Ein Bericht von Jürgen

Den folgenden Bericht von Jürgen Ankenbrand habe ich im Gästebuch des Transeuropalaufes gefunden. Und alldieweil Gästebucheinträge mit jedem Neueintrag etwas tiefer rutschen - bis sie schließlich keiner mehr findet - habe ich mir erlaubt, den Eintrag hier zu übernehmen:

Jürgen Ankenbrand, Los Angeles, 01. September 2003

Anbei ein Artikel der (in etwa) in einem amerikanischem Laufmagazin erscheinen wird. Er gibt in unter 5,000 Worten den Lauf wieder - gesehen aus meiner Perspektive und den Tatsachen entsprechend.
Bitte lasst mich wissen was ihr darueber denkt?
Der Artikel ist im Moment nur in Englisch, werde ihn aber eventuell auch in's Deutsche uebersetzen.
Word count 4,615


5,035 km from Lisbon-Portugal to Moscow-Russia

6,000,000 steps to Moscow in 63 days

By Jürgen Ankenbrand, the official photojournalist during the race.

After several Trans America races and one Trans Australia event, it was just a matter of time till someone would think of a Trans Europe race. Following is the story of how it came about, what it took to organize it and how it ended.

1. Who, What, Why?
During the first Trans America Crossing in 1959, Manfred Leisman, a German Ultra Runner had the idea of a Trans Europe Crossing with a theme of uniting the people through sports. Due to personal matters, the idea did not surface again until the year 2001 when the Trans Australia race took place. Being a long distance runner himself, Manfred wanted to run the event and needed at least one man who could put the entire package together as the organizer and planner. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. He eventually engaged Ingo Schulze, an experienced German Ultra Runner himself and the race director of the “Spreelauf”, a seventeen-day ultra event in Germany. Ingo, I am sure, never realized the gravity of what he had committed himself to when he discussed the matter with Manfred. Ingo must have had a temporary lapse of sanity when he signed the contract to be the race director/organizer of this momentous event, a decision I am sure, he has regretted many a time since.

2. Route outline
Manfred looked at the map of Europe, and penciled out a course, trying to circumnavigate mayor cities whenever possible to avoid huge traffic yams and also considering the safety of all. He eventually set the anticipated course and thus the work could begin.

In the Spring of 2002 Manfred and his wife Brigitte took their first three weeks of their six week vacation and drove the entire first halve of the route from Lisbon, Portugal to a small town in Poland called Zalesie, 20 kilometers before the border of Belarus. In mid September of 2002 they took their second three-week vacation and scouted out the second half from Poland to Moscow.

All the while Manfred spoke into a tape recorder, recording the entire route with names of towns and landmarks to follow with kilometer markings. This info eventually became the daily traffic directions for all to follow, for runners and drivers alike. A few small problems emerged from all this. Manfred spoke the town names as he interpreted them, which often presented a problem for drivers (especially in Poland and Russia), not finding anything similar on the map. The other thing was that on a few occasions detours screwed us up and a few mistakes in mileage counting didn’t help either.

2. Nightly lodging
Also on their two scouting trips Manfred and Brigitte tried to make as many contacts as possible regarding nightly quarters such as dormitories, schools or similar housing. Some places made commitments while others took some continuous follow-up by letter over a year’s period to get something of a commitment. As it turned out, not all took their commitment too seriously with the following consequences.

When Ingo and a few fast runners would arrive early afternoon Ingo was told:
1. We expected you tomorrow
2. You can’t get into the gym until later this evening because we have a game
3. This gym isn’t available but we have arranged for another location (several kilometers away)
I am sure you can guess that the runners were pissed when confronted with such matters, after running for 60 to 90 kilometers and wanted nothing but to take a shower and sleep.
They were mad at Ingo, not wanting to hear any “excuses” but he in fact could not do anything about it either at that point.

Originally we were scheduled to camp several times, but we were spared and rather stayed in gyms 95% of the time, a couple of 3rd rated hotels, an Army barrack in Portugal and a couple of girls dormitories, which was great.

3. Setting up an organization
For tax and business purposes an entity had to be created and thus the Trans-Europe-Organization was born, keeping track of all business and financial dealings. This included potential financial contributions, as well as keeping track of expenses, plus any traffic or road permits required, especially through Germany.

Basically the management team consisted of Ingo Schulze, Manfred Leisman, Heiko the financial man and a few volunteers that did whatever needed to be done. Initially few people thought it possible to pull off such an event, where almost seventy people would cross Europe on foot with an entourage of cars, meeting the challenge of seven borders crossings, languages and whatever red tape officials may decide to throw our way.

4. Rules, regulations, do’s and don’ts
Like any race or organization, there had to be rules, regulations and stipulations of what is acceptable and what is not. A multi-page document was created, trying to cover as many points as possible, but it’s impossible to cover all possibilities.
Items such as cost for participation, equipment needs, document requirements, conduct during the race and many more items of similar nature, giving all guidelines of what to expect.

5. Will enough runners come?
Any undertaking needs a financial feasibility study to see if the incoming money will cover anticipated expenses. Potential sponsors were contacted but when money is tight it’s difficult to get anything from any large company unless they have a product that happens to fit into the theme of the event. Bayer (the Aspirin maker) had such a product. They had developed a new fiber for clothing, thus shirts and wind jackets were made and worn by runners that were sponsored by Bayer.

6. Setting the price.
Setting the entry fee would be a very crucial procedure since this would be the financial basis for the well being of the event and its main source of capital, other than donations by sponsors. The Euro 45.00 per day figured per stage and full-time runners, multiplied by 63 came close to Euro 3,000,00 for the entire event, a sum, I thought was too low.

7. Establishing a criteria for participants running qualifications
The idea of having qualified runners is that as many runners as possible will finish the over 5,100 kilometer race to Moscow. Ideally runners with multi-day running experience would be good candidates. As it turned out, several of the known established very good runners did not finish and several “unknowns” with little multi-day experience made it all the way to Moscow. Naturally, injuries will always play a factor in a 63-day race, and this race was no different, as we would find out later.

8. The Logistics:
a. Getting volunteers
b. Arranging/finding enough transportation
Conventional Car Rental was not available into Eastern Europe
Rental companies would not let their cars there for safety reasons
c. Finding lodging in places like gyms, school dorms or even once a military barrack had to be found at “reasonable” cost
d. Food and beverages for 70 people twice a day plus aid stations
e. Writing daily Routing directional Sheets for runners and drivers
f. Getting traffic permits for eight countries, especially Germany, with its very regulated way of life
g. Visa info for all runners and staff especially for none European runners
h. Liability Insurance for all staff and runners
i. Possible medical emergencies, where to take runners should they arise in any of the eight countries through which we would pass through

These were some of the logistics in preparing for and planning of this mammoth event.

A country-by-country recap of events in a nutshell.

Before I begin my story, I want to introduce a few of the better know runners (at least in Europe anyway) to give you an idea of the quality of the field.

* Denotes runners that had the experience to be a potential winner of this event.

1. Manfred Leisman, Germany: Originator of this event and Ultra Runner for over 25 years
Profile: Finished the 1st Trans Am event, several Spartalons in Greece plus several multi-day events in Germany
2. Jurgen Hitzler, Germany: Ultra Runner for 23 years, Triple Iron Man, Desert Cup in Jordan, European Triathlon Championship participant.
3. Franz Haesler: Participated at many European Ultra and multi-day events over 15 years.
4. * Dusan Mravje, Slowenia: 3rd at the Trans Australia race in 2001, Westfield race in Australia, finisher of the Trans America race in 1995.
5. * Karl Graf, Germany: Holds several German records, 4x German champion in 100k distance, Guiness Book of Record holder, vive European Champion in 24hr team event.
6. Brigitta Biermanski, Germany: marathon des sables, 4x Western States participant, Ascent of Mt./ Blanc and Aconcagua in Argentina,
7. Stefan Schlett, Germany: A professional extreme sports participant on seven continents for 17 years. Owner of several German, European & World records.
Finished the Trans America & Trans Australia races and many others.
8. * Robert Wimmer, Germany: Trained 7,000 k per year for this event and
announced “I will win this race” and he did.
9. Helmut Schieke, Germany: Former finisher of the Trans America and Trans
Australia races.
10. * Martin Wagen, Switzerland: Winner of the 2002 Trans America race.
11. * Wolfgang Schwerk, Germany: Runs from 170 – 240 k per month. Holds vice world record in the 24 distance, German master in 100 k track, Trans Australia race finisher with a new world record over 3,100 miles.

As one can see, the field had some quality runner, but also a few totally inexperienced and unknowns in the Ultra distance field. Yet it’s several of the latter that finished and did well, while several of the potential favorites did not make it, mostly due to injuries.


Lisbon is a very nice and colorful city, which I discovered during my three-day stay prior to meeting the runners and Ingo. During a press conference most runners, the Bayer rep
Ralph Esper, the local press and myself met to learn more about the event and how things would evolve. On race day the sun shone brightly making for a great start and all were happy. Initially the entire contingent of 44 runners started as a group and ran at a slow pace on the edge of town till they crossed the river TEJO on a ferry (I think traffic considerations made this the

My first problem was being unable to find the actual start, thus missing a few shots, but luckily I took lots of them at the “real” start where it counted in Lisbon.

Portugal is a relatively small country and after two days of running across the mountainous landscape, we could not believe that we were ready to cross into Spain.

It turned out that I was the only one with any kind of Spanish language skills and all of a sudden I became the official spokesperson for the group. Living in Southern California for many years, I had acquired some basic Spanish language skills, but it often proved insufficient to get across to our hosts what we needed. The major questions we usually had upon arrival were:

1. Where are the toilets?
2. Where were the showers? More often then not, they were cold.
3. When can we get into the gym?
Unfortunately, sometimes we arrived at a new location and we were told that either we could not get into the Gym itself till much later because of local activities, pissing off the runners when they arrived.
4. Is there a phone line we can use to get onto the Internet (no charge to YOU)?
I had to post 25 digital images to two websites daily with one new article in German and English, which our webmaster Sebastian Seyrich posted whenever
and where ever possible. Initially we were on the web as late as 11pm or 12 am at night, getting less sleep then the runners. Eventually we worked out a system that worked for all.
4. Food to feed close to 70 very hungry runners twice per day, meaning we were always on the lookout for “inexpensive” restaurants very close to our GYM, that would either deliver or be able to seat about 75 people at once so we could walk to.
5. Grappling with all the above proved often frustrating but also produced many humorous situations
Having a few experienced volunteers along helped alot indeed, at least they acted
Independently and did not have to be told everything.

6. In most countries we passed through smaller towns avoiding having to navigate through traffic congestions. Our brightly colored orange stickers with black arrows would be THE direction to follow throughout Europe. As far as I know, no other group of any kind has ever left such a trail over 5,100 kilometers across an entire continent, plastered with over 20,000 stickers, but it did the job and usually got us safe to the next place at night. That does not mean that runners or drivers didn’t get lost at times (believe me I did several times, royally) but with a little help from locals, volunteers, or the police, nobody was ever lost for too long.

The press
One day we passed by a cemetery and I took pictures of a few runners with the cemetery as a backdrop. That night I put a couple of these images on the website with the comment,
“Should one or more runner not make it, “he/she would not have far to go to rest”. The following day the race director got a call from his wife in Germany, saying the local paper had written that at the Trans America race there were injured and DEAD runners. He was not too happy about that I can tell you, BUT from that day on the numbers of visitors to our site increased considerably and any attempt thereafter to “censor” my daily reports were a fruitless attempt on his part.

Spain left us with these memories:
1. Much colder than anticipated and windy as hell
2. A broken luggage trailer, causing an extreme challenge for the race director
3. The great hospitality and help everywhere we were afforded by the locals
4. Great scenery and lovely small towns and villages

Several of our runners and or volunteers spoke French, so communication was less of a problem here. Many runners had an anticipation of great food. Although we did eat “in” a few times, the food was pretty good, but apparently it was not always what the runners thought they ought to get, but such is life in the big city and a reality, something many had trouble getting used to. France overall had been very good to us with warm welcomes, good food and a nice country-side, especially the many nice smaller towns and villages many had heard about. Also the weather cooperated with us, leaving us dry most of the time.

The runners by now had gotten into a running routine and about 15 of the eventual 22 that left the race had already left, mostly due to injuries or the inability to keep up (if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen). Most thought that those still in the race would be going all the way to Moscow and they were right (except me who lost a bet, saying only 10 to 12 would make it all the way).

After France, a two-day tour through this very scenic and hospitable country proved a good time for all. We had warm welcomes, good food and despite the rain on one day, all enjoyed this short interlude through the smallest country through which we would pass through. We had no problem with the language as we had several members of our running family that spoke French.

Most runners that still were in the race by now, were pretty confident that they would reach Moscow. In addition several German runners joined our team throughout Germany, running with us from one day to several days. This was a welcome change for many of our runners providing a change of pace of the daily grind.

Bayer is headquartered in Leverkusen, where they really laid out the welcome mat for us. They had erected a huge stage, providing an assortment of food and beverages with the attendence of “local” runners and the press, providing a deserved welcome for the Trans Europe runners, who all appreciated this special occasipon. A similar treatment was afforded us in several other small German towns, a few being the “home-towns” of a few German runners. We enjoyed home-cooked food and warm hospitality and life was good, at least from my viewpoint, since I did not have to run. However, we knew that things would change once we reached Eastern Europe, and boy, did they ever.

Due to the effort of one Ludger Triebus, a former Bayer employee with 5 years service in Moscow, we crossed the border in record time. The runners were just “waived” through and cars spent less than 15 minutes each to cross. Thus we landed in the border town of Slubice. Next morning one of the crew vehicles had a busted window and a missing car stereo. This unfortunate incident was not the start we hoped for, but anything is possible in any border town. After that we were always welcomed and enjoyed warm hospitality from all we came in contact with. Food choices became fewer and several “Krauts” started to complaint. I told them they had it too good at home and were spoiled and that this was an adventure event and not the Ritz Carton. It didn’t make me too popular, but it was true.

The border crossing was a nightmare, taking almost five hours for no apparent reason, other than that the communist apparatus showed itself from its best (or worst) side, working like it was designed to do, slow and infuriating to most that came into contact with it.

The loss of a runner dims mood.
The darling of many, Japanese female runner Hiroko Okiyama, a world-class runner, had to quit in severe pain after just a couple of hours one morning. She left the next day in tears and the overall mood became a little more somber for a couple of days. Her forced departure was a shame because she had the ability to go all the way, but like many Japanese runners in our group, she went all out every day not listening when many told her to “slow down”. She now paid the price.

In Belarus the proverbial shit started to hit the fan, as sanitation really became the pits with toilets and showers being nothing any of us had ever seen. I personally can put up with lots of crap for a while, having traveled to several third-world countries, but many Germans and a few other runners had a huge problem with this. This started to contaminate the overall mood and cohesiveness of the entire group with their daily bitching and complaining as if that would change anything.

Naturally, the food many had expected was none-existing and not available in stores, so all had to go with what was there, all along moaning and groaning about it.
One morning Else and Martin Bayer, the couple that had bought all food supplies up to this point, had enough of this constant complaining and just announced they would leave NOW, leaving us unexpectedly in somewhat of a lurch.

Everyone figured that all that were still in the race at this point would finish, and that they did in great fashion and courage.
The race had come down to only two runners having a realistic chance of winning. Robert Wimmer from Nuernberg Germany (my home-town) who had said from the beginning that he ran to WIN the race and Martin Wagen from Switzerland, who last year had won the Trans America event.

Get this. With about ten days to go, Robert had a four and a halv hour lead when he got a stomach problem, causing him to lose all his lead to Martin and then some.
No sooner was Robert well again, Martin became ill, all due to the “bad water” as all runners claimed, resulting in many stomach ailments. The water in Russia apparently contained some salt or similar ingredients and who knows what else, causing some severely upset runners, to say the least. Martin’s problem was that his illness lasted almost a week and thus he lost any chance of winning. This showed once again that in a long race like this, one never knows what will happen, and that it’s not over till the fat lady sings, to coin a well-worn phrase. Thus it seems useless to make any prediction, which did not keep me from making one, promptly losing the bet. After the initial 18 or so runners quit early on, I said no more than 10 – 12 would finish, well did I have egg on my face in Moscow.

On Friday, August 21st.2003. our stage ended just on the outskirts of Moscow. Next day we would have a leisurely 10 k group run to near the city, escorted by the police. As the official, photographer and fellow ultra runner I “had” to run this stretch, if for no other reason to get the best pictures of “my runners” and I did. When we arrived near the finish I was soaked, after running 10 k with a heavy camera taking several hundred pictures, but it was worth it.

Now imagine this:
A police car gave me a short ride near the finish so I could take finishing shots of all runners as they arrived. Well, nobody knew exactly where the finish line was. So I took matters into my own hands, just like I was taught as a good manager. Seeing this humongous monument, I figured this had to be it and I led all runners towards this spot.
The hugging and handshaking started with me going crazy capturing all that on my camera.

Fifteen minutes or so later while all the celebrating went on, some one said, “this is not the finish line”, pointing the way to where it actually was. There a huge crowd plus the press were waiting for us. This could only happen in Russia I tell you, but what the hell. Not to be outdone that late in the game I pushed my way to the very front line to capture the runners as they came across the finish line. During the ensuing melee, I knocked a couple of home-town photographer down, but this was my finish, my runners to capture and nobody would spoil my day, and they didn’t.

On Saturday evening Bayer hosted a very nice party at their Moscow headquarter, much to the enjoyment of all runners, volunteers, Bayer employees and me. The mood was celebratory, now that the pressure was off and the race was over.

On Sunday there was to be an official celebration and ceremony on a stage in Moscow, especially for the 22 runners that finished the race, followed by a ten k race where anyone could participate, including our runners. The president of the Olympic Committee was the official host, all only possible through the connection of our Russian contact Alexander Kovin.

Now get this:
Half of the runners, together with the Race Director Ingo Schulze, had left Moscow already that morning. We drummed up 22 people, consisting of a few actual runners who were part of the official 22 finishers plus a few volunteers and yours truly. I don’t know how, but the committee assumed (we did not try to dispel this assumption) that we were the official 22 finishers, and accorded us the honor and celebration we so richly deserved.

This is good because in Russia it’s a very bad thing to lose face, especially since our Russian contact – a former high Soviet official – had arranged for all that and we did not want him to look bad. A couple of days later I put together a photo CD with some runners and images I took of the celebration, thus helping in saving the day.

All I can say is this:
The entire event from Lisbon to Moscow was one great adventure and I am very glad that I had the opportunity to take part in it. I met lots of great people, made several new friends and will always treasure these nine weeks as an important party of my life, not to mention the fun I had taking close to ten thousand pictures.

Was this race tougher than the Trans America or the Trans Australia race?
The daily stages were longer, the conditions often more primitive and
the overall feel of being a harmonious group was missing, several runners had told me.

>From my perspective as a non-runner I want to say this:
This event definitely had to be much tougher to organize and keep control over in every aspect and much credit must go to Ingo Schulze, the race director. Granted, Ingo is a capable race director, but a lousy PR person, which caused a few problems along the way.
However, overall I want to say that the Trans Europe Foot Race was a success since 22 of 44 runners had reached Moscow without serious incidents, not counting the one time when Bernard, the French Wheel-chair participant got hit by a car, throwing him from his chair.

The single biggest problem?
Ingo was spread too thin and took on too many chores, which sometimes showed when he lost his composure. This was understandable but could have been avoided had he one more “right-hand” person to rely on and do PR work.
That person would have driven ahead every morning to that night’s destination, making sure the quarters and food for all were arranged and if not, do so on the spot. With this, most unplanned and or unpleasant surprises could have been avoided, I am sure.
Did he not think about this or were financial considerations preventing him from doing so? By charging Euros 4,000.00 rather than the Euros 3,000.00 that was charged there might have been enough money for that..

Was the race a success?
My honest answer is YES. Ingo brought 22 runners all the way to Moscow disregarding
the often unacceptable conditions, that he had little control over.
Under the circumstances the food was very good and the quarters were more or less what we could expect.
Was there maximum safety for runners? No, on the road there often were risks from traffic, bad roads and hard to follow directions. But it’s difficult to control traffic conditions in a foreign country although in Belarus and Russia we almost always had a police escort for the runners.

Will there be a second Trans Europe race?
At this point I would have to say NO. For one, the novelty is gone, and it’s the longest race in the world to date, which would be hard to top. Also I doubt that many of the volunteers and people that helped would do it again? Would I? I might, but then I may never have to make this decision anyway.

Thus another milestone in Ultra Running has been set, with the one question remaining:
Perhaps a race across AFRICA? Why not, I am sure a few crazies will always come, including me, if only to take pictures of them and the scenery of course.

Article and photos by: Jürgen Ankenbrand

© Jürgen Ankenbrand, September 2003