Berlin Marathon Guide: History, Course, Training and Tips For Race Day

The Berlin Marathon is a marathon like no other and sees runners start and finish the epic 26.2-mile run at the historical Brandenburg Gates. If you’re looking to do your first marathon, the Berlin Marathon should be your first choice, as it’s known as one of the fastest and flattest marathons in the world. 

How do you qualify, and what else should you know when you sign up for the Berlin Marathon?

Join us as we take you through the ins and outs of the Berlin Marathon, focusing on its history, how to qualify, the impact of the marathon on the running world and local community, and share some great tips from a marathon runner. 

This is the Berlin Marathon.

The History of the Berlin Marathon

Running the Berlin marathon guide

The Berlin Marathon was first created in 1974 by Horst Milde, a baker and running fanatic from Berlin. Usually held on the last Sunday in September, the race is a popular one that now sees more than 45,000 runners take to the streets of Berlin to participate in a race known as one of the fastest marathons in the world. 

And, while the inaugural race only saw 244 athletes cross the finish line (10 of whom were women), the race has grown in popularity and now welcomes entrants from almost every corner of the world. 

With its starting and finish line at the Brandenburg Gate, the race has not always followed the same course as the city of Berlin was previously divided until the German Reunification in 1990 saw the race adjust to its current starting point. 

Here is a timeline of events that form the history of the Berlin Marathon:

  • 1974: The Berlin Marathon was established. The race had 244 finishers, with Gunter Hallas finishing with a finishing time of 2:44:53 to make him the winner in the men’s division and Jutta von Haase taking the top spot in the women’s division with a time of 3:22:01. 
  • 1977: Christa Vahlensieck sets a new world record in the women’s division, completing the race in 2:34:27. 
  • 1989: A children’s race is added to the lineup of events for the Berlin Marathon. 
  • 1990: German Reunification takes place and sees runners from East Germany now able to enter the race. East German runners would previously enter the race under false names to avoid being detected by the Secret Service and face fines or jail time. 
  • 1997: The Berlin Marathon introduced inline skating events. 
  • 1998: Ronaldo Costa, the only South American runner to hold a world record, set the new world record in the men’s division with a finishing time of 2:06:05. 
  • 2000: Simon Biwott won the Berlin Marathon. Biwott’s win surprised event organizers as he entered the race as a pacemaker. This year also saw the Berlin Marathon being held in mid-September rather than the last week, as dates coincided with the Women’s Olympic Marathon. 
  • 2001: Naoko Takahashi, a Japanese national, took the women’s title as she became the first woman to run a sub-2:20 marathon with a speedy time of 2:19:46. 
  • 2003 to 2018: Seven men’s world records are set as runners take part in the Berlin Marathon, which is known to many as the “fastest marathon.”
  • 2006: The Berlin Marathon became a member of Abbott’s World Major Marathons.
  • 2018: Event dates are again changed to mid-September as German Unity Day preparations coincided with the regular date on the last Sunday of September. 
  • 2020: The Berlin Marathon is first postponed, then later canceled as the Coronavirus pandemic halts all in-person sporting events. Entrants could transfer their entry to the next year or get a full refund on their entry ticket. 
  • 2022: The year saw the men’s and women’s course records shattered. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge set the course record and the world record with a time of 2:01:09. Tigist Assefa of Ethiopia smashed the women’s course record by crossing the line in 2:15:37.

Course Records and Wins

The Berlin Marathon has seen its fair share of world records set as runners flock to the city to participate in one of the most popular races in the world. With a fairly flat course, the marathon is “easier” to run and allows runners to make good times. 

Here are the top course results and records for the Berlin Marathon:

Men’s Division

YearNameNationalityTimeWorld or Course
1998Ronaldo da CostaBrazil2:06:05World Record
2003Paul TegratKenya2:04:55World Record
2007Haile GebrselassieEthiopia2:04:26World Record
2008Haile GebrselassieEthiopia2:03:59World Record
2011Patrick Makau MusyokiKenya2:03:38World Record
2013Wilson Kipsang KiprotichKenya2:03:23World Record
2014Dennis Kipruto KimettoKenya2:02:57World Record
2018Eliud KipchogeKenya2:01:39World Record
2022Eliud KipchogeKenya2:01:09World and Course Record

Women’s Division

YearNameNationalityTimeWorld or Course
1977Christa VahlensieckWest Germany2:34:47World Record
1999Tegla LoroupeKenya2:20:34World Record
2001Naoko TakahashiJapan2:19:46World Record
2022Tigist AssefaEthiopia2:15:37World and Course Record

Inline Skating Race

2015Bart SwingsBelgium56:49Men’s Course Record
2017Maria Jacqueline AriasArgentina1:06:35Women’s Course Record

Handcycle Race

2016Christiane ReppeGermany1:08:54Women’s Course Record
2019Jetze PlatNetherlands1:00:01Men’s Course Record

Wheelchair Race

1997Heinz FreiSwitzerland1:21:39Men’s Course Record
2018Manuela ScharSwitzerland1:36:53Women’s Course Record

Entrants Statistics

The Berlin Marathon has certainly increased in popularity over the years and now sees more than 45,000 runners take on the challenge of competing in one of the six World Major Marathons. The other majors are held in London, New York City, Chicago, Tokyo and Boston.

This event draws in competitors for the main marathon, half marathon, children’s marathon, handcycle race, inline skating race, and wheelchair race. 

Those who find the prospect of a full 26.2-mile marathon a bit too challenging can join in the fun by doing the half marathon. 

Here’s how things have changed over the last few decades:

DecadeFinishes – MenFinishes – Women

It is important to note that the number of entrants participating in 2021 was lower due to COVID-19 and its effects on travel worldwide. The 2022 marathon saw more than 45,000 entrants. 

The Impact of the Berlin Marathon on Communities

Come September, Berlin becomes a runner’s haven as athletes, supporters, and spectators flock to the city in droves. This, in turn, brings in much revenue, with numbers reaching millions of dollars in tourism revenue. 

Current spectator records show that more than one million people descend upon Berlin come race day, and there are many spectator zones along the full course of the marathon. 

And, though the event charges athletes to participate, the marathon raises millions for charities and other community organizations that seek to improve the lives of those who are disabled, disadvantaged, and ill. 

The Popularity of the Berlin Marathon

The Berlin Marathon unofficially holds the title of one of the fastest marathons in the world, mostly due to its flat, easy terrain. It’s a popular event for marathon runners who want to improve their time and for elites looking to set world or course records. 

More recent winners of the Berlin Marathon are from African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, with a few European winners thrown in for good measure. 

It’s clear that the Berlin Marathon is a popular event for many athletes and entry to the event is now done through a lottery system to make it a fair process for the tens of thousands of runners that would like to compete. 

The Berlin Marathon Course and its Features

Berlin marathon on Strava
The Berlin Marathon on Strava

The course for the Berlin Marathon is fairly flat, with the highest elevation recorded at the 15-mile mark. Starting at the Brandenburg Gate, the marathon takes runners through the following popular parts of Berlin:

  • Charlottenburg
  • Tiergarten
  • Moabit
  • Mitte
  • Friedrichshain
  • Kreuzberg
  • Neukolln
  • Schöneberg 
  • Friedenau
  • Zehlendorf
  • Brandenburg Gate

This course, however, was only run from 1990 as the marathon was limited to the West of the city before the German Reunification took place in 1990. Pre-1990, the race started in the Reichstag. 

The Berlin Marathon has a few unique features, but its start and finish at the Brandenburg Gate is possibly the most impressive. Officially opened in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin and attracts millions of tourists eager to get a glimpse of Berlin’s symbol of division that saw the city divided in two and is the only gate still standing. 

Crowd Support and Cheering Sections 

Crowd support is in no short supply at the Berlin Marathon, with over 70 live bands playing music and hyping up the crowds at every mile mark along the route. Runners know the importance of crowd support. Many shared the following benefits of having support while taking part in a marathon like the Berlin Marathon:

  • Encouragement
  • Motivation
  • Hype and excitement
  • A “push” to carry on when fatigue sets in

If you are not participating in the Berlin Marathon, consider attending as a spectator and cheer on the runners as they cover the grueling 26.2-mile course. 

How to Qualify for the Berlin Marathon

Want to take part in the Berlin Marathon but don’t know what to do? Read on to find out how to qualify for the Berlin Marathon and join thousands of fellow runners as you hit the streets of Berlin to take on the challenge of a World Major Marathon. 

How Old Do I Need to Be?

All participants need to be 18 at the time of the Berlin Marathon. 

Certified Runs

All qualifying runs are to be certified by AIMS, with the run listed by the USA IF or AbbottWMM Wanda Age Group World Rankings. Information about these runs can be obtained by visiting the Abbott World Marathon Majors website.

What are the Qualifying Times for the Berlin Marathon?

Here are the qualifying times for the Berlin Marathon for the men’s and women’s divisions:

Men’s Division

  • 18 to 44 – 2:45:00
  • 45 to 59 – 2:55:00
  • 60+ – 3:25:00

Women’s Division

  • 18 to 44 – 3:00:00
  • 45 to 59 – 3:20:00
  • 60+ – 4:10:00

There are also additional qualifying times for the inline, wheelchair, and handcycle races. Information for these events is available on the event website. 

Securing a spot on the starting line is fairly simple. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Complete a run listed on the AbbottWMM-approved list.
  2. Qualify within the times set by your age group and gender.
  3. Register on the event website.
  4. Submit your qualifying time. 
  5. Pay the $163 entrance fee. 

Once you have submitted your entry, you will be allocated a spot in the lottery. This does not automatically give you entry into the race. The lottery winners are notified via email of their successful entry into the Berlin Marathon and given a race number.  

Registration opens in September of the previous year, with successful runners notified of their entry in December. 

Note that all qualifying runs and results must be no older than three years to be added to the lottery. 

Charity Teams and the Berlin Marathon

Much like the other Abbott World Marathon Major races, the Berlin Marathon allows charity teams to enter the marathon to raise funds for the various causes they support. A few of the charities that have benefitted from these fundraising efforts are:

  • CHILDREN for a Better World
  • WWF Deutschland
  • HelpAge Deutschland
  • Stiftung KinderHerz

The Berlin Marathon supports various charities, including those that care for the disabled, elderly, people living with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and many charities that aim to improve the lives of underprivileged children in Africa. 

If you want to enter the marathon and raise money for a charity team, contact RealBuzz, the official Berlin Marathon charity partner, for more information. Runners must contribute a minimum of $1,750 to enter and are chosen based on funds raised and space limitations.  

RealBuzz currently has 80 charities under its umbrella and has raised millions of dollars in its partnership with the Berlin Marathon. 

Berlin marathon runners
Berlin marathon runners, CC via Dirk Ingo Franke

Berlin Marathon Name Changes

The Berlin Marathon is a sponsored event. Here are a few big name changes that have happened as the marathon sponsors have changed:

  • 1974 to 1989: The Berlin People’s Marathon
  • 1990: Yanase Berlin Marathon
  • 1991 and 1992: Canon Berlin Marathon
  • 1993 to 1997: Berlin Marathon
  • 1998 to 1999: Alberto Berlin Marathon
  • 2000 to 2010: real Berlin Marathon
  • 2011 to current: BMW Berlin Marathon

The Berlin Marathon gives winners a major purse prize. Sponsors of these prizes include:

  • BMW
  • Abbott
  • Adidas
  • Sportmetropole Berlin
  • Erdinger
  • Taiwan Excellence
  • Maurten
  • Generali
  • PayPal

Big events like marathons are a great opportunity for these and other companies to market themselves and have created partnerships with the Berlin Marathon since its inception in 1974. 

Training for the Berlin Marathon

Training for any marathon is a challenge, and for those taking part in the Berlin Marathon, the right training program can be crucial in helping athletes break their PRs. 

The Berlin Marathon takes place in the city of Berlin and has a fairly flat course with almost no sharp turns or twisty bits that are hard to navigate while running the 26.2 miles. The current course record of the Berlin Marathon stands at 2:01:09, which Eliud Kipchoge achieved in 2022.

If you’d like to achieve your own personal best time, you’ll need to put in the work. Here’s how:

Step #1: Identify Your Goal

Are you running the Berlin Marathon to end up in the top 10, or are you running for sheer enjoyment and to be able to say that you have done it? Establish what type of runner you are and why you are running, then set yourself a goal.

Step #2: Set up a Training Program

A good training program will help you properly equip yourself for the Berlin Marathon, helping to increase your muscle strength and preparing you mentally for the full 26.2-mile run you will need to complete. Find a training program that meets your training needs, and adapt it where necessary. 

Ideally, your chosen training program should include at least four or five days of running, two strength workouts, and two cross-training sessions (more on that soon), with a recovery day each week, normally the day after your long run. Since you will be running a marathon, one long-distance run a week will help you prepare for your marathon. 

Step #3: Focus On Mileage

The most important aspect of marathon training is increasing your mileage. Rather than focusing on speed and performance, get your mileage up over the first ten weeks of your training program. Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week, and ensure your long run doesn’t comprise more than 40% of your total weekly mileage. 

Step #4: Take Note of Your Pacing

Pacing helps you know exactly how fast you should run to achieve a certain time. It also helps you reserve energy for when you need it most. For runners who participate in the Berlin Marathon, that’s usually in the last few miles when you know you are nearing the finish line but start running out of energy. 

Try to stick to the pace you’ve been training for and save the speed for that last stretch of your marathon, emptying the tank over the finish line. 

Step #5: Increase Your Cardio Workouts

Cardio is vitally important when training for a marathon, so choose a cross-training activity that will help strengthen your heart and lungs, which you also enjoy. 26.2 miles is no joke, so prepare your body by increasing your cardio workouts as a part of your marathon training plan. 

By choosing an activity you enjoy, such as swimming, elliptical training, cycling, or walking, you’re more likely to stick with the workouts.

Step #6: Rest

Don’t underestimate the importance of rest days. While it may seem bizarre to have days of zero activity while you are training for a marathon, these rest days are just as important as the days when you train and can help reduce the risk of exhaustion and common running injuries that could see you out of the race. 

Include one rest day per week in your training schedule and add some much-needed downtime before race day. 

Races to Help You Prepare for the Berlin Marathon

Preparing for a marathon requires a training schedule and mental preparation as you take on this extra-long run. While training is crucial, doing a few “prep” races will also help you understand the logistics of a marathon. 

Ask any trainer or marathon runner what you should do before a full marathon, and the answer will always be to run a 5k, 10k, 10-mile, or half-marathon in preparation for the Berlin Marathon. The longer distances, such as a 10-mile or half marathon, will allow you to practice your hydration and nutrition plan without worrying that you’ve got another 13 to 16 miles to go with a stomach going south.

Here are a few prep races or race packages that are a great idea for anyone taking part in the Berlin Marathon:

Adidas Runners City Night

Adidas hosts this 6-week course, and it’s designed to help you prepare for the Berlin Marathon. 

The BMW Berlin Marathon 3-Month Prep Course

This 3-month training course is all you need to prepare for the Berlin Marathon. It includes great training ideas, the chance to meet fellow marathon runners and swap ideas, and great tips for what you should focus on in your training. 

The BMW Berlin Marathon: Premium Health and Training Package

For those who are looking for a premium personalized training plan, this package is for you. The package includes the following:

  • Health checks and screenings before the big race
  • Tech-focused running analyses that focus on your movement and training needs
  • An individual hour-long training session
  • A 6-month personalized training plan

This plan costs around $800 and can be booked via the BMW Berlin Marathon website.

Berlin Marathon Race Day Strategies and Tips

Now that we have covered the details surrounding the Berlin Marathon and touched on a few training tips, it’s time to focus on race day and all that comes with it ahead of the Berlin Marathon. 

A “Good” Time

No, we are not talking about how much fun you will have at the Berlin Marathon (which will hopefully be a lot), but rather the time you should aim for if you want to make the cut-off times. The current course record stands at 2:01:09 for men, and 2:15:37 for women, which is pretty challenging to beat and not likely something you’re setting out to do.

Most runners aim to shave a few minutes off their qualifying time to meet their goals and finish the Berlin Marathon with a PR. No rule states you have to run your marathon personal best, though – you can simply run to say you completed a World Marathon Major. 

Either way, decide the finishing time you’d like to achieve and devise a pacing strategy to meet this goal. Remember to include some leeway – you never know what may happen on the course.

What’s the Weather Like?

Autumn in Europe starts in September and brings cool, comfortable days ideal for a marathon. While some days might be slightly cooler, you can rest assured you won’t be running in the sweltering heat that can quickly cause dehydration and heat stroke. 

Wear comfortable clothing and take a thin extra layer that can be tied around your waist while you run. And don’t forget to slap on that sunscreen and wear a hat – just because it isn’t hot doesn’t mean the sun can’t still do damage.

Strategies for the Course

The Berlin Marathon course is a great race for runners looking for a fast race. It mostly has large flat sections that allow for speedy running. This, however, does not mean that you should start the race running at top speed – you will find yourself exhausted before you even hit the 13-mile mark, and as the saying goes: this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pace yourself and run at sustainable speed – we’d describe this pace as comfortably challenging, the same pace you ran when doing long runs in your training block. This pace should be maintained for at least the first 20 miles. If you feel good at this point, you can start increasing your pace. 

The lack of sharp turns or twists in the Berlin Marathon makes for easy running, which is why it’s one of the “easier” marathons to complete. 

Top Tips for Berlin Marathon First Timers

If this is your first time participating in the Berlin Marathon, this next section is for you and contains great tips that will come in handy as you head to the city of Berlin. 

Visit the Expo

For those who have never run the Berlin Marathon, the marathon expo should be at the top of your to-do list. From running and nutrition tips to race kit collection and meet and greets, the expo has it all. 

The expo runs for three days and is filled with information, activities, and great tips for those running the Berlin Marathon for the first time. Visit the BMW Berlin Marathon website for more details and dates. 

Where to Stay

Finding accommodation in Berlin before the marathon might be tricky, so make sure to book early. Book accommodation as close to Mitte as possible, as this is where the start and finish of the race is located, and you can easily walk to your accommodation. 

Alternatively, you can book accommodation further away and take a cab or Uber to the starting line on race day. 

Advice from a Marathon Runner

Germany’s Uta Pippig is no stranger to marathons and has won the Berlin Marathon three times. Now a fitness coach, Uta has the best advice for those ready to take on the challenge of marathon running. 

She advises that a marathon should be considered a process and has the following components:

  1. Commitment
  2. Training
  3. The event and finish

These components – from committing to run the marathon to submitting your entry to crossing the finish line – are equally important and should be completed with care, determination, and focus. 

Here are a few helpful tips from Uta that will help you on race day:

  • Always check out the course before. While the route is marked, knowing what to expect at every turn is always a great idea. 
  • Set a running goal or strategy to help you make the best time on race day. This is a very personal decision, and while there are so many “strategies” out there, finding one that works for you is important and can make for an “easy” run. 
  • Visit the marathon expo. This is a great hub for young and old athletes and is packed with great resources to help make you a better runner.
  • Focus on nutrition. It’s necessary to up your calories before a big race, but the challenge comes with choosing the right foods to help you perform best on race day. Choose healthy options low in fat but high in protein and carbs that won’t leave you feeling sluggish before you even cross the start line. 
  • Get a decent night’s rest. 26.2 miles is no laughing matter and will require mental and physical strength. A good night’s sleep is suggested. Get at least 12 hours of sleep in the 24 hours before the race and let your body relax. Naps are great for resting your body.
  • Stay hydrated while running. Hydration is key to preventing dehydration and aching muscles. The hydration stations along the course of the Berlin Marathon are fantastic, and many offer tea, coffee, and Coca-Cola as refreshments, along with water and hydration gels. Snacks like bananas are popular and boost runners when their energy levels drop. 
  • Enjoy yourself. This might be the most important aspect of any sporting event. Let the crowd hype you up as you run, and focus on the finish line. Soak in the moment – finishing a marathon puts you in an elite group of people.

These are all fantastic tips from Uta and should all be considered when participating in the Berlin (or any other) Marathon. 

And while we could share so much more, we would like to end by saying that each runner has a different strategy and training plan, so focus on your goals and, most importantly, have fun while you take on the challenge of running the Berlin Marathon. 

Next Step: Run the Berlin Marathon!

The Berlin Marathon is quite easily one of the fastest marathons you can participate in, and it follows an easy route through the bustling city of Berlin. And while it has undergone a few changes over the years, including a course overhaul after German Reunification, it remains a fun, easy run over fairly flat terrain. 

Known for the many world records set on its course, the Berlin Marathon is a popular fundraising event that helps raise millions of dollars for charitable organizations that help the elderly, disabled, and ill worldwide. 

Much has been said about the Berlin Marathon, but only those who have completed it for themselves will know about the thrill of completing one of the major world marathons. 

This is what Gete Wami, winner of the women’s division of the Berlin Marathon in 2006, had to say about the race: “It was a wonderful race. I’ve always wanted to run in Berlin. The weather is good, the air is clear, and the atmosphere is strong. I know I’ll be back to set my best time.”

It shows that participating in just one marathon can change your life forever. Sign up today and join the thousands of runners that take to the streets of this beautiful city every year as they take on the challenge of the Berlin Marathon.

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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