Oh no. Oh no no no no no. It seems Great Bad Ideas… are contagious.
“Well, your Ultramarathon got me thinking. A friend of mine once told of this 24hr Ultra-hike he did a while ago. And I was thinking that would be cool to do… heading from Magdeburg to the Brocken. It’s about 100K, and you can just mull it over-“
My dad’s eyes widen. “Wait, what, you were supposed to say no, and I had a list of points to persuade you, like, we can call it “Bröckeln” and I make up for the time I said I wouldn’t hike the full Appalachian Trail with you because-“
“Because you wanted to do it with my brother. Who says (to this day, I fact-checked!) that he will only hike it over his dead body.”
“Well, yes, but it was supposed to be a father/son kinda thing-“
“With a son who didn’t want to, instead of with a daughter who did. ” I cross my arms defiantly.
“Yes, but…. ANYWAYS. Seems like you’re into these things now, so we could give a 100K Ultra a try, no?”
My poor dad. I’m 98% sure he thought I’d let both the Appalachian Trail thing, and the Ultra-Hike slide. But if you have a Great Bad Idea around me, you’re going to have to count on me sinking my teeth in and never letting go. Well. Unless a Better Bad Idea comes around.
But none did this time, so here’s what’s gonna happen (much to my dad’s surprise and my brother’s chagrin – yeah, Maxi ain’t hiking no AT, but he’s down to ultrarun):
Start: Midnight, Friday 11th of June in Magdeburg.
Finish: Goodness-Knows-When-However-Long-It-Takes, Saturday 12th of June on the Brocken.
Oh yeah. And every single KM is going towards @mut_tour as a “Bewegungsspende” (movement donation) to advocate for mental health awareness – because we’re strongest when we’re in this together. 🐌🧡
“We won’t have slept since Friday morning! This is madness! Forget beauty sleep, this messes with my sanity!” I mumble to myself. It’s 11PM and my brother, his girlfriend, baby and I had made just it to Magdeburg after a regular work day. For some reason (unknown to all of us) my brother, dad and I are planning to run 111K from Magdeburg to the Brocken.
Dad calls it “Bröckeln”.
I call it nuts.
We’re packing our gear in the living room, sorting our clothes (a rainproof layer, and extra sweater: yes, no?) when I see my dad looking ready – and his pack suspiciously empty.
“You want to run… the first 75K with only one bag of Gummi bears to sustain you….?” I ask, as amused as I am shocked. He seems equally surprised by how much food Maxi and I are squishing into our packs: bread, cheese, two spreads, two bags of nuts and each 2L of water. “We don’t need that much!” He says, pointing at what amounts to ~3KG of extra weigh per person.
I blink twice. I’d read a story about an ultrarunner once who tried to run the Marathon de Sables with only Werther’s Gold caramels to keep her going. It was an incredibly amusing anecdote, one I never thought I’d see play out in real life.
I point at some nuts. “Yes, yes, we do need that much.” Maxi just chuckles.
I’ll be the first to admit it: We had quite a few odds stacked against us on this challenge to run 111K: lack of experience and a *slight* dissonance of expectations being the most obvious at the starting line.
And amidst all that, a rusty motor shaft lay in wait inside the belly of our trusty Support Car: ready to break in two, just when (at least two of us) would need it the most.
We start running at the stroke of midnight – is what we had planned. Instead, the last gong of the cathedral oversees: three headless chicken runners. “I gotta put on my jacket!” – “Come on guys, we need a selfie together.” – “I’M GOING TO TOUCH THE CATHEDRAL DOOR!” By the time we’re moving, the gongs are a faint memory.
The run begins with a mild misalignment of needs and desires. As self-appointed social media manager, I’m already slinking behind the boys a few steps into the run. “Geez-US, what are those two running away from?! We got another 100K of this ahead of us!”
But by the time we reach the end of town, I’ve caught up with the dynamic duo. The first half-marathon flies by as fast as the trucks barrelling down the highway next to us as we pull a decent 7:30min/KM pace with our packs. We sit down for a moment to eat. “Everything alright?” The sun is slowly rising. “Yeah. Feeling good. I’ve missed this,” I reply.
But just like we ate all of Dad’s Gummi bears in the first break, I’m about to eat my words: a headache sets in hard enough for me to think my head might pop.
But eventually, we death-shuffle to the finish of our first marathon. “Sir, sir! How are you feeling at just having completed your first ever marathon?!” I yell at dad, pretending to be a sports reporter. “Good!” He chirps.
Maxi meanwhile barely manages to grunt in response when I run over to where he’s dropped for a nap: “Are you dead, sir? Sir, are you dead?!”
“I would have been fine if only we’d run more!” Maxi protests later.
By the time our watches read “60KM” most of our food is gone, the boys are beginning to conspire against me and the ultramarathon, a thunderstorm is cooking in the distance…
…and it’s still 15KM to our aid station.
“You’re not gonna like this – but we are conspiring against you. And the Ultra.” I look up at him. Dad looks tired, even though his eyes are still doing their signature twinkling. “We wanna quit.”
“NO!” I blurt out. “This is just the sleep deprivation speaking, we can keep going, come on, it’s just a little further-“
“Heck, no,” my brother chimes in. “The aid station is another 15KM away, that’s three hours at the pace we’re going. If we had made it there by 2PM… sure… but now, at 5PM? And then another 35KM to go to our goal? Count me out.” I blink twice, in mild disbelief.
Yeah, Ultras hurt. But at the end of the day, it’s all about convincing your brain that the boundaries your pushing ARE indeed possible to push. And we still got some reserves – or do we?
I’m still musing on this when I realise the boys had already called the Support Team (the excuse being a big-as*Oedipus of a thunderstorm cloud). “Oh come on!” I mutter as I watch the two trudge off to the village my mom and my brother’s partner and baby are coming to pick us up by car.
“Oh my goodness, you boys look defeated,” my mom laughs, then gives me a hug. “You on the other hand still look oddly fresh. What did you do to those two?” My brother hits the ground, half-asleep already. “Eh, they’re fine, they just need-” “Coffee, anyone?” My mom whips out a thermos. “Oh my gosh, I love you so much,” I squeak.
As I’m sipping the coffee, I decide to go on – alone if need be. Everyone is piling into the car as I try to bring up the courage to stand up against the Enormous Pile of Peer Pressure. “Guys, I know you want to leave but-“
I don’t get any further. The car suddenly stutters, cracks loudly, and three pieces of metal fall onto the street as the car begins to lurch backwards.
“Mom, the brake!!!!” I’m yelling, dad’s yelling –
Our Support Team stares at us.
Guess the tables have turned on who needs to be supported.
And just as I start laughing, the baby begins to cry.
You’d think that a grumpy baby, a dead-on-their-feet Ultrarunning crew, a broken car and a rather amused ADAC tow truck driver would be the perfect recipe to make me want to quit our 111K Ultramarathon from Magdeburg to the Brocken. Right?
If that’s what you thought, you gotta be new here. Allow me to introduce myself:
“I’m going to continue,” I declare, strolling up to Julia feeding her little one in the backseat of the the now un-useable car. The tow truck driver had confirmed: the motor shaft had clean broken in half, and our trusty Toyota wasn’t going anywhere.
“To… where?” – “The next aid station, the fish restaurant where we had wanted to stop. It’s about 15K from here.” Aeneas, the baby, begins to squirm again. “Alright, but let’s take Aeneas,” Julia replied. “He likes being outside and will fall asleep as we walk.”
I guess when picking Support Crew members, it’s good to keep in mind whether they can, in an emergency, quickly adapt to an adventure, too.
The lush green forests and endless wheat fields spotted with red poppies and perky, blue cornflowers are an absolute visual treat. I’ve never loved June as much as I do this year. The frequent thunderstorms are a Zeus-send. Aeneas sleeps like a rock the moment we walk into the woods.
And just as the baby begins to squirm again, we walk onto a clearing and see –
“Are those sandstone caves?” I ask Julia, who as a geologist herself is, I think, legally required to gush over a find like this one.
We sit in the shade of one as Aeneas enjoys his a meal/snack (it’s all the same for him still) and watch hikers climb the cracks and ridges. I wouldn’t recommend going there to climb, though. The sand is as soft as my hands.
…I miss climbing.
Another hour later, we hit a road – and the Support Team calls. They’ve snagged themselves a replacement car, and want to pick us up at 75KM.
Which would end this ultramarathon prematurely-
For all of us.
And I’m still not ready to quit.
I normally don’t throw hissy fits or temper tantrums. But when my family forces me to quit the 111k ultramarathon from Magdeburg to the Brocken prematurely, I do.
After all, I started off into the run convinced we could reach the top. I ain’t quitting just 35KM shy of it.
Or am I?
“We’re not going to leave you behind to stumble through the woods at midnight all by yourself,” my brother says. But that’s part of an Ultra, no? At some point it gets tough, and you just have to keep pushing through. Yes, my knee hurts. Yes, my hip flexors feel as if they’ve been set on fire. Yes, I am tired as heck and haven’t slept in 34hrs. But I’ve been here before. I know I have what it takes to get me to the mountain top. Alone, if need be.
In some moments it can get, really hard to set ego aside on an adventure. Though it’s not the main motivator, it is tickling to get to tell someone: “Yeah, I ran an ultramarathon this weekend. 111K. Casual.” Whenever my confidence goes flying out the door (stress at work, life, and more downs than ups hitting from all sides), Ego can come striding through to take the place where Confidence had been.
Additionally to being the obnoxious, Ego can also make you do things that Confidence would simply shake its head at. I doubt any of my family would appreciate potentially having to rescue me off the mountaintop at 2AM because I chose to be an egotistical idiot with poor risk-management skills.
I look at all five of my family, my team sitting in the car. It took each and every single one of us to make it here in the first place.
We were supposed to reach the Brocken as a team.
I can’t say it’s a graceful or pretty sight when I finally get into the car. I cry a bit, mope and hiss like an angry cat at my dad: “I could have done it alone.”
“I know, kiddo. But tomorrow, we’re going to do it together, all of us.”
And the next day, we do. Not in one 24hr go – but hey.
If we really want to, next time perhaps… we can.
All of it, together.
🐌🧡 The End. 🧡🐌
More pictures, videos and highlights of This Short Story can be found on my Instagram profile!