Race Report: The Fidelitas Night Marathon 2017

As I waited for the shuttle bus to the Starting line in Mutschelbach, I wondered to myself how the evening would unfold. As seems to be the norm lately I was undertrained and had no clear goals, just finish it. The 80 km (50 mi.) ultra-runners were already almost an hour into their race, this year rather than being sad that I not among them, I was content that I chose “only” the marathon distance. The marathon course is the last 42 kilometers of the 80 km course.

As I loaded onto the bus there were familiar faces, I later learned 60 runners ran the marathon, 119 the 80 km, plus several relay teams. There was a lot of nervous chatter as we rode the 30 minutes to Michelsbach, I felt relaxed, for me there was no reason to be nervous, this was my 11th time on the course, including the 8 times that I had run the ultra.

As we lined up at the starting line for the 8 p.m. start we had to quickly make room for the first place ultra runner as he sped by us, covering the first 38 km in 3 hours. With seconds to go we quickly line up again and were off. I quickly found a comfortable pace and tried to knock out as much distance as possible before it got dark.

The day prior to the race were extremely hot, up to 36°C (97 °F), for the race we had mid-80’s °F and it was cooling down fast. It was however quite humid, I was soon dripping in sweat, especially as I made my way up the first hill at km 6. I was moving much better than I expected, covering the first 10K (which contained half of the 200 meter elevation gain) in 67 minutes.

The steepest and longest climb at kilometer 14-15 slowed me somewhat, but from there it was 3-4 km downhill. It was just beginning to get dark as I made my way down through a thickly covered forest, I could still see enough without a flashlight, so tried to hurry before I needed one. Just a runner passed I took my eyes off the trail for a split second and next thing I knew I was flying over a stone into the dust.

As I picked myself up my knees hurt, I was bleeding heavily from the left knee a bit from the right, and my hands were scraped. The other runner stopped and asked if I was okay, but not knowing myself I waved him on. I checked the left knee, blood was flowing, but it was not deep, I wiped the dirt away with a tissue and set out again, badly shaken, with busted pride.

I was soon able to get back up to the approximate pace I had been running, but I was still concerned about the left knee. I stopped long enough at the next aid station to wash out the wound, the red cross volunteer asked if he should look at it, but I it wasn’t deep enough to bother and appeared to have stopped bleeding.

I passed the 20K point in around 2 hours 19 minutes, the fall had cost me some time and now it was dark. I made my way through a 8-9 km stretch of dark forest, impossible to navigate without a flashlight. My knees hurt as I tried struggled to maintain a reasonable pace. At km 29 I took another couple minutes to wash the wound on my knee again, I again declined any help from the aid station, running with a thick bandage was not an option for me. I set out again, passing the 30 km point in 3:49:42, my pace declining considerably.

At this point my lack of training was apparent, I had to switch to Galloway, running for a while walking for a while. My only focus was to keep moving, I was determined to finish this, regardless how long it took.

I was relieved when I finally reached the lighted streets of Ettlingen, I tried to run though the town, taking advantage of the light. I stopped only for water at the aid station, then quickly continued on out of town, onto the asphalt path running between the fields. Due to construction they changed the course at this point, diverting it in an entire other direction, I lost track of how far it was to the finish.

After a small eternity, the course finally returned to the original course, only a couple more kilometers to go. I was plodding away like an old plow horse at this point, and it felt like I was wearing blinders due to the dark. A runner passed me and somehow spurred me on a bit. I also heard the announcer at the stadium, I knew I was close.

Pulling whatever was left of me together I entered the stadium and plodded around the track and over the finish line, finished! I was very surprised to see my finish time of 5:14:51, this was almost 7 minutes faster than the previous year and a personal best for this course. Who knew?

I decided to shower at the stadium before driving home, I was stiff, but had no cramps. Before I left I had the red cross check out my knees, they cleaned and disinfected them, and bandaged the left one. The cuts from falling on gravel were not deep, they should be heal nicely in a couple days.

Today (Monday) my knees hurt a bit, I think I bruised them as well, but otherwise I recovering nicely. I have a business trip the rest of the week, so can enjoy some well-earned rest.

As always this event was well-organized, the volunteers friendly, and the course beautiful. I already marked my calendar for next year.

Race Report: Westerwald 50K 2017

The Westerwald 50K Run in Rengsdorf, Germany remains to be one of my favorite courses. This race, in the vicinity of Koblenz, offers a beautiful course, including a lot of forested trail. Originally the event started out as a Wanderung (walk), but at some point in time a run option was added. What is particularly nice about the event is that each year the course changes, sometimes making it easier, sometimes harder. This year was definitely harder, my Garmin registered 1683 meters of elevation gain/loss.

Last Thursday, was Father’s Day in Germany, and a holiday (Day of Ascension), and my company was also closed on Friday. With this in mind I was not too concerned about my total lack of hill training for this race. I figured I would just run what I can and walk the rest, it couldn’t be too hard, and besides I had a long weekend to recover.

On Wednesday after work I drove to Niederraden, a small town not far from Rengsdorf, my wife had planned on going with me, so I booked a quaint little hotel where I thought she would be comfortable during my run. As it turned out my wife had an ear ache and decided to stay home, so I was on my own. I managed to avoid most of the traffic jams and after a very good dinner at the hotel, went to bed early and had a restful sleep.

The next morning I made my way to the Start, collected my Start packet and found a cup of coffee. This was the 8th time I ran this race, so quickly found a couple people I knew and chatted a bit before as we waited. A few minutes before the race the race director called us together, gave a safety speech and sent us on our way. Looking around I guessed we were around 100-120 runners, I heard earlier there would also be up to 800 walkers throughout the day, they could walk 12, 21, 33 or 50 km.

The weather was very mild, around 12°C at the start, 20°C by the time I finished, and sunny throughout. I was comfortable with short sleeves, shorts and a vest, but shed the vest after the first hour.

I started out running very conservatively, I knew the course would be tough, and I was not adequately trained. The first couple kilometers climbed slowly, then descended for about 4 km. Then we began the first of three major ascents of the day, I walked immediately, as did the others around me. In less than a mile we climbed around 270 meters (885 feet), partly climbing crude stairs built into the hillside, I was very surprised how tired I felt by the time we reached the top and the first aid station.

The next 6-7 kilometers were milder, rolling hills, but at around the 15 km point we descended. And then we descended so more, for almost 8 km, my quads burned by the time we reached what proved to be the lowest elevation point in the race (64 meters). Then we quickly climbed 100 meters, then down, then climbed 250 meters over about 4 km. By this time I was walking, slowly, 28 km into the race and I was giving serious thought to calling it a day and looking for a ride to the finish line.

Fortunately we had reached one of the highlights of the run, a beautiful view of the Rhine river valley below, although it was fairly level at this point, I walked and enjoyed the view. After a couple kilometers I reached an aid station, one of the men manning the station was a former race director, he knew me by first name, we had often talked to one another in the past. He seemed to sense I was not having a good day, and encouraged me to keep going, it will get better.

My legs were stiff from too much walking, I had already used almost 5 hours for the first 30 km, I knew there was still the biggest climb ahead of me…I did what seemed to come natural at this point, I got over it! The course was heading downhill, so I started shuffling along ath a slow run. This brought me a few hundred meters, so I kept it up, shuffling, walking, shuffling walking. Another climb, but only 60 meters, walking, shuffling…

At around 37-38 km was another aid station, I sat for a few minutes, ate something, then headed out, I needed an hour and half for the last 8-9 km, but I was still moving, shuffling the downhills. I passed the marathon mark in 7:07 hours, just as the course began the longest and probably steepest climb of the day, up to an elevation of 367 meters. I must have been in survival mode, I really don’t remember a whole lot about this climb, likewise the at the aid station at the top. I knew I was only 4-5 km to the finish, and it was almost downhill all the way.

I passed a few walkers, one pair said they had walked the 50 km (they started two hours earlier than the runners). I managed to run most of the last few kilometers, if you call a 9:00 min/km shuffle running. In any case I was very pleased to cross the finish line, after 8 hours and 38 minutes there were no cheering fans, we had to annotate our time ourselves (we received a card at the start that was stamped at each of the aid stations).

I wobbled down the stairs into the swimming pool area where the club had set up their tables. The organizers verified my start card, if all the stamps were present, then annotated my finish time for the finishers list, then wrote my time on my finishers certificate, there is no winners, no awards ceremony.

I showered, was happy there was still hot water and that I didn’t cramp up trying to get my shows off, the little things that are pleasing when you are reduced to your raw self. I sat and chatted with an ultra runner I knew, until I felt safe driving back to the hotel. I rested awhile, had dinner and went to bed early, but slept poorly, my quads were still running up and down the hills…

Coming up next

It’s hard to get in the habit of blogging once you fall away, oh well, here is a short update. I rested for a week or two after my 6-hour charity run in March, then continued training, 4 runs a week, averaging about 60 km (37 miles) a week. I have also been going to gymnastics twice a week, a functional gymnastic course on Tuesdays and circuit training on Friday evenings. The latter have done wonders for my back, I rarely have backpain any more.

In any case on this coming Thursday I am running my next event, a 50K race in the Westerwald Forest. I have run this event 7 times in the past, it is an incredibly beautiful area, but rather hilly:

Elevation Profile Westerwald Run 2017

The course this year is supposed to have 1540 meters (~5000 feet) of elvevation gain/loss. Unfortunately most of my training has been on flat trails, this race could prove to be quite interesting.

Wish me luck!

Race Report: World Down Syndrome Marathon

The motto of the World Down Syndrome Day Marathon this year was “Overpowered by you”, the running club 21 that sponsored the race wants to point out the great love for trisomy 21 children, which emerges after the first shock of having it. Down syndrome was described by the neurologist John Langdon-Down, but it was not until 1959 that the genetic cause was discovered: the unusual division of the first cell. It is not a hereditary disease, but it just happens. Due to medical advances, 21 victims can be much older nowadays. But one thing medicine does not do – it is in these special people: the happy laughter [Joe Kelbel – www.marathon4you.de].

My wife and I arrived in Fürth the day before the race. We met an old friend of ours, had lunch together and spent some time catching up before heading to our hotel for a relaxing evening. I went to bed early and was up 2 hours before the race on Sunday for breakfast. After checking out of the hotel my wife dropped me off at the TV Fürth 1860 soccer stadium and went to spend the day with our friend.

I dropped my bag off at the bag drop and found a seat in the sport hall and spent some time people watching, I had about 20 minutes before the race started. As usual for this race there was a diverse mixture of participants, some doing the ultra, marathon or half-marathon, others the 10K or fun run. I recognized several ultra runners, I found out later that some had run the 6-hour run the day before in Nurnberg or another ultra in Würzburg, Germany.

About 10 minutes before the race I made my way to the Start on the track in front of the sport hall.
Waiting for the Start
The course was new this year, in previous years the 6-hour charity race was held in a park in the middle of Fürth, but the event outgrew the facilities offered there, thus the change. The course was also longer, previously each round was approx. 1.3 km, this year just under 2 km. The new course also had two small hills, which seemed insignificant at the beginning, but provided 391 meters of elevation gain/loss by the end of the event. The old course was entirely flat.

Promptly at 9:00 we counted up to 21, the traditional way of starting this race. My training this year was sparse, with only three long runs between 24-26 kilometers (15-16 miles). I set my goals accordingly, try to finish a marathon, and keep moving as long as possible. I settled into an easy pace, around 6:45 min/km (10:53 min/mi). The course circled out of the stadium, down a small hill to the main road.
Small Hill
We turned right on the sidewalk to the next street.
Street
Right along a row of houses, past an annoying man with a loudspeaker, before climbing a small hill and back into the stadium area.

At around kilometer 1 was the aid station, which offered a good variety of salty and sweet, and diverse drinks. The course continued in front of the sport hall, past cheering spectators to the next street.
Cheerleaders
Then right back to the same road as before.

Along the road to the same path that we used to exit the stadium, up the small hill in to the stadium.

Around the track to the start, repeat.

It rained lightly off and on, but not enough to soak the spirit of the runners. I finished the first 5 rounds (~10K) in 1:07:48, my pace remained steady, I felt good. Based on my Garmin I finished 20K in 2:16:39, and 30K in 3:30:13. By this time, my pace was slowly decreasing, but I still felt reasonably strong.

Around 32 kilometers I stopped for a minute or two to adjust the sock on my left foot, somehow it wasn’t sitting right and I was worried a blister would form. I finished a couple more rounds and started feeling the mileage in my legs, I decided to take a short walk break (~100 meters) every second round, right after the aid station. By kilometer 40 (4:54:14) I was reduced to tortoise speed, but with only one lap before passing the marathon distance I plodded along as best I could.

After passing 42 kilometers (5:09:54) I started to take more frequent walk breaks. My legs were tired, the two little hills on the course had turned to mountains that I need to walk up. But as I pushed myself over the last couple laps I was at peace, I had rediscovered the feeling of going beyond, a seemingly indescribable state of mind, or feeling of contentment.

I finished what was to be my last lap, with 11 minutes to go I knew I wouldn’t have time to complete another lap, and didn’t feel like standing out in the (then) rain waiting for them to measure my last distance. According to the official race results I finished 24 laps, or 45.65 kilometers, in 5:49:18. I place 62 out of 114, quite surprising really.

I wobbled to pick up my bag, my wife arrived and waited as I showered, then we headed home. The next day (Monday) I had vacation, I felt good, so good in fact that I spend a few hours working in the garden. Last night I went to gymnastics class, I was quite surprised that I could keep up with the group, the legs were a bit sore, as they are today, but I feel good enough to go for a recovery run this evening.

Off to the races – 2017

With just a few days until my 6-hour charity run I am trying to mentally prepare for the event. My training is far from adequate for a good race, so I am approaching the race conservatively. The last couple years I have needed well over 5 hours for a marathon, so I am hoping to run around 45 km, if my legs hold out this long.

In past years the race was held in a park in Fürth, Germany (near Nurnberg), this year the race will begin at a local soccer stadium on the edge of the town. The race course is 1902.15 meters long, or just under 2 kilometers. As I write there are 108 participants for the 6-hour discipline and several hundred more for the marathon, half-marathon and 10K races.

My training this year has not produced the results I was hoping for. My conditioning is much better than it was at the beginning of the year, but it is not at a level that will make me feel confident as I toe the starting line on Sunday. In the past I have often had my doubts before a race, but in most cases my training was at a level that still produced good results. This year my training, or rather lack of training, leaves no room for mistakes, I need to start slowly and stay focused.

In any case I look forward to my first race since last June, and this event draws a large crowd of spectators. There is nothing like a cheering crowd to help squeeze out a few more rounds.

Oh those tired legs…

My training for the 6-hour charity run is not going as well as I would like, I have been really struggling on my long runs. Two weeks ago I ran 22 km (13.6 mi.), but my paced dropped off a bit from the week before that, I needed almost 10 minutes longer. Yesterday I had 24 km on my training plan, but my legs were shot after only 20 km, I actually had to stop and walk a bit. I ended up with 23 km, by the time I got back to the house, but I was not happy.

I attribute my less than satisfactory performance to two things, the first being the functional cross training that I have been doing on Friday nights. This training is tough, and my body has not adjusted to it yet. Several of the exercises in the aggressive circuit training are currently beyond my conditioning; I have to do modified versions of the exercises, for the weak and old. I also contribute my current performance to not having adjusted my training plan to my age. I will be 58 years old this year, and I am still trying to train like I did when I was younger and in good shape.

I am not totally frustrated though, I know that I have to tweak my race training each year, it only takes a bit to figure out what works and what doesn’t. As far as the circuit training goes, it is hard, but this is why I am doing it, long term this is going to keep me running longer. The veterans in this course said they all struggled the first few months, but it does get better. I only have the added challenge of being one of the oldest in the group.

Training Update

I signed up for my first event of the year, the six hour Down Syndrome charity run on March 19, 2017. I ran this event four times since 2011, running between 44-51 Kilometers. Most years I only ran the first five hours, the event being a bit too early in the season to run well. This year will probably be no different, since I am off to a slow start with my training.

I have been running four times a week, usually 12-14 km (7-9 mi) three times a week, and a long run. My last long run was 22 kilometers (13.6 miles), I hope I can gradually increase up to at least one 30 km (18.6 mi) run before my first event.

I have been also going to gymnastics training for the past month. On Tuesday nights I go going to a Functional Gymnastic class, which consists of a variety of aerobic and gymnastic exercises aimed at improving coordination and balance. On Friday nights I go to a Functional Cross Training class, which is basically high energy circuit training, aimed at strengthening the core muscles, especially the stomach and back muscles. These classes are important for me as I have been bothered by a pinched nerve in my back for several years. My therapist recommended doing exercises which strengthen the stomach and back muscles. In any case the training is tough, but a lot of fun, and I am making new friends.

2016 in Review, Looking at 2017

My 2016 running year began with good intentions and some vague goals, but no real plan. My first goal was a 6 hour benefit run in March, but my condition was so bad that I decided against this. My next goal was a 12 hour run in May, which I ran, but with no real hope or intention of completing the 12 hours, I basically ran the marathon distance and went home. In June was the local 80K (50 mile) race not far from where I live, but for the second year I opted for the shorter marathon distance. I finished, but decided that was enough for one year, I didn’t have enough appetite for another race.

This year I am getting back to the basics, weight loss and core training. To address both of these problems I am changing my traditional way of training. In December I signed up for a functional circuit training course at our local gymnastic club (Turner Verein – TV). This 1-hour high intensity training consists of a 10-15 minute warmup, followed by 2 rounds of 10-12 body weight exercises. As an example, one of the exercises was to do pushups for 45 seconds – while balancing your hands on a basketball – I highly recommend it. I am hoping that two nights of gymnastics per week, plus some weight training on my own, will improve my core strength and eventually lead improved performance in future races.

My running goals for 2017 are currently rather blurred, they will really depend on how successful my training is over the next few months.

Current weight: 81 kg (178 lbs)
Current long run: 18 km (11 mi) @ 6:40/km (10:44/mi)

Summer Weather and Nürnberg

My running last week started out much better than the week before, but a stressful work week eventually sapped my energy and motivation.

As I mentioned in my last post we travelled to Fürth in Bayern (Bavaria) over the weekend. We spent the afternoon with her on Saturday, than took the subway to the historic park of Nürnberg for Dinner. The weather was warm and mild, so we sat outside at one of the many restaurant beer gardens.

Bratwurst Röslein, Nürnberg, Germany

On Sunday morning we stopped by our friend’s house again before heading home. The time went by much too quickly.

Yesterday (Monday) I had vacation, so slept a little later, caught up on some paperwork, than headed outside in the afternoon to enjoy the summer weather we are having. I went for a 14 km run, than jumped on my bicycle for an hour ride.
Today I returned to work, but I look forward to a run after work, the sunny summer day are supposed to continue at least until Thursday, I want to enjoy it while it lasts.

Last Week in Training
Tuesday: 11 km (6:18 min/km)
Wednesday: 11 km (6:07 min/km)
Thursday:5 km (6:37 min/km)
Friday: 16 km (6:49 min/km)