Five Things We Learned from Our First International Race
By Stephani Franklin and Jasmine Nesi
On September 16, RUNGRL co-founders Stephani Franklin and Jasmine Nesi ran their first international race together at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Here, they collectively share what they learned.
After getting over the soreness of our first and second marathons in 2017 in Chicago and New York, respectively, Jasmine and I were excited to sign up for our next Abbott World Marathon Major. We both have a goal to become Six Star Finishers, a title given to runners who complete all six world major marathons in Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Tokyo and Berlin. We chose the latter for our first international race. Why? 1. Because the course is flat. 2. It’s a great way to see a new city and 3. For a vacation!
In 2017, I hit my goal of a sub-4:00 marathon time at the Chicago Marathon. So, at the beginning of the 2018 training season, I had all intentions of beating that goal. Then, well, life gets in the way. Between June and August, my peak training months, I traveled a lot and moved to a new state, neither of which was conducive to a consistent training schedule.
So I let go of any goal to finish within a particular time, and it was one of the greatest gifts I could’ve given myself. Instead, I ran the marathon without expectation and adjusted on the run. I sped up when I wanted, walked, enjoyed the crowd and encouraged other runners, took in the city and truly listened to my body.
While I still have goals to become a faster marathoner, allowing myself grace for this race without worrying about my time, made it all the more enjoyable.
After completing my first marathon in 2017 in New York City, I felt I was on top of the world, that I could accomplish anything. I trained hard for 18 weeks in preparation for that race and it showed.
That was not the story for me with the Berlin Marathon. Much like Jasmine, I was hype about Berlin, with every intention to hit a sub-4:00 marathon time for this race. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. Though I had recently run two half marathons, a 10-miler and 10K trail run on a ski slope in Killington, Vermont (don’t ask, lol), none of that compensated for my erratic training schedule over the summer, which resulted in a 5+-hour finish time in Berlin.
At the start of the race, I told myself that I simply needed to get through this unscathed. After a few stretches and a prayer, I began my “running tour” of Berlin at the most comfortable pace possible. In hindsight, I don’t regret it one bit. Races are not always about “racing”. Sometimes, it’s just about the time you get to spend with yourself, the camaraderie that you build with fellow runners or, simply, the appreciation you have for your body after carrying you more miles on foot than some are willing to drive.
The moral of the story for me, then, is whether you are conditioned or not, marathons aren’t meant to be, nor will they ever be easy. Plan A should always be to train smart, train hard, and train consistently. However, when life hits and training goes out the window, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Remember that if your mental game is strong, then your legs and heart can (and will) follow.
The journey to 26.2 is anything but easy, but the experience is always unforgettable.
Five Things We Learned From Our First International Race
Don’t let the “Ks” trip you up. When racing in the U.S., you get used to seeing mile markers along the course, but in Berlin, it was all in Ks (kilometers). When I’m racing, I like to mentally break down the marathon distance into sections: 10 miles + 10 miles + 10K (6.2 miles). This was harder to do here. While doing the math to convert Ks to Ms, and determining how much further we had to run did provide a distraction from the pain of running, next time, I’ll change how I break down the course for an international marathon to account for 42.195K.
Ask the locals. Before the race, we attended a shakeout run with Berlin Braves, a local running and sports club with whom we connected through our own running crew, District Running Collective. We got to loosen up our legs and shake out any pre-race jitters. We chatted with new friends who had run the Berlin Marathon before. One tip they shared with us helped so much: “The Brandenburg Tor is not the end of the race, so wait to kick it to the finish.” Sure enough, other runners started sprinting once we were close to Brandenburg, but we both knew to pace ourselves for the half mile still left on the course. A major key!
It’s okay to be a bit unprepared for the course map. There is a certain sense of freedom in not being familiar with the course you are about to spend the next few hours trotting. Not knowing the exact turns and areas through which I would be running or what next landmark I would see allowed me to enjoy the race even more. Mystery is not always your friend, but for this instance it was for us.
No new friends foods. Despite being in a different country and wanting to immerse yourself in all the cultural cuisine it has to offer, you should never try new food the night before race day! Research restaurants nearby or find a familiar chain. Though currywurst and schnitzel might have called our name, we opted for pizza and pasta from a restaurant we tried a few nights before. It was familiar and something we knew would fuel our systems without problems. There was a different, unfamiliar type of sports drink on the course, so for the next international race, we plan to order a case of the sponsored sports drink to train with and hopefully avoid any surprises mid-marathon.
Representation MATTERS. We didn’t have any expectation of seeing a lot of Black women on the race course. Along the way, for the few women we we did see, we tried to give a nod or send some sort of encouragement. The lack of representation on the course was a reminder to us of why we started RUNGRL and why we continue to talk about our race experiences: we want to encourage other women who look like us that they can do it, too. We also want to make sure people can’t say Black women don’t run distance because we are out here!
BONUS: Eliud Kipchoge is the GOAT. We followed his greatness on the course as he set it ablaze with a new marathon world record of 2:01:39, besting the former world record by more than a minute.