BERLIN MARATHON - RETURN TO BIG MASS MARATHONS

Written by Ossi Peltoniemi (translated from Finnish) 

 

Editor’s note: Have you ever had a great build up to a race only to see it go off the rails in the moments leading up to the race? Have you ever run around a major city with everyone pointing and not sure to laugh at you? Enjoy a recap of how Ossi Peltoniemi made the most of his race at the Berlin Marathon once it turned south and how he learns from the experience.

After patiently waiting through years of COVID-19, I have eagerly awaited the return of mass, big city marathons. The 2019 Chicago Marathon was my last major race and it has been an exceptionally long two years.

In mass marathons, the race itself is an amazing experience, but there is so much more to appreciate. I have been yearning for the small things like… traveling to a different environment from where I live in Rovaniemi, Finland, to exploring a city with a light shakeout jog before the race, to the entire race expo and packet pick up, to finding a restaurant to eat at the night before the race. I’ve missed the minor details like which shirt should I sacrifice at the starting line? Honestly, the competition itself is often the easiest part of the journey. If you’ve made it to the starting line, the arduous workouts are done and now you just need to redeem the prize.

My race week started with a series of bad signals. I got a small fever which made me unsure about my health condition. The symptoms were luckily gone quickly and I was feeling better as the journey to Germany approached. However, my poor luck continued after my first flight to Helsinki when I couldn't open my COVID-19 negative test certificate on my phone. As a result, I missed the connecting flight to Berlin and had to stay at the airport hotel for the night.

Fortunately, once in Berlin, everything went well before the race. I went for a short jog the day before and my body felt healthy while running. I attempted to forget the bad omens and assured myself my fitness was strong. Race day started with familiar routines… a light breakfast, final adjustments to the race kit, and ensuring I had all the gear with me. I arrived at the starting area early. This was my third time at the Berlin Marathon, so getting around in the staging area was familiar. I moved to my assigned corral directly behind the elites. As the familiar starting music echoed, my mood began to rise. This was it. This was the moment I was training for as I envisioned my goal time of sub-2:30.

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THE RACE 

The gun went off and tens of thousands of runners rushed to Berlin’s streets. My strategy was to take the start more cautiously than normal. I managed to keep my pace relaxed, but soon I noticed my effort was heavier than normal. The pace remained steady and while I was running at a personal best pace, I tried remain positive. The throngs of spectators helped when I started to struggle because the crowds in Berlin are impressively loud. They are particularly loud if your bib says “Ossi” because my name means “a guy from East Germany,” but not in a very positive way. It’s almost a derogatory term meaning someone who is simple or lazy and has a bit of a negative connotation. Having my name, “Ossi,” on my bib clearly amused the German crowd as they cheered and jeered me through the course. However, not everyone was amused by my name as an older man on the metro asked if that was my real name. When I answered in the affirmative, I received a pitying look from the gentleman almost as if I were a dunce. Personally, I thought it was a funny coincidence.

Halfway through, I was still on a personal record pace, but soon I started to calm down. My lungs began to feel abnormal, and I no longer dared to push as hard. I eased my pace and listened to my state of being. The thought of a DNF flashed through my head, but I didn’t know where in the city I was so I kept persevering to the finish line. The last ten kilometers were mentally exhausting because it felt like I was passed by every runner in the race. I would have liked to have run faster, but it simply wasn’t possible.

Eventually, the Brandenburg Tor appeared in sight and I finally reached the finish line. Whether a race goes great or poorly, the good thing about a marathon is that getting to the finish always feels like an accomplishment. For a moment, pace, place, and goals go out the window and it doesn't matter if the race was a success or not. Simply being done becomes what is important.

 

REFLECTIONS

However, in reflection, I am disappointed. This was the race I was waiting and aiming for. This was the best shape I’ve ever been in weeks before the race, but sometimes these unfortunate set of circumstances happen. Thus, it is now easy to realize I should not have attempted to race when I got ill so close to the marathon even though my symptoms were gone before traveling. I thought overly positive and the desire to compete again was too great. However, I learned that a marathon is such a demanding journey that it may not be worth attempting if you aren’t fully healthy. The marathon hits hard if you are not completely ready. But when successful, it feels especially good!

 

I take solace in the fact the marathon season is not over for me. Fortunately, I have another race this winter. Preparations for the Valencia Marathon in December have already begun and I know it’s where I’m going to be in shape and will succeed!