Volunteering at the Berlin Marathon




I’ll admit, parts of this post will only be interesting to a runner, and parts of this will sound like any newbie marathon volunteering experience without being specific to Berlin. If you’re not interested in running, and even less in the Berlin Marathon, then you’ll appreciate a comment by a guy I met on my way home today. He was irritated by the hub-hub and the closed streets everywhere: es sind Leute, die laufen nur so rum! (it’s just a bunch of people running around!).  But this is a recap of my experience on a new side of a marathon- and there are a lot of photos. Hope  you enjoy!

This morning, I was up before dawn (which, admittedly, is getting later and later) to have my cup of coffee and my  breakfast and some Sunday morning routine before having to leave. I suppose I can get up early for running or running related things. Other occasions, I’d rather at least wait until the sun (not looking forward to Daylight savings).

Anyway, I was on my way to the marathon course before I think most runners were, and checked in at the skeleton of an aid station, receiving my jacket and then-nothing. I sat around listening to other volunteers chat and smiling and being nice, but quiet (my family thinks I always have to be the center of attention, it’s not true! With strangers, I’m more reserved!). I was itching for something to do, though.

That came soon enough as I found my way to the fruit group. I could have ended up with the water people, gels, tea, or sponges. Instead, I found myself among others preparing the bananas and apples. Then, the group sort of picked apples or bananas and I found myself with knife in hand and a box of apples.

So. Many. Apples. I cut and cored two boxes of apple on my own, and maybe a few more. It was slow going at first, but volunteers would chat and I’d join in occasionally and soon enough the first hand-crank bikers were coming by, followed closely by the wheel-chair racers. That was exciting and I’d interrupt my cutting to clap and cheer them on.


Then came the first runners – Kipsang closely followed by Lagat. That was awesome. Though, surprisingly, I never saw Bekele, who went on to win the marathon in 6 seconds within WR time! WHAT?! Though, I would have won the bet that the record would not be reset today, I was a bit bummed not to have seen Bekele or that he was so close- and still didn’t get it. But he ran an impressive race, I’ve heard. And he has the new Ethiopian record, which is top class anyway. Does anyone want to talk about how Kipasang only lost by 10 seconds? That means he was 16 seconds within the WR as well.


Of course, the first thirty or fifty runners ignored us, most of them had their fueling behind them. One runner, Tesfamariam Solomon still had his bottle in hand and threw it at. my. feet. I felt like a guest at a wedding. Oh? I’m to be the next elite then? Thanks!!



Kebede- even elites look at their watches while running

I was excited to also see the first woman runner, Aberu Kebede, kicking butt. There was no competition from her second at kilometer 30, and I was just in awe- for the few seconds I had to watch her run by. They were all so fast.

But I had apples to cut, and soon the first people were grabbing fruit. Most of the sub-3 hour runners were grabbing bananas…but then someone took my first apple!! And then another! I enjoyed this part, holding out the apples and catching names to call out. I alternated between encouragement in English and German- I just smiled and looked for the smile in return when they’d heard the encouragement.


I’ve heard the Minion version of “banana” a few times today.

Seriously, I was feeling buzzed and enjoying myself. Running is my drug! And there’s such thing as second-hand running high, I’ve discovered.

But then, the bucket of water-caressed apples was nearly empty, and I realized I’d have to cut more. We were barely at the four hour runners. So I was stuck cutting apples further back in the volunteer zone, away from the runners and missing being part of it, until I’d filled my bucket again and could hand out, smile, cheer and enjoy myself.


After that second bucket, I just cut at the table, putting out the apples for the runners to grab their own. I could barely keep up, but I was also first in line, so when a runner missed me, three volunteers down the line were also offering apples. It started slowing down with the five hour runners, people reaching km 30 at about 4:15:00 gun time. I was still there forty minutes later or so, when the last runner passed.

Then it was a super quick cleanup. I had a moment to reflect on the mass amounts of supplies used/used up for a marathon. We produce a lot of waste at these things. I’d support greener races.


And then I was on my way home.

I honestly can’t believe that I’ve watched an entire marathon. I’ve never seen the pick-up busses before, the first and last runners, it’s crazy. Even as a runner, or maybe because I’m usually a healthy runner (and low on running buddies the moment), I’ve never specated a marathon. Usually, Im running in the the races happening in my area myself. Online and on tv, I’m not actually watching it without distraction. Usually, I’m just listening to the reporting. This time I saw the runners, so many runners. And honestly, I was kind of glad I didn’t have to run. Of course, if I’d been preparing for it for months, I definitely would have. And it was a glorious day to run- perfect weather. Still, without running, I can come home via bike after volunteering at a marathon and get some work done. I could not do that if I’d run it (I mean, I could, but it’s usually harder). I’m usually in a funk after a marathon. All I want to do is sit around, eat, and talk about what I’ve accomplished. Then sleep. Of course, this way I don’t get a celebratory meal, but I’ve got enough apples to last me for… a week? I like apples.


Apples or bananas? New water bottle! That beer is not part of my haul, I picked it up on my way home for Tatort tonight. It’s a dark hefeweizen, for those interested.

I will say, it was cool to see all these runners, Berliners, Germans, and internationals. I saw a few first time marathoners (that I know of for sure, because they told me or had it as part of their kit). I saw a few USA reps who got a special call-out. I saw the whole Israeli hand-bike team well-represented and zooming by. I saw people grab for apples and miss. I heard so many thanks yous (though admittedly more from the later runners- sub 3:30s, work on that!).

In short, I had a great time at the Berlin 2016 Marathon.


Congrats to all the runners, race organization, police,  medics, and all involved for a great event (I’m feeling a bit self-congratulatory).

Hope you all enjoy your Sunday! Racers (I’m looking at you, Paula and James), best of luck!

Closing note about my new water bottle: was it kosher to take it home? Who knows. I’m pretty sure it would have been thrown away, anyway. I cleaned it and took off the sticker, but the green band remains. I’d like to share about Tesfamariam Solomon- he was an Eritrian refugee who is a member of the TVL Bern running team. Just making it to Switzerland alive was a challenge most of us can’t even imagine, and here he was, running sub 2:15. Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Mr. Solomon!


    1. Ha ha, I’m jealous of the runners, you’re jealous of the volunteers… 🙂
      Thanks. 🙂 and I hope it didn’t sound in my post like I expected a thank you! I was just surprised at how they distributed themselves across the race… there were a lot of observations I made… a really neat experience!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ohmigosh, how wonderful!! Sounds like such an uplifting time! And it’s good to know that you were appreciative of the thank yous and acknowledgements back. I’m awkward in a race but I always try to acknowledge and thank and smile at the volunteers, but some seem like they’re none too pleased to be there. Anyway, looks like a great day! Thank you for sticking around until the very last runner passed by, and thank you for the shout out to James and me!! It was a great race to baseline just how much work we have to do before Tulsa. 😉
    Question… have you ever ate an apple while racing? I know people are different, but isn’t that a lot of fiber to digest? Hmmmm, something for me to ponder…
    Oh, BTW… you look great in that jacket!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paula, thank you! I’m glad I got a good shot in that jacket. The color is quite something. 🙂
      And yes, I actually never ate an apple while running, but I know people about four hours in really wanted the apples. I guess it works better for them, and they were delicious apples!
      Glad you had a good race (sometimes it’s not about a PR, which s good). Have a good recovery!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Way cool…what a great experience to be part of a world major. I’ve spectated the London marathon a couple times, many years ago when my England Dad ran it but that was way before my running days – he was real fast and eventually went under 3 hours…he and still put down a pretty quick 10K at 70! My experience as a runner in Chicago last year still ranks as my best ever and will take some beating. We noticed the same buzz in Chicago and the tremendous atmosphere. The elite runners are beyond amazing…within 6 seconds of a world record, wow! What a different kind of experience being on the volunteer side…one day you’ll be on the other side of a major though! But, apples, hmmmm…never had an apple during a marathon. Great post, sorry it’s taken a couple days to get caught up!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry! You were busy recovering from what I hope was a great race and a good weekend 🙂 Yeah, I can imagine people with family members have watched several marathons! And I would love to run a few Marathon Majors! Chicago and London are on my bucket list, and Berlin-yes, definitely.
      I’m surprised that people will eat apples, since it seems like they would be hard to eat, but many of the later runners, 3.5 hours with at least 1.25 to go, taking a break for an apple is sweet satisfaction.


  3. BEST RACE REPORT EVER! such fun to watch a race from the time the gazelles float by all the way back to the mortals. even it “it’s just a bunch of people running around!” AND you automatically go to heaven for volunteering.
    And ABSOLUTELY ok to keep water bottle. So cool that his name is on it. Better than a finishing medal. And what a race. A great memory. Although now i’m suspicious that Bekele took the bus to the 36k mark …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So wonderful for you to share your volunteering experience! I’ll admit, I’ve never been on the volunteering side of a marathon but it’s a grand gesture that some runners tend to take for granted. Glad to hear you got just as much joy, and maybe even more, out of the experience of volunteering versus running the marathon. Your post makes me feel more grateful for volunteers than I was before! I’ll be sure to show my gratitude at my next event, be it running or volunteering!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! That’s a great, unexpected side effect 🙂 I just wanted to share how cool it was, and I’m glad if future volunteers benefit from it.
      I also learned to appreciate volunteers more from this, but also learned that they don’t really hate being there (at least those for whom it really was voluntary). What those high schoolers are thinking, who serve on the sidelines of many races- Who knows?


  5. Thanks for visiting and following my blog. (I hope you enjoyed my story from the other side of the table !) But I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to you and all the other volunteers around the world. We runners could never do it without you. It may not seem like it as we stumble by trying to pour drinks into the corners of our mouths, and then tossing the cup onto the floor 30 metres (or more) further up the road, but it is much appreciated. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha. I’m a racer too, so I know now why some volunteers just aren’t smiling… it’s because their focused on doing their job. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to more posts about your running adventures/adventures in general!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. After my race, I felt quite good. I was even walking normally on Sunday evening. But as Monday progressed I got worse and worse. (I guess it didn’t help being in the back of the car for 3 or 4 hours). On Tuesday we went for a short walk and I felt ok. Then to my huge surprise, I felt really good on Wednesday. I even thought about going out for a run on Thursday. But decided to save myself for a big walk today.
    But, flushed with my success, I’ve been looking at the Zurich marathon for next April (9th). There will be snow all around here soon and throughout the winter, so I’ll not get to do any other races I don’t think before then. So my training will have to be cross-country skiing (with the odd trip down the valley for a run, where there should be less snow) ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Skiing is a superb cross training activity! And it helps prevent some of the pesky hip and adductor/abductor stiffness that comes from long run training!
      Yeah, DOMS is a curse, but it means you’ve pushed yourself hard! I am a fan of a break before returning to running after a marathon. 🙂
      April 9th is the date of the Rotterdam marathon, which I am considering. Winter training in the mountains of Switzerland seems harder to plan than here in Berlin, but either way, spring marathons are the motivation one needs to get out Jan and Feb!


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