Episode 7: A summer full of marathons comes to an end: Denis finally reached his new destination. Here he looks back on his big adventure.
“The Euros had just started and, before you know it, had already finished. The Tour de France celebrated its first stage, wound its way across France and that finished, too. Yet I was still running: I ran every day for a total of 41 stages. Well, what do you know! Looks like in the end I’ve became somewhat of a major event as well.”
The big adventure begins
I left my home town of Munich on 12 June. I ran with friends for 40 km right up to the gates of the city where they saw me off with a big cheer – and incredulity written across their faces – on my way to Istanbul.
This was going to be the longest run of my life. A good 2,400 kilometres, 7 countries, all the way to the end of Europe within a mere 50 days.
At first, I ran close to the edge of the Alps; then I actually ran across them. I faced bad weather, and looked the onset of winter right in the eye; finally, I crossed the High Tauern during a snowfall and with limited visibility.
Just a few days and stages later, I had to face other problems. It was hot. I had left the Alps and the legendary Karawanks and had been received by one of the hottest summers in history: the run in Slovenia not only allowed me to experience another culture, it also occurred under a sweltering 40 degrees. Most of the trails were flat, and without even one bend in Croatia. It became a psychological struggle, constantly trying to keep up my morale, from week two. Physically, I couldn’t complain, as my body carried on doing what it was doing – 50 km a day – without ever showing a sign of weakness.
From megalomania to pure routine
During that time, I gradually learnt more about myself. Indeed, I was surprised on a daily basis by what I learnt.
Before the run, I wasn’t prone to moments of megalomania and, actually, was quite unsure whether I’d reach the end. There wasn’t one single person around me who could have shared words of advice or told me about their experience. Sure, most of them had taken part in 7-day stage competitions: but what then?
Well, it really did get better. With each passing day I got used to these 6 to 8 hours‘ run. It soon become nothing more than routine and, after 20 stages – now in Belgrade and half-way through – I felt fit, motivated, and was finally sure I’d reach Istanbul.
I’d entered the ultimate flow. My father supported me every 5 to 10 km with cold beverages and researched my route as it sometimes deviated from what my route planner and map said.
Crossing the scorching Balkans
The Balkans are one big adventure! Our German standards are short lived here. At no point whatsoever did the distances hinder me, nor were they the biggest problem. The heat actually was what concerned me the most. At one point I could barely replace all the liquids I lost in sweat. Sometimes I ran right up to the point of being completely drained of water, the sun scorched my skin until it was tender. And yet, thing always improved after a bit.
A Runner without a destination
Upon reaching my sixth country, Bulgaria, all hell broke loose. The coup attempt in Turkey threw a spanner in the works of my run: Istanbul wasn’t the clear-cut destination it used to be. I lost sight of it and, all of a sudden, found myself forced to make a decision for me and my crew.
Could Istanbul still be my goal? After over 30 stages peppered by tough weeks, my motivation, and the drive that had pushed me to travel in the first place, was starting to falter. After all, a runner is only as good as his destination. Which I didn’t have anymore.
A Bulgarian friend and the importance of running
Georgi, a Bulgarian trail runner (who happens to live in Bielefeld), and I crossed the Balkans. He was of great help, he motivated me, he distracted when the going got tough. He appeared out of the blue and right on time. In my memory, those days helped me understand just how valuable running is to me, how much I experience when my feet hit the ground, how it allows me to meet people, and how it gives me the opportunity of creating unbiased impressions.
New goals, old roads
I’d made my decision: I wanted to keep on course. Many people suggested I choose a new destination, say Athens, or just head back home.
No. Istanbul still was my destination, but I’d never get there. In the end, I decided to conclude the biggest run of my life at the border with democracy. At the Turkish border, that is, the last frontier of the EU.
Finally in Svilengrad
I finally reached the bizarre Svilengrad on the border. My dad and I embraced: you could tell we were proud. We walked over to the border fence with Turkey and looked at the Turkish flag, flapping in the wind: the sight filled us happiness and, at the same time, with a sense of listlessness. After 47 days our new, small world had come to an end all of a sudden: 2,050 kilometres from Munich to here.
I hope the future holds better, friendlier, and safer times; and I really hope I’ll get to finish those last 4 stages which separate me from Istanbul.
Follow Denis on our interaktive map:
2400 kilometers (1491 miles), seven countries and 50 times a marathon distance – check on our interactive map how far Denis already made it on his long way from Bavaria to Bosporus. Click on the black runners-icons to learn more about different stages and to watch the matching video update.