The weekend of July 19-20 was a heat wave over Europe, with temperatures reaching 37°C (99°F) in our region of Germany. For many, the hot summer days is a difficult time, the danger of falling into physical lethargy increases with each degree on the thermometer. While many seek reprieve at the pool, in the shade or a Biergarten (beer garden), here’s my hot tip: The Hornisgrinde Marathon in the densest forest in Germany and at an altitude of 900 meters. Where else could you enjoy a marathon at Sahara temperatures?
I arrived at the forest parking area in Hundseck, located just below the Mehliskopfes, a popular ski slope in the winter months. The Black Forest was still groggy from sleep, the birds chirping, the smell of pine forest, a mist rising over the valley below. At 6:30 a.m. it is already 22°C (72°F), but the sky was overcast and rain threatening.
I strolled up a small hill, where a large tent is set up, I was one of the first to arrive, but at this event there is no frantic running around at the start number pick-up, no long lines at the port-a-potties. The day before, on Saturday, was the half-marathon, I read there were 174 finishers. On this day were the marathon at 8:00 a.m. and a 10K race shortly after this, these races drew 168 and 215 participants respectively. I collected my start number and found a cup of coffee, recognizing a few faces as other racers began to arrive. It began to rain as I waited, cleansing the air, but this was short lived and soon the humidity returned.
Promptly at 8:00 we headed out from the Start before the large tent, there were a few spectators, many waiting for the start of the 10K race. We headed over a comfortable mountain trail in the pine forest, the first half of the marathon is more or less flat or downhill, resulting in the pace increasing relentlessly. I planned an easy 6:30 min/km (10:28 min/mi) pace, but passed the 10K marker in around 60 minutes, and the 20K marker in 2:01:18, a bit too fast for my level of training.
Hornisgrinde Marathon - Start
Mosquitoes and fly were constant companions as we weaved our way through forest and meadow, occasionally we were rewarded with panoramic views over the dark forest covering, but mostly we had to be content with lofty pine and firs reaching towards the heavens. Shortly after the halfway point the trail ran along the Stausee, a lake that was a favorite goal for hikers, evidence by the large number that I passed as I made my way along the shoreline.
Hornisgrinde Marathon - The Stausee
After the Stausee the course began to gradually climb, and would continue to do so, for most of the last 17 km of the race. As expected, my pace slowed with each gradual climb, my legs took the opportunity to remind me that I hadn’t put in enough training time in this year.
I chugged along up one uphill climb after the other, trying to stretch out the pace where the trail leveled out. The last 10K found me taking ever increasing walk breaks, common when running Ultras, but not necessarily during a marathon.
Hornisgrinde Marathon - km 37
The last few kilometers were especially hard, I took a dive over a stone and my hands and one knee were bleeding, what a sight. Anyway I finally reached the last hill, a steep 1200 meter climb to the finish line. About 200-300 meters from the finish line the course turned up a steep bank and I jogged over the finish line. I noted my time 4:56:38, my slowest time ever for the course, but at least under 5 hours, which had been my goal for this training run.
Next up is an approx. 85 Kilometer Trail race on August 23, near Nuremberg, Germany. I guess I should do some hill training before then, at least to try to get my mind set, it’s too late to try to improve conditioning.