Is this a FIRE blog?
It definitely started out as a FIRE blog, and I think it mostly still is. The original blog idea was to share my real life experiences of what "not working" meant. In particular, what would I do? would I be bored? how much would it cost? would we run out of money?
So why the "is this a FIRE blog?" title? Because sometimes the FIRE connection is a little tenuous, which may be the case with this one given that it's mostly about running. But maybe that fits into the what would I do and would I be bored categories, so I'm counting it as FIRE related too.
I recall once reading a comment that went something like "most FIRE blogs start off OK, but then tend to drift off into lifestyle blogs". It was meant as a criticism, but it makes perfect sense for that to happen. Deciding to retire early is one of the biggest lifestyle decisions we can make, so why wouldn't a FIRE blog spend time talking about lifestyle? And running just happens to be one of the things in my lifestyle.
This particular run was the Mauerweglauf, which translates to English as the Wall Run. It follows the path where the Berlin Wall stood, and each year remembers a life lost at the Wall. This year it commemorated Dieter Berger, who was shot dead in 1963, aged only 24.
The route of the wall is 100 miles or 160kms, and can be run solo or in relay teams of two, four or ten plus. We were a team of four, my friends Peter and Anja who I know from my time living in Dubai, with Grzegorz making up our four. I had the first leg, just over 58kms predominantly through the city and taking in some famous landmarks. Grzegorz and Anja ran mostly countryside and wooded routes before Peter finished the route off with a mix of countryside before heading to the finish back in the city.
I was relaxed going into the event. My teammates came to the start to see me off at 7:30am and I remember Anja asking if I was nervous. No, I replied, perhaps my first mistake, for the coming hours told me that I should have been. For some reason, I thought I could just rock up, run 58kms at the pace I wanted and everything would go smoothly. It was my first event for almost three and half years and I seem to have forgotten that it isn't that simple. I've also only run this far twice before, at Wadi Bih and the Rennsteiglauf.
Our team captain, Anja, had suggested some paces, as much as anything to work out what time the next relay runner needed to be ready to start. For my leg, she'd suggested 5:00 min/km which I thought was realistic and a time I'd be happy with. 4:45 min/km might be possible and I'd be delighted if I could do that, and 5:15 minutes/km would be okay but not really what I was aiming at.
So off I went, one of 66 runners on the first leg of the four person relay event. A lap of the running track before heading into the city. I was in the lead group, feeling fine as we ran through the streets of Berlin. I soon noticed a couple of things not previously considered: we had to stop at red lights on pedestrian crossings or risk disqualification, and some runners ran with a small hydration backpack whereas I had a handheld bottle. They contributed to occasions where I got left behind, either stuck at a red light or refilling my bottle and consequently putting in a faster kilometre or two to catch up. I think those faster kilometres might have been a mistake, there was plenty of time to catch up.
The first ten, twenty and thirty kilometres went by without issue, and I passed the 33km mark running an average of 4:47 min/km, pretty much at my "I'd be delighted" pace. Unfortunately, the performance went downhill for the next 25kms.
Naturally my legs were getting tired, and I was having to work harder to hang on to that pace. I'd started a little fast and you normally pay a price for that. What I should have done is dialed the pace back a bit, and pushed through the second half somewhere in the 5:00 to 5:15 min/km range which would most likely have given me an overall pace for the whole thing of around 5:00 min/km. Happy days.
However, that's not what happened. While my legs were getting a bit tired, my mind decided to step in and really apply the brakes. During kilometre 34 I took a walk, not for too long, but enough for the idea to be cemented in my mind. From then on, walk breaks became a too frequent habit. In fairness to myself, there was much more running than walking, but still way too much walking. My average pace for kilometres 34 to 58 was 5:47 min/km, a full minute per kilometre slower than I'd averaged for the first 33kms.
I'm disappointed because I'm sure my legs could have gone faster, but I let my mind take over and slow me down more than I needed to. I shouldn't beat myself up too much though, it's a long way to run and I wasn't crazy slow - I just know I could have done better.
Being out of practice might be a bigger contributor than I expected. This was my first event for almost three and a half years, so to expect to jump back in as if there'd been no gap was unrealistic. Anyway, according to the results certificate, I did 59.2kms in 5h19m24s at an average pace of 5:23 min/km. My Garmin watch tells me it was 58.7kms at 5:27 min/km which I suspect is more accurate. I was in third place after 39kms, but dropped to seventh by the end of my run, showing how much I struggled in the latter stages. Perhaps I need to apply some perspective, there were six people ahead of me, but I was still faster than the other fifty-nine - I guess that's not too bad.
Perhaps it was simply a tough event held on a hot day. My teammates Peter and Anja ran closer to their targets, but their wobbly legs at the end showed just how hard they also found it. Only Grzegorz seemed to buck the trend, his message after his relay leg: "was so goood!!!" which contrasted with Peter's "I think I'm going to be sick"🤣 Fortunately, he wasn't, but it was a close call!
So my run was tough, probably more for my mind than my legs. But I'm super glad I did it. I spent time with my friends and got to be part of another running adventure. Although running events can feel uncomfortable and perhaps even painful, it reminded me that I've missed them, particularly the camaraderie of doing something challenging with friends and other likeminded people. I'll probably regret this, but I'm now looking at what other events I can enter🤦♂️
Our team took 14h05m08s to complete the 161.3km, at an average pace of 5:14 min/km. Out of the 66 four person relay teams, we came sixth. Not too bad. If I'd run closer to what I hoped (say 5:00 min/km), that would have put us fifth, so I'm relieved my headspace challenges didn't cost us a podium place.
It drives Sally mad when I'm not completely happy with how I've done, but I think it's a positive. I did okay, but I also know I could have done better, and my task is to figure out how next time I have strong legs and a stronger mind too. I think it's healthy to be realistic and to look to improve.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot, this is meant to be a FIRE blog. Well, I guess my run is like real life, we don't always know how it's going to play out and we can't always plan for everything. Kind of like early retirement, having a plan is good, having the ability to be flexible with the plan is even better, and knowing that if it doesn't quite go as expected, that's simply part of life and gives us something to work on, figure out how to get rid of the kinks and to be back stronger for the next time.
Congratulations to all the runners, particularly those who ran the 161kms solo or in relay teams of two. Thanks to Anja for organising our event entry, to Peter and his family for hosting me and to Grzegorz for being a fun new person to meet up with. It was a blast, but would I do it again? You bet I would (but hopefully faster🏃♂️).