can have your own personalised fan club of 30! The popularity of running in Germany should come as little surprise, with the country boasting 15 recognised marathons each year.
One runner who enjoyed a big German trip was Julie Fitzpatrick. She ran Munich marathon in 2010, and told scottishrunningguide.com "With the race being in October we knew the chances of a freak heat wave were slim. It meant we had to do the majority of our training during the summer, but you definitely feel the benefits of this. The route is flat, seriously flat. With 12,000 runners, the race is busy with a great atmosphere but you can still set your own pace."
One of the abiding characteristics of German events is how well they are coordinated, with running forums often complimenting the amount of preparation that goes into each race. On the setup of Munich marathon, the Julie reflected: "The first thing we were struck by was that everything was organised with typical German precision. The expo was easy to find and well laid out and there were no problems getting chips etc."
This made for a more relaxed atmosphere and a more memorable experience: "Having run London a couple of times I was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed it was. There was no pushing and shoving at the beginning, everyone had enough space and this meant a great start to the race."
Just as Berlin has the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate and the last stretch of Frankfurt marathon takes place indoors on a red carpet, Munich concludes with a grandstand finish in the Olympic Stadium. Julie said this finale rounded off the whole experience perfectly: "After running 26.2 miles you feel like you deserve the dream finish, and when you consider the fact you are on the same track as the athletes at the 1972 Olympics, it's almost like a dream."
From the preparation put into the events, the exceptionally quick courses to the grandstand finishes, running in Germany seems to boast all of the qualities you could wish - or dream for - in a race.