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: http://marathon.de/; 100MC, and for Ultras, the listing of the German Ultramarathon Federation (DUV).

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