Last Saturday, October 27th, I ran my very first race ever. Stefan has done some corporate challenge runs in Frankfurt in the past (which was a way bigger event) but this was the first one he ever did any training for. We started running four weeks ago, and about a day after we started, we signed up for our first 5k. It’s actually a rather smart piece of advice we’ve seen a few places online, which you can use at any level of running. Signing up for races gives you something to work towards and also keeps you motivated when you just don’t feel like running anymore. Cause let’s admit it — we all get there at some point.

We arrived at the race track about 1.5 hours before the run and it was cold. Snow flurries cold. In fact, all over the rest of Germany, people were getting a few inches of snow. But in these conditions, snow was definitely more welcome than rain. This was by far the coldest weather we’d been running in so far, just barely above freezing. And some brilliantly wise part of me noted that we should grab our fall jackets on our way out the door, despite us being dressed in quite a few layers for running. If we hadn’t grabbed the jackets, we probably would have either left before the race or been really sick afterwards, neither of which are so great IMO. But despite the cold and nerves, our spirits were high just before we took off!

Maybe that was just because we were still in denial and kept telling ourselves it really wouldn’t be so bad. We really didn’t have a clue what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for the 49th Berlin Cross Country Run. It was way more cross country than expected…and even a little bit cross challenge. We couldn’t have even imagined what it would be like from the photos online, because the race they did the last few years was deemed to be “too boring and easy” by the competitors. So this year they brought it back to a track they’d used a few years back that everyone seemed to enjoy. Gone were the partially paved tracks and easy going, flat run to be replaced with sand, slopes, ruts, sticks, hay bales and more sand. Here’s an overview of the course:

It started off on a motorbike race track, then went into the forest where the Bundeswehr train…and then back onto the motorbike track. As you might imagine, there was a lot of soft sand on the track but thankfully nothing too steep or slippers. Until we got to the first hill…and then I realized this was going to be nothing at all like what we’d been running during our training in the Tiergarten. There was no messing around here…and not much mercy either.

We actually encountered that slope twice…once going into the forest area and once coming back out. Going in was scarier by far because it was quite steep and made you feel like you were going to face plant before you hit the bottom. But somehow, both Stefan and I managed to not look like idiots on it, and into the forest we ran. There were some forest paths to run on, but nothing was swept up or cleaned away like we’ve seen in some races. Leaves, sticks and sand were all over. And did I mention the huge ruts in the path which had clearly been used by tanks during training exercises? They were at least 2 feet deep and the only saving grace was jumping around a bit from side-to-side of the path so I didn’t get swallowed up.

And then came the hay bale…

I saw it from the distance and at first my brain refused to believe what it really was. And then I thought, “Okay. A hay bale. But they can’t possibly expect us to jump over that, right?!”

Wrong. 🙂

As it turned out, it wasn’t such a big deal. I went up to the bale, planted my hands, boosted my whole body up, sat, spun on my butt, dropped down and kept on going. There were guys on the side of the bales, helping to boost people over. But I wasn’t going to have any of that — even if it meant I was using up precious strength that I would certainly need later on.

The pictures of the run look so harmless, almost as if it was all grassy and calm. And in the forest, there was a couple of kilometers of just running along, counting down to the point when it would all be over.

But it wasn’t going to be that simple. As we came back out of the forest and back onto the motorcross track, things got hilly. There were several little hills all following one after another. And at that point, we were really close to the 4km mark and I was getting really worn down. I managed to pass someone who had been holding her spot steadily in front of us for the entire race (which should have motivated me further) but then came the most evil hill of them all. Once I got to the top, I was ready to just call it quits. I didn’t care that there was less than 500 meters to go; it was all just too far. So I began to walk down the hill and there happened to be a spectator there who was cheering us on…and it was just the push I needed. As I reached the bottom, I began running again…and that’s how I managed to beat my husband in this race. 😉

When it was all done, I was so proud of myself and of Stefan. And SO glad it was over.

My primary goal going into this was to just be able to finish the race without having to stop. Stefan wanted to finish it in less than 30 minutes. So with us training together, 30 minutes became the time to beat…and we both kicked that goal’s butt. I finished in 29:14, 9th place overall in the race and second in my age group! Stefan finished in 29:20. I honestly have no clue how that happened because I only recall passing a few people on the course — but I guess when we started, we weren’t as far back as we thought. When we had a look at our pacing and speed later on, we saw that our progression overall was perfect; starting out rather slow, then with each kilometer getting faster and finally just giving it as much as we could in the end until the finish line was behind us.

Overall all, it was a great first experience and we might actually consider running this one again in the future. Or perhaps it’s bigger 9k brother if we’re feeling really crazy (but definitely not the crazy Warrior-style one with mud pits and so forth!

Lessons Learned in This Race

  1. If at all possible, run the race path ahead of time. This way you don’t spend the whole race wondering what is coming next and have a better feeling for the race overall. Even if you have to break it down into sections (like if you’re planning to run a marathon), it will definitely help you prepare for race day.
  2. Wear weather-appropriate clothing before the race and take something else warm and DRY to change into for after the race. If you have to wait around for award ceremonies, changing is usually a good idea, if even if you still feel like your internal furnace is going.
  3. Don’t expect that the warm drinks they have at the race will be warm the entire time. They were dishing up tea for us at the race, but half of it was ice cold by the time they had it in cups and ready to drink.