Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Introducing the Multi-Endurance International Award

Cross-training not only benefits the well-rounded sportsperson, but different means of movement help to see the world from different perspectives. It is even more interesting if the course and the mode of transport are determined by the environment, instead of a given distance imposed on the terrain. It is the social being that determines consciousness, not to mention that international challenges should promote international friendship and cooperation.

Therefore I decided to come up with the Multi Endurance International Award (MEIA). It can be awarded to everybody who has (proven) completed international challenges in four or more of the different endurance sports disciplines listed below. As this list of international challenges here is by no means comprehensive, I would be excited to learn more.

1.     Road Running (Marathon Country Club, Marathon Globetrotters, World Marathon Majors Six-Star)
2.     Trail Running (Europa-Cup Ultramarathon, Skyrunner Ultra Series, Ultra-Trail World Tour, 4 Deserts)
3.     Walking (International Marching Federation Master/European Walker, IVV-Cups)
4.     Cycling (International Super Randonneur)
5.     Skiing (World-, Euro-Loppet)
6.     Other endurance sports, such as Swimming, (Ice-)Skating, Kayaking, Snowshoe Running or Rowing
7.     Multisport (e.g. National Sports Badges, Triathlon, Pentathlon)

For the different para-sports disciplines, the challenge, if it doesn't exist officially (there is a World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series for example), can be defined by comparable criteria to the non-para challenge.

The events should be at least as long as a standard long-distance for the respective discipline (e.g. 42.2 km run=Marathon, 200 km cycle=Randonnée).

 At the moment, I do not know of anybody who could qualify for the MEIA, which would make it exclusive enough to be interesting. If you think it would be something for you (or somebody else), please share and contact. The award is free, and the first five finishers will receive a free badge. The challenge is not necessarily sport: it’s not about winning, but trying and ideally finishing (of course, every participant does it on their risk). The route is the goal!

Friday, 28 September 2018

A marathon runner's glory is transient (if only medals is what you are looking at)

Over the christmas holidays, I was sorting my race medal collection, neatly stored in a wooden box. To my mild horror, I found that some of my bronze-coloured medals were decaying, being covered with a greenish-white crumbly salt, for which the term patina would be more than flattering. Moreover, something was chewing away tiny pieces from the edges of my tin medals! It’s not only the body that gets older.

So I sat down to think and research what might have happened. Many of my medals were made from bronze, a mixture or alloy of mostly copper (around 90%) with a few percent tin and often small amounts of other metals, mainly zinc. Other medals are made from brass, which is a mixture of copper with zinc only. Anyway, both alloys are mostly made up from copper. Copper is a noble metal, which means that it should normally not rust in air or water like for example iron does. However, when an alloy containing copper comes into contact with chloride (present in common salt) in a wet environment, corrosion will inevitably occur. This is also called bronze disease, and this is what happens:

1) Oxygen from the air oxidises the copper metal (Cu), which means, it takes an electron (e) away from the copper atom and transforms it into a positively charged ion
Cu → Cu++ e

2) The cuprous ion (Cu+) reacts with the chloride ion to form an insoluble white salt, which is called cuprous chloride. 
Cu+ + Cl → CuCl

3) The cuprous chloride reacts with atmospheric moisture and another oxygen molecule to form a green salt (cupric chloride). The fuzzy white/green salt is a mixture of the white cuprous chloride and the green cupric chloride. And some hydrochloric acid is also produced (HCl):

 4 CuCl + 4 H2O + O2 → CuCl2·3 Cu(OH)2 (green salt) + 2 HCl

4) Another copper atom is oxidised by air to the cuprous ion, which reacts with the chloride ion from hydrochloric acid to form even more of the white cuprous chloride.
Cu+ + Cl → CuCl + e

… and the circle of copper oxidation continues repeats from here! We have a chain reaction, helped about or catalysed by the chloride ions, that speeds up the corrosion of copper..
But where does the nasty chloride come from? Now, a medal is what someone hangs around your neck after you have produced quite a bit of sweat. When you exercise and sweat, your body loses salt (mostly sodium chloride) in your sweat, in which there are ample of chloride Ions around.

Now what happened next and why is the tin medal corroded as well? As said before, copper is a "noble" metal that prefers to keep its electrons to itself. And if necessary, it takes them at somebody else's expense, in this case snatching it from a less "noble metal" in direct contact. Like the tin (Sn) medal it was lying on top of (Sorry Tegla!):

Cu2+ +2 e → Cu 
Sn  → Sn2+ +2 e 

This process is called bimetallic corrosion and can happen wherever there are two different metals in direct contact which each other. So basically what I had built involuntarily was a copper-tin battery (though a very expensive one)! If you put together a pint of sweat, a copper and a tin medal, you can easily build your own and generate electricity.

But what could be done next to rescue my medals from decay? Firstly, remove the chlorides (the green-white-fuzzy salt), by giving medals a thorough clean. The same goes for after wearing them. Secondly, take care to keep the metals in a dry environment. My storage in wooden boxes was probably not optimal in the moist North-Western European climate, so now they are in a metal box. Thirdly, take care not to put copper and tin in direct contact. Or in general, don't store treasures where moths eat them and rust destroys them.
Bronze disease of the bronze medal on the right, and corrosion on the tin medal on the left.
Sorry Tegla!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Zagreb to Čazma Supermaraton

Since I had never run a race in Croatia before, and the race date is quite suitable for an Easter holiday, at some point I thought I would have to take part in the Supermaraton from Zagreb to Čazma. At that time (2008), this run still had the homepage, an impressive domain name (another supermaraton domain leads to a race in Romania)! Nowadays, the contact to the race organisers is made via the homepage of the town of Čazma. You were able to sign up from abroad simply by e-mail, because there were, and still are, no starting fees to be paid (but there is a time limit of seven hours for the 61.35 km of the course, which might deter some). The Supermaraton was first organized in 1976 to celebrate Čazma's 750th anniversary (Tito was still president of Yugoslavia then), and the inaugural event had only three starters (the initiator, Boris Kozar from Varaždin, was the first to reach the finish). As one of the oldest European Ultras, it could already be considered a classic, even in the most recent runs there were virtually no runners from beyond the Karawanks Alps on the starter list, so it remains relatively unknown abroad. 

Jelačić Square

 The starting point is located in the middle of the Jelačić Square, a central meeting point of the Zagreb near the cathedral, which is easily accessible by tram at any time of the day. The name "Do Kaptola ad Kaptola" probably refers to the two "capitol hills", on which the main churches of Zagreb and Čazma are located. The starters check in at the tourist office and get a starter T-shirt. Starters hailed from Croatia (including the mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic), and from the neighboring countries Slovenia, Hungary and Bosnia, including the famous transcontinental runner Dusan Mravlje with his daughter Neza. A bus from Čazmatransport stood ready, for the luggage transport to Čazma and the return journey of the runners.

The race started at 9:00 in the morning in front of the equestrian statue of a sabre-swinging 19th century national hero Josip Jelačić. It should not be forgotten, however, that at two o'clock in the morning on the last Sunday morning in March, the clock will move forward by on hour, also in Croatia! It helps to remember: In SPRING, the beer benches are put BEFORE the pub to accommodate thirsty revelers, and in AUTUMN, they are put BACK in the shed. The initial third of the run led along the road 41 out of Zagreb, which was constantly busy with cars, but fortunately a track for us runners was kept free. Supply station with water, energy drinks and fruit (sponges and salt were added later) were set up every five kilometers. The first section has a flat profile, but with its mixed residential/commercial areas at the outskirts of Zagreb, is is certainly visually not particularly interesting. 

Out of Zagreb, escorted by the timekeeping vehicle

Then the route branched off to the right after Bojzakovina, now onto a less traveled road along which thinner settlement density, with the runners now facing southeast, which means in the morning, continuously towards the sun. In this area, the route passed mostly fields, and from time to time a wooded area and occasionally a horse-head oil pump. Shepherds moved their herds through the landscape (luckily for the runners not across the street). In the middle of a field, not far from the village of Kloštar Ivanić, a huge stainless steel sculpture gleamed in the sun, presumably having something to do with the nearby train station. Numerous people, especially dark-black-clad old ladies, just left the local church when the marathon mark was passed.

Supermaraton passing through Kloštar Ivanić

The last third of the route had the most beautiful scenery, and offered many diverse viewpoints. Of course, this goes along with an increasingly hilly profile and leading through villages with small farms, where Wartburg Pickup trucks were still in use. Though many local people live in traditional wooden houses, there are also many new homes under construction. Although the kilometers are not individually signposted, one can estimate by waymarks how far it should be to Čazma. The runners were constantly accompanied by organizers, police and supervisors (race marshals moved around in a heavily tuned VW Beetle convertible, sometimes overtaking the runners, then meeting them driving in the opposite direction, coming back again, being overtaken by the runners and vice versa). An ambulance vehicle was also patrolling the course to keep an eye on the runners. When I fell back into walking while climbing a hill, they were getting ready to pick me up (were they happy to finally treat a casualty?). But I signaled by putting all available thumbs up that this was not necessary, whereupon they waved and turned off. At the end of March, of course, all the weather phenomena are possible, but in 2008, spring had just begun in time and created ideal conditions: temperatures of 10-14 ° C, dry and mostly sunny.About six kilometers from the finish, the church of Čazma can be spotted for the first time. The last kilometer, however, is particularly impressive (breathtaking by all means), because Čazma is located on a hill, crowned by the church, where the run finishes. As Čazma is a small town of about 3000 inhabitants, the Supermaraton provides the occasion for a folk festival (there will also be a car rally, fortunately on a different route).

Of 74 participants (including 6 women) in 2008, 56 arrived in Čazma running. Three-time winner Janos Zabari of Hungary won the men's 3:49:52 h ahead of compatriot Ferenc Biri and Aleksey Belosludsev from Russia. For the third time in a row, Marija Vrajic from Croatia became the overall winner (4:33:17 h), ahead of her compatriot Mirjana Kolar and Vanja Nastran from Slovenia. The local hotel provided a number of guest rooms, where the participants could take a shower, and a hearty runner meal was handed out afterwards. At the award ceremony in the beer tent, every finisher was congratulated in person and awarded the medal, not to mention the rich endowment with memorabilia: This included a finisher T-shirt (looks exactly like the starter T-shirt, but in size XL), souvenirs from Zagreb (another T-shirt, a cap, and a small local Gingerbread heart), and a funny stuffed animal (a mixture of beaver and squirrel, of course with a Supermaraton T-shirt on). The Supermaraton is a small, and cosy event in a not that much "discovered" corner of Europe, and organized with great hospitality. On the return trip we could exchange runners with us about the running possibilities in the respective home countries (even if there were some language barriers). And to conclude an ultra-marathon day, a coffee house is an ideal place, and Zagreb has always a lot of them open.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Cambridge Boundary run is somewhat of a home game for me, and in 2018 I would run it for the eleventh time. This created an interest of the story of this race, which is organised by the University’s Hare and Hounds cross-country running club. It is a low-cost and low-key event, but the course is marked, and now there is even a finisher medal (but no prizes given). The beginnings of the Boundary Run are hidden deep in the mists of time and the fens, but it is believed that it was first run in the spring of 1924 (half a year earlier than Europe’s oldest continuously run marathon in Kosice, Slovakia). I don’t know if it harks back to the ancient tradition of walking along the boundary of a town or parish and beating the boundary markers with a stick (the markers made from stone, of course, not the people marking and marshalling the course). This “Beating the Bounds” is probably as old as feudalism, having been already practised during the times of King Alfred of Wessex, and continues into the present day, also in Cambridge (see photo on Mill Lane by James Yardley/

Anyway, in March 1924, three men and one dog completed a non-stop run around the city boundary, which would be the first recorded boundary run, but certainly not a race. It did not seem to catch on in the following years, but a quarter of a century years later, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the initial boundary run, James Hasler and Derek Shorrocks revived it, with now around 15 runners taking place. Although originally an irregular event, the run became annual between 1959 and 1985, and had a recorded length of 25 imperial miles (Note: This would have counted as a marathon distance before the the distance was extended to 42.2 km, or 26 1/5 miles due to a start at Windsor Castle at the London Olympics of 1908). After a hiatus of some 20 years, the Boundary Run had its next incarnation in 2006, and since 2008, it is a full marathon, and therefore generate higher interest in the running community, as it had previously been primarily a club event.

Since 2015, the run starts at the then newly completed University Sports Centre in the west of the city and circles the city anti-clockwise. After crossing muddy Coton Country park, Newnham, passing role players at Grantchester Meadows and Trumpington, it passes the new developments around Addenbrooke’s Hospital, which luckily including a well-developed path along the guided busway. Nine Wells reserve. On Coldham’s Common, were runners greeted by a bagpiper, before finishing the half or going for the full, turning towards Fen Ditton and then on a towpath along the river Cam, where rowing boats train. The Cam is crossed on Baits Bite lock near Milton. The grimmer, muddier parts up north (between Girton and Madingley) are reserved for the runners of the full marathon, but after the American War Memorial in goes downhill towards the finish.

The race is a good indicator for a season’s form and a good test for upcoming spring marathons, such as London. Though my training was the worst ever, my finishing time was surprisingly good this year, though probably paid for by a longer recovery time. Favourable weather conditions might also have played a role, as exciting weather can be expected at this time of year, and a week earlier or later, the weather would have been severe. 

For a bit of statistics, I have plotted my Boundary Run speed (blue) against my season’s best (orange) marathon speed. My slowest time in 2016 was partially run against a breeze blowing from the northwest, and my fastest time was run in 2013, when I actually did some training, as I would run for the Hare and Hounds in the London Marathon. I am looking forward to the Boundary Run Centenary in 2024!

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Marathoning in the Faroes in a Paramedic anorak

For two years, I have been active as a voluntary first aider for St John Ambulance, which means I get the opportunity to help out in case accidents happen at local events. I have also covered a number of smaller and bigger runs, including the London Marathon. London, which I had run twice, is a hotbed for costumed marathoners, who try to collect funds for the charities of their interest, and among the starters are bobsleds, Darth Vaders, toilets, and deep sea divers, not to mention the large number of Elvis impersonators. So why not running a marathon in a costume myself? Dressing up as a first aider would be straightforward and more or less authentic, as I already had my uniform, consisting of green shirt, trousers and belt, and I would add a hi-vis anorak and boots. I could not find a world record for the fastest marathon dressed as a first aider in the Guinness book, but I would get a chance, though as a paramedic. Anyway, except for the job tag, the uniform looks quite the same. I had already planned that my next marathon would be in Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroes, in June (when it would hardly get dark at all, or hot anyway). Islands in the North Atlantic would probably be not the worst place in the world to run with an anorak on, and with an exotic uniform on, I wouldn’t be mistaken for a local first aider on duty.

The Faroes (Faroe Islands would be redundant) are a group of islands between Norway, Scotland and Iceland. They are a constituent nation of the kingdom of Denmark, but with an autonomous status. The Faroes got their name from the sheep that thrive here since the settlement in Viking times, and wool or knitwear pullovers are great souvenirs, be it high fashion or from charity shops (though fish are the biggest export). On a tour through the islands, the towering bird cliffs of Vestmanna were admired, but also the spectacularly situated and inviting town of Klaksvík.

Chickens in Klaksvik
Being an exotic and very accessible marathon at the same time, Tórshavn attracts runners from far afield, and Marathon Country Club Members and/or Globetrotters accounted for quite a large fraction of runners. The Marathon is a part of Tórshavn’s annual culture day, including many events, such as free visits of the local museums.

International Participants 
The largest exhibit in the National Gallery is an artwork by the local sailor, sculptor and adventurer Tróndur Patursson. It consists of the inside of a shipping container covered with mirrors and glasswork on all sides. This piece conveys a sailor’s experience of being beneath kilometers of atmosphere and above kilometers of water.

While carbo-loading on the day before the race, I had to learn that the USA (or more precisely their president) threatened to leave the Paris Climate agreement. No one should believe that the effects of climate change wouldn’t affect. From the perspective of a runner, who knows if it will be possible (or desirable) to run a marathon in some regions of the world in some decades from now. And here the anorak comes in again: as a clumsy statement of solidarity with people affected by global warming. Actually, my travels to marathons have produced quite a bit of carbon dioxide: A cycle ride within Cambridge to the start of the Boundary Run would account for 150 g CO2-emission, and a flight to the Faroes from Edinburgh for over 400 kg. Altogether, my travels to and from 102 marathons in 33 countries have caused nearly 7.5 tons emission! Though the marathons were often not the main reason for a long distance travel, it is clear that offsetting this was the least I could do, but there is a lot more to think about.

On Saturday, 3rd June, the marathon (including half and fun run) was started in the central pedestrian zone, heading out to the port (all of my recent marathons in countries seemed to pass marinas). The course took a few turns through and around the city, and then went on along a spectacular undulating road around the Kaldbaks-Fjord towards the village Kaldbak and back. The well-kept road along new buildings (many cheers came from the retirement home) and a sea backdrop might even look somewhat Californian on some photos.

Along Kaldbaks-Fjord
But luckily for my body temperature, it was less sunny at about 10°C, and had lots of fresh air (maybe a bit too much of it in the form of headwind). And the best thing is, on the Faroes you are never far from a waterfall, which helps to maintain a cool head- the islands consist mainly of tilted layers of basalt, from which the rainwater flows down in many little streams. Actually, there are not only few trees, but also very few flat areas, and those tend to be boggy (no problem for the sheep). Because there wasn’t any suitable ground around, the national football team had to play their first international against in Sweden – and promptly beat Austria with 1:0.

On the road to Kaldbak
Finally, I made it into the finish in 3:58:17 h, a world record in paramedic apparel, and eventually got the record ratified by Guinness World Records. My run was way slower than the world record for Elvises (2:38:04 h), but still faster than for deep sea diving suit-wearers (six days). I got a medal with a ribbon in national colours and Thor’s hammer on it (he is the city’s name patron). My feet had become a bit thick from running in boots, and finally I could put them up and have some fish soup. Fortunately, the help of my first aider colleagues was not needed. But the next London Marathon is coming up, and after many tries, I surprisingly won a place in the lottery for 2018. Will I provide first aid there as well?

London Marathon Fundraiser for St John Ambulance

Friday, 14 July 2017

Manx Mountain Ultra - Learning Fell Running the Hard Way

Manx Mountain Marathon 2009

“To the Isle of Man? Why?” I have been asked in London. Well, I had not been there before, and crossing an entire island, including ascending its highest peaks, was definitely a fascinating challenge. Located in the middle of the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man, also known as Ellan Vannin or Mann, belongs to whatever is called the British Crown, but not to the United Kingdom, let alone to England. The Isle with about 85,000 inhabitants has a long history of autonomy in internal affairs, such as taxes, or Health-and-Safety regulations: Motorbike races are not forbidden on public roads, the Isle has taken the chance and has been hosting the Tourist Trophy since 1907. Not only have the inhabitants bred four-horned sheep and tailless cats, but also have their own Celtic language. The Manx language had become extinct in daily use with the death of its last native speaker (in 1974), but was preserved due to its ritual use at the parliament, the Tynwald, and is now undergoing revival, with presently about 1,500 speakers. The name Tynwald shows its roots as a Norse Thing, which has been convening more or less since the time of the Vikings and therefore stands among the of the oldest parliaments in the world, along with the ones on the fellow island countries of Iceland and the Faroes. On the sea promenades, the flagpoles do not fly the Union Jack, but instead a triskelion on red background - if it appears a bit unsettling seen from a distance, from closer one can see that the triskelion is actually made from three armour-clad legs running in a circle. Derived from the seal of the Isle, this symbol has been around since the middle ages.

The Isle of Man has a north-south length of 52 km, an east-west diameter of 32 km, and a number of peaks of interesting height, making it a perfect location to cross and scramble in a challenging, but not too crazy Ultramarathon to be completed within one day. Therefore, the Manx Mountain Ultra, initially named Manx Mountain Marathon, has been organized annually since 1970 (except for one cancellation due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak), which would make it to one of the ten oldest Ultras worldwide still in existence. The route crosses Mann diagonally, beginning at the seaside town Ramsey in the North-East, and finishing at Port Erin in the south-west, after having crossed 12 of the highest peaks on the island, totalling about 2400 metres elevation.

Looking back towards Ramsey
Before running here, I did not know too well that this part of the world, "Mountain Marathon" does not simply translate to a marathon in the mountains, but actually describes the races of the longest distance within the sport of Fell Running, even including some multi-day races like the Original Mountain Marathon. Fell Running (related to the Nordic Fjell for mountain) is a variation of mountain running performed particularly in the North of the British Isles and combines elements of cross-country running, mountaineering and orienteering. Also, in contrast to other countries, the paths that leads a runner (or hiker) through the mountains are not defined, only occasionally outlined by flags, and the runners are expected to navigate their course independently. Completion of the route and the summits, is validated by electronic checkpoints, into which the runners insert a microchip, or “timing dibber” they carry along. In addition, it is compulsory to carry along map, compass, signal whistle, and emergency clothing, food and water. Also, road running shoes may not be optimal for the rocky and boggy terrain of course. As the environmental impact of these races needs to be limited, the number of participants in this type of races is also relatively low. Sometimes, Mountain Marathons can be somewhat more adventurous compared classical marathons in the Alps, because the course is not as tightly monitored: During the "Original Mountain Marathon" 2008 in the Lake District, 1700 runners were “missing” due to some of the checkpoints being abandoned due to severe weather – however, the runners themselves were still competing and unaware that anyone was concerned about them.

In 2009, the Manx Mountain Marathon was scheduled on Easter Saturday as a part of the traditional Isle of Man Easter Sport Festival (more recently, the race has been taking place in autumn). About 100 runners were registered for the full length course starting on the Market Square of Ramsey, and the same number for the Half-Ultra, starting from St. John’s, the centrally located village where the Tynwald convenes. The runner’s backpacks having been checked for emergency equipment and timing device, the race was started along the seaside front. Soon after, the track ascended, initially through a wooded valley, with the trees soon giving way to a heather vegetation sprinkled with lots of sheep’s droppings. Next, the runners scrambled up the flank of the North Barrule (565 m), the second highest peak of the Island. From this checkpoint, the whole Isle was visible: In front of the runners, the chain of soon-to-be-conquered peaks, including the Snaefell (621 m, not to be confused with the Icelandic volcano of the same name that features as an entry point for the Journey to the Centre of the Earth in Jules Verne’s novel). However, it is said, that in clear weather, the Isle’s highest peak offers a view of six kingdoms (Man, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Kingdom of Heaven).

Crossing Snaefell

Though the weather conditions on racing day were excellent for this location, (10-15°C, sunny with some clouds, gentle wind), the differences in terrain and microclimate made adaptation to the environmental conditions somewhat difficult. The different ground compositions posed an extra challenge, of which running downhill demanded a lot of concentration, since for every step could meet a different response on rocky, overgrown, or boggy ground. After crossing the peaks Beinn y Phott and Carragan, and a slippery river bed, the Colden was climbed through a knee-high heather scrub, the path only marked by the flag on the peak.

Having passed the checkpoints on the following peaks on the ridgeway, the course descended along a former railway track, to St. John's, the location of the Tynwald in the heart of the island. At the exit of the village, one of the most exhausting passages began: a very steep ascent through a forest up the Slieau Whallian. After adapting to the chilly winds of the hills, I experienced the relatively mild and sheltered microclimate as almost unbearably humid and even resorted to a walking stick found in the forest. After the following checkpoint, the course finally went downhill, on a road through a desolate heath and past a closed-down mine. The long ascent to the last higher mountain to be crossed, South Barrule, could be seen from here. The top his peak offered a beautiful panorama of the final ten or so kilometres on the Southern tip of the island: Firstly along the sea cliffs cliffs, then around the bay, and finally into Port Erin, recognizable by its white Victorian Hotels at the promenade. The last climb on the bay was the hill viewpoint at Bradda Tower, from where the small island bird reserve known as the Calf of Man was visible in the South, and the Mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland rose behind the Irish Sea in the West. 

Bradda Tower and the Calf of Man
A quick run downhill from the viewpoint and around the bay led the runners to the finish at the village green on the Promenade. The men’s race was won by Paul Thompson (Manx Fell Runners) in 5:04 h, the women’s race by Jackie Lee in 5:29 h. With the last finishers arriving after 10 ½ h, I was in the second half of the finishers with a time of 8 h, so a big respect for all fell runners who completed this race! The certificates and finisher shirts were awarded at the inclusive post-race dinner, a fine social event to conclude a very memorable race.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Marathon Running Culture in Germany

Marathon Running Culture in Germany

Running culture differs between countries, and often even among regions, as every run is shaped by its social, ecological, economic, geographical and cultural environment. Learning to appreciate this is what makes international running really interesting. Of course, it is not necessary to travel to a large number of countries to learn about the multitude of approaches to marathon running – especially since globalisation has somewhat equalized the appearance of metropolitan cities. Also, it might widen one’s horizon further if not restricting oneself to marathons, but that is another story. Here I try to give a brief overview about running marathonsand ultramarathons in Germany – I am certain that runners with more marathons under their soles will find a lot missing here. This entry is modified from a guest entry on Maddog's Marathon Blog.

Over 450 Marathons, and 150 ultramarathons are run in Germany annually, of which more than 40 races are of at least medium size with over 300 finishers. Due to the federal structure of Germany, nearly every city big enough to be regional centre, (e.g. state capitals) have (or used to have) a marathon. A large number of small marathons are also organised in regional hotspots (especially around Hamburg, but also Bremen and a number of other places where dedicated runners, often by 100 Marathon Club members, and these events are generally listed or linked on the German 100MC website. These are low-cost (about 10 EUR), low-profile events with normally only a few starters, and therefore an informal atmosphere, which make it easy to accumulate hundreds of marathons into your biography, especially if you live nearby.

However, even if you are based in other places, dense public transport and railway networks should make it possible to run more than 10 marathons per year without staying overnight, or driving once. If the cost of an overnight stay is an issue, some events offer a sleeping place in sports halls for little or no charge – but of course this should be checked in the race advert and with the organiser. Many marathons are linked to half-marathons, other shorter races (e.g. for children or special needs runners), or hikes within the same event, which often count more finishers than the full marathons. If targeting to visit as many countries as possible, the Schengen Area, the Euro and good public transport connections should make it easy to organize travel to the neighbouring countries. A handful of marathons even cross national borders, e.g. the Usedom, Goerlitz and 3-Countries-Marathons around Lake Constance.

Due to a temperate climate, the marathon season runs through the whole year, with the big marathons concentrated in spring (e.g. Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Hannover) and early autumn (e.g. Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne), when weather conditions (ca 10 – 15 C) are generally most favorable.
Non-competitive fun runs, ‘Volkslaeufe’, were founded during the first fitness wave of the 1960s. Though marathons had been run in Germany since the first years of the 20th century, the first marathons in Germany were run on a regular basis as fun runs, and attracted non-competitive runners, and were organised on trails and parks in the 1960s (e.g. Essen, Schwarzwald). In the early 1980s, they were followed by the big city marathons (e.g. Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg), and a larger number of races were founded during the late 1990s.

Brocken Marathon 2010

The majority of the larger or medium-sized marathons are run in or around cities, but a few of them in scenic mountain or river valley areas, and often including traditional hiking trails, such as the Rennsteig-Marathon (the shorter brother of the Rennsteiglauf), or the Oberelbe- and the Brocken-Marathon. In addition to trail races on medium-height Mountains, there are also a few in alpine conditions, though bigger (and higher) events can be found in Switzerland and Austria. Many marathons include local flavours, and cultures, such as local specialities during the race or at pre-race (Pasta or Knoedel) parties. In several wine-growing regions such as the German Wine Route, marathons are run that incorporate wine tasting along the route, in a similar manner to the Medoc Marathon. A number of "novelty" races have been run that include other special experiences, such as the “Mount Everest Stairs Marathon” with an elevation gain (and loss) of 8848 m, the Prison Marathon, or the Underground Marathon in a salt mine. Ultramarathon races (longer than 50 km) in Germany are often trail races, in scenic trails in the mountains. A number of the biggest trail Ultras in Central Europe are included in the European Ultramarathon Cup, such as the Rennsteiglauf (but not in the future), the 100 km of Biel and the Swabian-Alb-Marathon.

Registration fees for marathons start at around 10 EUR for small races, with mid-size marathons charging about 30-50 EUR, and the big city marathons around 50-100 EUR, usually with discounts for early registration. Though many races sell out months in advance, registration for others is possible until shortly before the race, and occasionally even on race day, which of course it should be checked in advance. However, the biggest German marathon, the Berlin Marathon (36,000 finishers, 98 EUR) recently introduced a ballot system, taking place 10 months before the race. In addition, the Berlin Marathon offers guaranteed entry for runners meeting a highly competitive time limit, also in line with other World Marathon Major Races. A medical certificate is generally not required.
Unlike in many countries, pure Running Clubs are rare in Germany. Instead, most sportspeople (around 30% of the population) are organized in local general Sports Clubs (Sportvereine), which also include sports such as foot- and handball, gymnastics, or even chess. Sports Clubs usually have membership fees, but might pay for the entry fees and/or organize travel to some races.  Races, including marathons, are often organized by the clubs, but membership is not required to participate. Sportvereine also have a strong social component and are often closely involved in the local community, which adds to the local colour and town fair-like atmosphere surrounding a number of marathons. ‘Lauftreffs’ are informal meetings of joggers/runners with or without affiliation to a sports club. Many Sports Clubs have a clubhouse, or club rooms, often attached to a Sport Centre. Often, there is also a pub or restaurant affiliated to the local Sports Centre (open to the public). In Sports Centres, 400 m tracks are generally also freely open to the public.

Germany has a very active 100 Marathon Club with connections to the global 100 marathon clubs. The "Ziel-60-Marathon" is another challenge for calculating marathoners, who aim to finish sixty marathons in sixty different times (concerning the minutes), for example in a time frame between 3:00 and 3:59. There are sixteen states in Germany and many runners have a goal to complete a marathon in all sixteen states and there was a challenge/goal in 2009-2011 for runners to complete a marathon in all sixteen states in sixteen months. However there is no formal club for runners with this goal.

National and international marathons are listed in national and international race calendars, such as:; 100MC, and for Ultras, the listing of the German Ultramarathon Federation (DUV).