Berlin Marathon Recap – my first DNF race

Hello!

Apologies for the lack of posting over the last months. I am going to try and get better at this blogging thing again. There’s a reason I wanted to write now and that’s my Berlin marathon recap, or shall I say a recap of 39km in the Berlin marathon 😀

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Anyone who follows me on social media would know that I collapsed and didn’t finish the race. Before I go into detail about the day, I have to tell that this wasn’t the first time I collapsed as it also happened at the London Marathon 2014. Be prepared, this will be a LONG recap of me talking about not only Berlin but the London one too.

The marathon was on last Sunday. Me and Minna flew to Berlin on Friday, got our race numbers on Saturday at the expo and were really excited for the day. My original goal was sub 3.30. Training for the past 4 months has been pretty good but during the last month I had issues with my hamstring which prevented me from running for a while. The preparation wasn’t ideal, I hadn’t done a long run or a hard run for a while before Berlin so I knew sub 3:30 would most likely be a struggle so anywhere near 3:30 would be nice. We had the chat with Minna beforehand where you tell each other it’s okay if it’s not a pb day, not every marathon is great. It might not be your day and don’t push it too much etc. If it doesn’t feel great at the start it’s not going to feel great at 35km that’s for sure. However, try and tell an ambitious person that maybe their goals are too ambitious. It wasn’t going to stop me from trying.berlinexpo1

Anyhow, we started in different pens and I was feeling good. The first couple of kilometers I felt so happy to be there and have the chance to run it so I decided to just enjoy the race and atmosphere. I started with 4:50ish min/km pace which would get me a sub 3:30. By 5km I had stomach cramps. I had the exact same feeling in my stomach at the London marathon at my worst race and it started really early on. I told myself I’m just being paranoid, this run will be great. By 10km I knew it wasn’t going to be great, I just didn’t feel good. A smart person would slow down a little as it’s not going to get any better later on but I’m not a smart person. I continued to run with the similar pace. By half way point I knew this will be hell. If you don’t feel great at halfway point at a marathon you know things aren’t going well. At that London marathon halfway point is where I pretty much wanted to give up, at Chester last year I felt great at half way but even there I got tired later. I drank water at every water station apart from one. I took my gels religiously every 8km. The weather was warm but not hot at that point. I don’t know why but running just felt so hard. Did I slow down? Nope.

By 30km I remember really starting to struggle not only with running but just feeling a bit delirious and just not clear headed anymore. This is where things went wrong in London as well. I was so focused and determined to run a pb that I refused to take my body signals into account. Everyone who runs a marathon knows that at some point, usually around 32-35km you will feel terrible, you hit the so called “wall”, sometimes it’s very hard, other times it’s not but you will feel like you need to stop. However, your legs can push through and run longer as long as you don’t let your brain convince otherwise. Mind over matter. As much as I like to be a determined person, i think it was my determination that actually caused all of this.

I don’t remember much from between 30-39km, I remember doing calculations in my head an knew that I am still getting a pb. I knew I couldn’t get sub 3:30 anymore and luckily I allowed myself to accept that but I still wanted 3:31-3.32 time. Even though I felt awful I kept pushing at that pace. I told myself it’s just the wall (that has lasted the whole marathon :D) and I have to convince my brain to get over it as my legs can do it. If only I understood that it was my brain warning me that I can’t keep going. Slowing down or stopping to walk wasn’t an option. I was so focused on pb that I refused to read my body. By the time it was 3km to the finish I knew that even if I slowed down to 6min/km pace I would still get  a pb. Did I do that? No, I slowed down but only a little. I think my pace got to 5:15. Thinking about it now, I could have stopped at 39 and walked to the finish and still finish in less than 4 hours; a respectable time for a marathon anytime. But no, that was not an option because in my head I felt like that means giving up and failing. Instead, I kept running and running until my body just shut down. I found myself at the side of the road as my legs just gave up. I didn’t lose consciousness but my body just did exactly what it did in London, my legs were unable to even stand they just went like spaghetti and I was on the ground.

This is when I started to feel really bad as well; imagine your biggest hangover and then multiply that by 10. I was lying on the ground with doctors and nurses helping me (I have no idea how I managed to collapse by the doctors or whether they came there later but I felt like there was immediately people helping me). I couldn’t move anything the feeling was so helpless and terrible and the disappointment when I realised it’s happened again and I’m not getting a pb. As soon as I was on the ground I heard the doctor tell me he has called the ambulance. I remember thinking that’s the end of my race if I have to go there, it can’t be the end of my race. At the same time the thought of actually getting up, let alone walking to the finish was worse. In London, after I collapsed I was taken to an emergency tent and I was there for 1,5 hours. After that I felt a lot better, I got up and walked/jogged 8km to the finish (I collapsed at 34km). In my head I thought I could still finish this race I just need to tell these doctors not to take me to the ambulance, but the words just didn’t come out of my mouth. I think because I was on the side of the road and not emergency tent they couldn’t have just left me there for hours to “wait and feel better”, they probably had to send me to hospital. German efficiency 🙂 But also, I didn’t tell them that I want to finish, I don’t know whether they would have let me or not and I am gutted I didn’t ask and try to stay there for a bit longer. At that point I felt so so bad though that I didn’t know whether I could finish. It’s easy to say now that I was only 2 or 3km away from finish, surely I could’ve even crawled that but never mind. They took me to the hospital and put a drip of electrolytes and water in me. They took some blood tests and said it looks like it was lack of electrolytes or dehydration. I was fine after couple of hours at the hospital. Massive thank you to an Irish man who was also there after collapsing and let me use his phone to call Minna who was super worried at the finish. (She ran 3:01!!!!!!!!!!!) The doctors said I’m not allowed to make an international call so Minna would have waited there for hours as my bag had the hotel keys and everything. Afterwards we walked back, I knew I needed food but didn’t feel like eating anything. Eventually I managed to have a smoothie which came back up 10 minutes later. After I was sick I started to feel better. It was exactly like a really bad hungover, just from running 39km.

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As I said before, I took water at pretty much every station, however the water was in tiny cups which I struggle to drink from as they spill everywhere. Also, some of the cups they gave us were only half full so from the half full cup after I spilled another half I probably only drank half of a half. Still, I didn’t feel super thirsty. I did feel really thirsty in London marathon and remember thinking that even drinking a bottle of water every 5km wasn’t enough. I also took 5 gels in Berlin, I normally take 4 but it seems like they just didn’t digest. Minna suggested that when you run too fast your body is unable to actually utilise the energy you are putting in so maybe because I ran too fast for my fitness levels from the very start the gels just didn’t actually absorb, so I was practically running on empty. Also the stomach cramps are suggesting the same thing, that I went off too fast. It’s easy to try and analyse and explain it now but thinking about the similarities to London there are few obvious ones.

Before London I was writing my final year dissertation for my Bachelor’s degree and I had had very stressful couple of months leading up to it. I basically handed in the diss on the same week as the marathon. I had also been injured and hadn’t trained, I started off way too fast and it was a hot day. In London they never told me why I collapsed, they suggested heat stroke.

For Berlin, I have had a stressful couple of months as well; I have been working full time and then writing my Master’s Dissertation on the weekends. I literally handed in my dissertation half hour before I had to take the bus to the airport to fly to Berlin. I had an injury that prevented some of the training, I started off too fast and it was a hot day. I don’t need to be a genius to realise that most likely my body doesn’t cope well under a lot of stress or at least doesn’t want to run a marathon in a stressed state. Maybe the heat had something to do with it, then again Chester marathon last year was hot too and I didn’t feel bad. Most likely, I went off too fast for my current level and that prevented the gels from absorbing and my body just gave up.

You know in marathons people always have signs that say: “Never quit”, “Giving up is not an option”. I think I should run a marathon where there is a sign saying: “Giving up is okay, you can quit”. I think my determination is so ridiculous that it refuses to differentiate just pure fatigue and lazyness from actual harmful situation and that is how I have ended up collapsing twice. If only I had slowed down, or even walked for a bit, I would have given myself a chance to finish the race but no. I had to keep going.

If anyone read to the finish then I’m impressed. My takeaways would be: “Be determined but be sensible!” 🙂

P.S. If this is read by anyone who was at the race and helped me then thank you! There was one runner who ran same pace as me pretty much the whole time and then tried to help me up when I collapsed. Talk about the great running community 🙂