01 January 2014, 8am
The general public pay little attention to distance running but when the marathon world record is mentioned they ask: “Wasn’t that in Berlin?” Berlin’s dominance of the top marathon times is largely down to the work of one man: Race Director Mark Milde. New world records are only possible with detailed planning and organization. The availability of top athletes, a ‘fast’ course profile and optimal weather conditions are prerequisites without which “nothing runs”.
Berlin’s success is even more remarkable because – in comparison to other big marathons – it operates on limited resources. Mark Milde has to work hard behind the scenes to offset that. His ability in procuring top athletes, establishing race tactics together with the runners and their managers, and supporting their realisation with creative ideas, is unrivalled.
Since Mark took on responsibility for the elite athletes Berlin has monopolised the men’s world Marathon record. Paul Tergat’s 2:04:55 in 2003 has been improved four times to Kipsang’s current record of 2:03:23. During this period Berlin has had the year’s fastest time seven times.
Mark’s first coup was to assist in getting Berlin’s first male record-setter, Ronaldo da Costa of Brazil to run in 1998. One year later he began his own career managing Berlin’s elite athletes and brought Tegla Loroupe (KEN) to Berlin to set her second “world best time” of 2:20:43. When Naoko Takahashi of Japan became the first woman to break the 2:20 barrier in the 2001 Berlin Marathon, with a time of 2:19:46, it was Mark Milde who ensured her participation by securing funding through a contract with Japanese TV. The world record and the unbelievable TV ratings in the Far East were a fabulous payoff.
At that time the race was still under the direction of Mark’s father, Horst, who had launched the Berlin Marathon in the Grunewald Forest back in 1974 when Mark was only one year old. He grew up with the marathon and early on brought in innovative ideas. In 1995 he initiated a team of assistants dedicated to placing drinks directly into the hands of the top athletes at each refreshment point (travelling between them on bikes).
Another innovation was “saturation” pacing. To help top runners achieve times under 2:05 Milde used pacemakers in a formation that provides a protective wedge at a fast and controlled pace. This involves agreeing which pacemakers are to lead at what point, and who should take over when one weakens. Haile Gebrselassie’s world records in 2007 and 2008, Makau’s in 2011 and Kipsang’s last year were all achieved in such a manner.
He has a proven ability to talent-spot, recruiting young athletes with good times over shorter distances to whet their appetites for the marathon. Geoffrey Kipsang won the Berlin Half Marathon at age 18 in 1:00:38 and then paced Haile and Makau. In 2012 he came third in the Berlin Marathon in 2:06:12. In 2013 he improved to a 58:54 half marathon and again finished third in Berlin behind Kipsang’s world record run.
Mark Milde has a marathon best of 2:50:36 and has completed an Ironman Triathlon. His love of in-line skating led him to integrate this sport into the Berlin event to huge success, with the Berlin Skating Marathon now the largest of its kind in the world.
Horst Milde handed over to Mark as race director in 2004 with the advice: “lead by example and stay cool”. He has done so, fulfilling all expectations and bringing Berlin to centre stage in the Marathon world.