I was overly excited for this race. Back in 2018, when Dieter gave me a ride to the STUNT100, we of course discussed races, running regions, what we liked and what was still on our bucket list. Well, there is not much left for Dieter, he has done it all, it seems. But he could help me. As always, I was already two steps ahead of my current status as a runner. Yes, I have done 100 miles. Yes, it was kind of on trail. Check that, what’s next? I love small races, and read a lot about this hype in the US to go up to 200 miles. As a way to deal with more and more average guys (like myself) running hundreds? I dunno. But hundred miles seemed like a step. A step to be taken to reach the next one. Which would be what? I did my research and found that there are not too many very long races in Germany. That are not stage races. No, I don’t want to be stopped and restart the next day with a sore and stiff body. I want to know how far I can go. Didn’t reach that point yet. (I was about to write up to date, but my drop at the end of the Harz adventure or me asking my parents to pick me up in Wolfenbuettel might give a hint how it feels to really reach the end of running.)
Anyway, Dieter told me after hearing what I was looking for that the JUNUT might be my best bet. This and the WiBoLT, but maybe in that order. After the successful STUNT I researched and found the JUNUT to really match my needs. And with Dieters recommendation I wanted to register. Only, there was some overlap of family duty, and maybe some fear of the distance. Did not happen in 2019. But 2020. This was it! Well, you all know what swiped every entry of the race calendars of every runner that year. And the following. Invitation and registering did not really help when there is no race. But 2022 must be better, no? Covid numbers shot through the roof, but somehow everybody shrugged it off, April was still far away, so Gerhard and Crew decided to give it a try and I got a spot. Put the date in the family calendar. This was my A race this year. The next step. (Again, to what? I am still not sure) Later I learned that this will be right in the middle of the easter school holidays. Well… Good that I didn’t check that before registering.
2022 BC came and showed me brutally how unfit I was. The second Corona year had me running less and less. Some long runs thrown in, and I managed quite well, like the Rennsteig nonstop. But all in all, other things were more important and I slipped out of the routine of running. And put on weight. This was over the entire two years, I weighed in at 87kg in February. Where I remembered how easy running was with 78kg, sigh. Brocken Challenge destroyed me big time. The time was still respectable for me, but it was so much hard work. With the 240k of the JUNUT glooming at the horizon, I was getting really anxious. Luckily, I could use my fear to really do some change to my lifestyle. Going into diet immediately, no more sweets until after JUNUT. Running every week day and sometimes even at the weekend. And again, magic happened. I got lighter, running got more easy, the routine came back. And at some point, I could again reach flow states while running. Being in a state of running. Effortless, no thought needed. Shoes put on themselves and I was a kilometer in when I fully realized I was running. Being able to watch myself running. Sometimes zoning out, sometimes in my thoughts, sometimes very present and inhaling the forest, feeling every stone of the gravel under my feet. This was getting somewhere, yay!
Oh, and I got poles. Yes, cheat sticks. Yes, me. I was afraid of all the steep hills of the JUNUT and also might need something to use as a crutch to get the unknown 80k done after checking the hundred mile mark. Reading about how to use them efficiently, asking around on the ultra list and on fb, collecting swarm wisdom. This was much fun. And motivated me even further. Like back in the days when my other running gear was not as highly tuned as it is today. Good vibes. I used the poles a lot in training, and they motivated me to run much more ascents than I usually did in my lazyness of the past years.
I felt really well prepared. And I could obsess a bit over the question which pack to use as the Instinct is quite large, but can hold the poles. As several people commented, it might be wise to use the poles only later in the race to save the not-so-trained arms for when the legs give up, I made the plan to put the large vest and poles into the drop bag and decide on the run if I need them already for the first night, or if I can live off my small pack in the early stages.
I got a ride from Katrin and as Andre asked me how I will reach Dietfurt, I secured a place for him too and booked a room for Andre an me in the Braeu-Toni, the Hotel where the briefing would be held. Phew, everything sorted out for this adventure of a lifetime.
Then the setbacks began. After a week of good running (and a good time in general) in the Harz I came back home to Tom being Covid-sick. And he passed this on to Ronja and then to Jule. Always with several days in between, such that I was not allowed to go to work for over three weeks. And somehow bound home. And in constant fear of catching covid too. Well, I had the kids breathe directly in my face for hours, so this was kind of set. But I did not. I cannot really explain it, but I was really happy that even in the last days leading up to the race, I was nicely negative. But Katrins husband Matthias who was supposed to drive the car got sick too. And then her. Darn. There were quite some people canceling last minute due to Covid. Poor them. This was always my horror scenario. But I was one of the lucky ones reaching Dietfurt healthily and even passing the obligatory test by a professional who unclogged my nose sustainably.
Andre made it too so our WG was fine and we got into the pre race routine of welcoming many many people we knew. Talking here and there. Reconnecting, telling stories, all in sparkling anticipation of the adventure ahead. We laid out all our running gear in our room and tried to sort it again in things to wear, put in the drop bag (a gimmick of the Junut that I was very much looking forward to, you get a standardized bag to put your stuff for a drop bag and you will receive the same bag at three locations. Somehow the color code of this year made the bags for the long ones white. Why? This is asking for mud in my book. Sigh. I hoped for some bad ass black or yellow like in previous years. But white it was.) only to find the drop bag to be much smaller than I hoped for. I shifted plans back and forth and figured I can never put my big running vest, two pairs of shoes, poles, electronics, food, Zaubertrank (beetroot juice with chia seeds) and two changes of clothes in it. Back and forth. I then opted for what seemed easiest. I would just need to carry everything that does not fit with me. So, the Instinct vest it was, and poles from the very beginning. And half of my boiled potatoes. Then out with the Zaubertrank, I would just down as much as I can before the start. And the drop bag almost closed.
The briefing and pasta party was great. Nice people at our table, and the usual meet and greet. Many people I already ran with, and much more that I recognized from the distance. Felt like family. Gerhards speech with tech support from his son was fun although quite short. But there was not too much to say. All these people in the room (over a hundred) really know their things. There was so much mileage here. Wow. And a bit star struck, I realized that there were three people in the room who already shook Laz’s hand. After two plates of really good Asian Pasta we went up, I finally rolled my legs and felt really well prepared when we turned off the light at half past nine. Good sleep was to come before a great day!
After a good breakfast and a really restful night, we sent the early starters on their way. Another 2,5 hours until we would do the same. More packing, getting into the race clothes, organizing stuff in the drop bag and my backpack to put in the gym for storing. Gosh was my drop bag heavy. And the big backpack light. Still plenty of time, we laid in bad again and got another 30 minutes of rest/shallow sleep. Calmness set in. Great! At some point in our routines, Andre mentioned casually that I should be fast enough to win this race. Ha! Definitely not, have you seen the people at the briefing? Well, even if many of them looked more pro then they were, I _knew_ that some of them are several leagues above me. He smiled and assured his statement. Well, many of the big shots signed up for 170k ‘only’ and if some of the long people would crash at some point, I might have a shot at placing top ten. So, once again, my competitive side was lit and I shifted the thought of racing this thing back and forth. There were so many unknowns in this equation, but holding back is not mine anyway, and, as I like to say to myself, it doesn’t really matter if the legs are tired at 30k or 60k. They will be tired at a point where the remaining distance will still feel insurmountable.
With enough time cushion we brought our stuff to the drop bag trailer and the gym and went to the market, well in advance for the start. After some words by Gerhard and the mayor, we were sent off, and I was happy to be finally running. Allowed to move. Following some aim. After some steps of walking, I found myself overtaking people, with some drive to not let the guys at the front take off without me. Just wanted to keep them in sight. I recognized Christoph who shared the first STUNT with me, holding back the entire time to take advantage of my navigation. So, he is faster than me, but not that much. And he is really smart pacing wise. When I almost got him, I realized that I forgot to lace my shoes properly before the start. Loose shoes is not that much of a problem for me, only in steep downhills, but the gaiters needed to be in place to keep debris out. So I found a fallen tree, laced my shoes and fastened the gaiters, letting go of the idea to run with Christoph. But I was quick enough, only two people overtook me at that break and in the next downhills, I could gain some room and finally pull up to the three at the front: Christoph, Micha and Alessio (who apologized for not speaking German). They ran a solid, quick pace in the flats and pushed uphill. Downhill, I had to hold back a bit, but thought of this saving my quads for later. On the ups, I really had to work as I am not a fast walker. But I had my poles that made me keep up with the three. I love Christoph’s quick cadence, as I could synchronize with him and forget about keeping a quick turnover. For some time, I was just the last of the group of four, but at some point I joined the conversation and Christoph recognized me. From then on our group was kind of moving as one. This was great to be carried by the company. Miles flew by, hills came and went. We were reached by Erika who joined us, but fell back on the downhills, only to catch us on the ups when she was still running. We passed several mile stones I recognized from photos, but there was no time to stop and take some myself. First of all, this had killed our flow, and then my phone that I put in a small plastic bag, was already quite wet in said bag, so I did not dare to take it out again to make things worse. At some point I wanted to put it in another drier bag and wiping it with my towel first. But there was no room for that either.
The pace in the flats was incredible, sub 5:30 minutes per km. I would never run this fast when I were alone. But I was not. Even though I waited for the point where I could no longer keep up and send the others on, it didn’t come. The first aid station was an even bigger relief to that than the steep climbs where I could get some rest of the running muscles. Getting some cookies and a Brezn, filling my cup and water bottles several times with tea, water, apple juice. I expected the others to do a quick turnover and leave me behind, but they needed even a bit more time than me, so I could do all I need and still relax a bit. When the next runners were announced by people looking at the live tracking, we hurried on. Again in the light drizzle that we had since shortly after the start. Never enough to get me wet. Rather providing nice cooling in all this fast running. I liked it. And thought that if this is the rain of the forecast, all my worries were a bit ridiculous. Only wet feet could pose a problem at some point. Not yet.
The rain got heavier, we lost Alessio at some point and also Erika, so there was just Micha, Christoph and me. Even we as a group stretched out more and more. I fell off before Kehlheim after we passed a huge crowd of the early starters in the woods, navigating their way along the old wall. More early people came in sight and somehow this lifted my spirits and I could become quicker again and reach the second aid station almost together with the two. When we were refueling and reorganizing there was a very heavy downpour. So we put on our rain pants and I got the cap on top of my two Buffs that I wore as a beanie, so the rain would not bug me too much in the eyes. When we were ready to set off again, the rain was again much lighter, but having some wind protection for the legs seemed like a good idea anyway.
We had a new guy for company, a middle distance one, so no worries. Who was quite a bit quicker in the flats (where our pace was not as blistering as before, but steady and still what I would have considered over my head, but was surprised that it worked anyway) but fell behind on the ups. The trail was getting more and more muddy. Hopping around puddles no longer worked as the parts that were not drowned were so slippery posing a risk to fall into the puddles. So we simply bombed through them. This was a lot of fun. Just don’t think about macerating feet and the distance to come. At some point Micha fell back. Taking a call or something. Only to come up to Christoph and me right after the last climb before Matting that we could enjoy in a warm setting sun that broke through the clouds. Christoph was always positive that we would reach Matting in daylight, but it was getting darker and darker. Also, we were walking much more than in the early stages. Still moving very well, but lowering the overall pace that I had no more doubt that I could maintain this for longer. Right before the drop to Matting it had gotten so dark that we needed lights as the downhill was again a rooty trail in the dense forest. Luckily I had two lights and could lend one to Christoph who didn’t. When we left the forest the rain had taken up considerably. This was no fun to be in. The wind was immense, pushing the rain drops into my face that it hurt. So I covered my face and tried to focus on the dim, orange lights in front of us, signalling the big stop Matting. Even though we slowed down in the last miles, we were still 30 minutes to early for the first ferry. But we were all eager to take a lot of time in Matting for proper eating, drinking, getting into warm, dry clothes and prepare thoroughly for the night. Still, we had to make the last 500m to the fire fighter’s garage, and it was awful. Getting soaked to the bone. And halfway to the village there were several lightnings more or less above us. I was really happy that we made it down the hill already, and that we would have shelter in an instant. We hurried through the street and I was overly glad to see the tent marking the entrance and hopping into the warm, cozy aid station. Phew. We made it to the first major check point intact, fast, in good spirits and with still remarkably fresh legs. This race might be getting somewhere.
I found a niche together with my drop bag, got out of most of the wet stuff and focused on the routine I made up for this break. First hook up the watch to the power bank. Then find dry clothes in my bag. Then get out of the rest of the drippy stuff and change into the cozy, dry, warm gear. Then eat and drink. Midway in my changing I got a beer and could order pizza! Yeah! And shortly later the station chief came into the room with a very serious face. He had to tell us something we won’t like. He got a call from Gerhard that the race is cancelled due to the weather. Not knowing this guy and with the minor weather inconvenience we encountered, I first thought this was a joke. There were a handful of early starters and us four in the room, the race had just begun, this can’t be over now! Only, there was no unveiling laughter. He stayed serious and even made another call to make sure. There would be no ferry over the Donau. No more aid stations and no drop bags along the way. (No, I did not really think about continuing on my own at that point). This cancellation left me hanging in the air. Not really sure if I was dreaming, or if this was real. After a few minutes of paralysis I realized that dry clothes might still be a good idea and proceeded my routine but without the energy and anticipation. Shaking my head internally. Then I realized how lucky we were to learn about the cancelling here in the warmth, with spare clothes, pizza and beer. No rain, no wind, but nice chatty people around. So I tried to shrug this off and make the best of it. I cannot tell how much beer we drank and how many pizzas we killed, one after the next. There were people coming in on a regular basis, some of them drenched to the bone like us a while prior, some seemed rather dry. In the building, we had no idea how the weather was outside. For us, it was warm, nice and we were well fed. So well that we were not really willing to get into the shuttle bus back to Dietfurt. The driver had us take our time, but after a (long) while he complimented us in the bus and in hindsight we were lucky to have taken the first bus as the next batch of people would come ‘home’ over two hours later. Upon leaving there was a knock on the drivers window. The station crew signaled that there was no more beer. So the driver should get more on his way back. Ooops.
Back in the old gym in Dietfurt we were kind of lost and joined another group of people who were pulled off course in Kehlheim. All with the same puzzled expression on their faces. For some time we exchanged plans how to deal with this, go on on our own the next day? In the other direction just to look at the course? If the Sumema had been held on Sunday, I had made an attempt to run it. When I had the idea Micha joined in and asked when the start will be, if we still have a chance when we jumped right in the car? But it was way past midnight and the race starts at 7. After a while the conversations drifted into the story telling that I like so much from pre and post race rounds. Stories of other races, past events, plans, wins and losses. And there were quite some experienced people around. All the more interesting the conversation was. There was even some war talk as Marina and Christoph argued if she had reached him had the race gone on or not. And then the promise of Tobias to pace Marina to a 25 hour finish next year. ‘The climbs eat up time, so you have to run in between 4 and 4:30 min/km in the flats’ ‘Alright’ Well. Andre, take notes! These are numbers of winners 😉 With time and beverages the conversation became more personal culminating in #wasmachtdasmitdir?. I was pretty surprised to be fully awake even though I did not take any caffeine in Matting as planned, but thought that I would be in bed pretty soon. I very much awaited the self-made energy balls with Guarana that Stefanie made for me last week. What a pity. I Well, no. Micha offered a bed in his appartment, which I happily took. No sleeping bag/air mattres mess in the gym with people around all night. He would even get me to Wuerzburg the next day. Around half past three, I finally got tired and we took our stuff and left. The evening was much fun even though I anticipated much different fun.
The next day, I was somehow standing next to me. Maybe the little sleep, but somehow the cancellation has gotten to me big time. What was this? I even hopped in the wrong train and made a huge detour on my way home. It didn’t really matter. I found distraction in reading the diving book to get my second star some day. The day simply rushed along, not really touching me or taking me with it. Every now and then either anger, frustration, sadness took me like a wave. And was gone again. The weather was really nice. Darn. At home I was aware enough to get all the soaked stuff and throw it in the washing machine. Went to the pile of sweets I actively avoided in the last months. This should now all be mine. But I hardly ran. Have I worked enough to stuff myself now? I don’t think so. Time just slipped through my fingers, and at some point I went to bed (luckily after hanging the stuff from the machine to dry). Sunday was the same haze. I had a very long list of things to do. Stuff that I wanted to do for a while and just postponed to after the race. No motivation. I had the car to myself and an entire day, fresh legs. Maybe I drive up the Harz and do a round there? Only, I did not find a good inspiration where to run. Tried Komoot to give me hints, but nothing caught my eye. Sigh. Again I saw the hours pass without doing anything. Just the waves of depression. With the energy of a more angry phase I finally got into running clothes and out the door. A bit in a self destructive mood. I would do the Tuerme-round in a way that I could cut short whenever thirst or energy depletion drained me. The weather was OKish. But as soon as I got out the door a light rain set in and there were dark clouds. I didn’t care. I just took a few tissues and two pieces of fruit sugar for emergencies of any kind. The legs were fresh, amazing. Maybe running down was a little stiff. During the run I could watch myself both simply trotting on without any sense for why I did this and I saw how tension was released more and more and more. I just let the run pass. And found myself in the forest thinking ‘that’s where I belong, where I had belonged yesterday’. This was really healing something. A little bit of purpose emerged and after I returned home, pretty surprised that I ran hilly 33k in 3:25 without any food or water, I was so happy to have my legs finally trashed, calves and quads screaming when I sat down or walked stairs. A really empty stomach to the degree of dizziness. This was so right. This was where I wanted to be in the first place. Funny, but true. This state of exhaustion put me where I thought I needed to be.
Ja, #wasmachtdasmitdir? It was so striking how much problems I had with the cancellation that I pondered about this a lot. With Christiane’s help I could approach the core of the problem. Which is not nice to see, all the more say or write here. I realized that I needed this finish to feel some self-worth and use this to love myself. I shifted the idea back and forth. There is no person around me where I have the impression that their image of myself depends on a finish of a hundred and fifty miles. Most of them think I am nuts with 50 miles already. Yes, maybe some recognition here and there, but that was not as existential as the feeling inside myself over the loss. This was me against I. What was it that I could not give myself now that I didn’t make it? Well, was not allowed to make it. Pretty sad to see that the way I look at myself is dependent on accomplishments. Why? As always, when you approach these questions from a psychological perspective, there is a root cause in early childhood where little me was somehow convinced that he is not receiving as much love and attention as he needed because he was not worth it. That there is something lacking. And if he proves worthy, he will be loved. Christiane then had a revolutionary sentence for me: That love comes before worth. When there is love, worth will emerge. Not the other way round. What a mean twist did I do to this decades back? This sentence together with my inner openness to the process led to to some really funny states of major restructuring in my head which is still going on after days. I am very curious where this will lead me. So, fundamental growth at last. Not the way I planned, but the way it was supposed to be?
Just to make this clear: I had major problems with the cancellation. But not with the decision to cancel the race. If I were responsible for people on the high plains in a thunderstorm, I had acted exactly like Gerhard did. Looking at all the experienced people, I was sure that most were well prepared and might have pulled this off. Well, there were people running in shorts, sigh. But the ones that come to mind immediately define the apex of experience in this crowd. Yes, we three were lucky. Were under a roof for the most nasty stuff. Which is the race luck which can happen with any aspect that might slow people down or not. But I also heard from people who had already given in to the mud and rain and were simply trotting their way to the next aid station to drop. Matting was the absolute best spot to drop of course. When I saw people who were pulled in Kehlheim and had to wait a while in the wind and cold for the shuttle to collect hem, I realized that this might have happened all night even without the cancellation. People deciding to call it quits when they reached a stage of being cold beyond what is sustainable. And then finally reach an aid station and having to wait there for some transport? Without dry clothes? This would have produced quite a bunch of rescue missions and having to de-ice a lot of people. Even if no one had been hit by lightning, a tree or broken an ankle while sliding down a steep descent in the mud. So, yes, this decision kept everyone healthy which is a great good. Still, I have the impression that the big majority of starters had no problems with the weather being shitty, but simply accepted the challenge.