Berlin Marathon – the fastest race in the world?

After a few months off, the World Marathon Majors series resumes with the Berlin Marathon this weekend. After our Tokyo, Boston and London Marathon previews earlier in the year, it’s now time to look ahead to the event that has a reputation as the place where world records tumble.

Taking place on Sunday 29th September, the 2019 Berlin Marathon will be the 46th edition of what is arguably the fastest marathon in the world. Granted, there are other races that may have potentially faster courses (Frankfurt, Valencia and Sevilla for example), but Berlin is where the current men’s world record was set and has been home to many record-breaking runs over the years.

Partly due to the prospect of fast times, and partly due to being a great city to visit, the Berlin Marathon keeps growing. This year just under 47,000 entrants were accepted by the organisers.

The course

As mentioned above, Berlin has a fast course. What makes it quick? It’s flat and has very few tight bends that can slow runners down. It’s also an exciting course to run, with plenty of crowd support throughout as it passes by some of Berlin’s most important and impressive sights:

  • The 70m tall Victory Column;
  • The Reichstag, home of the German parliament;
  • Schoeneberg City Hall;
  • “Ku’damm”, Berlin’s most famous boulevard;
  • The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church;
  • The National Gallery;
  • Potsdamer Platz;
  • Unter Den Linden boulevard;
  • The Brandenburg Gate.

It is this final landmark that is the most awe-inspiring. Not only does it mark the 200m to go point, when runners’ emotions can run high, but it is of great significance to the people of Berlin as the Berlin Wall used to pass there, separating the West and East of the city.

There is also an inline skate marathon in Berlin, held the day before the running race. If you’re in the city on marathon weekend, the inline skate marathon is a spectacle well-worth watching.

The elite races

In recent years, Berlin has become known as the site of attempts to break the men’s world record. On 16 September last year, the great Eliud Kipchoge smashed the world record to run an incredible 2:01’39 in Berlin. This beat the 2:02’57 set by Dennis Kimetto in Berlin 4 years prior.

This year, however, the focus is slightly different as Kipchoge has opted to forgo a return to Berlin, to attempt an ‘unofficial’ sub-2 hour run in Austria later in the autumn. As a result, the Berlin Marathon organisers have shifted their focus to the women’s race and assembled a field that may challenge Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing world record of 2:15’25.

This year’s women’s elite field (with their nationality and personal best times) includes, but is by no means limited to:

  • Gladys Cherono (Kenya, 2:18’11) – defending champion and course record holder;
  • Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia, 2:19’52) – marathon world champion in 2015;
  • Meseret Defar (Ethiopia, 2:23’33) – twice Olympic champion over 5,000m;
  • Anna Hahner (Germany, 2:26’44) – represented Germany in the 2016 Olympics;
  • Tracy Barlow (Britain, 2:30’42) – the top Brit in Berlin this year.

Amongst the elite men are:

  • Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia, 2:03’03) – possibly the greatest long distance runner ever, with numerous world records, world championship wins, and Olympic gold medals to his name;
  • Leul Gebrselassie (Ethiopia, 2:04’02) – winner of the 2018 Valencia Marathon;
  • Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia, 2:04’52) – 2016 Olympic silver medallist and winner of 2016 Tokyo Marathon;
  • Philipp Pflieger (Germany, 2:12’50) – represented Germany in the 2016 Olympics.
  • Scott Overall (Britain, 2:10’55) – the Brit with the quickest PB at Berlin this year.

The top wheelchair racers in the world are well represented at Berlin. The elite men’s wheelchair race includes:

  • David Weir (Great Britain & NI, 1:26’17) – 2012 Paralympic Champion and 8 times London Marathon winner;
  • Marcel Hug (Switzerland, 1:20’52) – 2016 Paralympic Champion and multiple marathon winner;
  • Ernst van Dyk (South Africa, 1:18’23) – multiple marathon winner;
  • Josh Cassidy (Canada, 1:18’25) – won more than 75 international medals;
  • Simon Lawson (Great Britain & NI, 1:25’06) – Bronze medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and fastest ever Brit.

And in the women’s elite wheelchair race:

  • Madison de Rozario (Australia, 1:39’22) – 2018 London Marathon champion;
  • Manuela Schar (Switzerland, 1:28’17) – winner of 2018 Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo Marathons;
  • Sandra Graf (Switzerland, 1:35’44) – former London Marathon champion and veteran of the sport;
  • Shelly Woods (Great Britain, 1:37’44) – one of Britain’s best, returning after a break to start a family;
  • Jade Jones-Hall (Great Britain, 1:41’44) – European and Commonwealth champion in PWTC triathlon.

Who will win? In the men’s elite race Bekele will always be the man to beat, but his form over the marathon distance is not at the level of his track racing days. Don’t be surprised if one of the young contenders takes the victory.

Gladys Cherono may well challenge Paula Radcliffe’s world record, but it’s a big jump to lose three minutes from her personal best. This may prove to be a close race between some of the best marathoners in the world.

In the wheelchair events, it’s a lot tougher to call. The fast course lends itself well to slipstreaming and high speeds with a sprint finish, rather than a solo breakaway. Expect hard racing and fierce competition.

Regardless of who comes out on top, no matter what level they are competing at – Olympians or first-timers – everyone who takes part in the Berlin Marathon can be immensely proud of their achievement.

Kenenisa Bekele winning the Berlin Marathon in 2016, ©SCC EVENTS/Norbert Wilhelmi

Running Berlin

If this has gotten you excited and you feel like running Berlin in 2020, how can you get in?

As with all the top marathons, being quick will help. Berlin guarantees entry to any man with an eligible time under 2:45, or woman under 3:00. These time standards get eased for people over the age of 44, in broad age bands, down to 3:25 for men over 60, and 4:10 for women over 60.

If you have run the Berlin Marathon at least ten times previously, then you can qualify for guaranteed entry as a member of their Jubilee Club.

Charity entries have become increasingly popular for Berlin Marathon runners in recent years. Pay a registration fee to a charity with a place, pledge to raise a sum of money and you’re in.

International entrants can sign up via an approved tour operator, but spaces are limited.

Finally, you can chance your luck in the ballot. This is always over-subscribed, so your chances are slim, but if all else fails, it’s worth a go. Berlin offers both individual and team entry in the ballot. The team entry is for up to 3 people and either you all get selected, or none of you do.

Check out the official website for news of any changes, plus details of the entry criteria for disabled athletes.

Goats in Berlin

If you’ve run Berlin in previous years, are running it this year, or will be there to cheer on the runners, be sure to let us know in the Lonely Goat Running Club Facebook Chat Group, or by using the #lonelygoatrc and #lonelygoatrunningclub hashtags on Instagram. We’d love to know how you get on and wish every Berlin-bound Goat the best of luck.

Enjoy yourself and have a great day!

[The image at the top of this page is ©SCC EVENTS/camera4]
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