I want to win this thing – Rüningen 24h 2019

Well, I have my history with the 24h of Rueningen. It was my first ultra, back in 2014, with 135k, and full of learning opportunities since then, see my other reports. Every time I was here, I was able to up my mileage. And every time, since we began to compete, I could pass Toni, who was running 24h races in Finland. 2019, he was ill on the 24h race, he had planned. But he found another one. After I answered his 172k with 180k in 2018, he smashed my spirits this time by laying down a whopping 207k. This was unreachable. But Toni is human after all, like me, so maybe, I should try? Last year, I was well on course for 200+, and I gained experience, no? Only, he trained a lot, I did not. Only, I won races. Small ones, but anyway. I won the KatzenSprungs Backyard Ultra, after Morton refused to run into the night that we so much wanted to reach during the hot day. And I won the Stunt100, again, when Christian trashed his knee and handed over the lead to me. So, why not play bold and just win this thing?

Since I read about Rüningen and looked into the statistics, I had in mind ‘This is the one race where I can mange to place’. Did not happen for some years, but last year, I was second. And Fabian told me, I got him to his 200k by telling him he looked great and being in a big lead on Sunday morning. So, if I don’t tell people they do good, but that I will win, maybe it works? All in all I had a solid sequence of goals: A – beat Toni. B – win the race. C – better my 180k from last year. D – stay running for 24h.

Most of the race is the same as last year. The kids were with me, had handlers, we pitched the big family tent, organized tables at the barrier, and were all eager to put up big mileage. During the registration, some guy wanted to have us take part in a lottery for a balloon ride on Sunday morning at 6. What? We are just getting our bibs to run for 24h and he tried to get us into some distraction away from the course? No way!
But some things were different than last year. I wanted to bring an entire fan club, but after Corinna and Johannes bailed out due to injury, I still had my brother with his girls, Tanya and Reinulf with my kids on the track and my parents on the bench. We put up a pavillion over our table, which made a good impression of ‘here we are’ and provided some shade for the kids and grand parents. Only, we had to fight for our place as the Samaritians put up two huge team tents and thought this would earn them 30m of barrier. No. Also, we noticed a course change. Which is not easy if you want to put 1k of running onto a sports ground. Apparently the cinder ground was renovated to get plastic grass and currently under construction. So the course was similarly on the grass as last year, but immediately joined the rubber track, went almost fully around it, then came a 180deg turn, but with a nice radius of about 20m where the pole vault area is, then back on the inner three lanes of the rubber track and finally around a rather nasty left turn over some gravel to the grass again and to the start-finish line. This looked like worse than last year, but it turned out that the counterclockwise and clockwise running on the rubber track made for a much better distribution of left and right turns than on the other year. Good stuff. Also that we did not have to run over the cinder which eventually will be inside shoes, socks and one year even between the transponder band and my ankle, rubbing off the skin.

3pm came and we were off after some last goodbyes and goodlucks to the kids. Jule had a hard time to let Ilka leave, but in the end, she pulled herself together and went off with Reinulf for the endless looping. I met tons of people from other years, most notably Daniel, my good old fan from the relay team, who entered as a solo runner this year as he was not fit enough for the team and had his little daughter with him for some hours. Andre who tought me so much over the years in Rüningen. And Steffen, with whom I share some Rüningen history. And also Sascha, who was paced to a Spartathlon qualification in 2016, giving me a hard time in the night when I saw him dying, and then being reborn some time later. This time, he was pacing Ramon, who also wanted the Spartathlon qualification. I was in awe for the engagement he and Mike put into the success of Ramon, who apparently got to know the two not that long ago. Impressive!

Every time I spoke to people about my goals, I said outright: ‘I want to win this’. This felt weird, as I am not that bold usually. But that was the truth. I definitely wanted to. Some people were impressed, some amused. Some took it seriously. Some did not. After a while, Sascha told me, that Ramon will be the winner of the race. And I told him otherwise. A mere 180k for a win? Not with me! This was fun. And I cruised pretty consistently around the track. With the out and back on the track, there was a lot of see and be seen. Other runners, but more importantly, my kids. We high fived every time we met, which was about two times a loop. Lots of cheering in both directions. Ronja played it save and walked, Tom pushed and ran quite a lot. I dreaded blisters or cramps on his side, but none came.

The day was hot. Not as hot as the Stunt. but hot anyway. And I was prepared for heat. Because of the stunt primarily, but also because the summer was about to end, and I spent quite some time in the heat outside over the vacation. There were water buckets with sponges, and I dipped my hat (with the nice neck flap) into them every loop or two. I also wetted my white UV long sleeve. No beekeeper hand flaps and trousers though. But I felt like having the situation under control. Much better than last year. The loops accumulated and when the dust cleared, the contenders for a placement were more and more obvious. Who made me nervous was Andre. He is fast, he is consistent, he won this race already (in my first year here, he went 180k), and he was several km ahead of me. Darn! And some other people were on my list, but not that far into the race, I was second behind Andre. He told me not to worry, but worry I did. The hours came and went, loops were getting more and more, ups and downs went by, and I chatted here and there. Many people were very supportive. A thumbs up here and there, a smile, a high five. Chatting here and there. And getting lots of encouragement. Ramon turned out to be a nice guy, not really interested in winning the race, but getting his qualification and that’s it. Also, Sascha was very supportive to me too. Wow.

Night came, the kids got their obligatory four hours of rest before the moonlight run from midnight to four am. The coolness of the night was pure relief. I caught myself getting more and more consistent with my laps, getting into some rythm to run five laps, and use the sixth to refuel, walk a tiny bit and run off again. The crowd at midnight was already quite annyoing, seemed like I was exhausted more than I cared to admit. Unfortunately, Jule got a blister the day before, in fact two, one under the ball of each foot. Getting into the sandals on midnight and seeing incredibly many, 15 loops ahead of her, was a bit too much. She did some rounds, and then retracted to the chair under our pavillion, and soon thereafter into her sleeping bag in the tent. Alone. This is a first. And I felt proud of her independence when I realized this. The others, Reinulf included, went to get their shirt and when it was time to go to bed again, Tom said, he wanted to go on and keep his position. Well, he just turned 13, so maybe he is OK with 4h of sleep for a night, no? I expected him to drop dead any time, and kept asking him if he got tired already. He didn’t, well into Sunday. Wow.

Somewhere in the night, Andre dropped out. I don’t remember the reason, but I met him with his stuff, and he wished me good fortune. A few laps later I was first, and carried the responsibility of finishing this race with a respectable mileage. I did not really want to know about the other places until 18h, but somehow, I was anxious about who was chasing me and where they stood. So I asked the kids and they told me. Ramon was second. And I don’t really remember the third. But I felt assured that I only have to keep him off to get the win. And I was 7k or so ahead of him. Ramon was amazing, he circled the course with a smile. Even more amazing were Sascha and Mike, who handled him. Made sure he did not stop, drank enough, surveilled his pee breaks (as it seemed), handed him food, water, ice, you name it. And Sascha ran with him, on and off. Often he bolted off to get the right drinks or snacks, pushed Ramon on, when he wanted to stop at their tent, and then ran like a rabbit with a cup after Ramon, so he could eat and drink without breaking his step. Sascha offered support to me too. For which I am extremely grateful. They had ice cubes. (Note for next time!) At one time, Sascha asked me if I wanted ice, and I said yes. Half a round later, Patrick, the thunder and lightning runner from last year, waved with a water ice and handed it to me. Wow, this was so exactly what I needed in the heat of the not so new anymore Sunday. Later, I learned this was purely coincidental, while I thought, Patrick just got the ice to me. Wow, another spontaneous supporter in the crowd of people who are more family every year.

I went on, and realized, even though I moved quite well, I was no longer so fast like in the night. Also, I did not runfor 5k at a stretch anymore. Too many stops at the cool water buckets, at the buffet, at my own table. Too many stretch breaks, too many walking sections. I was not as broken as last year, but I was reaching my running limit. It was gritting teeth from now on. And I did. Cheered the kids, cheered the other runners, especially Ramon, who was running like a clockwork. Perfectly executing the plan of Sascha. The plan looked a bit risky, as he went slowly. But the math showed, that he will still have a 30 mins margin to make the qualification as long as he went on. And he did. Relentlessly. Not without showing some damage, but he was carried on by the determination of Sascha and Mike. And he did not have to take any stops. Even if he looked like he wanted 😉

My plan was easy: Just stick to Ramon and I win. Only, he was running too slowly for me. I could not stand his pace. For some hundred meters, but after half a round of nice conversation, I had to take off again. And then take a walking break. And stop at my table. So I was lapped by Ramon every now and then. I figured, if he lapped me once per hour, I am still safe. But then he lapped me twice in 60 minutes and I was in fear. I pushed. Realized I did not have much left to push with. I was at the edge. Was about to give an. Again. But I did not want. Not this time. All I need was to go on. That became harder and harder. And stress did not really help. Then, about 23h, Sascha said the magic words: ‘Just that you know: We will not take your win. It is 180k and finito.’ What a relief. I could relax, and let go of the stress. Phew. Some more words in the next round, that in fact, they wanted to go 180k and then a walked victory lap all three (actually, there were more friends of Ramon joining that round), so I needed 182k. I ranwalked them in, and took a deep breath. The kids got in my focus again. Jule wanting to do a lap with me, and we formed the plan to also walk the last round altogether, family, friends, kids, etc. A propos kids: I remember Tom walking on end barefoot because the shoes caused him blisters. He walked on the plastic rim inside the track, sometimes on the grass on the lengths, with a slight forward lean looking a bit spent. But then he had company, talked to many different people, kids, adults. Sometimes in a bigger crowd, sometimes alone. He was doing a tremendously good job. When he knew the fourth boy left the track, he laid down too, and waited, until this guy got on the course again, and Tom started too. This he did til the end. And went to 3rd place in the youth category with 77k. I am deeply impressed by that number. At some point he asked me, what he would need to do so I will let him run the Brocken Challenge. My reply: Do the 80k in 14 hours on the flat here, and we will talk again. That was sufficient 🙂

Anyway, Ramon and crew went their 181st lap, and I was so happy for Ramon, who was also deeply moved to have gone the distance. Hugs were exchanged when we crossed. And of course I was so glad, they left the first place for me. A bit of a push, some mental weekness on my side, would have been it. Phew. So, I ended the race, 5mins to spare, with all my family and friends on spot. A bit of underwhelming welcome by the moderator, but hey, that was of minor importance now. I won. This race. As I said. I am proud!

Shower, some short ice-cream session and soon the awards ceremony started. I hunched in the shadow of the stage, together with Ramon who needed to sit down after getting his age group award. And then he started to collapse. First, he asked for water I think. With lots of sweat drops on the forehead. And he looked pale. Even more pale than usually. I do not really remember the sequence, but he slipped from his seat, when we had already some help of people holding him, I secured his head and Ilka got him out of some paralysis by asking him to stay, and staying in his view. The medics were there quickly, and he was laid on the ground, I placed his head on the feet of someone (his girlfriend?), and he assured us he is alright as only a person can do who was jsut coming back from unconsciousness. Yes, yes, please stay on the ground. He got some water, and sat back up. Then he got on his feet again, and stumbled to the stage for the overall awards. We did not have to climb the stairs this time, but just sat down on the front edge. Different, but fine too. I was totally surprised to be handed an envelope with 50Euros as price money. Whoa, never thought of getting price money in my life before.

The organizers told everyone that this would be their final turn. As I understood, sponsors were missing, and also, they were too few people to take all the work. But me and my family dearly hope that they will sort all this out, and we get another chance of running in circles in Rüningen.