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A Borkum Runaround

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Here is the long overdue writeup of my vacation runaround. Borkum is a small island in the northwest of Germany. Being on an island gives you the possibility to pretty much nail the idea of a runaround. Run around an island1!

Long runs on vacation tend to not be very family compatible if done at normal hours, because they naturally take away a good chunk of the day. For that reason my alarm was set to 6.15am with the plan to run from 7am to roughly 9am and be back in time for breakfast. Scrambling out of the van trying not to wake up everyone else I was greeted with this view:

After a quick bite to eat I put on my running clothes and shoes, and set off, taking a right out of the campground that we called our home base for the week. Headed north-east I followed the street to the airfield (no planes taking off this early) and switched to a smaller path that would take me out to the north-east corner of the island.

Going east.Going east.

As you will see in the overall route below I wasn’t able to reach the furthest north-east corner of the island, simply because Borkum is for the most part one giant nature reserve with only small trails going out to the remote areas. Also, I’d have to run on soft sand, because there is a lot of sand on the edges of this island. So I stayed on the paved path turning all the way to the east, passing a lot of interesting items, such as:

An old bunker, presumably WWII era.An old bunker, presumably WWII era.

And of course some wild-life like these little fellas. Believe me, there were quite a lot of them; there was hardly ever a stretch without them. Some more shy than others, especially in the remote areas where not so many people come past during the day. Of course a couple of sheep where spotted happily taking their breakfast, only looking up very briefly to see who was coming along. They didn’t really care. Who’s to blame them at 7.30am?

Gone with the wind

Now, this long run wasn’t merely planned as a steady state run but had two higher effort sections (15 minutes high Z2, 10 minutes low Z3) embedded. Given the direction of the wind for this day (actually most of the days we spent there) you’ll see why I chose to do the first effort after turning south-west again. Mind you, that wind was rather strong!

You can see from the corresponding pace graph (exported from TrainingPeaks) that I did in fact start the first tempo segment right around kilometer 7.5, shortly after heading onto the dike. Heartrate-wise I could have gone faster (because of the strong tail-wind), but the pavement on the dike was rather uneven and I certainly didn’t want to trip and fall. No fun in doing that.

As mentioned before, Borkum is part of a large nature reserve and the stretch east of the dike belongs to the large Wadden Sea, which is listed on the world heritage list by UNESCO. At this time of the day there was a low tide, so I had a good view of the salt marsh.

After going all the way back south-west bound, I crossed the road and rail tracks that lead to the harbour. This is a boring 4km out and back which I skipped as I didn’t want to end up with more than 20km for this run. Deep Sand!Deep Sand!

Onwards, then, to the southernmost point of the run. After running about a mile on a beautiful trail through the woods I found myself confronted with this stuff pictured on the right.

Clearly a planning error on my part (even though without it I would have cut the runaround rather not so all-around) so for the next half mile or so I had to suck it up and run in the deep sand before reaching the next dike which would bring me back to town.

Back in town

The end is nigh...The end is nigh…

Finishing my second higher effort section right after(!) coming down from that dike I turned towards the town Borkum and meandered through small streets, passing the old lighthouse, a very old graveyard and this particularly interesting fence:

It’s not immediately obvious, but the house this fence belongs to was inhabited by a whaler (way back when whaling was still allowed and pretty common in that area). Once you strip a whale of all the meat and edible stuff you are left with a bunch of bones (or so I’m told, not that I’ve ever treated a whale like that). So the whaler used the jaw-bones of whales to build the fence. Pretty sturdy it seems, dating back to 1780.

No, not an actual Café on boardNo, not an actual Café on board

As mentioned, Borkum has exactly one rail track with a train that goes out and back between downtown and the harbour a couple of times a day. On this Sunday morning the train was waiting for the first passengers to board.

Of course I wanted to get a good look at the waterfront on the other side of the island, so I took a turn around the new lighthouse, which itself is quite impressive. We would actually climb all the way up there a couple of days later, enjoying(?) 391 stairs to the top. But the view, as you can imagine, was well worth it.

I started my cool-down along the waterfront, where I finally got to see other people again, mostly other runners but also many locals walking their dogs. Still, the beach and the beach chairs were pretty empty at 8.30am. Believe me, though, it would get busy as the day went on.

Turning away from the waterfront again I had little over a kilometer to come back to the campground, finishing the run with 19.1km in 1h47m. My plan to be back in time for a family breakfast worked out pretty nicely, so no family vacation time was lost and we enjoyed a beautiful albeit windy day on the island.

Before and AfterBefore and After

Here is the arial view for the whole run. It sure would be cool to run the out-most perimeter of the island, alas that would be on hard sand or in water (depending on the tide) for the west and nort-west part and you’d have to include the 8km detour to the harbour. As it is, I’m pretty happy with this runaround! 19.1km in 1h47m19.1km in 1h47m

With that, thanks for reading. I’ll keep an eye out for other possible runarounds, ideally spotting sheep on the way.

  1. One could argue that Ray Maker’s recent Queen Mary II runaround kinda trumps this, but his doesn’t have the sheep qualifier:

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