Berlin Marathon is a Bunny

Not my best time, but I had the best time.

look, it’s a bunny!

Don’t call it a comeback… because it wasn’t. I knew when I broke my sacrum in July that I wouldn’t be fully ready to race in less than 3 months. But I was determined that I would get myself to the start line. So for the very first time since I started running marathons, I didn’t have a time goal. Truthfully, I simply couldn’t come up with a time goal considering I was mostly doing aqua jogging and only got in 3.5 weeks of running with 30ish weekly mileages. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I created a “Berlin Jogging” Spotify playlist with songs that bring me joy, and told myself that, “I am gonna have FUN, and try not to further damage my butt so I can dance on the tables at Oktoberfest.”

my Berlin Marathon race mantra written on my wrist

I still wrote down a conservative pace plan on my arm because who am I kidding, I am a planner. I found out at 11pm the night before the race that there were no mile markers, only kilometers were marked on the course. Well shit. My brain was too mushy to do any calculation. With Josh’s help, I wrote down new, and not so accurate, splits for every 10k with a goal of a ~ 3hr 45min finish. 

It’s a wonderful thing when races start at a later time, when I can wake up at a normal time and not rush out of the door. My hotel was 1.5 miles from the start. I got up at 7:10am. Had some instant coffee, my normal pre-race breakfast of frosted flakes (cough cough sponsorship?) with lactose-free milk, and a quarter of a Maurten 360 drink mix with caffeine. At 8am, I poured the rest of the drink mix into an empty plastic water bottle, put on my throw away/donation clothes, laced up my hot pink racers for the last time (RIP NB RC Elite v2) and started jogging to the start line. 

in the hotel elevator

“I feel like we have been in this line forever.” I said to my friend J as we waited in a never ending line for a porta potty. With 5 minutes to spare, we finally got to the bathroom. I threw away my empty plastic bottle, put my joggers into a donation bin, and jogged to corral C with J. I don’t normally do this much jogging right before running 26.2 miles. But surprisingly I was not stressed about it at all. I was very present, soaking in all the race day excitement, and smiling at runners who were about to embark on this long celebratory run with me. 

The race had already started when we got to our corral. We were one of the last people who got to corral C, and I was glad that neither of us were stressed about it. J decided to stay back to stretch a little bit before starting. “Good luck! See you at the finish line,” she yelled as I moved forward with thousands of runners. I dropped my throw away top, turned on my Shokz, hit the start button on my Garmin, and started to run. 

mile 1. still have my throw away gloves on.

Spectators were 3 people deep for the first mile. I could feel the race day excitement and energy running through my body. That’s when it hit me. I made it! 12 weeks after fracturing my sacrum, with the support and encouragement from my coach, friends, training partners, and family, I am here, running the freaking Berlin Marathon. The watch buzzed, 1 mile, 7:54. Huh, that’s a lot faster than I expected, and man there were really no mile markers in this race. What does this pace mean for the finish time? Ugh can’t do math while running. It’s fine. It’s going to be #BrokenButtPR as long as I cross the finish line. My legs felt light, the pace felt smooth, and no pain on my butt. Let’s just see what I can do! 

The 6k marker came up quickly. I thought Josh said he would be on the right, but I couldn’t find him. I had never missed him in a race before. Maybe he didn’t realize that I am running faster than I planned? Or maybe my time chip is not working? I have never run with a timechip that needs to be put on your shoes before. Oh I hope I did it right. Maybe I should stop and check to see if my dot is moving in the app. I am feeling great! If I run back to the start now, I can probably still start with the last wave. No no no, that’s insane. I can always get my medal at the finish, and if my time is not clocked, I can come back again to run this race in the future to get the star (Abbott Six Star Journey). As my thoughts rumbled, I took my first Maurten gel when my watch buzzed at mile 4. 

I was with friends in the area between 7k-10k the day before. The memory of trying to find friends in a foreign country without cell phone service, ordering street food without knowing what it was, and looking for non-bubbly water (a real struggle in Germany) at this exact place made me smile and kept me company. When I passed the 10k marker, I tried to understand how far ahead I was from the pace I had planned. I quickly realized that I didn’t know how far off from the gun time my start time was, and my watch’s screen didn’t have the total time on it. I knew I had the total time on the second screen of my watch, but I didn’t want to mess with it during the run. Whatever. I am just going to run this whole thing by feel. 

I took a Gatorade gel at mile 8. Only 4 gels left. Nothing hurts, I was not breathing heavily, I still had energy to thank the volunteers who handed me the water, and I can still weave around to high five the kids. Am I really running a marathon? This feels too easy. Well, there is still a long way to go. 

There they are! I ran out of the crowd, put on the biggest smile, and threw my arms in the air to wave to my friends at 14k. They came to Berlin from Amsterdam for the race. I can’t believe my luck that I have such supportive friends. They were looking at their phone right before spotting me, so maybe my tracker was working?! But Josh was supposed to be at 14k as well. He was nowhere in sight. 

The next couple of miles were a blur. Not the normal pain cave kind of blur in a race, but an overall adrenaline rush from engaging with the crowd. Turns out “Amanda” was a very easy name to pronounce in Germany. I was happily surprised to hear so many people yelling my name. I smiled and swung my arms in the air every time to acknowledge the cheer. And since I made a conscious effort to run on the side to give high fives to kids, all the parents would shout out my name as I passed. I waved at bands that were playing folk music. I thanked the grandmas who had pots and rolling pins in hand to make noise for the runners. I pointed at people with Chicago flags. Oh this is fun!  

My secret skill is finding all the cameras on the course

J passed me around mile 18.5. She looked so smooth and joyful. She was gonna crush her goal! She waved at me, and I shouted “Good luck!!” 

I knew that I was running around 8 min/mile pace this whole time. But I didn’t know my exact pace since I had no idea how many extra miles I ran from weaving through the crowd. And I had given up on doing math hours ago. What I did know was that around here is usually when things start to hurt. I did a quick body check. Proper form, no pain, light feet. I was feeling a little fatigue, but my oh my I have never felt so good this late into a race. This thought gave me an extra energy boost as I ran past the 30, 31, 32k marker. 

Right after the 32k marker I saw me and my cat Zola’s heads on a stick. Oh thank god there is Josh! He looked ecstatic when I saw him. Huh, maybe I was too busy high-fiving the kids and missed him before. 

Don’t stop me now

I am having such a good time

I am having a ball 

Queen’s song was playing in my ears when I felt my butt for the first time in the race. My watch just buzzed for mile 20. No no, not now. Shut up butt, don’t do this to me. I am having such a good time! It was not a sharp pain, but rather a cloudy feeling alerting me that something was not right. I lightened up my pace, hoping that it would go away. 

I slowly and carefully approached the 34k marker. Just over 8k to go! What does that even mean? I started distance running in the States, and km markers don’t click the same way as mile markers in my mind. Well I know that’s only a Shamrock Shuffle distance to go! Sounds manageable. Oh wait, my butt feels fine now. I didn’t know how that had happened, but hey I would take it! 

A lot of people started to drop back between 38-40k. We happened to be staying around that area, and we had walked this exact part of the course the day before. The unintentional visualization walk helped a lot. “Good job runners! We are so close!” a runner shouted enthusiastically. I smiled, and picked up the pace a bit. 

smiling through the final 2k of the race

The final part of the race felt like a party. I knew I was running a bit faster than before, but I didn’t look down to check my pace. I was simply excited. This was the first marathon that I was not in pain at any point. I tried to hype up the crowd a couple of times with the biggest smile on my face. The crowd in Germany was not as loud as Boston or Chicago. But people still responded. They were cheering for me left and right. “Go Amanda! My name is also Amanda!” “WOOHOO!” I laughed, thinking that must be one of the weirdest cheers that I have ever gotten. 

For the first time, I didn’t immediately stop my watch as I crossed the finish line. I wanted to soak in all the joy and excitement. And for the first time, I teared up. I have run a decent amount of PRs in the past couple of years, but I have never felt this way. It was pure joy. It was not my best time, but I had the best time.

And cherry on top? I negative split by over 2 mins, and ran a 3:22:35. Holy shit. 

The proper way to celebrate in Germany – a cold beer and a salty pretzel

Maybe this is the secret of a good international race – have a conservative time goal, forget about said time goal on the course, and don’t obsess about pasta the night before (we simply couldn’t find an Italian restaurant that was not fully booked, so we wandered into a French restaurant. I had scallops with rice, and a lot of bread).

Thank you all for reading, and for the love and support during my injury! Butt feels good but not great. Looking forward to a lot of rest, and running for fun for a while.  

Chicago Marathon 2021 Race Recap

Less than ideal race conditions, adjusted race plan, 180BPM Spotify playlist, and oh so many gels.

(Again, I am not sponsored by any products nor supplements mentioned in this post. Those were just the products that I used. Legal…legal…legal. Please proceed with caution. If possible, talk to your doctor or coach before using any of the products. I am, however, sponsored by Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team.)

It still feels unreal that this race that I have had as a target for so long has passed. It’s undoubtedly exhilarating that I got that close to my goal time in such a hot and humid condition. I can’t stop wondering what my body would be capable of in the ideal scenario. 

The race started at 73F & 85% humidity, and got to 75F when I crossed the finish line. Almost everyone in my training group adjusted their target time before the race. My anxiety level was through the roof the week leading up to the marathon. I felt like I should adjust my pace, but I just couldn’t let go of the 3:15 goal time after a solid training season. I kept doubting my outfit choice thinking I might overheat, and I kept having dreams of myself bonking the race halfway through and everyone telling me how I should’ve been conservative with my pace in this weather. Josh had to reassure me over and over again that I was ready – I did many long interval workouts in much hotter conditions this summer, and I never missed my target pace. 

The night before the race, I finally made a decision on my pace plan (after 3 different drafts). Starting the first 3 miles at 7:36 pace, move down to 7:30 between mile 4-7. Keep 7:26 pace from mile 8-13. And evaluate my body condition to see if I could move down to 7:20 for the remainder of the race. If not, 7:26 pace for the last half would still get me to 3:15:27, which is a time that I feel comfortable with. Because GPS is very unreliable in the loop, I wrote down the total time for each mile on my arm. I also marked the miles when I needed to pick up the pace, when I should take gel (every 4 miles) and salt tabs (every 7 miles), and when I would see Josh (I made a spectator plan for him haha. I got to see him 4 times! And he even jogged with me for a half mile around mile 25). 

On top of the pace chart, I wrote down “belong, focus, full send”. These words have been my mantra this whole season, and they came in handy during this race. “Belong” has been my running mantra for the past 3 years. When I moved to Chicago at the beginning of 2019 after a trip back to China, I was struggling to find a place where I feel like I belonged. I felt too foreign for home but also feeling too foreign for the U.S. Running was my escape. I was so grateful that my 2019 Chicago Marathon charity entry led me to a running group. I love how this group of runners show up every week to challenge each other to reach their physical limits. I love seeing my progress week over week. With this group of runners, I felt at ease for the first time in a while. I lace up and show up to every training to prove to myself that I am a runner, I belong here. I added the other two mantras this year. “Focus” helps me to combat my anxiety. And “full send” was added after Molly Seidel’s gutsy race in the Olympics. 

S for Salt, G for Gel, * for picking up the pace, and R/L for which side of the street Josh will be at

For the first time, I made a playlist for the race. I tried to find music with 180+ BPM. Turns out punk rock is the way to go. Besides my first marathon, I never run with music during races. I let my running buddies and the spectators carry me through. However, since everyone adjusted their pace plan, I knew I would likely run by myself for most of the race (I ended up running by myself after mile 1). Thanks to my in-laws for gifting me a pair of bone-structured AfterShokz, I was able to hear my surroundings and have the music on in the background.

I carried 4 salt tabs and 6 gels with me (2 GU, 3 Gatorade with caffeine, 1 Gatorade without caffeine). It was surprising that my little running shorts from Lululemon were able to hold that many gels + my phone in it. You bet I tightened the drawstring to make sure that those shorts would stay up. I had an extra gel in my hand when I got into the corral, and took it along with a salt tab 15 minutes before the start. 

I started with two Fleet Feet Racing Team friends, both of whom told me on the race day morning that they would follow my pace plan. I was excited to have running buddies, but we got separated within the first mile. It’s been so long that I forgot how exciting it is to run through the streets in the Loop with deafening cheering during the first couple of miles. I realized by mile 3 that I was going way faster than I planned. Luckily, I was close to the 3:15 pacer, and I had a temporary pace tattoo for 3:15 with even splits on the other arm, so I decided to change my plan on the spot. I slowed down a bit to keep the 3:15 pace group in my sight and planned on catching them around halfway. 

I felt great till mile 8. By then, I was following my fueling plan, and hitting every water station for both water and Gatorade. But the heat and humidity started to get to me. My stomach decided to slow down its digestion speed and the idea of drinking more Gatorade felt sickening. I wasn’t sure what was the temperature like at this time. But I started seeing hoses on the course spraying water, and I made sure to run through it whenever I saw one. Luckily, I was able to keep the same pace during all these little detours. And by skipping a few water stations, I actually caught up to the 3:15 pace group earlier than I planned. The energetic pacer with a pair of bunny ears on his head was great company. “Give it up to the 3:15 group!”, he shouted every time we passed a group of spectators. Might as well hang around the group and see how that goes, I thought. 

trailing the 3:15 pacer with bunny ears

For 3 water stations, I could barely take in anything. I started grabbing small water bottles from spectators, and pouring the whole thing on my head to cool myself down. At mile 11.5, I saw my friends dancing around at the water station, handing out Gatorade in one hand, and waving signs of me and Zola (my cat) with the other. They screamed like crazy people when they saw me. I laughed, and temperately forgot how tried I was. Despite my stomach giving me a hard time, the Gatorade gel somehow agreed with me. I took one more gel at mile 12 and carried on. 

One of the running buddies who started with me found me right before mile 13. He asked me how I was feeling. I couldn’t utter a word, so I just frowned and shook my head. He gave me a concerned look. We ran together for only a quarter-mile. He looked like he was just out there for a light jog around the city, so I told him to go ahead of me. “Good luck! See you at the finish line.”, I said. I tried to stay calm and run my own race. I looked down at my pace band a couple of times for the next couple of miles. Seeing the word “belong” helped me to stay close to the 3:15 pace group. 

By mile 16, I still couldn’t get much Gatorade down, and the fatigue started to kick in. My body was craving an energy boost, which I knew it meant that I was behind on fueling. But I was already there.

There is no time to look back.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

What can I do now?

There was a Gatorade gel station at mile 18. I was basically dragging my body at that point, and I thought, “hmm, an extra gel actually sounds great”. From there, I took 1 gel every 2 miles until I ran out. In total, I took 2 salt tabs (mile 7 and mile 14), and 7 gels on the course. GU Roctane at mile 4 and 8, Gatorade with caffeine at mile 12, 16, 18, and 20, and Gatorade without caffeine at mile 22. I had never tried having gels every 2 miles. It’s surprising that it didn’t upset my stomach.  

My pace kept dropping from mile 19 to mile 25. I almost cried (from both excitement and how fxxking tired I was) when I got to mile 20. I was super grateful that I did a “last 10k course visualization run” with Fleet Feet Racing Team the previous Thursday. I remembered every turn, each landmark, and all the jokes we talked about on this exact course. It helped me to stay calm and focused. A lot of people started walking around there. I told myself, you ran this part of the course, you know you are very close, you got this. I actually stopped looking at the pace band altogether for the final 10k. I felt like I couldn’t speed up, and I didn’t want the idea of knowing how much behind I am from my goal to get into my head. 

I tried to channel “full send” energy with only 5k left. But my legs just felt too heavy to move. Josh found me at mile 24.5, at which point I was running a 7:39 pace. I struggled to put up an ugly smile for his camera. He probably sensed how exhausted I was, and for the next half of a mile, he jogged with me with his backpack and non-running shoes. When we saw the 25-mile marker in sight, he turned around and said, “you got this!”. I gave him a thumbs-up, turned up the volume of the headphone, and started picking up my cadence. LFG. It’s full-send time. 

A friend captured this picture of me around mile 25.5

Thanks New Found Glory and blink-182, the last mile or so was actually my fastest time on the course, even with the hill on Roosevelt (which surprisingly didn’t feel as hard this year! I guess all the hill training this training cycle paid off). I clocked a 6:36 for the final mile. I crossed the finish line at 3:15:38 before Spotify finished the very last song on the playlist – Hold My Hand by New Found Glory. A new shiny PR (by 10 minutes and 21 seconds)!

No acute pain! I didn’t collapse, and I was able to walk without a medic for the first time after finishing a marathon! I got my medal and all the free things that were given out by the finish line. For the first time, I took the free beer after a race. There were still many things that I would like to change for the race. But for now, I would like to celebrate with all the cupcakes that my body can handle, and sleep for 2 days.