“A model, a rapper, and a designer walk into a race” sounds like the set up to a joke, but that was the scene in early April at the Berlin Half Marathon. If you’re surprised to hear that residents of the German capital don’t solely get their workout on dimly lit dancefloors, that’s okay. It’s been a long fight to establish the city as a runner’s paradise but with a historic Half Marathon and a dedicated network of runners pounding the pavement every week, that all seems poised to change.
From the outside (of the track) looking in, the record-breaking 35,551 participants who laced up their sneakers and ran through the streets of the German capital on April 7 looked impressive and even a bit shocking under the warm sun rays. The patchwork of runners and inline skaters had 30 different bands playing along an updated route that stretched from the Victory Column to a new finish line at the Brandenburg Gate; the mix of music and spectators carrying runners to the finish line with the steady beat of their drums and cheers.
It’s not as if running didn’t exist here, but for years, running as a community-building past time had bubbled under the city’s surface. It was only within the last decade that “athleisure” entered the global vernacular, everyone invested in a street style-worthy pair of trainers, and sports clubs became more than just a place for dads to meet and exercise.
In Berlin, this interest has flourished into a vibrant (if slightly obscure) community focused around running. But over the past few years, all that has begun to change thanks, in part, to the blossoming of sports clubs like the KRAFT Runners and Berlin Braves. In 2012, Joey W. Elgersma founded the Berlin Braves and, four years later, KRAFT began in 2016—both attracting the kind of cool, fashionable runners you'd expect from a Nike editorial spread. More than any others, these two running clubs have cemented the foundation for a hyped-up new community of runners and become integral to the story of Berlin’s rising running scene—and integral to the success of many of the runners in the Half, welcoming runners from all over the world for a special weekend of events like the Opening Night at Braves Headquarter in Kreuzberg, Shake Out Run or Pasta Party. Not to mention the epic Cheering Hub created by Braves to push runners to personal bests on the last and hardest Kilometers in the race.
In the lead up to the Half Marathon, it was the Braves and Nike who helped bring out the inner athlete in a motley crew of creatives that included model Steph Barretoa, rapper Souli, designer and make-up artist Diana Maracuja, and some of our own Highsnobiety staff members. For fourteen weeks, the runners took the wise words of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete” and turned it out with the Braves to prepare for the 21-kilometer stint. They reached creative breakthroughs, fought through the pains, and even quit smoking long before the Half Marathon even began. Then, on race day, they pushed through to the end with a little help from the Berlin Braves' and KRAFT Runners' Cheering Hub. Armed with Instagram-worthy fits, cardboard signs, and a sonic boom of screaming supporters, the Hub has become a fixture at races around Berlin thanks in large part to the unyielding energy of the congregation whose mantra is: "If you don't run, you cheer."
With a 14-week training program tailor-made by Nike and the Braves to prepare them for the Half Marathon and the energy of a Cheering Hub at the finish line, it's become clear that even if Berlin hasn't established itself as the European running mecca quite yet, it's certainly the coolest city to lace up your kicks with your community. The connections aren't just relegated to the racetrack and sidewalks, though. Within the Braves' Berlin-Kreuzberg headquarters, the annual event is just one entry on their packed calendar of everything from talks with long-distance Olympic runner Sifan Hassan to street food showcases fit for a runner's appetite.
Before we plan out a running route to the Brave's colorful HQ, we caught up with our own running crew to talk about the challenges and triumphs from race day and beyond.
How did you feel after the marathon?
Steph Barretoa (Model): I loved myself so much! What a great feeling. My happiness had gotten completely charged up—I already thought about partying immediately after the run.
Shane Gormley (Creative, Hightsnobiety): When it was over I was kind of in a daze for a while, but I was really proud that our whole team did it. We made the mistake of writing “2019 Finisher” on our team merch, so I was really happy that didn’t jinx us.
Diana Maracuja (Designer & Make-Up Artist): After crossing the finish line, I felt like a new and better person. I felt energetic. To me, I did the impossible.
What was the most unexpected challenge during the race?
Daniel Pearson (Life Editor, Hightsnobiety): Taking in water at the aid stations without choking to death.
Shane Gormley: Running long distances for the first time, muscles start to hurt that you didn’t even know existed.
What was the most surprising thing you learned throughout the entire experience?
Steph Barretoa: I find it [interesting] how thoughts and bodies can work together—how you can overcome pain with thoughts.
Diana Maracuja: The running community is huge and that there’s no age limit. You can finish anything if you put enough time and effort in it.
Indigo Janka (Junior Producer, Hightsnobiety): Running is so multi-faceted. The amount of very different people all doing the same thing on one day fascinated me.
What was your secret to pushing through until the end?
Steph Barretoa: The will! I really wanted to make it to the end, but also all the other runners around me all fought for the same goal.
Luca/Souly (Rapper): It was good not to run on my own so I could share the funny or impressive moments with someone.
What was your “personal best” goal and do you feel that you achieved it?
Indigo Janka: Honestly, my goal was just to complete the half marathon.
Shane Gormley: When I started training, I could barely run 2k. I managed to do [the marathon] without walking at all, so it was definitely a personal success.
Luca/Souly: "Personal best" for me means that now I feel balanced—like I am just feeling good. I developed in so many different ways, so hell yes, for my part I fucking achieved it.
Will you keep running and marathoning now that it’s over?
Luca/Souly: If you would have asked me before the training, I had been so sure that this run would have been the maximum. Now, just a few days after the run, I already started to train again.
Diana Maracuja: Yes, I will continue running. And maybe I will do another half marathon in the future. I had so much fun doing this one!