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.