15 Tips for Running the Berlin Marathon

Me holding my bib in front of the royal blue Berlin Marathon photo backdrop

The Berlin Marathon, held at the end of September, is one of the six World Majors. If this is your first time running it, this guide will share crucial tips so you can run a smooth race.

I ran the Berlin Marathon in 2023 (here’s my race recap!), and it was my first major and seventh marathon. These are all things I learned along the way.

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Before the Race

1. Join the Berlin Marathon Facebook group.

The Berlin Marathon Facebook group is a trove of information from past and current runners. Chances are, if you have a question, you can find the answer in the group (just use the search function).

Besides that, you can make friends! I ended up organizing a small pre-race dinner at a restaurant (but only one person showed up out of ~5, so people were flaky). But, I met up with someone else after the race and we’re now planning to travel together to another race!

2. Pick the bag drop option over the poncho.

At registration, you’re given the option between bag drop or a race poncho. I highly recommend the bag drop option since you’ll be able to store clean clothing, extra food, and more.

In 2023, the race organizers actually reused extra ponchos from a previous year (I think 2017), so if you were planning to keep it as a memento, just know you might get the wrong year.

If you already picked the poncho and want to switch to bag drop, I would recommend emailing race organizers to change your choice.

3. Preorder race merch if you want it.

The expo sells out of race merch very quickly, especially in the smaller sizes. The flagship Adidas store also has merch, but they sell out too.

If you know for sure that you want a jacket or shirt, add it to your race account, buy it online (only possible in the EU and UK), or see if there’s someone in the Facebook group who ship it to you (for the past couple years, there’s been a woman named Emma who does this; if you ask for her help, make sure to donate to her London Marathon fundraiser).

The risk with preordering via the race website, of course, is that you won’t get to see the merch beforehand, and it could be ugly or the colors might not suit you (for example, the merch in 2022 was pretty ugly and it was neon blue in 2023). But, if you know you want the merch for the memories no matter what, definitely preorder.

If you’re okay with taking a risk, many people also end up selling merch after the race, as it didn’t fit right or they changed their mind. You just won’t necessarily be able to get the exact styles and colors you want. I would only do this if you’re on the fence about getting merch and would be okay not getting anything.

(Also note: I didn’t get merch because I am opposed to Adidas as a sustainable fashion advocate, but I know many people want the jacket as a memento. If you can, I definitely encourage you to try to find it used after the race, or find other ways to commemorate the race).

Adidas merch at the Berlin Marathon expo
People shopping for race merch at the expo

4. Make sure to account for jet lag and arrive early.

This is especially true for anyone coming from the US—West to East time changes are brutal! Every time I go to Europe, my body is grumpy and confused for a week. I would recommend arriving at least 4 days in advance to give yourself some time to adjust.

If you’re arriving locally, then 2 days is fine (that’s what I did since I’d been in Europe for 2 months at that point). However, you may get some FOMO if you’re in the Facebook group since many people arrive earlier.

5. There’s no need to book a hotel by the start.

Public transportation in Berlin is fantastic. I booked an apartment hotel near the race start (close to the Zoological Garden U-bahn stop), and I regretted it since it wasn’t as fun of a neighborhood; it was more corporate/commercial and had some major streets (and some traffic noise as a result).

I wished I had saved money and stayed in a quiet, residential area like Prenzlauer Berg. Friedrichshain also seemed very cool and more my style with its many vegan eateries and thrift stores.

That said, where I stayed was still a fine area with decent restaurants and easy access to transport. It was also walking distance from the Adidas flagship store and a race pop-up by Nike. It actually was even very close to part of the course, so it was nice to see familiar streets towards the end of the race. If you’re okay with the drawbacks and just want something convenient for the race, then I’d recommend SMARTments Berlin City West, where I stayed.

6. Use the free transport pass.

You get a free transport pass for the 4 days leading up to, and including, the race. You can take subways, local trains, buses, and more in zones ABC. Make sure to screenshot the pass once the race organizers send it out. Your bib, once you pick it up, is also a transport pass.

Public transport in Germany works on the honor system. There are no turnstiles for subway stations, but there will be “controllers” who come on public transport to check if you have a valid pass. If you get controlled, just show your screenshot/bib.

Keep in mind that the pass expires the night of the race, in the wee hours of the next morning (I think it was like 2-4am). Many people end up having to pay hefty fines (~60 euros) the day after the race because they didn’t realize the pass expired.

7. Organize a race meetup point.

The cell phone signal in the race finish area is spotty. I actually didn’t have signal until I left the race area and headed back towards the central station.

Before race day, set up a meeting point with your friends and family so you can find them after the race. There is a meetup area with letters, so you can pick a letter for them to stand at.

Berlin Marathon meetup area with lettered signs
The meeting points after the race

8. Bring cash for restaurants and snacks after the race.

Many restaurants in Berlin don’t accept card (Germany in general seems to be more cash-friendly). Make sure you have some euros to spend when you get here.  I personally have a Wise borderless account, which lets me withdraw up to 100 euros/month at a large network of ATMs without a fee.

After the race, you do get a snack bag with fruit, chips/pretzels, and sweets, but if you want something warm, you’ll also want cash. There were vendors selling hot pretzels with/without cheese and sausages.

Quy Nguyen, a vegan Vietnamese place in Berlin that accepts cash only
Quy Nguyen, a vegan Vietnamese place in Berlin that accepts cash only

Race Day/During the Race

9. Get off at the right station to get off for race.

The Brandenburger Tor station will be closed since it’s on the course. You’ll want to instead go to Bundesplatz on the U5, or Berlin Hbf (central station). I went to Berlin Hbf and it was a little over half a mile (800m) to get to the race area.

Keep in mind that once you get into the runners’ only area across from the Reichstag, you still have a good amount of walking (at least another half mile/800m) to get to the actual start line. So, if you’re planning to warm up, I would include the time to get to the start line.

Berlin central station (Berlin Hbf) the morning of the Berlin Marathon in 2023

10. Follow the blue line on the course.

To make sure you run as close to 42.2km/26.2mi as possible, there’s a blue line marking the tangents of the course. It was very faint in 2023, but still perceivable.

11. Be prepared for the sticky ground after aid stations.

The Maurten electrolyte drink provided in the race inevitably got spilled, so you could feel and hear your shoes sticking to the pavement right after a few aid stations. It wasn’t horrible, but definitely surprised me and made things feel more sluggish, especially towards the end (it was just another mental barrier).

Also, there is some Maurten gel on the course, but I actually find it disgusting (it’s like a jelly/gooey consistency that tastes like pure sugar). Make sure to try it and practice with it if you’re planning to use the gel provided.

I personally would recommend Huma or SiS gels instead. SiS in particular go down really easily and have a very subtle taste.

12. Expect huge crowds and pushing/elbowing during the race.

I’ve run in big races before (Paris Marathon), but Berlin was a whole other beast (there were 47,000 runners in 2023!). There were big crowds pretty much the entire race, and there were slowdowns at aid stations.

It’s also not uncommon to get pushed or elbowed at least a few times. I don’t think it was intentional, but it can still be jarring.

Me smiling as I run across the Berlin Marathon finish line
There’s a constant stream of people in the race, even at the very end!

After the Race

13. Look for the newspaper with finish times.

There’s a local paper (Tagesspiegel) that prints everyone’s race results the day after. You can get this in newspaper stands/bookstores in train stations. I went all over the city looking for one, but they sold out really quickly. I did hear that the Alexanderplatz train station had them well into the afternoon/evening though.

I actually ended up buying one from a local who had picked up extra copies just for situations like this. She was really sweet and didn’t charge extra. Keep an eye out in the Facebook group for extra papers if you don’t snag one. Someone also uploaded a PDF in 2023, and others were taking requests for photos of names.

One thing to note about the paper is that it’s split into two sections based on the time of day you finished. So if you finished before 2pm, you’re listed in the first section alphabetically, and if you finished after, you’re in the second section.

14. Remember the race transport pass expires.

I just want to double down and remind you that the race transport pass expires the night of the race. Don’t count on using it the Monday after.

If you have train tickets to another city, some of those will include local transport the day of travel, depending on the tier of ticket you bought.

You can buy transport tickets in train stations, or you can also get the BVG Tickets app, which is what I did. Just be sure to activate your ticket before any ride, as there is a time delay to avoid people activating only if they see an controller.

15. Avoid sightseeing too much (stairs will hurt).

While I suggest doing more sightseeing after the race than before, just be mindful that you’ll be very sore. I struggled with stairs for at least 3 days after the race (and there are a good amount of stairs in the city due to the train stations, monuments, etc).

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, or any tips you want to share with other runners! Be sure to also check out my Berlin Marathon race recap.

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