Race Report: Westerwald 50K 2017

The Westerwald 50K Run in Rengsdorf, Germany remains to be one of my favorite courses. 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 definitely harder, my Garmin registered 1683 meters of elevation gain/loss.

Last Thursday, was Father’s Day in Germany, and a holiday (Day of Ascension), and my company was also closed on Friday. With this in mind I was not too concerned about my total lack of hill training for this race. I figured I would just run what I can and walk the rest, it couldn’t be too hard, and besides I had a long weekend to recover.

On Wednesday after work I drove to Niederraden, a small town not far from Rengsdorf, my wife had planned on going with me, so I booked a quaint little hotel where I thought she would be comfortable during my run. As it turned out my wife had an ear ache and decided to stay home, so I was on my own. I managed to avoid most of the traffic jams and after a very good dinner at the hotel, went to bed early and had a restful sleep.

The next morning I made my way to the Start, collected my Start packet and found a cup of coffee. This was the 8th time I ran this race, so quickly found a couple people I knew and chatted a bit before as we waited. A few minutes before the race the race director called us together, gave a safety speech and sent us on our way. Looking around I guessed we were around 100-120 runners, I heard earlier there would also be up to 800 walkers throughout the day, they could walk 12, 21, 33 or 50 km.

The weather was very mild, around 12°C at the start, 20°C by the time I finished, and sunny throughout. I was comfortable with short sleeves, shorts and a vest, but shed the vest after the first hour.

I started out running very conservatively, I knew the course would be tough, and I was not adequately trained. The first couple kilometers climbed slowly, then descended for about 4 km. Then we began the first of three major ascents of the day, I walked immediately, as did the others around me. In less than a mile we climbed around 270 meters (885 feet), partly climbing crude stairs built into the hillside, I was very surprised how tired I felt by the time we reached the top and the first aid station.

The next 6-7 kilometers were milder, rolling hills, but at around the 15 km point we descended. And then we descended so more, for almost 8 km, my quads burned by the time we reached what proved to be the lowest elevation point in the race (64 meters). Then we quickly climbed 100 meters, then down, then climbed 250 meters over about 4 km. By this time I was walking, slowly, 28 km into the race and I was giving serious thought to calling it a day and looking for a ride to the finish line.

Fortunately we had reached one of the highlights of the run, a beautiful view of the Rhine river valley below, although it was fairly level at this point, I walked and enjoyed the view. After a couple kilometers I reached an aid station, one of the men manning the station was a former race director, he knew me by first name, we had often talked to one another in the past. He seemed to sense I was not having a good day, and encouraged me to keep going, it will get better.

My legs were stiff from too much walking, I had already used almost 5 hours for the first 30 km, I knew there was still the biggest climb ahead of me…I did what seemed to come natural at this point, I got over it! The course was heading downhill, so I started shuffling along ath a slow run. This brought me a few hundred meters, so I kept it up, shuffling, walking, shuffling walking. Another climb, but only 60 meters, walking, shuffling…

At around 37-38 km was another aid station, I sat for a few minutes, ate something, then headed out, I needed an hour and half for the last 8-9 km, but I was still moving, shuffling the downhills. I passed the marathon mark in 7:07 hours, just as the course began the longest and probably steepest climb of the day, up to an elevation of 367 meters. I must have been in survival mode, I really don’t remember a whole lot about this climb, likewise the at the aid station at the top. I knew I was only 4-5 km to the finish, and it was almost downhill all the way.

I passed a few walkers, one pair said they had walked the 50 km (they started two hours earlier than the runners). I managed to run most of the last few kilometers, if you call a 9:00 min/km shuffle running. In any case I was very pleased to cross the finish line, after 8 hours and 38 minutes there were no cheering fans, we had to annotate our time ourselves (we received a card at the start that was stamped at each of the aid stations).

I wobbled down the stairs into the swimming pool area where the club had set up their tables. The organizers verified my start card, if all the stamps were present, then annotated my finish time for the finishers list, then wrote my time on my finishers certificate, there is no winners, no awards ceremony.

I showered, was happy there was still hot water and that I didn’t cramp up trying to get my shows off, the little things that are pleasing when you are reduced to your raw self. I sat and chatted with an ultra runner I knew, until I felt safe driving back to the hotel. I rested awhile, had dinner and went to bed early, but slept poorly, my quads were still running up and down the hills…