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Race Report: Berlin Marathon 2016

Berlin Marathon 2016 Race Report by Darren Horgan

Berlin Marathon 2016 Race Report

If ever there was a song lyric to sum up how I felt about running the Berlin Marathon 2016, this classic from the Rolling Stones would definitely be the one.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need”

Did I get what I wanted at Berlin Marathon 2016? Yes and no. Did I get what I needed? 100% yes.

As a bit of background, I should say this race has been on my mind for a very long time. Pretty much from the moment I crossed the finish line of the same race a year before.

I was angry with myself for a long time afterwards. I crossed the line in a woeful state, nearly an hour outside the time I had trained so hard for.

The only thing that kept me going was the determination to come back and give it a proper shot. Thankfully I was able to have the opportunity to do that.

Well… That was the plan anyway.

It’s Not Like The Old School Days

Berlin marathon 2016 was number six for me, which is significant because my Dad ran six marathons. That was back in the days before Garmin GPS Watches and all the technology we now take for granted.

It was hardcore old school, with legends like Dick Hooper and Eamonn Coughlan stealing the show. My Dad said that it was commonplace to serve hot coffee at water stations back then! 😮

Things like cadence and intervals, gait analysis and heart rate training were foreign concepts. Back in those days, you bought a pair of cheap Hi-Tecs, an old singlet, a pair of shorts and off you went.

It really meant a lot to me to reach the same amount of marathons as my Dad. And truth be told it made me a bit emotional on the morning of the race.

Berlin Marathon 2016 Race Build Up

I had just woken up from a disturbed and nervous sleep (par for the course the night before a marathon). I sat on the edge of the bed gathering my thoughts thinking of the task in hand.

My Dad must have sensed my apprehension because a text came through from him wishing me luck. He said and “I’m proud of me no matter what happens.” That set me up for the day.

My build up to the Berlin marathon was unconventional to say the least. I won’t go over old ground regarding injury but suffice to say I didn’t go into the race 100%.

Nowhere near it.

I had no choice but to adapt the original plan to what I was physically capable of.  If you had asked me the same question a year ago I would have told you I was going to rock the shit out of Berlin in 2016 sub 03:30:00 or less.

I got a great boost in March this year with a massive PB of 03:40:00 in Barcelona marathon. And so I thought a 3:30 in Berlin would have definitely been on the cards.

Now I knew from the times I was getting in training post injury that a sub 4 would be great. the plan was if I ran sensibly, keeping each km to a 5:30 pace (or thereabouts) I would achieve that.

The Start Of The Race

I trained a lot for this race with two of my friends Paul and Sean. We had similar goals and shared our hopes for the event. More importantly we considered what our bodies would allow us to do as we were all suffering in some way.

We got separated at the start as we all had different bag drops quite a fair distance apart. Eventually I found Paul through the crowds and we made our way to the start line taking in the incredible atmosphere.

As we walked to the start Paul asked me what I wanted from the race. I was surprisingly clear about that. I knew what I had to do, how to do it and I wanted to get it done, badly.

During the course of my training and in particular the nights before the marathon I was reading a brilliant book by Conor McGregor’s trainer John Kavanagh.

In the book he focuses a lot on mindset, drive and determination. What that one thing is, the killer instinct that gives us extra 1%. That edge to win or keep going when the odds are stacked against us.

He was obviously speaking about his own experiences in the world of mixed martial arts but I found it very helpful for my running. He mentioned the importance to be your best self no matter what.

I kept that with me throughout the race.

So, How Did The Race Go?

The race went well and I was happy overall. I won’t go into a big detailed race report and risk boring you, but briefly, I started the race in a good frame of mind due in no small part to the craic with the two lads.

Even though deep down we were all feeling the nerves, it felt good to laugh. Berlin Marathon is one colossal event and it is important to take a few moments and take it all in.

We all worked and trained hard, made so many sacrifices over the past few months to be here, it makes sense to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it.

Unfortunately we got separated very quickly in the crowd at the start, and it played with my mind a bit. So I just focused on the task in hand, got going and tried to keep within my times.

I thought of following a pacer but decided against it as I figured it could be risky given my experience in previous events. Dropping back from a pacer can be a huge mental blow throwing you off your game completely.

As it turned out, I ended up ahead of the 3 hour 30 minute pacer for a great deal of the race. Fortunately I didn’t lose the head when they eventually passed me. I kept it steady in the first 20k, mindful of the pace, careful not to go too fast or slow.

Paul said something very true before the race that made perfect sense and helped me to keep that in mind later.

“It’s not the distance that will kill you but your pace.”

The Brandenburg Gate To The Finish

I then spotted my friend Garreth on the course. It was very unexpected in such a huge field and it gave me a great boost to see a mate and a friendly face. We had a quick chat, wished each other well and went on our way.

Things were going great up until the 28k mark when I began to feel the effects of what was a very warm day. Every inch of me was screaming ‘just take a little walk’.

I relaxed the pace as much as I could and it eventually passed or I blocked it out, I’m not 100% sure which. Knowing this might happen I was happy that I banked some time early on.

I crossed the finish line in three hours and 55 minutes, shattered but proud to get another sub 04:00:00. More importantly though, I crossed the finish line giving the Berlin Marathon 2016 everything I had.

Although I felt like throwing in the towel several times, I pushed through it, ground things out and gave it the best I could. I was never as happy to see the Brandenburg Gate in the distance knowing the finish line was a few hundred yards away.

I crossed the line with bottle in hand looking and feeling a little like an extra from The Walking Dead. But I was happy. I clung to the railing, caught my breath and watched the runners come through. I didn’t see the lads but we all finished within a few minutes of each other and under the four hours which was fantastic.

My Coach Made All The Difference

The first person I contacted when I crossed the line was my coach John. He is not fond of the limelight so I’ll keep this brief. It’s very important for me to mention the amazing impact he’s had (and continues to have) on me as a runner.

He likes the facts and figures – V02 max and heart rate etc, something I never focused on before. Less than three years ago I ran my first marathon in close to five hours. I was slugging around for a long time, not seeing improvement and becoming very frustrated.

Then I met John and since that I’ve ran two sub 04:00:00 marathons in a row and another 04:00:37. With injuries I could not train the way I wanted to and I had to adapt.

Even though training for Berlin Marathon 2016 was a bit stop-start, he was always there not only to help and encourage, but also give me a kick up the arse when I needed it like every great coach does.

Every step I took was based on a plan he developed and tailored for me. I’ll always be immensely thankful to him for everything because it’s a major factor why I am still running now.

It was tough at times (like anything that’s worth it is), but when you start seeing results and improvement and you want this as badly as I do, it does not cross your mind.

It’s All About The Journey

I’m trying not to sound cheesy or overly sentimental but the saying; “It’s the journey you go on and not the destination” really stuck with me. All the training, all the doubt I had coming back from injury, led me here.

At one stage I was close to knocking this running lark on the head. I went from thinking there was no way I could go on, to slowly realising I could, and it was possible.

So what’s next?

I can now focus on the ‘small’ matter of the Dublin marathon which I’m really looking forward to. This will be my third year in a row running Dublin and I’m hoping that it all goes to plan.

After this I can take a small break while keeping myself ticking over. I need to start Pilates and core work to make sure I stay injury free and lose a few more pounds before I focus on the next one.

The more I think about this, the more I realise that I got what I wanted and needed in Berlin. It felt good. I wanted to be my best self and I think I was.

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