My First(!)Ultra Marathon – Biel 2012

The running days in Biel is a well-known ultra-marathon in the ultra scene. For health reasons the 100 km distance is the biggest distance allowed. In this short story I will try to give you an idea how I felt during my first ultra-marathon. The 100 km ultra-marathon in Biel is a night run in Switzerland that starts in July at 10:00 PM.


Preparation/Training: Run, whenever you can!
I had only one strategy for my ultra-marathon training: LSD (long-slow-distance); Running as much as possible with continuous increase of distance. No run under 30 km during the training. Every time I found a timeslot I put my running shoes on. For instance, I ran around Seoul (55 km) during my Korea business trip and spontaneously from my hotel in Singapore to the airport for another 50 km. But then a couple of weeks before the competition I was forced to radically reduce my training for private reasons that cost me lots of fitness.


Departure: Doubt vs. Stubborness
During our drive from Munich to Biel it was raining and got stormy (weather forecast: rain all day long, around 15 C°). Gosh, what a terrible outlook for a 100K run. I felt so punished that I got very quiet during arrival – „I am so stupid, I will never ever do it again!“ On top of that, I forgot to buy new running shoes – I know, this has to be done days/weeks before. But the old ones weren‘t an option anymore. So, I bought a pair NB a couple of hours before the race started.


Until 50 km: Running marathon pace with wet shoes.
Anyway, after the starting signal I reassured myself that trouble would begin earliest after the marathon distance. I started with the strategy to eat and drink not too much at the food stations. Just a bit bread and some water to avoid stomach pains and dehydration. In the very beginning me and many others stepped into a big puddle where shoes and socks got wet. This was the first time I laughed heartily, expecting big blisters and lots of pain. My next mistake: I realized after 55 km that I ran with marathon runners and relay runners in the respective pace. I realized the different colors on the runners’ label very late. But this wasn’t my last mistake: At some point I must have took the wrong turning which I only realized after a couple of kilometers. So, I had to run back. I felt that was the right moment to give up. Back to the point where I took the wrong road the legendary Ho-Chi-Minh-path began. This piece of woodlands was narrow, dark and painful as I snapped off because of huge stones along the way for a couple of kilometers.


Until 70 km: The ultra hit me with an iron hand.
However, after I reached the 55 km station the ultra-marathon begun. I was overstrained, exhausted and finished. A man looked down to me crouching and said: „You will only survive this race if you eat everything you see on this table!“ So I ate. Later I got some energy back and understood that bread is not enough. When I started to run again my muscles hurt and it took some time to get back to my pace. It got from bad to worse. After more than 4 hours I reached the ultra-marathon and it hit me with an iron hand. After 60 km I saw my wife again and stopped to hug her, holding her and begging mentally she would force me to stop the race. She didn‘t. This was the point where I crossed my mental border. From this moment on only one thought ran through my head „Run, run, run…“ The fight in my head began. It was a fight against myself. After more than 7 hours the sunrise gave me new energy.


The final: The closer I get, the bigger the distance to the goal becomes.
The Biel ultra-marathon is everything but not flat. After nearly 80 km we came to a hill on the top of which a guy was playing tuba. That cracked the rest of the runners. On the way down – we couldn‘t even run fast downhill with all this pain – I met a guy I had passed two times. We decided to run together without saying any word. He apologized for not being able to say word and I agreed. We started to run faster and another guy decided to run with us. The team was build and for the last kilometers we got more and more speed. I permanently wanted to get off but never did. It was a fight for every single meter. At 85 km I met my wife again. She was surprised to see me that early and said: „Martin, you will make it. Oh my god, you will make it! And you passed all the others!!!“ My running mate asked me to stop flirting. After 90 Kilometers I thought I would never ever reach the 100 km. It felt like a never ending nightmare. The finish line after 90 km was so far away. Even after 99 km I said to my running mates: „Guys, it‘s time to cross the line.“ When we finally crossed the line, we fell into each other‘s arms. It was such an emotional moment! My wife and me, we both cried and felt so much respect to all the people running this distance. Then I started giggling: „Crazy, crazy, that was unbelievably crazy“.


My first ultra-marathon ended after 10:15 hours… and I survived!


What I learned:
Today, I am very grateful for this experience and will never forget this challenge. I learned that some borders are virtual and how it feels not to give up! I deeply understood the meaning of team building by sharing one goal and similar emotions. I realized that the decision to stick together and fight for the same goal is the glue between the members. I enjoyed this practical experience very much.


Anyway, if you still don‘t understand why I did this crazy run I will tell you what motivated me: I wanted to do something challenging, crazy and unbelievable. I wanted to cross my personal borders.