‘Pearce Does Berlin’ – Berlin Marathon 2017

After a long absence from the wide web of the world, and still no race report from London #VMLM2017, two McCarkissians made the journey to the infamously fast Berlin Marathon to try their luck. Ludovic Renou hoping to better his 2:30 breaking performance from 2016, and first claimer Mark Pearce who has written of his experience…

Berlin and its previous inhabitants are literally steeped in history: from David Bowie (singer, songwriter and, technically, an actor[1]), lots of communists (bad), Nazis (worse), and Julius Fromm (inventor of the seamless condom; a man solely responsible for the lack of prophylactic-related seam marks on the shafts of knobs for the past 80 years[2]). But did you know that Berlin also plays host to a “marathon” each year?[3]

Well, I did – mainly due to the fact I had run it three times before – so back in October 2016, I set about entering said marathon. Badging it up as a fun family weekend away somehow convinced my wife this was a good idea, so I booked discount flights on now-bankrupt carrier airberlin and accommodation at the somehow-very-much-solvent Adina “aparthotel”.

After the largely self-inflicted setbacks of early-2017[4], I decided that I needed some help. Given Switzerland is the home of EPO, I briefly considered this, but then realised I don’t like needles or breaking the law unnecessarily[5], so considered other options. And then it hit me like a thunderbolt – or rather a whatsapp message from Jordan[6], trying to convince me to entrust my running future to a coach (Jonny Mellor) so he could save a few quid on his arrangement with said coach. I didn’t need suggesting to twice, so immediately acquiesced[7]. Instead of having to think for myself in guessing what sort of training I should be doing, I quickly started to enjoy not having to think for myself and being told what to do (I think I’d have sadly made a good Nazi in this respect – I started to consider whether this would stand me in good stead heading to Berlin. I asked my wife several times for her views on this, but on each occasion, she didn’t appear to hear my question).

Despite a mid-training-plan wobble when I got lost running in a storm up a mountain with no form of communication or navigation at my disposal and had to resort to running quickly down a hill, thus trashing my quads, things were going well. The slightly reduced mileage compared to my training earlier in the year meant I could dedicate more time to drinking and watching telly, which – despite being a much-overlooked component of many pros’ training plans – certainly boosted my chances. My confidence was high following a 10-mile race in August, where despite running just under 56 minutes to place third, I won 150 Swiss francs (immediately spent on a Lego set nominally for my son and a bottle of whiskey, which was less nominally for him); I figured that if I could repeat this performance in Berlin[8], I’d be on for a decent result.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I was boarding the aforementioned airberlin flight. Often while on modes of public transport, I enjoy looked around at the other passengers and assuming that I am physically fitter than them (and on a lot of trains in the outer-Zurich region, mentally so as well), but on this occasion, I recognized Rio Olympian and sub-2:14 runner Christian Kreienbühl on the bus taking us from the plane to the terminal in Berlin. This left a sour taste in the mouth, so much so that I almost let my 18-month-old son wipe his heavily soiled hands all over Christian’s girlfriend’s handbag’s straps in the hope this might pass on some last-minute germs, and thus – were he to fall ill – help me to the top of the imaginary Zurich-to-Berlin flight marathon ranking[9].

Safely installed in our overpriced “aparthotel”, I set about gorging myself on carbohydrates and neglecting all my parental responsibilities – a technique that pro-runners adopt for a good eleven months a year. Having secretly downloaded the remaining episodes of the third season[10] of Netflix smash-hit Narcos onto my wife’s new iPad[11], I had my Saturday afternoon all planned out – sadly this was not to be, as the lounge area of the “aparthotel” was deemed (by my wife) to be not worth leaving, and simultaneously a new-found interest was developed (by my wife) in the third season[12] of Narcos, despite her not liking gritty[13] dramas about Colombian drug cartels. Several hours (and a lot of pointless explanations) later, and the time was right to turn in for the night.

The pre-race entertainment advertised near my hotel. I might have gone, but asked myself “What would Kipchoge do?” and the answer definitely wasn’t “Visit SEXXY ESKALATION the night before a race”.

The pre-race entertainment advertised near my hotel. I might have gone, but asked myself “What would Kipchoge do?” and the answer definitely wasn’t “Visit SEXXY ESKALATION the night before a race”.

A restless night later, I awoke ready for the challenge that lay ahead. In conditions that weren’t great, I set out for the start with the same sense of hopeless optimism that usually accompanies me. After a brief stop at “Kamps” (purveyor of baked goods and dirty looks from the portly lady behind the counter) to get a quadruple espresso, I proceeded to the start.

I probably beat all these lot.

I probably beat all these lot.

Despite the weather, there were a lot of people in surprising amounts of undress, and despite the lack of common sense it involves, there were surprising amounts of people who thought that doing repeated sets of press-ups represented a good way to warm-up (the guy to the left of the image above was guilty on both counts).

I opted for a more traditional, running-based warm-up (followed by a visit to a nearby bush for a dump[14]), and then I pushed past loads of other people to get to the actual start.

Happy I was standing in front of enough people who wanted to run faster than me but probably wouldn’t, I jumped up and down a few times, as that was what everyone else was doing and I felt I should just follow the crowd (refer to my above comment about making a good Nazi). After the Nick-Knowles-look-a-like German TV presenter had finished with his inane chatter in front of the start line, the countdown began and then five short seconds later, the starting gun fired[15].

Had there been a prize for running the first half of the race at a consistent speed, I would have nailed it[16], peeling off 4 lots of 5k at almost exactly 17:50 each. Annoyingly, this resulted in me passing through halfway in 1:15:21, a bit slower than planned. Even more annoyingly, the 15k up to the 40k mark were what can only be described as “a right bitch”. According to the results, the last 2.2k were the fastest of the race, which was surprising given by then I was suffering the familiar – yet on this occasion almost crippling – delayed effects of the quad espresso I’d had several hours earlier. Still, crossing the line in 2:31:44 was another PB, something I would have happily taken beforehand.

However, it was then that the real race began. After receiving my finisher’s medal, I almost immediately bumped into and introduced myself to fellow MCKEPer Ludo; with hindsight, this was a mistake, as it cost me valuable seconds, even minutes, in my race to find a portaloo. When I asked a kindly old lady where the nearest one was, she mistook my limping for some form of muscular cramps/tired legs and instead of giving me directions, insisted I sit down. This simply wouldn’t do, so I felt forced to almost shout the question at her in German (by this point, my worries about making a good Nazi were disturbingly close to being realised) and she told me there were some 500m away, but they were reserved for journalists covering the German election taking place that day. After sprinting by far my fastest 600m[17] of the day, I was pleased to discover that German political commentators are far cleaner and more considerate of other toilet users than I had imagined. Several minutes later still, a German political commentator was about to discover that English runners are far dirtier and less considerate of other toilet users than she had imagined. And for that I apologize if she’s reading this.

My long weekend continued in much the same way I imagine race winner Eliud Kipchoge’s did: a haze of beer and unpleasant stomach complaints, and a trip to a miniature Legoland, featuring a re-enactment of the Berlin Wall coming down while a Lego David Hasselhoff sang “Looking for Freedom”. All in all, a successful weekend, and one which I’ll probably look to recreate the same weekend next year…

I don’t remember taking this picture as I was hammered off my tits on a mix of 9% beer and crippling dehydration.

I don’t remember taking this picture as I was hammered off my tits on a mix of 9% beer and crippling dehydration.



[1] Labyrinth; not sure that counts.

[2] Or vaginas if said condoms were worn inside-out.

[3] Clearly you do, but while studying for an English GCSE I learned that rhetorical questions were a useful literary device; I personally dislike them (almost as much as euphemisms and metaphors), but there’s no arguing with an A* GCSE (unless achieved post-1996, when it’s widely acknowledged these aren’t worth the paper they’re written on).

[4] Definitely not a breakdown on a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Zurich that saw me getting the train home and drinking three pints on a 15-minute journey while quaffing cheese bretzels like they’re going out of fashion (which according to the annual report of the parent company of the “Bretzelkönig” chain, they are; consumption of bretzels at their high-footfall locations in railway stations in the key German-speaking Swiss market segment is suffering at the hands of healthier food options, such as sushi outlets and organic sandwich retailers. You learn a lot as a translator of Swiss annual reports).

[5] Sure, I’d make some “mofo” eat lead (pronounced “led”) if he/she threatened my kids (or my comfortable standard of living), but I’m not about to “chase the running dragon”, as I imagine the street slang for taking EPO refers to it.

[6] Chris.

[7] Not immediately – I resorted to the internet to double-check that I wasn’t about to literally place my running life in the hands of the same Jonny Mellor, who in year 9 at my school attempted to staple his knob to a blackboard to impress girls. Luckily this Jonny Mellor was about 8 years younger than me, and while the Jonny Mellor from my youth’s genitalia was indeed tiny, I was almost certain that he wasn’t six years old at the time of stapling. I was ready to sign on the metaphorical dotted line.

[8] That is to say running well, rather than finishing 3rd. Although don’t get me wrong, I would have taken 3rd place in a Marathon Major (with the possible exception of Tokyo).

[9] It turns out that there was another guy on our flight who ran 2:23. Had I known this, I might not have adopted the laissez-faire attitude I did towards my youngest son’s mucky interest in Christian’s girlfriend’s handbag’s straps. Sorry Christian.

[10] Series.

[11] Bought with money from our joint account, but since I forbade her to use my fluorescent-yellow running top for fear of it developing “breast stretch”, things have been a bit fraught as regards “common” purchases.

[12] Series.

[13] Ultra-violent.

[14] Based on past experience, I have always brought a certain amount of toilet paper with me before mass-start races – whilst the sight of me excreting is not the greatest, and I’ve more often than not finished a race with a certain amount of unused sweaty toilet roll dripping down my thigh, I’m still of the opinion that this is the best way to go about things.

[15] I took yet more confidence from the fact that the countdown was conducted in German. While anybody with a decent general knowledge (or specific knowledge of World War Two films) would know what “fünf, vier, drei, zwei, eins” means, there was always a chance that there were ignoramuses running who would be taken by surprise when the gun went off, thus handing me a (minimal) advantage over them. Marginal gains in action.

[16] There wasn’t and, therefore, I didn’t.

[17] In my haste, I overshot by 50m. I was livid.

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