Thursday, 12 April 2012

Guest Race Report - Berlin Half Marathon 2012

Second in the current series of guest race reports comes from notorious teacher of Maths and Dublin-obsessed marathoner Nick J Haines, whom you might remember from such blog posts as his Dublin Marathon report, that one about his wedding, the one where I explain why I signed up for Loch Ness and probably lots of others besides. I'll get out of the way and let him get on with it.

Race Report - Berlin Half Marathon 2012

The German people carry a reputation for ruthless efficiency and strictly organised fun. The Berlin Half-Marathon stood testament to this in every way.  The outstanding race expo was held at the historic Tempelhof airport- literally the whole airport- which was decommissioned in 2008 but looked like it might only have been closed for the day. The course itself looked promising to say the least and it didn’t disappoint, taking in an impressive array of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, including the Victory Column, Humbolt University, the Berliner Dom Cathedral, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Tor, with the course actually passing through these last two.

Cool route, Click to enlarge.
Lining up for the start on the Karl-Marx-Allee we took advantage of the course’s circularity to agree amongst our small team (me, my wife, her father and her two sisters) that we would rendez-vous as the imposing  Soviet-built cinema. As we did our best to keep warm we got our first impression of the true popularity of this race: ‘33000 participants’ doesn’t mean much until you see them all squashed into one street. We also experienced the characteristically German trait of having inline skaters preparing for their race. As these loomed taller even than the typically statuesque Teutonic runners, we soon came to appreciate that the skaters needed to maintain a minimum speed and weren’t too good at stopping either. We did our best to stay out of their way.

Dave's GB vest gets about
With the handbikers and skaters out of our way, we lined up for the start. It took a long time to get over the line, and straight away our group started to split up. We hadn’t intended to stay as a five, but the densely packed field would not have made this even remotely possible. As the kilometre markers crawled slowly upwards and we checked off the sights of Berlin, it became clear why this event is so popular. The smooth roads and perfectly flat terrain made this a most enjoyable run, and it’s no surprise that the course record (58.56) is barely thirty seconds short of the world record. This year’s winner (Denis Koech, Kenya) beat the current world champion, Wilson Kiprop, in a dramatic sprint finish clocking 59.14, just one second ahead of his rival. Naturally we didn’t find any of this out until later, as we completed the course at a slightly less suicidal pace. We were, however, spurred on by the threatening words of the race literature, warning that runners who ‘appeared to be running at a pace which would not suggest a sub-three-hour finish’ would be ‘removed from the race’, and unceremoniously placed on what we could only dub the Fail Bus. The fact that none of our party were at all likely to meet such a shameful fate did little to stop us checking over our shoulders. 

Support from the locals was fantastic: I was a little conspicuous wearing Dave’s GB vest, but the only attention I got was from fellow Brits and cheerful Germans (the highlight being the cry of ‘Go make your qveen proud!). The finish was superb, the usual post-race high capped off nicely with unmistakably Berlin-trendy medals, water, bananas and, surprisingly, alcohol-free beer.

Strong finishes von den Lanes.
Would I recommend Berlin as a half-marathon destination, then? Absolutely. If you like your races flat, fast, meticulously organised and measured in kilometres then this has to be top of anyone’s list. The downsides? It was genuinely quite crowded in places, particularly at the water stations, one of which was inexplicably and almost disastrously placed at a point where the course narrows. On water stations, I can’t give unconditional support to a race which delivers water in plastic cups, even if there is warm sweet tea available too. Finally I would register also a general objection to events which give out the commemorative t-shirts at the expo rather than the finish line. But these are minor gripes. All in all it was a fantastic experience, and if you’re looking for a European city-break-race-holiday I honestly don’t think you could do a lot better.

Big thanks and congratulations are due to my team: Erin for her casual five-minute PB, Rachel for completing her first half-marathon, Jess for completing hers (she insists it was her first half, despite having done the Edinburgh marathon in 2010), and John for, under an age-weighted handicap system of his own devising, breaking the world record by over eight hours. High-fives all round!

Schöne laufen!

Thanks Nick! Another impressive run, report, and shameless disregard for my suggested 250 word limit. Coming soon, hopefully, some marathon chat from the emerald isle. 

Just as an aside, I'm running the Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll Half on Sunday for Runner's World (though the article won't hit your shelves until early next year). I'll be sure to give you a brief scoop soonish...

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 127.07, miles biked: 23.4, metres swum: 750

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