Not my best time, but I had the best time.
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.”
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.
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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.