“I feel tearful” was the last message I sent to my girlfriend before I made my way to the starting area of the 24-hour German Championships.
I was emotional.
It was my first 24h race. Plus, my period also set in just one day before. On top of that, I experienced severe tummy pains just four days before the event, and my digestion was still a mess. Other than this, I felt good.
While I didn’t train as much as I should have, I was consistent. No injuries that sidelined me. No extended time off. However, my longest run to date was still the 62km Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra. But that was almost a year ago. I hadn’t raced a single race this year so far.
I had no idea how far I could go.
I knew about race-walk strategies in theory, but I didn’t plan mine.
In theory, I also knew about fueling. However, trying to eat carbohydrates in training has been met with tummy troubles and severe hypoglycemic episodes, so I decided to follow a low-carb fueling strategy.
Since I wasn’t sure what the race organization would offer, I panic bought coconut chips, macadamia nuts, cashews, and cheese the day before the race and threw in a bottle of sugar-free Pepsi for good measure.
I didn’t plan on when to eat what but told myself I would rely on hunger and use my homemade energy gel and homebaked coconut macaroons for as long as possible.
First 12 Hours – Going Strong, Despite Tummy Troubles and a Headache
Excitement quickly took over during the pre-race briefing 5 minutes before the start. One hundred eleven runners started that day. The crowd was a mix of top-level athletes, including the German Champions and World Champion in the 24h event and weekend warriors, including several others who, like me, were about to start their first 24-hour race.
I don’t remember the start signal at 10:00 am. I only remember thinking how hard this was already after we had only started our second lap. It seemed already too hard.
I don’t remember when I took the first gulp of energy gel, but this, along with a salt pill, perked me up, and I was picking up speed and finding my rhythm.
I was having fun again. My mood was excellent, and I was eager to give it my best.
However, my tummy didn’t want to cooperate. Intense cramps forced me to run slower than I wanted, and I had to use the bathroom several times.
Despite this, I stayed positive and tried to run at a comfortably fast pace to make up for the bathroom breaks. Unfortunately, I had to go a bit off course every time because the toilets weren’t located directly next to the course.
Just after midday, another issue popped up: I had a headache, and it was a real nuisance until around 4 pm.
However, despite a throbbing head and tummy troubles, I was optimistic. I was elated when I realized I would run 100km in under 12 hours.
Then, I gave up.
Last 12 Hours – Pain and Mental Rollercoasters
Just before 10 pm, I stopped to grab my phone to send my girlfriend a message. Still feeling positive, I decided that I could take an extended walking break to send her a quick note.
When I saw her many messages, I was overcome with gratitude and love. She had followed my race through the live tracking that the race organizers provided and had sent me texts encouraging me, telling me how proud she was. She celebrated every new milestone I had reached.
My stomach had settled somewhat by then, and the headache was gone, but the pain on top of my foot started to scare me.
I had never experienced pain in this area throughout the last 12 months and didn’t want to risk injury, so I decided to walk a bit.
When I resumed running, I didn’t feel the foot pain anymore, but I had difficulty finding a rhythm again. The night was falling, my muscles were stiff and achy, and I got tired and cold.
I realized that I didn’t eat anything except that one gulp of energy gel until now.
The race organizers also provided low-carb food options – olives, cheese, nuts, and salami. I grabbed a few nuts and olives. I didn’t feel hungry, though. To my surprise, the olives settled my stomach nicely, so I decided to eat a few of them during the next couple of rounds.
I don’t remember the exact point I decided not to resume running. The night was quiet, and many runners took sleeping breaks. Others had dropped out already. I was getting too cold. I changed into long-running pants and put on two jackets, but it wasn’t enough to keep warm.
However, I couldn’t bring myself to try running again. My legs were uncooperative trunks, and I had trouble walking in a straight line.
I ate some cheese and salami and hoped the food would help to warm me up. It didn’t.
Amazingly I could order tea at the aid station and did this two times. Black coffee lifted my spirit again. I started to eat the coconut macaroons that I bought and some macadamias.
My girlfriend went to bed around 02:30 am and I put on some music to get me through the last hours of the night. I was determined to stay on the course and figured I could cover at least 150 km if I kept walking. The music wasn’t helping much, as it made me only more emotional, and I had a power sob two times, hoping that no one would notice .
I felt elated when the sun started to rise and told myself how much warmer I’ll soon be. I fantasized about stopping soon and sitting in the sun to warm me up. I could barely walk the last few hours and was so tired that I yawned a couple of times loudly.
My legs felt so stiff that I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to walk back to the hotel by myself. So I decided to stop after 23 hours and 15 minutes. I had 154 km on my watch.
I was still 2nd in my age group and 10th woman overall when I checked the live results.
By the end of the race, I was the 11th woman and second in my age group.
Lessons Learned, and Race Successes
Today I am torn between thinking I could have done much better if I hadn’t walked so much and thinking I achieved a good result for a first 24-hour race.
I am proud that I stayed on the course throughout the night and didn’t take any long rest breaks. And who knows, maybe I really wouldn’t have been able to get to the hotel if I had pushed more 😂 .
I’m super happy with my placing, and I received many compliments on my excellent running form, which makes me proud. I have actively worked on it over the past year and believe it is one of the reasons I have stayed injury-free for so many months now.
I was surprised that running in circles for 24 hours wasn’t as dull as I thought. I plan to do more of these timed events and am already looking forward to next year’s 24h German Championships 🤘.