Running Intertwined in Berlin’s Rich History

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in an international event of rare quality: the Berlin Marathon. This event, over the course of the weekend, caters to just under 50,000 athletes from 122 countries. Most of them are in the capstone race, which is the 26.2 mile marathon that takes place on Sunday morning. It is part of the most prestigious series of marathons currently: the World Major Marathons.

Berlin and this race were absolutely unbelievable and my only regret is that I did not have more time to explore this city. Though I saw more landmarks than I ever needed to throughout the race, there was a certain nagging, distracting pain inhibiting my enjoyment of the history surrounding me. Shortly after the halfway point I passed the Rathaus Schöneberg, where JFK gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner.” speech. All I could think at that point was “Ich bin müde.” (tired)

One of the most fascinating points about the race is not only that it introduces history to a runner the way only a marathon can, but also that the race itself is a part of history. Before the reunification of Germany in 1990, the race course was only in West Berlin. The only way an East Berlin runner could participate was to sneak to the other side of the Wall. So many people in the East crowded the top of the Fernsehenturm (TV Tower) to watch the race from the East side in the 80’s that it had to be closed during the race in ’87 and ’88. In 1990 the marathon was held on September 30th, while the official reunification of the country was to take place on October 3rd. The race director, in a wise move, was able to allow the race to flow through the Brandenburg Gate for the first time ever to the East side. Because this race actually occurred before people were allowed across, registration was flooded that year. In 1989 16,410 people ran, but in 1990 they had to limit the influx of entries to an astounding 25,000 who were eager to be apart of history. That year and the city’s history make the race the world class event it is today, which attracts the most elite athletes the world has to offer. Today the race crosses between East and West Berlin four times, including the most prominent one, through the Brandenburg Gate, 400 meters from the finish line.

My race number and finisher’s medal
My number and finisher’s medal

In the end, I ran a 3:15, good for 2,581st place. Not my best performance in a marathon, but what was supposed to be my peak training days for the race were spent backpacking across the Mediterranean area. The lesson for the trip, however, is to make sure you have a seat reservation on the train out of a city after a marathon. I neglected to have this foresight, and had to spend the duration of the trip in the gangway between cars. Leg cramps abounded, but life goes on still.

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