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Berlin Wall trail becomes marathon replacement

March 20, 2020

Like all of us, DW reporter Marcel Fürstenau's life has changed recently. He muses on how coronavirus alters the perception of a long distance runner and how you can still improve body, mind, soul and the environment.

Deutschland Berliner Mauerweg vor dem Reichstag in Berlin
Image: Imago-Images/Steinach

"Moin!" This typical North German greeting alone, no matter when I hear it, gives me a lift. Hamburg suddenly feels very close, despite the city lying almost 300 kilometers from Berlin. But on April 19, I wanted to be in the thick of it again for the marathon: the Reeperbahn, Landungsbrücken, Alster, Elbchaussee. Precisely 42.195 kilometres running through the Hanseatic city, whose inhabitants consider their little corner of the earth to be the most beautiful in the world. Not without justification in my view.

I've been running the Hamburg Marathon since 2005, only missing it when my first son arrived. And now: Corona. The cancelation email came on March 11. One sentence particularly affected me: "Certainly every one of us, whether participant, helper, partner or service provider - and also our organization team - is at least moved by this, if not deeply saddened." It sounds almost poetic.

As I read those lines, I felt less alone in my initial disappointment. It felt good. And it's a nice example of how, with just a few, appropriate words, even an anonymous "organization team" can offer comfort. But the more I think about it, the more I feel almost guilty. Canceling a marathon is not a terrible thing, the real tragedies are taking place elsewhere at the moment: especially in hospitals.

The pure loneliness of a long distance runner

I am grateful that my family and circle of friends have made it through the Corona period so far. I am not worried about myself and for a few days now, I have been working within my own four walls. Fortunately we have a small garden and it is only a few hundred meters to the Tegel Forest.

Marcel Fürstenau takes a break on his jogging route along the Berlin Wall trail
Marcel Fürstenau takes a break on his jogging route along the Berlin Wall trailImage: DW

We live together in Frohnau on the northern outskirts of Berlin. In times like these, this is a particular blessing. Many would gladly swap places at this point. A home office in the countryside can be particularly attractive.

And for my passion, running, the unusual working environment is ideal. My preferred route, the Berlin Wall Trail, is often deserted in the morning and at noon. That suits me. I'm not the type of runner who can only motivate himself in a group, in fact quite the opposite. But the loneliness I am experiencing now is new to me.

I'm almost glad when after several kilometres a walker crosses my path, a cyclist passes by or a dog appears. Almost all my thoughts revolve around Corona: Why is that woman avoiding my gaze? Why does that guy not return my greeting? Are they all afraid I'll get too close? I'm hugely relieved when a small family on bicycles kindly says "Hello!".

Taking more notice of nature

Another thing is that I've probably never observed such mindfulness in myself. And paid so much attention to such familiar surroundings. In these first days of spring, the Mirabelle trees around me bloom in a white that almost looks like snow. As I walk close to them, I inhale the sweet scent with the fresh air. Have I ever done this so consciously and intensively?

The Mirabelle tree is in full bloom
The Mirabelle tree is in full bloomImage: DW/M. Fürstenau

After six kilometers, I’ve completed half of my route. It’s part of a standard routine that I’ve been running for almost 20 years. Routine? Not in coronavirus times. I’m scanning left and right to see what’s happening on the golf course. Even though the sun is shining, in spring-like temperatures of about 15 degrees, there are only two players enjoying the extensive, lush green to themselves.

And now I’m back to my physical self and what I’m doing. My pace feels like it’s quite fast for my usual standard, but feelings can be deceiving. I stop myself from checking my watch. But I’m fairly certain I can run the 12 kilometers in under an hour. That would be an average of five minutes per kilometer. It’s not about proving something to myself, I know my potential. And responsible running training is all about sticking to the right pace.

Run as if nothing’s happened

In this phase of my training, about a month from the Hamburg Marathon, I’ve been at the so-called peak for a few weeks: taking long runs of between 25 and 35 kilometers. But what’s the point now that the marathon has been called off? Stupid question! I shouldn’t linger on such thoughts. “You’ll just keep running as if nothing has happened,” I say to myself. At some point the corona crisis will be over, perhaps earlier than everyone thinks. And then I want to be ready - for the next marathon.

In September, the Berlin Marathon is on my calendar. That’ll do. And deep inside there is still a glimmer of hope that I can run my favorite marathon beforehand. Because the Hamburg organizers have so far only postponed the event. In that mail from March 11 it also states: “As soon as we have concrete information for a new date for the Hamburg Marathon, we will let you know immediately.” There's still a chance in 2020!

The optimism is contagious. Contagious - what a word in these times of coronavirus! The letter ends with this simple request: “Until then, we ask for your patience and help, which consists of keeping calm, looking after yourself and your fellow human beings and staying healthy.”

You can rely on me!

Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.