100 kilometers in 24 hours - launched in Cologne in 2016 as a hiking challenge among friends, the Megamarch has long since grown into an event series with international flair, with starts in 19 German cities as well as in Vienna and on Mallorca. We spoke to co-founder Marco Kamischke about sports fans and couch potatoes, the differences between running and hiking, and the hardships of those last few kilometers.
Marco, you climbed Kilimanjaro this year. When did you first start getting so enthusiastic about running and hiking?
I grew up in a rural area near Mönchengladbach and was always out in nature with my friends as a child. At some point I tried jogging for the first time, but it wasn't until I worked in Berlin for a while that I really got into running. My goal was to run a half marathon, and after I'd completed that, I just didn't stop training. Right away, I set my sights on the full marathon distance, which worked out well. I kept running for quite a while, but at some point, I realized that I enjoy hiking, especially long-distance hiking, much more.
So, have long distances always been a thing for you?
In a way, yes. Of course, when you start running, you start with ten kilometers, but it was clear to me from the beginning that it had to be the marathon distance. It was similar with hiking.
So, you were set on the 100-kilometer distance that makes up the Megamarch?
Kind of. The whole story started with me trying to motivate my best friend to run a marathon with me. He didn't feel like running at all, though, and thought it was all way too training-intensive, which of course it is. Somehow, we ended up hiking and because we both like challenges, we finally came up with these 100 kilometers in 24 hours. We looked briefly online to see if there was a hike like that somewhere. There was, but not in our area, and so we took the reins ourselves without further ado and organized our own hike in 2016. We actually assumed that maybe a few more friends and friends of friends would join in, but in the end, we suddenly had 200 confirmed participants plus 600 more people on the waiting list. The end of the story was that we didn't have time to participate in our first own hiking event because we were so busy organizing food stations, paramedics and everything else. The very first Megamarsch took place in Cologne and led along the Römerkanal hiking trail from Brühl through the Eifel to Nettersheim.
From an idea between friends to a professional event?
You could say that. We had planned with maybe 30 people and thought that was pretty brave, but with so many participants you can't avoid professionalizing the process. We quickly got into conversation with tourist associations who told us that just ten people participated in their hiking events. At the beginning, we didn't realize how much we’d hit the zeitgeist with the Megamarch. After the success of the first edition, we decided to expand the concept to other regions, and in 2017 we were already up and running with Megamarches in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne. Of course, I also caught up on my 100 kilometers that year.
What’s it like to be doing the hikes yourself?
It's an awesome experience. I got to know so many lovely people and I also got to know my body. I never imagined how strenuous the whole thing really is and what happens in your head. The first 50 kilometers are half the distance only in purely mathematical terms, because at the latest when you reach kilometer 70, you realize that the last 30 are going to demand more from you than the 70 that lie behind you. At some point, all I wanted was for it to finally be over. And just a few days after that, I wanted to get going again.
I assume that other participants felt the same way. How many throw in the towel before the finish line?
Around 30 percent of the participants finish the 100-kilometer distance. The problem for most of them isn't the time limit, but the length of the course, which really drags on. In the meantime, we also offer a '50 kilometer in 12 hours' distance as an alternative.
Which leads me to the question of who actually takes part in the Megamarches. With several thousand participants in each event, you've long since left the “extreme hiker” niche.
Megamarches now take place in 16 German cities and regions, as well as in Vienna and on Mallorca. Between 1,200 and 4,400 hikers start, with a completely heterogeneous field of participants. The age range starts at 18 and goes up to 83, with an average age of 39. The participants range from well-trained athletes in triathlon suits to people in jeans and T-shirts who initially strike you as couch potatoes. In our Facebook groups, people exchange information beforehand and give each other training tips, and on the course, of course, they support each other. Because there's nothing to win except a place on the eternal list of finishers, there's no competition, which is great for us. By the way, it's interesting that very fit runners often drop out relatively early because they can't cope with the slow walking pace. Not least because the running movement is different from the walking movement. Sometimes you might even see the power walker with her poles that runners often make fun of casually passing a marathon man.
ALBERTO Concept Store, Mönchengladbach
Foto: Patrick Lanowy
How has your personal running and hiking behavior developed?
I keep fit by running during the week and then go hiking extensively with friends on the weekends when I’ve got more time.
Let's talk about preparation. What kind of training do you recommend?
Anyone who's healthy and has some basic fitness can do the course. I would still recommend preparing well, if only to avoid physical overload and injury. When I trained for my first Megamarch, I didn't do a hike over 30 kilometers, but just regularly completed distances of around 20 kilometers to get my body used to the strain. Of course, it's possible to do 40 kilometers, but I don't recommend doing the entire distance in advance. I've also gotten into the habit of walking instead of taking the car, bus or bike for all my daily journeys. You don't just benefit from the pure extra fitness, but you can also test your shoes and the rest of your equipment for their suitability in the shorter sessions.
Speaking of equipment. What should you look out for?
When it comes to shoes, they should be as light and well-cushioned as possible. I’d advise against hiking boots and instead recommend trail runners for long distances, and it goes without saying that they need to be broken in. One of the main reasons people drop out is blisters on their feet. You can avoid that problem with the right socks. We now have our own double-layer mega-marching socks that minimize the risk of blisters. The rest of the clothing should be light, functional and adapted to the weather conditions. Layering is a tried and tested method. And your backpack should always be as small as possible, of course.
Together with ALBERTO, you've developed pants specially tailored to the needs of long-distance hikers. How did you get into the conversation, how long did you tweak the style and what can the pants do that other pants can't?
I ended up in the ALBERTO store in Mönchengladbach a few years ago looking for a pair of pants, and apart from the fact that the pants fit me like a glove, the advice and service impressed me and I stopped by again and again as a regular customer. When the lightweight Revolutional styles with all their outdoor-compatible features came on the market, I was interested right away, asked a lot of questions, told them what we were doing with the Megamarch - and so finally one thing led to another. The limited edition ALBERTO x Megamarch pants are the result of a few sessions together in the showroom. And with their breathable, water-repellent and quick-drying fabric qualities and features like reflectors at the leg ends, they're perfect for hikers. The men's pants in black and khaki are already available exclusively in our online store, and they'll soon be joined by women's pants in a choice of black or navy.
Looking to the future. What are your plans for the Megamarch? New concepts or routes?
We hope that the Megamarch will start again soon. In the meantime, we've developed the digital format Megamarch #WIRGEHENWEITER, where you can just start your Megamarch right outside your front door. Our community has really embraced the concept, which is why it will continue to find a place in our events calendar in the future. But it's still not the same as a real event. In the long term, we want to become even more international and bring the Megamarch to other countries.