Manuel Berberich and Michael Kempf are competing as the ZEK_RK team at the GutsMuths-Rennsteiglauf marathon event in May
“You guys are crazy!” – This is something Manuel Berberich and Michael Kempf have heard very often lately. And why? Their project that extends over exactly 42.195 kilometers and bears the name Rennsteiglauf marathon. According to the organizers, this cross-country run, which includes an altitude difference of 1,613 m, is the most popular marathon event in all of Europe. And for the management duo of our development and construction department, it is the personal running highlight this year. As the ZEK_RK team, which stands for Zentrale Entwicklung & Konstruktion (central development and construction) REINHOLD KELLER, they will both be on the starting line in Neuhaus on May 16.
You certainly have to be a bit crazy but if your first name starts with the letter M, this is more than a good omen. For Manuel Berberich his passion for running began as a bet. “A former co-worker once said to me, if you run a half marathon, I’ll come to work in a wacky costume and run through the carpenter’s shop in it,” says Manuel, who joined REINHOLD KELLER two years ago. “He didn’t have to repeat himself, so I ran the half marathon. And I’ve stayed with it!” The family man has since contested two marathons and is now lining up alongside his team-mate Michael Kempf at the start once again in May.
Michael, who began his career with REINHOLD KELLER as a trainee in 1996, was struck by a craze for running three years ago. He was infected in the classic way by the weekly company meet in preparation for the WIKA run and then couldn’t shake it off. “It was such a lot of fun for me and straight after completing the WIKA run I set myself my next objective: to run a half marathon every month,” says Michael. No sooner said than done!
DYNAMIC DUO WITH THE RIGHT CHEMISTRY
Since January 2019, they have not only started together as a running team but have also been responsible for our development and construction department. The division that currently has 20 staff was created as a new central unit in November 2018 and it is immediately apparent that the chemistry in the management team is right. “At the time, we tossed a coin for the top job and Manuel won,” the two joke together and laugh heartily. In May 2019, they started running together at the city marathon in Würzburg; however, Manuel reached the finishing tape on his own, as Michael had to drop out due to sickness. “It hit me a few days before that and halfway through the race I was completely exhausted. There was nothing else I could do but quit,” says Michael. But he stuck to his training schedule after a short break and finished in Frankfurt on October 27, 2019. “While Michael was running the marathon, I was lazing around the pool in the sun and treated myself to a beer,” grins Manuel. Using a tracking app, you could say he was there live and very relaxed as he followed Michael’s marathon run via his smartphone.
Now the GutsMuths Rennsteiglauf marathon is coming up in May. “Our objective is quite simple – to survive!” Manuel honestly admits. It is not just the huge difference in altitude that participating runners are respectful of. The ground they run on also plays an enormous role and cannot be compared with a road-race marathon in any way. Since 1973, the running event has taken place in the Thuringian Forest and the wives of Manuel and Michael will be there to cheer on their husbands in May. “Our families are 100% behind us. Otherwise, it would be simply impossible, as preparing for it is very time-consuming and our family life certainly suffers as a result,” both are ready to admit. Their training began 17 weeks before the big day – in this case, May 16, 2020. So far, they have run 3–4 times a week and their weekly training sessions are now increasing continuously. Neither of them has fixed running days but they cover between 40 and 60 kilometers each week. Normally, they do a few laps together after work whatever the weather. And yes, they really do run in the rain, wind, sun and snow! “We start running together and want to cross the finishing line together,” says Manuel and Michael adds, “Our targeted time is 4 hours 30 minutes.”
RENNSTEIGLAUF – UNIQUE CHARACTER WITH CRAZY SPECIAL FEATURES
Both competitors are enthusiastic about the special character that makes the Rennsteinglauf unique. “Before the start, all the runners stand at the starting line and sing the Snow Waltz as we rock to and fro. Without this ritual no marathon runner is going to get underway,” says Michael and there is a twinkle in his eyes as he looks forward expectantly to the event in May. From kilometer 37 there is Köstritzer Schwarzbier in addition to the obligatory drinks at the roadside. And if you get really hungry, you can sustain yourself with Fettbemme throughout the marathon,” Manuel reveals as one of the unusual traditions of the run. In Eastern Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, Fettbemme is a slice of bread spread with lard. However, neither Michael nor Manuel eat this particular snack and prefer the energy gel that is popular with athletes.
THE MOTIVATOR FROM THE DESK NEARBY
The runners benefit from their pastime in their daily work routine. “We’re definitely more resistant to stress and our general wellbeing is simply better,” Manuel emphasizes. “I don’t have those familiar depressing days any more. If I haven’t run for two days, I get itchy feet and I have to lace up my running shoes,” says Michael. And this in turn also pushes my team-mate if he is also having a couldn’t-be-bothered day when it comes to running. “Then Michael says from the desk back there, you have to run, so we’re up and away,” says Manuel and he knows exactly how he will feel after May 16: “After that, I won’t feel like running any more for a while and I’ll step down a couple of gears.” But fortunately, motivator Michael is there at some point to get him fired up again. Neither of the two has an ultramarathon on their agenda. Running 42 kilometers in one go once a year is enough.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed for our two co-workers in the coming weeks, wish them an injury-free preparation period and look forward to the finishing line photo in May.