Berlin 2019 and another brilliant marathon weekend away but this one was slightly different – neither of us were running! Well not in the marathon at least – as you will read we did fit a few runs in during the trip – some more successful than others. 

It wasn’t a coincidence that we were in Berlin for marathon weekend though. A number of our running friends had entries for the race and as Berlin is one of the six Abbot’s World Majors, with 47,000 runners (and their supporters) in the city for the weekend, we were always going to have a good time  – running or not. 

We did run the Berlin Marathon in 2014, and it has to be said that it wasn’t our favourite World Major. Our memories are of a “grey” course lacking interesting sights with some pockets of good support but generally sparse. It was fast definitely but also, because of the wide roads and congestion, for many of us it measured long. It was not unusual to see Garmins recording 43km or 27 miles. But we know that many runners love Berlin so we were very interested to see how this race would appear from the other side of the barriers.

As always with our marathon weekends, the race might be the main event but there were other activities to take part in around it – parkrun to run, sights to see, football to watch but most of all people to meet. Here’s how our weekend panned out.

Hasenheide Parkrun 

The first appointment of the weekend was 9 a.m. on Saturday at Hasenheide parkrun. As so often happens now when the marathon runners are in town, the regular 100 plus local parkrunners were joined by a few extra – around 600 in this case- resulting in the 92nd Hasenheide parkrun setting a new attendance record of 733 runners. 

It has to be said that the volunteer team coped with this amazingly well. It was a lovely run through the park on some surprisingly wide paths with a couple of short steep inclines. The marshals out on the course were extremely encouraging and the timing and funnel expertly managed – we even had pacers! But the revelation of the organisation was the bar code scanning which was so efficiently completed using a mobile phone app. This meant that there could be lots of scanners and hardly any queues. 

Apart from meeting up with many of our UK friends, a real treat was meeting Louis Massyn – a true Comrades legend. Aged 69 Louis has completed 47 consecutive Comrades marathons (joint record holder with Barry Holland ), his fastest time being 6:25. He is also the only runner to have completed 40 Comrades and 40 Two Oceans Marathons- the two ultras being only some 6 weeks apart. Louis was very approachable and humble about his achievements. What a great ambassador for The Comrades race and running in general.

Left: parkrun tourists

Above: Louis Massyn – Comrades legend

Berlin Marathon Expo

Next stop was the Marathon Expo at the now defunct Tempelhof airport- fortunately just a shortish walk from Hasenheide park. 

The main terminal at Tempelhof airport was once one of the ten largest buildings in the world. Originally opened in 1923, it was massively reconstructed by the Nazi Government in the mid 1930’s. Tempelhof gained iconic status when it became the centre of the relief effort during the Berlin Blockage (1948-49) in what was the first real altercation of the Cold War. The Soviets cut off access to West Berlin by road, rail and water leaving the West Berliners besieged. The Americans and UK responded by airlifting food and essential supplies into Tempelhof. Many private airlines worked alongside the US and UK airforce to provide the relief for the West Berliners. Nine months after it started the Soviets abandoned the blockade.

Since it ceased operating in 2008 the air-field has been used as recreational space and so was a perfect venue for the Berlin Marathon Expo. 

As one might expect from a marathon major, the expo is large and alongside some food and drink concessions provides plenty of retail opportunities for runners. On the Saturday morning the queues for number pick up were fairly long (45 min) but we were told that they were worse on Friday afternoon with a waiting time of over two hours to pick up bibs.

One big issue we have with Berlin as a marathon major is the fact that they do not automatically give you a race t-shirt. These have to be purchased. Runners do get the opportunity to order them in advance  but for those who are superstitious (or just badly organised) this can be problematic. By Saturday morning stocks were already running low and if you actually wanted to be sure of finishing the race before buying something saying “Finisher” by Monday you stood no chance go getting one.

The expo was another opportunity to bump into old friends and acquaintances. Over coffee (and beer) we enjoyed  listening to their hopes and fears for the day to come and tried to help allay some of the anxiety with a bit of advice and encouragement for those that needed it and wishing good luck to those that didn’t.

The vast expanses and buildings of Tempelhof airport.

Irish Bars and football

After a quick bite to eat back at the hotel it was time to move on to our next event.

At this time of year, well for a good proportion of the year actually, when we go away for the weekend at some point Liverpool FC will be playing. Our “go to” is to find an Irish Bar – there is always an Irish Bar and they are almost always showing the match live.  We usually manage to meet the odd Liverpool fan on our travels who also comes along and some of our friends who enjoy watching football might join us. This weekend we were playing Sheffield United. It was not the best performance but always a good omen for the rest of the weekend when we win. 

Watching the Saturday afternoon match stops us from doing too much sightseeing (and therefore keeps us well rested) there was no football when we were in Chicago and we ended up walking 13 miles the day before the race! Oh and in answer to “so you just sit in the pub all afternoon and drink instead?” (thank you Adam Goodman) – Germany has the best alcohol free beer around. Not that we needed to rest and abstain this time – old habits die hard.

The Irish bar features again later in the weekend!

Above: Some of the runners and supporters of the Eve Appeal charity enjoying a well earned post-run meal.

Eve Appeal charity runners

A lovely extra bonus this trip was meeting a group of people (friends of friends) who were staying in the same hotel as us and running or supporting on behalf of a charity called the Eve Appeal. The charity supports research and awareness into gynaecological cancers. The runners consisted of a couple of first time marathon runners, a few who had more experience and some fellow Comrades. There was a wide range of ages too but interestingly all the runners were men.

After a lively and entertaining meal on Saturday night we added yet more names to our tracking list. Sunday was going to be a busy day.

Race day

Marathon day dawned. Rain threatened. We had a plan.  Rain came, we got drenched. The plan went out the window. Supporting at a big city marathon is never easy. To give them their due the Berlin marathon site did try to help. It suggested a number of different options for supporters including cycling round part of the course, using a combination of the U Bahn and walking and the one we liked best – come out of the night club and go straight to the start to see the runners off.

We had decided to run between places on the course – 2.5K, 21k, 37k and the finish. 10 miles in total. 2.5K went well. We got there in good time and the runners were still close together. We watched the elites and quite a few friends pass but unexpectedly we had to return to the hotel for warmer clothes. The detour cost us time, then we got lost- even more time gone. After attempting to get an Uber and failing we decided to cut our losses. We found a good perch at 34k, fairly close to our hotel on Kurfurstendamm, where we stayed and saw almost everyone we wanted to see. 

We’ve said it before but it’s hard to describe the excitement when one of your runners comes into view – you may have seen them just a few hours ago at breakfast but put them in a running kit and out on a marathon course and when they come into view you go crazy. Cam’s crazy is pretty loud!

Standing out in the rain for over four hours resulted in us being very cold and wet but not complaining. What an uplifting  and inspiring experience it was.  We had a plan. The plan failed. We ran all of 2 miles but we had a brilliant day. 

Some of the front runners at 2.5km

Mark at 34Km – looking relaxed. Comrades cap helped with spotting.

Jim, one of our favourite pacers!

A few reminders/learning points for supporters:

  1. Don’t be too ambitious – unless you know the city and route well – keep it simple.
  2. A cheer of recognition near the start and lots of encouragement for the last five miles worked pretty well. Half way would have been the icing on the cake but with so many people running different times this was never going to be  easy.
  3. A name, or club name, a cheer, a hug but not “You’re looking strong” when they are not – you won’t fool them. Never “Your almost there “, unless you are 200metres from the finish line and absolutely not “It’s all down hill from here “- unless you know that for an absolute (100% certain) fact. Probably best not to remind runners that they are (only) half-way either. In fact avoid distance reminders altogether unless asked. It’s best for marathon runners to stay in the moment and concentrate on the mile they are in.
  4. Make sure you know what your runners are wearing.
  5. Make plan B arrangements for the finish – mobile phones are not always available or working.
  6. Look after yourself too. You will be out in the elements for as long as the runners.

Once back at the hotel we did eventually warm up and Sunday afternoon into Sunday evening was spent celebrating great performances. We never tire of listening to runners accounts of their marathon journey

The evening ended and next morning started back in the Irish Bar with a live band, dancing and a mass of very happy marathon runners. Perfect.

Left: Back in the hotel. “The future belongs to your imagination” Karl Lagerfeld – seems appropriate. Above: Celebrating some great performances.

Run to the airport

Monday morning and the runners had already started to disperse – some left last night others heading off this morning. Lots of good byes.

Meanwhile a message from a family member up in Scotland, “I see you are in Berlin – any chance of picking my iPad that I left on a plane a few weeks ago?” Baggage services closes at 5:30 p.m.- we were not due at airport until 7:30. Cam “I know we’ll run there this morning”.

This results in the most hideous run in torrential rain and wind along even-greyer-than-usual streets while being splashed by cars. One passing van obviously felt so sorry for us they stopped and offered us a lift! Undaunted we made it the 5 miles or so to the airport only to find, after an hour of waiting in the most dismal room imaginable with lots of unhappy people (didn’t realise that so many people checked their baggage in then missed their flight) that the iPad had been returned to Luton. Don’t worry Andrew – we did have fun really!

After copious cups of mint tea – still hydrating, it’s hard work helping others celebrate – more food and a quick trip to the Christmas shop (it had to be done) it was time for us to leave too. 

Another memorable weekend spent with some of our favourite people and new acquaintances.  Bekele won the men’s race and got with in two seconds of Kipchoge’s world record.  There were 44,000 other finishers (30%  woman) – most of them probably very happy today. We love how, after big city marathons, everyone wears their medals and t-shirts the next day around town.

The Berlin marathon course still looked grey and uninspiring but watching the actual runners more than made up for it. Will we be back to run it again? Never say never.

Finally, when flying out to marathons on planes with seats in three, we usually book aisle and middle. Be warned if you choose to sit by the window – you might end up trapped next to us. Thank you Adam Newton from the Cayman Isles for putting up with us on the way out and well done on your 3:04 – what a difference weather wise from your training runs!  Also to Adam Goodman from Uxbridge for making our journey home fly by. Congratulations again on your amazing PB –  looking forward to following your future progress on Strava. Sorry you didn’t get to read your book. But we’re sure you will be a natural. Best wishes for December.