“You just have to put one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward. See… it’s not that hard. Keep moving. It’s just a low point. You’ll get through it.”
It was 05:00 am on Sunday, and I was hiking along the Teltow Canal.
Trying not to trip over roots or small rocks that littered the narrow path, I switched on my GPS to ensure I was still on the correct route.
I started hiking Saturday at 13:30 and had covered more than 80 kilometers. Less than 20 kilometers to go. I was grumpy but confident I would reach the finish line and receive my medal for completing the 100 km “Mammutmarsch.”
The Mammutmarsch (mammoth march) is an organized hiking event with a marked route, 4 aid stations along the way, and plenty of fellow hikers taking on this challenge.
There is no winner at this event but the focus is on making sure that everyone reaches the finish line safely. I loved this approach and met people with different hiking backgrounds and abilities.
Some people, like me, attempt to walk 100 km non-stop for the first time. In comparison, others have already completed several 100 km challenges.
Some wanted to see if they could finally finish after dropping out on prior events. Some wanted to beat their personal bests, and some simply wanted to experience an adventure with friends.
I participated in this hike to train for ultramarathons. In my ultramarathon training, I tend to neglect walking and thought this would be an excellent opportunity to practice “purposeful walking.”
I had no idea how fast I could hike and how well my body was recovered from my 24-hour ultramarathon just 2 weeks prior. I figured I would barely make the 24-hour cut-off.
If I would make it to the finish line at all.
The first 50 kilometers
The windy, rainy weather made me fantasize about quitting early before starting. In hindsight, this thought – that I could always stop when I got too cold – was what had me finish the event.
It was a comforting thought when the rain set in around kilometer 20. I would tell myself that I just needed to get to the next exit point, and then I could stop if I really wanted to. But at this point, I wasn’t tired enough yet, and I also wasn’t cold.
At the first aid station (25 KM), I quickly went to empty my bladder and marched on. I didn’t check out the snack station or refill my water bottles since I still had plenty of water, and I packed enough food to get me through the whole event.
Except for some tightness in my hip flexors, I was feeling pretty good. The next 10 kilometers passed uneventfully. The big crowd of hikers slowly spread out now, and I was walking by myself for longer stretches.
I enjoyed this immensely.
While many people like to chat with others or distract themselves with music or podcasts, I prefer to walk in quiet and be alone with my thoughts. It’s my time to think, plan, and dream.
When I reached the aid station at kilometer 35, it was filled with hikers sitting on benches and taking a break. I grabbed an energy bar and walked on.
The next stretch of the hike was through the city of Berlin, and navigation was tricky. Some of the markers seemed missing, and I hadn’t switched on my GPS yet. I almost got lost a couple of times, but luckily other hikers were never far away, and together we got back on the right course.
We were in the middle of Berlin when it became dark, and when I passed a couple of bars, I thought I could be one of those people enjoying a night out with friends now.
Instead, I was hiking.
My hips and glutes were already sore, and the subway stations were tantalizing close…what if I stopped now? Who would care?
But I was already almost halfway through this hike, and I still felt pretty good. So, I marched on, snapped a picture at the 50-kilometer mark, and sent my girlfriend a message to let her know I was ok.
Kilometers 50 – 100
I don’t remember when I started to be alone. In the middle of the night, I lost contact with other hikers. I suddenly found myself walking alone along the Teltow Canal.
After the initial panic about being on my own in the dark settled down a bit, I noticed the strength of my torch diminish. It was around 2 am. I grabbed my headlamp and hoped it would last until the break of dawn.
I felt stupid for not bringing any spare batteries or putting new batteries in my lamps.
At some point, a hiker passed me, asking if I was ok. I assured him I was. I felt calmer again, knowing that other hikers were never far away, even though they were not close now.
I successfully navigated and always found the correct way to follow, which rekindled my self-confidence and motivation.
When I checked in at the last aid station at kilometer 77, I was hopeful. I grabbed a few energy bars, went to the toilet, drank a cup of water, and hiked on.
While many hikers rested and ate, I marched on without a long break. I simply wanted this to be over now.
Not long after leaving the last checkpoint, I found myself alone in the dark again. However, I was not afraid anymore.
I knew I could find the way myself; I felt alert, and it would be daylight soon. I simply had to keep moving forward and take my time at street crossings to find the correct way.
When day broke, I relaxed.
Then the exhaustion hit.
When I passed the 80 km sign, I struggled to fight off fatigue.
“Only 20 kilometers to go – yay. But damn, it takes sooo long walking 20 kilometers. But I can not run now with all the stuff in my pack. Besides, it’s a walk, not a running race. Ok, just walk on. You can go easy now.
Simply put one foot in front of the other…”
I took a big gulp of my Coke Zero, which helped lift my spirits a little. I don’t remember passing the 90-kilometer mark, even though I took a picture of the sign .
I remember my mental state, though. How a feeling of complete exhaustion and fulfillment overcame me, and I started to sing out loud.
Then I cried.
Apparently, that’s what my body does in these ultra-endurance challenges. Just like 2 weeks prior in the 24-hour ultrarunning race, I needed a power-sob.
Not because I was sad or in pain. I don’t really know why. It felt like a release. A release of self-doubts, fear, and anxiousness would now be replaced with knowing.
Knowing that I have done something incredibly hard. Something I wasn’t sure I could do. Something that proved to everyone who bullied me and made fun of me and my dreams that I could do hard things and achieve my wildest dreams.
When I passed the 95-kilometer mark, I met a hiker I had met before. We walked the remaining 5 kilometers together. Now I enjoyed the company and having someone to chat with. Still, I was becoming increasingly impatient and wished at every corner that behind it, we would finally see the flags of the Mammutmarsch.
I tried to stay positive by imagining how proud I’d be once I had finished. I went over the day’s events again and how much I had experienced.
I was grateful that I had company during these final steps of the walk.
Approaching the finish line was magical. Volunteers of the hike welcomed us with huge applause and music, and we received our medals and a fist bump from the organizers. I was happy and proud and congratulated my fellow hikers.
I finished the walk just before half-past eight – in less than 20 hours. This totally blew me away. I didn’t move as fast as other hikers, but I didn’t take long rest breaks. I simply kept moving at a steady pace.
Post-hike recovery and getting back to running
I went to the toilet, got my certificate and a stamp in my Mammutmarsch logbook, and made my way to the Tram. Trying to get a ticket home proved how tired I was. I seriously struggled to use the ticket machine 😂.
When I finally reached home at 11:00 am, I fed the cats, ate a small snack, and went to bed.
My legs and hips were stiff and sore, and I had collected a blister on my left heel – a spot where I’d never had blisters before.
Other than this, I felt good.
I slept until 20:30, took a shower, had dinner with my girlfriend and her daughter, and went back to bed. I awoke on Monday morning at 06:00 am – two hours later than my usual wake-up time.
Monday was spent recovering, foam rolling, and stretching, and on Tuesday morning, I was back out on the trails for an 11 km morning run. While my legs still felt a bit sore, I had plenty of energy for a fartlek.
I planned on doing an easy run, but I thought, “why not” and sped up since my body felt so good.
Lessons learned and tips for walking 100 km
Will I do such a hike again? Most definitely.
However, I would change a few things.
First, I would pack less food. I didn’t even consume half of what I brought, and I think it’s unnecessary to carry that much, especially if you eat before and after the hike.
I didn’t eat anything at the aid stations and took home the 4 Powerbars I grabbed.
Second, I would probably do a few longer walks beforehand.
Hiking does hurt differently than running, and it might have helped to have trained the hiking muscles a bit more ahead.
No matter your reason for participating, I would strongly advise training for a 100 km walk beforehand.
This event had a finisher quote of only 53%, which shows that many people were not adequately prepared mentally, physically, or both.
Ultra-endurance challenges are just as much mental challenges as they are physical challenges.
You need to put in the time to train your body and your mind to be ready.