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100 Kilometers in 24 Hours - When Hiking Becomes a Borderline Experience

  • Silvia Koch
  • September 30, 2019
Credits cover image: Mammutmarsch UG

My everyday life consists of work and mostly sport. I go running a lot, I like hiking on weekends. And yet the mammoth march in Munich brought me to my limits. 100 kilometers should be covered in 24 hours. From Krailling to the top of Lake Starnberg, once around it and back again. The weather played along; my physical conditions were good. At least that's what I thought. Learn here how my first mammoth march ended.

TL;DR - Summary

Sport is a big part of my life - but the mammoth march in Munich pushed me to my limits. My goal: to complete 100 kilometres in one day. Sounds doable, I thought. But it turned into an intense adventure. I started the march with two friends. At the beginning, the mood was exuberant, but with each kilometre it became calmer. I continued during the night, but my feet hurt and exhaustion set in. At kilometre 50, I had to give up. It was a challenge I am proud to have taken on. Although I am not one of the 30 per cent who made it, I don't consider my participation a failure. It was an extraordinary experience and I am thinking of trying again.

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My daily urge to move is what shapes my everyday life and defines my personality. Jogging 25 kilometers whilst sleep-deprived is no problem for me. Hiking, swimming, running, weight training - this is the description of my free time, only then can I really switch off. I have already participated successfully in many obstacle races and half marathons. But the Mammutmarsch 2019 in Munich brought me close to my psychological limits.

100 kilometers should be covered in 24 hours. The average runner moves at about 10 km/h. A hiker is about half as fast. With an average speed of 5 km/h you would reach your destination after 22 hours in this mammoth march. So far so good. But three days before the march I had a queasy feeling I didn't know about myself. It wasn't the challenge that worried me. It was more the fact that I didn't know what was coming. I had never walked 100 kilometers before. A 50-kilometer trial march a few weeks earlier had given me a foretaste of what to expect.

2.500 participants joined the march in Munich in 2019
Image credit: Mammutmarsch UG / Mammutmarsch UG

The Toughest March of Our Lives

On 27 July at 15:45 our group started and I calculated that with a march duration of 22 hours we would cover the 100th kilometer at 13:45 on the following day and cross the finish line. The starting point was a sports club in Krailling near Munich. The route should lead once to the southerly end of Lake Starnberg, once around it and again back to the starting point. That Saturday, I was very nervous. The usual hustle and bustle at the start and the preceding drummers nevertheless provided a cheerful atmosphere. Then it was finally time: My two friends and I started what was probably the hardest march of our lives. At first, I found it strange to walk across the starting line armed with my backpack. After all, I was used to starting a race with 100 percent power and speed.

But after ten kilometers the strangeness gave way to another, more welcome feeling: I had fun. Almost 2,500 participants had started in Munich. This gigantic hiking group created a unique atmosphere. The first four hours we chatted about everything we could think of. Men, family, working life - no subject was neglected. After 25 kilometers we reached the first marshal. My feet were still fine at that time. My knees, ankle joints, muscles and shoulders didn't cause any problems either. Somewhat calmer, but in a good mood we set off again after a short break. Around 8 pm we reached the Isartrails and only a short time after the path in front of us and behind us was illuminated by many headlamps.

The route led us through the Bavarian landscape around Munich.
Image credit: Mammutmarsch UG / Mammutmarsch UG

Why Am I Doing This?

The feeling was indescribable. In the group with only one goal in mind, we marched on. I noticed that the conversations around us ebbed away. While in the early evening a group behind us had been joking about the enjoyment of a fresh lasagna, the conversations were much calmer now. If anything was said at all. Around 11 p.m. we reached the next route marshal. A shuttle bus had been readied by the organizers. The first participants were giving up the race. We were supplied with gummy bears, bananas, water and fresh tapes for knees and joints. Particularly irritating: pickled gherkins were also in the repertoire. Pickles contain sodium and potassium, i.e. electrolytes that the body loses when sweating, my girlfriend explained to me. The volunteer who distributed the pickled vegetables shouted cheerfully to the crowd: "People always remember: sport is fun!" In spite of exhaustion I gave him a tired smile. After we took off our shoes for a moment and examined the extent of the blisters, we went on. Meanwhile, it was the middle of the night. At midnight we sang a short Happy Birthday to a friend. That's when the question first appeared in my head: Why am I doing this? A buddy celebrated his 27th birthday that Saturday and what did I do? Well, I was hiking.

The feeling during the hike was indescribable. The group photo before the start gives an idea of the atmosphere.
Image credit: Mammutmarsch UG / Mammutmarsch UG

Every Step like Torture: Panic Sets In

We reached Lake Starnberg. The route led us past several bars where people were apparently having a good time. Would I have traded places with them? No, not at all. Because this march was something special, the feeling so unique that it almost seemed magical. Kilometers and hours went by. We reached a dark part of the forest. From that point on, I realized that my feet were starting to get sore. I got a slight hint of panic. I wanted to make it through the march so badly. For months we had been looking forward to it. The more I worried about failing, the more my pain grew. So far we had seen paramedics and volunteers at regular intervals along the way. But this stretch of forest seemed to be endless.

Even if we hadn't thought it possible with the muggy temperatures of the afternoon, by now we had all put on our jackets. It had clearly cooled down. After about 45 kilometers I noticed two blisters bursting on my left foot. Then walking was almost unbearable for me. I began to calculate: "In five hours the sun rises. Then the worst will be behind you." That's what I kept trying to tell myself. But it had no effect. I noticed my speed slowing down. Every movement was like torture to me. I bit my lower lip and swallowed my tears. Did I wear the wrong shoes? Had I not prepared enough?

The medal before your eyes. Nevertheless, my mind defeated my body and I gave up halfway through the course.
Image credit: Mammutmarsch UG / Mammutmarsch UG

The End

I made the decision to abandon the march from one second to the next. I was in pain and afraid I might harm my body in the long run. So I hobbled next to my girlfriends until a red truck caught our eye, which we had seen several times before. The driver belonged to a group of participants from Basel. He followed his friends and collected those who could not continue. They agreed to take me with them. Meanwhile we were almost an hour by car away from the starting point. I hugged my girlfriends, sat down on the floor next to the car and hardly said a word because of exhaustion and pain. My mammoth march was over after 50 kilometers. At around 5 o'clock in the morning I entered my apartment in Munich limping - more than 13 hours after the start.

One day later I still asked myself the same questions: Was it the shoes? Was I not sufficiently prepared? And above all, do I regret it? The answer is quite clearly no. Of course, I'm sorry I didn't make it through to the end. But in my condition, continuing to walk would not have been an option.

30 percent of the participants in Munich walked the 100 kilometers, I was not one of them this year. Will I participate again? I don't know. Have I failed? No. Because it was a special experience in any case.