Breaking 2:24 Project
For those of you that followed on Sunday, you know the result, I mean most of you are pretty avid runners, close family or friends, so I wouldn’t expect anything less! So, why do a blog? Well, I really want to tell you all about an amazing week that deserves to be told, in detail. It’s not every day that you get to participate in the highly acclaimed; Berlin marathon, a marathon major! Nor is it a common occurrence that someone runs the fastest marathon ever!
Not to mention, I’ve got the time, I’m currently typing from the cramped confines of seat 31c on my 24hr Royal Brunei return flight and I am out of reading material. Now, for those that don’t know, no I didn’t run the fastest marathon of all time but I was proud to say I was in the race (I saw vision of Kipchoge crossing the line at the 36km mark, I still had 20 minutes to run!) and I PB’d, I broke 2:24! Yes, I actually did it, I completed; ‘The Breaking 2:24 Project’!
17 weeks ago I came up with the title of my blog; a spin off on Nike’s; ‘The Breaking 2 Project’. I wanted to run a career pb, I wanted to break 2:24 a time I hadn’t bettered since my debut 7 marathons ago! This was my vision. Alas, ‘The Breaking 2:24 Project’ was born.
I finished last weeks blog on the Wednesday 4 days before the race. Brady and I had just got to our Air bnb accomadation in Eberwalder Berlin after 8hrs of door to door travel and a 4:30am wake up in East Molesey. We were then back on the S bahn and out for an easy 60 minute jog around Tiergarten. We both felt woeful, easily the worst we had felt on the trip. We made sure we had a good dinner; I had two serves of Salmon, avocado and egg on toast and a mango green tea. ‘That ain’t dinner?’ you ought to say but to me at the time it made plenty of sense as I just needed something healthy. I made sure I continued having lots of hydralyte and then we got to bed ultra early both keen for a good sleep.
Berlin, has huge whiffs of inner city Melbourne’s Brunswick. It was this large, historic city speckled with graffiti or wild over grown gardens artistically yet respectably cast across the landscape. It was kind of refreshing seeing a city that wasn’t so tame and manicured. It was; effortlessly cool! As were it’s people, as the hipster culture loomed large. Berlin is grand yet a little bit scruffy and I loved it!
Our accomadation conveniently was across the road from the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark and accompanying sporting complex. This was adjacent to a section of the Berlin Wall, check these photos out.
We were also very close to the famous Sunday Flea market at Mauerpark, unfortunately this was on race day, so we didn’t get a chance to go.
There was a warm up aths track at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportspark which we were able to train on for free. The main stadium, likely seated 30-50,000, was locked to the general public and was home to local soccer and rugby teams. A quick google search showed that the late Michael Jackson had played a sold out concert there in 1991. So, Thursday morning Brady and I hit the track for our small tune up sessions.
Incredibly, we got there and a fit looking Malaysian was cutting laps in lane 8. He had a small entourage; a photographer(who was following him all week) and a guy who looked to be his manager slash coach . I approached him, thinking it has to be Muhaizar who I have been in contact with. Sure enough, it was. He was a 2:27 guy aiming to run 2:24 for the National Record at Berlin. He had put a ‘call to arms’ to all the potential 2:24 guys in the Berlin marathon on the World famous running message board of www.letsrun.com, to see if we could muster some kind of pack. Brady and I had a chat to him and his manager, Zulhilmi Zulkifli. It was good to catch up.
For the tune up session, I rolled a 4k warm up, hooked 8 by 200 in 36-33 seconds off a 1minute jog and a 2k warm down. Brady looked great, he had 4 by 1 minutes efforts followed by 1km at marathon pace.
Julian ‘Moose’ Spence (co-host with Brady on the Inside Running Podcast) and his partner Bri were set to arrive from New York by lunchtime. We had just received a desperate message from Moose that the latest release of Nike’s Flyknit Vaporfly 4% was for 10am and he needed a pair for the race. So by 9:50am Brady and I were amongst 20 other die-hard running fans out the front of Nike Berlin’s glass doors. The marketing thrown at the launch of this shoe was incredible; billboards suddenly had popped up all over Berlin. Brady and I couldn’t help ourselves and also both coughed up a bundle of cash and bought a pair each for future marathons!
We then spent the afternoon with Moose and Bri (both own the Running Company in Ballarat). We checked out their ‘hip’ Berlin apartment and then it was off to the Marathon expo- which took place in an old abandoned airport hanger. The expo was huge, nike’s presence once again loomed large; There was a huge tent totally dedicated to testing out the Nike 4%’ers on a treadmill and to see how long you could run at Kipchoge’s ‘Breaking 2 attempt’ marathon pace! (despite Adidas being the primary sponsor of the Berlin marathon!).
Bri(section D 3:00-3:15) and I (Section A <2:40) got our race show bag, wrist band, some goodies, race shirt and number at the expo. Brady and Moose (Sub elite <2:20) didn’t have to go to the race hotel till Friday to pick up their numbers and then Saturday night to hand their bottles in.
At the expo, I got a Maurten showbag which I was pretty rapt about. Maurten is the sports drink and gel that a lot of the elite marathoners (aka Kipchoge, Mo Farah, Jake Robertson) are using at the moment, it isn’t readily available in Australia. I was interested to have a look at it and give it a try once back home. Apparently it turns into a gel like substance once inside your stomach, which is suppose to prevent GI trouble and ensure a more gradual sustained release of glucose.
We then got out for a very easy 30 minutes together around Tiergarten. Moose excitedly donned his new 4%ers so he could ‘wear them in’. It was interesting listening to him talk about the difference the flyknit upper made to the ‘feel’ of the whole shoe, it was enough to certainly scare off any notion I had of donning the shoe on race day (I stuck with my tried and tested 4%ers I had done a good 100kms in already). Brady and I felt so much better on this run than the day before. Moose was still feeling pretty average by this stage but he was fresh off the plane. We all had dinner at a small Berlin pub that night.
On Friday, I got a massage at the local Thai massage place down the road. My back and legs have stiffened up in past marathons with too much travel and sitting, so I was adamant to ensure I was limber going into Sunday.
Brady and I then caught up with Moose back out at the Expo/ abandoned airport and enjoyed 50 minutes together; a flat and fast 6km circuit on the tarmac. We all felt great on this run. This was the first run that I really noticed how Berlin just didn’t have any wind, it was so still compared to Melbourne! I just hoped it would stay the same for race day. We all sweated a lot on this run not because it was hot or humid but because it was just so still. Lots of inline skaters were also racing around preparing for their race tomorrow.
The rest of Friday was largely just full of carb loading, resting, taking it easy and staying hydrated back at the air bnb. We all then caught up for pasta at a groovy little pizza/pasta place for dinner. I clocked/consumed 600gms of carbs for the day.
Saturday, was the last run of this massive Berlin prep. Brady and I gave each other a huge high five after ticking off 25 minutes around the track. We had made it, injury free to the Startline of Berlin! We had got through every run. We were also both healthy; asthma and sickness free! We felt so good on this run, just so full of energy, I just wanted to hurry up and get the race started!
We had another restful day. I felt bad not exploring Berlin on this day but it was a smart move, I had put too much into this race. We had Monday free to explore Berlin post race. I shaved my legs, got my race kit organised and neatly placed it on the floor by my bed.
I had also contacted Douglas Hamerlock who was pacing one of the Japanese woman to see if I could use one or two of his alternate/extra bottles he didn’t need. I spent the afternoon preparing 6 pop top drink bottles with my usual 250mls of water/20 gms glucose/10gms fructose formula.
Brady and I then had dinner at Moose and Bri’s apartment. We had Moose’s ‘secret pasta’ that he always has before a marathon. Perhaps this is why we all had good days?! Then we were off to the race hotel to drop our drinks off. Dougy helped me get mine over the line as he slapped his stickers all over them. I met another guy aiming for 2:24; Soh Rui Yong, who was going for the Singaporean National Record. It was also nice to chat to his coach Ben Rosario; head coach of Hokka elite in Flagstaff Arizona. My drinks were to be second from the front on table 10 at station 9,17.3,22.5,27.5,32.5,38 and 40. As it turned out only, 9 and 40km were actually out there on the day.
After listening to the fist pumping ‘drinks guy’ who handed kipchoge his drinks though, it sounds like they had their hands full personally handing drinks to the top 30 elite male and female runners in the race.
From here it was straight to bed by 9:30. I spent 30 minutes skim reading through my 16 prior blogs and reminded myself how much I had put into this race and how fit I was. I amazingly had a really good sleep.
BRRRP, BRRRRP! My alarm went off, it was Sunday, raceday had finally arrived, I was excited, nervous but excited! Brady and I woke at 6am, 3hrs and 15 minutes until race start! When you prepare for something for so long, it’s a weird feeling knowing that this is the day! I just wanted to get into it, I’d felt like I waited for this day for so long. I was healthy, fit, felt well tapered, had adjusted to the timezone, knew my race plan, carbo loaded, I was cocked and loaded!
I had a shower to wake up, tried to have some toast but could only stomach ½ a toast as I was that full from the past two days. I scrawled my drink stations on my arm, along with the words ‘WAIT’ and ‘NOW’. I chose those words as not only were they small and easy to write on my skinny arms but I was hoping they’d help me focus on executing my race plan. ‘WAIT’ was a reminder to be patient early and not let my renown white line fever get the best of me. ‘NOW’ was a word that was meant to re-focus my thoughts on the present, what positive things can I do right ‘NOW’ to get the best out of myself. I can sometimes find myself over thinking how far to go which can get you stressing and in a negative frame of mind.
I smothered my whole body with Vaseline, trimmed my toe nails, taped the nipples, did my pre-race ritual of deep heat on the legs, put my race kit on and then my jacket, tights, race socks and gloves (it was fresh out there early).
Brady and I were out the door by 7:30am and caught the S bahn which took 30 minutes. We got off at Tiergarten station and walked the first 2kms of the course to the start area. We both gave each other a massive goodluck at this stage. This is where Brady went off to the elite tent (him and Spence sat down and got changed and into their race kit just 2ms from Kipchoge!) I jogged off in my tracksuit and with my bag to Section A (runners entering with a sub 2:40).
Instantly there was this exciting buzz! Music was playing, runners were chaotically rushing everywhere, the lines for the portaloos and bag drops were huge, hundreds of runners were squatting in the bushes (I mean everywhere you looked) it just seemed like the done thing. I started warming up 30 minutes before the race but my warm up was really just sitting on a park bench putting on my 4%ers, stripping down to my race kit, hiding my bag deep within a bush and just soaking up the fact that I was on the start line of the Berlin marathon. Brady had given me a nostril flare band to try as he had a spare, so I put that on and I was an instant fan, I felt like I was breathing through my nose just so effortlessly. Apparently, they are stocked at chemist warehouse, it’s something that I will definitely be using again.
I had a powerbar hydrogel 15 minutes before the start and while I waited on the line I also slowly sipped at a Maurten gel. The way my drinks turned out on the course I’m glad I did this. I also had 1 hydrogel in my shorts back pocket for during the race.
I shuffled around for 5 minutes but then I was conscious that there was only 12 minutes till the race was due to kick off, so I positioned my self at the front row of Section A and held my ground. I saw all the elites doing strides 5 minutes before the start, then they were positioned at the front of the race. Wilson Kipsang, Zerzanaey Tadesse and Eluid Kipchoge were then introduced to thunderous applause and fanfare. They then allowed us to creep up closer to the start line and I quickly weaselled my way up and in behind Brady and Moose. We shouted out to each other and wished each other luck and then without further ado, the gun went and we were off!
I took about 5 seconds to cross the start line and held my arms out so I wasn’t bowled over. Then I aimed ‘right’ as I saw some clear space to find my rhythm and pace. Despite standing on the line for so long, I felt great! The adrenaline was coursing through my body, I was actually running the Berlin marathon, finally I could do my thing, finally I didn’t have to wait anymore!
I suddenly remembered the word; ‘WAIT’ I had scrawled across my wrist before we left that morning and ensured I didn’t let the occasion get the better of me in that first kilometre. I saw Brady ahead and gauged my effort off him. I hit a 3:20 with the breaks on, I felt brilliant.
I saw my Soh Rui Yong and Muhaizar but there were people everywhere and we certainly weren’t short of a pack.
I slotted in behind a promising looking pack of 10 guys tentatively. My watch kept spitting out 3:19/20 kilometer splits early on (ahead of my 3:22/23 per km goal) but I felt comfortable. I sat at the back of this nice pack and got into a nice rhythm, I did no work. I was very happy in this group as I knew we were definitely fast enough so I could just switch off. Suddenly, my race was simple, ‘just stay with this pack and you’ll run a good race!’ My brain could relax, I didn’t have to stress about pace.
We hit the 5k split in 16:45 and the 10km split in 16:44. I got my first drink at 9k (one of Dougy Hamerlock’s alternate drink stations he didn’t need) and slowly sucked on this over 2kms.
Nothing much happened over the next 10 kms, the pack stayed largely the same and I was ‘just in the zone’ minding my own business hanging on the back. Obviously, the pack changed a little as we got deeper into the race. We hit 17:02 and 17:00 for a 20km split of 67:31 and half marathon split of 71:15. There aren’t too many races that I can recall being in such a ‘Kipchoge like’ zen frame of mind but this was certainly one of them. I don’t mean to come across all ‘airy fairy’ at all but I have reflected on this race over the past few days and am just so proud with how utterly ‘in the moment’ I was for the whole race. It was almost as though I was in a trance. Perhaps it was because I knew so many people were watching from home? Perhaps it was because I knew how much I had put into the preparation for this race? Perhaps it was because of how well my last 6 weeks of training went and I finally believed I could do it? Perhaps it was just that I had travelled all the way across the world to do it? Perhaps it was because I was just finally ready to crack 2:24 on just so many fronts? Perhaps I was fed up with the number 2:24?
I really didn’t notice any of the scenery, I was that focused on the race, the road, my competitors and breaking 2:24. I do remember snippets, for example; this band of 20 drummers beating so loudly under a bridge you felt the soundwaves echo through you inners or this guy on an electric guitar going for broke splayed out on his knees.
Immediately, the pace lifted, a few guys weren’t happy with our half way split obviously. I looked at my wrist again, ‘WAIT’. I have come unstuck in races before by running on sheer emotion and throwing in impulsive mid race surges in retaliation to mid race attacks. I let these guys go knowing that the race hadn’t even started yet, we were still 9kms from the 30k mark.
Fortunately, right when the pace went out of our group, as a couple of the pace setters had gone up the road on the attack, good friend and Tassie runner; Douglas Hammerlock, who as I said before was pacing one of the Japanese marathoners (Honami Maeda- PR of 2:23:48 from Osaka marathon 2018) went by and started driving the pace for our group. We soon caught Mizuki Matsuda (the other good Japanese runner in the field PR of 2:22:44 from the 2018 Osaka marathon also), she had a pacer as well.
Mizuki Matsuda soon launched a counter attack and really went on the offensive, this was great for me as I went for a ride. I was feeling really good at this point and could hear that Honami’s breathing was starting to appear laboured. Hamerlock was pacing Honami and I was starting to feel like I was the strongest in the group.
So, we hit 25km in 1:24:30 (16:59), 30km in 1:41:17 (16:47) and 35kms in 1:58:05 (16:48). A really solid next three 5km splits! I was really enjoying using Matsuda’s pacer as my own. They really spurred me on during this section of the race. We caught the three guys who launched off the front of my pack at half way by the 32km mark. There was a lot of cat and mouse going on running with Mizuki and her pacer. We had a bike spitting out kilometre splits, one minute she’d run a 3:28-30, the next she’d run a 3:14-18. I found I was constantly swapping sides of the road also as to not get in the way. As messy as this sounds it was far better than not having anyone at this point. And I believe part of the messiness was due to fatigue kicking in anyway.
Throughout this section, none of my scheduled drinks were put out. So, 22.5, 27.5, 32.5 and 38km just weren’t there. For these drink stops they only had 4 tables out and my drinks were on table 10. Fortunately, a British athlete who was running with Mizuki and myself at this stage shared some of his bottle. I also had one of the event gels offered from the side through this stage. I did get my 2nd bottle from the side at 40k (other bottle I got was at 9kms), a warm, flat coke and managed to down a few swigs to see if this helped make me feel better.
Nutrition wise I can’t complain at all. I had a great carbo load the two days leading in. I had a maurten and powerbar hydro gel just before the start, then another hydrogel again at 17kms and an event gel at 28kms. I have got to say a massive thanks to Douglass Hamerlock for offering me the drink stations he didn’t need (even if it just ended up being 9 and 40kms, it was better than me having to haul a couple of drink bottles around for the journey). Thanks again Dougy!
We ran a fast 36th km in 3:16 but followed it with a 3:26. I looked back and Mizuki was struggling, well she appeared to be. Her pacer slowed down for her and before I knew it she was willing herself on at a herculean pace. She was all guts! The pace bike kept flashing estimated finish time as 2:22:30, she wanted a PB!
Suddenly, I found it hard to stick with her pace changes at the 37-38km mark. I saw I hit a few 3:28 kilometers suddenly and my legs didn’t feel as lively. I was still determined as ever, my goal had changed; I now knew I could break 2:23, I told myself to keep channelling my inner Kipchoge and relax through the hurt. I focused on the ‘NOW’!
I heard the crowd roar, suddenly I saw Kipchoge celebrating on a big screen, I looked at the clock it was well under World record time. This made my resolve even firmer, lets make this one ‘bloody memorable day!’ I kept pushing to that finish line. I kept trying to relax and keep good form although because I was running the last 4-5kms by myself I was unsure what pace I was running. I still felt as though I had good rhythm. I hit 40kms in 2:15:21, I’d never done that before! This gave me confidence, I pushed again, just over 2kms to go, 7 minutes of work!
I put my arms up as I went through the line, it was great to stop running. I slumped over the fence immediately I just didn’t feel right. After several minutes of power spews and waving off concerned volunteers, I felt a lot better. I ran 2:22:40 although it still hadn’t sunk in. I quickly went looking for Brady and Moose. I caught up with them and they told me their great results! Moose ran 2:16:39 and Brady ran 2:19:53! We all had achieved our goal times! I caught up with Muhaizar, he ran 2:26 and Soh Rui Yong, who ran 2:25.
I then scurried off to find my bag in the deep confines of the scrub of Tiergarten. I got my phone and was immediately overwhelmed by the support I had received from everyone back home. I immediately called dad and found out the whole family had been all together tracking me from home.
Bri then came in under her goal time of 3hrs, in 2:59:22. I got ‘an eighth’ through the huge stint of non-alcoholic German beer I was given at the finish line, as I was still feeling a bit queezy. Moose, Brady, Bri and I then caught up and slowly shuffled our bodies back to the S Bahn and our air bnbs for some much needed ‘r n r’, we were all totally over the moon! I was also ‘relieved’, I’d thought I could do it but ‘thinking’ and ‘actually doing it’ are two very different things. The trip was instantly a success. I soon found out that Kipchoge ran 2:01:39, shaving 78 seconds off the old World record. Doing the last 17kms solo without pacemakers and running a negative split. That’s a 2:53 per kilometre average!
Once showered and up to date with responding to everyone back home, Brady, Moose, Bri and a few of Moose’s friends and I all went out to celebrate. We went out for dinner at a groovy berlin dinner. We relaxed with some German pale ales and an awesome steak sanga.
The body was pretty stiff and sore Monday and Tuesday but I was able to get out for a couple of easy 30 minute walk jogs at 6min/km pace. On Monday Brady and I got out and saw the Berlin wall and just walked the streets of Berlin getting a good feel for the culture.
This whole experience really has illustrated to me the importance of a vision or goal. The fact that I wanted to break 2:24 has been public knowledge to Tom, Dick and Harry for the past 17 weeks. Not only that but I steadfastly reminded you all about it every week; with a weekly blog update. Hal Hershfield of New York University’s Stern Business school and Kelly McGonigall a health Psychologist from Stanford University, have both shown that…. ‘when people realistically imagine their future in a clear and considered way, they are more motivated to make choices and decisions to benefit that future self.’ Visions give your life direction, help you stay focused, enhance productivity, attract opportunity and inspire!
I am certainly not advocating we all go out and publicly state our vision and this will make it come true. I mean, I’ve had this vision for a long time, in fact I’ve had this vision since my first marathon in 2014. With this overarching vision; the past 4 years have been littered with experiences good and bad of marathon races, preparations, training blocks, chatter with friends, reading running literature, listening to podcasts etc; all of which I believe helped sculpt me into a sub 2:24 marathoner.
Why did my vision finally come to fruition? Was I just finally ready, after 4 years of trying? Was my body finally ready because of the consistency I’ve had with training over the past 2 years? Was it the fact that I finally appreciated the 1%ers more aka sleep, healthy eating and staying hydrated? Was my mind finally marathon savvy; with all the marathon specific workouts I’d subjected it too? Did I benefit from adding heavy strength training in to my program? Did travelling and competing in Rotterdam and Lake Biwa marathons in the past help? Did I have a better understanding of the carb loading process and my in race nutrition strategy? Or perhaps knowing that the goal was now public knowledge gave my goal some added urgency? (Similar to how an up and coming Kenyan feels financially accountable for their family when it comes to winning abroad?)
My personal opinion is a combination of the above.
A couple of good quotes that slot in here quite seamlessly are;
‘A vision without action is just a daydream.’
‘Failing is important. We can learn from our failures and through this process we are brought one step closer to succeeding.’
This was always planned to be my last official entry for the ‘The Breaking 2:24 Project’ however the response that I received to my blog and post race has been overwhelming, so I am definitely going to continue to pump out weekly content through Run Culture; be it in blog, video or interview format. So stay tuned!
Meanwhile, I am going to enjoy my recovery and some down time with Jess, family and friends!
Like always, I hope you all continue to…
Run. Live. Grow