Race Report: World Down Syndrome Marathon

The motto of the World Down Syndrome Day Marathon this year was “Overpowered by you”, the running club 21 that sponsored the race wants to point out the great love for trisomy 21 children, which emerges after the first shock of having it. Down syndrome was described by the neurologist John Langdon-Down, but it was not until 1959 that the genetic cause was discovered: the unusual division of the first cell. It is not a hereditary disease, but it just happens. Due to medical advances, 21 victims can be much older nowadays. But one thing medicine does not do – it is in these special people: the happy laughter [Joe Kelbel – www.marathon4you.de].

My wife and I arrived in Fürth the day before the race. We met an old friend of ours, had lunch together and spent some time catching up before heading to our hotel for a relaxing evening. I went to bed early and was up 2 hours before the race on Sunday for breakfast. After checking out of the hotel my wife dropped me off at the TV Fürth 1860 soccer stadium and went to spend the day with our friend.

I dropped my bag off at the bag drop and found a seat in the sport hall and spent some time people watching, I had about 20 minutes before the race started. As usual for this race there was a diverse mixture of participants, some doing the ultra, marathon or half-marathon, others the 10K or fun run. I recognized several ultra runners, I found out later that some had run the 6-hour run the day before in Nurnberg or another ultra in Würzburg, Germany.

About 10 minutes before the race I made my way to the Start on the track in front of the sport hall.
Waiting for the Start
The course was new this year, in previous years the 6-hour charity race was held in a park in the middle of Fürth, but the event outgrew the facilities offered there, thus the change. The course was also longer, previously each round was approx. 1.3 km, this year just under 2 km. The new course also had two small hills, which seemed insignificant at the beginning, but provided 391 meters of elevation gain/loss by the end of the event. The old course was entirely flat.

Promptly at 9:00 we counted up to 21, the traditional way of starting this race. My training this year was sparse, with only three long runs between 24-26 kilometers (15-16 miles). I set my goals accordingly, try to finish a marathon, and keep moving as long as possible. I settled into an easy pace, around 6:45 min/km (10:53 min/mi). The course circled out of the stadium, down a small hill to the main road.
Small Hill
We turned right on the sidewalk to the next street.
Right along a row of houses, past an annoying man with a loudspeaker, before climbing a small hill and back into the stadium area.

At around kilometer 1 was the aid station, which offered a good variety of salty and sweet, and diverse drinks. The course continued in front of the sport hall, past cheering spectators to the next street.
Then right back to the same road as before.

Along the road to the same path that we used to exit the stadium, up the small hill in to the stadium.

Around the track to the start, repeat.

It rained lightly off and on, but not enough to soak the spirit of the runners. I finished the first 5 rounds (~10K) in 1:07:48, my pace remained steady, I felt good. Based on my Garmin I finished 20K in 2:16:39, and 30K in 3:30:13. By this time, my pace was slowly decreasing, but I still felt reasonably strong.

Around 32 kilometers I stopped for a minute or two to adjust the sock on my left foot, somehow it wasn’t sitting right and I was worried a blister would form. I finished a couple more rounds and started feeling the mileage in my legs, I decided to take a short walk break (~100 meters) every second round, right after the aid station. By kilometer 40 (4:54:14) I was reduced to tortoise speed, but with only one lap before passing the marathon distance I plodded along as best I could.

After passing 42 kilometers (5:09:54) I started to take more frequent walk breaks. My legs were tired, the two little hills on the course had turned to mountains that I need to walk up. But as I pushed myself over the last couple laps I was at peace, I had rediscovered the feeling of going beyond, a seemingly indescribable state of mind, or feeling of contentment.

I finished what was to be my last lap, with 11 minutes to go I knew I wouldn’t have time to complete another lap, and didn’t feel like standing out in the (then) rain waiting for them to measure my last distance. According to the official race results I finished 24 laps, or 45.65 kilometers, in 5:49:18. I place 62 out of 114, quite surprising really.

I wobbled to pick up my bag, my wife arrived and waited as I showered, then we headed home. The next day (Monday) I had vacation, I felt good, so good in fact that I spend a few hours working in the garden. Last night I went to gymnastics class, I was quite surprised that I could keep up with the group, the legs were a bit sore, as they are today, but I feel good enough to go for a recovery run this evening.

Race Report: The 7th Annual Fidelitas Night Marathon

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.

The 3rd Salinenlauf (Salt Works Run) Bad Dürkheim

The weather proved to be much better than the reports had predicted as I lined up at the start of the 3rd Salinenlauf (Salt Works Run) last night. A couple hours earlier, as I was driving to the event, it had rained, but then the sky cleared and we had almost perfect weather, except for the very high humidity.

I started out at a conservative pace that would get me past the marathon distance mark in about 4:45 if I could maintain the pace. The 929 meter round went by fairly quickly for the first couple hours, I accumulated 21 km, a half-marathon, in 2:17:48, a bit too fast for my level of training.

I hit the wall on my 26th kilometer, way too early, I stopped for a few minutes to change my socks (there was standing water on two parts of the course) and to eat a little bit. This proved to be a mistake, my legs were stiff as I started out, I never did get back up to pace again.

With 10 kilometers to go my legs were toast, I had covered up to 32 kilometers several time during training, but on this night it was a problem. I started walking through the two points on the course where there was standing water, probably 50 meters together. The water was high enough to flood into the shoes, no one had dry feet on this night.

I was at least able to shuffle on in between the two point where there was standing water, they were roughly 400 meters apart, so allowed me to briefly rest as I waded through. I passed the marathon point (46 rounds) in around 5:14, much slower than I wanted, but that’s the way it went. I walked a couple rounds, trying to pull myself together, it didn’t help much. Through the walking I was getting really cold, my clothes were soaked from sweating, so I decided to take a break and change my clothes.

I went to my car, which was in the parking lot on one corner of the course, maybe 50 meters away. The weather had been changing the last hour or so, the star-filled sky was replaced by dark clouds with flashes of lightening. As I changed my clothes the first rain drops fell, I laid out my jacket, I knew I would be needing this. It continued to rain harder, then it poured, and kept pouring, with thunder and lightning.

As I had already reached my goal of running a marathon, I decided to take a nap, there was still 6 hours left in the 12 hour event, maybe later the rain would stop and I would do a few more rounds before heading home.
After an hour it was still raining, so I decided to go home, I achieved my goal of running a marathon, anything more at this point would only be a cause of more recovery time before I resume my training.

The rain poured down as I drove home, I could only think about how soft I’ve become, compared to the “old days”.

The official race results show me running 47 rounds, which is 43.663 km, but my Garmin shows around 44.592 km, 48 rounds, oh well whatever.Today my legs are in surprisingly good shape, even the stairs do not intimidate me.

The race definitely showed me that I have a lot of work to do if I want to run a faster marathon or an ultra. At almost 57 years old, the mind is still willing, but the body is not making it easy. I need to think about this for awhile.

Race Report: The Fidelitas Night Marathon

What do you do when you are poorly trained and your favorite Ultra is coming up on the weekend? With just two runs long runs up to 24 km (15 mi.) in the last month, and having just returned from a trip to the USA three weeks before, most people would not have the idea to run a long distance race. Rest assured I didn’t either, at least until a day or two before the race. But don’t worry, old age is catching up to me, so rather than run the 50-Mile (80 km) Ultra, I decided to downgrade and run the night marathon.

The Fidelitas Night Marathon begins at 8:00 p.m. at approximately the 38th km of the Ultra race route, and follows the same route to the finish line. Because I wasn’t signed up for the marathon, I had to arrive early in Rüppurr, where the Ultra begins, to guarantee a starting number. I ended up getting there shortly before the Ultra started at 5:00 p.m., so helped cheer them on as they started the race. It was a cool day, around 16 °C (61 °F) so I settled in my car with a book and waited for the bus that would transport us to the starting line.

I arrived at the start in Mutschelbach about an hour before the start, so found a place to sit out of the cold wind until shortly before the start. Shortly before 8:00 p.m. I lined up with the other 48 participants and soon after the starting gun sent us off into the night. I ended up tagging along with 4 other runners to first 10-15 minutes, and after a bit started chatting with the female runner in the group. It turned out she lives in the same town as I do, and we had the same time goals (just to finish), so we decided to run together as the other three runners began to outpace us.

The first half of the marathon contains the majority of hill climbs, nothing really long or steep, but due to my lack of training we walked the hill climbs to save energy. Lucky for me Linde wasn’t worried about the pace, she was happy she didn’t have to run alone when it got dark. Despite a couple short walking breaks on the hill climbs we finished the first 10K in around 1:07:00 and the first half of the marathon in about 2 ½ hours. When I consider my longest training run was the week before (24 km / 15 mi.), this was for me totally acceptable.

About two hours into the race we had to break out the flashlights, it was an overcast night and the forested sections of the course were dangerous without a light. After around 28 km (17-18 mi.) my pace started noticeably dropping, the lack of training taking its toll. I had warned Linde from the start that this would occur sooner or later, fortunately she was very patient and encouraging throughout the night.

The last 10K was mostly Galloway, with regular walking breaks every couple kilometers, but mostly just for a minute or two. Having run the Ultra 8 times previously, I knew the course like the back of my hand, so really never had any doubts about finishing, it was only a question of how long it would take. In any case I was happy to finally see the streetlights of Rüppurr as we wound our way out of the last forest section and headed toward the sports stadium and the finish. I did my best to keep running as we entered the stadium and circled around the running track to the finish line.
Linde and I exchanged congratulations and joined her friends who were waiting for her. I stood and chatted with them for a few minutes, but my legs were tired, so I excused myself, and headed home. We ended up finishing in 5:20:50, one of my slowest marathons ever, but without proper training I really didn’t expect anything different.

After an 8 month break from racing, it is good to know that I still have the mindset to keep going when it gets tough, now I only have to work on the speed and endurance. I also was able to enjoy at least part of my favorite race course, and made a new friend along the way.

As always the Fidelitas Ultra and Marathon were well organized, the helpers friendly and encouraging, and the route well marked. For anyone looking for a somewhat different run in Germany, both of these runs come with my highest recommendation.

Race Report: The Fidelitas Night Run 2014

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.

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 (http://www.schlosswartenstein.de/), 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.

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.

Race Report: The German Championship 24H Race in Karlsruhe

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 kilometer 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.