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.