You’ll never run alone – KiLL50 2019

I heard and read a lot about the KiLL50. It was kind of my run, but I never managed to enter, mostly because the ‘Goldener Ball’, an underwater rugby tournament we usually use to prepare for the next league season, is always on the same weekend, but also because entering the KiLL is not straightforward, but needs an invitation by the race director, just like the STUNT100. The story behind the KiLL is a nice one to tell (this is the story I was told, so no guarantees here): Two guys were running in the annual 50k ultra through the valley of the Leine, on a nice, sunny summer afternoon, along fields and the occasional village. A first ultra for many, but for those two, it lacked lots of things that would make them proud of the accomplishment of finishing. Having people brag with becoming an ultra runner after this run probably did a thing too. So, they decided this was boring, and they would organize a run that is the opposite in many directions. It would not be a tad over a regular marathon, but 50 miles rather than 50k. It would not go nicely flat through the valley but over hills and hills and hills. And there are many around. It would not be in summer, but in November, no nice warm breeze but loads of mud, chilling winds and rain. Perhaps some hail or snow? And finally, the run would not be in plain daylight, but entirely in the dark. Sounds nice, eh? The KiLL50 was born, the abbreviation for ‘kein idyllischer Landschafts-Lauf’. Take a race director who likes to describe himself with quotes of Terry Prattchet talking about Death, doing his best to make the run sound painful and agonizing, getting satisfaction out of drops, and providing some more hurdles to increase the probability of failure: The most evil one was to put the race in two loops, one, 50k, through the valley up into the Hildesheimer Wald over the Tosmar ridgeline, to Diekholzen, with a small water drop, back into the forest and nice trails until Barfelde (the one with the cursed Garage of the last loop of the STUNT) towards the Tafelberg with an endless climb, an immediate steep drop and another climb up the Wettenser Schlei, probably 30% incline over one km, and when you think you are up again, there is one other endless climb, not steep, but long and after the Schlei not runnable at least by me, then you reach the Herberge again. Here is your stuff, your sleeping bag, loads of food and drinks, some nice people hanging out. The ideal place to call it quits when you just made 50k through wind, rain, mud and endless climbing. To go out the second loop seems the single most hardest thing for many. Then there were only a few aid stations. The first one with water and Dominosteine, some German sweet weirdness in my view, one other reason for failure for sure. Another one at 32k, well equipped if you don’t rely on caffeine and can live without coke (well, he said it was a mistake, but you never know). Then the Herberge at 50k which was way too well equipped. And finally a box in the woods with some water and, yeah, coke. I lost track of km markers by then though. All this aside, Michael, Susanne and all other volunteers did a great job supporting us through this night.

When I realized that I must not play in the tournament because of a vein surgery, I was trying to spontaneously sneak in the run. It worked. Michael accepted me ‘as if YOU had to beg here’, wow, that made me proud! He also sent me a name when I asked for potential rides, passing by Goettingen: Georg Kunzfeld. I tried my Google-fu to locate an email address and was immediately star-struck. This is the German who ran Barkley. Twice. I read about the Barkley long ago when I entered the ultra mailing list. First it appeared as some proverb, later I figured this is something real and inhaled some race reports. This race was too good to be true. And also, it was so not for me as a race can be. Lots of people told me about their secret daydreaming of the Barkley, setting this as their fantasy ultra goal and whatnot. I did not get it. Well, all reports seemed so down to earth, as if those guys were humans. Then I learned about Nick placing second (or even winning?) at UTMB. OK, scratch that. And Barkley became a saying again. Something others do. I liked to follow stories as I read a novel. Then came my 180 and 184k at Rueningen. Fabian, Sascha, Ramon, Jan, and some more tried to talk me into Spartathlon, now that I have a qualification. I shrugged. Too hot, too dusty, too long, too boring, too much asphalt. Aschu and Silvio laughed a bit as it was pouring rain and hail the year they were there. So I took a look into that race. It is evidently epic in the story it tells. It seems like you get a very good team spirit within the bigger nations. And I wanted to look over the edge of more or less hundred miles anyway. Holy moly, 600 Euros registration? Plus flight? And obviously taking my family if I am there for such a long time? Ilka suggested I can try to make this my birthday wish. At age 50! Ha! Anyway, the thought to go far for a very long race was planted, and I shifted it back and forth. Finally, it crept up: If I do all this for a race, it better be a race I really want to run. Like a real wish. Also, having all these forest roads to run at the STUNT and TU, I tried to think of a run with a much higher trail percentage. JUNUT came to mind but ended with some family differences. WiBoLT is a tad too far, but still a good thing. Another date collision. Argh! All these thoughts led to figuring out where I want to go in the long run. This was the time the virus began to spread. Slowly. I thought about getting the map of Frozen Head above my desk at the office. Just as a training motivation. I spoke to Pat who showed me his 😉 While looking over google finds for FHSP or Barkley maps, I was sucked in more and more. Reading more race reports, getting an idea about the names of the summits, valleys etc. Intense.
And now I was trying to contact a Barkley vet to ask him for a ride to Wrisbergholzen? I did not dare. Then after some days trying to recover from the shock, I asked Michael to pass a message to Georg, but never got a reply. Asking Matthias the same a few days after, I got the info that the other Michael will get him from the train station in Alfeld, so I could just join them. Good idea! Still they were arriving quite early so I tried to get the car to go there myself. This worked out, and I left the family for good at the lunch table and drove to the start. One stop at one of the many parking spots around Alfeld with those tiny shabby love mobiles to sort out my stuff that I simply threw in the car and I knew that I would be too agitated to sort it on the race site. Sleeping stuff in the big duffle bag, running clothes on the rear seats, gosh I love our van and it space! Filling the vest with spare clothes, lamps, buffs, bars (snickers and rawbite) and putting food I wanted to eat while driving in reach and on I went around the truck parking behind the love trailer.

At the Kulturherberge I changed into most of my running gear, got all the rest together and hopped out of the car to greet Peter, who I meet every now and then, lately at Rueningen. He even helped me get all my gear inside, which was a tad too much for one person. Did I mention that 24h runs spoil me totally in terms of stuff to bring to a race? The three logs of wood and the honey from my dad which were part of the entry fee, did not help with the weight either. Inside, I was greeted by a chilling crowd, many known faces (sorry Florian, it took me until I was home to realize we both ran the STUNT in 2018) Michael H., Heiner, Brigitte, Otti, Christiane, on her quest to work up to the STUNT next year, Current stop 80k through the hills and through the night. Many faces I did not know yet, but I worked my way through. Not few people were eating pasta  with some good looking and smelling tomato sauce. An hour before a race start? Wow.

I fiddled a lot with all my stuff, tried to drink as much as possible. And was asked if this was the bag for the aid station. Haha, no! This is all my tea! No one dare to touch it! Yes, it was quite a lot, but I wanted to be independent of any tea source until home again. I found a place to put my mattress and sleeping bag in the aquarium, a nice room with huge windows. Somehow along the preparation I got to know Michael N and Susanne, the race directors. They said the words ‘ah, you will be one of the faster guys, right?’. No? How come? Well, I did not plan to run until 8 in the morning, but get some solid hours of sleep before the awards ceremony. So, maybe yes, I’ll be one of the faster people out there. Will I? Did I mention my knee yet? Such a bad incident. On the fall fest at the Sababurg park, I slipped over a rock, and fell vertically on my left knee, all weight on it. After a short shock and the try to walk it out, I realized that serious damage had happened and went for some ice to the medics. And week of using the elevator followed, limping my way through the monastery of Schoental, the place I love to run a lot, booo! Another week of limping, and a third of ‘to be sure’ of no running. That after a week of virtually no running because of the anticipated high mileage week in Schoental. Darn. 4 weeks off. And still some nagging pain in the left knee. Only, I tried to convince myself and others that as long as the right knee hurts too from running, there’s a chance that the pain in the left leg is also due to starting over after the training gap and not the fall. Well, I did not really believe myself. But I managed to get into the KiLL, so I better get moving and remind those legs what they are here for! That’s the total inverse taper: Taking four weeks off and working my way from zero to 50 miles in about three weeks. Stupid, but I had no choice :-/
So, there I was, presented as one of the fast ones, with a questionable knee, a definitely bad preparation, and totally caught by Barkley fever and star struckness. Anyway, I got my stuff ready, did not pack a drop bag for the one aid station (30k in and only 20k till all my stuff? Why bother!). Put on the safety vest as Michael asked us to because of possible remainders of the hunting party in the woods. A last very successful restroom visit. Not to forget proper relubing. And we all went outside the Herberge to have Michael announce ‘one minute’ and then some ‘my watch shows 1700, what are you all still doing here?’ and off we went.
The first stretch was all downhill, so I positioned myself rather upfront, but behind the four who sped off like rabbits. So I found myself together with Peter when we entered the muddy trail down to Wrisbergholzen after 400m. We chatted and bolted behind the lead group of Georg, Amadeus, Matthias and Jamie. The latter one getting slower on the more technical and steeper parts. That is where I left Peter and ran directly behind her. Only to let her go on the steeper uphills to come. Michael joined me, and later Peter caught up to us, complaining that his borrowed Garmin (handheld) did not show the track anymore. This becomes a pattern 😉 Fortunately, Michael is a Garmin expert and I could leave the two fiddling with the device running full boar down a hill right before Petze (I sooo love the names of the villages there!) and reaching the lead group. Amadeus shouted something like ‘attention, someone is approaching’ and they made room for me, but I was already at the foot of the hill and no longer in the urge to run that fast. So I joined the group and was a bit surprised to run with those guys. When Georg asked ‘Hands up, who did not yet win this race?’ and nobody reacts, I thought this was a joke, then I realized that he and Jamie did, so must the other two, and I mumbled something along the lines ‘Well, I did not. But this is my first go at the KiLL, so I had no chance yet’. Was that me talking so boldly? Wow. When we entered the Hildesheimer forest and the forest road climbed a bit, I let the four leave again and was caught first by Michael then by Peter, who finally got his navigation running. Some downhill part later I joined Jamie and Georg, while Michael, Amadeus and Matthias were only some light spots further up the trail. The going got rougher and Jamie fell behind, and Georg and I began to chat. I was very happy that this happened so easily, and he was very open to my questions, mostly concerning the Barkley, but also many other interesting topics came and went in our conversation. We passed Michael, and tried to catch up to Matthias and Amadeus, as Georg did not want to have them run out of sight. Not so easy. But we were so quickly up the Tosmar ridgeline, and immediately it was over again. The benches and the hut came very surprisingly. We bolted up and down, always within my abilities if you forget for a moment that I wanted to run 50 miles that night. Downhill to Diekholzen I took the lead, uphill, Georg was much faster, but he said that he wanted to take the beginning easy and that he usually warms up after 50-60k. Well, I’d have some serious death and rebirth cycles scheduled until then… All in all we had a very good time, chatting and flying over the trails. Only, it got more and more exhausting for me. At one point I even overlooked a root and fell down, but without bigger damage. Most importantly, I did not roll over my pack and did not break my bladder. This was my main fear with this huge spacing of aid stations. Georg did a very good job keeping my spirits up, waiting for me when necessary and asking me to push it when possible. Of course I did not want to be the cause of him running a bad time, so I took all I got to follow him. I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. Really good company. If only I was a tad fitter. Later, after the race was over, Georg told me that he stalked my DUV statistics before the race and got a bit worried if I was a threat to him competition wise. This led him to speed up on the trails more than he would have done without me, just to wear me out. Well, I felt hugely honored by that. And yes, it worked. I was so done after the 30k mark, right before we reached the aid station in Heinum. I needed to walk much more than I would have liked, but that was that. At the station, he was getting his poles and took some food and was off immediately. I got some broth, hooray. This was gold after the long cold windy valley. And snickers. And took one of the gels they offered. And malt beer. While we were talking, Michael N looked down the field and said that Michael H is coming. He knows him by his limp. Michael was quick at the aid station and while I was leaving he pulled up to me and we went on together. Towards the big climb up Tafelberg. Georg told me that there will be a 30 minutes walk after the aid station anyway, but somehow I did not really believe him. Well, he was right. Nothing runnable for a very long time. I was soo tired as these moments. Michael and I chatted a bit, but also had long stretches in silence, just trotting upwards. From time to time I just wished he would speed off, and I could lay down besides the trail and take a nap. A level stretch had us running again, me without any fuel in the tank, loads of desire to walk, and so I did. At the tiniest incline. But Michael walked as well, and so we reached Tafelberg together. Downhill again! Painful downhill running. The soft trail helped a bit. My happiness to have made the right choice with the small green handheld for better ground vision on the trail helped too. But I was still worn out. Fortunately, the downhill was way shorter than I expected. Painful, but short. Now we were dreading the Wettenser Schlei. Very steep, very rocky, over a km long with what? 30% incline? About that. But it took a long, long time to get there. Sleepiness, getting colder, still behind on calories, we trotted alongside each other. Then the Schlei itself was way less taxing. We just walked it up until we were done. And we were. Looking for a bench to collapse on, we just found a huge fallen tree to sit on for a minute or two until the heart rate would go down again. I tried a morton stretch and was so surprised by a very sharp pain in my patella tendon, the damaged left knee was very angry at me. I immediately tried to get the weight off that leg, get up and hoped that the knee would just forget what happened.

Downhill became a bit more fun, but pretty soon we faced the next big climb as I knew from monitoring the elevation profile on my watch. Not steep, but endless. But the last climb before the end of loop one. We walked and walked until we realized a light catching up to us. I tried a bit of running, but to no success. So quickly we were overtaken by the jumpy deerlike Gunnar. Well, he was walking too, but looked so much fresher and springier that I felt. Bummer. Reaching the Rennstieg (not -steig!) was a relief. I knew this from my course scouting for the STUNT last year. Nicely runnable, mostly flat. Then came a steep drop and a road (how that?) then I realized that this was already the Road from Alfeld to Wrisbergholzen and the Herberge around the corner! Hooray. I sped up, although I lost Michael in the descent as he was complaining from stomach issues. But now my tea was in reach, and I so longed for something to keep me awake. Hooray! Inside, I realized there were much more people than I anticipated. Several drops already, Flo amongst them. Also Amadeus was there and he refused to continue although he was with Matthias the entire first round. But his skiing season was at stake as his achilles tendon became angry and so he called it quits. Michael came shortly after me, dropped dead in a seat and ate and drank. Gunnar went on, very happily surprised as Michael called him out as third position. Max and Jamie came and I felt the urge to leave as I took again much longer than I wanted to, but also refilled loads and was wise enough to visit the restroom again, optimizing my race weight.

When I reentered the room and announced my continuation, Jamie was about to leave too and said that she wanted to accompany me. Fine. Outside she told me that her watch refused to zoom into the worm navigation, so she would be entirely screwed in the woods. Not a Garmin though, but Coros 😉 So I agreed to direct her through the second loop. Still, I was having soo heavy legs from my first 30k with Georg that I had to walk every now and then, with little excuses as the next 8k were entirely flat now. Jamie was doing a very good job to keep me running. Then came the downhill before we would make this weird turn around some meadow and enter the forest again. Huh? Where is Jamie? Well, seems we are quite the opposite as I wanted to walk everything with a slight positive incline and she stood on the brakes as soon as it turned negative. That is how it felt. I know that I am rather good at downhill running, but did not expect this to be so evident as Jamie made a very strong impression otherwise. Somehow I convinced myself that not running full boar down every drop might save my knees after all, and waited every now and then. The ascent into the woods were again a test to me as I began to breathe harder and she just jumped ahead. When the forest road got a mess as my siblings from the boar tribe had emptied it from hidden gems, I again turned on my green light and sped off. Only to have her not follow immediately. Hm. This was now a winding, more or less level trail. But yes, the ground was very rough, thorny branches, nettles all over it. But hey, this is my territory! Weighing my promise to get her back safe, I looked around and decided that this is not the place to leave somebody behind with a broken navigation. This was in the very middle of some hilly forest, in the middle of the night. I love this. But not everybody does. And a promise is a promise. And dropping her here would be outright mean. But there would be Max sometimes behind us… Well, I decided to inquire the voices in my head but not to follow them. Then came my one navigational error for about 30meters in the wrong direction until I realized that what looked like a zigzag in the map was more or less straight in reality. Well, there was another one some ups and downs later, but I blame the track for that one, as we were fully on the line when we stomped along the field margin and not 20m south in the woods on the nice trail. Again lots of nice, rough trails, up and down. I felt the urge to push since we took a sip of coke at the unmanned aid box in the very middle of nothing in the middle of some huge, dense forest, and we saw a light approaching. I did not want to have Max overtake us, so this became a mantra whenever I was about to wimp out on the climbs. We pushed and pushed. On the uphills to my very limit, on the flats and especially the downhills way below it, but I tried to convince myself that this is better for my knee anyway. Also, since about 60k in, I felt the first 30k falling off of me. apparently the active break worked and everything loosened up, energy supply reached a steady state, and strength filled my legs again. Finally! So, I took the forced recovery on the downhills and flats to push even harder on the ups, and pretty soon Max’ headlamp vanished in the dark behind us.

On some climb where I refused to run again, it was pretty steep, Jamie fell over a root and hit her hip. First, I did not really think much of it, but this must have hurt a lot lateron. When I hoped to get to level ground, lots of reflectors, the official trail markers, had us turn right into the woods again and onto something, that was even steeper than the Schlei. What? I was already waiting for the valley drop down to Sack before the very last (and annoyingly long) climb to the finish, and here we were, in a wall of mud and leaves working our way to the sky. Ouch. When this ordeal was over (and after my second navigational error was solved) we were on a very exquisite part of trail. On a ridge again, densely overgrown, winding, up and down, the occasional root, but soft and non-muddy ground, just wide enough to run through it. Wow. Again, I was in trail runners heaven. Only, Jamie’s light disappeared pretty soon after I took off. So I waited a bit, and made this my pattern. Run as I please and take every tiny hill as a point to slow down to a walk until she got me again. By this time I knew that branches in the face and roots on the ground was not her favorite terrain. The hurting hip did not help either, I suppose.

Out of the woods, over fields and before us a valley with some street lights, Sack! Behind it, a suspiciously small hill. This cannot be the final climb, no? Sack will be much deeper down. I was rather done with long farm roads, so was about to bolt it down, to get this done. But I stuck to my run and wait pattern. When I heard voices, particularly a male one, behind me, I was pretty disappointed. Max caught us finally. He overtook and ran rather quickly towards the village. We jogged on. In Sack, there was a nasty climb and descent over a farm road, just to show everyone, that this was not supposed to be fun. We came down in the village again, when Max appeared from a wrong road and we approached this freaking final climb that we were waiting for for hours, in a good and bad way. Jamie kicked in her climbing gear,  Max ran with her, and I tried to follow. At this point, I realized how baked I already was. Keeping up with the two was really hard work. My heart rate shot up, I began to sweat, and could not see myself running this thing. All the more as Jamie would run it completely. So, when I was again in hearing distance, and she called us to push on, I just sent her off. For good? I shifted this thought back and forth in my head for quite a while. I came to the conclusion, that this is, what I make of it. I could be grumpy to be dumped on the very last stretch after I stuck to Jamie so she would not get lost for so long, dealing with her knees and hip which kept me from doing my thing. Our abilities were definitely contrary. Or, I could see that I was definitely not able to run this hill, and I knew it would be pain for her not to. And this was a fun run, I just shoved in my schedule. And I already got much more out of it than I hoped for. Who cares for placing? Of course, I had some time goals in mind before the run. Mostly as I hoped for much sleep, I thought that maybe 9 hours, maybe 9:30 should be doable. Not today, not with my current state. And definitely this was not Jamie’s fault, but mine. So, placing does not matter, time does not matter. Only, getting overtaken by Max did put a tiny dent in my spirits. I worked on letting all bitterness go, and it worked quite well. I was here, after almost 80k, on a nice night, in my beloved area, will finish soon and have warmth, food and tea, a shower, and finally my sleeping bag. I even enjoyed the moments walking up the hill.

Then, I realized that Max did not vanish. He also walked exclusively. A mere 200m in front of me. I had company for so long, and here we were, walking the same pace, but just divided by some short distance because I stopped running a tad earlier. So I took all I got together and shuffled on. Reaching him was again a lot of work, and I needed to convince myself more than once that stopping now was not really helping if I want to reach him. And finally, I did. We walked a bit, introduced ourselves and exchanged running stories. Another person to light the Junut fire in my heart. I definitely have to run this one day. We saw Jamie disappearing in the distance, then reappearing, as if she turned around to see if we were still there. And then the hill was done. We took it up and jogged a bit, until the final steps towards the Herberge, finishing on a joint fifth place in 10:07, two minutes after Jamie. Grief coming back? No at all. This was one of the most social races I had. And I enjoyed it all over.

I grabbed my tea, a beer, some soup and I don’t remember what and fell on the sofa. Hanging out with all the fast guys who did not go to bed yet, was another plus to this weekend. When I finished everything on the table and began to shiver, I tried to reach the showers. Not so easy, as the direction ‘just behind the toilets’ did not apply to the restroom I knew and used until then. This was a superfluous floor to climb. Darn. The legs were dead, and I was really afraid to slip on the stairs which were a bit wet from all the muddy shoes and the microclimate in the entrance of the Herberge. I did not, found the correct staircase and the showers, got out of my stinky clothes and under a really nice hot shower. Shivering went away again, as long as the water was running. Note to self: Getting off the tape is one of the major reasons I shave my chest before races, besides having the shirt stick and not rub over my upper body. Argh, the hair refused to get off of either side. Still, I got over this, and got my hot-water bag filled so I would not need to wait half an hour to fall asleep until my feet were warm. Inflated my mattress, crawled into my sleeping bag and rested in this specific post-ultra sleep. Rolling from right to left, cramping legs, no position works for more than 15 minutes, and in general a feeling of not sleeping at all.

I was all the more surprised to get up well rested, get breakfast after clearing my sleeping spot and was ready for the awards ceremony and some more socializing. This was a great bunch of people. I love the idea to put on races that are far from commercializing, with only a few entrants that you will get to know over the event. Involved volunteers. Great stuff! Sad to hear, that this might be the last edition of the race, although Michael showed some signs of weakness with that decision already 😉