Grüner Ring 200: Organizing and Supporting a 200 Kilometer Running Race
There and Back Again.
As with many races in the COVID era, it’s been a while between coming up with the idea and the race actually taking place. Our first planned edition was supposed to happen in Spring of 2021, but not enough people were vaccinated at the time. So we postponed it until now.
We, that is Michael Mankus and me, again. As with Hamburg Everest in 2019 and Binnenalsterultra 2022, and also 42_16, it is the two of us initiating and making these unusual and exciting running events happen. Full disclosure, Micha is the one who has the ideas first and comes to me with them, so we can pull them off together. Sharing tasks and the responsibility makes it easier.
200 Kilometers of Running – Wait, but why?!
Certainly, pushing the limits is one aspect. Another would be that there’s not a huge amount of races offered publicly which have a length of this kind, and one of our goals is to provide people with the possibility to run more. Because running rocks!
The distance is an odd one. Most ultrarunners are familiar with 100 kilometer races or 100 mile races, which is 160.9 kilometers. Then, usually the hour-based races follow – 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours. National championships of 24 hour races always break the 200 kilometers, but it’s very different racing from a measured course which has to be completed.
Finding a Worthy Route
Somewhat counterintuitively, the task of finding a track for this 200 kilometer running challenge was easy. People will have to navigate with their GPS watches or handheld devices anyways, because we can’t realistically put arrows for 200 kilometers on the streets. So we went for a route that’s already quite known and has fixed arrow signs 99% of the way. Granted, it isn’t the most creative – we took Hamburg’s 2. Grüner Ring, which is just short of 100 kilometers in length, and doubled it.
Start and finish of the standard route are on the Elbe river banks, so turning around and running the same route back to where you started when you just had a glimpse of the finish from the halfway point was not only sort of funny but also going to be a real test of willpower for participants, which is good.
The route’s other advantages include it being rather flat, easy to navigate, and not to mention, actually quite nice. Lots of greenery to watch and city parks to cross.
Making it Public
Getting the race approved by DUV, that’s the German Ultrarunning Association, wasn’t hard, and in addition to then appearing in their public database we posted the race in a Facebook ultrarunning group. That’s it for advertising.
Much to Micha’s and my own surprise, not too few people signed up for this ridiculous idea! We decided to have people insert a sort of qualification statement, link, or previous race result, so we could be sure that applicants would likely be fit and experienced enough to not die on the course. And did they deliver! Many of the people had done incredible runs before, even going into multiples of what we had in mind here.
During the long time between the registration website going up and the race happening, lots of runners dropped out but some others joined in the last few weeks leading up to it. Micha’s and my tasks are by now mostly routine. Collecting the starter’s fees, buying trophies, planning food, deciding many little details like for example aid station cut-off times, driving around the city a lot for random errands, asking friends to help and volunteer at the aid stations, answering participants’ questions via email, and most of all, trying not to forget anything important!
Three things were new this time.
- In order to follow and help the runners along this exceptionally long course, we decided to rent GPS tracking devices for each of them. That way we would know when to have aid stations ready, alert runners if they strayed off the course, and also provide a fun experience for spectators via the live tracking website.
- Micha thought it would be nice to have a pretty logo and t-shirts made for all participants. Because we have high standards and won’t buy anything that’s ethically questionable with the participants’ money if we can avoid it, those shirts turned out to be the most expensive item of everything we needed to buy for the race. Worth it, though. Great shirts.
- In addition to two nice-looking trophies for the male and female winners, our friend Marcel from running shoe company Hoka One One was able to secure three brand new pairs of new running shoes to be chosen from the Hoka line-up by the male and female winners, as well as one person which we could select via lottery. Great prize!
The Outline of the Race
- Start and finish line were at Teufelsbrück ferry terminal in western Hamburg.
- We would shoot off the metaphorical gun at 6:00 AM on Saturday, April 16th, 2022.
- Participants needed to do the navigation themselves via GPX file routing which we provided. Micha created it by biking the loop a couple days earlier in order to avoid problems like construction site related blockings on route we couldn’t see using Google Maps.
- At kilometers 35, 65, 100, 135, 165 and at the finish, we would set up aid stations of differing sizes to support runners with food, drink, bad jokes and some motivation.
- The halfway point (100 kilometers) would close 16 hours after the start, at 10:00 PM Saturday. If runners don’t make that cut-off, they’re out.
- To reach the finish, runners were allowed 36 hours total, meaning 20 hours for the second half, until on Sunday at 6:00 PM we would need to close the finish line and mark every one still on the course as DNF, did not finish.
The Last Preparations
Due to the construction sites along the course, we had to wait until nearly the last minute to finalize the route. Micha made that happen, thankfully. On Friday, the day before the race, the two of us got together to spend half a day cooking for the runners, because during 36 hours of running they would need proper food. We made a delicious and very salty lentil soup (with Micha’s wife Elif providing the recipe and me putting in almost too much salt) and a rather neutral cold pasta-based salad for good measure. Carbs, protein, vitamins, electrolytes – all you need. Vegan, obviously. Again, buying meat or questionably sourced animal products with participants’ money just doesn’t sit right with us.
Another convenient thing about our route was that we could provide five aid stations for the runners at a total of just three different locations, because they would come back along the same route. So we needed to divide everything into three parts. Micha took aid stations 2 and 4 (same spot), I was in charge of 1 and 5 (also same spot), and our friend and Hoka guy Marcel was kind enough to be the chief of station 3 at the halfway point.
In the evening we held a race briefing at our favorite running gear store and Micha’s employer, Running Green. All the participants showed up, 11 total. About 35 had signed up, 15 of them had actually paid the fee of 90 Euros we asked, and 4 of those let us know in the days before the race that they couldn’t make it, unfortunately. Still, here we had 11 people who realistically could run 200 kilometers around Hamburg, I was impressed! And they traveled here from all over, Freiburg in southern Germany, Paderborn in the middle, one even came over from the Netherlands.
Micha explained the route and special circumstances of it to everyone, hinted at a few important points, and then we of course did the Hoka shoe lottery. Incidentally, the pair was won by Patrick, who works for the competing brand Brooks – he has no need for Hoka shoes! That got a laugh out of everyone who knew.
A bit of talking and some hanging around at the Running Green store later, we all went home to hopefully get a last few hours of sleep before a weekend with presumably little to no sleep at all.
Day of the Race
Waking up at 4:00 AM isn’t easy, but was necessary. In the dark I put the last few items into the camper van which our friends Katrin and Matthias Grieger, both hugely accomplished ultrarunners as well, thankfully lend me. Coffee is a must now, for one. I’m glad the start and finish is so close to my house right now.
I also needed to remember to turn on all 11 GPS tracking devices now, because they need up to an hour for finding both signals – the GPS and mobile network signals because they also have SIM cards in them in order to transmit the current position into the web. Not much later, our GPS tracker provider Tim of Legends Tracking told us via WhatsApp that he could see all 11 active trackers on the map. That’s a first relief. The tech works.
Minute after minute, the runners and their friends arrived. One by one I taped the trackers to their backpacks, wishing them good luck. During the sunrise the nervous faces were slowly getting more visible.
Micha, who always seems to have these semi-legal bengal flares lying around, pulled one out to start off the race in style.
Slowly and steadily, these eleven warriors made their way north. You have to have admiration and also humility when watching people try to do amazing things like these. Thinking about what a huge task was lying in front of them at this exact point made me gaze in awe and become a bit emotional as I remember the feeling from being on their side quite well.
See You Back Here After 200 Kilometers
With the runners now on their way, the emotions needed to immediately make room for the rational side of the brain again, because us organizers and volunteering helpers had quite a task to accomplish now. First things first, making sure the trackers are all working. Then, an ambulance’s siren (or just the lighting, I don’t remember exactly) pulled us out of it. Through the megaphone of it we heard someone say something like “Woohoo, let’s go!”
What’s happening? Katrin Grieger, that’s who’s happening! Our friend and generous lender of the camper van which I’m using for my aid station today, made a short stop during the end of her nightshift as an emergency room anesthesiologist right here for our runners! ❤️
Apparently it’s been a slow stretch regarding her work shift during these early hours, thankfully, so she was able to be part of it, too. Katrin is an ultrarunner with a finish at the worldfamous Spartathlon, for example, which is a 246 kilometer race through Greece. It only took her 33 hours in 2019, can you believe it?
After a little chat, work had to continue on both sides. Micha and Marcel had a rather long time to go until people would show up at their respective aid stations, but mine would probably be frequented in a few hours already. And it’s on the other side of the city, Tonndorf district. I picked up a few things from home which I forgot and then made my way over there, half an hour’s drive. In the cozy red camper van.
I bought a few more fresh rolls and typical Hamburg Franzbrötchen (sweet and cinnamon tasting flat rolls full of carbs). Setting up shop and preparing everything neatly for the runners is quite enjoyable as I can draw from lots of experience what sort of things runners crave after hours of running. Or so I thought. More on that later. A friend of Micha’s, Marcus, showed up to help me care for the people. We had the fresh rolls buttered and put lots of sugar in the form of jam and chocolate spread on it. Getting hungry ourselves, now. Some fresh coffee thanks to the gas cooker in the van is ready to go, too.
Around three and a half hours after starting, most runners showed up at 9:30 AM. For the first 35 kilometers of a 200 kilometer race, that’s no bad pace. They were hungry and devoured the rolls and especially welcomed our Franzbrötchen. Good stuff.
The stop was short for most, many of them didn’t even need to refill their water yet. I was a little surprised because during ultras I usually consume a lot more than they did now.
Not more than an hour later, every of the eleven runners had come through and carried on towards Micha’s aid station at 65. We were done for now. Marcus and I cleaned it all up and talked for a while, he’s a really nice and helpful guy.
On a Break
I was glad everything went well so far. People enjoyed the aid station, there were no complaints about anything. The routing worked, the live tracking too, and even the weather was quite perfect at about 5-10 degrees with sunny blue skies and no winds.
We estimated that it would take at least until around 10 PM this evening that the first runners would arrive at my aid station for the second time, after having then done 165 kilometers. Which meant I could use the rest of the day for either emergency organizational stuff or just for leisure. So what did I do? Go for a long run, obviously!
I tried to use the live tracking of the runners on my phone in order to maybe visit some on the track, but it turned out I missed them by a few kilometers in the Veddel region.
Two solid hours of low intensity running in the bank, I was able to spend some more time with the kids at home as apparently everything else regarding the race was going fine.
Marcel, Micha, and I, had a group chat going to let each other know what was happening. Quite exciting. A little while after my own training run, the first guys arrived at Micha’s station at about 65 kilometers.
Here, they had the same food and drink options as before minus the Franzbrötchen but instead with our home-cooked hot and salty lentil soup and lots of pasta salad. I don’t know how the runners reacted but I would have loved that.
Slightly later, our first runner DNF’d, unfortunately. Patrick suddenly had pain in his legs and removed himself from competition after 80 kilometers – still, a respectable effort. Almost a double marathon, you have to remember. At this point, the field was considerably spread apart. Sebastian and Daniel led the race together, Peter had a comfortable position at the end of it. A few hours were between the first and last already.
The Halfway Point: Almost There!
Marcel had set up shop near the Elbe banks with his comfortable Hoka tent and people were visibly happy to reach that place.
Halfway there, that’s a measurable point of success and a psychological boost to now be sure that the rest of the race is known territory with no surprises. Surprise mountains, for example. Speaking of which, as you might expect the area is rather flat – one 100 kilometer lap has just about 400 meters of elevation gain in it. With 100 kilometers of running in the legs, you can already be proud of what you’ve accomplished so far. On the other hand, it’s just half of what was asked of you and what you came here for, so better get into that mindset to power through the rest of it, soon.
Still, a break, even a longer one, is very much earned at this spot, if you ask me. All runners still in the race reached the aid station within the cut-off and during daylight, which made us happy. It’s been a good day for running.
But now, it’s getting tough. Really tough. The coming night is supposed to be a cold one with temperatures not a lot higher than freezing 0 Celsius, and soldiering on in the dark requires some more willpower than during daytime for most. Not to mention the fatigue and general tiredness of the body.
DNF after DNF
It’s more than understandable that a bunch of runners dropped out during the first half of this night. Monika was the next one after around 110 kilometers.
Our leaders, Daniel and Sebastian, made it to aid station 4, which is the same as number 2, managed by Micha. Again, hot vegan food is offered which I hope helped them both after 135 kilometers during the night.
It became clear that at their current pace they wouldn’t make it to my aid station (km 165) at 10 PM, but more likely at around midnight. I myself had to make use of that gained time and tried to sleep preventively. From 8 to around 11, relaxing on the couch hopefully got me some energy into the tank to make it through the rest of the night without any more sleep.
While Marcel could remove his tent during the early evening hours and was done with his aid station at the halfway point, Micha still had some more hours to go until everyone made it to his spot at 135. I think the last one, Peter, arrived there at around 3:00 in the morning.
I made my way towards Tonndorf around midnight and picked up Philipp, another friendly and helpful volunteer, on the way there.
Just after midnight, we received the news that co-leader Daniel had dropped out at about 150 kilometers, much to our surprise. He has lots of experience and managed to run a lot longer and tougher races than this one before. Word on the street is he even made it through a 450 kilometer race at one point with no race scheduled breaks, meaning next to no sleep. That takes a week. Incredible. But in the end, luck plays a certain role for everyone, and on some days it just doesn’t work out. He wisely used his emergency blanket to stay warm and Marcus picked him up in the car, the nice guy.
1:22 AM, a friend of Frank and Tanja’s arrived at our aid station. At first I thought it was in anticipation of their arrival here and for support, but she just told us the two were out of the race, as well. Stomach aches, fatigue, apparently. On some days it’s just not meant to be.
Marcel and Ole showed up at our station number 5. Great, more company! Marcel said he was very thankful to get to be part of this race as a supporter and found it super interesting and exciting how the race played out. Same feelings for me. So the four of us were talking and waiting for the first runner.
Slightly later, 1:37 AM, the now sole leader Sebastian arrived at our place after having done 165 kilometers of running. What a guy!
I was curious about what he would crave from our buffet at this point, but if I remember correctly he just went for a handful of chips and a Red Bull, as well as a water refill of his carry-on flasks. Efficient guy!
“It’s slightly cold, yes”, he said, matter-of-factly.
With just six out of the eleven still in the race, and Sebastian strongly carrying on towards victory – less than a marathon to go from here, easy going! –, the field was now stretched out a lot. The runners at position 2 and 3, Bernd and Mukir, were far behind and understandably even getting slower. So I decided to let Philipp go and catch sleep, because one person would be enough for the remaining supporting work here. Estimates were suggesting that Bernd and Mukir would take another 2-3 hours until arriving here. So Marcel and Ole also carried on with their night and at 2:30 or 3:00 AM I got into the camper van alone and used the chance to relax for a while.
But it was just too exciting!
As stated, around 3:00 in the morning, Peter, our reliable Dutch friend in last position, arrived at Micha’s aid station (135). All the others were making visible progress, too. I was afraid to fall asleep and miss anything, so I just didn’t. It was rather cold, anyways.
One and a half hours later, 4:30 AM, Micha and Marcel made their way over to the finish line at Teufelsbrück ferry. They had some more beer in anticipation of Sebastian, who was getting closer every minute. But it would still take some time.
At 5:50 AM the next message arrived. It’s from Bernd’s wife on my phone, he dropped out. Must have been around 150-160 kilometers in, I don’t remember exactly. The night was too cold, his energy gone. So Mukir carried on alone in second place now.
Five runners still going, stretched out between kilometers 190 and 150, about a whole marathon apart from each other.
🥇 We’ve Got a Winner!
Then, just in time to watch the sunrise, and also just before breaking the 24 hours of running, the incredible Sebastian showed up at Teufelsbrück! Finished, won! 🎉 Again, what a guy. 23:53 hours total for just short of 200 kilometers of running. Just let that run through your mind for a moment.
Micha and Marcel were there and awake enough to welcome him – again in style, meaning with shiny red begal fire.
Trophy in hand, a new pair of Hoka shoes to be selected as a prize, but mostly with visible happiness and probably also at least a hint of relief that it’s done and over, Sebastian stood there posing for a winner picture.
For him, a few moments of calming down and hopefully warming up were on the plan and he then made his way to his hotel, not far from this spot.
For all the others, many more hours of running ensued.
Marcel and Micha could catch some rest right now, finally. Mukir, still in second place, arrived shortly after Sebastian’s victory, not at the finish line but at my aid station at 165. The day had by now begun, the sunlight helped the runners a lot. Mukir, who had apparently enjoyed the Ratsherrn beer we provided everywhere at the other aid stations, was now just in need of a hint of water. Nothing more. He was a bit sad that Bernd had dropped out and he was running on alone after that. Not five minutes later, he went on. No problems.
By now I was questioning my own ultrarunning behavior. Am I the only one who always tries to eat and drink every single thing offered at the aid stations? I’m always so hungry and thirsty and love the taste of the items during those races, but here, everyone just seems to be fine with some water! How did they get to have these efficient bodies? I need to find out and learn that.
The gap between Mukir and runners 3 and 4, who were Gabi and Christoph by now, was relatively short. Just half an hour later, 7:15 AM, they arrived at my station, visibly exhausted but still in good spirits. “Can we warm up for a moment in the van, please?” they asked. Of course! I had hot coffee ready and gotten new Franzbrötchen, too, in addition to all the usual stuff we provided. But these two things were all they wanted. Again, how?!
Gabi was shaking, Christoph fell asleep for a minute. I put a blanket on them. What a journey so far. Both were determined to make it to the finish and climbed out of the van quarter of an hour later with aching legs.
After I told them that the cold will now vanish quickly, with a plus of five degrees in an hour, and another five in two, their spirits lifted. Fittingly, the sun showed up at this point, as well. They can make it! Just 35 kilometers to go, and 11 hours until the cut-off – comfortable buffer; they might as well crawl and make it in time.
Brunch for Peter
Four out of five runners had by now made it past my post. One to go. I used the gap to get some nice breakfast for me at a bakery around the corner because I felt like I needed a lift after this night without sleep. It helped tremendously.
Just before 10:00 AM, the sun now shining brightly and the warmth making everyone a lot happier, Peter arrived. Can’t bring that guy down, what a sturdy fellow!
Now, he must be hungry, I thought. And hoped. But I was disappointed again. Franzbrötchen, coffee, half a cup of Coke, half a cup of hot coffee, and a water refill please, nothing else. What’s the secret?! Still, Peter mentioned how great of a service and food selection we’ve had, in fact, he thought it was the best at any ultra event he’s ever done. If you look at his ultra resumé, that’s a compliment I was proud to hear.
Ten minutes later, he’s off towards the finish.
Finish Line Party
I now could close up shop in Tonndorf, too, and made my way west towards the finish line. Daniel, who had dropped out a bit after midnight, had by now had some sleep and came to the finish line with Micha to greet the others. Mukir cemented his second position at the finish after a strong 29:24 hours just before I arrived there. He was not looking tired, especially not like having done 200 kilometers and having gone through a night without sleep. Indestructible dude. Celebratory beer with Micha for him.
Winner Sebastian, and Patrick, together with his girlfriend Sandra, also showed up here again. Great comradery. After hanging out for a while, I used the chance to do a short 6k run myself, because it’s the next day and I’m on a streak since January 1st. And I love running, did I mention? With most of my responsibilities now taken care of, running was a great relief and celebration of a successful event for me at this point. And the shower afterwards after that night was also a celebration, obviously.
Back to the finish line. 2:00 PM, 31:51 hours into the race, Gabi and Christoph completed the task, too. Smiling faces, definitely glad it’s done. It was great seeing them this happy. By now it felt as if we all had grown closer together. Complete strangers before the weekend, now sharing this intense time so closely with each other.
After talking a bit more and giving a trophy and certificate to the rather surprised and unexpecting Gabi – after all, she had just won the female division and a pair of awesome Hoka shoes of choice! –, I tried to give our vast amounts of leftover food and drinks to the people hanging out here with us. To mixed success. Why do they all eat so little? Anyways, I’m glad it’s been this way and not the other way, with us ending up having not enough to feed them during the race.
Now, with just Peter left on the course, and scheduled to arrive later in the afternoon, I parted ways with the crew because I realized I could still make it to my in-laws’ place today, where my family was spending time. Micha, thankfully, stayed, put in a run as well, and welcomed Peter at 5:00 PM at the finish line, more than an hour before the cut-off. Peter had made it, too. Huge respect to him as well, of course. 34:43 hours total is his finishing time. Check the DUV page of our race for full details.
Resume of Creating a 200 Kilometer Running Race
Sure, it’s tough. Requires a lot of free time spent on it. Costs money (Micha and I sunk a few hundred into it, each). Destroys sleep and is bad for our health.
But it’s amazing to see these people accomplish the hard task that’s been set. They were incredible to watch, and especially because of the live tracking it was exciting at all times. The number of times I picked up the phone in these 36 hours to see where everyone was situated is huge.
During the days leading up to the event I was at times cursing to have agreed to it because time is such a valuable asset at the moment in our situation, but right afterwards I was ready to say yes to another such idea. But for next year. Now it’s time to take care of myself first. You’re not much of a help to anyone if you haven’t taken enough care of yourself. For me, that meant a solid 14 hours of sleep during the next night. What a great gift of my dear wife Sophie to make that possible and also to take care of the kids alone while I spent time feeding runners and making sure everything runs smoothly.
In conclusion, not only would I recommend to organize and support such a type of race to anyone – view it as community service –, but also to participate in one. Yes, yes. 200 kilometers, I know. But have you seen these people? They have trained well, carefully collected experience, and so were able to pull it off using mainly their willpower and knowledge about themselves. You and I are able to do that, too. And it feels great.