Live Blogging Berlin

Call me crazy, but it’s 3:12 a.m. in Connecticut and I’m wide awake. I’ve gotten up a few hours after going to bed, come downstairs at my parents’ house, where it’s pitch-black outside and I can hear the nocturnal insects chirping in the yard.

The reason, of course, is that it’s the Berlin Marathon — the Super Bowl of this event (at least in recent years). I’ve decided to liveblog the 2017 race, which has all the ingredients of being a classic — Eliud Kipchoge, Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang are all duking it out (along with a handful of other distance running studs who could steal an upset) with the stated intention of breaking the world record of 2:02:57 (set here in 2014).

It’s looking like the rain has stopped in Berlin, but it’s still foggy out and temps are in the 50s -– pretty solid weather for this. The athletes are currently lined up by the Siegesaeule, or “Victory Column,” in the heart of Berlin — close to where I once lived! — on the starting line, and ready to go.

First 5K:

All off at 3:16 a.m., Connecticut time; super foggy there from the sky camera, but not so bad-looking on the actual road. Looks like Kipchoge is taking off with the fast pacers, who are being asked to run 60:45 through the halfway point. Bekele and Kipsang are also going with the three rabbits. Apparently Bekele and Kipsang wanted the pacers to go out slower (61:00-61:15 for Kipsang; Bekele didn’t offer a time). The announcers are saying now that perhaps Kipchoge didn’t ACTUALLY want to go out so fast (he reportedly had asked for them to do so last week); we’ll see…

Looks like they came through the first kilometer around 2:52 — at least that’s what the pace car says, which is showing the aggregate time and also the pace they’ve been running for the previous 500 meters — announcers say that’s actually 1:59:xx marathon pace, so maybe a little too sporty, so to speak.

We’re now closing in on the 5-K mark with three pacers and five racers (the big three all included, so nothing crazy’s afoot) in it. The roads look a little slick with water, some leaves floating about. Spectators are wearing sweaters, jackets, etc. When he set the current world record, Dennis Kimetto came through the 5k in 14:52, the announcers just said.

Today’s 5-K split: 14:28

5K-10K (3.1 – 6.2 miles) –

So apparently Bekele actually came through the 5k slightly faster last year, in 14:21, according to the announcers, so the pace here can’t be called suicidal. In that thrilling race, Bekele hit the halfway mark in an all-time fast 61:11, I believe.

It’s a tight pack of 8 still (3 of them rabbits). Aaaand, we’re going to the second commercial break of the race. I really hope they’re getting all these out of the way early on — you can really miss the decisive moves in these races during commercials; it’s a disservice to fans. Maybe they should make it more like soccer games, with commercial-free coverage and the “This portion of today’s match is brought to you by….” sort of thing.

And we’re back, approaching 8-K. Kipchoge looks machine-like tucked in behind the pacers. Bekele and Kipsang are right behind him, and Kipruto and one or two other guys are back there.

Ahhhh, bummer, I just missed the 8-K split (~5 miles) because I was standing up to close my parents’ living room window. Sorry, loyal readers.

According to our announcers, it was 23:11 through that point, about 7 seconds faster than world-record pace (2:02:57). So it’s stll a hot pace, though they’re showing more restraint than they might have (which is certainly a good thing). These guys are really trying to turn marathonning into a track-like event, of just taking off like it’s a 10K and rolling, rolling, rolling.

Quick thought: they zoomed in on Kipsang and it looks like he’s sweating like crazy. Not sure if it’s raining again, though the fans are putting up umbrellas, so it must be. Not sure if that’ll help or hurt them — or neither.

Coming up on 10-K…

Just hit a 2:55 kilometer split through 9-K. (2:54.8 is WR pace)

Coming up on 10-K now, and let’s see how we’re doing.

Annnnnnd, 10-K split is 29:04. So that was a 14:33, and they’re aggregate time is about 4 seconds under WR pace…

10K-15K (6.2-9.3 miles)

Aaaand we kick off this portion of today’s race with a “Type-2 Diabetes” commercial. Is this really the target audience — those of us who’ve woken up in the middle of the night to watch the Berlin Marathon?

All right, now we’re about 12.5-K in and they’re spot-on for WR pace — not looking to hack that mark to death, at least not in the opening miles, which is probably for the best considering what can happen in the latter phases of a marathon. We’re about half an hour into the race and they’re split-screening it to show what I assume is Wave II of the race — ie: the masses. One German man is dressed up like a beer bottle — gotta love the whole experience…

Here’s my split judgement at this point — predictably, Kipchoge looks like a machine, Kipsang looks calm, Bekele is hanging on back of the group of eight. Bekele is always a little enigmatic; he could spit off the back of this pack and then again he could hang on to it and at some point dominate (he is, after all, still the world-record holder at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters on the track).

That said, Bekele could ALSO fall off the pace — especially if we start surging here, and then, in an act few else have shown themselves capable of, come back and catch everyone — and then dominate things.

Great, another commercial break at 13.5 km, 39:25…

While we’re away for the break, if you’re looking for an intro on Kipchoge, check out this Nike teaser that ran before the famous “Breaking2” performance in Italy:

All right, we just hit 15K in 43:44. That’s two seconds over WR pace, which isn’t bad, especially considering that Kimetto had negative split the current WR here…

15K-Halfway (9.3-13.1 miles)

So we’re chugging along now, roughly at WR pace. Nothing big has happened since the start (unless, like me, you consider the unfolding of this Great Drama as something big in its own right). They’re just beyond 1/3 done with the race. Every marathon runner knows the race really takes part in the third “third.” The announcers are saying that this is probably shaping up to Bekele’s advantage — let’s hope so, because I suspect Kipchoge won’t crumble here and that bodes well for an epic ending. I need to be careful, because we can’t write off Kipsang, nor the other two guys in there…

Kipsang is currently hanging on the left side of my screen (right side of the pack) and Kipchoge is right on the heels of the pacers, looking downright businesslike.

FWIW, the women’s leaders just came through the 15-K in 49:33 and Ryan Vail, the great American hope here, apparently came through that in 46:50 (apparently 2:11/2:12 pace). Vail’s training is always fun to read here.

Good thing my parents have a big TV; they’ve now split-screen the coverage to show highlights from the kids’ “Bambini Run” — again, this is 3 a.m. eastern time; we’re not the type of viewer who is thaaaaaat concerned with how the fun-run went.

Commercial break again as we hit 18K…and we come back with a nice montage showing all the recent world records set here in Berlin — including 2013, when Kipsang did it in 2:03:23, only to be outdone a year later by the current owner of that title, Dennis Kimetto, who ran 2:02:57.

Coming up on 20K now, which is 12.4 miles, right before halfway. During that lengthy break, it looks like nothing big happened in our lead pack. Bekele is hanging on back of the pack, almost looks like a meter or two has separated for him — cause for concern, perhaps, though we’re entering a water station, so maybe he was just trying to get a clean path to his drinks.

All right, here we go, hitting 20-K in….drumroll…58:18 (~16 seconds faster than Kimetto came through in 2014).

Gosh, they zoomed back to the top woman, who looks good but is running alongside tons of really fast guys, and, sadly, the guys look so…well, compared to these lead guys on WR pace… like freaking hobby joggers. Where would I be in this mix? Far, far behind even them! Glad no one’s sticking a camera crew on me on my next race!

I digress. Now, let’s get pumped for the halfway mark…and…it’s…in…1:01:29, absolutely PERFECT! Right on WR pace; you’d want to see a nice negative split in something like this, so now it’s right in the hands of these guys. We’re down to two pacers now…

Halfway to 25-K (15.5 miles):

We’ve got a race on our hands, friends. At some point, the two remaining pacers will drop off. Then we’ll see who can win this thing. They’ve really got two things on their minds: one, winning the race; two, world record. Kipchoge almost never loses these marathons, which is almost absurd of a notion. Kipsang’s got an almost-as-impressive resume.

Good quote from our commentator, a former running stud, but I didn’t catch his name. Anyways, this is it, rregardingthe marathon: “Run your first 20 miles with your head, with your watch. Then run the last 6.2 miles with your heart.”

Oh dear, Bekele is dropping off the pace. Noooo! It’s 22.3 km and 1:05:05 in. What’s up with that, he’s quickly fallen off. As defending champion, he’s wearing the Number 1 bib. He’s either not got it today or he’s regrouping, which is a weird concept in a marathon, but something he showed he’s capable of last year. I just don’t think he’s gonna do it today at this point (sad face).

Women through 20K in 66:05 (back-to-back 33-min 10ks, yeesh, that’s fast)

Bekele has really dropped off in the last 90 seconds or so. He just finished a drink and is checking his watch. Who knows, maybe he’s doing his own thing. He always seems to be a bit of a loner, not wanting to run anyone else’s race. He looks like he’s 7 seconds back right now.

Aaaaand commercial…c’mon, the race is just beginning!

During this break, I’ve dug up highlights from last year’s Berlin marathon, where Bekele did fall back a couple of times, though I’m not sure he fell back this far. Here it is, Bekele outperforming Kipsang:

Aaaand, we’re back in foggy Berlin. Looks like Bekele hasn’t completely fallen off the pack. Not sure how far back he is now, as we approach 25-K, but it doesn’t look like the leaders have dropped the hammer. Kimmetto came through in 1:13:08 for the upcoming mark; these guys are coming through in….1:12:50 — yikes! FWIW, that’s right on pace to tie the WR.

It’s Kipchoge, Kipsang, Kipruto and Aoulo (??).

25-K to 30-K (ie: 15.5-18.8 miles)

The remaining pacers are supposed to go through 30-K and not to finish. I’d like to append here a map of the Berlin course for your reading pleasure:

Die Strecke, as they say auf Deutsch

And here’s why the course is so fast — check out the lack of hills!

Nice and flat

I’ve just looked up the other two guys in the lead pack. We have Vincent Kipruto, a 30-year-old Kenyan who once ran 2:05 in Rotterdam, and Ethiopia’s Guye Adola, who is 26 years young and has a 59-minute half marathon to his name.

These are the remaining men: Kipchoge, Kipsang, Adola and Kipruto. Bekele has clearly fallen off, sadly, but is championing on at his own rate. One of the two pacers dropped back, with about a mile left in his reporting duties, the announcers said, and is maybe trying to get Bekele fired up again (as if that’s something that can easily happen deep into a marathon).

Coming up on 30-K now, still seem to be running 2:54/km, which is roughly WR pace.

And it looks like Kipruto is falling off. Wow, gotta say, Adola looks really smooth up there! It’s his debut at the marathon also — yiiiiikes.

Here’s a shot of these guys now, mixing it up, here’s the 4:40 a.m. drama in my life:

Things are tightening up front

Hit 30-k in 1:27:24 and Kipsang just dropped out!!! He just dropped out alongside the pacer. Shoot! Man! F*%$!

So we’re down to Kipchoge and the debutante, Adola.

30K-35K:

Well, well, well — that happened fast. There was a big pack, then next thing Kipruto falls off, then the rabbit steps off at 30-K, and then Wilson Kipsang JUST. DROPS. OUT. It was right after the fluids station. He got his drink, crossed the split marker, then just stepped off. This leaves Kipchoge, who looks freaking awesome as always, and Adola, a rising star?

So we’ve got about 6.2 miles to go and it’s these two guys duking it out for the world record — and they are significantly faster than Kimetto was at this point in 2014 (note: though in his run Kimetto absolutely CRUSHED this 5-k here). Adola is hanging onto Kipchoge’s shoulder. We did see when Kipchoge won the gold medal in Rio that he dropped an absolute hammer for the last 10-K — has he been holding anything back up until now? He just looks so freakin’ smooth out there. He wins this race, he’s the greatest of all time (well, he probably is the so-called GOAT already). He gets the world record, then that gets carved in stone.

Coming up on 35-K and we’ve got Kipchoge and Adola…this is fun. They’re flying up through West Berlin and — what’s this? — it looks like Kipchoge just asked Adola to quit drafting him and to lead for once. He just pointed at the blue line on the ground! He’s egging Adola on — I’ll bet Kipchoge is gonna drop the hammer any second now….

Kipchoge looks like he’s smiling. They’re passing my favorite Berlin bulding right now, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church — check it out)

1:42:04 through 35-K, with Kipchoge and Adola — they’re now 17 seconds SLOWER than Kimetto ran, but only like 5 seconds behind the WR pace. But I’m not seeing them dropping it YET.

35k-40k:

They’re 6 seconds over WR pace at 35-K and the two guys — a Kenyan and an Ethiopian, as is so often the case — are now duking it out. The GOAT and the newcomer. The announcer is “suprised” that Kipchoge hasn’t made a move here yet. It now looks like Adola is edging ahead of Kipchoge!

Adola is gapping Kipchoge now. He’s officially gapped him. It’s like 5 meters, he just turned around, and now he’s pushing, pushing. We’re at 37-K, 1:48:12. Kipchoge is running the blue line, the tangent, the shortest distance from turn to turn, and Adola, the newcomer, isn’t.

But Adola nonetheless has a good 3 seconds on Kipchoge — could this be a passing of the torch?

Both of them are falling off of WR pace; bummer! They’re about 13 seconds off of it, according to the TV crews. We’re at 1:50:33 now, almost 38 KM in. Kipchoge still looks like he’s smiling (or grimmacing?) and now seems like he’s catching Adola again. This is a great two-horse race. He’s now caught Adola again. Less than 5-K to go, Adola is still hanging tough, a few steps ahead of Kipchoge.

Wait for it, now Adola is pulling ahead again — they’re running 3:01 or so per kilometer, so they’re not gonna get the world record today, bummer. And Adola is pulling away again from Kipchoge — I think he’s gonna win this thing!

We’re probably down to 10 minutes or less of racing — this is really bringing home how hard it is to run a world record, putting in perspective what these great times we’ve become accustomed to seeing these guys run is really all about. Adola now seems to be about 3 seconds ahead of Kipchoge — whenever they cut down to the street view, with the motorcycle camera behind Kipchoge, it looks like, “No way he’s gonna close this gap.”

But then, Kipchoge is a wily veteran! There’s less than two miles to go. This is Adola’s debut! And he’s got two seconds on Kipchoge with eight minutes of running left. Can Adola hold him off? The greatest of all time? I must say, Kipchoge looks super calm in the face. He’s closing in again on Adola at 39.8 km, 1:56:36.

Oooooh, snap, now Kipchoge just grabbed the lead again at the water station at 40-K in 1:57:08.

Now it’s Kipchoge by a body length, with just over a mile to go. But Adola is hanging tough, re-attaching himself to Kipchoge’s shoulder.

The drama!

Neither has been able to drop the other. Now it’s Kipchoge in the driver’s seat, but Adola — who has tremendous 10-K speed on the track and is a good seven or eight years younger, so fresher legs? — is right with him. We’re at 1:59:02, 40.7 km, and Kipchoge, looking machinelike as always, is opening up a 5-meter gap.

Adola is hanging, hanging, hanging…

We’re gonna turn onto Unter den Linden and soon be approaching the Brandenburg Gate, then it’s a sprint to the finish.

Kipchoge now up by…15 meters?

Kipchoge has been pulling off a master’s class — he’s been running the tangents (the blue line, the shortest distance from street to street) while Adola hasn’t been (rookie mistake?). In fact, he was egging Adola on, urging him to go ahead of him back 5 kilometers ago; was this spart of the wily master’s plan all along? He’s not going to get the world record, but he’s gonna get the win — and winning is the most important thing ($$$!).

The Brandenburg Gate is up ahead now. Props to Adola, who’s now getting dropped pretty handily. This has to be one of Kipchoge’s hardest recent marathons in terms of winning the damned thing.

Der Koenig

Well, it may not be a world record, but it’s gonna be a fast-as-hell time.

He’s kicking in, he’s crossing the line, he’s won it in 2:03:34 — and he is smiling and not even wincing, crazy.

Adola looks pretty pumped also at 2:03:47.

Well, it’s now 5:23 a.m. here in Connecticut and I should probably go back to bed. Am I jazzed up? Yes. It was exactly what you first of all hope in a marathon: a good race. It was dramatic right up until the final mile. It wasn’t clear if Kipchoge, the G.O.A.T., or Adola, the upstart, were going to win. It was clear they weren’t going to get the world record. I guess that just brings home exactly how hard that is to do.

Kipchoge, who almost never loses a marathon, will surely be wondering about the World Record, though, when he returns to Kenya — he’s run 2:03:05 in London; he’s now run 2:03:34 in Berlin (to say nothing of his 2:00:25 in Italy for Nike’s Sub2 project). Maybe he’ll be back in London next spring; for now, I think he’s earned himself some time off.

And I, friends, have earned a little more shut-eye. As the Germans says, “Auf Wiedersehen!”

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