Berlin Marathon 2013

A marathon isn't just about finishing a 42.195km. It's all about the experience of the event. Whether your aim is to do a PB or just hoping to complete the distance without resorting to medical aid along the way, it would still be nice to do it in style. What more if you have the 'specialist in marathons' handing it to you like in the Majors. 

The iconic finish for Berlin Marathon at Brandenburg Gate.
It's my third Majors this year, having done Tokyo and Boston in the first half of 2013. Though personally not a 'Majors collector' kind of runner, the thought of running in Berlin still felt immensely exhilarating. Known for it's fast course cum world record setting route, it's a place where I had been looking forward to clock a PB. And in the process, perhaps venture into the realm of sub-3. At least, that was the plan.

It was decided that in order to realize this, an entourage would be nice. After all, what good is it if there is no one there to celebrate it with you at the conclusion of the run? However, the kids would have to skip school for this. In the end, we settled on a quick getaway for just my wife and I. Coincidentally, we would be celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary in Berlin. 

We collected my bib and race items from the Berlin Vital EXPO (old airport) a day before race day. In comparison to Boston and Tokyo, perhaps Tokyo's EXPO was the grandest and most commercial with the widest range of merchandise to satisfy your every whim. Boston was a close second. This observation is obviously biased as I was looking for more specialized shoes like Hoka One One which were available in the two Majors but not in Berlin. So, I was a tat disappointed. But it still didn't stop me (and many others) from stocking up the official Adidas apparel with the 40th BMW Berlin Marathon logos on it. Even the wife got into the buying spree. 


What I love about running in countries with temperate climate is that they start their marathons at a very reasonable time of the day. Unlike in Malaysia where you are forced to start at 4:30am or earlier because of the sheer heat of the day. Here in Berlin, it was 8:45 am. And because I stayed within walking distance from the start at Tiergarten (the city's largest park), I was able to take my own sweet time. That also meant that I could afford a good sleep without having to wake up at ungodly hours. (OK, I confess I am way too pampered, but hey, you choose your runs right?)

The photo did not do it justice, but the backdrop was two rolls of trees with golden leaves glowing in the morning sun. Breathlessly serene. 

The temperature was a cool ~12-ish degrees Celsius when we headed to the start. Due to the proximity of our hotel to the finish, there was no need for baggage lodge and that afforded me more time to relax. The wonderful thing was that even family members are allowed into the start area (except of course the actual corrals), so my wife stayed with me right until gun off. It was a nice send off. My best one to date. 

Right before the start, standing right BEHIND Corral C (meant for the sub3)

I have settled it in my heart that whatever the outcome of the run, I would decidedly be happy with it. Although I had put in tremendous effort to train for sub 3 for the past 3 months, I knew that I would still be a borderline case, even with my best effort. But the main issue is that it has become too time consuming in the pursuit of this elusive sub 3. Therefore, this endeavour would be my last. Beyond this, I would be contented, whatever comes. I was finally at peace. 

8:45am: Gun off. The 3 hour pacer balloons dangled in the distance as I trotted on. Should I or should I not follow? I had a regime. A plan. It was to keep at 4:30 pace initially. But that was soon abandoned as I felt more at ease with a faster pace. So, I kept to a constant 4:05 to 4:14 pace. This was surprisingly sustainable. At 21km, I was clocking 1:28:++. I felt totally in control. My command of pace was executed almost flawlessly. The breathing was smooth and easy. A far difference from any other runs I have ever done. I was on to something. 

This is the difference. High weekly mileage of 100-140km does make a world of difference. The feeling of being in control was not something that I have ever felt before. It's not that I have never done a 1:28 for the first half. But usually, I would be dreading at that point and worrying if the pace could be sustained. 

Not so this time. 

The pace was kept constant. And at 30km, I was clocking 2:06 comfortably. It was as though I was running on clouds. My mind was totally at ease. In fact filled with joy. I was not 'in a hurry'. The presence of God was palpable and tangible. In sync with every breath and every heart beat. I was savouring every step. Liken to an animated suspension, a clip shot in slow motion. I was in the moment. 

At 35+km, I had made the cut off with 30 minutes left and 7 more km to go before the 3 hours was up. To say that there was no fatigue at this last stages would be a lie. But the fatigue level was manageable. This was evidently so as I could maintain the 4:14 pace despite having to fight harder and dig deeper as some would call it. (Though that notion/description was not even remotely present in my conscious mind at that point.) I just knew I had to run faster to keep up the pace. It was more like: "Run Forrest, Run!!"

When I saw the Brandenburg gate from a distance, I knew I was nearly home. The last 300m broke into more of a semi sprint as I eventually finished with a PB of 3:00:25. Beating my previous best of 3:05:17 done in July 2012 in Gold Coast. 

It's not sub 3. But I was still ecstatic with the result. Though some may feel that to come this far and not achieve sub 3, seemed like an awful waste. But to me, this is more than enough. I had experience for the first time the joy of running. I mean literally feeling the Joy of the Lord as my strength to endure. That, to me, was absolutely priceless. To add to that, I had the privilege of running amongst some of the top runners in the world. And as though that isn't enough, to be part of that history when the new world record was set by Wilson Kipsang with a staggering 2:03:23. 

What more can a man ask for? 

So, sub 3 or not, it is no longer a concern. Nor is it a life long pursuit any more. I have had my run (so to speak), and I am at peace with God and certainly with myself. You can call me: The man who almost made it. But hey, I think I already have. (*Not the self deluded type of course).  


  1. Awesome job, Francis. What you achieve is something I can only dream off, even then, it might still be impossible.

    1. Nick, it is possible. Believe me. It is. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience, Francis.
    You are definitely "the man who made it!"
    Well done and congratulations... =)

  3. Hi Francis, thanks for the sharing, been waiting to read it.
    It's nice to hear that high mileage is one of the difference that make the race. To know this give me confidence to continue in higher mileage training while I still can.
    Berlin is an attractive place to me, I hope one day will be able to run the course too.
    Congrats again~

    1. Kent, I firmly believe that after experimenting with different approaches all these years, high mileage is definitely a necessary process, at least as a build up. Some runners feel otherwise, perhaps forgetting the fact that they had already built up a good base to begin with in the past. But I think you are on to something too. Keep it up and I believe sub 3 is within reach for you in Taipei :)

  4. Fantastic run Francis. Nice place, Berlin. Plan was to go next year but need to ration my overseas excursions :)

    I'm not sure if you notice but the more we enjoy the run for what it is, the shorter and less technical/complicated our race reports. I was enjoying myself so much during SCKLM that I've really nothing much or no incident to really blog about. And I think that's a good thing. Long may it be for us!

    1. Couldn't agree more Jamie. It's about enjoying it. Whether or not you are into speed, the art of appreciating a run should never be overlooked.
      Berlin should be next on your list. I am sure you will enjoy it :)

  5. Congratulation on the PB!

    You are going with a speed that I can only dream off. And you are showing a good example that some time, we just need to agree/accept to one's limited capability to chasing after the speed, and its time to move on :)

    1. Thanks Neoh. Yes, I am at ease and at peace with myself. That's what running is all about anyway.

  6. Hi -
    Have followed your blog over time and great to see/hear you put in such a great run - as know how much it takes to build up to run a 3hour flat full (well technically I don't know but want to know as gunning for the same).
    Congratulations on the great run.

    1. Thanks Ted. It is a fantastic feeling. And I am not even talking about the time. It is when everything seemed to have finally come together, culminating in a realization of what running is truly all about. That, is priceless.

  7. PTL!
    You did fantastic out there; congrats!

    1. Thanks Sue. Well, I felt fantastic :) Yes, indeed God be praised!

  8. Dearest Superman,

    As I have mentioned to you earlier, I was slightly teary when I knew that you have nailed sub-3 (your GPS clocked over 42.195km), but God has a sense of humour, so the "official" timing is a 3hr. It is evident that He indeed, had sent angels of speed, stamina and joy to run with you. Our Lord loves us, and delights in spoiling us, particularly anointed ones like you.

    You looked strong in the pictures, lean mean machine! No wonder you've left us mortals inhaling your dust....


    Your fan!

    1. Yes Celene. God does have a sense of humour indeed. But I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. More importantly, it keeps me humble. And that would mean more to me than any PB. Ultimately who is He that gave me life?

  9. Our Lord is amazing! WOW! You are AMAZING. Miracles happen everyday in the hospital, and thank you for being God's faithful solider. Cxxx


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