Three Lessons I learnt from the BMW Berlin Marathon, by Justin Lagat, note by Larry Eder

Justin Lagat provides us with a different view of the BMW Berlin marathon. In the end, we are reminded that a marathon run at the elite level is a crap shoot. 

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Geoffrey Mutai, Denis Kimetto at the 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon, 
photo by

When Geoffrey Mutai won the Berlin Marathon this Sunday in a time of 2:04:12, 34 seconds off the world record, despite the malfunctioning clock in the pace car that had frozen at 2:50 per kilometer pace, giving a wrong impression to the runners that they were running at a pace inside the record, only for them to learn later that they were actually slower, I believe the world record can possibly be broken again very soon. I don't want to be categorical that I am blaming the clock for the missed record in Berlin, but there is a possibility it was really the clock. But, all in all, it is now a time to celebrate Mutai's big win that has now made him the ultimate winner of the WMM series, rather than cry over the spilt milk.

Before the marathon, one thing I learnt is that an athlete's personality contributes a lot to the popularity of the sport in general. There were other big running events over the weekend, like the New Delhi and the Lisbon half marathons, but the focus for most people was on Mutai. On facebook, fans were posting pictures they had been lucky to take with him. In Eldoret, a lot of fans were already flocking to social places in the morning even before the workers there could finish doing their cleanliness in order not to miss the event. I myself had happened to meet him personally at Kapng'etuny in July where he had given me a lift in his vehicle back to Eldoret. I was so impressed by his kindness and generosity that I could not help becoming one of his strongest fans. I can't tell whether the excitement that was building up inside me as I waited for the start of the marathon was because of my liking the game or the player himself, or both. This same excitement got me thrilled when this runner injected a 2:43 per kilometer pace, after the pace makers had stepped out of the race, and shook off the rest of his competitors, remaining only with Dennis Kimeto, his training mate, as they both caught up with the world record schedule. But, I got restless again when his time began to get slower towards the finish and it became eminent that a world record was beginning to slip away after all the effort the two runners had done to salvage it, then I got happy again when he crossed the finish line as the winner. The fact that I knew more about him made the watching more exciting, and I know it was the same for many people who know him personally.

During the race, I learnt that for a world record to be broken, everything has to go well from the start to the finish. The pace makers had to cross half way in 61:40, but for some reasons, they crossed it at 62:12 which was 32 seconds behind the schedule. The effort put forth by Mutai, by pushing harder after learning that they were already behind on the schedule, just served to make him pay for it towards the end when he and his colleague had no more energy left for a sprint finish. Mutai also did miss his drink later in the race, and this too could have affected the projected time. Out of this race, the lesson I got is that, the pace, the clock (on the pace car), the water and the drinks, from the start to the end, should be taken seriously.

After the race, I learnt that there should never be any reason not to celebrate whenever one finishes a full marathon, leave alone winning it. Marathon is one of the toughest sports where only a fraction of those who start get to the finish, others blank out on the way, others step out while others end it in the first aid stations along the route or inside the ambulances. From friends who were celebrating with Mutai at the after party, I learnt that he was so happy and contented with his win. I know most people expected a world record and may not have been so happy with a mere win, but for somebody who know a lot about running a marathon, there was also a possibility of a DNF result. So, Mutai's win should be celebrated, alongside all those who managed to finish in the full marathon.

Congratulations to all the finishers of the Berlin Marathon, and to the Kenyan athletes for taking the first nine positions!

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