Berlin 2009 World Champs Race Report

By August 31, 2009News

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In the pack on Lap 2 around 14km

It’s been just over a week since the World Champs marathon, and I’ve finally taken some time to reflect on my 2:18:00, 33rd place, for my 3rd attempt at the marathon and my first (and hopefully not last) attempt at the world championships marathon.  Here’s a little (lengthy!) report of what I was thinking and feeling during the 42.2km through the streets of Berlin.

The race was due to start at 11:45am, which is an odd time to start a marathon (we later found out that the start time was such so the race would be on during prime time Television viewing in the marathon crazy Japan) and made the weather a potentially huge factor. As late as Thursday it hit a high of 32 C. But some rain on Friday meant that they were only expecting it to be 20-22C on Saturday (race day). Certainly not ideal marathoning temps, but not horrible.

The one good thing about the start time of the race was that we didn’t have to get up terribly early to eat. I woke around 7.30 and at 4 pieces of toast with PB and banana and some coffee and sports drink. After that I just relaxed and got into my running gear and made sure I had everything I needed for the race.  We boarded a bus from the hotel  headed to the start area just after 10am. It’s hard to get nervous and uptight before a marathon, because it is such a long race and so much can happen, that wasting your energy getting pumped up for the race will likely just make you go out to hard in the beginning. But, I have to admit I got a bit nervous when our bus driver drove around in all sorts of weird directions for about 20 minutes before admitting he didn’t know the route to get us to the start line because of all the road closures. Luckily where he ended up dropping us off was only a 400-500m walk from the start area. We warmed up along a 250m stretch of road behind the start line that was blocked off for the marathoners. It was interesting to see all the different countries and the different things they did to warm up. Mostly it was just a lot of slow jogging. After a slow 8-10minutes of jogging with my teammates and some light stretching we stripped down to our competition gear and went through the final check-in. From there we escorted to the start area 10 minutes prior to the start. The crowds at the start/finish area were huge and I got a little rush of emotion when we first made our way out and the spectators were cheering loudly. After a few minutes of light strides and standing around we lined up. Myself and the other Canadians stayed in the back row (about 3-4 rows back from the front) of the 100 odd man field. At 11:45 the gun went off, everyone started their watches, and it was time to for the end result of months of grinding out long runs and hard workouts to unfold.

After running the first km in 3:03 (what would end up my fastest km of the day), I grouped up with my Canadian teammates: Reid Colosaet, Andrew Smith, and Giitah Macharia and we started clicking off 3:10/km. The pace felt very easy in the early stages and after about 3km we decided to slowly bridge the gap to a large pack of runners about 20m in front of us. We passed 5km in 15:45 at the back of a pack of about 25 guys that was now consistently clicking off 3:10/km.

There was a little excitement at the first water station as people tried to get in position to pick up there bottles. Each country has a table every 5km with the personal water bottles for each athlete on it. The tables are lined up along one side of the road side by side in alphabetical order. There isn’t much room between each countries table so sometimes it can be difficult to see and pick up your bottle. Reid realized after a sip of the honey and salt concoction that he had accidentally picked up Giitah’s water bottle. We were all running together at that point so he gave Giitah his bottle and Andrew and I ended up giving Reid a few sips from of our bottles. If there were ever team work in such an individual sport as marathoning that was it right there.

After that I settled into the back of the pack led by Russians, Germans, and Australians and completely checked out mentally. I didn’t bother checking my splits or thinking about much of anything until we came around to 10km, which we passed in 31:33 (15:47 for the 5km from 5-10km).

The course was 4x a 10km loop, with a 2.2km add on during the final loop. So the 10km mark was at the start/finish line. The start of the second lap was pretty uneventful as I tried to remain calm and relaxed. My calves started to tighten up a little bit around 12km. This made me a little nervous as that is way too early to start having anything tighten up. I consciously changed my stride a little, trying to do a bit more of a ‘marathon shuffle’; taking shorter strides with less time spent floating through the air and hopefully less force on impact. This seemed to help as by 20km I was feeling really good. We passed 20km in 63:30, which meant we ran the second 10km loop in just under 32 minutes. Although this was a little slower than I was hoping and planning for, I didn’t really care. I was comfortably in  a big pack of about 15-20 guys and I felt comfortable doing it and figured I could compete right to the finish against that group of guys. Strangely my mindset changed drastically in the next 1km. Just before the 1/2way mark (21.1km) I decided to move to the front of the group. I did so initially just to get out of the pack and change up the stimulus a bit. I guess I was getting a bit bored (or maybe a bit impatient) sitting in the back of the pack. And I was sick of getting cut off by other guys in the group when we went around corners. I thought it would be fun to get in the front of the group for a while and see how that went. I realized after about 400m at the front of the group that no one was actually following me. At that point I decided (without a lot of thought going into it) that I was just going to keep going at the pace and not worry about if the group followed me. The pace, which apparently I had made faster than the group behind me, felt really easy and I didn’t see any point in slowing down to rejoin them. Over the next few minutes I didn’t look back, but could tell by the way the crowds were cheering that I was quickly putting space between myself and the big pack of guys. Oddly I was not nervous about this at all. I felt really good and at that point in the race wanted to keep up the 3:10/km that we had been running earlier on and naively figured I could do it just as easily on my own as in a pack of 15 guys.

At about 23km my group of 1 became a group of two when Hamilton, ON native Reid Coolsaet also broke away from the group and joined me to share the pace. I was really excited about this. We switched off leading each other for the next 3-4km and we were able to maintain 3:10-3:11/km. This made me really excited as I was feeling really good at this point and we were constantly catching guys who had gone out at a faster pace and were already paying the price. I had no idea what place we were in at that point but my confidence was growing with each struggling runner we passed. I had never felt so fresh and confident at 30km in my previous marathons. So when I passed through the start finish area in 1:35:29 (just under 32 minutes for previous 10km) I was confident that I could keep up that pace and finish right around 2:15 – which I would have been happy with, given the conditions (an dwould have placed me about 15th overall).

My next kilometer (from 30-31km) was 3:18, the slowest of the race, and I panicked a bit when I saw that on my watch. I tried to tell myself that it was just slow because that kilometer including the personal water bottle station, where I slowed down a bit to make sure I drank every ounce of my sports drink. But the reality was I was starting to slow down a bit. At that point Reid started to do a lot more of the leading (whereas on the 3rd lap I had done most and even put a little gap on Reid at one point) and I was starting to tire a bit. No single part of my body was hurting more than others at that point, I was simply starting to feel the effects of running such a long way, and probably of the escalating heat (apparently temps reached mid 20’s during the race). I tried not to panic and just stared at Reid’s back and told myself I was just going through a bad patch and would feel good again in a few minutes.

My confidence really started to waiver when one of the runners from the pack I had broken away from just after half-way came running by. I tried to tuck in behind him and go his speed. But I couldn’t manage it. It felt like he was sprinting. At 35km my 5km split from 30-35km was 16:35. So I was slowing down, which I was well aware of. But, that wasn’t terribly slow and I thought if I could maintain that pace I was still going to be able to run a great race. But, over the next few kilometers Reid started to inch away from me and a few other runners from the group behind started passing me at paces that seemed ridiculously fast to me.

By about 37km I had been passed by 3-4 guys and was not making gains on anyone ahead of me. My confidence, energy levels, and muscles fatigue all seemed to take a big knock at the same time. I stopped looking at my splits and thinking about finishing times and basically went into survival mode. Those last 5km were probably the worst of any my 3 three marathons to date (my previous two being a 2:15:15 in Rotterdam in April 2008 and 2:16:20 in Toronto in Sept 2008).

Despite the amazing crowd support, including cheers from my mom and brother, I was barely moving out there the last 5km. The hardest part was at about 38km when we went off our usual 10km loop to do the 2.2km add on. This part of the course was unfamiliar to me and when I took a few turns that took me in the opposite direction that I wanted to go (towards the finish line) I just put my head down and tried to survive. I was in a constant battle with myself both mentally and physically those last few kilometers. I would get mad at myself for going so slowly and losing ground on the guys who had passed me. Every so often I would lift my head and concentrate on my form and try to pick up the pace. I would be able to a little bit and I’d be encouraged, but then after about 20 seconds of running a bit faster I couldn’t fight the pain and I’d have to slow down a bit because I feared if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. At the last water station at 40km I stopped for a second to grab my last water bottle and make sure I got in as much of as I could as quickly as I could, because at that point I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it to the finish line without it.

The final 2km of the race was a straight shot down the main street in Berlin. It was the longest 2km ever. I continued to try to compete but knew I was barely running at that point. My 5km from 35-40km was a disastrous 17:45! I fought through a tough wind down that last straight and managed to throw in a little bit of burst when I saw the finishing clock clicking of 2:17:45,46,47, etc hoping that I could get under 2:18. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough as my final time was 2:18:00.

When I crossed the line I was completely spent. I could barely stand up and wished I could just be magically transported to a massive and comfy bed. Straight afterwards I was pretty disappointed with how I did. But more than anything I was shocked about how ugly things ended up out there. I was dazed and confused. I found out 5 or 10 minutes after the race that I was finish 33rd. That was the first time I had any idea what place I was in at any point in the race. I didn’t really know how to react to the placing. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t completely disappointed. I went into the race ranked about 80th (based on personal bests for the marathon). To finish 33rd therefore seemed ok.

Now one week and a few beers later I am still not sure how to feel about the race. The marathon is such a cruel event. There is so much time and energy and hard work poured into that unless the result is something magnificent (which it rarely if ever is) it is hard to be satisfied. I am generally just dissatisfied and know I could have done better. I think if I was a bit smarter and a bit more patient and didn’t move ahead of the group so early that I could have placed quite a bit higher.  Looking at the results now, and the splits of other athletes it paid to be more patient. Guys from the group I was running in finished as high as 18th place. And they did so by running slower than I did from 20-30km, but remaining consistent from 30-40km.  By charging ahead at 21km I only got 30 seconds ahead of the pack I was previously running in. But by slowing down so much in the in the end other guys from that packed ended up as much as 2.5 minutes ahead of me by the finish! Being more conservative from 2-30km wasn’t going to mean I would have finished 2.5minutes faster. But, I think I would have been able to hold things together better if I had been more patient at that stage of the race. Live and learn I guess.
I am definitely hungry for more and it was definitely the most exciting and unforgettable race experience of my life. The spectators were unlike anything I have experienced before. They were lining the entire course, 4-5 people deep in some places and they were really loud especially when I was running the pack with three German runners during the first half of the race. I read report that estimated there were 700,000 spectators out cheering (which seems somehow impossible, but then again I have no idea how to estimate the size of a big crowd). Reid and I had a little fun with the crowed, during the third lap, when I was still feeling good and confident! We realized that the crowd wasn’t quite as loud as when we running in the big group with the Germans. When we went past a large group of spectators first Reid, then I, raised our arms motioning for the crowd to cheer louder, and they responded in unison like someone just scored the winning goal in the NHL playoffs. It was very very cool. Likely something I will never experience again. So, I’ll try and spend the next few days reliving the positives of the race and putting the negatives behind me.

For some photos and video (which I am not in very much at all) check out the links below:
http://mzungofire.blogspot.com/2009/08/marathon-men-final-berlin-iaaf-2009.html

http://www.berliner-laufbilder.net/html/2009_weltmeisterschaft.html