Traviss Willcox Takes On The Berlin Wall 100 Mile Ultra-Marathon

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Source: Danielle Walquist Lynch (Flickr Creative Commons)

Pre-Race

I signed up for the Berlin 100 ( Der Mauerweglauf or 100 Meilen Berlin) pretty much as soon as I found out about it in September 2012, as much as anything as it was a bi-annual event (though now announced its going to be annual) and there were about 5 places left before it filled up! My previous Berlin experience in 2010 at the big marathon there had been something of a disappointment, the expo was jam packed with 10000 other people which made that a pain and then it promptly rained the rest of the time we were there. Not just rained, it RAINED! The run was OK but I’m not much of a fan for traipsing around in the rain with 40000 others so the chance to have another visit to Berlin and not share the experience with a million other runners had to be a plus, not to mention out on these long ultras, you really do get to see a lot more!

I arrived the day before for the 0600 start on the Saturday and wandered around to the “expo” at the Ramada Hotel, wasn’t actually staying there but just around the corner at the Holiday Inn. I suspect many will hope that they continue to host things at the Ramada as its right by the “Munich Beer Garden” for one thing, a big supermarket for another, McDonalds and Burger King and the AlexanderPlatz buses/tubes/trains… i.e. all very easy! (I flew in to Tegal airport, got the TXL Jet Bus thing, a couple of Euros and ended up about 200m from the place, ideal!)

Typically with German events (despite the 189 Euro entry fee!) you don’t get a shirt and I wavered over the 30 Euros for the luminous green monstrosity that they had on offer! It wasn’t subtle shall we say… and in the end decided that I wouldn’t bother, oddly didn’t have the nice design on it that I’d seen on their website or the volunteer shirts. Maybe it was all lost in translation somewhere along the way, but otherwise took a good 2 minutes to get my bag of goodies, which was a number, a “dibber” chip and some bits and bobs. Rather nicely they included a proper book of the route, aimed mainly at cyclists I think, (the whole route is mostly cycle paths so the said…) which has lots of information about all the various things you’d be seeing enroute. Rather too heavy for the rucksack unfortunately, but if you had crew (who are allowed to cycle around with you) then that would be nice for them, or else perhaps an extensive recce too.

Now this was to be my 9 th crack at a 100 miler and after the debacle of the GUCR I’d decided to “do something about it” – despite my firm belief that I’d got a good 100 mile run in me, I hadn’t produced one to date to my satisfaction. Now I could just endlessly wait for the “magic bullet” whatever that might be but I’d seen no sign of that so instead decided the simplest thing would be, like most things in life, just work at it, firstly to cut some weight. So in the 6 weeks or so before this run I’d cut maybe 15 pounds off, this did lead to some rubbish runs as I was often calorie deficient by some way, but felt mildly better for it and in truth wasn’t that hard. Losing weight is easy really, you just have to eat less than you burn up and be prepared to suffer. Nobody is going to die on a 1500 calorie a day diet but you’ll feel hungry at times. Amazingly I didn’t die and I did suffer, a bit. I’d been setting the alarm for 5am and doing some fairly hard training runs. Nothing insane, but just working at it.

The plus side is I really did rather enjoy the “carb loading” as had barely had a proper meal in those six weeks!

The mandatory race briefing was the longest I’d ever been to by miles! Over an hour and a half and at the end it was quite amusing as basically half the audience just kind of walked out! (It was 9pm by now…) Was all in German of course, but they had English and Italian speakers for the important bits, they spoke for about 2 minutes each, so I have little idea what else they were waffling on about. I think it was the aid station by aid station photographic tour that finally killed it for folk. Was daft really to be going on so late when people would be having 3am/4am alarm calls… should have either started earlier or just cut it down. Not as if all this information wasn’t on the website, and in reality some of the laborious descriptions of “tricky” bits of navigation were nothing like they said. I have no idea what was tricky about the 55k bit… and the bridge at 149k? Err… just walk up the steps, cross the bridge, walk down the steps. Maybe they were just describing how sore the legs were going to feeling by then!

I wandered back to the Holiday Inn, now oddly stressed at the lack of time and the desire to be asleep!

A quick Skype call to Rachel and it was toe taping time… again! Version 9… this time I had the Kinseo tape on both big toes as usual, although three bits rather than two just to go down the instep more. What I did differently this time was to Kinseo tape the little toe on my right foot, which has always been the problematic one, so two bits of tape, one over the top, one around and trimmed up (incredibly it’s STILL got some skin falling off from GUCR, that was some DEEP blistering!) . Then the thin injinji socks I cut off the two outside toes (so that basically a big hole was left) just leaving three toes… the outside ones I can never get on my toes anyway and they tend to ruck up, I think maybe causing more problems than they solve) gave the untapped bits a good doing of the sports shield stuff. Finally on top of that a brand new pair of Thorlo’s probably too thick and hot for 29C weather, but they’re long (I’d read lots about mosquitoes) and although they wear through far too quickly, they’ve been my go to socks for probably 200+ marathons now! (and yes I know you shouldn’t be wearing anything new!). Did my final sort out of the rucksack and was set! (Mandatory gear was a phone, 0.5L of water, (head torch and reflective vest at night))

Unfortunately by the time this was all done was probably 10:30pm… alarm set for 4am. But did feel I got some decent sleep in for once, maybe 4 hours, which was enough. Before a couple of my long ones I swear I’ve not had 2 minutes!

Race

Left my suitcase at the Holiday Inn, (with a very confused receptionist!) and wandered around to the 5am buses at the Ramada, tucked myself at the back and tried and failed to doze.

Was only a 5 minute drive to the Sports Arena (I noticed the tube station I wanted to wander back to as well so that was useful, was only maybe 400 metres away) and we were there! I did a final sort out of the drop bags (you were allowed 3, which they gave you, white/blue/black for 43k, 83k, 113k). Smeared on sun cream and mosquito repellent, dumped those in the 43k bag, reflective vest I decided to stick in 83k and otherwise they all had identical stuff in Ensure, mars bar drink, caffeine, little bag of cheese biscuit things, spare shirt, shorts/glide in 83k, cookie dough nibbles in 113k, Clif Shots, Werthers sweets in 113k (this is all for my reference really! Lol) dumped those in the big trolley things there. Also noticed they had a finish line drop bag, first I’d seen about that! Oh well, was always my plan to go back to the hotel after the finish anyway and never keen to leave my case at the finish as has my laptop in and know these things aren’t exactly closely watched.

There was a breakfast there, not that I was interested (breakfast was a mars bar, clif bar and a bottle of ensure in the first water bottle of the day) though did have a bit of jam on toast they had laying around… just mainly sat in there as they had seats. You can tell the new guys to the long ultras, standing and walking around too much! Sit down! A chap called Ben found me and introduced himself as a fellow Brit and we had a bit of a chat, saw another guy in a Centurion shirt like the one I had on, his was TP100 that he’d done this year, mine was crew so he probably just thought I was a volunteer.

The start was only 10 yards away, went through a gate to get the dibber chip activated (note to anyone doing this in the future if they use the same timing method, you don’t need to “dib” the dibber in a receiver at the aid stations! If you’ve done an Endurance Life/VoTwo “dibber” event you’ll know what I mean, at the first few aid stations that had them I was looking for where you dibbed! Was just a wide field receiver…) and I found a bench to sit on. (I am sitting down till 10 seconds before the start if I am able!) So 10 seconds before the start I join the field, bit of a count down and we are off! Half a lap of the track and we are out in to the wilds. I did feel at the start though if I had missed the “compulsory Salomon kit” instruction, did seem to be few Salomon pimps shall we say!

Was a lovely morning, sun just up, probably around 18C, light breeze, fluffy clouds. Forecast wasn’t great as later was due to get up to 29C, but would worry about that when it happened. Plan was basically to run fairly hard until it got hot, ease off, and then press on in the evening, then when the lights go out and the game gets hard, just see what can be done!

First bit was through downtown Berlin, and the briefing had contained dire warnings of disqualification if you broke the traffic laws, so basically, you had to wait for the all the traffic lights. Empty roads, downtown Berlin, lots of traffic lights! So it was a bit stop/start as the Germans of course religiously stuck to this (a couple of folk broke ranks and were roundly shouted at! The Germans have no sense of humour.) and the field quickly broke in to packets broken up by the lights! Whilst it was a pain, it did slow us down, which may not have been a bad thing, and I took the opportunity to eat a few Peanut Butter M&Ms each time I stopped. I got in with this group of German guys who seemed to know where they were going but they weren’t very sociable and we just trotted along happily enough.

It was clear early on that navigation was going to be a bit more tricky than I thought. There was a road book – which had a description of where you were going – , but that was useless unless you were going to be looking at every street name, far more basic than the most basic LDWA instructions. A map, which was far too big a scale to be useful and markings. The “stickers” which from the slides at the presentation looked to be about a foot high were in fact about an inch, so reassuring to see, if you were five feet away, but if you were at a road junction looking for them, no chance. And there were road markings, three dots and an arrow. These were the best things to look out for, but as with anything, easy to miss sometimes, especially as on occasion I noticed they were on the path, when you were on the road, or vice versa. Also there were ones left over from last year, where there had been just the relay, in the reverse direction (but at least they didn’t have the dots, but get to a junction with arrows in opposite directions and a bit faded, you have to pay attention!). At night there were some very good reflective blue arrows which were useful, tricky to see the direction they were pointing, but easily visible.

However, there was a GPX map of the course, which I’d edited to pull in as close to the satellite images of the route that I could and had that on both my Garmins. I am not old school, I am of the “know where I am going” school! This proved very useful indeed, I went astray by 10 metres maximum in the night when I took a road rather than a path parallel to it, but otherwise I was always bang on the line. I’d read in a couple of race reports about folk going astray and I didn’t intend to join them! Whilst overall the route was fairly obvious, you were always on a path, or a road, or a track, so not like tracking across fields or anything, there were certainly times when I was very happy to know that I was on the RIGHT road, path or track! Berlin and the surrounds have many… and although I had read that the old route of the Berlin Wall was now basically a cycle path, that proved to be rubbish. Maybe 40 miles of it was a nice, easy to follow cycle path! That leaves many opportunities to go astray, or be on the wrong cycle path, track or road!

So we’re rolling along quite happily, past the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and all the sorts of things you’d think of as Berlin and it’s all good. Good pace, working steadily, but nothing stupid and I was just tagging on the back of this German bus… at 6k we hit the first aid station, just water, and we go off again after a queue trying to dib our dibbers and not needing to!

Oddly for the next 5k I think all the green men at traffic lights were green! And really were out in the suburbs now and settled in to a nice steady pace, sort of 9mm area, flat, good surfaces, lights green and what stunningly little joviality that the Germans had, left! Anyway the next aid station soon came along at about 11k (coke and water – obviously the Germans don’t believe in eating early) and here was where (I presume) the “cyclist crews” were allowed from. As suddenly my little bus had 4 cyclists in amongst us. I soon learnt that these crews didn’t give a &8!#% about anyone else as nearly got run over half a dozen times in next few k, they’d stop dead two feet in front of you, park their bike right across the path etc. Also I quickly noticed that the guys who hadn’t been bothering to carry anything hadn’t needed to as their bike crews were just “muling” for them. They had panniers on, bottles of water, food and no doubt other gear tucked away. Whilst I’m all for crews and pacers, I do at least think that you should carry the mandatory gear and certainly in my group of Germans, they weren’t carrying anything.

I decided to just drop back a shade from these now annoying me Germans and stick my iPod on (there had been dire warnings of DQ’s for wearing music in the City, but figured I was far enough away now), head down, off we go… stuck to the “steady” effort type pace. There were 27 aid stations on the course and was beginning to wonder when the food would start as my M&M supply was getting low and it was #3 I discovered. One thing I was set on doing was having “good aid station” discipline. i.e. in and out

No messing about. Also in time discovered that about 95% of the aid stations were identical, water, carbonated water (wtf??! I regretted filling my bottle with that!), coke, some ghastly brown liquid stuff, waffles, cheese, chocolate wafer biscuit selection things, dense german bread, salami, pretzel stick things, nuts, dense kind of madeira cake, trail mix nut stuff, oranges, bananas… generally pretty good, it was just lacking crisps, and the chocolate biscuit stuff wasn’t good after about 9am with the heat. The bad news was that I found the bread too dense, the cake too dense, the biscuits were sticky and I didn’t know the German for “can I just have a slice of cheese please”, “no I can see you have cheese with butter on the weirdly dense bread, but can I just have the cheese please” or “look over there I can see it can you just pass me the packet please!”. So throughout that was a minor struggle, but I basically grabbed a cup or two of coke (OK that’s a lie, a lot of the aid stations were a bit “self-service”), a bit of cheese, a couple of the little biscuits and maybe 4 or 5 nuts.

Another annoying German habit I discovered was standing in front of where the drinks were and lets have a chat. I did at least know the German for excuse me please!

By now we were fully out in the suburbs a bit on cycle paths and in woods, and really was very pleasant, bit of a breeze, often shaded and trolling along at a decent pace. Reached the 22.1k aid station in 2:11 which is very respectable for me, especially bearing in mind that included probably a dozen stops at traffic lights! Didn’t feel that I was working overly hard, I’d run up what little slopes there had been (overall it’s a very flat 100 mile route, 2000′ of up, there are some gentle rolling bits in some of the park areas but can only remember one very short steepish bit and that was downhill!) and just rocking along, 33k in 3:15 (found the first toilet here! There really weren’t many on the course… so made best use of that I could.) and the first major aid station at 43k in 4:27 (which 18 months earlier would have been a lights out marathon time for me!)

Here I discovered the downside of having identical drop bags… they had little green tags on with your numbers, but nobody was handing them out so you had to go searching for them, they were in groups of 10, so obviously mine was the 10 th one I found, (that was after I found where they were keeping them! I was wandering about a bit, language is an issue! (there seemed to be very few English speakers in general)) but grabbed a bottle of Ensure for the pack, smeared on the sun screen, smeared on the repellent, wolfed down a mars bar drink and off again. I was an oily mess for much of this event! Oh and a box of tic tacs, I rattled too.

It was beginning to warm up a bit by now and my pace was beginning to slow a bit but was eating OK, stomach felt good and what I was getting down was good, feet felt fine, was pretty perky from all the caffeine (had been on a hard cut the week before) and all was well with the world… out in the woods… along roads… even the many cobbled bits were good! Passed 50k in 5:15 which is my best time by a way for that distance, (at Graveyard 100 Foxy and I did 5:59 I recall) and all was well, 55k in 5:48, 68k in 7:26 and was very pleased with 40 miles in 6:59 (I’ve done over 12 hours for a 40 mile event!) and still making steady progress and to be honest at this stage I am thinking, tell you what, I could do sub 20:00 at this rate you know.

Got to the second major checkpoint at 80k in 9:17 which for me for 50 miles is very pleasing. Had a bit more of a sort out here, new shirt, would have changed my shorts but was very exposed, cleaned my glasses, chugged back a litre of fluids, more mosquito stuff (next section I’d read was worst plus likely be coming into evening time) and was off again.

So it’s now 3pm and this was when I noticed for the first time that a) blimey its hot. b) blimey my legs are feeling it a bit now c) blimey, so now we do that again! But after a bit of a walk it was a nice forest/park/decent surface and settled in to it again, a bit more walk/run now and was really quite pleased with how things were going. I’d started walking more after 40 miles, but with long running bits, which were getting shorter by now, but there was still much running involved, although was slowing. Met up with a chap from Newcastle here for a mile and we had a chat (there was another chap called Ash I’d met briefly at the start who flew past me about mile 2) before he left me, he was going very strong so that was good and I really just power marched/trotted along. 100k was 12:04 and again my best time by a way for that distance and for the first time ever I will confess to seriously wondering what the Spartathalon qualifying time was (its 10:30 btw!). There was a nice park and here was the one and only decent conversation with a German the entire race, a girl asked me if I knew where I was going as they weren’t allowed to mark the course here (Mr Garmin is my friend…) I said that I did and off she went with her pacer, ironically several hours later they caught up with me again, they’d gotten lost! (in fact there was one silent German who must have passed me at least half a dozen times in the evening/night and only saw him at one aid station sitting down!).

It was a real warm muggy evening and my plan of “pushing on” when it cooled down really didn’t come to much! I was pretty worn out by now, but still happy with how things were going, there was still running involved, I was past 100k which is when the fun and games start and whilst my 19:xx finish time was beginning to be a bit of fantasy I was thinking 20:xx was still a possibility. A long stretch by a river (noticed for the first time the dreaded mosquitos, but overall escaped lightly, have one stupid large cluster on my left calf where a family of six mosquitos must have tucked in to a four course Traviss dinner, but otherwise really nothing. I used pure DEET I think from South Africa, nothing environmentally friendly for me!).

113k was the final big aid station. 14:09 – 47k till I get home. I did that in 5 hours earlier, but the lights were going out and this is where the fun and games start. Another changed shirt, (I had on a South Downs Marathon one at this stage, didn’t like that so threw it in the bin, think that cause my back chafing) dug out my Kobi one, has a photo of a husky on the front that belonged to a couple of friends of mine Ian and Sandra, I’d worn it on the back end of a couple of other 100s and I rather like the image, eyes forward, just the “this is why we are here, let’s get it done” time. Union Jack buff donned, loins girded, upper lip stiffened. Game on.

I had a look around at the somewhat sorrowful state of some of the other guys sitting down (I never sat down once) there eating (I think this was the only place where they had hot food) or just looking rather miserable having a rest or pulling out. It was like come on, get yourself moving again… or on the other hand I’m 10 places up in the race all of a sudden. Sun was just about down and was feeling worn out, but 73 miles into the game and any kind of night would see me home nicely inside 24 hours and still thinking 21:xx.

Out in the wilds as the lights turned off and I left my headtorch off for as long as possible in the fading gloom as is my wont and was pleased with myself for still having some running involved and at all times moving with real purpose, even the major aid stations had been in and out and a sub 20:00 mile. Although “running” was beginning to be a bit of a loose description I was moving in a jogging motion and the miles were ticking by OK and often I’d “run” to get the mile under the nearest minute. One thing I have discovered is that you really don’t need to run that much to get a 15 minute mile. I know what 30 minute miles are, so 15 is OK at times!

Was almost pitch black before I finally got the night gear out, although we were supposed to wear a reflective vest my rucksack had lots of reflective bits on it and it was so warm wasn’t going to stick on my vest unless someone told me to (they didn’t). Glad I stuck it on when I did as a left turn took me into a long wooded section, it felt perhaps slightly down hill and could hear some Germans approach from behind, and could see some lights on ahead from the next aid station so thought I would run to that, beat them in!

Disaster! Right before the aid station I stumbled on something and went down like a lead balloon. Total wipe-out onto my right elbow, water bottle in the other hand (which squirted somehow all down my shorts!) and just OUCH! I had one look at my elbow (in fact just on the forearm side, didn’t land on the point) and thought %&#!?!! – lots of blood dripping off and a bump that looked the size of an egg already, stung like crazy and I thought I’d broken my arm as that lump looked rather like bone pushing the skin up. Damn. And OUCH. Squirted what was left of the water over it and realised that the three Germans had virtually jumped over me, so much for the usual ultra-running camaraderie… Went into the aid station and tried to get some help to wash off the damage and get a dressing/bandage/plasters and going to say I was stunning unimpressed.

Spoke to three aid station folk, none of whom spoke much English, which was fair enough, but there was maybe a dozen aid station folk and runners there in all and I doubt none of them spoke English and I’m not sure what language you need for “look at all the blood dripping everywhere” – I mean seriously, two guys went off to look for an first aid box (I presume) and 30 seconds later they’ve given up and filling up cups of water again! I poured a whole bottle of water over it (Germans looking and taking a step back to avoid the blood!) after 5 minutes I gave up and then remembered my “emergency 100 mile pack” – so got that out, wiped the bloody gunk that was by arm and stuck on two giant plasters, one over the big bump, frankly to hide it and one over the worst of the cut. There was some blood dripping down my arm still, but one more wipe and wash off and it seemed to have stopped. So off I went…

I’d now gone right off trying to run, and was feeling a bit sorry for myself as it was stinging like crazy and thought I maybe had a broken arm! But off I went anyway, there was only about 24 miles left and I doubt it was broken or fractured, whilst it hurt to move, it wasn’t THAT bad, but was worried about what that lump was. Unexpected lumps aren’t good news. I spent two miles looking at my other elbow trying to work out how much of a lump there was on that side to compare. I decided there was a natural bump there anyway and that it was probably just swollen, I wouldn’t mention it again in case they got proper medics involved and they pulled me to go get it x-rayed.

The consequence of all this was a 2:15 10k… how time slides away. But it was about now that Ben caught me up and we wandered along for a while, he wasn’t having a great time as he’d got sun stroke and wasn’t really able to eat anything, just managing to get the odd morsel down with a mouthful or two of coke. Being British and being men we never actually said anything as such but I think we both silently mutually decided that we’d walk it in from here together. Ben had done the SDW100 the year before in 26:xx so was keen for a sub 24 if possible (which I don’t think he thought he was going to get), but really couldn’t run, getting light headed very quickly, but was fine walking and we were marching at a good pace. 16/17 minute miles, we weren’t speedy, but that’s purposeful when you’re in the 80s and we weren’t wasting time and frankly was nice to have someone to chat to after a very unsociable day!

Nights are where I have always struggled and between Ben and myself we kept up this good forced walk pace and doing the math I reckoned we could still scrape 22:xx and we could crawl and do 23:xx. I was feeling a bit sick by now and could only really stomach coke and the odd small nibble but conversely was feeling better overall, my arm had stopped the real stinging and if truth be told I could have run a bit, there was a loooooong stretch alongside a river on a good surface where had I been alone I would have run/walked a bit, but I decided I wasn’t going to leave Ben behind and 22:45 or 23:15 who cares? Sub 24:00 was the goal and we were going to do that.

The time slid some more, the miles drifted out to 18:xx, then 19:xx but my now we were back in the City, tired, sore but there is tired and sore and 30 miles to go and tired and sore with 4 miles to go. Did have to make one emergency pit stop, I suddenly had a “got to go feeling” and within 5 minutes it had become a “GOT TO GO” feeling. There was a bush, I wish I had checked it more, it was prickly! But wow I felt better after, wish I had lost that little lot 95 miles earlier, would have been worth 30 minutes off my time! Lol Its amazing how you can go to feeling a bit sick and off colour, to this dreadful stomach feeling, to this I’m dying feeling and then better again within about a 15 minute period. Ironically the final aid station at 96 was the best one, finally a little variety, I grabbed grapes!

Berlin at night is pretty funky, lots and lots of folk were out and quite a few enquired what on earth we were doing! I suspect we were quite a sight, but even drunken Germans gave us quite a wide berth, Ben described us as the worst looking SWAT team ever, which made me chuckle. But after the ghouls and spectres of the night we finally found a bit of Berlin Wall about mile 97-98 (there was surprisingly little left, you’d generally have no idea it was ever there). 

Another couple of runners caught us up, and in fact may have been the first of the entire day who spoke to us first in English (we both had Union Jacks on) and asked us if we knew the way. We said that we did and they stuck around us for a while, not chatting but just making sure we were going the same way. Going astray at mile 99 isn’t recommended and there were lots of left/right/left sort of turns. The final mile took forever, the track entrance just wouldn’t arrive but finally a left turn and a bit of a panic of would they make us do a lap SDW100 style, but thankfully only about a quarter of the circuit and the finish was there. I made sure that we passed the timing device at the same time (oddly about 50 metres from the line (so that they could announce you)) and in true British style a handshake and a “well done” at the finish line and we were home in 23:16.39. No hugs, no tears, no fuss. Some hairy German tried to give me a hug but managed to fight him fairly well I think! 72 nd out of 221 starters, even managed to beat a couple of the relay teams in! Top third, I’ll take that.

Aftermath

Gave you a finishers shirt and took a photo and then the anti-climax began…

No-one handing out buckles or medals? So we asked and then found out that they were being handed out at a presentation ceremony, at 2pm back at the Ramada, yes, 9 hours later. We said, well thanks but we’ve got a flight home and never going to make that can we have them now please, errr.. no. Speak to the Race Director, but he’s having a sleep now. Ring him later. You’re kidding me right? Apparently not. Oh well, I lost interest.

Next up we have a sit down and I am feeling really very sick by now. Probably just a good throw up to clear out the stomach and I’d have been OK, sat around, stood up, hobbled about stiffened up, sat down, tried to sleep, usual stuff but never felt like I was actually going to vomit, but wish I did. Tried to doze as had suddenly come over very tired too, but all to no avail. They had mats out in the gym for folk to sleep on whilst they wasted the day waiting for their bling, but they were all taken I found, so gave up with that, tried to eat something, but managed a whole half a boiled egg! In the end just gave up and thought I’d would go back to plan A and go back to the hotel, get changed, do some work and go to the airport.

In the middle of the hall were the drop bags, in no order. 250 runners. 750 drop bags. Some had been collected and not everyone started nor everyone had three so I am exaggerating but what you don’t want to be doing after a 100 miles is sifting through identical bags trying to find “177” on a tiny green tag! I must have spent 15-20 minutes and found one, the 50 mile bag, and just gave up, pretty certain they weren’t there and another chap said he couldn’t find any of his or his wife’s. He said he’d asked and apparently that was all of them, so who knows where the others went to. There was nothing in them I cared about enough to worry about at that stage, said goodbye to Ben (who kindly offered to see if he could extract anything from anyone later on my behalf) and I toddled off to the metro station, it was a pretty long 400 metre waddle and the steps in and then out at Alexanderplatz were a struggle! Even more of a struggle was that I had no idea what exit I took in relation to the hotel! I was probably 100 metres away but I am sure the mile I walked did me good!

As for the run itself, it was probably my most pleasing. Both in terms of pace and effort levels, I ran steadily, comfortably and with decent output for a long time. I really did pretty much run the first 50 miles. In fact although there was some walking involved of course I don’t think there was one yard I walked when I should have been running. There were some hills, road crossings, little tricky bits of navigation I was just making sure and so on but otherwise, I was hauling.

I had “PBs” at 50k, 40m, 50m Comrades (56m) and 100k in what are approaching (by my own modest standards) respectable times. I really wanted a sub 24 finish here, to me sub 24:00 at a 100 is respectable. You can quote that to folk who know and they’ll think, yeah, that’s OK. I’m not embarrassed by that time, in fact, I’m a little proud of it. My aid station discipline was excellent, there were 27 opportunities to waste time and I wouldn’t say I spent one minute over what I should have. In and out as quick as I could, I never sat down once, I had one ice cream (come on it was right there!) and if I had 5 minutes of dawdling to take a photo or fiddle with an ipod then maybe it was 10 minutes but out of 100 miles, I’ll take that. Hydration was good, drank a lot, but didn’t wee that much, but when I did was decent colour. Electrolyte intake was good, took 24 S!Caps/Endurolytes with me, took one after each aid station generally. Ate early, had SOMETHING at every aid station and often a little nibble or sip on the Ensure in-between too, plenty till I got sick late in, but think that’s just part of the game really, but by then it didn’t matter. Felt pretty wide awake the whole time, I think lots of coke, the caffeine cut and the late company worked a treat.

I could have gotten 22:xx but didn’t care enough about it, I did care about 23:xx and I made sure at all times that I was going to achieve it. I think had I not taken a tumble then even 21: might have been possible, I barely ran after that, and prior, to that was still jogging from time to time to get the mileage rates down. Another dozen miles of 14/15 versus 17/18 soon gets those times down.

My feet were excellent compared to what they have been like, I have one very painful callous/blister on the sole of my left foot. Which really only started about mile 60/70 and no idea what can be done about those really, otherwise, a bit sore, a bit battered and a bit swollen. But compared to the horrors of Heartland/Thames Path/GUCR they’re in incredibly good shape. By 90 they were fairly just generally sore, but beyond caring by then. It’s when they’re sore at mile 20 its more concerning!

Left quad was real painful between 60-70 but took some ibuprofen and that sort of faded off in to the general soreness, right quad was a bit painful on and off, left ankle was a bit creaky at times. Both knees too thinking about it, oh and left hip! But although you may be thinking that’s actually just about his entire lower body, none of it was really bad and barely felt any different from anything else by the time mile 99 rolled around! At the time of writing, if it wasn’t for that blister I think I could almost be walking normally, am creaky of course, but otherwise, best shape I’ve been in after a 100 by some way. Much of which I can attribute to simply being on the feet for less time. One thing I have noticed is that with feet especially, most of the pain comes in the end game. Be on your feet for six hours less and they’re not just better, they’re a LOT better.

I’m writing this the next morning and this is certainly the first time I have felt good about a 100 mile run. I choose the word “run” carefully because I don’t feel good about the “event” so much. Partly because my expectations weren’t met and partly because the “spirit” of a long ultra I didn’t feel was there. The route wasn’t quite how I imagined it would be, was far from 100 miles of nice bike paths, was a lot of quite rough paths, single track, cobblestones, bloody cobble stones (odd how at mile 10 you consider that a good running surface, at mile 80, ugghhhh) and the navigation was tougher than I thought, it wasn’t bad at all, but just thought it would be more idiot proof, seemed to be an utter lack of “official signage” like you’d see on say the South Downs Way. And rarely was it totally obvious that you were on the “Berlin Wall Cycle Path” per se. I don’t think that exists actually. I’d break it down to maybe 50 miles good surface, 30 miles uneven but good, 15 miles of cobble stones and 5 miles of not great at all.

The finish was terribly anti-climactic, 8 other 100 mile finishes, a hand shake, here is a your buckle, congratulations. (OK it was a medal here and still not that sure if there is a buckle involved, the bit on the website about a buckle for a sub-24 finish came, went and then came back again and never seen any evidence it actually existed.) I can’t help thinking it incredibly conceited of the organisers to expect EVERY finisher to go to a presentation, hours and hours after to get your medal. If you live in Berlin, it would be OK, and whilst most of the field were German as you’d expect, I am sure that many weren’t locals, and would be looking to go home and would have been a major inconvenience at best to be hanging around for so long. I am sure it’s a nice idea in theory, especially if you were out in the wilds and everyone is staying there anyway, but in practice… stupid idea and I’ve just lost interest now. Maybe they’ll mail it, maybe they won’t, the moment has gone. A piece of metal after the event means nothing to me.

When James Elson greets you at the finish of a Centurion 100 miler and shakes your hand as he gives you a buckle it’s that moment of mutual respect, you both know how hard that is to earn, and you just earned it. At Heartlands 100, it’s just the simplest of banners, in a field, at the edge of the tiniest hamlet, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It’s the lowest key finish line in the world, but there is the race director with a big smile, a handshake and a buckle. The sun is coming up, you plonk yourself down and look at it and think, you know what, job done mate, that was HARD and you earned that.

As an advert for the German ultra-running community it was poor. There was a lack of camaraderie that is so commonplace in British and US events. Little banter, little conversation, runners would go past you without any acknowledgement, even deep into the night, not a word. And I just cannot imagine any runner taking a tumble at a Centurion event or US ultra and not being asked by every single person how he was, did he need help, what can we do? But those guys sidestepped me without a word and likewise in the aid station, nobody cared. When Rachel took a tumble at Thames Meander in 2011, I reckon 50 people stopped to offer help, in the dead of night at Rocky Racoon folk 20 or 40 miles ahead of her stopped to offer assistance. Maybe it’s a culture thing. Maybe it was a language thing. Maybe it was the Union Jack round my neck, but I want folk to know where I come from. I don’t carry a backpack on my back, I carry a nation.

I really wanted to like this event, they’re making it annual from next year and increasing the field to 500 which would make it one of the biggest 100 mile events in the world, but left feeling slightly disappointed. It’s a nice city to visit, it’s simple logistically but I just didn’t “feel it” for this one. Put it this way, entries are open for 2014 and I’ve not entered. And no thoughts of doing so either…

There is a short video of the event (in German and English) and I can be spied sitting down at the start at about 0:20!

http://hauptstadtsport.tv/100-meilen-lauf.html

http://hauptstadtsport.tv/100miles—english.html

 

Things I Learnt:

 

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