Fitness

Picking up pace in Berlin

Legendary for the fastest course Runners with the iconic Brandenburg Gate in the background

Legendary for the fastest course Runners with the iconic Brandenburg Gate in the background   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Running through the iconic Brandenburg Gate to finish the Berlin Marathon is an emotional affair, as some of the greatest episodes of running have taken place right here

A marathon in a city like Berlin cannot be anything but “legendary.” It holds a special place among runners for being the ‘fastest course.’ Suresh Seshadri, who participated in this year’s edition, wrote, “the combination of a flat, fast course, a pack of top-flight pacers and ideal autumn weather has ensured that the event is now regarded as the undisputed WR marathon race. Its claim to fame cemented by the fact that the last six successive world records for the distance, for men, have been set on the course”

Last year, Eluid Kipchoge set the fastest time ever by clocking 2:01:39 and certainly, the expectations were higher this year. His absence this year was filled by the presence of Kenenisa Bekele, the world record holder for 5,000m and 10,000m events. He finished in 2:01:41, the second fastest timing and he was followed by Birhanu Legese who clocked 2:02:48, the third fastest timing. I reached Berlin on the Friday, September 27 and the city was already warming up for the marathon weekend. The pre-marathon event expo was held at the now-defunct Tempelhof airport, one of the oldest airports in the world. The vast airport suddenly looked small when filled with runners waiting to collect their race numbers. The added attraction in shopping, largely related to running, from fancy clothing to accessories and nutritional products, represented a running festival.

On Saturday, there was a friendly ‘Breakfast Run’ organised from the Charlottenburg Palace to the Olympic Stadium — two iconic monuments with plenty of history. Running into the Olympic stadium, stories of 1936 Olympics and memories of the 2006 World Cup final flashed in my mind. It was in this stadium that Jesse Owens won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1936 Olympics beating Luz Long — a story that is a great example of sportsmanship. It was also the same stadium where the legend Zinedine Zidane bowed out in an unceremonious manner. So when I met someone by name ‘Marco’ from Italy, I was so tempted to introduce myself as Zidane!

The Big B
  • The Berlin Marathon is the Holy Grail for every amateur runner. It is part of the six World Marathon Majors - Boston, New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo being the others.
  • The forty-sixth edition this year was bigger than ever and had over 44,000 finishers from 150 countries.

Getting 44,000 runners to run through the streets was no easy task. Runners were grouped in four categories and the start times ranged from 9:10 am for the elites to 10:10 am for the back-of-the-pack, where I duly took my place. After running about 10 Km, largely jostling for space, the heavy rains started posing some challenge. It must be noted that by then, Bekele and other lead runners had finished their respective races. The rain was certainly not a deterrent for runners as most were busy living their long cherished dreams. What was surprising though, was the unflinching support from the volunteers who didn’t move from their positions, until the last one went past them. The equally admirable crowd didn’t relent either and cheerfully supported the runners through the route. Lively music bands were stationed across the route playing vibrant music. The marathon route goes through some of the landmarks of Berlin including the Victory Column, German Chancellery, The Friedrichstadt-Palast, prominent art galleries and museums, Bundestrat, and finally, the Brandenburg Gate appearing between 41 and 42 Km points. Running through the Gate (Built in the 18th century to commemorate peace, it was closed for 28 years following the division of Germany), was something that I have been dreaming about ever since I won the lottery to participate, and the last kilometre was certainly my fastest!

Did I mention that the current marathon route passes through the landmarks of the erstwhile East and West Berlin signifying a unified spirit. In the first Marathon after the Wall came down, it was Uta Pippig, from East Germany, who won the race in the women’s category.

A euphoric finish was rewarded by a wonderfully designed medal — one side featuring the important landmarks of Berlin and the other side the a relatively unknown Lutz Derkow. Lutz Derkow was one of the earliest employees of the organisation and worked for the event for over 30 years before passing away earlier this year. It was a tribute to him. That evening, as I departed from Berlin, there were the finishers in the airport proudly sporting their finisher tees and medals all the way to their flights — the Berlin legends!

S Balaji has just returned after running the Berlin Marathon

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 9:12:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/a-first-person-account-of-running-in-the-berlin-marathon/article29639975.ece

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