On Sunday September 24th, the 44th edition of the Berlin Marathon takes place. This is one of the 6 majors, and many world records were set at this almost flat course. More than that, the race is a 42,195 km long party scene throughout the city, full with music and an enthusiastic crowd. If you are one of the 40.000 runners who were lucky to grab a ticket: have fun!

If it is your first marathon, it will be a very special one. Try not to be nervous or get overwhelmed by the information overload. This will be an overview of what you can expect, before and during the race, so that you only have to focus on being relaxed and enjoying your race.

berlin marathon

Race preparations

The most important things to do on the days prior to the race is to get your race number at the expo Berlin Vital, and to stay fit. Try to avoid long standings. This year’s expo is held for the second time at Station Berlin. I cannot tell exactly how things are organised but most probably will it be comparable to the former editions at Tempelhof.

When you live in Berlin, go there as early as you can, preferably on thursday, as it will be way less crowded than on saturday afternoon. You just don’t want to wait longer than necessary to keep your body fit. If you are travelling to Berlin it of course depends on your arrival when you can get your ticket. If saturday afternoon is your only opportunity, than this is what it is. Don’t worry about that, just be prepared that it can be crowded, sometimes they close the entrance for a little while when it becomes too full. It is not possible to get your ticket on sunday.

To get in at the expo, an easy waving with your startpass will do, sometimes they really check your name. When you are in, just follow the signs to the Startnummernausgabe. Here you’ll get your race number and your chip when you hire one. Don’t forget to bring your startpass and your ID! When using your own chip bring it to the expo as well. Furthermore you get a wristband, which is your access authorisation to the starting area. Do not remove it until you have been finished. It is not possible to let someone else get your race documents for you.
Now that you are on the expo you can spend hours to do some shopping, but remember to keep your body fit and not to walk or stay too long. If you forgot your shoes or you’re out of gels, the expo is the place to buy. You can eat some pasta or get a massage as well.

If you’d like to do a final rehearsal, you can start on saturday at 9:30 with a breakfast run of about 6 km from Charlottenburg towards the Olympiastadion, where a power breakfast is served. Furthermore saturday is a day of drinking about 2-3 liters water, eating pasta, and relaxing. It is also the day I’m seriously asking myself why am I doing this? If you have the same doubts, you will get the answer on sunday, promised. It’s also time to do some final preparations, like collecting your equipment for the race, and check how to get to the start area in time. This will help your mind to get some rest as well.

Some things to consider to bring to the race are: your race outfit of course, with race number attached to the shirt (don’t forget to fill out the emergency form at the back), running chip attached to your shoe, GPS watch and heart rate belt, food and drinks for during the race, race strategy notes, drinks before the start, old clothes to put on before the start to keep yourself warm (to be thrown away at the start along the track), sunscreen, single-use rain coat or disposal bag, plastic bag to sit on, a bit of toilet paper (just in case), public transport tickets, mobile phone, and food, drinks, a towel and some dry clothes for after the finish. Put all your stuff in the special marathon bag which you received at the expo. You are not allowed to bring any other bag to the starting area, so if you need a bag to keep some stuff in the start/finish area during the race, use the marathon bag and put your name and race number on it.

I chose not to bring any bag to the start/finish area during the race. My dearest supporter brought me some warm clothes to put on after the finish, and before the start I put my stuff like my phone and some food in a small pocket. That works fine for me, but I can imagine that if you have nobody around to keep your clothes you can keep it in your bag at the drop-off. Or when you have to travel afterwards it is practical to have a refreshing shower and bring some extra clothes to the drop-off.

berlin marathon

Race day

Get up early, have breakfast and drink enough. Take your stuff you already collected, put on your old warm clothes and go to the starting area. There are several ways to get there, it also depends on where you leave, but I prefer to take the S-Bahn to Hauptbahnhof, as here is your last opportunity to go to a normal toilet, and this is absolutely worth the waiting line. From here it is about a 10 minutes walk to the starting area.

Try to be at the starting area before 8:30. Then you’ll have plenty of time to drop your bag, go to the toilet and go to the start. Keep your warm clothes on as long as possible, preferably until the start. When it rains put on your raincoat or disposal bag, or get one from the organisation.

The start is divided into 3 starting waves. The first time marathon runner, and the slower runners, will start in the last wave and are grouped in block H. This is actually the best sector to start in, with people in it who are not mainly focussed to set their best time ever, but who’d like to enjoy the race, look around and have some fun as well. And if you are quicker than the people around you, it gives a way much better feeling to take over some other people, than to be constantly taken over. So nothing to worry about this block H, it is something to be proud of.

Block H starts in the last wave, which is about 45 minutes after the first start at 9:15. These extra 45 minutes are brilliant. You could for example have a look at the start of the top runners, and easily walk back towards your official block. Or go to the toilets along the start zone, without having to wait long, as everybody’s already waiting inside their start block. There is plenty of time and no need to get nervous. Then at a certain moment even block H will slowly move forward towards the starting line. This is the moment when it is really going to happen, a great feeling. At a sudden moment you pass the start line and there you go! Psst, don’t forget to start your watch. Good luck and enjoy!

berlin marathon

The race

So you passed the starting line, started your watch and are running a marathon. Due to adrenaline during the start, it’s easy to go way too fast without noticing. Watch out for that and don’t run too fast during the first 2 kilometers, there’s still another 40km to go.

The Berlin Marathon is actually one big sightseeing tour. You’ll already pass the Siegessäule at km 1, followed by the Charlottenburger Tor at km 2. When entering Moabit the road goes a bit down, and you see a large unending lint of runners before you. Although the marathon passes early in the morning, Moabit is a very vivid area with a lot of public and music. And there’s the first refreshment station! This one is a bit hectic, so watch out when you suddenly cross the street. At km 7 you can wave to Angela and you’ll pass the Reichstag, while enjoying a loud playing drumband. Experience a bit of history when you cross the former East-West border, and then you run via the Friedrichstrasse and the vivid Torstrasse, with a lot of music, towards Alexanderplatz. You hardly noticed that you already ran 11 km.

The beautiful Strausbergerplatz is the next spot, after which you’ll cross the Spree and run towards Kreuzberg. It depends on your speed but you might wave to the television helicopters following the top runners which are almost finished. Another historic moment while passing the former East-West border crossing Heinrich Heine strasse. Kreuzberg is a great area with lots of music along the track. After you passed Moritzplatz, Kottbusser Tor, Hermannplatz, great music at Südstern, and some funky vibes at Yorckschlösschen, you’ll run underneath a row of old bridges in the Yorckstrasse.

Congratulations, you just ended a half marathon! From now on, the shortest way towards the finish line is just to go further, although you might start noticing a little bit of pain. Don’t worry, cause you just entered Schöneberg, again a great area with loads of music and good vibes. Scream Ich bin ein Berliner when you pass Rathaus Schöneberg and move on towards Friedenau. The moment you start thinking it’s becoming really tough, and wondering why you ended up in this suburban area, you arrive at a huge party at Wilden Eber. You’ll keep on hearing the crowd and the music until you finish.

You already did some 30 km, that’s not too bad, only 12 km to go. It makes it easier when you split the last part into mini tracks which you know you can easily do. Only 1 km to go and you’re back in town inside the A100 ring. Then just a 2 km track towards the Kurfürstendamm. Another 2 km towards the Gedächtniskirche. Also the refreshing and nutrition stations follow every 2 km, so why not just treat yourself, you deserve it. About 1,5 km towards KaDeWe and then it’s almost time to turn left, towards the Potsdamer Platz, where you can see the Brandenburger Tor. That’s your final destination, you only have to run for about 3 km through Mitte and over the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt. Then turn another right and left, and you see the Brandenburger Tor. The final kilometer! This is the moment you’ll start flying. The loud cheering of the crowd let’s you forget all your pain. Run through the gate and after another 300 meter you will finish. Don’t forget to smile to the cameras and greet your fans.

Congratulations! You are a hero.

PS: It’s always possible that you won’t make it to the finish line. I started 4 times, finished twice, and twice I stepped out after 30km. Things can happen. Don’t let the disappointment take too long, be proud of what you achieved and let it be a motivation to get yourself in shape for the next opportunity.

More information at the official bmw-berlin-marathon.com site.