100 Miles in a Day: BremenSanktPauli 100, the Story of Creating a Race from City to City
In May of 2023, some friends and I pulled off another stunt. As in 99% percent of the cases, fellow runner Michael Mankus had the idea take up shop in his brain. He first shared it when he and I appeared as guests at the Runner’s World Podcast to talk about a different project called 42_16 back in March of 2022.
Putting up a race from the city of Bremen to the city of Hamburg, but more precisely, from football stadium Weserstadion, home of Werder Bremen, to football stadium Millerntor-Stadion, home of Micha’s club, FC St. Pauli. With some slight planned detours, the route would be about 100 miles long (160,9 km). “Why would you plan the route between those two stadiums in particular?” – Runner’s World journalist Henning asked. “Both clubs are friendly. They are down with each other.” – “So in this case, a football club being down is a good thing?” 😄
During the podcast episode, his new idea got mostly unnoticed, but we kept talking and Micha kept pushing it forward. He is always the main engine behind creating something like this out of thin air, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most connected people in the ultra endurance community of Germany.
Micha and I have created a few other ultra running events in the past and they have gotten longer and longer. Supporting participants along a 100 mile course from one major city to another in Germany would present new challenges, though. That’s why early on Micha asked a few friends to join the staff. And we were really glad and relieved some agreed.
Judith, who has done lots of huge ultras herself, appeared on television to talk about it, and even won a 100k race in the Tunisian desert once, Maiken, who is no stranger to ultra running either and often accompanies the staff to coach at Runner’s World run training camps, and Till, who recently achieved a highly respectable finish at the difficult 110k Zugspitz Ultra Trail, a race around Germany’s highest mountain.
Friendly and talented Frauke created a very pretty logo for the race, cleverly merging the two football club crests, and I put together a small website at www.bremensanktpauli.de showing all the important information and making it possible to sign up for the race. And people actually did.
It was our clear statement that we would not intend to make money with creating this race. We would only collect what we thought was necessary to provide a nice race and give the surplus to charity, as we did before.
Now the preparations had to begin. As Micha is the guy who is great at creating routes, he planned it. Driving from Bremen to Hamburg takes just 1:20 hours, and the shortest possible route to walk is 103 kilometers long, so in addition to choosing the most interesting routes he had to create some detours here and there so we could inflate the distance to at least 160.9 kilometers, or 100 miles.
We also asked around for people who live along the route or its vicinity in order to have some help at aid stations, of which we wanted to have one for about every 20 kilometers of running. Fortunately we found a few. Especially the Eckhof family who manage “Melkhus” café at about the halfway point were a huge help to us.
Micha ran lots of parts of the route himself before settling on certain paths and refined the route a bunch of times, so in the end we landed at this result.
If you’re keen, explore the track yourself, here’s the public link to do so at komoot.
The tasks prior to race day on Sunday, May 28, 2023, included:
- 🗺️ Creating the Track
- 📣 Advertising: Of course you need a few participants or it just doesn’t make sense. We got the race approved by the DUV, a German institution which bureaucratizes ultra running and posts all available races. People go through that calendar and just sign up. Micha and all of us also promoted it on the social networks, and that was it. In the end we had about 30 signups of which 20 paid and arrived at the starting line. A good turnout for such a tiny race!
- 👕 Participant’s Shirts: Judith managed to get clothing company Falke to make us high quality shirts with our pretty logo on them for a good price. They are so comfy I still often wear them!
- 🏆 Finisher’s Gift: In the ultra community, it’s not a rare occasion that a race will hand out metal belt buckles to finishers. I don’t know if this tradition started at the legendary Western States 100, but it certainly made it popular. Micha found a company which made great looking silvery belt buckles with the pretty logo embossed on it for us. In addition to the buckles, we again had the support of HOKA guy Marcello, who made sure we had a pair of new HOKA running shoes of choice for the male and female winners each, and one more pair to give away at random among all participants.
- 🛰️ GPS Tracking: As with our previous race, the “Grüner Ring 200”, we used Belgian company Legends tracking’s great service and rented enough GPS trackers for each participant to carry through the whole race. The service also included a custom website containing a live map so we could keep track of the runners in near realtime.
- 🛍️ Aid Station Prep: The main challenge here is to make a good plan for staffing all eight aid stations at the correct time and having everything ready for all the runners – fast and slow. The big shopping tour was just taking a few hours and few hundred bucks.
- 🍲 Cooking: Running for such a long time requires lots of calories and food for all runners, so Micha and I prepared lots of vegan potato soup and cold pasta salad the day before the race. Full of the major nutrients and savory in contrast to all the sugary carbs runners usually have to eat during racing.
We decided to create a hard cutoff at 24 hours and in order to use the race motto “100 Miles in a Day” we set the starting time at 0:00 midnight, the night from Saturday to Sunday, 28th of May. That way runners would have the freshest legs and best focus during the dark and possibly challenging night time running in the beginning, before at about 5:00 AM the sun would go up and daylight would make it a bit easier on them.
📝 The Trial Run
About a week before the race, the five of us set off to Bremen in order to give the full route a final dry run and do those 165 kilometers as a team relay. It’s been a great day with lots of sun and good talks and the necessary time to fine-tune a bunch of the details. We used my family van as a mobile headquarters so all five of us could cover a bunch of kilometers.
I wanted to do a full marathon right at the beginning just to have that proper longrun experience and Micha was just keen on running and didn’t want to wait his turn, so we started together.
We had a bunch of time here and Maiken and I talked about the Lavaredo Ultra Trail 120K which she had done a few years back and I was about to do next month. She gave me lots of helpful tips, including to make use of the drop bag opportunity: at the halfway point you could have a separate bag with your stuff dropped so you can then use the contents. For BremenSanktPauli, we allowed the same option and carried the bags to Melkhus at roughly the halfway point (80 kilometers).
When you run as a relay team of five for 100 miles, the time melts away like nothing.
Even though I had my marathon done and therefore also run enough of a portion so it would be possible to do the 165 km as a team of five, we mixed and matched and occasionally ran as teams of two, because we all love running. I took over a later shift of the route and got to 57 kilometers total for the day. No bad training for my own ultra next month.
That test run was helpful but also just a very fun way to spend a day. It felt like a school trip of sorts.
📫 Final Preparations
I sent out a bunch of emails to the registered runners containing lots of information regarding how the whole event would go, but I still got quite a few questions back. All of them were very polite and understanding, but I noticed that most questions were born out of a sort of nervous excitement on the side of those runners. That’s very understandable, a 100 mile foot race is nothing to take lightly. It requires dedication, good training, and lots of willpower.
We had to make some small adjustments in the days leading up to the race, like moving an aid station a few kilometers further, and having another one without staff as just a drop point for fresh water bottles.
The aid station plan was now fully finished and looked like this:
- Horstedt near CampingReich, after 18.5 km / Cut-off at 3:00 AM
- Camping Jäger Everinghausen, after 41 km / Cut-off at 6:00 AM
- Aral Rotenburg (Wümme) Rönnebrocksweg, after 61.5 km / Cut-off at 9:00 AM
- Melkhus Ehestorf, after 79 km / Cut-off at 1:00 PM
- Kalbe (water-drop only), after 96 km
- Hochzeitsgarten Heidenau, after 106 km / Cut-off at 6:00 PM
- Max Schmeling Hallen Hollenstedt, after 119 km / Cut-off at 8:00 PM
- Kärntner Hütte, after 144 km / Cut-off at 10:00 PM
While the first few aid stations would only need staffing for a relatively short amount of time from the first to the last runner passing by, the latter ones were a lot tougher to plan. We estimated that some of those would need people for probably eight hours or more. What saved us from a lot of problems were the GPS trackers of the runners on that online map, because we could see how far apart everyone was at every single point and plan spontaneously.
The five of us would do the main work and carry the responsibility, but a few more volunteering friends thankfully showed up and supported us along the way. Marcus, Maren, Peter, Frederic, Frauke, Elif, and who else I might have forgotten, thank you all very much! 🙏
Because I am what they call a “night owl”, which is very unhelpful in my daily life, I could play to my strengths here. So among us five I happily volunteered for the first few aid stations during the night. That wouldn’t be a big problem for me.
There was a last scramble to buy enough Franzbrötchen for all the aid stations, because people love these but your ordinary bakery doesn’t often carry more than, say, twenty. But we massively overdelivered on that front in the end.
With everything ready in about three separate cars, if I remember correctly, we drove off to Bremen in the evening hours of May 27.
Marcus, who had to use these crutches you can see in the picture due to an injury, still came to help out as much as he could. What a guy!
Starting at 10 PM, most of the runners arrived. Some of them came from far away, we even had two Austrians toeing the line tonight! A bunch of familiar faces from the Grüner Ring 200 race showed up again as well, which I found especially nice. It meant that we did a good enough job last time.
Guys who are part of the organized SV Werder Bremen fan club were super nice and allowed us to use their fan rooms within the stadium for the couple of hours before the start.
Time flew by, a few Franzbrötchen were consumed, some coffee as well, and then we moved outside shortly before midnight.
🟢 Start of the Race!
Such a cool moment.
For us, the tasks mounted and there wasn’t any time to waste. We put everything back into the cars, divided some of the supplies among us, and headed to the next aid station points. In my van, Judith and I went to the first aid station, which was just 20 kilometers into the race, meaning that the first runners would probably arrive around 2 hours after the start because nobody here would run much faster than a 6:00 minute per kilometer pace. Unless you’re national elite that wouldn’t be wise on a 100 miler. So at 2:00 AM latest we would have needed to have arrived at the spot and set up the full table with food and drinks to be ready to fulfill every wish of everyone.
This all went quite well, certainly in part because we were able to keep a constant eye on the live GPS tracking of all the runners.
The runners got a bit lucky because weather was fine although slightly on the cold side for end of May.
💁 Aid Station #1, Horstedt, 18.5 km
The flat asphalt of the first 20k made them all go rather fast, so it was even shortly before 2:00 AM that we had our first visitors at aid station number 1 near the village of Horstedt.
A few groups of 2-3 runners each had formed. People were aligning themselves in regard to their feel-good pace.
Our hot coffee was well received, but most of the runners hadn’t used up much energy as of yet, so water and maybe a piece of banana was enough for many.
I think the last group of runners left our little outpost just half an hour after the first ones, so this was a successful first aid station making Judith and me feel like we’ve done everything we can to give them all the best possible chances to continue.
⛺ Aid Station #2, Everinghausen, 41 km
The main guy for this aid station was Till, if I remember correctly, and Micha joined him later. Our little WhatsApp group was quiet at this point because everyone not directly involved in it used this opportunity to catch a bit of sleep. Till and Micha got everyone through the first marathon of about four consecutive ones without any problems. There was one exception, Karsten just didn’t feel it today and called it quits here. First DNF (Did Not Finish) of the race. Till dropped him off at a train station so he could get home.
⛽ Aid Station #3, Aral Gas Station at Rotenburg (Wümme), 61.5 km
Meanwhile, Judith and I had moved forward to this particular place. According to the pace of the runners, we estimated that we would have at least two more hours until they would arrive here. So we tried to catch some sleep, more or less successfully. It’s end of May, so the sun was already up at around 5:00 AM.
It’s crazy how much it helps just to close the eyes for a moment, even if it’s not for a long time and interrupted often by people partying and buying more alcohol at the gas station right next to you.
Markus, standing on the left, was actually running the course using minimalist Vibram FiveFingers shoes. Super strong feet on that guy!
The day shaped up to be a rather nice one with the sun shining as more people came into the aid station. Our two Austrian friends Günter and Christian mentioned how nice the sunrise has been over the damp and flat fields they ran through. People enjoyed Micha’s track so far.
For Judith and me, it didn’t get boring. The field of all runners was still not that far apart. I think they all came in over the course of not much more than an hour.
It was Nina’s first attempt at a 100 mile race although she had done long and mountainous trail runs before. But to her detriment, today didn’t turn out to be working perfectly for her, unfortunately. After a longer break here, she decided to quit running for today and step into a train instead. Some days it just doesn’t work out. Daniel, on the right, took his time and refueled on carbs, before he continued.
A bit later, Tanja arrived and also decided to stop right here. She called her family to pick her up.
It was quite early in the long race for a bunch of people to quit, but that’s how it goes sometimes. One hundred miles are one hundred miles. And 61 kilometers are quite an achievement already.
🐄 Aid Station #4, Melkhus Ehestorf, 79 km
The halfway point and our largest aid station. Here, runners got their drop bags if they chose to hand one to us. Also, we had hot potato soup prepared, which was very well received. And another bonus of this aid station was that runners were allowed to have a pacer from now on – that’s someone who accompanies you, mostly for mental support. The rules are clear here this time, it can only be one pacer at a time per runner, and they can only be switched out at the next aid stations. Not many of our participants made use of the option, I think about a handful did.
Judith and I came over to join Maiken here once we were done at the previous aid station and arrived just in time to give some thanks to Mrs. Eckhof, who lovingly runs this place with her family and just had her birthday, incidentally! 🥳
A bit later, she even joined in with our little wake-up-work-out routine and delivered some mean push-ups.
🚰 Aid Station #5, Kalbe, 96 km
That’s a boring one, because we didn’t put anyone here. We just dropped enough potable water for runners to refill their bottles.
💒 Aid Station #6, Hochzeitsgarten Heidenau, 106 km
A secluded little place for people to have a nice little wedding, usually. But not today!
Till managed this place with some help from Marcus and Maren. The first runners arrived here not that long past noon, but our last ones came by at 5:00 PM, after 17 hours of continuous running. That alone is quite an effort. It was Frank and Tanja H., who had lots of fun together and do these kinds of races all the time. Tanja H. even held a Guinness World Record for most kilometers run in a 48 hour time frame on a treadmill. They know their stuff, but were a bit on the slow side today. In fact, so slow that the finish line cut-off of 24 hours was looming over their heads quite prominently.
🥊 Aid Station #7, Max Schmeling Hallen Hollenstedt, 119 km
With aid station #6 well staffed and knowing that I had a bit of time until the first people would get to my next aid station, which was the following one here in Hollenstedt, I went for a short run along the route around that place. Also, my wife Sophie and most of our kids came by to help out, play around, and see how the runners were doing. We got everything set up in front of the Max Schmeling Hallen in Hollenstedt, named after the famous German boxer.
The people in charge of this sports facility were kind enough to open up their doors for us despite of the public holiday today, so our runners would have the opportunity to use the restrooms.
Matthias was incredibly well prepared and had some friends follow him and supporting him especially. One of the friends showed me his meticulously written out race plan for today, a multiple page print-out document with lots of information about the course. And that was certainly part of what put him in the lead here: Planning is everything!
When he had left the aid station just minutes later, he told us to tell the next guy that he was looking incredibly strong still, winking 😉.
That happened not a lot later. In fact, just 15 minutes after Matthias Kranz, Matthias Kröling showed up!
He was happy with some warmed up soup and a non-alcoholic beer, before refilling a bottle with coke and one with orange soda. Sugar is key.
Next up was Markus, who was doing quite well, and Sven, a beer-lover from Düsseldorf. He is regularly running 50k longruns around Düsseldorf, visiting breweries and replenishing the lost nutrients that way. Whatever floats your boat, Sven! Until this point, Sven was doing okay, but realizing right here, that he would probably not have it within him to make it to the finish line in time. So he quit.
After him came in Katrin Grieger, who is an incredibly strong runner whose achievements include a 11th place finish among the female starters at the renowned Spartathlon, a race in Greece going from Athens to Sparta, which is about 245 kilometers long. You should check out Katrin’s ultra running resumé if you would like to sit there with wide eyes and your mouth open for a few minutes. She did say it was kind of a tough race today though, but just because 100 mile races are tough under any circumstances.
About half an hour later, four more runners arrived. Günter and Christian from Austria, as well as Gabi and Christoph from Paderborn.
Peter, on the left, had come over to help us as well. Judith, who is having some watermelon here, stopped by, too, and Micha and Maiken spent some time with us here as well.
The next stretch would be the toughest for most of the runners.
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This was one of the best articles I've read so far in telling about a race. I couldn't put it down. Your details were so awesome. You made New York just come alive.
Great review, enjoyed reading it and recognize lots off related subjects and hurtles. I’m amazed by all your running and races well done.
Great article! I've read so many long blogs only to get bored in the middle as I suffer terribly from ADD and move on to other things. Yours has been one of few that held my attention all the way to the end.
Your good humor and ease in telling stories make this blog a really cool space. Nice review.
Amazing effort Tim, well done! Thank you for taking the time to write down your thoughts, feelings and memories from the event. There’s always something to learn from your posts and this one was no exception!! Another cracking read.
What a ride! Surely the race, but also reading about it. Thanks for taking the time to write up such a detailed report, almost feel like I was there.
⛰️ Aid Station #8, Kärntner Hütte, Hamburg, 144 km
Before crossing the city border into Hamburg, the only hilly section of the course had to be overcome. Most of the route so far was flat at about 20 meters above zero, but here, everyone had to go up to 120 meters in Fischbeker Heide, and back down to this aid station. This isn’t crazy much, but it’s all relative after such a long time on your feet. I believe a lot of curse words have been uttered among the remaining fighters.
The stretch was also the longest between two aid stations with about 25 kilometers. And by now, even our fastest runner, Matthias Kranz, needed a whopping four hours to cover that bit. At about the midpoint between both stations, there was a farm store which sold cold drinks and some cakes and snacks. We saw it during our test run. So we figured this would suffice for those of the runners who needed some extra calories. I think this was probably a bad decision on our part, because for one, that store wasn’t open after 8:00 PM, so only the faster ones would have the chance to use it, and secondly, people do get a lot slower towards the end on these races. It would have been better to put up one additional station and separate them evenly. Well, everything can’t be perfect and we learned that lesson for next time.
The area was unfortunately ridden with mosquitos, but Judith and Frauke soldiered on and took care of the station which we had put up together. I myself was now at an energy low and required an hour of sleep so I could be helpful later on. I missed both Matthias’s and Katrin coming through here due to bad timing on my part.
Markus told us he had just been hallucinating and felt a bit woozy. Yeah, that’s what happens at ultras. It’s as close as you can get to having a drug-related rush without consuming any illegal substances. Markus really loved some salted watermelon, but I think the concerned face of his supporter speaks for itself. He wasn’t at his best right now, but still he decided to give it a shot and continued on at about 9:00 PM, 21 hours into the race and twenty kilometers to the finish line.
🦆 The Duck Poops at the End
Not long after he left, our team of four consisting of Gabi and Christoph, as well as the Austrians Günter and Christian arrived. They were fuming. Furious. Cursing the track, angry at us for planning it this way. I felt powerless and didn’t know what to say except for some encouraging words, or so I thought. I said to one of the Austrians: “Is there anything I can do for you to help you?” – to which he replied, looking intensely into my eyes: “You could stop talking!”
We laughed about it afterwards, but at that moment I wasn’t sure. Did we actually make a big mistake here? Was the route too difficult?
Gabi was also telling us off. What were we thinking to put those hills at the end of the route, such a long time between aid stations, such a tough cut-off at the finish (24 hours for the 100 miles). Christoph had just vomited, they told us, and was cramping majorly now.
I was quite surprised to hear this from them, because I know Gabi and Christoph from our previous race, Grüner Ring 200, where they finished the 200 kilometers in 31:51 hours. They did amazing at other really long ultras as well. We thought this race would be quite possible for them to finish, too. Did we miscalculate badly?
It was great to have super experienced Micha, Judith, Maiken, and Till on the team, who all put these discussions into perspective for me. Ultras are freaking hard to do and almost everyone cracks at one point or another. Being cursed at when you’re volunteering at an aid station isn’t great, but you have to live with it because it’s just so hard for the runners. We didn’t make huge mistakes except for the mentioned additional aid station somewhere in the last quarter of the course, and also, as it surprisingly turned out, our route was a few kilometers too long.
This was an unfortunate error: When we ran the course as a relay team we found out that the GPS tracking of our watch ended just short of the 100 miles, somewhere at 159 kilometers. We can’t have a 100 mile race be shorter than 100 miles, so Micha added a bit to the route, but not that much. Our finishers later reported 164 kilometers, which is three too many. I know from my ultras that three kilometers extra sound like nothing but can make all the difference depending on the situation. Especially if you’re fighting for a cut-off time. So yeah, we slightly screwed up on these two points, but other than that it actually wasn’t a particularly hard course. Flat for most of the time, just some tiny hills near the end, and 24 hours should be enough.
Daniel, who came into this aid station in last place at 9:20 PM (over 21 hours in), for example, had a Berliner Mauerweglauf finish to his name, where he did those flat 100 miles in just 17:56 hours, finishing as 15th male. He also successfully did the 330 km Tor des Géants in Valle d’Aosta, Italy. Surely BremenSanktPauli would come easy as pie to him! Maybe some runners underestimated the run, I don’t know. Micha said, a hundred miles are still a hundred miles.
What else could we do except to try and support them as much as we can here. Everything else was up to them.
Daniel carried on for now but told us he had already calculated he probably wouldn’t make it before the cut-off at midnight. Kudos to him for trying, though.
🏁 The Finish Line
Proving it was all quite possible, was Matthias Kranz, our winner of today’s race, who came in after 21 hours and 17 minutes on the balcony overlooking our Elbe river from within the Sankt Pauli neighborhood.
Just twenty minutes later, the tough Matthias Kröling arrived as well. 21:39 hours was his finishing time for what turned out to be about 164 kilometers of running in the end. Well done to him! He later wrote this (German) blog post about the race from his perspective.
It took one and a half hours until our first female finisher had crossed the Elbe river at Alter Elbtunnel, managing those staircases (elevators aren’t allowed!) and came out the other side, here to greet us in Sankt Pauli.
Her finishing time was 23:12 hours in the end. She would be our third and final finisher.
🏮 What happened to the others?
Markus had some more hallucinations and took the wrong turn somewhere in Wilhelmsburg. His friend picked him up. Daniel called it a day somewhere south of the Elbe river as well, but I can’t remember how exactly. And our team of four who were not doing too great at the last aid station all walked it in. They arrived way past midnight where a bunch of our team were still waiting for them. I myself collapsed into bed a bit earlier, but Micha and some others held the position.
He reported that all four were barely able to talk anymore. Completely done and out. But they made it into their hotels and slept it off.
A day after, we were very glad to receive super nice and grateful messages and emails from them, thanking us for putting up the race in such a caring way and explaining why they weren’t able to finish this particular race. It’s all good. I doubt we will have them again when we do the race in May 2024, but I was very happy to hear from some of the participants they were eager to sign up again right away.
And that’s the conclusion of this post: A hundred miles are a hundred miles! In 2024 that will hopefully be quite true and not equal 164 km. But we’re all happy to have the race take place another time and would love to support everyone taking on this challenge. 🙏
The date is Sunday, May 18, 2024!
And starting this time, we’ll provide the option to tackle the course as a relay team of two: Switch at the halfway point and do 80k each!