“The lucky kit it is then,” I thought to myself. This is the kit I wore when I finished my first ultramarathon at the podium just one year ago. This is the kit I wore in all the races that followed. The kit that reminded me of my girlfriend, Katja.
I felt anxious but at peace when I packed my drop bags and laid out the clothing the night before my first 100-mile race. No matter how the day would play out, Katja would still love me. I could go out there tomorrow and run with peace in my heart.
The Berlin Wall Race
I chose the “Mauerweglauf” (Berlin Wall Race) for my 100-mile debut. It’s a race along the Berlin Wall Trail, which traces the former border of the GDR.
I have known about the race since its inaugural year in 2012. I was a student studying in a small town close to Berlin, and I started dreaming about running ultramarathons. Then life happened, and for several reasons, I began to neglect running more and more until I eventually stopped entirely for several years.
When I resumed running and decided to pursue it more seriously again in 2021, I knew that I wanted to race the Berlin Wall Race. And why wait? The minute the registration opened for the 2022 race, I signed up.
The race started at 06:00 am. I have been an early riser for all my life and a passionate morning runner, so this race start should have been perfect for me. The problem was that I got to bed way too late the night before, and someone decided to have a party that Friday night.
Regrets before the start
When the alarm rings at 03:45, I slept a maximum of 6 hours and feel grumpy. Nervously I do my routine work for my day job, write a quick journal entry, get dressed, and re-checked the drop bags again.
I rush out the door, anxious and upset that my gut decided to rebel again that morning. I eat a packet of trail butter during my 30-minute walk to the start area.
“At least I have something in my stomach,” I tell myself, regretting that I never practiced eating before my morning runs during training. I am used to starting them fasted. I have been experimenting with eating during the runs but have not been consistent, and when I eat, I eat way too little.
I have been living in Berlin for nearly 6 years, and the “Mauerweg” (Berlin Wall Trail) is only a few footsteps away from my home. I have never used the opportunity to run parts of the course. This I regret too now, entering the stadium where the start and finish will be. I drop my bags off and still have 30 minutes until the race starts.
2 visits to the port-a-potties and a message to my girlfriend later, I stand close to the start. I feel too unfit, too fat, too newbie, and too out of my mind to feel confident. Yet, here I am, amidst a crowd of around 500 runners about to embark on the adventure of running 100 miles.
My heart pounds quickly and heavily. I regret the trail butter now. I put my phone on super battery safer mode and hope it will last until the race ends. Then we start.
I can still hear the stadium announcer cautioning us to drink enough and to run slowly in this heat. I never trained during the day and hence am not used to running in 30°C weather. You might have guessed it, I regret this now.
A slow and grumpy race start
I start off slowly because I have been feeling pain in my Achilles area for the past few weeks, and I don’t know yet what to expect. This is my first 100-mile race, and my only goal is to finish within the 30-hour cutoff. I am entertaining the idea of finishing in less than 24 hours but decide not to risk anything.
The race has a dense net of refreshment stations (VP). There is one every 5-9 kilometers. I passed the first one without stopping since I still had water in my bottle and a few stops at red traffic lights in the city. The race organizers clarified that everyone violating traffic regulations would be disqualified.
I keep running and soon am surrounded by nature. The field of runners thins out a bit now, and I am running more stretches alone. I enjoy this immensely because I feel moody. “Finally alone,” I think before turning a corner and reaching the first Control Point (CP), where the first drop bags were waiting for the runners.
I didn’t pack the first drop bag because I figured I wouldn’t need anything special, only 36 kilometers into the race. I fill my cup with some coke and continue. I feel pretty exhausted already, though, and wonder how I would be able to run another 124 kilometers. I decide to stay focused and take it from refreshment station to refreshment station, and my mood lifted slightly.
At VP number 9 – some 49 kilometers into the race – I have two cups of coke and send my girlfriend a text about how tired I am already. “Too much heat,” I tell her.
Sugar and caffeine to the rescue
Then my energy seems to come back. I feel much better mentally and think it’s the sugar-caffeine combo. The next kilometers pass uneventfully. I opt for coke or lemonade at every VP. Every now and then, I grab a few dates.
I am not hungry at all, though. When I reach Control Point 2 at kilometer 73, I ate maybe 5 dried dates and had 4 cups of coke and 2 cups of citrus lemonade. CP 2 is the point for drop bag number two, and I grab mine to take my night gear and deposit some of the trail butter I had in my pack.
I figure I would continue eating sugar for the rest of the race as it seems to be going well. I keep 5 packs of trail butter in one of my two front pockets as “just-in-case” emergency food. Another cup of coke, and off I go.
My mood is good. I can still run and get a considerable boost when a volunteer on the bike drives past me, shouting, “this still looks good.” The course is flat, but there’s a slight uphill section every now and then. I decide to walk all uphills now because I still have a long way to go.
Visits from my girlfriend cheer me up
When I reach refreshment station number 16 at kilometer 92, I see my girlfriend waiting for me and feel gratitude and joy. She brought cold towels and some cooling creme for my legs. The quick massage feels heavenly.
I grab a coke, and we chat a little bit, but I don’t want to waste time. I still feel pretty good and want to get in as many kilometers as possible before nighttime. Only 68 kilometers to go. I feel confident that I can do it.
“Oh, you come again?!” My happiness suddenly increases exponentially. Katja seems just as excited as I am about the race and decides to meet me at another aid station again. She will meet me only 2 aid stations later at Control Point 3 – where drop bag number 3 is waiting for the runners.
Elated, I grab a couple of dried dates, stuff them into my pack’s front packet and run on.
I meet a runner who is sitting at the side of the road. He has taken one shoe off and is holding his leg. I am asking what is wrong and if he needs help.
He says he has a bad cramp and doesn’t know what to do. I offer a salt pill, but he has some himself.
Feeling helpless, I advise him he should tell me what I should do, and I could stay. I don’t know how to deal with cramps. I have yet to experience some. He says it’s from the heat.
A lot of runners are struggling. Some have buffs and soak them in cold water. Others pour water over themselves. I feel fine, although I remember having a slight headache earlier today.
When I arrive at CP 3, I head straight to the buffet table but am so tired I don’t know what I want. I don’t feel like eating. I decide to have a citrus lemonade first, and the volunteer tells me she also has ice-cold lemonade. Yes, please! Wow, that feels good. I take a second cup.
Someone is scratching my neck…ah…Katja. I am so happy to see her. And there’s Chrissi – a club member I just met at my last race in Oderwitz. She asks how it’s going, and I reply I am still good.
I sit down, and Katja gives me a massage. We chat. I love this. I tell her, “Only 55 kilometers to go. We will make it.” I tell her that I still feel good mentally. I still feel pretty fresh.
My body is tired, but my mood is mostly good. I had a few lows but quickly overcame them by refocusing on making it only to the next refreshment station. I always told myself I could take a more extended break there. But I never did until now.
I’m getting up and ready to go. Katja tells me she is thinking about visiting me once more. She checks the map and how long it would take her to reach aid station number 21. She decides to meet me there – I am elated. She will meet me there at 22:00. I only have 3 refreshment stations to go.
However, my mood turns sour once on my way to the next aid station.
It’s getting hard, and I slow down
I feel tired and find it hard to run. I walk a bit and force myself to eat 3 dried dates. I take a salt pill. I leave aid station 19 and tell my girlfriend that I might arrive late because I am slowing down.
At aid station 20, I have a coffee. Wow, what a help! I feel focused and energized again and tell myself it’s only 8 kilometers until I would meet Katja again. I grab 3 pieces of waffles and stuff them in my pack in case I need them on my way.
It’s getting dark. I thought I would put on my night gear at the next aid station, but I do it now. I take a walking break to get my lamp and reflective vest out of the backpack.
In front of me is a runner struggling. He seems in horrible shape. But he has a bike companion, so he is safe. The woman who is pushing the bike seems to be soothing him, stroking his arm while they walk side by side. I put on my gear and continue to run.
When I arrive at the aid station, I feel exhausted. Katja gives my calves a massage. A boy comes over and wants to provide me with some glow sticks. I say I will take one, and he gives me instructions about how to use them and informs me about the apparent dangers of glow sticks.
I don’t want to leave, but I know I need to continue. I give Katja some of the trail butter packets I still have to reduce some weight. It’s only 33 kilometers to go, Katja tells me. I say, “I tell myself only 30 more.” I then tell her that I love her, blow her a kiss and run into the night.
I can do this. It’s not even 11 pm yet. I could take 5 hours and still finish in under 24 hours. I start calculating how long it would take me if I walked the rest. I get upset with myself.
“You will not give up again. You will keep running. Besides, running feels easier than walking now.”
I press on.
“Just until the next aid station.”
I’m back in the city again. I don’t need my lamp anymore but leave it switched on. I feel a strong urge to empty my bladder, but I can not do that in the middle of the city. There are no parks or bushes where I can hide. I walk more to avoid peeing myself.
When I arrived at the next aid station, I felt relief. However, this feeling didn’t last long when the aid station crew told me they didn’t have a porta-potty. It somehow got stolen…. “But in 2 kilometers, there will be more green spaces again.”
I’m leaving the aid station without taking anything. Some runners, who are sitting in chairs, shout: “you’re leaving quickly.” I tell them I need a loo. Luckily I find a bush. Relieved, I resume running. “Just to the next aid station,” I tell myself, “then you can rest a little longer.”
I remember a documentary about the Western States Endurance Run. The American ultrarunner Devon Yanko could not meet her crew at one point during the race and had to go 40 miles or so without her fuel.
Compared to this, what I am dealing with is nothing. Nothing to get upset about. Nothing to worry about. I still feel good. Tired. But good. I am surprised that I am not feeling sleepy at all during the night. Rain sets in. I don’t like it, but it’s refreshing.
They have a toilet at the next aid station, but you’d need to walk up many stairs to get there. I decide just to use the bushes if I need to go again. After all, we’re running through parks again, it seems. I don’t know where I am right now. But I know that the finish line is a mere half-marathon away.
Haggling with myself
A woman runner that I met earlier in the race protests, “21 kilometers. How should anyone run this now.” I am wondering the same. “Others are exhausted too,” I tell myself and run on.
I’m haggling with myself again. “How long do I have to finish under 24 hours?” “No! You are not walking the rest!” I need to work on my mental game. I will train better. I will train with more purpose and more structure. I will do more strength training again. Oh, and use the bike. And run more, of course.
“Ouch! What was that?” Sharp pain on the front side of my right leg catapulted me out of my thoughts. I stop and massage the area a bit. I try to run. There is pain, but not so bad that I need to walk. “Just run slowly until you reach the finish line. You’re almost there,” I tell myself.
The next aid station. The volunteers tell me I am pretty fast, but of course, everyone has their own goals. I tell them it’s my first 100-mile race, and they seem surprised. We chat a bit. The next aid station is already East Side Gallery. I have a cup of coke and continue on my way.
Running through Berlin’s partying crowds
Wow, so many people! I am suddenly in the middle of Berlin, running through the partying crowds. I hate it. Noisy. Drunk people. Too many people to be able to run.
I am afraid I will get lost because I can not see the yellow arrows that mark the course. I meet Chrissi again, and she tells me that I will finish. I feel confident that I will.
I want to arrive at the next aid station so badly now. Every spot where people party seems to be it. One disappointment after the other.
Ah, finally! I stop. I want those olives. But they are still in a jar, and none are on the plates. I am too afraid to ask for some.
Chrissie tells me to run with them now. But I want to stick to my pace. They are too fast. They are doing the race as a relay team. I stay at the aid station for a few minutes and have citrus lemonade.
Slogging to the finish line
I feel sick to my stomach now. I want to walk. I keep running. It feels better than walking. My stomach feels funny, and I send Katja a message asking if she can check if there’s one more aid station before the finish. She’s still awake…there is one last aid station. My legs hurt.
Katja asks if I am eating. I told her I had lemonade. Did I take another salt tab? I don’t want to because I fear it will mess even more with my stomach. It’s less than ten kilometers now. I can do it.
The last aid station. I take some water. I continue on. I walk a lot now. My stomach feels icky, and I feel dizzy. Luckily I am running through quieter streets now. Some teens are asking what kind of race this is. I tell them it’s the Mauerweglauf, 160 kilometers.
A girl shouts, “Respect! I wish you much grit. Because you don’t need luck in life. You only need grit.”
I meet a guy and his bike companion who have been walking for some time. I decide to do the same now. It can’t be more than 2 kilometers to the finish line. I don’t want to run anymore. I will still arrive around 4:00 am. I will finish this race in under 24 hours.
We ask some runners who walk past us with their medals already around their necks. They say it’s probably 500 meters until the finish. I feel an immense sense of relief wash over me. However, those last 500 meters seem to drag on forever. When I finally reach the stadium, I run the last few meters to the finish line.
Quick recovery after the race
On Monday, I work from home. My brain feels good. My feet are swollen. Still, no hunger. Except for two stubbed toes that show huge blisters now, I didn’t seem to have any significant injuries. No blisters, and what felt like joint pain in my right leg seems to have been some muscle hardening. The swelling and muscle aches are gone after 3 days.
I feel happy with my choice for my first 100-mile race. The course was well marked, and the refreshment stations were so close together that food, drink, and friendly faces were never far away. Seeing my girlfriend getting so emotionally involved in a sport she didn’t even know existed before she met me was the day’s biggest surprise.
I am also happy with my result. I finished 15th woman out of 105 and 75th overall out of 550. Many runners didn’t finish the race within the 30-hour cutoff, though. In total, only 296 runners were counted as finishers.