I was on the brink of tears at the start line of one of the world’s greatest races – the BMW Berlin Marathon. I managed to keep the floodgates closed until I saw the Brandenburg Gate in sight and I knew the finish line was near. That was when I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and I was wiping my face to the end. The wave of emotions that overwhelmed me was a mix of joy, relief, gratitude, fatigue and a hint of disappointment. The BMW Berlin Marathon 2022 is definitely one of the best race experiences I’ve ever had…
Although I am no stranger to endurance races (having done 12 x Ironman 70.3 and 1 x Ironman 140.6), running a full marathon is not to be underestimated. You’re only doing one discipline and anything can happen in those 42.195 kilometres. This distance is new to me as I usually do the half-Ironman where the run leg is only a half-marathon, and running is not my strongest suit, but I was determined to run a good time and ready to put in the hours.
I first announced my sustainability partnership with BMW Group Asia in March, when the #RoadToBerlinMarathon began. Over the past six months, BMW Group Asia and I embarked on a series of conservation activities like beach cleanups and upcycling workshops, whilst raising funds for the National Cancer Centre Singapore. Throughout this time, I also put in the work to train for the marathon – to the best of my ability.
When I was thinking of my target time for Berlin, I calculated it based on my half-marathon personal best time of 1:49:30 that was achieved in May. Multiply it by two and add a buffer; mathematically I should be able to go under 4 hours for the full marathon. But realistically, it’s not so simple.
I competed in the Ironman 70.3 Desaru Coast at the end of July, so I was still juggling three disciplines for training up to that point. My plan was then to dedicate 8 weeks of marathon training in the lead-up to Berlin. However, I must have gotten exposed to some nasty virus in Desaru and I fell very ill immediately after the 70.3 race. It wasn’t COVID-19, but I was down and out completely for three whole weeks. Fever, cough with thick green phlegm, runny nose, sore throat – I had the full works and I even lost my voice.
I was starting to panic because the longer I was ill, the less time I had for marathon training. When I felt slightly better, I went out for some easy jogs but I felt worse the next day so I had to continue resting until I was much better.
In a bid to make up for lost time, I tried to cram as much mileage as I could in the remaining five weeks, but that wasn’t the wisest thing to do because my old friend (this damn injury called plantar fasciitis) decided to come back and visit me. It’s the same injury I encountered during my training for the full Ironman back in 2018 when I ramped up my running volume and intensity. And I got it in BOTH heels. Bummed, I had to pause training for a couple of days, dial back the intensity and volume, and aggressively seek all kinds of treatment to reduce the inflammation.
Just to share, I went for dry needling (which hurts A LOT), tuina, deep tissue foot reflexology, taped my feet when running, spammed the massage gun and also inserted carbon insoles into my shoes. All of these worked well together and I managed to reduce the pain. But please note that these are short-term measures and not recommended unless you’re pressed for time and need to make it to the start line. In the long term, I need to work on my lack of mobility in my right ankle and right hip.
Did I mention that I also got involved in a car accident three weeks before the race? I was minding my own business driving straight when this reckless driver smashed into my side. I got away unscathed, fortunately, but I can’t say the same for my car which needed some major repairs.
I think it’s safe to say that my #RoadToBerlinMarathon hasn’t been the smoothest, yet I stubbornly held on to my sub-4 target. Mentally, I wanted to give it a shot. But physically, as I soon realised halfway through the race, I was not quite there yet…
To be honest, I felt good on race morning. The race only flagged off at 9.15am, unlike my Ironman races where I wake up at an ungodly hour of 3am, so I had enough sleep, had enough time to eat my breakfast and even had enough time to empty the bowels. I had no pain anywhere in my body and the weather was great. Cold, but not freezing; warm when the sun hits you. I was staying at an apartment about 2km from the Brandenburg Gate so I jogged over and did some dynamic warmup exercises before heading to my pen.
I took the blanket from my flight (heehee) and used that to keep myself warm in the pen. I also had a windbreaker on, over my running outfit. You can just leave these behind when you start and the volunteers will collect them – for donation I hope! There are several portaloos but the queues were so long that many runners simply peed in the bushes.
The elites went off at 9.15am so we had to wait as each pen moved forward to start. I had my brand new Apple Watch Ultra on standby, ready to start. It now comes with a big Action button on the left side of the watch and I assigned Outdoor Run to it, so I could just start it immediately without a 3-2-1 countdown. It was getting warmer so I took off my windbreaker just before I started running, leaving my arm sleeves and gloves on.
This is the biggest race I’ve ever been in and there were SO many people, from the start right to the end. There were over 30,000 runners! That helped a little because you don’t feel like you’re alone and in a way, you have company throughout. The best part, hands down, has to be the supporters. They are lined throughout the route, cheering and screaming, and you can’t help but get sucked into the atmosphere. It was amazing!
The 49mm screen of the Apple Watch Ultra helped me to easily look at my running metrics and the new rugged titanium case gave me more security, so I don’t worry about cracking the screen. I could also mark segments on my run by simply pressing the Action button once. Their new precision dual-frequency GPS also meant that the distance is more accurate now, so I could rely on it to monitor my pace.
I still had my sub-4 target in mind so I decided to try running at an average pace of 5:30/km from the get-go and hold it to the end. To get to sub-4, I cannot run slower than 5:40/km so 5:30/km would give me a bit of buffer if I fade later in the race. Everything was going well and I was keeping to a 5:25-5:35/km pace for the first half. I kept telling myself, “I can run at this pace forever! You are doing great!”
And then at the 26km mark, I blew up abruptly. I just hit the wall, like that.
I actually found myself slowing after 25km and that’s alright, but after 26km I just had to stop. That was when I looked at my heart rate and saw that it was in Zone 5. I had gassed out too early! In my excitement – between wanting to achieve my target and taking in the atmosphere – I failed to notice my heart rate spiking. Post-race, I checked my data and saw that I was in Zone 4 from as early as 2km. Oops, I had definitely started too fast.
It was a strange feeling because my mind was willing me so hard to continue, but my legs and heart wouldn’t let me. My legs felt so heavy, like concrete, and I was having difficulty breathing. I thought taking additional nutrition might help, so I tried to take some gummies but for some reason they tasted terrible at that point and made me feel worse. Eventually I walked a little to let the heart rate slow and in that moment, all kinds of awful washed over me. I was feeling disappointed with myself for what was happening. But the race is far from over and I wasn’t gonna let my demons win this battle.
I gave myself a pep talk and told myself to just focus on finishing, without a concern for timing anymore. This took the pressure off me and made me feel a bit better. It also helped that there were strangers calling out my name (visible from my bib) and cheering me on – they must have seen my struggling face LOL. I walked through a few more aid stations to make sure I am hydrated and also continued with my nutrition plan (I took PURE nutrition gels available at Simply Active).
The struggle didn’t ease but my mood lifted slightly, and I even managed to pose for some photographers! Credit goes to the supporters for sure, for keeping the spirits up. There were musicians performing, big bands playing mini concerts, people holding up placards and posters with funny messages, and generally lots of people screaming and making lots of noise with clappers and whatever else they were using. It was a bit of a sensory overload and I felt like I was overstimulated at some junctures, but they were definitely a source of motivation to keep me going. Seeing three Singaporean friends calling out my name during the race was very heartwarming too!
The iconic Brandenburg Gate is about 300 metres (or so) from the finish line and I was SO happy to see it come into sight. That was when I started crying, because I know this was all gonna end soon. You probably have seen my teary video on Instagram/Facebook!
4:15:49 was my final time and it wasn’t anywhere near my target time (which I had thrown out the window once I hit the wall), but it was still a 12-minute improvement from my first and last marathon, the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. It is still something to be proud of, especially earning my first ever World Marathon Major experience! (Btw, the Apple Watch Ultra had 80% battery left after the race. Amazing!)
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect, I think I might have been too harsh on myself. Sure, if I had managed my pace better and not attempted an ambitious sub-4, perhaps I could have gone closer to 4 hours. But this is why we should focus on the learning lessons from each race, instead of harping on what could have and should have been. Considering I nearly didn’t make it to the race with everything that had happened prior, I am just glad that I made it out and am a proud finisher of the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon.
This opportunity was made possible by BMW Group Asia and I am ever so grateful for their belief in me. I am excited to take our sustainability partnership to the next level!
Also a shoutout to the following people for their support:
Purpose (for the customised top), Apple (for equipping me with the Apple Watch Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max to capture race footage), Simply Active (for the gels), Nuzest (for the protein powder), YOLO Foods (for supplying me with healthy meals for the past few months) and Red Dot Running (for the PR Lotion).
Of course, a big thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey in one way or another. Those who ran with me, gave me advice, sent me words of encouragement – big love to y’all!
Berlin, I am coming back for you.