This is the eighth race report I have written on my ultra-running races, which are between 100km and 190km. Every single race gave me different experiences and different challenges.
The more I run these ultra events, the more I respect them because we put our bodies out there for such a long time to test our fitness, our pain levels, our determination, and to push ourselves to the very limit and see how much we have left in the tank, or try to empty it! Sometimes we execute our race plan and everything falls into place and we achieve what we set out to do, but sometimes not! However, this time I was very fortunate in that I was able to overcome the tough periods of the race and managed to complete it and exceed my own expectations.
When I was accepted to enter the Berlin Wall 161km race, I wasn’t initially as excited as I had been for some of the other previous events. For whatever reason, perhaps the course or the people, I didn’t really enjoy the Berlin Marathon in 2008. In May, I found myself in the position of having two 100-mile events to choose from; one in Ireland called Connemara 100 miles and the Berlin 100 miler in Germany.
Having one of the biggest race fields with 350 registered solo runners and over 700 team relay runners, I decided the bigger field meant a bigger challenge and I wanted to feel the atmosphere and run with so many hardcore ultra-runners. The eventual outcome was proof that I had chosen a great race. The organisers did a superb job. The entire route was marked very well with 27 check points featuring toilet facilities and a buffet table full of nutrition, hydration and various fuels for the runners, as well as for the support crews. The people managing the check points were so supportive, friendly and prided themselves in putting on a great feast for the runners.
This race is run in memory of the construction of the Berlin Wall and the victims of the border. Among the 138 people who lost their lives at the Wall, Karl-Heinz Kube was shot in an escape attempt in 1966. The race this year was dedicated to him. It was a very moving experience running the route and seeing the remains of the wall. The 100-mile route is along the former border; 100 miles against forgetting what took place and all the sadness that it created. As such, this race is not just about us ultra-runners but also has a bigger picture as a symbol of Hope. Shortly before passing the famous Brandenburg Gate at 7km we ran across a wall made of wooden bricks. In respect to the Berlin Wall motto “running without borders”, the idea is that this wooden wall would be torn down piece by piece. Each runner picks up a brick and carries it through the Brandenburg Gate to be discarded. It’s a symbol of breaking the wall down, and was a very emotional moment that gave me goosebumps! (We all got a wooden brick at the post race ceremony.)
60 -70 per cent of the route is off-road and features lovely countryside, where you find yourself running through forest and along lakes and rivers with spectacular views! Race day was a beautiful sunny day without being too hot. Many people were out with their bikes, dogs and sailing and everybody looked lovely until we stumbled across a large group of people sun bathing totally in the nude! I guess we ran through a nudist colony, though I did not see this in the race notes. Maybe that shows how much freedom they now have since the wall has been brought down! We didn’t have much time to keep looking however as we had a mission to achieve!
As a road runner myself, although the route was beautiful and it was so nice to breathe in the fresh air, I found it very challenging on my feet and ankles as I had never trained to run on gravel, grass and uneven ground. The most killing part was the uneven cobblestones in the various villages we ran through outside Berlin city. It took me a long time to relax and find my running rhythm. The race did not allow support crew members to run with their runner until after 15 hours (9pm) from the start of the race – crew members were encouraged to cycle alongside to support their runners after the 17km check point. Consequently, my wonderful crew – Lesley, Nick and John – decided to rent a bike locally and support me by cycling alongside me. They carried all my hydration and fuel on the bike and as they cycled they all tried to tell me how wonderful the view was. They updated me with all the supportive messages from family and friends, whilst at the same time making sure I was eating and drinking enough over the 161km route. During the tough period of the race, as night closed in, I become very nauseous and couldn’t stop vomiting. My crew did a great job trying their best to will me on, although they felt very helpless. The key focus was to make sure we stuck to the traffic light rules (strict German law!) and kept to the directional markers on the road. We had no intention of getting lost despite running in the pitch-black on an off-road route among the forests and dark alleyways of Berlin’s city suburbs. I was impressed my crew did not get us lost! Being runners themselves, they were all expecting and hoping to support me by running alongside me, but seeing them cycling for hours and hours on off-road routes on a rocky rental bike with NO CYCLING SHORTS was a real challenge! They all had very sore bottoms and walked a bit funny the next day.
With their amazing support, we did it again. I completed the race in 19 hours 53 minutes, which positioned me as fifth female overall. The result exceeded my own expectation for a sub 20-hour race. My crew simply did a superb job! This goal would not have been achieved without the three of them.
Dreams are always worth chasing, but to be able to chase it with your husband and wonderful friends is amazing! I’d like to thank my very dear husband John, my family for their support and my crew, Nick and Lesley, for supporting me for a third race. Of course, I’d also like to say a big thank you to all my running buddies back in Dubai who helped me throughout the journey of training: Andrea, Marek, Kerry, Julie, Jerry, Samantha, Malcolm and Brian. Lastly of course, thank to all my running friends for your moral support!
I am for sure a runner and not a cyclist, but I think life is like riding a bike. In order to keep the balance, we have to keep moving forward. Quite a few friends asked me just 24 hours after the race, “what’s next?”. I am thinking but I will certainly find another challenge.
Thanks to the “A” Team for your support!
Words by: Gigi Young
Photos by: Gigi Young and pebe-sport.de/Mauerweglauf