I arrived 2 ½ hours early in Karlsruhe Rüppurr, Germany for the 7th annual Fidelitas Night Marathon. The one downfall of this race is you have to pick up your starter packet before 6 p.m., 2 hours before the race begins. The 80 km (50 mi.) ultra-runners were already 30 minutes into their race, I recall being a bit sad that I wasn’t with them as I picked up my packet, I’d run the ultra-distance 8 times in the past.
The shuttle bus to the Start in Mutschelbach was scheduled to leave first at 7 p.m., so looked around to see if there were any familiar faces. Most of the people that I would have known were already running, and the crowd that had sent the runners off had already dispersed, so I returned to my car and read some from a book I had brought along for the occasion.
Shortly before the bus was due to arrive I made use of the facilities in the sports arena and walked over to the bus stop. When the bus arrived I found a seat and a minute later one of the newcomers to my running club plopped down beside me, a pleasant surprise, I didn’t know he was running the event. Chatting with Clemens made the trip short and helped to keep my mind positive.
We arrived a half hour before the 8 p.m. start, the start area was also a relay exchange station for the ultra, so there was a small crowd gathered. I learned later that there were 56 participants for the marathon distance, a few more than last year. I was pleased to see Linde, who I ran most of the way with last year. I talked with her and her husband for a while, then used the facilities again which were close by in the local town offices.
I always like a few minutes to myself right before a race, so sat in one of the chairs in the hallway of the building. The marathon course starts out with rolling hills, before dropping down into a valley around kilometer 24. The rest of the marathon is more or less level, with only a few bridges to cross. Last year I needed just over 5 hours and 20 minutes, and this year I had done even less training than the year before.
In the 2 previous months I had only done 2 long runs, the marathon on May 28th, and a 27 km run the weekend before this marathon. So as I stood up and made my way to the start I made a mental note to start out very conservatively, my only goal was to finish.
This year Linde was much better trained than I, she had just finished a 72 km Ultra a few weeks before. Running with Clemens was also not an option, I knew he was a much faster runner; he ended up finishing 70 minutes ahead of me. So as the start signal sounded I wished both of them luck and let them run on ahead of me.
Having run the race the year before, I didn’t bother reading the race description on the website, so was surprised when the course suddenly turned as we ran out of town and headed up a steep hill. It turns out that last year’s course was 500 meters too short, and there was also a new construction site blocking the normal course way, so the organizers had to change the course. It is also interesting to note that beginning this year they had a new member on the organization team, Monika, who I knew from my ultra-running days, she normally finishes in the top 3 in the woman’s division in the races she participated in. I also thinksshe LOVES to run hills, so I had to think of her as I huffed and puffed the almost mile long ascendant out of Mutschelbach.
Although I hadn’t done any hilly runs in the last few months, my hilly runs over the winter and early spring paid off, I passed several people as I made my way over the rise. It had rained often throughout the day, so as we turned off the road at the top of the hill onto a tractor path through the fields things quickly turned to mud, shoe deep and lots of water, with no way but to go through it. Fortunately after a couple hundred meters we entered the woods and better trails.
I quickly settled into my normal long run pace, this part of the course had a lot of rolling hills, I ran these relatively effortless, I felt good and the light sprinkling of rain that began quickly dissipated.
After 5 or 6 kilometers we connected back to last year’s course, and soon passed the first aid station. Aid stations were set up every 5-6 kilometers, offering normal snacks and drinks for the ultra and marathon runners, at this point I only needed some water, which I drank in passing. At some point in the next 4-5 kilometers I passed Linde and the woman she was running with on one of the steeper hill climbs, she said last year she wasn’t a hill climber. I expected to pass me later on in one of the downhill or flat stretches, so it became a bit of a game for me to avoid this from happening for as long as possible.
I ran the first 10K in around 66 minutes, and the first 20K in 2:16, a good steady pace considering this stretch contained the majority of the 541 meter elevation gain (the course has a 622 meter elev. loss). I was still feeling reasonably good as I arrived at the aid station at around 20K in Langenalb. It was already dark at this point, so I dug my flashlight out of my Camelbak, the next section of the course was downhill through some thick woods, I knew I would need it. Linde hadn’t caught up to at this point, so I didn’t waste any time at the aid station, grabbing a few pretzel stick a slug of watered down coke.
At this point the course winds down through the woods into Marxzell, passing by my coworker’s house, over the street, past another aid station then right onto a tractor path on the edge of the woods at roughly kilometer 24. When I ran this stretch as part of the 80 km run it was normally dark and lonely, with most of the faster runners far ahead of me. This was not the case with the marathon version, in the last few years they have allowed participants to have bicycle riders accompany them, good for them, but for me it ruined the atmosphere. Worse I had a runner going roughly the same pace, but not constant, which means we kept passing each other, and the lady on the bike accompanying him had the annoying habit of zig-zacking all over the place. Luckily at the next aid station he stopped for a longer break and put some distance between us.
After about 30 km (~18.6 mi) my lack of training was taking a toll, I knew if I kept trying to run I would be walking before I finished the race, so I switched to Galloway, running 8-10 minutes, then walking 1-2. Normally there are two aid stations on the 11K stretch between Marxzell and the next town Ettlingen, but I don’t know if I was so zone out or what, but I only remember passing 1 of these. In any case this stretch felt incredibly long, and my walk breaks kept increasing.
I was very relieved when I finally entered Ettlingen and made my way to the aid station at the local swimming pool at kilometer 35. I took a short break and shook out some of the dirt and little stones that had accumulated in my running shoes, most of the rest of the course was asphalt and I knew the little stones would wreak havoc on my feet. I took a deep swig of energy drink that I had in my Camelbak, and made my way over the last 7 kilometers.
I passed by the old military based where I was stationed in the army as I ran out of Ettlingen. My mind filled with pleasant and not so pleasant memories as I continued into the night. It was getting more and more difficult to run at this point, even with the run/walk strategy I was using. There is no replacement for good training, and a lack of it will tell on you in the last stretch of a race.
From Ettlingen to the next last aid station is roughly 4K, but almost a straight shot, so running this in the dark is very much like driving the highways in the Midwest of the USA, mile after mile, hour after hour, of straight road seeing only corn fields and almost nothing else. It seemed like it took hours to cover this stretch, but in reality it was more like 33 minutes. In any case I was again relieved to see the lights of the final aid station.
As I mentioned they changed the course this year, and as I also mentioned I didn’t bother to read the race description. So as I left the aid station I was thinking I had another 4-5 km to run, mostly through a winding section of woods that again seems to go on forever. Had I looked at the course description I would have known that in reality I only had 3K to go and might have sped up a bit, particularly on the last kilometer or two. I heard the small crowd in the Stadium, but previous years we first ran past and in a long loop before entering, so I was very surprised when suddenly the course turned directly into the stadium. Now, rather than 2 meters to go I suddenly had only 200 meters! I made my best effort to break into some resemblance of a sprint and crossed the finish line.
As I collected my finisher’s medallion and got something to drink, I spotted Monika the ultra-runner-organizer and chatted with her for a bit. She asked how I did and I mentioned I was almost a minute slower than last year. She replied then I was actually faster than last year, because last year’s marathon course was 500 meters too short. Hmm, does that mean I had just run a personal best for this course…
As always, this race was well organized, the helpers friendly, and the aid stations adequately stocked. I also find the course changes very positive, especially eliminating the last loop right before the finish. Maybe next year I will have more time and desire to train and can once again run the ultra distance, but if not the marathon run has also become one of my favorite courses.