You’re viewing a version of this story optimized for slow connections. To see the full story click here.



Story by STRAVA September 29th, 2016

The streets of Berlin proved they are among the fastest in the world when Ethiopian Keninisa Bekele ran the second-fastest marathon ever. Bekele, the current 5,000 and 10.000 meter world record holder, was a mere 6 seconds shy of the marathon WR when he crossed the line for his first marathon victory.

A remarkable race day started with the familiar sound of thousands of GPS watches searching for signal and for one runner, with a good luck kiss.



It’s no secret that Berlin is fast. It’s a major factor in why many athletes, both professional and amateur set their eyes on it as an opportunity to test themselves — to see just how fast they might be. But why exactly is Berlin so fast?

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 17.29.39.png

like a pancake

Yes, Berlin is fast because it’s flat. With a maximum incline of just 0.5% the chances of settling into a steady, even-paced rhythm are pretty high. And although not completely out of the question the chances of your legs blowing up are significantly lowered. But that’s still not the only reason why Berlin is so fast.


One of a million

There actually isn’t one single reason why Berlin has an unfair advantage. There are a million — literally. And they are everywhere you look. All lining the side of the course. All clapping, cheering and screaming their lungs out as 41,000+ runners go by.


The data doesn’t lie. When you have a crowd of support all the way around the course running an even pace becomes a whole lot easier — not easy, but definitely easier.

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 17.36.15.png


“The boost I got when I saw somebody in the crowd waving my country’s flag was amazing. I’ll never be good enough to represent my country in the Olympics or anything like that, but the feeling of pride I got from it was pretty special.”

With 122 nations represented, chances are most runners spotted a familiar flag being waved in the crowd. Unfair, right?


Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t get an extra kick in their stride if they were being told they were sexy?


And… what’s not to love about a lion cheering you on?


In the zone

And then, just as you think the unfair advantage can’t get any more unfair, you’re greeted by this…


“If those guys throwing the confetti, letting off flares and blasting out music had been all the way around the course I think I would have broken the world record myself today. And I’ve never even ran under 4 hours before!”


sign language

Don’t speak German? Doesn’t matter. The intent was clear and every runner understood exactly what was meant. Even if it wasn’t hand painted or scribbled on the road specifically for them, everybody shaved a few precious seconds off their time thanks to the endless words of encouragment.


turn it up

“Why would you run with headphones when there was so much music and noise coming from the side of the road?”

With no less than 36 live bands & musicians lining the route, it’s fair to say that runners weren’t short of external motivation. And you’d probably be well justified in thinking that in places it seemed like more of a party — a celebration. Which is exactly what we think running should be.


planting Seeds

While Strava data can tell us the average finish time and the fastest kilometer of the course (16), what it can’t tell us is how many of those cheering mums or dads have future Berlin Marathon plans of their own?

Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 17.55.25.png


At the end of the day it’s impossible to measure just how big a role Berlin’s crowds play in helping so many athletes run their fastest marathon ever. It’s impossible to know if stopping for a quick hug and kiss along the course made a runner’s time slower, or as we suspect… just that little bit faster in the long run.

But what we do know is that over 4,000 Strava athletes from 81 nations who uploaded their 2016 BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, 72% achieved their pre-race goal. And there’s no doubt every clap… cheer… sign… flag… flare… musical note and piece of confetti thrown played their part in yet again giving Berlin its Unfair Advantage.


Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 17.58.58.png
Footnote: Photography: Alexis Berg | Words: Carlos Furnari
Berlin, Germany