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Jens Voigt is at it again. Although the legendary German cyclist has been retired for over two years now, he still has an insatiable appetite for new challenges. And this week he is attempting his latest, and perhaps toughest one: running seven marathons in seven days to raise money for cancer.
Words: James Startt, European Associate to Peloton | Images: Voigt and Startt
PELOTON Magazine: Well Jensie, you are at it again with some incredible endeavor. This time you are running a marathon every day for a week to raise money for cancer. What ever gave you the idea to run nearly 300 kilometers in a week?
Jens Voigt: Well, firstly, it was a good way to avoid a midlife crisis. I still want to avoid the fact that I am getting older! And then, last year, I did the Everest Challenge and raised about 30,000 euros for the Tour de Cure, a cancer organization I have worked with for about the last three years.
In the Everest Challenge I rode my bike up the equivalent of the total altitude gain of Mount Everest, riding up and down Teufelsberg, or Devils Hill, here in Berlin nonstop for 26 hours. That went rather well so I was thinking of some other thing that I could do to raise money this year. Running one marathon isn’t enough, so I decided to run a marathon week in an effort to raise awareness for the Tour de Cure and cancer (https://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/tourdecure/jensiesmarathonmadness).
At first, they were a little skeptical about the idea but after doing the Everest Challenge they didn’t really have to question me. It’s a good feeling to start the new year with a good deed!
PELOTON: Yeah, well, that’s a great New Year’s resolution of sorts! And as far as the midlife crisis goes, well, you look pretty darn fit!
Voigt: Well, I have settled at 82 kilos [180 pounds], which was pretty much my winter weight when I was a cyclist. That’s really good. That said, I am fairly sure that I have less muscle and more fat. But the weight is okay and I feel pretty good about it!
PELOTON: You have actually been running a lot in the past year or so, perhaps even more so than cycling? In a way you have gone full circle. Running was your first sport when you were just a kid, right?
Voigt: Indeed, yes, that’s how I started, by doing middle- to long-distance and cross-country running. I would participate in local school events and a sort of miniature Olympics that we had back in East Germany. I guess I was pretty good at it, but then one day the local cycling club came to our school and offered these beautiful Diamant racing bikes to anyone that would join the club. I, of course, signed up and never looked back. But I still enjoy running.
PELOTON: Well, we often say that riding the Tour de France is the equivalent of running a marathon every day for three weeks. So by Tour standards this next week should be pretty easy!
Voigt: Ha-ha! Well, not really. I ran five marathons last year and can tell you it is not quite the same. Marathons are shorter than a lot of Tour de France stages, but it has a lot more impact on the body. There is just so much more pounding. And as a result there is so much more muscle soreness and muscle fatigue. With running, things just seem to get harder and harder and harder. In cycling you often feel better after the first week of the Tour. But in running that is not the case. It just gets harder.
PELOTON: Well, if I recall, just for the fun of it, you decided to run a marathon every week during the Tour de France last year?
Voigt: Yes, that is true. I did one in the Tour of California, three during the Tour de France and then one about 10 days ago as a test run. During the Tour of California or the Tour de France, I would start at like 5:15 in the morning. After all, I still had to work during the day.
PELOTON: Well, that’s one way to get over jet lag. I started with running myself and I remember back in the heyday of the running boom, in the 1980s, they used to say that running more than four marathons in a year was just counterproductive and that your performance would suffer.
Voigt: Well, I wouldn’t say that is B.S., but partly it is, at least in my case. I think that is true if you are running under three hours and really focused on performance. But in my case, I run a marathon between three hours 40 minutes and four hours. It is really more of a fast jog. Jogging is really a different sport than running. So that is why I am hoping that I can maintain it.
PELOTON: Well, three hours 40 is pretty good for a jog! Wow! Jens, you’ve been retired for a little over two years now, but you seem to be keeping busy.
Voigt: Well, to start with, I have six kids and three dogs. So there is always something to fix in the house. In addition, I work with FitBit, I have my Jensie Grand Fondo event in California, I work for about 60 days a year with Trek bicycles. I do the Tour de France for NBC. I spend about two weeks every April in Australia for the Tour de Cure, and then I am the ambassador for the Tour of California as well as the Tour Down Under. So basically, the day after my marathon week, I jump on a plane and fly to Australia.
PELOTON: Jens what do you miss the least about being a professional cyclist?
Voigt: The stress, like with crashing…and the restrictions. I can have a beer if I want now. And I can say, “Yes, children, let’s go get an ice cream all together.” It’s nice having a little bit more of a normal life.
PELOTON: What do you miss the most?
Voigt: That feeling of being unbeatable, of being fit and healthy and strong. That feeling of waking up and saying to myself, “Yes, I can take on the world. I’m Jens Voigt. I’m a professional athlete!”