Association of International Marathons and Distance Races

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03 October 2023, 1pm

Here I report on a race that is out of the ordinary: a 10km race in a prison.

Prison break

by Horst Milde

Ploetzensee participants still together milde p1780251

Ten years ago I heard that in the infamous prison in Berlin-Plötzensee* the prisoners are allowed to run and train on a 250m circuit in an almost rectangular courtyard.

I asked the prison authorities if I could train with the prisoners sometime. The answer took a very long time in coming and I had to complain before it did.

So I trained with them, did gymnastics with them, and also went to their weight room.

I asked them if I should organise a race at their prison, and they were immediately in favour of it. It took almost two years to get all the permits because it was new for everybody. I am used to races with 30,000 or more participants, but a 10km race with about 100 runners in a prison is a special event – and it takes a lot of nerve.

The 7th annual 10km race of prisoners in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin was held on Friday 5 May 2023. There was sunshine but a strong wind blew which ruined the chances of personal best performances (which also wish to be achieved in a prison).

There was organisational innovation and relief for the organisers. The timing company ( provided for fast delivery of results and instant print-out of certificates with name, time and placing. These could be handed out immediately to all participants. Such prompt service could not have been given with the previous manual method used. It was also the first time that there was a team ranking for the individual institutions.

There are special conditions for reporting from prisons in Berlin. The full names of the prisoners may not be published. Nor can photos from the front in which the faces can be identified. The photos of male and female runners, which can be seen here in full, are ‘external participants’ who have been allowed to take part.

The running course is a 1000m loop within the grounds of Plötzensee Prison and Plötzensee Youth Prison. It has to be run 10 times. The course was measured by World Athletics/AIMS A-grade measurer John Kunkeler, who also accurately and meticulously measures the course of the Berlin Marathon and the Berlin Half Marathon. He also holds the position of spokesman for the event.

The building yard of the JVA Plötzensee is marked out according to stipulations in the measurement report to ensure the exact running course is followed and no shortcuts are possible. The course is measured according to competition rules and if records were to be set they would have to be officially recognised.

The races were led by Reinhard Roecher, marathon runner and former officer of the Plötzensee Prison, on a bicycle. He had to pedal quite hard to keep the course clear for the leading group emitting shrill whistles when lapping slower runners. In addition to the general organisation by the prison authorities, German Road Races is responsible for the sporting organisation and provides external volunteers for the event.

The first six finishers (of the prisoners) receive prizes from German Road Races (GRR) e.V., certificates, Berlin Marathon jackets (which are highly prized), and T-shirts from the Berlin Marathon. For the second time the administration gave an ‘in-house T-shirt’ with the logo of the event sponsor to all participants and volunteers. The volunteers take on tasks such as issuing race numbers and certificates, serving drinks, catering and acting as course marshals.

Positive effects of sporting activities for prisoners with limited movement possibilities – which go beyond push-ups and strength exercises – are indisputable and provide special motivation. Running and running therapy in prison provide a stress buffer and are thought to alleviate prisoner stress. The antidepressant and stress-reducing effects of running have been scientifically proven, which is why running in prisons is an important part of resocialisation. Strengthening a positive self-image and improving the chances of reintegration through meaningful leisure activities in running in prison are now recognised by the justice system as an important factor, as a therapeutic measure and as an antidepressant in resocialisation.

This race is not only a flagship event for the Berlin justice system but also allows German Road Races to bring the sport of running closer to all members of society as therapeutic for the soul.

Felix Hackenbruch, runner and journalist, wrote an article in the Berlin newspaper Tagespiegel entitled: ‘JVA Plötzensee: Prisoners run for resocialisation’ on 9 May 2023. He quoted an inmate with whom he ran the 10 laps: “During sport you forget everything, your thoughts are simply gone. Sport helps to get the mind off things for a few hours. It’s the only compensation we have here.”

8th Berlin 10 km race for prisoners on Friday, 26 April 2024 at Plötzensee Prison!

*Between 1933 and 1945, 2891 people were sentenced to death and executed at Plötzensee Prison, including participants in the failed coup of 20 July 1944.


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