I'm home from my latest travel adventure, a trip to Germany. More on that in a moment, but first a quick recap of my travels so far this year.
Four trips in five months
February 2017 - England and France, two trips combined into one. England was to look for some buy to let investment properties, and also to see my daughter at university. France was for our first ski trip.
April 2017 - London, England. This was actually for work, a final task for my old employer. The good news is that I got paid for this and had flights and hotel provided. I also managed to squeeze in a visit to my Dad and sister, plus a little sightseeing.
May 2017 - Prague, Czech Republic. With friends, Tom and Matt, to run Prague marathon, but we also had a few days for sightseeing and for some much needed post marathon rehydration!
May 2017 - Berlin and Eisenach, Germany. With my friend Peter (who grew up quite close to Eisenach) to run the Rennsteiglauf Super Marathon (73km) . I'd not been to Germany before, so I went earlier and spent three days in Berlin first.
I'm pleased with this. Although four trips in five months puts a dent in the budget, it also tells me that I'm doing something with my early retirement. I hesitated when Peter asked me if I wanted to go to Germany to run the Rennsteiglauf, but went for it because the decision to retire early was to start doing more "living" than working, and going to Germany and running 73km on tough terrain is certainly some kind of living!
I was excited to see what Germany was like. I set off from Dubai to Berlin on Monday morning. There weren't any low cost airlines, Royal Jordanian via Amman was the best price at £343 ($447) which is OK, but more than I would have liked (40% more than the flight to Prague earlier in the month). I had 3 full days (4 nights) in Berlin, in Air BnB accommodation which was a bedroom with a shared bathroom in someone's apartment located in the Prenzlauer Berg district. This was the first time that I'd used shared accommodation. It worked well, and kept the cost down to £125 ($162) for the 4 nights. Best value though was the transfer from the airport to the apartment which was just €2.70 and, if you ask, the ticket office will give written instructions of which bus, metro and trams your need to take.
I thoroughly enjoyed Berlin. For my 3 days there, my plan was to do most on day one and least on day three, so that I was not too tired for the big run that was to follow. My apartment was a 25 minute walk from the centre which made everything walkable. Day one was overcast interspersed with rain, but undeterred I went to the Reichstag (although not the internal tour as you have to buy a ticket in advance), the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Gerdarmenmarkt, Checkpoint Charlie, a remaining section of the Berlin Wall in Niederkirchner Straßße, the Topographie des Terrors museum, an old watchtower, Potsdamer Platz, the Holocaust Memorial, and the site of Hitler's bunker. In the evening, it was Prater's beer garden, which the guide book said was the oldest in Berlin at 175 years old.
Days two and three were progressively more relaxed. The weather hot and sunny, I started day two with a visit to the DDR museum to see what everyday life was like behind the Iron Curtain. The afternoon was a mix of strolling and sitting in the Tiergarten park, and also visiting the Soviet War Memorial which is in the park. Day three was again hot and sunny, other than a little walking my main activity was to take a boat trip on the Spree River, conscious of saving my legs for the run a few days later. Evening was back to Prater's where I met up with Anja, a running friend from Dubai, who now lives in Berlin.
I wonder if too much of my time in Berlin was biased towards the Second World War and subsequent split of Berlin and Germany into East and West. No doubt I missed some other gems because of this. I simply found it fascinating to learn more about these topics during my visit. They are relatively recent history, and I suspect it is for this reason that I found the subjects particularly interesting. The highlight for me was the Holocaust Memorial. While there is a certain poignancy to the collection of 2711 grey concrete monoliths, over an area the size of a football pitch, that is difficult to explain, it was the visitors information centre that got hold of me - it was excellent, and I can't believe it possible to visit and not be moved by the experience.
Rennsteiglauf Super Marathon 73km Running
Dawn on Friday, it was time to leave Berlin and catch a train to Eisenach, the start point for the Rennsteiglauf run. I arrived a few hours before Peter, who had flown overnight from Dubai. At mid afternoon, we went to collect our race numbers. The Germans do things a bit differently in this regard. None of the pasta carb loading meals for the Rennsteiglauf, this is replaced by goulash, red cabbage and dumplings, washed down with beer. For good measure, Peter and I followed this with an ice cream! No doubt, Olympians will be changing to this diet before long!
After what seemed like no time, the alarm clock signaled it time to get up on Saturday morning. We'd got our kit ready the night before, so it was just a case of getting dressed, grabbing the drop bag with our spare clothes and, along with a little over 2,000 other runners, waiting for the start gun to fire at 6am.
The weather at the start was good, overcast but not too cold. A controlled start as we navigated the streets of the town before very quickly getting to the first incline which pretty much lasts for 25km! We ran most of this, although some of the particularly steep sections had to be walked. It was getting colder as we climbed higher, although not enough to be a problem, it was less comfortable than I would have liked. My main concern however was that after Prague Marathon two weeks earlier, I had very tight glutes and hamstring. As we continued to climb, the hamstring was fine, the glutes were aching but manageable, but my calf was becoming a problem. Whether it was because we are not used to hills in Dubai, or because I was inadvertently changing my running style to protect my aching glutes, I don't know, but my calf would scream at me for the next 50km.
Given that the run was 73km, I should be able to write quite a long race report. The good news for you is that I'm not, primarily because I can't remember much detail. Without doubt, it's a beautifully scenic run, on forested trails and climbing to give far reaching views of the German countryside. But I found it seriously tough. 73km is a long way, my Garmin showed it had 1,739 metres of elevation, my calf was giving me problems, and I just wanted to finish. My run was not spent looking at the beautiful vistas, nor wondering what to write in this blog, instead I focused on how to get from one drinks station to the next and taking it one section at a time, the latter stages naturally much more challenging on the body and mind than the earlier stages.
But the good news is that I battled through and finished. Peter and I ran together until around 65km, at which point he went ahead. It was one of those times where he wanted to go faster to get it over and done with, and I needed to deal with my struggle by myself. Peter finished with a time of 8 hours 4 minutes with me a little way behind in 8 hours 10 minutes (that my time for the similar distance (marginally less elevation) Wadi Bih race in the UAE was almost an hour quicker shows how tough I found the Rennsteiglauf). I suspect that a gap of two weeks since Prague Marathon was not quite long enough. Fortunately, a recovery ice cream put us on the road to recovery once we'd finished.
I'm glad I did it. I had a great time visiting Germany and, although it was a struggle, I feel proud to have battled through and finished the run. It was nice to run with Peter in his home country, although we didn't have the energy to talk much during the run, it would have been much harder to try to do alone. If I could change something, it would be to spend an extra day with Peter in his country (I think that his German would have benefitted from my input!), but the decision to get home in time for my wedding anniversary was a good one!
My last word for this blog...I'm not entering any races for a while!