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Berlin Marathon 2023 – Emmie Sutherland

This was not my first rodeo, back in 2017 Sam and myself headed to Berlin with a small group of Hoopsters to run the marathon. It was the first time I ran under 4 hours, so the race has always held a special place in my heart! Six years later, when some more Hoopsters said they were going to run the Berlin Marathon, we thought why not give it another go. Sam automatically qualified for a place, but I got a place through the fantastic charity Get Kids Going who help disabled children get into sport.

A lot has changed for me since the last time I hit the streets of Berlin. We now have two year old Dali and eight month old Indy who bring us lots of joy, but a little less sleep. My training started really well; I struggled to run after I was 22 weeks pregnant, so I started with Couch to 5k and quickly worked up the distance with some 10km races. I felt strong and started to wonder whether I might be able to get under four hours again. However, after only four weeks of marathon training I developed a horrible cough that I just could not shake which ended up turning into pneumonia. Not ideal!

After 8 weeks of no running I finally felt like my lungs could take it again and I started back on a very reduced training plan - now my goal was to just be able to finish the marathon. The cut off time was 6hr15… was this possible? Two weeks later I ran the Big Half and the following week the Great North Run (including a bonus 8 miles back to our car after public transport failures), both with friends to chat to. Being able to get round these races made me much more confident about the possibility of getting round the full marathon! But then at parkrun the week before Berlin, after a week of terrible sleep due to a teething baby and a low carb diet after being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I could barely get round the course. I had to walk and it was the first time I’d ever felt like I might fall over from exhaustion. Reena advised I forget about the diet until after the race, so I listened and made sure I spent the week carb-loading!

Emmie with her arms aloft as she runs towards the finish line of the Berlin Marathon

When the big day came, we headed to the start and met up with the others. I parted ways from the speedsters and made my way to my start pen. As I approached I heard the roar of tens of thousands of people cheering as Kipchoge was announced and I got major goosebumps! I absolutely love running marathons… there’s something so special about the distance! I was so excited to start running, but also quite nervous as I had no idea how it was going to go. I had several plans going around my head including variations of run/walking… Run 3km, walk 1km? Run 4km, walk 0.5km? I’d decided that I would start off with running 5km and walking 0.5km and see how that went. I could add more walking or reduce the running if I needed to.

I’d signed up with my PB rather than my current fitness based time, so I was surrounded by much faster people than I was. I started off far too quickly and spent the next couple of kilometres trying to slow myself down. I was still going faster than I’d planned to, but it felt good! The GPS on my watch was jumping all over the place, so I couldn’t be 100% sure of what pace I was actually even doing. I decided that I would run to feel and slow down when it started feeling bad. I had no ego in this race… just finishing was my target and if I had to walk to the finish then so be it. I got to 5km and was still feeling good, so I readjusted my plan… I was going to take gels every 8km, so thought I would walk every time I took one. The 8km marker came and I started walking, took on my gel and then started running again without even thinking. I was meant to walk for longer! But I still felt good, so I wasn’t too worried.

The weather was lovely, cool and cloudy. Perfect! I ran along grinning ear to ear. This is my happy place! My smile seemed to encourage the spectators and I got lots of very enthusiastic ‘Super Emma!!’, ‘Ja Emma!!’ and various German cheers that I had no idea what they meant, but I took them anyway! Twice I even got to see a friendly face cheering from the sidelines as I spotted Gez yelling my name… it really gave me some extra pep in my stride! I high fived every child I could see, even going out of my way to reach them… imagining Dali and Indy standing with their arms outstretched. I was going to lap it all up as I was sure that I was going to blow up at some point and probably very soon! But as I hit halfway, I looked at my watch… 2hr13min, 13 minutes quicker than the Big Half!

When Dali was nine weeks old I walked the London Marathon as, at that point, they wouldn’t let you defer a Good for Age place; I knew that I could walk a whole marathon in 7hr27, so for a half I could, in theory, walk it in 3hr45. I had to finish in 6hr15, so I could therefore walk the whole second half and still make it in time. This made me really happy! The sunshine that now started to appear through the disappearing clouds, however, did not and it was now getting quite hot! I decided to walk through every water station to make sure I took on enough liquids and give my legs a little refresh.

I always break my marathons down into smaller chunks in my head, so I’m always counting down a small amount to the next section rather than counting down big numbers to the end; This time I counted down to each time I’d take a gel. By the time I hit 32km I was still feeling pretty good and was maintaining a fairly level pace. I knew I was getting gradually slower, but not significantly. I realised with 10km to go, that if I walked from then on I would still finish under 5 hours. When Dali was 9 months old I ran/walked the Manchester Marathon in 5hr09 and the thought that I could finish under that time was incredible to me! Only 5km until only a parkrun left to go and I was still feeling good and hadn’t had to do any walking other than whilst fuelling….

Something worth noting is that the Berlin Marathon’s fuelling tables are quite an experience! I’ve not seen anything like it at any other marathon I’ve done. Not only do they have water, but at some stations they have Maurten drink, warm sugary lemon tea and fruit (oranges, bananas and apples). I would not generally advise this but, as I wasn’t aiming for a time and could stop off at a toilet if it backfired (literally - sorry!), I took it all… well not the fruit, that was one step too far! Tea at some stations, Maurten at others… why not?! The tea was surprisingly refreshing! One even had Coca Cola - I assumed it would be flat, but it wasn’t and I had to have a strategic burp (thankfully the Beer Mile was great training for this!).

The closer I got to the end the more I couldn’t believe how well it was going! I was now looking forward to my water station walks, but I wasn’t having to stop before getting to one. My hip was feeling a little creaky and I was definitely feeling rather hot, but I was going to do it! The Berlin Marathon has one of the best finishes I’ve experienced; as you approach the Brandenburg Gate the pavements are crammed with people screaming out your names, you run through the arches and you can see the finish line… 400 metres to go!!! I threw up my arms and ran as fast as I could through the line. The moment I was through I burst into tears. I’d finished in 4:34:29… How the hell did that happen?! Not only had I run about an hour and a half faster than I thought I would, but I’d enjoyed every single moment of it!

I really can’t recommend running a marathon based on the lead up I’d had… the marathon distance is one you really must respect and it could have got very differently for me. I had expected it to. Maybe, as my 13th marathon, my body is more used to it? Maybe it’s true what they say about pregnancy being an insurance sport in itself? It’s not how you should run a marathon, so please don’t take any tips away from this, but somehow, against the odds, it was one of my favourites that I have done! It may have been a very different marathon from back in 2017, but I’d say I’m so much more happy with this result than for breaking four hours. I walked away being so incredibly proud of my body and mind, with stiff legs but a happy heart!

It was a wonderful weekend with some fantastic people! 12 Hoopsters ran and produced some amazing times. Most notable being Saikat who ran a 13 minute PB in 34:27:26, Ali who ran a stonking 2:27:36 (a club record?) and Georgia, who after being ill in the week, still ran a ridiculous 3:02:24! And it wasn’t all running… We met for some delicious pre-race pizza (complete with two free rounds of non-alcoholic beer for losing our booking) and shared some well deserved cocktails in a swanky bar dressed in running kit as the sun went down. Some of us even hit the club after and watched Kipchoge dancing to Sweet Caroline! It was so much fun and I can’t wait for another group marathon experience to let our hair down and tire those legs. Marathons are even better when you share them!

Thank you to everyone who bought a t-shirt and supported me and my charity. Without you I would not have met my fundraising target and I am incredibly grateful!

Finally, always believe in yourself, you are incredible!


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