Most thought I was really of my rocker this time when I said I was going to run in the 24 hour race in nearby Karlsruhe. They were not alone, I was questioning my own sanity for wanting to run in a 1.2127 circle for hours at a time.
My training this year has been hardly appropriate to run a marathon, let alone for such an ambitious plan to stay in motion for 24 hours. With this in mind I arrived about two hours early at the Sport Institute on the campus of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) where the race was to begin and found a reserved parking place for my car on the course. I was well prepared with extra clothing, food, drinks and anything else I could think of that I might need over the next day. After being satisfied that I had everything in order I walked the roughly 200 meters to the Start. I met several familiar faces along the way, and chatted a bit with René and Teddy both ultra-runners that I meet frequently at the races, Teddy I knew since the 100 Mile KuSuH race in 2010.
Promptly at 10 a.m. 117 set off from the starting line, some with ambition to become the latest German Champion for the 24 Hour discipline, others like myself who just wanted to see how far they could propel themselves.
I quickly fell into a routine, every third round I would stop at the aid station at the start or my car to eat and drink, then walk about 200 meters before picking up the pace. The ran the first 25 km in just under 3 hours, according to my Garmin with an average pace of 6:57 min/km (11:11 min/mile), almost too fast for my condition.
As the afternoon progressed the temperature increased to 30 °C, and on the sunny portions of the course much warmer.
Fortunately there was also longer shady stretches along the way that offered some relief. It was during this time that Walter from my running club came by to watch the race for a bit. It was encouraging to see a familiar face at this point, the heat was starting to take its toll, my pace dwindled and I was taking longer walk breaks. At around 32 km (20 mi) I hit a low spot and decided I needed to sit down for a while, so set up my folding chair by my car and propped my legs on the cooler for 3-4 minutes, as luck would have it my car was in the shade at this point and I quickly cooled down. After a short break I walked my 200 meters and could continue running.
This cycle seemed to work well, so I continued with it, run 3 rounds, sit and eat/drink, walk 200 meters, and so on. Around kilometer 44 (27 miles) I took a longer break and changed my socks, reapplied Vaseline where needed. I had been eating some cooked potatoes with salt the last couple hours which seemed to work for me for a time, but this time noticed they were a bit slimy, probably due to the heat. At this point I noticed my stomach was rebelling, so switched to my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I reached 50 kilometers in just under 7 hours, and still had an uneasy stomach, I decided to stop and make a toilet break at the Start line and sat there long enough to get remarks from the spectaters afterwards that I had been taking a nap in there. Anyway the bathroom break was worth it, I felt much better afterward and could pick up the pace again. I stayed away from the potatoes which and didn’t have any stomach issues the rest of the time.
For the next 3-4 hours I following my run 3 rounds, sit and eat, walk 200 meters, continue without any incident. Darkness came, with it cooler temperatures and the course was well-lighted either by streetlights or lights set up by the organizers, so we didn’t need flashlights.
By the end of the first 12 hours I had reached around 79 km, almost 50 miles. I celebrated with a piece of cake and a fresh pair of socks and shirt. My legs were really tired by this point, my running pace had slowed to a crawl, and I knew I couldn’t continue for another 12 hours like this. I decided to take a walk break with every round, so for the next several hours I ran a kilometer and walked 200 meters, and every third round I propped my feet up and sat a bit.
As I continued my rounds I tried to figure out how best I should continue, I really didn’t have any set goal for the race, but based on my limited training this year (average 50-60 km/week) I estimated at this point I could finish with 120-130 kilometers if I could keep moving.
By midnight, 14 hours into the race, the field was thinning, I saw less and less runners. During one of my sit down breaks I chatted with the friendly crew parked next to me about this, they said a lot of runners plan to run 100 km (62 mi) then sleep for a couple hours before continuing. I thought about this as I ran and as it became with each round more unlikely that I could continue the whole night long, decided to complete 100 km and at least take an extended break for an hour or so, maybe even sleep for a couple hours. I then figured I would have at least 3-4 hours where I could complete another 20-30 km.
So was the new plan anyway, as I sat for a bit by kilometer 97 the rain began, first a few drops, whereas I donned my running vest and started my round, then a cloud burst after the next round. As I started out on my 83rd round, which would put me over 100 km, the rain was falling in buckets, the wind driving it with force, and the sky was brilliant with a lightning display. I was already soaked to the skin, normally this doesn’t bother me, but as I thought about finishing the round and trying to get dry again so I could lay down for a while, I couldn’t imagine it.
As I reached my car the rain continued drenching the course, I made the final call, 83 rounds, 100.6 kilometers was enough, time to pack up and go home. I drove home with no regrets, the storm continued making even driving difficult. My wife was awake when I arrived home, the stormy winds broke her sleep, I think she is happy that I wasn’t outside in the weather.
I completed 100.6 kilometers in just over 16½ hours, slow but sure. I’m sure I could have accumulated more mileage if I had stayed on and waited out the weather, but it was enough for me. I was surprised that running continuously in circles was not at all as boring as I thought it would be. I really didn’t think about this fact at all, I think chatting with other runners and the crew next door on occasion helped me to maintain my sanity. And for me the race was low stress, I had no set goals, I ran a pace that was comfortable and walked and took breaks as I felt I needed to. All in all it was a pleasant experience, I don’t know if I would do it again, there are much more scenic runs waiting, but the experience was enlightening, sometimes you don’t need a reason to try something new.