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.

A Marathon on the Weekend

My legs are still tired from the charity run last Saturday, I blame the asphalt streets, this was the first run on asphalt since last year, and then right away 27 km. In any case I think it will be a long night on Saturday.

The marathon starts at 8 p.m., the course consists of the last 42.2 km of the 80 km (50 mi.) Fidelitas Night Ultra. The 80 km starts in Ruppur, Germany and consists of a long loop around the region. The marathon starts in Mutschelbach at one of the relay exchange stations. A shuttle bus is available an hour before the race to transfer the marathon runners from Ruppur to the Start. I ran this marathon last year, the first part is hilly, and at my speed the second half in the dark, so it’s not a course to try to run a new personal best. My days of running personal bests are over anyway, so I just want to enjoy the night, I always liked this course, but the 80 km is a bit too much, I just don’t have the conditioning.

My training is rather inadequate for the race, my longest long run lately was the 27 km last Saturday and the marathon in May. Thus my goals are very conservative, first to finish, and second to finish in under 5:15. For comparison, last year I finished in 5:20:50. The days of a sub-4 hour marathon are long gone, the age adjusted goal these days is a sub-5 hour, perhaps in September. But one step at a time.

Running for Charity

My recovery from the marathon at the end of May has gone much slower than I have liked, I really notice the difference from previous years when I was training optimally. With my next marathon one week away (June 25th) there is really not much I can to prepare other than keeping the running machine from getting rusty.

On this past Saturday a lot of my running club met in Weingarten for the annual B.L.u.T Cancer Awareness and Charity Run. Our sponsor pledged 1.50 Euro per 1.3 km round, so we did our best to accumulate as many rounds as possible. I originally planned on run for an hour or two, but ended up running the entire three hours, completing 21 rounds, approximately 27 km. I have been running soft trails most of the year, so the 3 hours of asphalt and dogging kiddies (there were >1700 participants) really pounded the legs, my legs are still sore.

In any case I need to let the legs rest, the marathon next Saturday is just for fun, but I’m not well trained, so need to make sure that I am at least well rested.

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.

Off to the races

My bags are packed, my running shoes and clothes laid out, in less than 9 hours I will be lining up for my first marathon in almost a year. I need about an hour to drive to Bad Durkheim, where the race will be held.

I am a bit nervous about the race, mostly because I don’t know what to expect after an eleven-month pause from racing. The event is a 12-hour race, if I was in peak condition I could easily complete 80 km (50 mi.). However, I am not in peak condition and this is not my goal, my goal is to complete the marathon distance in around 5 hours. If I am still feeling good after this I will decide how long I want to continue, but I need to get some sleep, I have to be fit Monday morning.

For the first two years this event we had bad weather, the first year (2012) was a bad storm which caused a power outage, whereas they had to cancel the event after around 4 ½ hours. The second year (2014) was similar, lots of rain, with standing water on the course. This year is not looking good either, the report is rain with storm conditions. As I write it is quite humid outside, a good sign that we are in for a thunderstorm.

In any case I have everything I need to run up to 12 hours, regardless of the weather. How far I run will depend on how well the first 4 hours go, if I am reduced to walking by that time, then I will finish the marathon distance and call it a night. If my “ultra memory” clicks in and I am running on autopilot, then we’ll see what happens.

Counting Down to Race Day

This past week I began tapering for my first marathon, I still ran five days, but reduced the mileage from around 80 km per week (~50 mi.) to 58 km (36 mi). This week I will probably run just 2 shorter runs, my legs have felt really heavy and tired lately, I think the rest will bring more than running.

On this coming Saturday at 10 p.m. is the 3rd Durkheimer Salinen Run, this will be the third time that I am participating. According to Wikipedia, Bad Durkheim is a spa town in the Rhine-Neckar urban agglomeration, and is the seat of the Bad Dürkheim district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. “Saline” translates to salt works, the salt is won through a graduation tower, known locally as Saline, and is part of Bad Dürkheim’s spa facilities. With a length of some 330 meters, it is one of the biggest of its kind in Germany. The course is run around the Saline, this year the course has been lengthened to 929 meters, so I only need to run 46 rounds for a marathon 😉

The event is run every two years, the first time I was still halfway fit, I was planning on running at least 100 kilometers, but a storm knocked out the power and they had to cancel, I only managed 38 km. For two years I ran with only limited training, after 55 km and a drenching thunderstorm I decided I had enough. This year I have even less training, and I haven’t run a race for almost a year. My only goal is to run at least the marathon distance, time unimportant, this will be a test run to determine how the rest of my running year should go.

This Weekend in Running

With two week to go (less as I write) until my first marathon event this year, I contemplated whether to run one last long run on the weekend. As primary goal for the event is just to finish, I decided in favor of this and suited up.

It was raining when I left work, but the sun came out by the time I was home, so I decided on shorts and a short-sleeve running shirt. Unfortunately after about 45 minutes into my run the weather changed for the worse, heavy rain and a cold wind. Two and a half hours into my run I was drenched and cold, so decided it would be far worst to catch a cold at this point than to get in a few more kilometers, so headed home, finishing with about 25 kilometers.

On Saturday I ran a loop with RB (my running buddy) at our running club, Elizabeth joined us for the first half. On Sunday after lunch I ran a faster 10 km and on Monday (a holiday in Germany), 12 km at roughly the pace I want to run my marathon. Today I have to work late, so will take a break.

I have been averaging around 70 kilometers (43-44 miles) per week since February, much less than a few years ago, but I think adequate for my first race this year. At almost 57 years old I have noticed that I lack the ambition that I had in the earlier years of running. I also have noticed that I need longer to recover, especially when I push the pace or increase training distances too quickly. With this in mind I want to taper a little before the race on May 28th.

The Present Condition of the Running Machinery

I have determined that getting back into a habit becomes more difficult as you get older. Yesterday I sat done wanting to write a blog entry and I didn’t know where to begin, so didn’t write. Today I am just letting it roll out.

In two weeks I am running my first marathon (or more) since June of 2015, so thought I would document some thoughts are my current state of readiness for said event.

For my one and only marathon last year I finished in 5:20:50, my slowest marathon ever, which prompted me to hang up my racing shoes for the rest of the year. I began my marathon training this January and it has progressed slowly, by conditioning was so poor that I had cancelled a marathon planned in March and didn’t sign up for one in April. At this point my parrot predictor is predicting a marathon finishing time of around 4:40 which would be okay at this point, but based on how I feel on my long runs, very optimistic.

In April I began looking for a marathon that would be a good candidate to launch my race season. Most races in the area just didn’t fit to my schedule or level of training, for example the Westerwald 50K with over 1400 Meter elevation gain, seemed like a bit too much. I ended up selecting the 12-Hour Salinen Run in Bad Dürkheim. The race fits well with my schedule, and will allow me to really test how far my legs can carry me. The disadvantage, some may say, is that the course is a 693 Meter loop, which most would probably say would the most boring run ever.

I have run this race twice in the past, the first time a power outage ended the race prematurely, the second time I quit early after running 55 km (35 mi.) due to a drenching thunderstorm that washed away my desire to continue. As far as boredom goes, I never experienced this, in the past I knew several of the participants, so it was pretty hard to get bored when you are running with a bunch of ultra runners with lots of time to talk.

I really can’t image holding out for the entire 12 hours, this is not even a goal, but I am hoping that I can at least match my 55 km that I completed 2 years ago, this should be doable even if I have to stop and take a nap in between (the race starts at 10 p.m. and goes until 10 a.m. the next day). A race-of-my-life goal would be 70-80 km, but I would really need to be having a good day to complete this, at least with my current conditioning.

In any case I have gotten older, slower, and have let my conditioning decline. Despite these obstacles I am looking forward to toeing the starting line, I have missed the race atmosphere, once you have been there you don’t forget it.