Last week I ran 33 kilometers through an awesome scenery in and near the small town Viljandi in Estonia. It was not a race, there was no timing and no placement. Instead, there were many friendly and amazing people, (who I hadn’t known before) who did this run with me.
So, how did I end up running in an event in a rural area in the north-eastern corner of Europe, in an event that virtually no one had heard of, with people I didn’t know? It all started a couple of months ago in Vienna, where I was to run the City Marathon.
At the Vienna City Marathon expo, after listening to Haile Gebrselassie, I stood in the queue to collect my race number. Next to me there stood a young woman, and we started talking. She told me she came from Estonia and belonged to a group of runners who took part in the marathon and also promoted a distance run. Kaire gave me a flyer with a brief description and the web address of this run.
From what she told me about the run I was immediately interested. The website was somehow mysterious, it tells about the “first spiritual running event in Estonia” without going into details. So the only way to find out was to take part. After I had returned from Vienna I wrote Kaire that I would like to come to Estonia, but probably not this year. But the thought was in my head. Two weeks later I asked my wife if she wanted to accompany me to Estonia. She didn’t, but told me to go anyway if I wanted to. So the decision was made, and before I could change my mind I booked a flight to Tallinn.
At the evening of Friday, July 13th (I’m not superstitious) I entered the plane to Tallinn. 24 hours later I sat on a bench in Viljandi in central Estonia, overlooking the nearby lake and finishing (for the second time) Murakami’s great book “What I talk about when I talk about running”.
The next day, Sunday, was the day of the race … or was it a race? A race requires proper timing, a winner, result lists and so on. This event had none of these.
I went from my hostel to the start, merely 100 meters, where I met the other runners. Most of them were members of the “Elujooks” (“life running”) running group. Kristjan, the leader of the Elujooks group and race director (except it wasn’t a race) then introduced us to the rules of the Estonian Adventure Run. It was a course of 33 km length, basically one big lap around the lake. Mainly the course followed trails and hiking paths, only a short portion had to be run on roads. Kristjan had designed the course corresponding to the six elements: air, wood, water, fire, earth and metal. We runners would encounter each of these elements along the course, Kristjan told us. Still I had no idea what that could mean.
But what I understood was that: this run didn’t focus on time, performance, ranks, running tactics or competition. These things were not important today. Important was to connect with our surrounding, with nature, and with our fellow runners. The course design supported this by putting emphasize on the different parts of nature, the elements.
Of course everything was said in Estonian, but thankfully – my Estonian is not the best – Kristjan repeated the most important parts in English. He did that because, as he said, the EAR was an international event. And in fact two participants didn’t come from Estonia: myself and Hiro, a Japanese who lives in Mozambique and whose wife is Estonian.
So the gun went off (except, of course, there was no gun) and we started. After a few hundred meters there was a narrow downhill trail which owing to the rain of the previous days was deep and muddy, and despite my new trail shoes I slipped and fell. Nice start.
The course went along the lakeshore in southern direction. And there was the first of the prepared adventures: a rope was spanned between two trees. One by one we stepped on the rope, found our balance (or not), jumped and went on. Then there was the second task, which represented the element “air”: a balloon, filled with air, had to be passed from one runner to the next without letting out the air. So each runner had to wait for the following runner to hand on the balloon.
It turned out that Hiro, the guy from Japan, and I ran about the same pace, so we had plenty of time for chatting. And there was much to tell each other.
Other element-related tasks followed: We drank water from an amazingly clear pond; we hugged and kissed trees; and we lifted an iron dumb-bell. At one point there were slips of paper hanging from a tree. On each one a sentence was written. The one I plucked read as follows:
Since my Estonian is limited to one word (“Tere”, which means “Hello”) I had to wait until I had access to Google Translate before I knew what it meant.
After about 15 kilometers we came to a hut with a fire burning inside. And there we met Kristjan again. He had a message for each of us. My message was to follow Joonas, who would take me to the hell. The “hell”, it turned out, was a red sandstone wall with some caves – a little Grand Canyon feeling in Estonia.
On the second half of the course I ran with a group of fellow runners: there were Hiro and Joonas, and there was amazing Kristi, who, in the fire hut, obviously got the order from Kristjan to supervise Joonas an me. Sometimes Kristi ran much faster than I ever could; at other times she inserted slow sections. Our group was separated many times, but somehow we all reached the finish at about the same time.
Between kilometers 27 and 30 there were a couple of little speed bumps (serious hills); after mastering them we soon were in Viljandi, passed the ruins of the castle where the run had started and arrived at the finish, where we received a wonderful wooden medal.
After the run we all gathered in Viljani’s old gym. There was seljanka and a wonderful cake. Time went by fast and soon parting time had come. I had known these people only for a few hours, but saying good-bye really moved me. There is a great spirit among these group of runners, and I was lucky to be a part of them for a day. The spirit is contagious and I hope to carry it with me for a long time. At least until the Estonian Adventure Run 2013.
Early in 2011, I read on dailymile about a race called “24 Stunden Lauf” which takes place each year in June in a small town near Bremen, in the north of Germany. The race starts at 12pm Saturday and ends on Sunday exactly 24 hours later. The goal is to run as far as possible.
Fortunately, it is possible to do this in a relay with a team. The course is a 1.2 km loop in a park in the center of Delmenhorst. When running as a team, it is required that the runner changes after every lap. So you don’t run a long distance, but a series of short, fast laps and then pause after every lap.
There are also runners who do this on their own. For them, of course, it is a totally different race. While we relay runners run as fast as possible, they have to ration their energy. Most of them take a sleep break during the night, but some run through the night.
Last year the “dailymile Team Germany” consisted of 7 runners. This year, thanks to our “locals” Sascha and Olaf, we were very well organized and months before the race our team had reached the maximum number of 10 runners: Manuela, Sascha, Olaf, Gerrit, Gerald, Jörg, Natalie, Sonia, Alun and myself. Four of them I knew from last year; the other five I knew only from dailymile.
After a busy working week, I arrived in Delmenhorst at about 10am on Saturday. I met the other team members at our dailymile team tent, a large 6x4m tent borrowed from the Red Cross, which would be our home for the next 26 hours. We changed into the red team shirts (also organized by Sascha) with our names printed on the back and the dailymile logo on the front, and went to the starting area. Together we walked the course, which consisted mostly of gravel walking paths; only a small portion is on asphalt.
Soon it was 12pm, and the first runners were on the course, Gerald for our team. Our plan for the first hour was that each team member should run one lap to get to know the course. Then we ran in pairs: Alun and Gerald from 1pm to 2pm, Gerrit and Sascha from 2pm to 3pm, and so on. I had my first shift from 3pm to 4pm, together with Olaf.
This way of running is very different from the kind of distance running we are used to. Because the distance seems to be so short (1.2km per lap), one tends to begin too fast. Especially on the first lap of a shift, when the legs are still cold, I had difficulties after 300 meters. I had to slow down considerably when I wanted to complete the lap running and not walking. On the second lap, the legs and cardiovascular system slowly change into running mode, and after the third lap it’s almost like a normal tempo run. Unfortunately, in a typical 1-hour shift, there is time for only 5 laps, so when the body has reached full operating temperature, the next two teammates take over.
After my second shift (8pm to 9pm), I took a shower, found a corner in the team tent for my camping mat and sleeping bag and slept for 2 hours. Surprisingly I had no difficulties falling asleep. At 11:30pm, a half hour before my next shift with Olaf, I got up, had a little snack and went to the course. Meanwhile the live music had changed; now there was quite nice, quiet country music. Though it was dark, the course was illuminated with colored spotlights; There were also even corners that were really dark and you had to be careful with every step. I knew from the previous year that this was my favorite time. Running felt easy and, despite the darkness, I was really fast. I should run at night more often!
My second night shift was from 4am to 5am this time together with Manuela and Jörg. Again I had slept and after Manu woke me up it took me only a few minutes to get ready. At the horizon there were the first signs of light. By 5am, when our shift was finished, it was almost daylight. After my last shift (8am to 9am) time flew by and soon the last of the 24 hours had come.
To defend our position our fastest runners took turns during the last hour. With 4 minutes to go, Manu came to the finish and I had the honor of taking the baton for the last meters. As fast as I could I ran until the siren rang at 12 o’clock. Complying with the rules I stopped where I was and waited. After a few minutesmy teammates came and we high-fived each other. Then we waited for the official who would measure the distance I ran on the last lap.
We were a really great team. It’s amazing how 10 individuals who (in part) didn’t know each other previously becme friends and a real team within a few hours. Thank you guys for being so awesome! I’m already looking forward to next year’s event in Delmenhorst.
Place overall: 15 of 78 teams
Place in category “mixed”: 8 of 49 teams
Distance run: 302.2 km
Every marathon runner experiences special moments which he or she remembers forever. Obviously crossing the finish line of your first marathon is such a moment. But today I pick another memory.
8 years ago, on Sunday, October 10th, 2004, I ran my 5th marathon race, the Munich Marathon. I can’t recall much of the race itself. I finished in 3:46 and as far as I can remember I was very weak during the last kilometers. But I had a goal apart from finishing: the Munich Olympic Stadium. One of the characteristics that makes the Munich Marathon so special for me is the finish: You enter the Olympic Stadium through the marathon gate and finish the race by running one lap on the Olympic track.
In 2004, the Munich Olympic Stadium was still the home of Bayern München, the soccer team I love since I can think. In 2006, Bayern moved to the newly built Munich World Cup Arena. But on September 28th, 2004, one and a half weeks before the marathon, they played one of their greatest Champion’s League matches in the Stadium that had been their home for more than 30 years. They beat Ajax Amsterdam, one of Europe’s finest teams, 4:0.
The first of the four goals was particularly beautiful: Bayern’s Owen Hargreaves played a pass over 60 meters from the defense to forward Roy Makaay, who hammered the ball into the goal (do yourself a favor and watch the video).
Fast forward to marathon day: I had crossed the finish line, received my medal and was spent. So I looked for a place to rest. I walked on the holy lawn to the center of the soccer field and lay down at the center of the circle. This was the moment: I looked into the sky and saw Hargreaves’ ball on its way to the tip of Makaay’s toe flying over my head.
Then I saw many situations I had watched during the past 30 years, saw Beckenbauer, Müller, and all the great players of Bayern. It was like a dream, except that I was not lying in my bed but on that very soccer field where all the great matches had taken place.
Until a voice brought me back to the present: “Are you o.k.?” It was a Paramedic from the red cross who suspected I had fainted. “Yes I am.” I answered, got up and went to meet my family.
Two weeks ago I arrived at Hamburg Airport from work in Stuttgart late in the evening, took the plane to Vienna (together with my wife and my daughter) on Friday to run the Vienna City Marathon, returned to Hamburg on Monday, flew to Stuttgart Tuesday morning and two days later to Berlin to attend a company meeting. Five flights in eight days, and a busy schedule between the flights. So how did I fit running into this schedule?
You can run at all times. When I travel for business, I usually don’t have the opportunity to run during the day. So I run early in the morning or in the evening. Sometimes I can run from the office to my hotel in the evening, or in the opposite direction in the morning. However, it requires some organization; you have to think about carrying things you need and and a change of clothes, but often it is possible. Running to and from work of course saves time I otherwise would spend on the commute by train.
If there is a changing room with a shower at the office, I like to run instead of having lunch. Usually I have a snack back at the office after the run. This has multiple advantages: I save the money, I would have spent at the restaurant; I don’t get tired in the early afternoon, and I save some time (usually I go for a 50 minute run, so I’m away from my desk for about an hour; lunch in a restaurant often takes 1 1/2 hours).
For people who travel a lot, running is the ideal sport. The necessary equipment fits comfortably in any suitcase or bag. A pair of running shoes, running shorts, a t-shirt and in my case a cap are all you need. You don’t need any special equipment, nor do you need a partner or a team. Of course it’s great to run with a partner or a team, but it’s also nice to run on your own.
The worst thing would be feeling like running and having the opportunity (say, a free evening) but not being able to go anyway for lack of equipment. That can easily happen and is even likely in other sports, for example swimming or biking (you cannot easily bring along a pool or a bike on a trip). I always travel with my running gear, so I never miss a run when there is an opportunity.
When I left the hostel near the Vienna Westbahnhof I first noticed the great marathon weather – cloudy and cool, but no rain. On my way to the U-Bahn I crossed Mariahilferstraße at km 18 of the marathon course. The trains to the starting area were crowded. When I got there I wandered around, looking for the van to drop off my bag and looking out for a familiar face. Of course, with 35,000 runners, I found none.
Time went by fast, and soon the so-called “catch me if you can” half marathon race between Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gebrselassie was started. A few minutes later I crossed the starting line.
I ran the first 5 km at a moderate pace (~5:30), then I picked up pace and ran kilometers 6 to 20 between 5:10 and 5:20, which felt quite comfortable. At km 18 I met my wife near our hostel (very nice accommodation, should you plan to visit Vienna, please ask me) and stopped to have a little chat. At that time I felt so strong and got even faster.
The course of the Vienna Marathon consists of basically two laps. The first lap is the half marathon course. Last year I had run the half marathon in Vienna, so I knew the course. After passing the finish at km 21 the course was new to me. It’s always interesting to run a new course, so the kilometers flew by. At km 30 I still felt good, a bit tired but not exhausted. My pace was still between 5:20 and 5:30. At km 33 the so-called “Haile Meile” began, a mile of the course dedicated to Haile Gebrselassie. The day before at the expo I had seen Haile for the first time, and there he said, in the Ethiopian language “Haile” meant “Energy”, and when we runners would pass the “Haile Meile” sign this should give us power and energy. Unfortunately the contrary happened to me. Sorry Haile, I’m sure it was not your fault!
Shortly after passing the 35km water station I hit the wall. This was my 17th marathon race, and I had never experienced this before. It was really like running into a wall. My legs were still ok, but the brain obviously sent the command to stop running. Nevertheless I forced myself to continue, but my pace dropped to ~7:00. Sometimes I had to walk. My plan then was to get close to the finish line – anyhow. I was sure I could run to the finish once I had reached the 40km mark. So I moved forward step by step, and eventually reached 40k, then 41k. I was running, slowly, but I wasn’t walking. With 500m to go, I began looking out for my wife and my daughter, who should be somewhere in the crowd. And I was busy making a plan how I could run another 500m. Then 400m. I hadn’t known how long 100m can be. I made it to the 42km mark, then the turn to the finish at the Heldenplatz (“Heroes Square”: what a name for a marathon finish!). Crossing the finish line I glanced at my watch and was surprised that it showed 3:56. Despite my sluggish last 7km I had finished in under 4 hours.
I don’t know exactly why I hit the wall this time. The last 10 years I had run 2 marathon races per year, but in 2011 I ran only shorter distances. So my last marathon was in October 2010, 1 1/2 years ago. Perhaps, after this break, I should have done more long slow training runs. Or my inflamed tooth might be a reason. Last New Year’s Eve my dentist diagnosed an inflamed back tooth, which I finally had removed this week, 5 days before the race.
Anyway, after a good night’s sleep I’m happy with my race and especially the way I dealt with the wall. A new experience.
And then I discovered podcasts. Again it were the guys at Apple who paved the way to the success of this new medium. Apple didn’t invent podcasts, but the iTunes software, which was necessary to run an iPod, made them popular. Thousands of very talented people created their own “internet radio” program, now better known as podcasts. Through iTunes these podcasts were distributed directly to the people (or their iPods). Suddenly one could find interesting programs about any topic one could think of, and even better, one could listen to these programs at any time. No broadcasting times, no missed programs.
Generally speaking, the iPod (and even more so the iPhone and the iPad) made me independent from mass media. So it’s quite ironic that I first read about it in the newspaper: it was an article in the Süddeutsche, one of the biggest German newspapers. Now the successors of the iPod are a menace for classical mass media.
The close relationship between me and my first iPod lasted for 3 years. Early in 2007 someone broke into my car and stole the iPod. I immediately ordered a new one, a black iPod classic (5th generation). Of course this one was better, with a color display and a bigger hard disk. It was in turn replaced by an iPhone in 2010, but for me my first iPod was the door to a new and much better (media) world.
Kellenhusen is a beautiful village and holiday resort at the German Baltic Sea, about 50 kilometers north-east of the city of Lübeck. When I was looking for a half marathon race after I missed the Alstertal Halbmarathon in Hamburg two weeks ago due to a cold, I found that there was a set of races in Kellenhusen, consisting of a 5.5k, a 10k, a half marathon, and a kids race on exactly the weekend when I wanted to run. So I registered for the HM without thinking twice.
So last Sunday I put on my running gear, including my brand new dailymile tech tee, got into my car at 7:30pm and drove towards Germany’s east coast. It was a crisp, beautiful morning (2°C or 35°F), sun beaming from a blue sky. At the time I arrived at Kellenhusen the temperature was already 8°C (46°F), so I decided to wear only a short and my dailymile shirt. From the car park it was only a few meters to the “Kurhaus” (spa center), where I got my race number. The start and finish was also in front of the Kurhaus.
At exactly 10am the gun went off (except there was no gun, only a man who shouted “Auf die Plätze, fertig, los!”). As planned, I began slowly. The three previous HM race of this year taught me not to run fast on the first kilometers. The start was at the beach, merely 20 meters from the water. The first 500 meters led us along the beach, then the course continued towards the woods. From now on, the surface was difficult, even cross-like at times. It had rained heavily the previous days, so there were deep, muddy puddles on the way, often the path was stony and you had to be careful not to twist your ankle. But apart from that the course was beautiful, pure nature.
The first of the two laps we half-marathoners ran toghether with the 10k-runners, the second lap was almost identical except for two detours. So the first 10 kilometers were relatively crowded. Ok, not exactly crowded, with only about 100 participants (10k and HM combined), but there were always runners before and behind me. On the second half there was no one. I could only see one runner in a blue t-shirt 200 meters in front of me and a couple of runners as far behind me. So I was almost as lonely as on a long training run, exept for the volunteers who led me the right way through the wood and the man at the only water station at the 5 km mark.
After 2 km I settled in at a pace between 5:00 and 5:10 according to my watch and the km markers. Since I thought I ran at a steady pace, I was surprised that my km times seemed to vary significantly on the folowing kilometers. When I passed the finish for the first time after 10 km, my confusion was complete: apparently I had run 2 km in 6:30 – a pace which is beyond my possibilities. So I knew that I couldn’t trust the markers, but I didn’t know what my actual pace was. Similar to the Alsterlauf 10k four weeks ago, when I ran without a watch, I had to rely on my feeling for pace again. I pushed forward on the second half, aiming for a pace of 4:50 to 5:00 per km.
At km 19 I finally met and overtook an other half marathoner: the guy in a blue t-shirt whom I had seen running 200 meters before me most of the race. Now I saw that he ran without shoes! Completely barefoot, a half marathon on this stony and muddy surface! Amazing.
Amazed I was also when I looked on my watch after passing the finish line: 1:43:14, a new PR, 20 seconds faster than 6 years ago, when I had run the Hamburg HM in 1:43:34. I must have run the first half much faster than I had thought.
Beside the excitement about my new PR I was also a bit disappointed: I finished only 13th out of 33 runners overall and 7th out of 9 in my age group! Last year I would have won my age group with that time!
It was a great day of running and absolutely worth the 4 hours of travelling. I can highly recommend the race. I definitely will return to Kellenhusen next year!