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 πŸ˜“ 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 πŸƒ‍♂️ 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 πŸ₯° 

I felt so strong and full of hope crossig that finished line of the Marathon du MΓ©doc in September, then watching the wife do the same in London one month later! I was hoping to enjoy the warm automn days πŸ‚ 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 πŸ™‹‍♀️, 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 πŸƒ‍♀️. The whole event feels like a garden party at grandpa! The barbecue is doing a 24h shift πŸ— there is beer and pickels on the tables πŸ₯’ grandma is baking French crΓͺpes πŸ₯ž 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 πŸ›Ά, 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 πŸŒ™ 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 SpreewaldkΓ€hne 🚣‍♂️, 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 πŸ„ (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 πŸͺ not to mention the smile and good mood of its volunteers πŸ™‹‍♂️πŸ™‹‍♀️πŸ™‹

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 πŸ₯‡ 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 πŸ€— 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 πŸ₯°