Another race behind me

Last night was my 61st marathon or more, an 80 km (50 mi) race, the Fidelitas Night Run. Despite very humid conditions, lots of rain, and thoughts of quitting, I finished with a time of 11:19:00, my second slowest time for this race overall. I’ll try to get a report up in the next day or two.

A bit of pre-race jitters

For the first time in many years I find myself getting pre-race jitters over the 80K race on Saturday night. Really there is no logical reason for this, I have run the race 7 times previously, and it will be my 61st marathon or more, I should have no apprehension whatsoever. But I do, much like a student who failed to properly prepare for an exam.

Confidence is gained through solid training, and that is exactly where the problem lies, I have trained, but the training I did was minimal, around 50-60 kilometers a week with no hill or speed training. Based on my race experience, and performance thus far this year, I am pretty confident that I will complete the race, but I know it will not be easy and that I need to run a very smart race to prevent failure.

As is true with almost every race, I already have my sights on the NEXT race, or series of races as the case may be:
• July 12 – Bärenfels 63K Trail in Neubrücke, Germany
• July 19 –Night52 Ultra (52K) in Bretten, Germany
• August 23 – Wolff Sports 90K Ultra Trail in Nürnberg, Germany
• September 14 – Pfälzer Forest Marathon in Pirmasens, Germany
And, if all works out:
• September 28 – The Adirondack Marathon in Schroon Lake, NY, USA

Last night’s training: Rest day

Defining the right path towards Fitness

So after much thought on how my current state of fitness is not where I want to be, I am trying to define a path that will change this. There are several key points that come to mind:

• The Diet: I have reverted to bad eating habits, junk food, too much processed food, bingeing etc. I need to get back to eating healthy, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, lean meat etc.
• Crosstraining: Largely neglected, this needs to be incorporated into my training plan, especially over the winter. I need to (re)develop core strength.
• Speed work: You don’t get faster by running slow runs like I have been doing.
• Balance: Life keeps happening, as Neca recently wrote – “Something is always happening – that’s life. The trick is to find the balance to do the things you NEED to do, plus a few you want.”

Last night’s training: 8K in 56:52 (7:07/km, 11:26/mi), with Running Club

On the wrong path

Last night I was thinking about my next race, the 80 km (50 mi) Fidelitas Night Run, and looking over my race reports from past years for this race. I have run the event 7 times already, but the last two times I didn’t prepare a race report, which disturbs me as I like to use these to document what went right or wrong. This led to thoughts about why I started blogging in the first place back in 2005, to document my running journey, especially the training aspects which are a valuable tool in training for and running races.

In the last couple years I guess I have had blogger burn-out, which I now find regrettable as I now have a very large gap in documenting my running journey. In the same timeframe my running has changed, the running flame has gotten dimmer, partly due to other commitments in life, but also partly due to a lack of motivation. After running the 100 mile race in 2010 I was tired, physically and mentally. I have kept training and running races, but only half-heartedly, really not striving for anything more than to run “just to finish”.

As I stand in front of the door of my 55th birthday next month, I ask myself whether it is because I’m getting old or what? But when I look at the older members in my running club I know that’s not true, they may not run marathons any longer, but what they do run, they run with their heart in it.

No, I think I am just getting soft and lazy, unfortunately quite in the literal sense, my weight has crept up, the muscles lack the tone they once had, the clothes are too tight, terrible, just terrible. Even without having documented my training in the last years, I know what the problem is, I have no real plan, I run mostly at casual speeds, I rarely do any crosstraining, and my eating habits are way too similar to before I started running.

My training this year began with good intentions, I was going to lose weight, I was going to cross train, I was going to do speed work, I was going to blog…yeah I was going to. Now midseason and only 3 pound lighter, and still 20 pounds too heavy, I need to make some changes, and I need to stop putting it off any longer.

So as I taper for my race on Saturday I have some time to work on a new training plan.

Last nights training: 10K in 1:06:12 (6:37/km, 10:39/mi)
Weight: 77kg
Weight at beginning of 2014: 80kg
Goal weight: 70kg

Race Report: 24 Hours of Rhineland-Palatinate 72K Trail Run

I mentioned in my last post that I found a new 72K trail race, similar in characteristic to the Westerwald run, but when I tried to sign up online they were booked solid, so I signed up for the 80K Fidelitas Night Run taking place on June 28th. Well as luck would have it, I received an e-mail a few days later saying a runner had to drop out and there was a starter place available, if I still wanted to run the event I should let them know, so I did.

The Pfalz Trail Run is part of the “24 Stunden von Rheinland-Pflaz” (24 Hours of Rhineland-Palatinate) event, a benefit Wanderung (hike) used to raise money for Kinder in Not (children in need), and also to encourage tourism in the region. The run version of this event covers the same 3-Stage, 72 kilometer course as the Wanderung, the only difference is the runners can run straight through and the walkers hike one stage at a time, taking a lunch and dinner break in between the stages. The run is classified as an Erlebnis (experience) run, which means there is no winner, no clock, and no finisher list. In other words it’s just for fun, if you consider running 72 km (~45 mi.) with 2228 meters of elevation gain/loss a form of enjoyment.

As I mentioned the race is broken into 3 stages:

• The Day Stage: 26.5 km with 772 meters of elevation gain/loss
• The Dawn Stage: 21.5 km with 729 meters of elevation gain/loss
• The Night Stage: 24 km with 727 meters of elevation gain/loss

I arrived in the small town of Hennweiler around 7:00 a.m., in plenty of time to pick up my start packet in the market square and enjoy the breakfast provided by the organizers. There were no start numbers, just a Road Book with a rough map and description of the 3 stage course, and for the runners 2 bottles of water. This event originated as a hiking event and the manning of the aid stations planned for the hikers, the runners were more or less on our own, the only concession the organizers made was to deposit cases of water bottles at 2 designated points on each stage, for experienced Ultra runners, not a problem as long as we know about it ahead of time (I had my Camelbak).

Shortly before the 8:30 a.m. start of the event, the local mayor called the roughly 270 Wanderers and 8 (eight !) runners together in the parking lot of the market square and went through his little speech, encouraging the hikers to hang tough and stay safe. There was no mention of the crazy little group that actually planned on running the course, maybe he wasn’t informed? After finishing the starting pistol went off, and realizing I was at the back of most of the hikers, I quickly sped around them before we got to the narrow trail outside of town. Soon I was alone, with only a fleeting glimpse of a couple runners ahead of me, it would be the last time I would see them, or any other participant, for quite a while.

Holiday Region Hunsrück Slate and Castle Route

Holiday Region Hunsrück Slate and Castle Route

The course quickly changed to what would be repeated throughout the event, an uphill climb, either short and steep or long (1-3 km) and gradual, followed by a corresponding downhill, followed by a somewhat flat section, repeat. The steep sections were steep, as in hang on to the tree when you are going down or you will fall on your face. The course itself was a good mix of asphalted field ways, gravel roads and dirt single trail, mixed in with cobble stones, stones and roots of every size imaginable, stairs, bridges, rocks, and anything else nature could think of to trip you up. This was one of the first “Trail Runs” in Germany that at least tried to live up to its name.

I completed the first stage in good time and without falling on my face. I replenished my sports drink and had something to eat at the market square. By this time it was midday, the hikers were probably still a couple hours behind me, so there were only a few from the organizers sitting around. As I set out on the second stage I noticed the temperature was still around 18°C, very mild compared to the summer days we had lately, and very important considering the severity of the trail ahead of me.

The second stage began as the first had, a couple kilometers through the fields, then up into the hills. The “Dawn” stage passed by the Wartenstein castle (, located high above the Hahnenbachtal, north of the town of Kirn. This area is located on the edge of the Nature Park Soonwald, an area with rugged cliffs and clear streams, surrounded by large forests. The sheer beauty of the attractive and varied landscape kept my mind off the accumulating mileage and particularly the pounding my legs were receiving from the constant uphill climbs.

I arrived back at the market square around 3:30 p.m., approximately 7 hours into the race. They were serving dinner, but the line was long, I decided to change my socks and refuel first, by the time I finished I managed to get some food without waiting too long. It appeared most of the hikers had just finished their first stage and were eating before heading out on their second. I didn’t see any other runners, so assumed I was the last, but this made no difference to me, I was taking it easy, I hadn’t trained for this type of race so knew better than to push it.

After around a 20-25 minute break I headed out on stage 3, by this time I running only the flat and downhill sections, and even the pleasant scenery did not distract me from my weary legs. This stage passed by the ruin of the castle Schmidtburg, a castle built in the year 926 and destroyed during the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697) by French troops in 1688. The castle is divided into an upper and a lower castle and was one of the largest in the area.

Ruins of Schmidtburg Castle

Ruins of Schmidtburg Castle

Several kilometers into this stage I was passed on a downhill by another runner, the first that I had seen since the beginning of the race! He appeared to be doing much better than I was, as he easily ran past and asked how I was doing. I remarked that mentally I was top fit, but could use some new knees, which caused him to chuckle. Somehow contact with another human offered renewed my energy and chugged along with new determination. The last stage was gentler than the first two, but the trail had a lot of protruding stones and roots, so I had to stay alert to avoid falling on my face.

With approximately 5K to go the course bid it’s last farewell, climbing to the second highest point of the day. During the climb I caught another runner who was clearly struggling, I walked with him for a couple minutes, his legs kept cramping. As we approached the top he assured me that he would make it to the finish line, but would have to walk, so I ran on. From this point it was mostly downhill or flat, so I did my best to run much of it. The runner that passed me earlier in the stage passed me again, he said he had stopped for a break, I again let him run ahead, he wasn’t looking quite as fresh as before, but was still better off than I was.

After a while the course broke out of the forest one last time and I could see the town of Hennweiler ahead. I ran most of the rest of the way and arrived uneventfully back at the market square. I reported to the organizers that I had finished, which kind of surprised them, I guess they noticed the surprise in my face as they said most of the hikers just leave. They pointed me to the showers and said there was lots of food left if I was hungry. I showered and joined a couple of the runners, one that I knew from previous races, he was finished a couple hours ahead of me, but he is 20 years younger too.

In any case I finished a very difficult course, requiring around 10 ¼ to 10 ½ hours of actual time on the trail, I spent another 30 minutes on breaks between the stages. As this event doesn’t count as an official marathon or ultra, I would probably not run it again, but could picture doing it as a hiking event. I think this course would be especially enjoyable if done in a group, either walking or running. I can also picture returning to this region on vacation, there are numerous trails winding through the national forest, and lots of tourist attractions that warrant a closer look.

The event itself was for the most part well organized, the only advice I would offer is if they want to attract more runners they should at least have a finisher list and post it on the Internet, even if the finishers have to keep track of their own time. The folks in Rengsdorf have been doing this for years with the Westerwald Run, and it works out very well.

Post-race Race Planning

Today is a bright sunny day, I would much prefer hopping on my bike or tying my running shoes, to sitting at my desk at work. With luck it is Friday and we have a 3-day weekend ahead of us here in Germany, AND the weather is supposed to stay warm and sunny!

I’m almost at the end of my lunch break, and because I can go for a run or bike ride, I thought I would at least get my thoughts out so I can continue working.

I ran the 50K race in the Westerwald forest a week ago, and because I kept the pace down, already am well on my way to recovering. And like I typically do during recovery, I am already looking for the next race. In previous years I usually have my entire list picked out with training plans to match, but this year I am winging it.

A couple nights ago I found a new trail race, similar in characteristic to the Westerwald run, i.e. it started as a Wanderung (walk event) and they decided to offer a run option as well. The event is 72 km, a good mixture of forest, trail and asphalt, and because it was originally a walking event, a 24-hour time limit. The event starts at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday June 14th, sounded good and doable. I was all stoked to participate, had the green light from my wife, and when I went online to sign up learned they were booked solid, so back to the planning board.

There are several other options available, one this weekend, but it’s just too soon after the 50K. On Friday June 19th is a 50K race in Ulm, but it starts at 11:00 p.m. and we are invited to a birthday party the next day, it would not be good to show up half asleep.

I also considered the Fürth marathon in Bayern on June 29th, but this would require an overnight and most of the hotels in the area are already booked solid. It’s also a city marathon, and I’m trying to avoid them.

This leaves the Fidelitas Night Run on June 28th, an 80K (50 mile) event that I have run 6-7 times, its nearby, a nice course and I can sign up latest on race day. The downside is that I really question my conditioning, 50 miles is 50 miles. My training has been limited this year, probably only about 2/3 of the mileage that I usual run, no hill training, no speed training, and shorter long runs than previous years.

So today I am trying to convince myself that running an ultra, especially at my level, is 80% mental and that I have enough training to get me to the finish line. Having run 60 marathons/ultras over the last 9 years I have pretty good instinct about a race, and my instinct is telling me to go for it, but keep the foot on the brake. In other words, instead of trying to run it in under 10 hours, plan on 12+ and walk more often. In any case I still have a couple weeks to think about it.

For July I have three possible races: a trail marathon, a 50K and/or a 52K.
If I can get off my butt and do some real training, there are two trail race possibilities for August, the circa 70K Panorama Run in the Algau region (3000 meters elevation gain/loss), or a brand new Trail Ultra near Nuremberg, circa 90K with 950 meters elevation gain/loss. At the moment the 90K sound more doable, but we’ll see.

Race Report: The Westerwald 50K Run 2014

A week ago (may 29th) I ran one of my favorite ultra runs, the Westerwald 50K run in Rengsdorf, Germany. 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 in the middle with about 1200 meters of elevation gain/loss.

I ran this race as my first Ultra in 2006, at that time there were only about 50-60 participants that did the 50K run, and several hundred walkers walking 12, 33 or 50K. This year there was 174 runners signed up for the race, and quite probably many more signed up on race day. In any case the parking lot was full when the director gave the pre-race briefing.

In former years my wife accompanied me, and we usually arrived the night before the race and left the day after the race. This year was the seventh year that I ran the event and my wife had no interest in traveling, so I woke up at 4:00 a.m. in order to have enough time to drive to the race before the 8:00 a.m. start.

The weather was cool and mild, the forecast calling for a dry day with a maximum temperature of around 18-20°C, almost perfect for this race. I arrived about an hour early, collected my starter packet and found a cup of coffee. I watched the other people arrive, several I knew from previous years or other races, I chatted with a couple for a while until it was time to go to the starting line.

Like every year the start is very informal, the race director went over any last minute information, then something to the effect of “Okay, you can go now” and we were off. I haven’t trained as much this year, so started off slowly, stopping to walk at the first hill climb, the faster folks were already ahead, so most around me also walked.

After the first few minutes we were already in the forest, the cool fresh air was delightful. The trails were for the most part in good shape, despite the rain we had the day before. I settled into a comfortable pace, I really had no goal for the race than finishing. As my Garmin peeped at 10K I noticed the time of 1:06:00, not bad considering there was 2-3 hill climbs where I walked mixed in.

I continued at this pace for the first 25-30 kilometers, with the exception of around the 21K point where we transcended the steepest part of the course, where we literally climbed step built into the side of the hill to reach the top. This was a real quad-buster, and definitely reminded me that I had not done any hill training this year, I was totally out of breath by the time I reached the top.

Going down the other side was also an adventure, this part of the trail was still slick from the previous days rain, and steep! Even the walkers had to creep down slowly!

Trying to avoid a slide in the mud.

I continued to plug along he course, walking the uphills and trying to maintain as steady of a pace as possible on the rest. My lack of training was starting to catch up to me by the 35K point, I really had to fight the urge to walk. Somewhere around this time I took a few minutes to sit down at one of the aid stations, taking in a few extra calories from the food offered, then stretching before leaving. After a while this seemed to revive me somewhat and I could continue on as before, albeit a bit slower.

A Beautiful Trail!

With around 5K to go I was tired and just wanted to get the race over with. I wasn’t really suffering or hurting, just tired, I had been up since 4 a.m. and it was catching up to me. I tried to concentrate on the scenic trail as I slowly counted down the last miles. I passed dozens of walkers that walked the shorter courses, several made comments similar to “Here comes another one of those crazy runners”…Yes, thank you :-)

Finally I turned onto the asphalt road that would lead up the hill to the finish line, I was tired, but very satisfied, I finished much better than expected, 6:37:30 about average for this race, and I was poorly trained.

Approaching the Finish.

I collected my finisher certificate and showered, then had some hot soup before heading home, a most satisfying way to spend Fathers’ Day in Germany.

The 12-Hour Saline Run in Bad Dürkheim 2014

Bad Dürkheim is a spa town in the Rhine-Neckar urban agglomeration, and is the seat of the Bad Dürkheim district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Well known for its mineral springs, Bad Dürkheim also has a graduation tower, known locally as Saline, a part of the town’s spa facilities. With a length of some 330 meters, it is one of the largest of its kind in Germany. A graduation tower is a structure used in the production of salt which removes water from a saline solution by evaporation, increasing its concentration of mineral salts. The tower consists of a wooden wall-like frame stuffed with bundles of brushwood. The salt water runs down the tower and partly evaporates; at the same time some minerals from the solution are left behind on the brushwood twigs.

Two years ago Gabi and Peter Gründling organized a 12 hour race around the Saline tower, but unfortunately a storm caused a power outage and ended the race prematurely. Two years later runners again toed the line, and this time, despite massive amounts of rain, the clock kept running.

The Saline Run consists of a 693 meter loop around the graduation tower, participants attempt to assemble as much distance as possible over the 12 hour period.

The course was well lighted, and refreshments were offered every 693 meters. This year 116 participants signed up for the event, 113 toed the line at 9:00 p.m on Wednesday, April 30th. Some arrived planning to run a few hours and use the race as a training run, others were in for the long run, or even to win. I arrived with my intentions landing somewhere in the middle, I hoped to complete at least 80 Kilometers (50 miles), but knew my training was limited and anything could happen.

Race day was also a work day, after finishing a full day’s work, I headed home, ate, then made the 1 hour drive to Bad Dürkheim. Arriving about an hour early, I collected my race packet and chatted with a couple runners I knew until our race briefing a half hour before the race. As the race director went over the rules the storm clouds grew denser and just before the start of the race many made last minute decisions to grab jackets out of the car, a wise decision as it would turn out.

Promptly at 9:00 p.m. the race began, true to most ultras there was no mad rush at the start, rather participants leisurely jogged off on their first round. I fell into a comfortable pace, completing the first 10K in around 63 minutes. After a few hours the rounds were starting to get longer, at least mentally, I tried distracting myself by chatting with some of the other runners, this worked for a while until the rain started. And rain it did, first lightly, then in buckets. One side of the graduation tower has a paved path, but the other is packed sand. On one end of this latter side has a slight depression, it was only a matter of time before there was standing water on the course.

After several hours of seemingly constant rain and wet feet I decided to take a longer break. By this time I had accumulated 43-44 kilometers, around 27 miles, and was really starting to feel the long day behind me. As the rain continued I went to my mini-van parked a few hundred feet from the course, changed, and dosed off for a while. An hour or two later, just passed 4:30 a.m. I believe, the rain stopped and I set out on the course again.
By this time the course had thinned out a bit, some had gone home, some were taking longer breaks as I had done. I settled into a run and walk routine, accumulating another 5-6 kilometers before the rain started up. In a short time I was again soaked to the skin, this time with no dry clothing left, I had gone through all that I had brought with me.

Finally around 7:30 a.m., about 1½ hours before the end of the race, I decided I had enough and turned in my number. I debated whether to wait around for the closing ceremony, but that was first at 10:30, so I decided to drive home. I ended up with 56.133 kilometers, around 35 miles, less than I had planned on, but considering the course was a 700 meter circle, definitely enough for me.

My next long race is on May 29th, a 50K trail race in the Westerwald Forest, one of my favorite courses. After running two races in circles, it will be a very welcome change.

Looking back

Last night I had nice run with RB, she got home later than normal from work, so we ran a shorter loop. I ran the long way around town to her house to add a couple kilometers, so at least got my planned mileage in (10K). Yesterday was one of the warmest days we have had this year, around 27°C. We really felt this during the run, as we aren’t acclimatized to the “heat” yet. Fortunately it is supposed to cool down again before my race next Wednesday, not that it really matters, the race starts at 9 p.m.!

Next month marks the 10th anniversary that I have been running races. My first race was the Baden Mile, an 8.88889 km run around the city of Karlsruhe here in Germany. I owe my “running career” to the prompting from one of my coworkers who talked me into running with the company team that participates in this event each year. I haven’t run the event for a few years, but to mark my 10th anniversary of running races I signed up and will run the Baden Mile on May 11th as part of our company team.

Next year will be the 10th year that I have been running marathons and to commemorate the occasion I am thinking about rerunning the first marathon that I ran, which was in Mannheim, Germany.

Times have changed since then, I was rereading my blog entries from 2005 last night, it is quite amusing (now) how much anxiety I went through the final weeks before my first marathon.

Next week I plan on running a 12-hour race, but about the only anxiety that I really have is if I get off work in time to make it to the event before the race starts (we have a late meeting at work). I do wish that I was better prepared, two years ago I ran the race with expectations of running a 100+ kilometers, but a storm knocked out the power after 4 ½ hours and they had to cancel the race. This year I know I will need to have a really good day just to reach 80 kilometers (50 mi), but I will give it my best anyway.

Running Club Night

Last night I ran the 11.2 km (7 mi) loop with my running club. Usually I run with my Running Buddy (RB), but she had to work late, so I ran with Conny and Crew (CC). We ran the first couple kilometers at around 6:00 min/km (9:39/mi), a minute faster than I run with RB, but fine for me. At around km 3 a couple of the CC group started running intervals, but I stayed back with 2 remaining members, with my 12-hour race a week away, there is no need to overdo it.

At the 5K point the two ladies I was running with broke off and took the shorter running trail back, and I picked up the pace some and eventually caught the rest of the CC group as they slowed between intervals. Shortly after they took off on another 800 meter interval and I figured I wouldn’t see them again until after the run. Much to my surprise they stopped and walked after the interval, so I again caught up and passed them, and remained ahead until the end of the run. I ended up with a faster than normal run, but managed to avoid blowing out my legs a week before race day.

I plan on running 2-3 more times before the race, probably the same distance as last night. Over the weekend I need to try to rest and catch up on my sleep, this will do more good than more mileage.