There is a reason why world records are set here, with Eliud Kipchoge setting it just last year on this exact course. Everything you’ve heard about the flatness of the course is true. It is absolutely flat with the exception of one very small footbridge early on in the race (my Strava says total 240 ft elevation gain during the course). That bump is only worth mentioning just so people don’t come back and say, “There was a hill!” I ran Chicago just three weeks after Berlin last year, and I can tell you that Chicago feels “hillier” than Berlin. Weather is also generally more favorable than not for the Berlin Marathon.
The reason why I’m writing this is in hopes of best preparing you for this marathon so you are not caught unawares. I won’t focus on how to run a marathon; I’ll focus on the eccentricities of this particular marathon.
Obviously, the first issue is the time difference. Six hour difference is enough so that it may take you a couple of days to adjust. I know there are people who come in just for the weekend, but you know your body best.
The expo is at a former airport (Flughafen Tempelhof), and it contains all of the usual items that you would see at an expo. However, the directions once you’re there are not too clear.
You’ll initially enter a building and you will be directed to exit the building towards a hanger. Just before you enter this hanger, you’ll be asked to provide your registration and a picture ID. There is no one screaming to get those out before you get there like the NYC Marathon expo so there was a bottleneck of people trying to get theirs out at the very last moment when we went. Just have them in hand so can skip all those searching through their bags for theirs. They’ll ask you to place your arm through a fabric bracelet (cauterized, so don’t touch the seal as soon as they put it on like I did) that you’ll need to wear until after you finish the marathon. You’ll need this bracelet to enter the Tiergarten the morning of the race.
Once you enter the second building, make a beeline towards the back right side. They’ll check the bracelet before you enter the participant only area for your bib. Go for the shortest line you see as they will literally print your bib off of a laser printer on cardstock paper (yes, it’s paper and the bibs are huge). They’ll also give you a Championship chip. If you never used a Championship chip before, it is the one where you’ll need to lace through your shoes. Obviously, do that before the day of the marathon.
If you have chosen the poncho option, please note that you will not be handed a plastic bag here. If you want a bag to carry your stuff, please bring your own bag.
Once you have your materials, you’ll be directed towards the Adidas shop where they’ll have more or less two styles of jackets, two styles of T-shirts and a few accessory options for men and women. If you haven’t bought your apparel with your registration (your registration fee does not come with a shirt), you can purchase your items here. Sizes can go really quickly though, so go early if you can. You can also get all of the alcohol-free beer here, which is apparently a thing in Germany. If you bought apparel with the registration, those can be picked up just before you exit this building with your bib.
Your assigned bib number is just alphabetical order to my understanding, so the numbers will seem rather random.
Tiergarten is huge. You can get there using various public transportation (free on marathon day with your bib), and you can enter through several different entry points.
If you are planning to meet people at the athlete’s village, make sure you find a specific location to meet.
Your corral placement is based on your previous marathon times. If you have run any marathon previously (faster than 4:15) and did not specify it before on the application (or run a faster marathon since), please make sure you email them to update your times so you’ll be corralled correctly. If this is your first marathon, unfortunately, you’ll be in Corral H regardless of your goal time, so please make sure that you arrive early enough to start in front of that corral.
Wave 1 (Start from 09:15 am)
Block A: <2:20:00 – 2:40:00 hours*
Block B: 2:40:01 – 2:50:00 hours*
Block C: 2:50:01 – 3:00:00 hours*
Block D: 3:00:01 – 3:15:00 hours*
Wave 2 (Start from 09:25 a.m.)
Block E: 3:15:01 – 3:30:00 hours*
Block F: 3:30:01 – 3:50:00 hours*
Wave 3 (Start from 09:45 a.m.)
Block G: 3:50:01 – 4:15:00 hours*
Wave 4 (Start from 10:05 a.m.)
Block H: > 4:15:01 hours* or first Marathon
Please note that there isn’t too much time between these waves, and everyone more or less go out en masse. Also note that these Blocks have really wide range of times, so you may need to do a little bit of weaving just to be with a group of people running your paces. Obviously, don’t expend too much energy doing so as it is a marathon.
There are port-a-potties all around Tiergarten, but none in the corrals. However, it’s very easy to enter and exit the corrals until your start time. If you are a guy, the best part about Berlin Marathon organization is the open urinals (think X from a birds-eye view where four people can pee into the center column) that usually have little or no line. Boston had a bunch of these too.
As for what you’ll see on the course, I cannot give you too much information as I really don’t remember much of the actual sights.
There are a good number of turns, but given how flat it is, there is not much to note about the course itself either, but these may be handy:
- In the beginning, you run around the Victory Column in the Tiergarten. Depending on the side you line up in the starting corrals, you’ll either run to the left or right of the Victory Column. You’ll notice more people will line up on the right side as the first turn is a right turn.
- The course itself is fairly exposed throughout, so if it’s a sunny day, make sure you protect yourself from the sun.
- You’ll see the blue line painted throughout the course. This is technically the tangent of the course, but you’ll also find a lot of people actually jostling to be on the line. Be prepared to hold your own if you choose to run on or near the line.
- There are only kilometer markers (no mile markers). It might be worthwhile to train a little using kilometers as your benchmark to be familiar with the conversion or at least know what your 1k or 5k splits should be. Obviously you know this, but a marathon is 42.195km.
- I don’t remember the crowd support being great or not. I am thinking there were plenty of spectators on the course, but I don’t remember much of the raucousness that you get from the crowds of NYC, Boston or Chicago.
- There are six right angle turns at the final 2k before making the final left turn to face Brandenburg Gate. Please note that the Brandenburg Gate is not the finish line, and you’ll need to run another 400m or so after the Gate to the finish.
We really get spoiled with water stations with NYRR. Your first four water/refreshment stations will be 5k, 9k, 12k, and 15k. From that point on, it’s about 2.5k between each station until 34k (there are two water-only stations back to back just before 33k and at 34k), and every 2k after that. You’ll start with water-only station at 5k, and they alternate between water-only station and full refreshment station (water, ultraSports Beetster, warm sugared tea, and fruit, in that order to my recollection). If you can find Beetster somewhere, you might want to try it before. I, for one, couldn’t find it previously and stuck with water the entire time with my stash of Gu and my initial bottle of Gatorade Endurance formula. I tried it afterward the race and I could have stomached it, but I wasn’t going to risk it. As for the warm tea, it isn’t hot tea (if you watched the Jean-Paul episode of Seinfeld), so it’s not going to burn you by any means. If you missed out on all of the other refreshments, I’m sure it’s better than not drinking anything for the next 2.5k or so.
A few more notes about these water stations:
- Most of these are only on one side. I am thinking the first water station was on both sides, but starting 9k, they were only on one side (can be right or left and you won’t really know until you get there).
- The tables are relatively short, so you don’t have as much time to move towards a station to grab whatever you need. Signage is also rather small, so be on the lookout.
- The cups are plastic.
- I would suggest running with an initial bottle of water (or Gatorade) with a flip-top if you can. Hydration packs are allowed if you want to run with them.
Once you finish and get your bag (assuming you checked your bag), you can wait for massage or even use one of the shower facilities. If you do choose the shower option (I did), bring your own soap and towel, and note that you are walking into a gender specific tent where people undress and shower, and there is zero privacy in the tent. If you are uncomfortable with this kind of situation, I would stay away.
Before you exit Tiergarten, be sure to take off your Championship chip and give it to one of the people near the many exits holding a bucket. Otherwise, you’ll be charged a fee.
Berlin is a great city so enjoy it. It has plenty of food options, culture, history, and nightlife. English is spoken widely, so you’ll generally have no trouble getting around. You’re all also going with a bunch of great teammates (in greater numbers than last year!), so enjoy their company. One of my favorite moments during the trip in Berlin was us just walking around Berlin after the marathon with €2 beers from a grocery in hand (yay for open liquor laws). They don’t have many garbage cans however. But I also understand that as long as you place them safely somewhere, people will pick them up to collect deposit on them.
Other notes (and thanks to Ingrid Wells for her input into this list):
- It is typically pretty easy getting through customs when you arrive. If you are doing carry-on only, you are likely going to have your bag ripped open on the return flight.
- Tap water is fine to drink in Berlin.
- Restaurants will not give you tap water, and will charge you an arm and a leg for bottled water. Beer is cheaper than water, but you might want to save that for after the race. So I suggest bringing your own water bottle around to hydrate.
- There is an inline skating marathon the day before on almost the same course, which is rather quite interesting to watch.
- Grocery stores and such will not give you a bag; bring a tote bag! Grocery stores are closed on Sunday. Well, everything is basically closed on Sunday except for restaurants and coffee shops.
- Consider buying a multi-day pass for transportation. You can use it on all modes of transport in the city (unless you are going to the outskirts of Berlin like Wannsee or Potsdam you likely only need the AB rather than ABC option).
- Ingrid’s favorite view of the city is from the rooftop of the Reichstag Berlin (near Brandenburg Tor and Tiergarten). You need to sign up ahead of time and use govt. ID (ie. your passport) to enter as this is a government building. https://www.bundestag.de/en/visittheBundestag/dome/registration-245686
- Germans do not jaywalk, so neither should you. It may get frustrating for us New Yorkers, but wait until the green light to cross.
- Don’t forget your travel adaptors.
Yoon’s friend who is a Berlin local was nice enough to provide this Best of Berlin list:
Hope you all have a great race, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!