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Running my first World Marathon Major is a big deal

Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay crosses the finish line (left) at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTOS: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)
Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay crosses the finish line (left) at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTOS: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)

Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay took part in the Berlin Marathon last Sunday (25 September), representing BMW Group Asia. Here is her first-person account of the experience.

There are six World Marathon Majors (WMM) – Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York – and all are a big deal because slots to these races are only via ballot. For the Boston Marathon, you even need to meet its qualifying times.

This makes access to these races tough and exclusive, hence I was beyond thrilled to be able to toe the start line of the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. This was part of my mission for the year, to do better for myself and also for the environment.

This is my first WMM – representing BMW Group Asia as part of our sustainability partnership – and only my second marathon ever. I have to say, the entire Berlin Marathon experience was nothing short of spectacular. People have been telling me all the good things about it and they are absolutely right.

The weather was cool (12-16 deg Cel), the course was flat and fast, there were more than enough aid stations, and the best part was having supporters lined up every inch of the full 42.195 kilometres.

I had strangers calling out my name (they could see my name on my bib), there were musicians and bands along the way, people had posters and signs with messages of encouragement – it was a bit of a sensory overload but the cheers definitely helped me to push on.

Preparations were not ideal

My first marathon was the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) back in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have not run anything close to this distance since. I wanted to improve on my race time of course, but the lead-up to this race was not as ideal as I would have liked it to be.

I was sick for three weeks and had only about five weeks of dedicated marathon training, of which I came down with plantar fasciitis mid-way and had to dial back on the volume and intensity. I even got involved in a car accident where this reckless driver smashed into the side of my car. Thankfully, I was unharmed, although I can’t say the same for my car.

Not everything was a disaster though. I was equipped with the latest Apple Watch Ultra, which has new features that are very useful for my race. Starting the run with the watch was more convenient because of the new Action button, which is big enough for me to press to start the run without taking off my gloves in Berlin.

The bigger 49mm watch screen also allowed me to easily check on metrics such as my current pace, average pace, distance covered, heart rate and total time taken. Meanwhile, the new precision dual-frequency GPS system was pretty accurate, so I could rely on it to monitor my pace.

I was enjoying the run and going at an average pace of 5:30 minutes per kilometre. I felt good so I just ran along, letting myself get caught up in the atmosphere and soaking up the cheers from the supporters lined along the route.

And then I fell apart.

Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)
Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)

Gutting it out after hitting the wall

Around the 26km mark, I suddenly felt like I needed to stop. It was a strange feeling, like I couldn’t go on. I walked through an aid station to reset my mind and realised my heart rate was really high. My mind wanted to carry on but my legs felt like concrete.

This is what they call “hitting the wall” in a marathon and it’s not a nice feeling.

For the rest of the race, it was a battle with my own demons as I fought to put one foot in front of the other. The thought of pressing pause on my Apple watch – by simultaneously pressing the Action button and the side button on the right – did cross my mind but I managed to push this thought away.

I mean, I didn’t come all this way to give up. I managed to pull myself together and half-jogged, half-shuffled my way to the finish.

When I saw the Brandenburg Gate within reach, I knew the finish line was near and I felt this wave of emotions wash over me. I couldn’t stop the tears as I ran through to the end. Joy, relief, gratitude, a little disappointment and fatigue – I could feel so many emotions coursing through my veins.

My final time was 4 hours,15 minutes and 49 seconds - a 12-minute improvement from the SCSM 2019. My trusty Apple watch still had 80 per cent battery life left by the end of the race. Everything was rosy in the end.

Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)
Yahoo! Singapore contributor Cheryl Tay at the 2022 BMW Berlin Marathon. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay/Berlin Marathon)

Truly world-class experience

On hindsight, it’s easy to say that if I had managed my pace, I might have done a better time. But the point is, I completed my first WMM (and with a new personal best time). It is a big deal… right?

The journey to the start line was peppered with one obstacle after another; I am just grateful that I made it. I definitely learnt some important lessons here, which will help me in future races for sure. This experience is unparalleled, truly a world-class marathon event that I will remember for life. I also happened to be part of history, with Eliud Kipchoge breaking the world record at this very race.

If you ever have the opportunity, I would say go for one of the six WMM races. Keep putting your name in for the ballot and you might just get it one day.

As for Berlin, I will come back for you.