A 100 Kilometer Run Around Hamburg

10th of June

Running continuously for one hundred kilometers in one day. What will you learn?

The First Try

Initially, my plan was to conquer this distance during last year’s MegaMarsch Hamburg (7th of April, 2018), which is meant to be a hike of 100 kilometers. 100 kilometers, a nice and round number, but also one that makes you afraid. Me, at least. I’ve enjoyed hiking usually, but haven’t got the chance to in recent years much. So the MegaMarsch was doomed. I started optimistically, but after just 17 kilometers, my feet had developed such painful blisters, I called it quits. Funnily enough, I ran lots of marathons in those same shoes, blister-free.

But apparently, running ain’t hiking.

Determined to give it another go, I made plans to try this again. The MegaMarsch had a few shortcomings I’m surely not going to miss when I do this solo instead of following 3,500 others. One of them is the starting time of 16:00 o’clock, meaning you’re going to have hike through the night. Why?! No wonder almost no one finishes this thing. 

The Second Try

April 17, exactly ten days later, I put on different shoes to hike this thing alone. I really liked the course, which is the 2. Grüner Ring, a circle around Hamburg, about eight to ten kilometers away from the city’s center. It used to be an official cycling course, which made for solid grounds and relatively good signage. 

Packing the backpack with lots of energy bars and 1.5 liters of water, a battery pack in order to be able to do the tracking without all the other hikers, eating a healthy breakfast at 5:30 AM, the usual routine. That try went okay at the beginning. I hiked at a steady pace of about 10 minutes per kilometer, ate a lot of the bars, enjoyed the beautiful weather and scenery, but still just ran out of energy after around 10 hours. 58 kilometers. Why? I thought I was in good condition and had even run further distances before. Why do the muscles just quit at some point? 

Of course, after that day I made plans for a third try. The next time, I thought, I’m just going to run. Maybe it’s the walking for such a long distance that I’m just not used to. Running though, that’s a different story. 

That try would have to wait a while. More than a year. In between I did lots of marathons and conquered my longest distance ever by running the 74 kilometer Rennsteiglauf. I even managed to win a little ultra marathon event, the Te Houtaewa Ultra. Spirits were high, motivation regained.

There’s a popular event for doing a 100 kilometer run, the Bieler Lauftage. I had a ticket last year, but couldn’t make it. Trixi of the staff was very nice to transfer my slot to this year. But while planning it all with Sophie, we found out there’s basically no way to make it happen this time either, unfortunately. It would require a three night stay for me because it’s an overnight run in Switzerland – leaving Sophie home alone with the four kids. Taking the whole family would be very expensive and not great because they couldn’t watch me. So Biel is out of the question for now. But I still can run 100 kilometers on that same day!

Bring it on, Grüner Ring!

Third Time’s a Charm

Sunday, June 9th, 2019. A promising day, weather supposedly between 15 and 20 degrees and sunny. Well rested after three days without runs I start my ten minute bike trip down to Teufelsbrück ferry pier. 

My stupid face before a 100 kilometer run
My stupid face before a 100 kilometer run
There’s my ride
There’s my ride

The boat St. Pauli, first one of the day leaving at 7:05 AM, carries me over to one end of the circle ring around Hamburg. It’s not exactly clear to me which is end and which is start. The course has signage for both directions. 

The first sign I see in the Finkenwerder quarter, on a trash can
The first sign I see in the Finkenwerder quarter, on a trash can

The course begins very quiet and peaceful. It’s meant to lead you around Hamburg’s green outskirts and it does that job quite well. The route is easy to follow, because most of the signs are well visible. But I decided to put the GPX track file on my watch and have it ready in the komoot App on my phone as well. That both turned out to be a big help. I think I would have lost the path lots of times otherwise. 

Path on a dike next to apple tree fields
Path on a dike next to apple tree fields

I tried to keep at 6:00 minutes per kilometer or slightly over. This is my feel-good pace which I think I can sustain comfortably for a very long time. Today is the chance to test this. 

Harburger Außenmühlenteich
Harburger Außenmühlenteich

By now it’s warm enough to get rid of the jacket. The water in the backpack diminishes. 

Urban brutalist design in Harburg
Urban brutalist design in Harburg
At about 23 kilometers, some water skiers had fun at Neuländer See
At about 23 kilometers, some water skiers had fun at Neuländer See

The things you see on a trip like this. This course is really diverse and mostly quite beautiful. The distance so far is not in any way impacting me, I think. Time to enjoy the quiet nature, almost feels like a vacation day apart from the noisy kids 😉. 

The kids would have loved this sight, though. Gotta take them with me next time.
The kids would have loved this sight, though. Gotta take them with me next time.

Then there’s a bridge, crossing the southern Elbe arm next to the A1 highway. Not nice, but necessary. 

Wilhelmsburg
Wilhelmsburg

The course needs to lead closer to the city’s center because of a lack of well-located bridges. This explains the missing “cake piece” of the circle tracking. North over the huge Elbbrücken.

Some more noisy cars to wake you up from this nature bliss
Some more noisy cars to wake you up from this nature bliss

Around here I have my first stop after about 35 kilometers. The water in my backpack has almost run out so I just stop to quickly buy some new at a Döner stand. Also, a blue Powerade, man I love that stuff in these situations!

On we go, away from the city again. Heading south east. My friend Andy writes and says he is on his way to do a bike trip from Hamburg to Lüneburg and will be on the same route as me on the Kaltehofe island. Great, someone to talk to!

There he is
There he is

Unfortunately, he didn’t bring any of his self-made bread he raved about for me. Afterwards I found out that this short meeting put this run into the category of a “supported” run, as opposed to a “self-supported” or “unsupported” run. Why is that important? See below!

For around three kilometers, we share the road with lots of other cyclists, it’s a beloved route
For around three kilometers, we share the road with lots of other cyclists, it’s a beloved route

The marathon mark falls around here as well. 4:30 hours into the run, good enough.

After around three kilometers of chatting away together, Andy goes on his own adventure to Lüneburg
After around three kilometers of chatting away together, Andy goes on his own adventure to Lüneburg

I did not really plan for a finishing time as I had no idea what will happen, especially since the two failed attempts before. When using the six minutes per kilometer as a base, it would be a theoretical straight ten hours in the end. But that’s obviously not going to happen because of the necessary stops to refuel. Also, I guessed I might need a few longer breaks later, maybe sitting down or even power-napping on a bench somewhere for 20 minutes or so. 13 or 14 hours seemed like a realistic goal. 

On the other hand, I recently met this guy Michael Mankus in person, a beast of an ultra runner, and he told me about his try of exactly this route. 11:51 hours is what it took him last year, saved on the Fastest Known Time website. So that’s a stretch goal right there. Who knows what’s going to happen today!

On with the run. I’m still doing fine so far. No signs of any damage. A little tired, sure, the legs aren’t fresh anymore. 

The course is getting even prettier now, I follow it down through Wasserpark Dove Elbe and witness a rowing regatta on the Eichbaumsee. People cheering, walking through the park in the sun, having a good time. Also, barbecuing. This happened a lot today and I wasn’t really aware anymore that this is a thing. But people still bring their cheap and dirty metal devices into parks, lighten them up with stinking chemicals and put horrible low-quality meat on them. No pleasure running through these fatty smoke clouds. Certainly didn’t get me hungry, even though I could have eaten a lot all the time today while burning those thousands of calories.

A far superior alternative to consuming crap is playing soccer with friends in a park
A far superior alternative to consuming crap is playing soccer with friends in a park

This section of the run was still in my memory from last time. Kilometers 50 to 60. Very pretty, far from the center of Hamburg, very country-like. Boberger Niederung is another little park I never knew before and now got the chance to. The soccer picture was taken in Öjendorfer Park, which is a park I knew from last December’s Öjendorfer See Marathon I did there. This time, being warm and all that, it was a lot nicer, of course. That’s the eastern most part of the course.

At 45 I did a slight detour for a gas station break. I put another liter of water into the backpack and drank another Powerade, in addition to two cereal bars of the CLIF brand. Delicious. This took about three and a half minutes off my time.

58 was another stop like that. The midday heat of around 22 degrees got me sweating so I needed more fluids as opposed to the morning time. This was also the point where I broke my own record from last year, so to speak. It’s where I gave up but now I carry on. Everything from now on is a bonus, in my mind. 

From time to time, roughly every five kilometers, I do short walking breaks to shake out the legs, have a bunch of water and sometimes eat another bar. It helps a lot. To my own surprise, I never have a problem getting into the running moves again afterwards. Feels like today is the day! Sometimes I tell myself to now have a walking break for 500 meters but then feel energized enough to continue running after just 200. A good sign.

Tonndorf, Trabrennbahn. I also never visited this horse racing track, but knew it from the train station of that same name. But it came as a surprise to me to realize that it’s no longer a race track, but reused to be a park in the middle and housing around it. Smart! Better for the horses, too. This course led right through the middle of it.

Right afterwards, at 70, I had another refuelling break, taking me six minutes this time.

No Powerade available, instead I had to buy this other sugary drink – did the trick, though
No Powerade available, instead I had to buy this other sugary drink – did the trick, though

Entering Bramfeld quarter. Here’s another part of the course I was familiar with. The Bramfelder See is the main part of Bramfelder Winterlaufserie, a run series throughout winter to keep fit together during the terrible weather. I did it once, enjoyed it. Also, this looked a lot better now in summer than what I remember it to be. 

Some geese in the way
Some geese in the way

Here, I’m breaking my own record of “longest distance run”. The record was set at last year’s and before mentioned Rennsteiglauf with its 74 kilometers. That’s another huge mental boost for me. 

Entering one of the largest cemeteries in the world
Entering one of the largest cemeteries in the world

Ohlsdorf Friedhof is another of those Hamburg things I have never before visited. The things I learned today! Really a huge place, this cemetery. At first I think it might be disrespectful to use it as a leisure activity course, but there are also cars going through it, even an official bus stop. And the MegaMarsch also went through here. Probably fine.

Pretty Alsterdorf
Pretty Alsterdorf

This reminds me of another run I would like to do one day: follow the Alster river from start to end. 56 kilometers – no big deal! 🤭

Hamburg Airport
Hamburg Airport

The route leads around the southern tip of the Hamburg Airport runways, which is used as a so-called Kleingartenverein area, or allotment gardens. This use of land is quite popular in Germany’s cities, making it possible for people living in inner-city blocks to have a garden not too far away for weekend usage, for example. The area is divided into little patches, most of them fitted with little sheds. Today, on a sunny day like this, they are well used. Lots of barbecues (yay!), nude people drinking beers, that kind of thing. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, which is good, of course.

Right after the airport, there’s another milestone for me, 84.4 kilometers total – a double marathon! These numbers sound insane to me, and I can’t really comprehend them on my GPS watch. I’ve come a long way. 

Oddly enough, since 70 I didn’t need another break. The backpack is still filled quite well, I feel hydrated and got enough bars left. Just about 15 kilometers to go, 9:45 hours in. On paper, the Fastest Known Time (FKT) is still well possible! What?!

Deer at Niendorfer Gehege, an outdoor zoo with free entry
Deer at Niendorfer Gehege, an outdoor zoo with free entry

Passing through a few more Kleingartenvereine, highways and trains, and even some industrial areas, it’s still not too bad. I preferred the quieter southern and eastern parts so far, though. 

One of Hamburg’s soccer clubs, HSV, seemed to have something going on today – lots of people partying at the train station earlier
One of Hamburg’s soccer clubs, HSV, seemed to have something going on today – lots of people partying at the train station earlier

Altonaer Volkspark is again very peaceful and nice. The heat of the day has gone and the trees above make for a good and cool climate. 

There are signs showing the distance to the next stop of the Grüner Ring route, now showing its conclusion, Teufelsbrück. There’s a 400 meter difference between that and my GPS tracking’s 100 kilometers, so naturally, when I realize this, I do a short extra loop of about 400 meters. I won’t miss this chance to come out above 100!

A quick text to Sophie, and she’s agreeing to come down with the kids to meet me at the finish – great. That way I can share that achievement. Just a few kilometers to go, FKT very close.

And there it is.

My stupid face after 100 kilometers of running
My stupid face after 100 kilometers of running
Incredible to me
Incredible to me

I stopped the watch at 11:38:02 and 100.09 kilometers, so that’s now the new official Fastest Known Time on this course! It’s not an amazing time, though, and I’m sure it won’t stand long – I even know a few people who have declared they intend on breaking it soon. No problem to me, this is just a little fun bonus.

I ran 100 kilometers in one go today – that’s the main thing for me. What a day it was! Seen so many new things of my city, had a great time doing outdoors stuff, even getting a little sunburn. Can’t complain. There’s not much that’s better than this feeling.

Sitting down I realized this was the first time I sat down since starting to run today
Sitting down I realized this was the first time I sat down since starting to run today

Check out the Strava tracking, if you feel like it!

Piece of cake
Piece of cake

What Have I Learned?

Long distance running isn’t as much about the body’s fitness as about the state of mind. That isn’t news to everyone probably. But still, it’s key and easy to forget. If you want to reach a goal you have to want it enough. After two failed tries, I just didn’t feel like giving up again. I wanted it today.

On a more practical note, the shoes matter. I went through a few pairs but settled on my Altra Ego shoes I bought last year at my new favorite shop, Running Green. They said these were specifically well suited for ultras. Absolutely right. Although I did come out with a few blisters, none of them were in the way of continuing on. The Altras are just very comfortable for these kinds of long runs, I think. 

Sure, hydration and food intake play a big role too, but I think I have had figured that out before. The water, sugary drinks, and cereal bar combination seems to get me very far – worked on a bunch or IRONMAN races and other ultras I did, too. Can recommend. 

What’s Next?

While the next ultra runner distance after 100 kilometers is the 100 miler (161 kilometers), I don’t think I have that in me at the moment. Some day, for sure, but probably not this year. The Berliner Mauerlauf is a popular race in Germany on that distance, but I’m not too sure if I want to do a big event again. I kind of enjoyed going solo today. 

Smaller goals are the mentioned 56k Alster run, but I’m also interested in running from my home to the baltic sea. About 100 kilometers, too. It’s a good distance to do in a day. But first, a bunch more marathons!


More Posts to Read

loading