100 Kilometer Run: Hamburg to the Baltic Sea

9th of August

There are a few standard distances many endurance runners have on their mind.

In addition, there are established time-based challenges like a 6-hour run, a 12-hour run, and a 24-hour run.

Above those distances and times, crazier things exist, but I would regard those as unusual. Just a tiny fraction of us ultra runners are up for those, while most of us are mainly interested in these mentioned categories, which also are used to hold national and international championship races. 

For me personally, right now the 100 kilometer distance is the most interesting. A good race has to have a certain challenge and an uncertainty of success in order to make it exciting. Marathons come easy to me these days, and while they are still fun and satisfying, I’m looking for something more difficult. Next up the ladder would be a 50k, which is just barely more than a marathon and therefore not really a category whose existence is justified in my opinion. 50 miles is about 80 kilometers, which is definitely a worthy challenge, but as a European I’m just not used to miles. “How long is a mile again?”

Which leaves the 100k.

Triple digits, a good and round number. Obviously it’s big, but not too crazy. At least from my point of view.

How I’m Going Into This

In June of 2019 I had already completed a successful attempt at the distance after two failed tries, so the distance isn’t completely new to me. That helps, of course, but a lot can change in a year. The last few weeks and months went pretty well, and so I felt I was up for this run. My willpower was certainly challenged during June’s #10keveryday task and a double marathon weekend in early July, but each success strengthens me a little bit.

Which is why I chose my recent 36th birthday (July 28th) to do a personal record attempt at the marathon distance. On a tiny 285 meter lap course I went #runsolo and managed to improve my time from 3:17:40 in Frankfurt last year to 3:10:11. A big leap for sure, and though I recognize these optimal circumstances of continuous refreshment supplies and no blocking runners, I still think the effort reflects my current state of fitness quite well.

Why 100 Now?

One of my over-arching goals is to some day participate in the Western States 100 Endurance Run. In order to qualify, I need to finish a tough long distance race from their official approved list. For this year, I have chosen L’Endurance Trail from Festival des Templiers in the south of France in October. It’s a 106 kilometer race with 5,125 meters of elevation gain. My idea of preparing for it is to run long distances and go up and down some hills. Makes sense. Getting a 100k run into my system, even if it’s flat, certainly will help towards that goal.

And, in addition to that, I have this little “bucket list” of sorts. I’ve been adding and deleting stuff from it over the last decade. A bunch of items also genuinely got ticked off. One of the items which has been there from almost right at the beginning of the list’s creation, is a run from my Hamburg home to my dad’s place at the Baltic Sea. I initially wrote down to run the distance of just short of 100 kilometers on two consecutive days, because that already sounded crazy to me. But as time goes by and my running abilities grew, I realized that running it in one go would be better for several reasons – mainly the practical ones like where to sleep and how to transport clothes. And now, I thought it had become time to give it a try.

Into the Unknown

While the distance might not have been new, the course properties were. I would need to find gas stations along the way so I wouldn’t run out of water and electrolytes. That’s the main reason I chose to run along the rather boring B 432 country road. Plenty of infrastructure along the way would make it easier. Also helpful: I would not need to do any navigation as I took this road to the Baltic Sea many times while training with my bike.

On August 2nd, just five days after my 3:10 hour marathon run, I packed the backpack and left the house at 6:00 AM to go on this journey.

What lies ahead
What lies ahead
Quiet Sunday morning streets in my neighborhood
Quiet Sunday morning streets in my neighborhood

With a full stomach (cup of coffee, big green smoothie, oat based muesli) and a heavy backpack (CLIF bars, 1.5 liters of water, 1 liter of electrolytes) a steady and slow 6:00 minute per kilometer pace was inevitable. It was my rough plan to try and go for that pace but I made sure to not look at the pace too much in order to be able to listen to my body in a non-distorted way. This clearly wouldn’t be the day to break the 10 hour barrier on this distance, which is another bucket list item on my list, but maybe 11 hours would be possible? Last year’s attempt took me 11:35 hours.

The course is very uneventful at first. Leaving the city and entering the state of Schleswig-Holstein after about 15 kilometers is the first meaningful milestone here. Yay, no more traffic lights!

You’ve got have threatening animals in your state seal
You’ve got have threatening animals in your state seal
Still confident after 20 kilometers
Still confident after 20 kilometers

Weather is great today at around 20 degrees with a bit of clouds.

Refueling

As it’s getting hotter and my liquid supplies are diminishing, I was looking forward to the first gas station stop which I had put on my list. After 32 kilometers that station appeared and to my delight was not closed today.

These artificially colored sugary drinks are a guilty pleasure for me
These artificially colored sugary drinks are a guilty pleasure for me

My spirit is still up, the legs are working, I am well within my comfort zone. Sophie and the kids are doing fine at home, we send texts from time to time. The marathon mark comes and goes, not really noticed.

Then, at about 48 or 49, I see a fellow runner going down the bike path along this road, wearing a backpack which is a lot bigger than mine but also obviously meant for running as opposed to hiking. As I pass her by, I wave and say hi as we’re likely sharing the same long distance interest and it’s really rare to see someone running on this path. Familiar face, kind of. A few meters later she suddenly says: “Tim?”

Some Unexpected Company

Turns out it’s Nico from Hamburg, who was taking part in Michael Mankus’ and my Hamburg-Everest event last year! Huge coincidence to meet her here, to say the least.

Two crazy runners on the B 432
Two crazy runners on the B 432

Her plan was to reach Bad Segeberg today, which is just 12 kilometers ahead of us. She did a three day trip, fully self-supported. We talked and ran together for the next 10 kilometers. She had lots of running stories to share and I keenly listened. The kilometers just went away like nothing this way. Suddenly we’re in Bad Segeberg and still talking while she has to go straight ahead and I need to take a left turn.

For me it’s time for the second scheduled break at a Bad Segeberg gas station
For me it’s time for the second scheduled break at a Bad Segeberg gas station

That Mountain Dew looked great after 58 kilometers of running. But apparently my brain was already somewhat fried when I decided to fill this fizzy drink into my air-tight bottles. The result was a mess of sugar water all over me. Well, I’m going to be stinking and dirty tonight anyways. Lessons learned.

Time for the second CLIF bar of the day and on towards the sea.

Human Nature

The course certainly isn’t the greatest, as it’s a busy street with occasional trucks going past you with 80 kilometers an hour. Some stretches provide with a bit of shelter from the street, and the views are getting better the farther I get.

At 68, there’s a familiar car on the horizon
At 68, there’s a familiar car on the horizon

Sophie took the kids and drove towards my dad’s place as well, making a stop along the route to pay me a little visit. This was the best timing as I was in a tough place at that point. It was inevitable that I reach a weak spot during this day and I’m happy I made it to 68 kilometers without one. But from now on, it’s going to be a fight, I knew that instantly. The body wants to lie down, so the brain has to do the work. Seeing the kids, chatting and having a little break goes a long way for that.

It’s also a bit hillier now, but that weirdly helps as it’s using different muscles
It’s also a bit hillier now, but that weirdly helps as it’s using different muscles
Third scheduled break at 78 kilometers, Ahrensbök – time for some iced-tea, non-sparkling this time
Third scheduled break at 78 kilometers, Ahrensbök – time for some iced-tea, non-sparkling this time

The cold coke is perfect right now and that caffeine boost helps to get up again. Around here I reach a little hill-top that allows for a small view of the sea. I’m close!

90 kilometers, crossing the A1 autobahn
90 kilometers, crossing the A1 autobahn
Baltic Sea!
Baltic Sea!

It’s a great moment to arrive here. Technically I can tick off the bucket list item right now, because I wrote down “Run from Hamburg to Baltic Sea”. So that’s a victory!

The rest of the run towards the family leads right along the sea and is usually beautiful. Today it’s a hot and therefore quite crowded Sunday, which slightly taints it, but it’s alright. Just some slalom running around the ice-cream eating folks.

My pace had deteriorated during the last 30-40 kilometers to somewhere around 6:30 to 7:00 minutes per kilometer. I didn’t do any longer walking breaks as I did last time, so that’s an improvement. Also, just those three gas stations stops were enough for me, as opposed to five last year. I’m very happy with that.

The Final Kilometers

Getting closer to the family it’s becoming clear I will have about four kilometers missing to a full one hundred. I am really tired and slow, but the decision is clear: turn around, do two kilometers, and back again. Doing that requires almost all the willpower I have still left in me. It’s funny how at these times there can be a burst of motivation which makes you feel like your increasing the pace to a more standard one, but a look at the watch will reveal you’re just as slow as before. Understandable.

One last turn, one last hill, and there I am, after 100.37 kilometers, 6,300 kcals, and 11:27:52 hours total (Strava).

That 70s sky-scraper
That 70s sky-scraper

Wow, what a day. It’s half past five now, so I spent almost the whole day running. It was great. Additionally I did a new personal best on the 100 kilometer distance, by accident. Just a few minutes, but it’s a victory too. Just the second time I ran for 100 continuous kilometers, I’m proud of that achievement. I should aim to do that distance once per year at least to see how I develop.

Three CLIF bars, 5.5 liters of water, 4.5 liters of electrolytes and sugary drinks, that’s it.

For today I chose my trusty Altra Escalante 1.5 shoes, and they didn’t fail me. The feet are battered for sure, but there’s just one tiny blister – after 100 kilometers!
For today I chose my trusty Altra Escalante 1.5 shoes, and they didn’t fail me. The feet are battered for sure, but there’s just one tiny blister – after 100 kilometers!
Hungry, dirty, sun-burnt, exhausted, happy.
Hungry, dirty, sun-burnt, exhausted, happy.

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