Friday 28 October 2022

2. Spreewald-Marsch Queerung

A cold and rainy morning of January 2016, I sat in front of my computer and I created a blog ✒️ After a stupid injury I could have prevented and 6 months without running, I was highly depressed and I did what I felt was the right thing to do: talk about it, find motivation amongst others, celebrate each step back towards my dreams 😓 I called this blog "Zero to 50km", and this was exactly my goal: I had run a marathon once, so I needed to push myself to the next step now 🏃‍♂️ When that day would come, I would consider myself healed and back on tracks. 

6 years later that day has come, and it was a joyful one 🥰 

I felt so strong and full of hope crossig that finished line of the Marathon du Médoc in September, then watching the wife do the same in London one month later! I was hoping to enjoy the warm automn days 🍂 and finally cross that 50k line from my bucket list. And there it is, out of the blue, like organized just for me: the Spreewald Marsch Queerung, 50km through the breathtaking Spree Forest 🌳🌲

I don't need to do a full coverage of the event, the photos speak from themselves. Let's just say this is another one of these countryside races that I love so much: no grey buildings but beautiful landscapes 🌲, no yelling speaker but relaxed volunteers 🙋‍♀️, no hard concrete but mossy trails 🍁, full of joyful participants who are simply here to have a good time and not beat their PR by 2 sec 🏃‍♀️. The whole event feels like a garden party at grandpa! The barbecue is doing a 24h shift 🍗 there is beer and pickels on the tables 🥒 grandma is baking French crêpes 🥞 and EVERYONE is taking part: it's the first time that I see an event open to runners, hickers, nordic walkers, bikes and even kayaks 🛶, all sharing routes that stretch from a few km to the big 50!

I had the chance to arrive the day before and get a good night sleep (until 5am!) right next to the start. It's still dark when we hit the road at 7am 🌙 after a nice little breakfast waiting for us on the bibs' table, and we follow the trail towards the forest, while Mother Nature is slowly waking up. Sun rising 🌤 birds chipping 🐦 a piercing silence that almost makes you hold your breath. The morning is chilly but I feel great, coffee is doing its job ☕️. I cover the first 10km in this religious atmosphere before reaching the first aid station: a warm tea, a smile, a cookie, and I dive into the Spreewald.

If it's your first time here like me, open wide your eyes, it's worth going out of your way to see! The Spree Forest is a UNESCO biosphere reserve 100km South of Berlin. The last Ice Age (🌰🐿) shaped a unique landscape, with 484 square-kilometers of unique faune and flore and 200 canals, on which navigate the Spreewaldkähne 🚣‍♂️, traditional flat-bottomed boats (Source: Wikipedia). The forest swallows us like marschmallows at a camp fire and I loose myself inside its labyrinth of trail roads and canals, hanging tight on my gpx trace to find my way🧭

We get out around the 20th kilometer and cross villages, castels, guesthouses, locals preparing boats or dressing tables at cozy little restaurants. I am surprised how rigid everythig looks, like on a photo snapshot, how time seems to have slowed down to a stop ⌛️ I recall the people in the movie The Village, living a 19th century life deep inside a forest and isolated from the rest of the world. It's the same feeling of happiness arising from the simplest things. 

The second part of the race is open-air. The sun is finally up in the sky and warming up my skin 🌞 The trail looses itself in the wild and I am all alone, fellow runners barely visible at the horizon or behind me. My early motivation starts to drop and I put on my headphones, music powering up my legs and pushing me forwards. We reach a large canal around the 35th kilometer, which will guide us back home, along a 15k straight hicking lane. A few rare kayacks come along, while I follow the narrow trail sprinkled with huge mushrooms straight out of a Super Mario game 🍄 (my Luigi's costume would fit perfectly now!).

I cross the 42.2k invisible finish line in about 4:46h, which is consistent with my 2019s marathons. I still got it in me! The home-run after that is a tricky one. I hit the wall pretty hard and I have to gather all my will to keep going 😵 Fortunately the last aid stations are supplying us with cake, chocolate and cookies 🍪 not to mention the smile and good mood of its volunteers 🙋‍♂️🙋‍♀️🙋

After 50km on the road, the longest distance I ever covered in one run, I cross the finish line where I started 5:42h ago. No cheering crowd, no loud music, just a handful of organisers who congratulates me, while a young girl puts a medal around my neck. A real eye-candy one, shaped like a Spreewald boat 🥇 It's official, I am now an ultra-runner and fully recovered from my previous misadventures.

I enjoy the rest of the afternoon, a warm soup, a cold beer 🍺, a well-deserved shower and even a massage (where I experience new levels of pain), while watching participans cross the finish line, long after me but still smiling like children on their birthday 🤗 It's already time to hit the road and get back home to celebrate. But I know I will be back soon and lose myself once again in Spreewald's maze of timeless canals and trails 🚣🌲

A warm thank you to the organisers and all volunteers who worked hard to make this day so special for all of us 🥰

Saturday 10 September 2022

36th Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc

Here we are, and it's about time, on the starting line of my 7th marathon 🏃‍♀️ 🏃‍♂️ Those last 3 years have been tough: Covid-quarantine, lack of motivation, moving to the house, getting a second star to my dad jersey... Well-deserved break, but it's time to shake those legs before they rust!

Yes I know, I'm wearing a Luigi costume. SO WHAT?! You don't expect me to run the BEST marathon in the world in boring clothes? Wait... Are we talking about THAT marathon? 😲 YES WE ARE!

Good looking dudes at 4:21!

I spent 10 years of my childhood in Bordeaux, South France, and with family still living there, I usually regard this place as Home. Bordeaux for most people, it's the powerful wine, the delicious food, the sun, the salt of the ocean, the wild beauty of South France. But for most runners, it sums up in one event: the Marathon (des châteaux) du Médoc! And I grew up tired of fellow runners asking me if I ran it already? Time has come, put on your shoes, find yourself a cheesy costume and follow me. I'm taking you to the longest marathon of the world! 🍇

Why longest? Well you will quickly get the idea. After two years of postponing the event, the 36th edition of the Marathon du Médoc is finally back. Willing to run my 7th marathon this summer, I spent 2h refreshing the subscription page and I probably was the first one joining! My motivation was contagious. One week later I received an email from my step dad: "I'm in, find us some kick-ass costumes!" 🥳

That's how we end up this morning in Pauillac, 1 hour North of Bordeaux, on the starting line of a route sneaking around world-famous wine castels 🏰 Yeah, that's him in the Mario outfit. With our Italian roots it was an easy choice and we are reuniting the epic duo for this 36th edition 🍝🤌  Each year has a theme and this year it's the Cinema 📽 🎬 Yes, that explains Marilyn holding Captain America's hand while talking to Forrest Gump in front of me! Outfit mandatory, first rule of the marathon 🤠🤡👹👽

The morning is chilly but the sun is rising above the Garonne river 🌤 My mom drove us up there, prouder than ever. I'm a bit disapointed she refused to dress as Princess Peach! Everyone is in an amazing mood, singing, laughing. The show right before the start is grandiose, with music and acrobats. My legs are nervous, they did not cover enough distance during training and they NEED to run! Finally its the Grand Départ. No starting blocs, no waves, no elite... Just 8000 runners dressed up in crazy costumes starting to run, yelling and waving arms like kids 🥳🎉🎊

Let's get back to why the Marathon du Médoc is considered the 'longest' in the world. Let's be clear, as you keep repeating to your work colleagues how long a marathon is, it's an official 42.2 km distance you will have to conqueer. But let's be honest too: we havent dressed in outrageous costumes and come to the Médoc to run even splits, keep an eye on the watch and focus to beat our PR by 1min⌚️ Runners are here to eat, drink and party all along the way. I am actually questionning if some of them have any running experience. It all looks like a giant bachelor party 😜🤠🤹‍♀️🤸‍♀️💃

As we are reaching the first aid station, the real party is starting: breakfast with croissants and wine tasting 🥐🍷To my astonishment, everyone is jumping on the plastic glasses offering the holy nectar. Really? That early in the race? "Sure, answers me a band of Robin Hoods. We trained really hard... Drinking I mean, not so much running!" But Mario and Luigi play the safe card, no magic potion before the finish line🙊

We don't cover more than 2 km before reaching another aid station, and I am starting to understand the concept: where most events offer you 42 km of running with occasional aid stations, the Marathon du Médoc is 42 km of aid stations with ocasional running between them! You barely leave one, you are already looking forward to the next one. No one could blame you, I have never seen aid stations like this. The food is great, tables are covered with cookies, cake, crackers, candies, croissants, cereal bars (my favourite), fruits 🥯🍪🍫🍬🍌 Here and there, people are handing you fries 🍟  pop-corn 🌽 or canelés (French caramel little cakes, speciality of Bordeaux). All served inside the gardens of beautiful wine castels that open their doors and greet you on this very special day 🏰🍇 Music groups are playing everywhere, people are singing and dancing, drinking and laughing with each others 🎸🥁🕺 It's easy to forget that you still have 35 km ahead of you!

And that's probably the little trap of the event: You quickly catch the party bug and forget about the marathon-side. It all feels like new-year's eve or the 14th of July 🎉 (French national day). But once you get a few hours of running from aid station to aid station in your legs, reality hits you: you still have to run 42km if you want that medal! 😖

There is not much to say about the route, it gets quite boring rapidly, especially for a trail runner like me. You run on alphalt roads and dusty narrow trails full of stones all the time, lost in the middle of endless vineyards 🍇 Fortunately, the beautiful castles pop out like mushrooms around us 🍄 (gamers will get the reference) and my plumber bro is motivated for two. We are holding one, one aid station as a time, enjoying the ride and even more the stops. The Marathon du Médoc is all about its runners, and they are on fire! Costumes are amazing, in spite of the heat and distance to cover: Courageous Indiana Jones in leather jacket, Marylins in long dress or TRexs in full costume... Not to mention the "chars", customized rolling floats pushed by a group of crazy runners who I'm sure lost a bet to be doing that for 42km!

The weather has been perfect today, not too hot, not too cold, as we reach the last castle around the 35th km. The sun finally rises above the clouds and strikes us pretty hard 🌞 while we cover the last few kilometers on a long road along the Garonne, leading us back to Pauillac. I feel tired, legs are hurting more than ever and I realise that we are paying the price of all these long stops along the way 😫 The last aid stations are not helping: Entrecote steak 🥩 ice cream 🍦and even oysters 🦪 ! Yuck... Mario and Luigi keep the head straight, fighting for those last hundred meters, cheered up by all the kids calling our names. Remind me to send a thank-you card to Nintendo for renewing the license! 🎮

We cross the finish line hand-in-hand after 5:35 hours on the road, including a good half hour spent in total to the different aid stations. The finish is grandiose, people are cheering us like if we were the first finishers 👏 Kudos to the Super Smash bros, who finished the game one more time, after hearing every 2km that the princess was at another aid station! The amazing volunteers cover us with gifts: a medal🏅, a backpack, a bottle of wine (of course), a plastic cup, and more goodies I cannot count. I am happily surprised that we get so much back from the 100 euros entry fee, not to mention everything you eat and drink on the way!

We enter the finishers tent and once again I am speechless: dozens of tables covered with food, wine, beer, music, people still finding the energy to dance and party 🍺💃Bro and I fill up a plate and go lie down in the grass, enjoying the sun. Short break before we head back home for a well deserved shower and nap. But not before I treat myself with a glass of Médoc 🍷 After all, that's what brought us all here today :)

All in all, I would finish on this thought: The Marathon du Médoc is an amazing event, which deserves to be on any runner's bucket list. The whole concept is truely unique, offering a perfect balance between a sports event and a weekend party with your friends. This is probably the most French thing I've done in my life! I rarely come back to the same starting line but I would love to run that one again and enjoy the party even more. Who knows, maybe you and I will meet there one day, in hilarious costumes, and share a glass of red wine on the longest marathon of the world🍷 

Event Page:

Sunday 3 April 2022

Generali Berlin Half-marathon 2022

I can't believe it's been 6 years already, since the 2016 Berlin Half and Marathon that I ran with my Cheeselady. But with our busy life as exhausted parents and our families living far away, we ain't got much time to train and run events together... 😵 That needs to change! 

Very cozy half today, nice weather and uplifting atmosphere as usual. It's our 3rd participation and although I'm not found of the route (too much asphalt for me, I prefer my woody trails), I was really happy to share this moment with someone I love 🏃💑