The annual Fidelitas Nachtlauf (Night Run) in Karlsruhe-Rüpurr, Germany is an 80 km (50 mi.) run through the plains and foothills bordering the Black Forest.
I arrived early and managed to get a parking place near the finish line, in a stadium a few hundred meters down the road from the Start. I collected my start number and returned to the car, as it was raining steadily. Eventually the rain stopped and the sun attempted to come out, causing the humidity level to rise. I made my way to the Start about 10-15 minutes before the race and chatted with a couple people I knew as we waited.
After a few words from the organizer, the race started fairly promptly around 5:00 p.m. I started towards the back, I knew my training this year was totally inadequate to be pushing the pace. The first part of the course is mostly flat, beginning with a forested section, than running through the neighboring town of Durlach, then over open fields before reaching the first relay exchange station at approximately kilometer 18. For many this is a difficult part of the course, particularly by hot summer temperatures, this year it was only around 22°C, but very humid. I passed two unfortunate runners in the open fields that succumbed to the heat and humidity, fortunately the race is well organized and they quickly received assistance.
After the first relay station the course changes to a series of rolling hills, which continues over the next 40+ kilometers. This is typically my favorite part of the course, but this year I did not do any hill training in preparation, and even though I walked all of the longer/steeper climbs, it still took its toll.
By the time I reached Singen, at around kilometer 36, I was already fighting the urge to give up. I stopped at the aid station on the edge of town and ate a little bit from the table, and as a couple more runners approached, decided to at least continue to Mutschelbach, where the night marathon had started, at least there I could probably get a ride back to the start.
From Singen the course climbed over one of the steepest hills on the course, so I walked the next kilometer to the top. As I walked a runner passed slowly by me with his son, probably 10-12 years old, who wanted to run with him the 3-4 km from Singen to Mutschelbach. Perhaps it was only my fatigue, but the two seemed to effortlessly make the climb, albeit slowly, but were out of sight by the time I reached the top. At the top I managed to get my feet moving faster again and eventually arrived in Mutschelbach.
In Mutschelbach I sat on a bench and ate a little more and tried to clear my head of all the negative thoughts I was having. I was joined by a stranger who must have noticed I was a bit bewildered, he asked me how I was doing. I told him the truth and promptly switched the subject, asking him who won the last game of the World Cup Soccer, an answer which he gladly provided. The slight diversion was enough to get me back on my feet, I headed on down the course out of town.
I passed the marathon point in the town of Langensteinbach, over 5 hours 30 minutes, actually better than I expected. I stopped at the aid station for some Coca-Cola, my stomach was not happy, cola usually helped. I sat for a minute, but it was raining and I quickly started getting cold, I knew I had to keep moving. I ran to the edge of town and walked the steep hill into the now almost black forest behind.
It’s funny the things that motivate us when I minds are shot, I caught up to a Christmas tree, or rather a runner with two large flashing red lights on the back of his running pack, a headlamp and a flashlight in each hand, thinking this guy must really be night blind. In any case all this light was too much for me, so I passed him and tried to put some distance between us. Fortunately, the next few miles were runnable and soon I enjoyed the limited light from my own flashlight.
I stopped at the next aid station and drank some more cola, if nothing else the sugar was doing me good, I just hoped they didn’t run out of coke before the race was over. I moved on, walking up the next hill on to an open plateau where I could switch of my light and run on the asphalt-covered fieldway to the next town. It was raining quite hard and the wind was cold, I started to shiver a bit, and knew I needed to get out my running jacket from my pack at the next aid station.
I passed the 50K point as I began the long, steep downhill, I did my best to keep a steady pace, running through the town, then walking the steep hill on the other side, then ran a few more hundred meters to the aid station. It was still raining hard as I sought a dry corner to get out my running jacket. I ate half of a sandwich, then made my way up the next uphill, a good 10 minute walk to the top, then ran down into the town of Langenalb and stopped at the aid station.
As is true with most races, if you keep going long enough you will eventually start feeling better. The cola had done its work and my stomach was doing well, the negative thoughts were contained and I was moving well. The physical hardest part of the course was behind me, now I only had to fight the darkest (literally) part of the course. At the aid station two runners were waiting for transport back to the Start. I sat and chatted a minute, one had turned his foot on a stone, the other said the humidity and rain was too much, he had enough. As their ride arrived I got on my feet and headed out of town, determined that I would not join the list of non-finishers.
The trail turned to gravel and dirt as I left town, then turned into the forest, one of the darkest parts of the course. I switched to my brighter flashlight and ran on, it was mostly downhill to the next aid station. This forest section is always a little spooky and after seeing no one for at least 10 minutes a mountain bike suddenly came barreling down the hill behind me, the operator yelling a greeting as he flew by. After getting back into my skin, I kept up a relatively good running pace down into the town and aid station below.
They were out of cola at the aid station, so I moved on, I knew the next 10K or so was through a lonely, dark, but mostly flat section of forest, with 2 aid stations in between, approximately 2-3K apart, I set my sights on the next aid station and started running. To my surprise I caught and passed a runner, then another, then the two “missing” women. I stopped at the next aid station just long enough for some more cola, than kept moving, again catching and passing two runners, one remarking how anyone can still be moving at a pace like that. My pace was actually quite pitiful, I was running maybe 5-6 minutes and walking 1-2 minutes, Galloway would be proud.
After an eternity I reached the next aid station in Ettlingen, 9 km to go! By this time I could only manage about 5 minutes of running before having to walk a bit, but I tried to keep the walking to a minimum. I caught three more runners by the time I reached the last aid station, and with less than 5K to go I kept moving. The next 3-4 km again went through dark forest, time went into slow motion and it seemed to take forever before I finally broke out of the tree line…but then I knew I only had 1K to go, I kept pushing, winding my way down the streets and onto the track to the finish line.
With 11 hours and 19 minutes (exactly) my second slowest finishing time for the course, but considering how many times I thought about giving up midway through the race, quite acceptable. Despite my slow finish, I was 104th out of 135 finishers, as well as an unknown number who didn’t finish at all. I guess other people where having their difficulties as well.
Other than some chaffing issues due to the constant humidity and rain, I came through in pretty good shape. On Sunday the stairs were taunting, and the legs are still sore, but that will soon pass. My training this year was not at all adequate to run this race well, but at least I knew this beforehand and kept the pace down. Even then it became a mental battle quite early into the race, if I was a less experienced runner I would have surely thrown in the towel. When you run enough of these races you somehow learn to eventually blot out the temporary discomfort and keep going on automatic pilot, then it’s only a matter of keep fueling and staying on your feet.