FIRE'ing on all cylinders at Berlin Marathon


Is early retirement making me a faster marathon runner?
"Impossible is nothing" sounds like a good FIRE motto

Last Sunday, I ran Berlin Marathon, which you might think has little to do with retiring early. Maybe you're right, although it could be said that running fits nicely into ESI Money's Five Crucial Retirement Categories - a Framework for Retirement:

  • Health and Fitness — Running clearly ticks this box.

  • Fun — Well, I find running fun...most of the time.

  • Work and Work-Like Activities — Training involves aspects of routine and responsibility that used to come with work. As does pushing to achieve distance or time targets, at work that might have been a profitability target instead.

  • Social Interaction — Running with others is a fun way to socialise.

  • Mental Stimulation — Pushing myself beyond my comfort zone is a real test of mental toughness, particularly as it's not always my strong point.

Retiring early has given me more time to enjoy active pursuits, notably at an age when they are more accessible. Running and cycling are things that I also did while holding down a job, but I much prefer it when work isn't getting in the way - it's also given me time to add skiing to my activities too.


Anyway, that's enough of trying to tie running and early retirement together, now it's over to the running. My journal entry for Berlin Marathon 2022.


I said that running could tick the fun and social boxes, and Berlin did exactly that. Also running were old friends from my days living in Dubai: Peter, Mark, Tom and Anja, as well as new friend, Max. It was quite the reunion.


Training

Running a marathon starts long before marathon day. It doesn't work without the training. I have a training plan, but didn't feel that I followed it very closely. I've discovered running trails with friends, and decided to prioritise that and, if it made my marathon slower, I was OK with that. However, I've just checked my training in detail and, while I did miss some sessions, it wasn't as many as I thought. The biggest issue was sessions that should have felt like 7 or 8 out of 10 on the effort scale, felt more like a 9 or 10. Not confidence building at all!


Expectations

I wasn't too fussed about a target because I'd already achieved my dream of sub 3 hours last October, clocking 2:59:09 at the Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne. I still wanted to run the best I could in Berlin, but wasn't fixated on sub three. I decided to run by feel, and see what happened (I tried this once before and it didn't go well!). That's not to say I was going to ignore my watch - I thought I could do 3h15m, so planned to set my pace no worse than that, but if I felt good I would try to get closer to 3 hours. The evening before the race, I changed my mind to target no slower than 3h10m.


Race Day

A thing we can't control, the weather, was close to ideal. Dry and overcast, perhaps 10°C/50°F at the start and 15°C/59°F when I finished. I run much better in the cold/cool.


Another thing we can't control is the number of runners. Berlin is a big marathon, 45,527 runners entered, although presumably a little less toed the start line. However many started, 34,879 finished, so it was definitely crowded. I was allocated a start in pen B, but chose to start with Peter, Anja and Max in pen C. A big marathon means more swerving and dodging in the early kilometers, but maybe it also prevents us starting too fast. There's also more crowd support, and I'm sure their constant encouragement gained me more seconds than I lost during the busy start.


Now the things I can control. The executive summary is that my race went almost as perfectly as it could have done. My breathing was under control for the entire distance, and my legs felt remarkedly okay, mostly. I don't have the most classic or prettiest running style, but I ran with the mantra "run nice, not fast". The idea was that by focussing on maintaining good form, a good pace would follow.


My hydration worked. Drinking while running isn't the easiest thing, but the water never went down the wrong hole and I didn't choke, cough or splutter once. I had energy gels at 4km, 14km, 24km and 34km - the only slight mishap was at 34km when most of the gel went over my arm rather than in my mouth, but I had a spare, so no harm, no foul.


I ran with Peter for the first 16km. I remember telling him that we were starting too fast. The problem wasn't whether we could run a faster pace at 5km or 10km, but whether it would bite us in the butt down the road, at 32km, 35km or 40km. As Peter said afterwards, what was the point of me saying we were going too fast if I then didn't slow down. He makes a fair point, I guess I just kept my fingers crossed.


As the kilometers ticked by, I set a target of half distance to see how I felt then. It's always nice to pass the halfway mark and be able to start counting the distance down. At 28km, about an hour of running to go and I still felt good - I started to think sub 3 might be possible, although a lot can still go wrong in the final third of a marathon. At 32km, I was getting more confident, still time for things to go wrong, but I had built a bit of buffer and even if I slowed a little, sub 3 was still on. At 36-37km, I knew I had it - still possible for things to go wrong, but I was feeling well in control, and my mind shifted to believing a personal best was possible, maybe even probable. I was still working hard, but felt better at that stage compared to any of my previous marathons.


The only moment of panic came around 30km when I thought my right hamstring was going to cramp. Although I was feeling good, fatigue is inevitable and was causing my form to suffer, putting extra stress on my hamstring. I grabbed my mantra "run nice, not fast", focussed on improving my form, and the cramp never arrived.


As mentioned earlier, I'm sure the crowds along the course won me some seconds. Peter's wife was supporting on the route, I saw her three times and her shouts of encouragement were a massive boost. Thank you Flo! At one point, perhaps around 34km, someone in the crowd shouted that Eliud Kipchoge had finished in a World Record time, and that we had got this too - that gave me a boost, how cool was it to be taking part in the same event as Kipchoge!


The final kilometer had us running down Unter den Linden street, through the historic Brandenburg Gate and across the finish line. I'm equally amazed and thrilled with my time of 2:55:41, a new personal best by 3 minutes 28 seconds. I have to pinch myself to believe it. I find the effort of running a marathon strips the protective layers from my emotions, and once past the finish line I alternated between euphoria and feeling like crying. I phoned my son to tell him that I'd had him in mind as I ran, I wanted to dedicate the effort to him, but I'm pretty sure he left the call thinking his Dad was weird for choking up just because he'd run a marathon!


So that was my Berlin Marathon. My race went almost as perfectly as it could have done:


Finish time: 2:55:41 A new personal best time by 3 minutes 28 seconds


If you're a runner, then you might be one of the few people interested in the splits:


1st HM 1:27:49

2nd HM 1:27:52

Almost a perfectly even split between the 1st and 2nd half.


1st 5km: 21:09

2nd 5km: 20:45

3rd 5km: 20.42

4th 5km: 20:42

5th 5km: 20:42

6th 5km: 20:41

7th 5km: 20:43

8th 5km: 21:05

Final 2.2km 9:12

A consistency that I've never come close to in a marathon before.


Early retirement marathon running
Smiling because we've finished, and have our medals!

I had a fabulous marathon weekend, spending time with my friends, who all worked hard to cross the finish line:

  • Peter broke 3 hours for the first time with 2:59:21

  • It was the same for Max, sub 3 for the first time in 2:56:49

  • Injury and Covid interrupted Anja's training, so she was happy with 3:22:53 (her PB is 3:07:20)

  • Mark didn't quite get below his 3:30 target, but 3:33:48 was still a big new PB

  • Tom was in A&E a few weeks ago, so starting was probably foolish and finishing seemed unlikely. He did both though, crossing the line in 4:08:58. I hope he can walk when he gets home, or he's going to be in big trouble with his wife!


Berlin Marathon was the last of my four races this year:


  1. June: Tour du Giffre trail race, 30km with 1,900m ascent, in 3:58:48 which got me 3rd in age group (57th overall).

  2. July: Trail des Gets trail race, 42km with 2,750m ascent, in 5:27:45 which got me 1st in age group (17th overall).

  3. August: Mauerweglauf relay race, 56km. A big disappointment, I abandonned after 36km. I didn't feel right, but after I wondered if I should have tried to push through. I'll never know the answer, but I felt so different in Berlin Marathon that I suspect I made the right decision to pull out.

  4. September: Berlin Marathon in 2:55:41. I've said enough about this already!

Marathon run history - this is for me, I often try to remember which marathons I've run and when, so thought I'd write it down here:


Dubai Marathon (Jan 2014) 3:35:50

Dubai Marathon (Jan 2015) 3:29:11

Dubai Marathon (Jan 2016) 3:36:02

Budapest Marathon (Oct 2016) 3:18:53

Prague Marathon (May 2017) 3:14:30

Dubai Marathon (Jan 2018) 3:03:42

Boston Marathon (Apr 2018) 3:00:39

Swiss City (Lucerne) Marathon (Oct 2021) 2:59:09

Berlin Marathon (Sept 2022) 2:55:41

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