Sport between leisure and performance: the broom wagon and me

Our author wanted to know what the city looks like from above and how it feels to race others: across Hamburg’s Kohlbrand Bridge.

Running over the Kohlbrand Bridge in a race: Our author wanted to know what it was like. A self-experiment. Photo: Klaus Irler

Actually, I don’t want all that. I don’t want a chip on my shoe that measures my time, a sign on my chest that says a number. I don’t want to race against others and get a medal afterwards. I don’t want to know how fast the fastest run and how long the slowest take. I don’t want any of that because I’m a hedonistic recreational runner and I think I’d lose the fun of running if I linked it to a performance mindset.

Nevertheless, I am now standing on this company site in the port of Hamburg together with 2,400 others and feel a certain nervousness before the starting gun. In a moment, we’ll be crossing the Kohlbrand Bridge, up once, over it, turn around on the other side and back again. I’ve always wanted to stand up there. I also want to know if I can pull off the performance-free running thing even if I expose myself to a competition.

The broom wagon threatens

With its gently curving forms, the Kohlbrand Bridge is such a Hamburg landmark that it made it onto the label of my mineral water brand. Normally, it is closed to pedestrians. Today, 2,400 people walk across it twice. At the very front, people are running who are very serious. At the end of the field is a broom wagon that collects everyone who can’t complete the twelve kilometers in one hour and 45 minutes.

The broom wagon is, I quickly learn, a silver Ford minibus. Threateningly close he comes to me after my first photo break. I see to it that I gain distance, otherwise it feels bad.

At the roadside there are signs showing the kilometers covered and beer advertisements. The first kilometer is done. I still stay in the back field, where there is more space and people chat while running. The two female students next to me, for example, are talking about soccer. At the kilometer two sign, one of them says, "Hey! There’s Krombacher in two kilometers!" Pleasant company, back here.

As the bridge looms ahead after a bend, the student says, "Scheeiiiibe!" The two skyward piers look like giant fish upside down. The apex is 53 meters high above the Elbe, that’s where we have to go up now.

The view from the top brings three pieces of news. First: The cityscape is surprisingly white in the October sun. Second: The Elbphilharmonie does not play a significant role. Third: The port is a mock giant. Cranes, high-rises, warehouses, the Kohlbrand Bridge itself: Everything looks huge from a distance and shrinks the closer you get.

Between pensioners

Three colleagues from the Alpine Club, Flensburg Section, have difficulties after the turning point on the second ascent. Me too. Especially with the fact that a couple of pensioners overtakes me shortly before kilometer nine. A real pensioner couple: white-haired, slightly stocky posture while running, obviously stiff back. Both wear running shirts with the logo of a management consultancy. I can’t resist the emotional surge of pride and defiance and step on the gas. It’s supposed to be some kind of final sprint. The idea is too optimistic. I don’t manage a final sprint of three kilometers, but I outrun the management consultants.

I reach the finish line just behind a 70-year-old woman. I know this because the moderator introduces the arrivals in the meantime: He uses the data that the chip sends. Fortunately, he forgets about me.

I even get the certificate, on which my time is written: "1:26:31 (gross), 1:24:17 (net)". I don’t know what that means. I just have a guess. And I’m sure: I don’t need it.