On Saturday 11th August I took part in the Berlin Wall Race. It was 6 years to the day since my first ultra marathon, and I’ve run some good races since then, so with my experience I shouldn’t have felt nervous, but you can’t underestimate a 100 mile race, and last year was nothing but injuries and DNF/DNS , so I was feeling unusually apprehensive.
Training had gone well though so my plan was to get to 50 miles in 7:30 – 8:00 and try to push hard for a sub 16:48 finish.
The Berlin Wall Race is a 100 mile circuit that follows the route of the Berlin Wall. Most of the wall has been destroyed but there are a few remnants preserved for history as well as numerous memorials to the many people killed trying to cross into West Berlin.
The route alternates direction each year and the 2018 event was to be clockwise. The race starts at 6am, at an athletics stadium, with runners doing a lap of the track before heading off towards the wall trail.
Just a mile or so after the start we ran passed the Berlin Wall Memorial with it’s preserved section of wall and an old watch tower. The route was also marked by iron poles lining the pavement along Bernauer Strasse.
The clockwise route means you run the first 10 miles or so through the city, and have to stick to all traffic regulations. Cross a road when the signal is red and you risk disqualification!
As a result runners ended up in groups, as the leader would be held at the light while others caught up.
I ended up in a group with the leading lady, two Americans and half a dozen German runners. The organisers provide a bicycle marshal to accompany the race leader, and having our own marshal to follow made for a very relaxing start as I could ignore route markers (excellent by the way) and take in the sights.
We ran passed the Brandenburg Gate and then through Checkpoint Charlie and shortly after along the East Gallery (a section of wall now used as an outdoor art gallery).
Each year the race commemorates a victim who died trying to cross the wall. This year it was Jorg Hartmann, the youngest victim. He was 10 when he was shot while trying to get into West Berlin to see his father in 1966. The DDR authorities claimed he had drowned and maintained this fiction until the wall fell in 1989.
All the runners stopped to lay a toy at his memorial. I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear.
The next 25 miles were easy going and I felt comfortable at my steady 8:40 pace. I had my usual low point at mile 35, when I questioned why I don’t stick to marathons or 50km races, but ignored the negative thoughts. I was soon at the first major check point at the Teltow Sports park, so had access to a drop bag and swapped my now empty 100ml flask for one full of EnduranceFirst fuel. From this point all runners were permitted a bicycle companion, and a lot of runners were using theirs to carry extra water for them. Fortunately the path is wide enough that the extra traffic was never an issue.
A few miles further on and we arrived at a small lake. The next 20 miles were run alongside a series of rivers and lakes as we skirted the edge of Potsdam. This was a really beautiful area to run through. It was warming up now, but I doubt it got over 28C all day, which was great as it had been 34C when I arrived in the city on Wednesday. However I was eating well and my single 600ml water bottle was enough for the 6-7km between each of the 26 check points.
At mile 57 i reached the second major CP and my second drop bag. I’d foolishly put my head torch and reflective bib (both mandatory) in this bag instead of my third drop bag. It was only about 3:30 in the afternoon, and i wouldn’t need them until 9:00.
I was taking regular short walk breaks, but still running most of the time, and keeping my pace to under 10 minutes per mile. However it was getting harder to sustain this, and i knew my target time was sliping away. Importantly though i had no achilles pain or shin pain, so i was happy to adjust my race goal. Although i have a few “100 mile in a day” buckles, i’ve never actually finished a 100 mile race on the same day as i started, as my best times have all had 10am starts. Berlin starts at 6am, so i decided to target a sub 18 finish and get to the line before midnight. This also meant the children would be waiting up for me. I’d agreed with Sarah that if i was having a bad day and lokking at a late finish she would go back to the hotel with the children rather tahn wait at the finish line.
My waist belt was rubbing a little, but i had a spare jar of lube in my 3rd drop bag, so at the Ruderclub Oberhavel checkpoint i could grab this. One of the volunteers kindly offered to rub this into the area on my back that was chafing while i switched from cap and sunglasses to reflective bib and head torch.
There were a lot of runners drinking beer here, but they were all relay event runners rather than solo runners. The event has a 2,4 or even 10+ option for relay teams, so i was regularly being overtaken by some seriously quick men and women. However all of then had words of encouragement for the solo runners.
There were a few more road crossings now, so more enforced stops for the infamous red man, but no where near as many as the first section. The run back into Berlin was on quiet suburban streets and paths alongside the railway line. The batteries in my headtorch had not been new and it was fading badly, so i caught up with the runner in front and his Irish bike companion, following their lights and chatting a little to pass the miles. Eventually i stopped and changed to fresh batteries for the final 5 miles into the city.
At last i could see the park where we had started, and picked up the pace a little. As i turned onto the track i could see Sarah and the kids waiting, so ran to them and then jogged the track with children in tow.
I finished in 17:21:43. 12th place, 6th M50 and 1st Brit.
I’d certainly recommend the event, as it is a flat and fast route (despite the stops for red lights). The large number of aid stations means you can run very light (i had a waist belt with single 600ml bottle), and navigation is super easy, as arrows are spray painted on the road.
The only negative is the awards ceremony. Finishers medals, and buckles (for sub 24hr runners), are handed out at the ceremony on the Sunday, which dragged on for well over 2 hours… not the best way to spend your recovery day!