While ultra running usually requires a lot of sense for your body and being smart about how to stress it, there is an inherent factor of making bad decisions in the sense of a normal person. Who is in for a day of suffering? There is little people around who’d raise their hands to that. You don’t get to the finish line if you don’t grit it out from time to time. Tell your legs to shut up, ignore pain that any normal person would interpret as a sign to immediately stop what you are doing. And of course, there is a rather big possibility that this interpretation is correct. I was very lucky many of times and got away with ignoring the pain, pushing away voices of reason, the blerch, whatnot. Not this time.
I had my calf complaining a lot on Wednesday on a training run. Out of the blue it went stiff and painful. Not immediately like a rupture or so, but over 100meters. I tried to massage it and keep it off load for the three remaining days until the race. And the next day I developed a cold. Running nose, some caugh. Darn! I called in sick for Thursday, and could not really think of anything happening that weekend. But I had a part in the briefing of our race, I had to give the talk about trail etiquette and give directions, explain the conditions we were facing. And they were awful. Not really cold (which is one of the reasons that our race is in February), lots of rain and high winds, especially at the finish, where we will climb the highest peak of northern Germany, which is pretty exposed in the surrounding flats.
So I pulled myself together and got that briefing done.
My brother was there too (a tradition) and he said that he did train that little that he would not start as well if I bail out, so I promised to at least start. Saturday morning came and we were off at 6am. 500m in I had the exact same pain in my calf as on Wednesday. Darn! But I decided to go as long as I can. And I am pretty capable of pain management. So I hobbled my way through the plains between Goettingen and the Harz, my brother always waiting for me (which is usually the other way round until I cannot hold it anymore).
At 30k, after an aid station I realized that I can’t even walk straight anymore, pushed him off and wanted to walk to the next aid station and ask Stefanie to rescue me. Then I crossed a sign that I was just a mere kilometer away from the last station and lost all mojo. Hanging shoulders I went back down the track and many kind people had some nice words for me when I crossed their way. Then one of them, Thorsten, turned to the woman next to him: ‘Michaela, Can’t you tape that calf up?’ She directed me to a pile of logs had me open my shoe and dry my leg. I lost my will some time ago, so just did what I was told. Mid conversation, she pulled my foot and said that the ankle had been blocked and is now free again. Ugh? Some tape and I went uphill again with them under supervision as she told me. But pretty soon she said that my sacroiliac joint was blocked too. We found a bench and I was treated, and convinced that this was good. She got me up again and said: That’s it. You can run on. Now it’s just pain. Nothing serious. Just try to run as you always do.
I walked for a bit until I was convinced that the calf was working again, but very painful. But I had a push off, could walk straight. So I tried running, well, some slow trot, but it worked. This was incredible. And incredibly painful still. So, from then, ‘it’s just pain’ became my mantra.
Next weakest link was my lungs. Whenever I tried to run uphill, they started burning. So I went slowly. And ran more or less no uphill.
Still, I was decided to quit at the next aid station, Barbis. My angels had pulled away, I was alone and still full of misery, but also surprised to be still on the road. Approaching the next aid station (marathon mark) I realized that Stefanie is not available for rescue yet as she was at the pool in a diving class. And the rain took up. I could retract in a garage at the aid station and put every bit of clothing on that I had in my pack. Ate, drank and found it much too cold to wait for longer. So I decided to go on. Which means 20k more or less uphill with zero car access. I even got out my emergency blanket and knotted it into a nice golden parker. That way I went into the mountains and woods. Knowing that this might take 4 hours in the cold now.
But on the slight uphills I could trot once in a while, partly to hang onto people or not being overtaken. And the mood got better. Only, it was darn cold. And I could not run as I wanted to. Running fast enough that I remained warm did not work.
I still had the intent to quit at the next possibility. But when I figured that by then, I would have run 63k already and when I wanted to get to my warm clothes, I had to summit the last 8k on foot anyway as there are no open roads leading to the finish, and I could just spare 12k and buy this with a DNF? No way! I will fight through this.
About 5k before the end of this remote stretch, my emergency blanket caught a branch and tore. It got so darn cold again. And wet. And the wind got stronger and stronger. I once felt my cap being lifted. And until I lifted my view, it was already 3m in the air and blown into the wall next to the forest road. I had to find a stick to get it back. I could not imagine to climb up there. I made plans how to direct Stefanie to deposit some sort of clothing (I had taken anything. reflective vests of the car, garbage bags, anything) at the second to last aid station before she would start the walk up to the summit. But when I got my phone out, I just received a message that she was already at the next station. 500m in front of me. What a relief! Joy! Not that I started running, it was uphill. But I was so much lighter. Met her, got some warm tea (good green tea / mate mix that she brought for me not the hay like stuff from the aid stations) and two of her jackets. An insulated and a wind proof one. Wow!
Slowly I went on, tried to hang onto other runners in the distance to not lose too much time. And felt quite well moving. When my brother told me he was untrained and how he should approach this 80k, I told him to think about it as the second half of a hundred miler. Everything will hurt and moving will be glacial. But it will end at the finish. He laughed at me. Now this statement haunted me.
Anyway, the jackets helped, I could stay somewhat warm and move slowly. Only around the last aid station there were many sections of black ice and some streams of ice water through grass. I never fell, but having the feet ice cold again and again was getting to me. I did not bring my spikes. I did not bring a headlamp. Sigh. Lucky, I knew the way a bit. When reaching the Brockenstrasse, 800m before the dry clothes, warm meal, and oh, the finish (I never ever imagined getting this far) I sent a text to Stefanie that she could come out to see me crawling over the finish line. But a few seconds later I found her fighting her own battle up the hill with a huge backpack with all the stuff that I asked her to carry up. Darn, I felt bad. Did I need three liters of tea? Not exactly when I arrive that late. I felt bad as I did not offer to carry the pack. Impossible thought.
But at some point, we found the lights of the train station and the last bend, and we were up. Greeted by wind gusts that tried to push us down again. So we skipped the mandatory photo at Brockenstein and were so glad to be able to get into something warm. Take a shower, eat, drink. Phew. There were very many surprised faces as a lot of people witnessed my struggle and saw me quitting. But here I was. Almost three hours later than usual. And behind my brother. But up. And gone all the way.
After the shower, I found my calf to be swollen to capacity. The skin was tense as a bike tube. Urgs. I had it massaged by Stefanie and later by Rado who treated many many poor legs that day. And so I was made capable of walking the 8k down the mountain again to Stefanie’s car.
On Monday morning, my calf was still thick, warm, and developed bruises. Walking was very painful after I sat for a bit. Luckily, I remembered my well equipped closet of compression gear. Did not use it for a lot of years now. That helped quite a bit. But even over the next days this did not get any better. So I lost my nerve and asked my Doc. He sent me to get an ultrasound of the calf. Let’s see what this reveals. He is betting on a rupture. I am afraid they find some clogged blood vessel. They will find a calf muscle that is a total mess.
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.
(disclaimer1: in case you find overly enthusiastic words about my shoes this run, be aware, I got them for free. As well as the buffs and the wind breaker that I used a lot on this adventure. I love all three of them. Click on the team red logo to your right for further info)
(disclaimer 2: I speak a bit about the new Suunto S9P. As a fieldtester, I do not really gain any money or get any stuff from Suunto, nor am I obliged to promote anything. But I don’t pay for the test devices. Make of this, whatever you like.)
Since the beginning of reading through ultra list posts and reports around ultra running all over the web or speaking to more experienced runners, I was always fascinated by people running just on their own for days on end. Like Slavic, or Sebastian, or Herrmann. Or all the Vol State Crowd. I so wanted this experience of living on the run, being on the road all day, finding some shelter just when needed, buying food on gas stations on the route. Very early, when I wrote my bio to the ultra list, my fantasy ultra goal was a continent crossing, or at least run in one direction until the ocean stops me. This fire did not subside over the years. I love the races, meeting people, having food and drinks catered, but never really needed this to run long. One of my aims with running was always independence. Self-sufficiency sounds soo good. For this, Corona came around quite well. Races are cancelled, seminars too. No vacation in sight. No way to book any flat for a week of out-time.
This week, it was a cancelled seminar. I already took days off and was about to cancel that as well. Then a thought creeped up. I was planned to be away that week anyway, so I could just take the days and run on my own. The Harz was set for longer, because I want to learn more about the topography for some really crazy project to come one day. So, four days it was. I wanted to do all on my feet, the easiest way to reach the Harz is to Osterode. I love the climb up Hanskuehnenburg, but the idea of running the entire Hexenstieg from Osterode to Thale was better. Also, I could get dinner in Clausthal, sleep some place near Altenau and get breakfast there. Oh well. Sleeping. I invested quite some time and money in good bivouac equipment in the last year. But I never slept that way before. Always in tents. The thought was exciting and scary at the same time. Luckily, I read a fb post of Axel sleeping in an emergency hut, and Micha asking why he did not put the canvas to cover the door and windows. Thanks for the indirect tip! I would use this a lot.
Well, gear. I want these long journey runs to be as minimal as possible, still I am a fan of preparation. Like, being prepared for everything that might come. Running long for years and thorough research on the interwebs made me already quite fit in what I need for long runs. What problems might arise and how I tackle them. My personalized first aid kit is well evolved, nutrition is tested and fine tuned with the right salt pills and guarana powder to not go cold turkey on caffeine in the wild. But this time it was more than running. More than taping feet, changing socks, and preparing a list of supermarkets and gas stations for supply. This time it was also about sleeping outdoors. When I hiked in the past, I went with a 95l pack (the good old Bora95, would get a new one any time this monster breaks, but it doesn’t. It just smells funny since a few years) which could easily reach 30kg of weight. No problem, I am the impersonation of a mule. Not this time. It was about light travel. Running. how much can I carry when running? I had no idea. Still, I wanted to go ultra light with my gear and therefore aquired piece after piece and felt like almost being there (and having no more excuse to not go out on a long multiday run / speed hike). Anyway, as I tend to put my experiences of my runs in these reports for others to learn a bit and for myself to remember for the next outing, this report will cover loads of gear. Some more thoroughly, some only briefly. I apologize to any reader looking for more deep thoughts. So, I decided to put the gear stuff up front, and give the journey later. And while I am onto structure, some concluding remarks in the end and my total check-list of thing to pack and to consider.
When I checked my equipment list, it became obvious, what I already knew. I needed a larger pack. Research was made, I found good reviews on the FKT vest from UD and ordered it for a heavy discount. Only, I was not sure if I could fit everything in it. And time was closing in. So I ordered the FastPack 30 with some bad feeling because it looked too long and would sit on my hip. There was even a hip belt. Then came Rolli’s fb post about a new vest from Instinct (XX20L) that would fit that little extra stuff (food?) that I could not get into the FKT vest that arrived in the meantime. Some messages and that thing was on its way to me. When I got it, I was surprised how thin the outer material was (Cordura? for real?), and that the top pocket was separate and not connected to the main compartment. Well, a bit different from what I am used to, but made more sense with the big front door. Usually, the redundancy of accesses makes the stuff in the pack move around and not really help.
The hugging feeling of the Instinct was really good. Even with quite a bit of load on my training run this seemed nice. Only, my legs complained about the 10kg extra weight. It was nicely secure and distributed, but it was there for the entire running system. I packed the maps for the Harz into the lid pocket before my test run, but figured that pocket will slide around the pack if the upper compartment is stuffed as I would do. So I got it off and left it at home. Also for the real thing.
I am a bladder person. Both the FKT vest and the Instinct favor bottles in the front. I tried my best to get my HydraPak bladder in any of these, and it works in principle. But there are two drawbacks: This takes space of the main compartment away, and the weight is totally unbalanced, concentrated at the back. Having the water in front of my chest would solve this. So I went for two 600ml Hydrapak Softflasks, way less water capacity than usual (which would be 2l), so in my anxiety I not only took the MSR water filter with the hand pump, but also the 2l clean water reservoir, so I could carry 3l of water if needbe.
During the run I made some adjustments to my packing, and over the run it evolved to something like this: Sleeping bag in the top compartment. My replacement long sleeve as a roll in the same compartment for stabilization so the pack would not bounce back and forth. Water in the front, bars, beanie, gloves (if I did not wear them, which was most of the time) and phone below the bottles. While I felt the flatness of the phone on my ribs, I never had any pain from that as I do with the phone pocket in the Nathan vest, I usually wear on long runs. I used the main compartment of the pack for any gear that needed a bit of organization (in ziplock bags, or nylon bags). I love the different pockets around the main opening, so I could have tissues, mask and my ‘wallet’ (a small sealed plastic bag) accessible from the outside, and first aid stuff in one and hygiene stuff in the other pocket from the inside. The flexible net pockets at the bottom held my wind (and partially rain) jacket at one side and the waterproof pants on the other. I would put both on whenever I stopped to keep warm. The middle held my rain coat, that I never used as I always found shelter when the downpour got strong enough to soak me. At the very bottom, with the straps, I had my change of clothes in the pump bag of my matress, rolled up. And I prayed that it was water proof, but did not have to find out yet. All in all, when I put down my pack, e.g. in a cart to go shopping, it looked pretty compact but also big enough for serious business. Somehow I was reminded of the packs and rolls of clothes of carpenters on their traditional waltz.
What I did not like that much from the pack besides the superfluous lid pocket was that the bottle on the black side got stained from remaining color from the brand new pack. I had better washed it before. And the compression straps at the sides of the main compartment were also there to close the upper compartment, so the tighter I got my sleeping bag to keep it from bouncing, the more those straps tried to compress my entirely full main compartment. I understand the idea behind this, but in my case I had a hard time closing the front accesses zipper without loosening those straps again. Oh, and then the clip for the lower straps that held my roll of clothes was pretty hard on the straps as the slit they went through has very sharp edges. But all in all I was totally pleased by the pack which served me well and let me run with my entire household around my chest.
On most of my training runs, I sport four Suunto watches: Ambit3Peak with HR belt, S9Baro, S7 and since a few weeks the unannounced S9Peak. The latter three with beta firmware to test new features, compare performance of HR sensors, GPS chips, etc. No way I would take all four on this adventure. I did take four watches on 50 milers, but in the end every watch adds distraction. The belt had to go, and the Ambit with it. The S7 was a nightmare to recharge on my journey runs to Sibesse or Braunschweig. I had a power bank with me and just put the S7 in my pack once it ran low. Only, once the watch was fully charged, it turned off the power draw and the power bank shut down. Then the S7 was again very low in charge when I finally took it out again. Even though the maps of the S7 would be really handy in the Harz, I decided to leave it at home. The S9B recently got a new power mode (tour) which polls GPS once every hour and is intended for week long hikes away from civilization. Seems like the optimal setting here. Still, I cannot use it for navigation in tour mode as navigation powers up the GPS to 1 second polling. And I was not confident enough to switch navigation on and off to save power. So I put the S9B to tour mode, into my shoulder pocket which might hold a tracker in races that have these and forgot about it until I was done.
The S9P has a smaller display than the S9B, and I was not sure how well navigation would work on this as I did not test it yet and had problems reading the S5’s display with the navigation. In the weeks using the S9P, one thing stood out to me: the battery life was incredible. I did not charge the S9B often, but also wore it only for my training runs. The Peak was my 24/7 watch for a while and before that I used the S7 for everyday stuff and sleep tracking and found those to drain the battery quite quickly. Not so with the Peak. I reacharged it very sparsely, more when I was sitting at my desk anyway and the wrist could use some air. The week prior to this run I had the 20% battery warning on the Peak for the first time. I was pretty surprised. Both by the message and the fact that it was not a common thing like with the other watches. I love the Peak for every day wear as it is small, thin and light. And looks good. The bigger watches always felt a bit odd on my admittedly not very sturdy wrists. The strap with its holes convinced me as I did not get a rash with wearing the watch on the same wrist day and night. Just washing the strap after running and after the night. Only a very few other wrist bands were so good to my skin like this one.
I put my intended tracks on the S9Peak (Home to Osterode, All five stages of the Hexenstieg, some draft how to hike from Thale to Wernigerode, where I had company of my dad, the Harzquerung, and finally some idea how to get home midway of the Harzquerung, passing Bad Sachsa.) and would use it as my main watch. Nah, the Baro would be in the pocket at all times, maybe acting as a backup, so it was like the Peak would be my only watch on this run, because I thought about the S9B more as a tracker than a watch those days. I pondered quite a bit about power. I have a light power bank delivering 10000mAh that I usually use on long runs. But light is not really light here. And I needed a headlamp, where I once said that on any journey run where weight is key, I’d take the LED Lenser H7R with batteries from the supermarkets on the way. But I recently got a Lupine Blika with a secondary battery which could act as a power bank with an adapter. Back and forth, and finally I decided to take the Lupine, with both battery packs, it’s charger for a wall socket, and the USB adapters and cables for the phone and both watches. I also put the big power bank in the drop bag I sent my dad, so I could charge everything on the third day to full. The plan was to use the Peak the entire run and charge it when I put up my bed as I wanted to use it as an alarm to head out early enough not to get caught by someone when sleeping in the woods. And for sleep tracking, of course 😉
On the run, I was really surprised how well I could work with the S9P. First it was in the light theme which is the default, and I wondered why I was able to see the track so well even if the contrast from white to the blue line was not too good compared to the black background in the dark theme. So I switched the second day and did not go back, but still, I had no problems with the light theme at all. I had some corners where I needed to track back 50 meters as I misinterpreted the bends on the blue line, but this was rather rare. And I could always cut through the woods which was way less annoying than going back to the intersection. Real maps would have prevented this.
The battery life was promised around 24h, and I was sceptical about this. All too often watches drained big time when used for navigation a lot. So I expected a battery warning and recharging at some point. But this never came. Upon setting my camp for the first night, the S9P was still at 35%. After a full day of navigation screen. Impressive! I took my time to fiddle with stuff, but apparently charging went pretty quickly. Another 30 minutes of charging the next morning and the watch was full again. Wow. I repeated this pattern for all four days and more and more lost my doubt and more and more forgot to take care of the watch. Much, much different from former experiences for example with the SSU.
When I returned home, and we discussed the teaser video for the S9P it dawned on me that I exactly experienced what this watch will be sold for: Silence of Mind. The watch was a reliable tool which served me. And not the other way round, that I have to baby a device in the hope it would provide information once I need it. No, this was different. I could relax my worries about recharging and dying watches that I was used to in long races. Wow. With the power bank from my dad, I recharged the phone, but both Lupine battery packs still reported full with several recharges of the S9P drawn from one, and several hours of (admittedly dim) light for running and setting up camp. One less thing to worry. Plenty of power in those two packs.
Ok, when I talked in length about the pack and the watch it would be unfair to not highlight the shoes that carried me through all this. I had some pondering over which pair to use. Superiors it was for sure, those are my go-to shoes and I know they carry me over long distances. Only, I change my shoes about twice in a hundred mile race. To get a fresh sole and start over with dry socks and shoes. This will not be possible here. The Superior 4.0 are too soft for me, I tend to slide to the sides in rough terrain. The 3.5 are veterans over long distances, and despite the weight, I like them most. But they had their holes and the outsole was also way different from grippy. So, I took one of the 4.5 pairs I got last year for my Altra team RED membership. Running wise they were fine, and walking worked quite well too. I only had to remember they are no hiking boots and sport no heel. But I learned to hike that way in those shoes some time back already. With all the purchases up front I also got a new pair of Ultra Injinji socks with a bit more plush than the trail version and at crew length. A great decision in this weather.
Getting off the shoes and socks for my first night exposed me to an aweful smell. The rest of the clothes seemed to have survived quite well, stink wise, but not the shoes and socks. Bah! I tried not to think about what the feet will do to my brand new sleeping bag. After the night, I put on the damp socks and had the smell in my nose whenever my fingers got near my face. Darn. Only, it was soo cold, I could not even imagine washing my feet in any of the creeks or canals I found. Well, the canals were part of a drinking water system, so I better not poison them anyway. On thursday I got fresh socks for the hike and changed again before I left my dad. This helped a bit odor wise.
All in all the shoes (putting the stink aside) were perfect for my adventure. I did not have to overthink on them, they just worked.
I took my time on Tuesday morning, was there with Jule until Ilka arrived, and put my last things together. There was no rush. I wanted to reach the Harz, easy. This was at less then 40k. And find a place to sleep after dark. So, plenty of hours. My upper layering was unclear to me for the last days, but once I went off, there must be a decision. The forecast had me take the Merino combination (thin Icebreaker long sleeve, some running shirt (Altra team read shirt in this case) and the thicker pullover from Supernatural. After the first kilometer, I put the long sleeve base layer away, but not for too long. As always I headed out too fast, and told myself that this would do no harm. Well, that’s what I always say…
I found some nice route to Osterode. A bit different from the one I ran some time ago from Salzgitter home, where I passed Goslar, Clausthal and Osterode too. And way different from the bike route I chose last summer for my mini-vacation with Ronja. I recognized some places which was nice. I could throw a big middle finger at the spot where I turned too early last time and found myself crawling under bushes with big thorns, trying to find the trail the boars laid. And losing two chocolate bars. Man was I pissed! Not this time. It was a big laugh at my stupidity to enter the bushes at all that day. And Osterode was in sight. My first pit stop. As I learned there is a single shop in that town, so I directly navigated to it. Put on my mask and filled my arm with all that I could carry (and much more than I could eat in a single session. Darn) and upon checkout was not-so-friendly reminded that carts were not optional. Well, I did not take coins on purpose, no change in my pack to make noise with every step. Still, I had to take the non-optional chip with me that became one of my main tools on this run. Fittingly, it made it into my pants pocket as the only item there. It was cold and windy so I tried to find a spot on the parking place with a bit of sun and ate as much of my goods as I could. Later I saw a sign that masks were required on the entire area, which might explain some of the strange looks I got that I attributed to my odd looks and the amount of food I swallowed.
When I began to shiver I got up and continued my way to the mountains. With a big bottle of ice tea in my hand. The stomach had some work to do, before I could down that one. So I walked through the city, had some problems finding the correct side of the river and finally found the entry to the Hexenstieg. Warm up is over, here comes the real deal. Entering the Harz. Well, walking up an incredibly steep brigde and road after that. I managed to drink all the ice tea, and still had the plastic bottle in my hand. With the sight of some carbage cans I also saw a person on a balcony of that house that I might had avoided on the streets. I took a deep breath and asked if I could dump my bottle, and being addressed, he became much more open and friendly. Uff. Away was the ballast in my hand and on my heart. Nice!
I knew the Hexenstieg was a pretty boring forest road here, but I was on my adventure. This was fun. Getting higher and higher, more and more able to look back the way I came that day, distinguish the land marks of my home turf in the very distance. The weather was crazy the whole day. Very strong winds from the west that pushed me quite a bit on my approach of the Harz. And the occasional drizzle, but never enough to think about a rain jacket. Here, half way between Osterode and Buntenbock, the drizzle came back and became much stronger. I also had to take a dump for some time now, so I looked for a spot to hide. And more or less at the time where I would take out my rain coat, I turned a corner and found an emergency hut. Great! For a moment I argued with myself if it was worth the lost time, but soon realized that this was the exact best moment to take a break under a roof. So I put my pack off and sat down, only to feel my bowels move and demanding for a hop out in the rain. So I did. It was still not that bad, so after a few minutes I was securely back at my pack under cover and took a well deserved break.
As quickly as the rain came, it also disappeared again, giving way to a blue sky. Time to go on. Get out of my wind jackt and rain pants that served me to keep warm and shuffle on towards the next place to buy food and eat. During planning, I always had the idea to go shopping before a night, so I get something for dinner and breakfast and carrying all this to my intended sleeping spot. On the other hand a thought formed in me, why should I need to eat after dark and before running on in the morning, when my intent was to go shopping in Altenau again. Shouldn’t it be sufficient to stuff myself now in Clausthal and have breakfast in Altenau? I then remembered the nice Uni-Doener we ate at when we stayed in Prahljust camping. A warm meal, hey! This set the destination of my dreams but I already felt the distance in my legs. And maybe the weight on my shoulders. So, even if I was pretty near Clausthal, I had to take another break at one of the artificial lakes there. A nice place, but a less nice reason to not move. When I passed the camping site, I was sad to see the nice forest on the other side of it’s lake to be torn down, as many parts of the Harz due to the Borkenkaefer.
Anyway, I made my way to the Uni-Doener and had Halloumi. And a large portion of fries. In the sun, in front of the university library where I had eduroam 😀 This was gold.
After the meal, I walked through campus to get to the supermarket, only to find myself pretty wrong. I shifted the thought of simply continuing back and forth, but was too eager for a Weizenbier that I tracked back and got to the supermarket. Still full, I only got the beer, 2l of water and three chocolate/cereal bars at the checkout. Boy was my stomach still stuffed from the food. I had a very hard time to drink the beer and after refilling my bottles, I still had half a liter of water in the big bottle. What do with this one? I simply kept it in my hand and jogged on. This felt a bit crazy, especially as I needed to carry the bottle for longer until I reached civilization with its trash bins again. Darn.
I knew the Hexenstieg from Clausthal to the Dam and was looking forward to the canal section to come. It was calm and peaceful as ever, only me shuffling my way along it, with the slushy bottle in my hand. Daylight faded more and more, and I had to pay attention to roots, but did not want to take out the headlamp yet. The dam itself was light again and the following trail section too as many trees were cut down here (as almost everywhere). Again the trail went into an intact section of the forest, the signs told me that Eisenquelle with its hut came closer and closer, and I finally reached it, just when lighting was gone entirely.
It was a big hut. With some fine gravel floor. I was happy for the footprint canvas I could put between the sharp stones and my all too thin Thermarest Uberlite. Setting the Tarp as a door required some creativity with attaching ropes, but I managed to cover the bigger part of the door and one of the windows and put a bench in front of the door to keep predators out. Hah.
How do you dry clothes on a camping trip? Yes, put them in the sleeping bag. Well, the socks did not make the cut. But the rest did. And I put on my spare tights and the turtle neck longsleeve that served me so well on many winter runs as a pyjama. Some pushups helped me get into the sleeping bag with a bit of body warmth so that I got warm rather quickly. But the night was horribly cold. The clothes I wore did not heat up as I wanted and the clothes of the day stayed damp and cold the entire night. Then I figured my boldness with configuring the sleeping bag to have more downs in the upper part than usual and less in the lower part might seem smart at first, but has the drawback that I had almost no isolation once I rolled a bit to the sides. Also I learned that intentional shivering does a good trick to generate some warmth the sleeping bag can give back then.
It felt like I was more awake than sleeping. I woke up from being cold every now and then. Some shivering, adjusting the bag and my legs position (mind that I tend to shift them around like mad the night after an ultra…) and I was sleeping again. It became day outside of my shelter and I heard foresters work nearby. Only, I had no desire to leave the sleeping bag out into the cold and put on my damp clothes. So I laid there for a while until I heard some voices and thought, I should rather not be blocking the hut for everyone else. In the end I was laying from 10pm to about 8am. Wow. My initial plan was to sleep from midnight to five or so and depart before dawn. Well, my plan was too to find nice spots along the way and sleep a bit during the day. No way in this freaking cold weather.
The weather. I finally hopped out of my warm cocoon and into the mess of running clothes from yesterday. Ate the bars from last evening and drank the remainder of water in the big bottle. Oh, I brushed my teeth. Luxury! When stepping out the hut and reassembling all my stuff, I was surprised that my legs did not complain the tiniest bit. Wow, after 70k yesterday. Beginning to run was a bit stiff, but I could resume running shortly after, got warm and found my legs rested quite well over the long night. Impressive! I made my way along the outskirts of Altenau and decided against dropping into the village for food, as I had enough bars with me to survive a day, and my two softflasks were still full. And I was neither hungry nor thirsty. On I went but after a kilometer the weather turned for the worse. Snow. Darn. I tried to ignore this, but it was getting on my nerves. Mostly the thought that I should take out my rain coat, but did not want to stop for this and fiddle with the pack. Then came a small hut, closed, but with a bench under a small roof. I sat down, watched the snow and asked myself how this will go on now.
The snow faded and I went on, thinking about the bigger hut along the way which should come a kilometer further. After some turns I found it, smiled and thought that this place might have been more cozy than the last one and hopped over stones and roots up a small grade, only to find the snow getting way more dense now. I stood under a tree for a while, but realized that this was no real cover and I have to get down those 100 meters into the hut again. I was a mixture of annoyed that I was not supposed to proceed as fast as I wanted and some indifference that I should not hang onto plans when stuff happens. This was what I wanted. To be thrown at with obstacles and handling them. So I did. Resting another hour in a hut, a mere 5k from my start that day, the Brocken and the endless winding of the Hexenstieg all still in front of me. Not started early that day, and now stuck here. And too bold to get food and water once I could. Supply was still plenty, I did not need anything that moment.
After endless waiting, the sky cleared a bit and I resumed running as good as possible. At first trying deperately to keep my feet dry, but quickly letting go of this idea… Once the final source of the canal system was reached there were two ways, one of which seemed more direct and with less elevation change but marked as closed both on the signs and on my hiking map. Well, somehow this reads to me as a challenge, so I took it and was partly disappointed as numerous fallen trees made progression very hard and slow, but partly joyful as the trail itself (when there was no tree in the way) was very nice along the grade.
Up at Torfhaus, I tried my best to find a water source, but not successfully. Maybe I could have asked someone, but again in my wicked ways I thought I was fine. When running down the road to continue to Brocken I was shocked by an immense lightning strike not too far and very loud thunder. Oh, oh. Was I about to Summit the biggest hill of nothern Germany? Better take cover. I found a bus stop with some glass windows (and a wide open door) but at least some wind cover and a roof. As this storm seemed more serious than the other stuff that happened the morning, I got out my sleeping bag, got out of my shoes and socks and simply sat there waiting out the storm. What was I doing here? Wasn’t this adventure supposed to be fun?
As I learned with this weather, nothing takes forever, not even the serious thunderstorm. I just lost more time, and shifted my access to water and food further back in the day. Darn. Once the snow was gone, I reassembled my belongings and hopped around puddles over the plain between Torfhaus and Brocken. I knew, the Goetheweg will at some point merge the route of the Brocken Challenge, and I was eagerly waiting for this to happen. I was running towards Dreieckiger Pfahl anyway. Somehow, I did not recognize the way at all. Maybe too little snow? Or a mushed brain? The forest road became incredibly steep with these not-so-nice tank reinforcements and it somehow dawned on me that this must be the ramp up to the railroad tracks. Huh? Well, I take that over being 3k further away from my next aim, the Brocken summit. But not recognizing anything of the way was a bit puzzling, maybe frightening to me.
The trail along the tracks was, as I remembered hard work, but not endless. Reaching Brockenstrasse, I shortly stopped whether I really should summit, or simply continue the Hexenstieg down towards warmer climate and food. But I had to take revenge for February. I grit my teeth and turned left. Upwards. Also, I met people. A first for a very long time that I thought myself the only person in those mountains. Apparently, I reached the eastern part now. I can tell this from how the people approach me. Of course the Brocken has a very mixed crowd of tourists. But with this weather people taking the work to get there were a special breed anyway. I got greeted more and exchanged a few words here and there. Words of respect, and concern to be out in that weather. You don’t get this with Wessis often.
Two told me that they had a hard time reaching the summit stone because of the wind. And so it was, I really had to concentrate to stay on my feet and make progress against the strong winds. But I managed. And took photos. And a short video which turned out hilarious as I tried to say a few words, but the wind had my hood flapping so vigorously that my voice was not perceivable at all. When I tried to leave that place, I stumbled upon the direction plate for Helsinki and stopped again to take a picture as a greeting to my Suunto friends! 1300k is not that far… Hm? Some day…
Now came a section I knew from the Brocken-Marathon. Overall it was funny how many known places I visited these days. And how many kilometers of my route I already ran before. It is a funny feeling in my mind when known places connect via foot routes. I remember my past visits, but the connection with other places has a certain new tickling sensation and lets me see those places in a different angle.
I knew I had to take the Brockestrasse easy. I destroyed myself more than once here. But running went so fine. Smooth asphalt, slight downhill, seemingly forever. Only, this time I did not think about the 4h mark to beat coming down to Wernigerode, but just me progressing on my chosen path towards new unknown sections of the Harz. I took a photo break on the road, more to stop me from running too fast or long for my legs, then actually the motive of the photo, which was dead trees like everywhere around here. Oh, the dead trees had some surprising effect. Where the Brocken Marathon (and many of my other visits to the Harz) had me in the forest at all times, I could now see the topography around me, understand why the route of the race and the Hexenstieg took weird turns. There was actually a steep drop off to the left, I never saw before.
Along my way, after I left the race route, I passed by a very interesting rock formaton with ladders to climb on, and I was greeted with a majestic view of the eastern Harz. This was a vast to explore. Wow. My secret crazy project got a lot less likely at this point. By this time, I already drank quite a bit of my 1.2l that I had since I emptied the bottle this morning. And ate most of the bars I had with me. But there would be a refill station soon, no? I passed Schierke already, but had no intention to get down there, only to climb up to the Hexenstieg again. Drei Annen would be close. Oh, and I figured there’s a Supermarket in Elbingerode, which looked like a minor detour to my run. OK, skip Drei Annen and head to Elbingerode. Gosh, leaving the route was no fun. All this was extra, just to get something to eat and drink. And it was uphill. Well, a bit. But, uphill! Also, the deficite on food and water came to me now. I was cold, annoyed, tired, the legs did not cooperate as I wanted. And the detour was 5k out. And back! I could cut across the Steinbruch to reach the Hexenstieg at Koenigshuette again. The final detour would only be 8k this way. But still. DETOUR!
I was not in a good spot when I finally reached that village. Mind that I was now in hostile, high incidence territory Corona-wise. Somehow I did not find myself welcome here. I bet it was 99% my inner state. And me snot rocketing onto their sidewalk might not have helped. Anyway, I reached the holy land of Edeka and again bought much more than I could chew. Potatoe salad, an ice-cream, two buns, many, many cereal bars, a beer, 2l of water and 1.5l of some Guarana soda to refill on caffeine, a large bottle of some nut/fruit smoothie, some nuts, cashews as I remember. Everything in a cardboard box. I wanted to take a seat in the sun outside and eat and drink. Only, there was no sun. I must have missed a real downpour as everything was wet when I looked out the shop window. And it was dark. And really windy. I took my time in the market to refill my bottles, get the bars out of their boxes and distribute them in my pack, but at some point, I had no more excuse, I needed to get out there again. So I did. And was so miserably cold. Unable to really think of a strategy, I plodded on, with my treasure in my arms, at some point opened the beer and drank, while tumbling across the main street westwards to the end of the village. Must have been quite some sight. I was eagerly waiting for some epiphany how to get out of this situation. I did not want to carry the box for the next 30k. When I was about to despair, I found a bus stop. recently flooded by some fools, but from the smell, it was soda, not piss. You cannot think of a less nice place to stay. But it had a dry bench and some sort of wind protection. No sun though, which was peeking through the clouds again.
I got up frequently for my pushups. This was generating soreness already. Darn. But squats were much more painful This was so goddamn cold here. I stuffed my face with as much of the potatoe sald as I could. Downed the smoothie and got everything I could into the pack as my stomach made clear it was full. Hm. I did not drink any of the soda. I put the entire bottle in my clothes roll and attached it to the hook again below my pack. This seemed to work, but later I had a hard time with this bundle to shift left and right, and eventually fall out of the straps. And the additional weight was noticeable. The ice cream was almost melted, but given my temperature management this was a plus. I was still in a very bad mood when I left this bus stop and tried to find my way through the valley to the Hexenstieg again. Brain turned off and simply plodding along, the wind in my face, I went on auto pilot until I finally reached the tiny valley that hosted the Hexenstieg. Being on track again, and having the feeling of actual progress on my way made instantly or a better mood. Funny. In some village I dropped onto another bench in a bus stop, this time facing the sun and with less wind when the snow/hail/rain comination took up again. Here, I could recharge a bit. Eat some chocolate bars and rest my legs.
Resuming the run, I managed to get more and more joy out of the run. The sights were nicer, the sun warmer, the trails easier, the legs lighter. Just kidding. Well, it felt much better. And I was glad to feel that way. But progress was hard work. My shoulders complained from the weight, as did my legs and feet. The constant up and down along the Bode was nice from a landscape perspective but made me go much slower than I would have liked. But I had no time goal. Eight in the morning, I wanted to be in Thale at the train station to get my dad. Until then? All fine. I found a small hut in the Bodetal on the map more or less right in front of Thale. This was my aim that day. Having more and more villages around the Bode and the occasional barrier lake made for enough variety in my surroundings that I did not really get bored. The sun was setting at some point, but I was still happy going on. In one village, the sun threw its rays along the street, and it was obvious that those were the last for today. So I found a streetlight to lean against, got out this soda bottle (Only in hindsight, I can ask myself, why, oh why did I take soda? Oh the burping…) and crackers and enjoyed the last warm bit of the day. Continuing was a hard shuffle, but the break was worth every minute. When it got 9pm, I got a bit nervous because of the Ausgangssperre that was in place here. But jogging was allowed until midnight as long as you were alone. All check. Still, I did not want to answer the question how I will get home until midnight. I was just happy that no one asked.
Night fell completely when I reached the last village before the wild Bodetal with nothing but river, rocks and this one emergency hut mid way. Hopefully. I saw pictures of sections where balconies led the trail around rock formations when the river would not allow for a proper trail at the side. So I expected the valley to be entirely this way, and I wondered how on earth a hut will fit that. But the balconies were rare, most of the time there was exquisite trail, and the river deep down left of me. No misstep here. Yes, it was a long day. And I ran yesterday also a longer distance. Was I tired? Not so much. More excited. This was a magic place. I got all on my own. And I managed to run all the way of the Hexenstieg. Well, almost. But this was the fun part, which tops the journey off. I loved it.
I was really surprised when I saw a hut with a sign that Thale was still quite a bit away. So I looked at the hiking maps on my phone and saw that almost in Thale was in terms of the entire way of the Stieg. This was my place. And I would get to do the last 5k next moning. I just have to get up half an hour earlier. Setting up camp seemed like routine already, I got better in sealing the entrance, did not take my running clothes into the sleeping bag and wore just a boxer short to keep warm. This night, I fully realized the problem with having the underside of the sleeping bag much less filled. With every turn in the night, and there were many, I had to shift the sleeping bag around me. Add sweaty skin to that and you can imagine how much of a struggle this was. But the adjustments paid off. I was a lot warmer this night. When my alarm went off on 6:30 I was again surprisingly well rested. Began the day with brushing my teeth, washing my upper body in that bloody cold creek entering the Bode here, some eating and drinking, taking a dump and again, I was on the trail.
In my planning I always imagined jumping in a lake to clean, wash my clothes like every day etc. Not possible in this mess of a weather. I was glad, that the stink did not annoy me too much. Well, only the feet. But I got new socks this morning and will change into merino socks once I had my drop bag. And later have another pair of fresh socks for the remainder of my adventure.
Hopping down the Bodetal was a blast this morning. The wind was kind of gone, the sun was there, somewhere. I was looking forward to my change of clothes and the supermarket in Thale. And my dad of course 😉 Funnily I was at the station in the exact minute the train arrived. After some words, we walked to the glory of civilization and I could get water, some sweet and salty buns and 2l of ice tea (caffeine without soda!) from Aldi. Hooray!
I had to battle a bit with my state and not being at full abilities, but we managed quite well to decide about a route (along the edge of the Harz. Over the Teufelsmauer and then between forest and fields until Wernigerode. ) and also nailed the correct exit of Thale which was not too obvious. The Teufelsmauer did not disappoint. Great rock formations, a long rim to walk on, sometimes secured with rails, but mostly as is. We found a nice place for a longer break to rest and eat and finally climbed over the Grossvater down to the next village, well town. It was striking how expensive each and every house must have been a hundred years ago. This was a rich region. For sure.
After the monastery, I somehow had the idea to hop over the first hills of the Harz to reach Hasserode with the start of the Harzquerung and still see some forest and hills. Well. We worked our way over the ridge only to see the castle of Wernigerode at a strange angle. This was not Hasserode. Another look at the map revealed, I was wrong one valley. Darn! We climbed that hill for nothing and had to leave the valley into the city center anyway. This navigational error got to me. A track on the watch is way better than a short glimpse on a paper map (and not paying full attention…). The remainder until the city was hard for both of us. In the end, we would have made 30k together. Quite impressive for a hike in itself. But I was not done for the day. We took some time on a sunny bench where I sorted my stuff, decided what to hand over and what to keep of both my pack and the drop bag. I got out of my comfy hiking clothes and back into my admittedly not dryer running clothes. Ugh. We parted and I went on to the Supermarket in Hasserode, got more water, ice tea and sweet and salty buns (I realized that bakery stuff was much more what I craved than the high density bars I got in my pack. That was kind of a new experience.) and tracked towards the start of the Harzquerung. Pah, this was again back to the city? No! But I saw that there was no way to cut short so I shuffled along the railroad tracks almost to our Appartment for the Brocken Marathon for some years and up the hill. Until I reached the beginning of the next blue line on my watch somwhere at the end of some small street. Nice place for a race start. The first kilometers were all steep uphill. What did I expect? Walking was OK after eating and drinking.
I was again in progress mode. Wanted to make as much distance before the night fell as possible. Maybe until Benneckenstedt? The start of my route home when leaving the Harzquerung? Probably not. But I wanted to try. The last day was supposed to be my longest, distance wise. Depending on where I went. So I could make some ground here. If only I could run. The beginning was steep and lateron the trail was full of tree stuff. And then, the route was entirely blocked by trees. Like unpassable. I first climbed the grade, then stumbled across a field of stumps and slid down in harvester tracks that were little streams from all the rain. No, this way, I would not progress much.
The guy I passed on the river dam with his telephone got me pretty soon after, and again I was heartwarmed by ‘Hallo Sportsfreund!’, the sign of eastern friendliness. Accepting all weirdness that I might bring up. Helping with directions. It felt like he would propose his hallway for my camp for the night. I love this!
With the night came pain in my feet that told me a break was in order. I checked the map for huts before, but now decided for one of them and tried to reach it as fast as possible. Did not work. Not behind this corner. Still not. Not here. I was in a section of dense healthy forest of needle trees. Saw more wildlife tracks than human footprints. Yes, this was a hiking trail. No, there were not many people using it. At some more muddy section I also saw paws of some pretty big cat imprinted. Lynx! Where were the wolves at in the Harz? I felt pretty vulnerable here. Also being already injured did not make me feel better about my position as prey. Finally, the hut appeared. Well, some hut. Wasn’t this supposed to be at a T intersection? Oh, there are two huts. Should I go on and take the other, the planned? No. This one must do. No more steps today.
It was very dirty. In the sense of dirt, dust. Not many people here. I again perfected my skills of shutting the entrance. And put my stinky socks right at the entrance. Everybody should know that a human is in this spot. In a funny mood I also marked the spot in front of the hut when taking a leak. This should do. No wolf or Lynx is so stupid to attack a human. So I hoped. Laying stuff out was more and more routine. Became more and more efficient. After the sticky night before, I opted for boxers and my spare runnig shirt this night. And I seemed to have found the sweet spot being able to roll in the sleeping bag and staying warm.
I woke up to a loud tapping. Until I was fully awake, I identified it as water dropping onto my ground sheet. No! It was heavily raining and the hut had several bigger holes in the roof. I checked, the water was not wetting my equipment, just running between camping mat and ground sheet, and dripping into a forming puddle next to my head, splashing the occasional drop in my face. I could live with that. Last night in the outdoors. What got wet, got wet. I did not really care. And so could also fall asleep again to the sound of dropping drops and the wetting of my face.
Starting over the next day felt very free. No real pressure to be anywhere at any time. Well, I needed to get home, but I still had not decided how. Use transportation or try to make it on feet? There was a certain itch to finish the Harzquerung to see all of it. And Nordhausen to home also sounded like a nice endeavor. Perhaps doable as this was the first day, I got miles in from the very beginning of the day. Come on, that would just be a hundred k for the day. Piece of cake! I just let got of any pressure and ran the blue line. Curious what I will see along the way. I saw mostly dead trees and foresters cleaning up the huge fields that were dense forest a few years back. Pretty depressing. But also looking like a start over for nature. Got rid of the monoculture and started from scratch. OK, mankind still has a say in this and plants trees that seem fit for that area, or are supposed to generate the most revenue. This mixture of busy, industrial like spots within a sea of almost dead space was surreal. Blame my state after three and a half days or running.
Suddenly, the landscape looked healthy again. Nice forests with mixed trees, valleys, rivers, the occasional village. This was fun. And beautiful. I was afraid of the ascent to come. It looked brutal on the elevation profile and Dirk told me the second climb destroyed him once at the race. When it finally came, I found myself in the ultra mode. Left foot, right foot, repeat. A level section came, I ran a bit. Then the second climb. Well, not different from the first one. But I imagine this can crush your soul if you thought you are done already. Left, right, left, right.
I reached the summit with its impressive lookout tower. Impressive by height, but more because it was entirely open. Just some steel bars and stairs with see through gaps. OK, let’s test my courage. I hate stuff like that. Well, as Jan put it nicely, I am not afraid of heights, but I am highly sceptical of them. I made it to the middle platform, just above the tree tops and the wind got stronger. I could have simply taken out some more clothes and continue, but my knees were weak already from half the height, I could see what I wanted to see. And I told myself that I already had a lot of miles in me, so maybe it was not so important to prove to myself that I am able to cross my own boundaries? I was convinced and got down again, the harder part as I had to look down. But I managed. Wohoo!
Getting down the last mountain was both nice as it got warmer with every meter down, there was less hills to climb in my way now, but also a bit saddening, as this meant leaving the Harz, and somehow ending my adventure. The rest was hard work to get home. Not an adventure any more. But first I had to deal with thirst. Yes, my two bottles of water could be sufficient for almost a day of running, if I ration, but do I really have to? Nordhausen was still a stretch to go, and I wanted to empty those bottles. And here was running water, with no agriculture upstream. Why did I not use the water filter yet? Somehow, I did not dare. But now. I took off my pack, got out the filter and the flasks and found a nice spot to stand over the little creek with clear water and filled the bottles. Drank one and refilled. I should have done this way more often in the last days. Note to self for next time!
Rolling into Nordhausen was fun. I imagined being in the Harzquerung and running the last bits. Met more and more people who were really friendly. Well, most of them. I felt welcome. When the track made a turn onto the sports ground and there was a big sign that this was no public area, I felt a bit bad, but in my imagination there were all the people who just finished the race, there was a finish line at the end of the corridor, cheering, chatter, end so on. This place was loaded with it. Well, I met a single person, apparently from maintenance, but he greeted me happily, and I thought he might have the same images in his head as I do. This was great. If only, I could drop here and catch some ride home… Laying on the grass for an hour. The sun was warm and the overall athmosphere was really great. Finished. After I found an open exit to the sports ground I realized how warm I was. I took off the pack and all my bunch of shirts that somehow seemed to have melted into one over the days. Also with my back. Yes, my back. There was a pain on the skin. Some rash developing under the layers. Not able to breathe under the pack. Or on the sleeping pad. There was no real drying or air for almost four days now. No break, not even in the night. Getting out of this stuff was a huge relief. My back skin was so happy! Not so much when I got back into the Tshirt and pullover and put my pack back on, but this was so much better, that I wondered how I could have endured this situation before. [Now, as of writing, over two weeks later, I still have this itching on my back. I frequently do the Balu and scratch my back on the wall or whatever I find. Maybe some hair grew in? This is definitely the most long term damage I did those days.]
Well. There were another 65k till home. 70 if I wanted another refill station on my way. Hm. What if I run to Duderstadt, the supermarket along the way. The one I had a stop at on my quest to Braunschweig? Closing another thread of the cob web of my trails? Sounds good. Also, there is a bus from Duderstadt to Knochmuehle. 1k from home. Much better than the train from Nordhausen and 6k from the main station home. I plotted the route and found Duderstadt to be a tad over a Marathon away. That’s easy. I have plenty of time. I checked on the bus schedule and found the last one to leave at 10pm, the second to last shortly after 7pm. Huh? Well, I should be able to take this easy. Hopping along the nice river park with elks laying under a tree (really! Or was it reindeer?) I checked if Duderstadt was on total lockdown, which could have made my plan impossible, but it was not. Great! A new plan. Off to the local supermarket!
Again I got a big amount of food and drinks. But the weather was less hostile. Maybe a bit windy (that would turn headwind, when I went westwards), but I found a nice place on some steps in the sun and somehow wind protected. This was a good place for a longer break. I took off my shoes, laid out all my edible stuff, and slowly worked my way through all of this. It was a bit of stuffing myself. But I took my time. Still in that afterglow of finishing something great. The imaginary Harzquerung, but also my adventure through the Harz. On my own. Over nights. Carrying all my stuff. Surviving crazy weather. I did it!
By the time I downed everything I did not want to put in my pack (it had become a habit to tie a paper bag with one or two buns to the compression straps to the side of the pack for later), I reassembled and had a look on the watch. 15:30. OK, this was a late lunch. And it was necessary to take my time. Doing the math had me like ‘a six hour marathon is easy’ and there would be another 30 minutes of buffer. Fine. But some section in my head compared this to my pace over the last days. Well. 6h is doable, but not without some pushing. Darn. But the remainder was flat. No? Headwind! But sun. And no technical trail but either road or farm road. Easy. Still not convinced? Hm. Maybe I push a bit more in the beginning to get some leeway for later? Fine. Then go ahead!
This worked all too well. Long stretches of asphalt farm road that I ran entirely. Some rain drops? Don’t care. And on. Pushing. Didn’t I once say that when slow running becomes painful, fast running might still work? I was overtaken by a mountain biker, who slowed down and asked me if I wanted some company. This was nice. He was complimenting my form and state, but I think that even at the end of our common way he did not really get what I was doing, or better, what I did do. I liked the company, but declined him showing me how to continue towards Duderstadt, but insisted on going my route. Later I was wondering a lot if this was a good idea or not.
The way got more and more hilly, and I dreaded the bumps in the elevation profile to come. I took hills as they came, but got more and more stressed in my pursuit to build up time. Why? I dunno. I just could not stop. Get half way done. 21k in 2.5h. Would leave me with four hours for the remainder. So I pushed. And on some (nice) ridgeline I realized the toll this was taking on me. I had the thought in my head for awhile now: Better hurry to push the breakdown point as far as possible. I knew this was crap, but I was unable to react to that insight. Maybe the days on the run did a thing on my brain. I stumbled on. With a more and more prominent pain in my right shin/ankle. At almost 20k in my final push I broke down. Pushing on was so stupid! I wanted a bench, some place to sit. Only found a Hochsitz, but it did what I wanted. Time to eat the buns, drink (should I ration water?), eat some chocolate. Stretch, retie the shoes with using one hole less on the ankle. Always with a look at the watch. Can I afford this?
This was not a deathmarch per se. I ran every now and then. Maybe even 50% on level and downhill sections. But it was painful. I checked the map and found I could cut short the last hill, by running a bit different. Maybe a tad longer, but through a valley. As it seemed. Here, I found a crazy hill, or was this a mountain already? All man-made from earth a company dug out. A huge thing. Nicely lit by the fading sun. Fading sun. There was my anxiety back. I need to make ground. Push. And push some more. Through my pain. About this time Kathrin checked in on me. How I was doing. Well, I told her how I held up and what my plans were. She affirmed that she would rescue me anywhere. Even at a bus stop in Duderstadt, so I no longer had to keep an eye on the departure of the last bus. This felt great. Thanks! With elevated spirits, I passed the village behind the artificial mountain only to see that I have to go up a hill to leave it. Shit. I did and pondered whether to drop down below the saddle on the other side into that village and climb out of it to my forest road, or climb further on this road and then have downhill until the forest? I stood there for a minute, maybe two. Then turned upwards and shuffled on. This was a wider road in the Eichsfeld. Where people are known to drive pretty ruthless. So, I better get my ass off the road again. Running was definitely no fun, but manageable. Reaching the top and hobbling down again, I looked down into the plains and saw Duderstadt. A lifetime away. Well, 10k. Maybe as the bird flies, but I think it was 10k on my route. All downhill. Some hills in between, but I would just run them down. But this seemed so far. And I figured, I could no longer take a single step without sharp pain. Neither walking, nor running. This was for quite a while now, but I could ignore it. Not any longer. Not with the distance so before my eyes. This sight broke me. I began to cry, and hobble on, but a thought got more and more loud: Ask for help! Kathrin would get me. Even here.
All I needed to do is tell her. So I did. Dropped with the finish in sight. Well, you can see the Brocken from Mackenrode… But, again? Quitting after I was almost done? Was this getting a thing? Should I bite through, just to not create a quitting streak? I would have my string on the map hanging. No attachment to another one I laid in the past. But the pain and my unavoidable drop was so obvious. I did not want to go on on stumps, cry my way to Duderstadt. This was not worth it. I had my finish already in Nordhausen. All my adventure was a success (well, crazy, but I managed. So I call it a success.) and all I was doing here was cutting off two hours of misery and maybe prevent some more permanent damage.
At the intersection I retracted into the forest, well, the battlefield a harvester left behind. I was used to this mess by now. Took an overdue dump. Changed into the least stinking clothes (even brushed my teeth again) to be suitable for a passenger seat and not having to use the trunk. Then I ate and drank whatever pleased me and caught my eye. I was comforted with a very nice and long sunset at my prime position. But once the sun was gone, the cold creeped up. I had to resume moving. So I crawled down to he road and positioned myself at the car park of this Hotel at some intersection in the hills behind some small town. Pushups were fine for a while, but I am not too trained to do this longer. I stretched, which was fine. And at some point, I started to sway, and take up some sort of dancing. This was well possible with my feet. Nice. The light faded, and I hoped with every car turning around the corner to be Kathrin. And finally she appeared. To the rescue! Dropping my pack which had been adnated to my back for so long. Dropping myself into a nice and warm and soft seat. Off my feet. Put the shoes in the plastic bag, I asked her to bring for safety reasons. Airing the feet (that just got the replacement socks). Getting warm (!) tea (!). What a luxury. I am not good in asking for help. And I am not good at receiving it and not feeling bad about it. Kathrin told me over and over that it was fine and her choice. I just felt so blessed and unable to express my gratitude. Thanks again!
The ride was in the usual haze after a long run. I told stories, maybe very incoherent, wandered in my thoughts, bathed in the relaxation from no longer needing to run or walk. A very nice and calm time. Getting dropped off directly at my door was one of the many reasons to favor the ride over the bus. So, there I was where I started this thing almost four days ago. So much has happened. I am grateful for every bit. (Well, except for Elbingerode, I still hate that place 😉 )
Oh, the title. It’s a saying on the Ultra List (Hi Markus!) when it comes to people with strong backgrounds go into multiday running, and fail. The only way to train for multi days is doing multi days. That’s simply it. For me this saying carries the idea ‘head out already!’. Don’t talk, run! Or some synonymous slogan of some sports company.
What I learned: – I can survive (and run) on pretty little food and water – My gear works – It’s the legs that complain most with a pack (and mostly on uphills) – The survival mode does not help me reach my inner self. I just function. – get water! And drink much more. Why to I carry a filter anyway?
My List of gear
Preparations: tape nippels photos of hiking maps on the phone put routes on the watches put water sources as POIs Bag Balm to arm pits and crotch/crack prepare tape snippets treat feet with Minks oil, two nights
Dropbag: boiled potatoes, salt change of running clothes hiking clothes Bag Balm power bank
Clothes to wear: black Nike tights old Altra Superior 4.5 dirty girl gaiters with added velcro plush socks, Injinji Ultra Odlo boxers T-Shirt Altra/WAA Supernatural pullover Buff for the neck Buff as a hat Suunto S9 Peak
In the pack:
First Aid: tape, Leuko- and Kinesio precut for nipple taping gauze bandage scalpel floss needle, thread plaster Asthma spray tweezers, ticks and splinter match patches for the camping mattress
Documents: bank card ID Organspendeausweis 50 Euros health insurance card
Electronics: Lupine Blika with two battery packs and USB adapter (both ways) Lupine charger charging cable for iPhone, both watches S9B in the pack in locked Tour mode
Water: 2x 600ml Softflask MSR filter plus 2l reservoir Hydra Pak Speedcup
Food: Guarana powder Salt capsules fruit sugar Energy bars Spork, leightweight camping knife
some remarks: it was too cold. (1deg at night, 7-8 at day, but snowstorms, very high winds!) Did not use the rain coat washing and drying of clothes was impossible. Had problems to filter water. In my head. Did not use the knife One small tin of bag balm is sufficient Feet get really nasty! The sleeping bag is fine in 1deg cold, but it is no fun. The Uberlite is so great! Maybe find a ground sheet that is less slippery to use for sitting attach the pillow to the sleeping mat! Merino wool stinks less. Really. Two pairs of gloves next time. They get nasty when I have to wear them at all times.
(disclaimer: in case you find overly enthusiastic words about my shoes this run, be aware, I got them for free. Click on the team red logo to your right for further info)
I dislike virtual races. Why, oh why, should I sign up somewere, to be on some list and maybe get a medal by post, to finally run in my backyard as I do all days? I see that some people rely on race goals to keep them motivated. This is the same with me. When I have a hundred miler on the horizon, I better get my ass out the door. But, virtual race? Where’s the fun in that? I have so many ideas for journey runs in my drawer and just need to make time for them. No, virtual races don’t cut it for me.
Then came fall 2020 and the ASFM had to decide about the fate of the Brocken Challenge 2021. We checked hygiene plans, asked about regulations and stuff, how we need to alter the concept to be allowed to hold the BC anyway. There were many good ideas, like holding the briefing on the outdoor soccer fields with a roof. Picture that. Friday night, 18:00, -12 degC, sitting on a soccer field, an even spacing of 2m between each runner… In the end, all we got from authorities was that no one could foresee how the Covid-situation will be in Feb 2021. So we called it quits and decided to announce a virtual BC with some signup page and a big shoutout to give donations anyway and maybe run around your house. Because donations is what the BC is about. Yes, it is a very well organized winter ultra. But it’s main purpose is to generate donations to local initiatives, usually in the order of 30.000 Euros each year. We did not want to let those down, as money is pretty tight these days when everybody just stays home.
Somehow, I was convinced that from those people I face in the auditorium each year, a significant portion would run the route anyway because of tradition. So would I. Maybe it is just a handfull, but I imagined around 30 people on the way. But asking around it became obvious that its just me. I pondered a bit with the nagging thought that we cannot tell everybody to run at home and then run the route anyway. But that was an easy fix. I actually ran at home. Started the watch at my door, and 2k later passed the start line. The BC is at home. I had to get my logistics fixed, and was lucky: Kathrin would sacrifice her Saturday afternoon to get me back home safely after giving company to the summit and back to Oderbrueck to the car. And Michael promised to have some warm water at his car in Barbis for me as he wanted to run up and down the second half of the BC route. 40k on a single fill of my race vest, easy. another 30k with 2l of new water, no problem. Eating nut and fruit bars all day would give me anough condensed energy. Salt pills. The plan was ready.
Then came the snow. I loved it. For cross country skiing. But when I scouted the first few km of the race route, I found it covered with knee deep fresh snow. I tried to lay tracks. Running was hardly possible as my heart rate shot through the roof if I tried to keep that up for longer. This for 80k? No way. But I got Kathrin covering me, she would get me wherever I decided to quit. But it was not only snow. With it came the cold. I did not really believe the forecast. Catastrophies usually only happen in the forecast and on the very day, the weather usually decides to go moderate. Not this time. The almost -20degC in the nights came. Saturday was supposed to start out at -18, fog in the valleys that I had to travel, lateron in the afternoon moderate -5degC and sun. But up in the higher regions there was supposed to be wind. Cold management was the order of the hour. In the week before I tried many combinations. Whatever made it into the final list got washed over and over from one trial to the next.
The final combination was: Odlo Boxer Shorts, mid length Bergans merino boxer, nike winter running isolation tights, nike normal tights. Injinji trail socks crew length, DryMax calf length thick winter socks, Altra KingMT (if they would produce it with spikes and a thicker upper material, it would be the perfect winter shoe. see?), Gore runing winter gaiters, calf length Outdoor Equipment GoreTex hiking gaiters. Campagnolo turtle neck base long sleeve, WAA running TShirt, SuperNatural thick merino long sleeve, Salomon thin fleece long sleeve, selfmade PowerStretch mini skirt to be used for kidney or balls warming, Odlo stretch jacket with kind of a membrane in the wind exposed areas, covering both me and my running vest. One Buff around the neck (and for face protection) two as a beany and another beany (hello, Bilstein-Team, I need a new one some day, the stretch wears out) and my Lupine Blika on top of that heap. Campagnolo acryl gloves and Innov8 smartphone gloves on top. Quite a lump of fabric. But worth every square inch.
My race vest included: a space blanket, an emergency bivouac sack, the usual first aid kit (Mullbinde, Tape, Skalpell, Pinzette, Asthma Spray), bag balm, Cellphone, charger cable and adapter for the Lupine accu, tissues, emergency gloves (freezer bags and rubber bands), two replacement buffs and two different pairs of socks in case my sock setup would not work, ID, bank card, health insurance card, Organspendeausweis, some cash, and an action cam I wanted to use to take short videos of the interesting parts for next years briefing, 2l of water in a bladder with insulated tube, salt caps, 8 fruit and nut bars, a giant almond cookie. I did not weigh it, but I assure you, the entire thing felt heavy.
My aim was to pass the starting line around 6 am, but as I did not have any appointment so I took it easy and left home around five to six. Worked my way up the hill in very cold and really dry air. The snow felt like it was dry frozen. There is a certain sound to that which I usually like. That morning, it was pretty frightening. I went the usual way to the start and refused to light up my headlamp, only to make a serious missstep and roll my ankle. In the way I did half a year back and had serious trouble with. Oh no. Let’s not stop this adventure 1k out. I simply continued and tried to not bother too much and to my surprise the pain faded quickly and never came back the entire day. I might have woken up some people with my angry scream whan it happened though. Up at Kehr, I was happy to meet a person with a sled. It was Markus who showed up at 5:45 in case some weirdos would be there. But nobody came. Except me, a few minutes too late. We exchanged some words and he even got up the stone for me. What an honor. But I could also feel how much this meant to him. To send at least one person on the way. It felt weird that he did not jump off the stone and ran with me, but just waited until I turned a corner. His active BC days are over. This made me sad.
I crossed the Kerstlingeroeder Feld. No torches to lighten the way. Just a small orange band behind the woods. Was I that late? well, February 13th is quite late for a second Saturday of the month, still, I felt like I lost too much time. The way over the field was as I remembered, although some more poor souls had left their traces it was not really runnable. Well, I wanted to see how far I can get in this weather anyway. No idea what the route would throw at me. What a relief that after the field, the forest road was cleared of deep snow. Yeah, proper running where I almost despaired a few days ago. At Mackenroeder Spitze I could already turn off my headlamp and was greeted with a majestic sight. The Harz in the very distance, very clear in front of a dawning day, still a thin band of orange, but already showing the power of the sun. All valleys packed in dense low fog. The heights peeking out of the fog leaving land marks to me where I will go to reach that point on the horizon where there were some spikes on the biggest hill.
I worked my way down and through Mackenrode. Into the cozy valley to Landolfshausen. Here again running was not so easy as tractor tracks frozen, concretelike made it hard to find a good footing. I later learned that the profile of agrculture tractors are much better suited for my shoe size and step length then the harvesters of the foresters. Those things were a mess to not roll my ankle. A bit sad from the missing aid station and pushed by the more and more prominent dawn I passed Landolfshausen and crossed the Seulinger Warte and dropped down in really dense fog towards the Seeburger See. I imagined people here who have no real grip on the route. The zigzagging is obvious if you can see. But if you don’t it’s easy to get lost there. Along the lake I started feeling bad for birds that took off for me. Hey, I won’t do you no harm, trust me! In the fog the sun coming up had no meaning to the temperature. The cold creeped into the tiniest gap in my layering. I had to keep running to stay warm. Luckily I had no problem to run longer stretches at once even though my legs were quite heavy from the start. Maybe tapering has some meaning? I should again read into that. When I left Bernshausen, right before the weirdest front yard of the region, I spotted a dead bird in the street. Apparently run over by a car, but after he froze. With sadness I turned my head onwards only to see a frozen dead fish in the middle of the street. Totally surreal. I stumbled on, wondering what encouter this was.
The long road in Rollshausen was annoying as ever, even without the food stop before. Oh, food. I realized that I drank, and especially ate too little. I was not hungry, but I knew I needed to keep up the input from early on in order to stay able to eat later. The aid stations help really well with this. Of course I do not eat on runs shorter than three hours. And I don’t need to drink too. But after these three hours, I was home and could refill with whatever I want. Not here. I needed to eat, even though the bars were hard like stone and I needed to drink even though this meant fiddling the tube out of my armour, drinking through the first icy sips until nicely body warm fluid came, and in the end blowing the water back in the tube so the tube and valve did not freeze. Although under my outer layer, pretty near to my body, the tube once froze and I was about to panic because I could not imagine eating snow for water, as I needed every calory of warmth inside my body. I worked the tube, broke the ice into pieces and sucked the fluid water up into the icy spots. I think it took five minutes to get this resolved.
The freezing hydration and the creeping cold made for some really existential fear. This is not the weather a human being is supposed to be outdoors and survive. This is hostile. There is a chance of survival with good planning, good gear, proper shape and a portion of luck. This was one of the rare occasions that I was glad I put on some weight over the last year and had some additional bioprene that a runner usually dreads. Of course I could have found a house to ask for help in case things would go down the drain completely, but ultra running relies quite a bit on neglecting such easy ways out. I really felt humbled by the elements. Got a good taste that I am in fact a very fragile being. I had to get out of my jacket at one point to take off my vest to reorganize. The outer layer was frozen solid and on the second layer I had loads of snow. Condensated sweat inside my jacket. Crazy stuff. From time to time my head would hurt from the cold reaching through the (admittedly wet) hat layers.
Leaving Rollshausen, I saw what must have been a prank by someone: The entire bike path from the village to the big road was hip deep full of snow from the plowing. Only when the path crossed the small bridge, someone shoveled away the snow that one person could have walked the bridge. But there was no gap to enter or leave the way. It was a small channel in a sea of snow without entrance or exit. Crazy thing. I so wanted to take a photo for the next briefing, but could not for the life of me take off the jacket to reach my phone (the action cam died already shortly after Mackenrode. I was pissed, but also happy that I no longer had to deal with it.) Bummer.
I was expecting some rough footing when crossing the Hellberg. But when I reached the intersection I was still shocked to see a single trace of foot steps climbing over the snow dam to the side of the road up ahead towards the Tilly Eiche. Yes, some deer tracks merged that trace later on, but I just had the choice to step into that persons steps or work my own way through the deep snow. I chose the former but could not run a single step. What a big relief when I reached the forest road and it was cleared. Yej! Only to find the way down after the summit to be completely virgin. Argh! OK, more deer traces, and they combined to a 10cm wide string of packed snow, but running on that stuff was also not possible, as I slid off the packed part into the deep snow anyway. So, my favourite part in the first half of BC, bombing down Hellberg, turned out to be hard work. After some loud shout of relief, I realised two people with a dog nearby the foot of the hill. Ooops.
I almost missed the famous corner and ate quite a bit on the way up to the Kapelle, to be greeted by the sun up on the hill. Whoa. This felt great. Still freezing cold, but the sun warmed my heart and got my mind out of the dark spots it circled before. I also felt the biorythm to get to senses. This is a proper day now. What struck me already earlier was that stretches that I rememberd taking forever now just slipped away under my feet. It was a bit like in the Momo story. If you wish it to be over and rush, the end will not come. If you take your time and don’t think about the next corner it will come much earlier. That way, I was pleased how ‘fast’ I went through many stretches of the BC that got me eagerly waiting for the end in the last years. But I ran slowly. All the time. I never really got out of my comfort zone with running. Cold management it was. And taking on what the way threw at me. And Kathrin would start only after I crossed Lausebuche, so no need to hurry. On the long bike path towars Rhumspringe, I felt my hands getting more and more cold. I did not want to reach into my vest to get the emergency gloves, as this would require taking off the jacket again. Not here, not now. But I figured, I do not need the long gaiters on the calves as the two socks and two tights did a good job keeping my lower legs warm. So I took off the gaiters and put them over my under arms, so I could hide my hands a bit in them. This worked. Not immediatly, but step by step my stinging hands warmed up and around Rhumequelle I had feeling in all fingers again and the pain was gone.
Rhumspringe came much earlier too. But the Tiefpunkt was again a low in temperature as I dipped in fog again ofter rolling down the hill from the Kapelle. I very much enjoied the snow around me now. Beautiful trees, bushes fields. The spring unfolded its special athmosphere for me and I took a short break for photos. Upon self inspection, err, a selfie, I found my head full of snow. What? It did not snow at all that day. It must have been frozen condesated sweat again. Wow. What is hardly visible on the picture is the state of the buff that I most of the time had in front of my mouth to warm the air as my lungs stung pretty sharp when I inhaled the air directly. Of course moisture from my breath made it wet and whenever I did not breathe into it, that water was immediately frozen. So, taking the buff down for a few seconds meant blowing on it to get it stretchy enough to go into position again. Then, I could no longer lift the buff up completely, as the lower part froze to my beard. Ouch. But when I did not try to get it off, there was no problem, so I left it. Later that day, I decided to get it replaced by a dry one and found a lump of ice frozen to my beard of the size of an egg. All moisture from my breath. Impressive.
The way through the woods after Rhumspringe was again a mistery as I took my time, worked a lot every minute, but they passed kind of effortlessly. I was out the woods in no (felt) time and ran, again happily in the sun, towards the turn to the Einsiedelei. The more I approached it, the more I looked frantically for the turn in the road, for some dent in the wall of snow. Well. Apparently, that road was not important to anyone but me. And a few deer. Whoa.
This was again unrunnable. I stumbled along the tracks, working through hip deep snow banks. Only when the slope was a bit steeper I could just run through the deep snow. Easy is different. I wondered more than once if Flo had to run over such surfaces in all that years. Laying the tracks for others to follow. But I figured he does barely hit the ground and must just fly over it.
Reaching the houses, there was a clear road again, and I could resume running until the corner. The famous corner I always promise myself to run to before walking again. Yes, at this point, my urge to walk is always high, even without snow, even when running is so much easier. It is OK that my legs are tired. I will reach the marathon point soon. And so it was. I shuffeled on, and looked again into my mail for the license plate of Steffen who promised to put some stuff for other runners in the trunk of his car at Barbis. I was so glad to reach this magic point. Even though I was the only person here, the warm water from Michael and the open trunk of Steffen’s car carried much of the warmth of this place. The cheering crowds were here in my head as the volunteers, the other runners, passing by, chatting, eating, drinking. All a bit knocked on already, but eager to go on and reach the Brocken.
I took my time. Figured out how the water container worked by flushing half a cup on my right shoe. Well, now the water ist warm. But later this would fire back with stings of cold. Took a banana, a Weizenbier and coke from Steffens aid station and reshuffeld my equipment. When I reached Barbis, the sun was cozily warm. But when I took of my jacket and vest to reorganize, the sun hid behind some clouds for a few minutes and I immediately felt the cold creeping in again. The everpresent enemy. So I finished my drinks, thanked the donors a lot in my head, and got both the big cookie that I planned to eat on my way up to the Bundesstrasse, and the emergency gloves out of my vest to have them at hand. As the cookie was in a very same bag, I had some fun fiddling with plastic bags, rubber bands, and my pockets. but finally, I had two bags over my double gloves, nicely secured by a rubber band, and a cookie in one hand. I appreciated both a lot. Something different to eat than the bars I had before (and would have since the end of this…) and really warm hands.
Entering the Harz was tedious, but doable. Some skiers, some hikers pathed the snow down in a track wide enoug to run in. Only the ground was still very uneven and had to watch every step. From the famous left-right-left combination to the Wasserscheide the road was free again and I could again witness how quickly this passes if I just do one step after the next. The way down Steinaer Tal had been used once by a harvester. This was ugly footing. I could almost step into the thread pattern, but not land entirely on one of the bumps, and the distance was totally odd for my step length. I managed somehow to tip-toe my way down without rolling an ankle.
I feared the Steinaer Tal, as I figured it might have been left out by the foresters. And it was darn cold compared to the rest of the way in the last years. But happily, I found it clear of snow and the sun peeked around the hills after every second corner. Pretty early I met a runner coming down the valley. We exchanged a few words and discovered that we are both ASFM people. But a beard on my side and the balaclava on his head disguised us pretty well. Dirk went on, but before, he warned me that the Entsafter part 2 would be no fun. He tried it for a few meters and returned. He also asked me if I still plan to get on the Brocken, given the time. This made me wonder. Was I really that late? Yes, I took my time. But hey, it is still around lunchtime, no? I took a while to really look at the time on my phone and do the math. Yes, I was much slower than last years. But not that slow, eh? Anyway, it might get dark on the way down Brocken. Darn, I hoped I can drop my headlamp in Oderbrueck. Ha!
Before reaching Jadgkopf I made sure I ate an entire bar, drank well and had a salt pill. Entered Ensafter 2 and found the same, unrunnable harvester tracks. All over the place. Argh. I hopped from left to right and back, always concentrated to not misstep. It struck me when the tracks suddenly vanished. And a single line of footsteps and ski tracks emerged. Darn. Not that again. But it was worse than anything I encountered that day. One skier and maybe four people went here before me since it snowed the last time. I never broke in to the very ground, but I am sure the snow was hip deep. It was compressable in the way that former foot steps gave some support if I hit them in the right way. And those steps were not in a pattern that I run. I could walk it a bit. But sumpled more than I walked straight. I tried running from time to time. But missed the pattern and ended in deep snow or hit the steps in a wrong way that made my foot slip sidewards into the deep snow. It was a mess.
I was so much looking forward to the spot where we merged to the Suedharzloipe. They must have paved it. I hoped. The spot came and nothing. No car, no other vehicle. Just the skier and the four guys in front of me. Ah, no. At some point, weird tracks merged our path, that I identified as a snow shoer. Only, he did not compress the snow enough for me to even walk on. We now entered the first section known as the dreaded Beachvolleyball fields of BC. The entire Entsafter 2 was such a thing today. I knew that there would come a spot where we would merge to a larger forest road which might have gotten ski tracks, but was big enough to be used by forest vehicles. I so hoped.
The road was cleared. Uff. I again shouted loudly from relief. Now, stuff would finally get better, I lost so much time and daylight to the bad track. Still, my legs were quite dead. I could run slowly, but not for too long. I took every meter of ascent as an excuse to walk. Since a while I came to a pattern to run through shade and walk only in the sun. An adoption of the summer rule to always run through sunny patches on very hot days. This gave some guidance and the grit to run for a bit longer than I wanted. I spotted a skier in front of me, looking a bit lost. When I came nearer, he somehow made a weird turn and went on. Reaching his spot I found out why. There was a tree laying in the middle of the road and he circled it like everybody else. Everybody but the snow plow. Nooooo. After just a very short break the bad footing was back. I was about to cry. Also because I knew that Lausebuche ist still a long stretch. And it became colder. The sun was obviously getting to the horizon. This was not good.
In the planning, Michael asked me about my expected finish time so he could figure out where we would meet. So I had in mind that he was already on his way down. And in the beginning of the Harz I feared him behind every corner showing me how slowly I was. But he did not come. Now, in this mess, I was sure, I will not meet him, because who would enter this hell knowingly? I’d gone a different way down, be it B27. Not again in that stuff. But when I finally dropped out of the mess onto Lausebuche there was a runner entering the path and we exchanged a few words. Got off our face masks and there he was, Michael. That was a nice moment. Exchanging a few words. And learning that the rest would be runnable. Well, mostly. Also, he said that he did not go through the second common beachvolleyball field but took the short detour to avoid more of the deep snow running. After a short while I began to shiver and we parted.
The entry to the shorter path in the above image is a bit misleading as it looks quite nice from the warmth of my office chair. Be aware that the steps stop and turn right after a few meters but the route goes on straight. No way for me. I worked my way around the detour which was nicely cleared. Met two people with Bilstein beanies like me, but was not in the mood for talking, but just shouted ‘nice beanie’ and went on. Entering the Nationalpark came the next bad surprise. There were official ski tracks and the forest road was compressed a bit. But not enough for my weight. I sunk in a few cm, sometimes ten, with every step. Erratically. This was too much for my head. I resolved to an angry walk. It was uphill anyway. But even in the level stretches running was hardly an option for me. And the sun set and the cold was again coming full force. I was exhausted, cold, disappointed, frustrated. And it became obvious that it will be dark even before I meet Kathrin. It became more and more obvious that I am too afraid of the cold to make it further than Oderbrueck. Letting her down became one more voice in the orchestra in my head. She went all the way, and even though she assured me multiple times that its no problem if I drop at any point and she had to collect the pieces, I felt sorry for taking away the adventure of summitting the Brocken.
I worked my way up the wavey hills before Koenigskrug, at first on the firm road, then after a fallen tree alongside the ski tracks in this unreliable mess of semi-hard snow, then again on the road, but realizing that I needed all my mental strength to keep my stumble-shuffle up for more than a few hundred meters. Hard work. People that I met looked at me with that funny uncertainty not knowing to approach me friendly or better stay off. Most of the time they stopped their scan at my plastic-bag-hands and decided to give me room and not interfere with that crazy guy. Funnily, condensation turned into ice in the bags and made for some nice percussion to my running rhythm. Mind that I wore my buff up to the eyes, and had some blinds of icicles before my eyes, the vest with crammed chest pockets poked through my outer jacket. Must have been quite some sight.
The ascent after Koenigskrug was again a pure walk. And my motivation faded further. It became more and more dark. And even reaching the level part did just show me that I am done. Running a few steps but having to stop again, panting from all the slipping to the sides, cracking into the snow, desperately trying to find firm and runnable ground. Not possible. The one positive thing was again that I did not press. The corners came surprisingly fast. So did the left turn, downhill to Oderbrueck. Downhill running went extremely well. the unfirm ground rather helped my knees with decelerating. Only when I had to navigate uneven parts or the little stream, I again realized my status. I wrote Kathrin, that I most probably will stop in Oderbrueck and she replied to first reach her than decide how to go on. This held me upright. If downhill running went so well, I maybe should not be so much afraid of the return down from Brocken. Just the uphill part will be a slow walk. Well, this means two hours of slow climbing? In wind and -20degC? With my hands freezing again? Better not. There it was again, the existential fear. Better listen to it.
But that is not how ultra running works. Of course you listen to the body. And resolve anything that might point to a showstopper. But all to the aim of relentlessly progressing to your goal. That is undebatable. So I stumbled across the parking place of Oderbrueck, the light was almost gone, car lights becoming the main light sources, hoping to see Kathrin’s car quickly. I spotted her before I saw the car, she was apparently returning to the car after watching out for me in the cold. Big relief to meet her. In my mind I was still pondering whether to go on or not. I dropped into the passenger seat and tried to order the correct stuff from my bags. I definitely needed to change. And tried to figure out how to add layers to be isolated enough. And then it became clear that I did not want to go out there again. For the life of me. Letting go of my pushing on felt great. I could sink in the chair, get out of this cold mess of wet clothes (oh god, the smell…) and put on dry ones. Kathrin pulled out the gems, warm pasta with broth and a thick jumpsuit to be worn under a drysuit for ice diving. And loads of these heat generating hand warmers. I stuck them everywhere. Especially my feet were extremely grateful for the warm floor. A radler, tea and good company and I was in heaven.
Remorse got me every now and then, but I resolved in telling my adventures of the day and past BCs. Reliving the run was great. It helped that Kathrin did not know the stories already. The afterglow on the way back was nice as ever when I warmed up after a long run. Back home I was happy to find a relaxed family, reading Harry potter after having crepes for dinner. I got out of the warm suit and could not express my gratitude to Kathrin enough for giving me backup this day, so I could go out in those hostile conditions and still feel safe. I wish we had summitted Brocken though. One day…
Attention, attention. This post contains open advertising, which is kind of compensated by getting free shoes. The latter is not the reason for my opinion but might be seen as such, if you don’t trust me. #ad #altrarunningeurope and whatever hashtags this needs.
During my evolution towards a distance runner, I came across the obstacle of toe blisters, knee pain and other niggles that called for a reassessment of my footwear and gait. See, e.g., here. After some tries from ‘traditional’ running shoes towards less drop, straight big toes and ‘barefoot’ shoes (one of my favourite nonsense words) without any cushioning or heel and a wide roomy toebox, I stumbled upon the brand Altra. The tip came from the ultra list, for sure. This was exactly what I needed. Some sort of Birkenstocks for running. Well, without the strong foot bed. It took me a while to get a hold on a pair of Superior 1.5, via Amazon from the US, with picking up from the customs and paying import taxes. I loved the shoes. They were wide, comfy, pretty direct to the ground, and looked a lot like the shoes of the rabbit with the fast shoes from the Janosch tales 🙂 Almost. Only, they were a tad too short. I already noticed that my running (and expecially upping the distance) made for some serious foot growth, or less shoe pressure tolerance. Every now and then I needed to go up a size. From EU42-43 over many steps to 46.5 that I wear at the moment. So, I got another two Superiors, and, as the shipment cost was more or less the same, another few Altras that were on sale. The 3sum, and some other I need to look up, they are still somewhere in the back of the shelf. For my first Brocken-Challenge, I got the LonePeak 2.0, which did a great job, but it became clear that I need the immediate ground feel and felt a bit blind with the cushioning of them. So, Superiors it was. I made it all the way from the unlucky 2.0 over two pairs of the refined 2.0, a pair of 3.0, two of the 3.5 where I mixed colors (left black, right red at the office, left red, right black at home) and got plenty of comments for that, finally to two pairs of 4.0, both in grey/red as they were on sale. This was sidelined by a plethora of pairs for special puposes: LonePeak 2.0 Neoshell for winter running, later when I decided that my feet will be wet anyway winter walking, LonePeak 3.0 Neoshell mid for alpine hiking, the King MT for exclusively trail runs and alpine running, Torin 2.0 for the late stretches of looong races when I needed cushioning and more room (upped them another size), Escalante, two pairs of One V3 for road running. I am pretty sure I missed one or the other pair.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is, I am nuts for these shoes. They fit my square feet perfectly, they comply with my running style (that I refined for these shoes over the span of a year!) and they offer the right amount of cushioning and grip for what I do. I began to convince more and more people to try them, which got much easier since there is a European web shop… But my main point in thoses sales discussion was always: Do whatever you want, but I’ll never wear other shoes for running again.
Then came an announcement over Facebook that they (Altra) were looking for people, hobbyists, that would like to represent the brand as their ‘team red’. Wow, I thought. As much as I like them, they better get me on board! Bummer, this was only for the US. But a tad later I found out that there will be a European section coming. So I waited and finally found the instructions on how to apply and so I did. Longish silence. And then a congratulations letter that they chose me for the team, with a pile of lawyer-speech filled documents that I am supposed to sign, stating that I put stuff like the first paragraph on top of all my Altra-mentioning posts, that I should post some ad every month, and how this should look like. Ugh, I was turned off immediately. This was so not me and my connection (and, yes, love) to these shoes. This was binding, boring, and also pushing. So I declined, stating my reasons, and was a bit sad that this took such a turn.
But I got an immediate reply in the nice and personal tone that I was used from my contacts with Altra. (I once was given an internal excel sheet of how the different models relate to each other size wise, so I could order my shoes from the US where a return was prohibitvely expensive.) Of course I understood the implications of me putting Altra in good light on social media without mentioning that they gave me stuff for free. I am glad that such a disclosure is obligatory nowadays. And I understand that a legal document will always sound like a legal document. So, the personal connection, the understanding of my feelings and the assurement that they still would want me to join the team, I retraced my resignement. And was excited of what this will bring.
Within all the excitement and installation of the team red then came Corona, and the cancellation of all races. Bummer. The team exists, but is not really visible apart from some facebook posts. Still, I am excited how this will take off once the race scene is opening up again. I am looking forward to meeting these people in person!
Lots have been said about Backyard Ultras. If you are new to the concept, just google ‘Big’s Backyard Ultra’ for the origin. Just a few words: Every entrant starts for a loop of 6.7k every hour. Whoever fails to finish the loop within that hour is out. Who quits is out too, of course. The race ends when only one runner finishes a loop within the hour. That concept is so incredibly simple. And allows for so intense races, tension for days, cheering for people you never heard of, eager for the next post via ultra list of the remaining runners in some woods in the backcountry of Tennessee. And the runners deliver. People who never thought of being contender for first place in an ultra are tied for the lead, every hour again. Until they fall apart. Or lose the will to continue. This adds a big psychological aspect to the race. Everyone will be a DNF, but one. At most. So, when a runner gets into thinking that the other runners will be much stronger and outrun you, where’s the point in suffering on? People drop once they think, they cannot win. So, there is some poker game going on. Everybody will look great, cheerful, happy and easily running. It is a short loop of 6.7k anyway, who cannot do this in 60 minutes? But beware the time a person decides to call it quits. They go from 100% to empty in a split second. So much for the excitement about Backyard ultras.
Last Christmas, I talked to my brother again about how simple such a backyard ultra is to organize. And he told me, he wanted to hold one in Bremen. I encouraged him, and he made me promise, I will run it when it happens. I thought this to be a short lived idea, and somehow forgot about it. Every now and then we exchanged brief messages about the race. He already had a name, and a venue in his head. Only, the officials for the Bremen Buergerpark seemed to be a bit hard headed and not so happy of the idea that 30 people might run themselves to pieces in the park. Well, I am sure, Jan put it a bit differently, but still, no luck. So I thought this would not happen. Then he told me, he had another venue with more willing officials. The Werder island. A park with lots of small gardens in the middle and a long, flat, asphalt cycle path on the outside. And some spot to put tents on and two port-a-potties. Anything else necessary for the run? I don’t think so. He asked me for a date, I picked one, well in advance the Stunt100 for which I wanted to be fresh. And it was set. We did some advertising on FB, tried to get some runners to the event. With only five weeks to go, and a more or less niche race format, this was a hard endeavor. But after a while we had some ten or twelve people coming. Enough for this to make sense. 35 would have been cooler, but for the in inaugural event, and with that short period of announcement, that was great!
Thanks to the DUV statistics, I got a good idea of the runners. Some were friends of Jan, who never ran a Marathon before. Well, every time is a first, but for these people 30k sounded like a superhero effort. Then there were some runners, who already ran their ultra or two, not with big mileage, but you never know. Jan for example, never went longer than the Brocken Challenge to this day. Somehow I believed him that 100k was sufficient for him. Tanya did the Thueringen Ultra 100k several times, and I was trying to get her to run hundred miles for quite some years now. This year should be it. And it was partly in my hands to make this event long enough for her to go long. Then there were Frank, Morton and Holger who were in principle able to run 24h plus. But in a Backyard you never know. I thought of myself being the updog here. Maybe Tanya can get me when I make a mistake, and maybe one of the other runners just waited for a backyard ultra to show big class.
Then came a big bummer. I browsed through my mail and stumbled upon the date of the German Championship in underwater rugby. Argh. Same date as Katzensprung! No! We were far from being qualified, but we pulled this off last year, from a very bad position to hop to a spot in the championships. I dreaded the last league round. I fought with all I got, and the others too. It came as it should, and we qualified again, and I had to tell my team, I will leave them hanging as I promised my brother to run a stupid race that weekend. Gosh, was I torn. But promise was promise, so I ducked away, ready to be expelled, and prepared for an indefinite amount of running in Bremen. I could sleep in the van of my brother, got a train together with Tanya and made plans to go shopping for race treats once we were in Bremen. The train part did not let me pack as I do for a 24h race. And this might take even longer. Ouch. Shopping was fun though. Imagine browsing through a supermarket and put everything in the cart that you love to eat, is as calory rich as possible, and lots of it. Don’t forget the pickles. And a carrier of alcohol free Weizenbeer. Only, how will we get this stuff to the race site, which was a mere 3k from the train station? Luckily, Jan got us with his van, and we did not have to waste energy on the hike. Tanya pitched her tent, I inspected the race site and packed my stuff in the box that Jan provided for me, arranged the camping chair, while he went to mark the course. At 11pm. He came back quickly and decided, he will mark the course on the first loop in the morning, this is supposed to be a low key race. After all, It was not so difficult. We went to sleep, with our alarm to four am, when the start would be at 5:22, exactly at sunrise.
The night was cold, the van itself was of no help, but the day was supposed to be hot, so better enjoy the cold as long as I can… The five hours of sleep passed quickly and I was so not in the mood to get out of the sleeping bag and run. But it had to be done. Some car pulled up next to us, and another, and then a third. Nice to see the other runners, willing to do the endless circle with us. And Bernd, Jan’s father in law, himself a regular marathon runner, and he did 55k once. Nice last minute addition! I arranged all my spare shoes and equipment that I might need for the next night, or after it, in the trunk of the van, put on my watches and greeted the other contestants. At 5:10, Jan said some words, explained the rules, and how we should put our times in the list on the table. Either put the duration of our loop in the right field, or just the time of day when thinking would get harder. The official race clock was a cheap plastic alarm clock that Jan bought the day prior. It was able to show some colorful lighting through its white plastic case. Aside the table with the list and the clock, there was a larger tent where Jan had put some carriers of sparkling water, and as I insisted, some canisters of still water. I put my beer and bananas in the tent too, got out my chair and put the box with all my stuff next to it, and was set to go. It felt a bit weird to have all this unoccupied for most of the hours, but remember, this is a park in northern Germany, and it was kind of obvious that some event was happening here, and it was not obvious if there were people in the tents, so I tried to put all things of bigger value in the van and not in the box. The one last, and maybe the most important addition to the race setup were the two port-a-potties, that a confused delivery truck driver put within the bushes as he misunderstood as far into the park as possible.
Time elapsed and we set off. The first round, Jan showed the way, and marked the occasional corner to take. We had fun, were all chatty, but still a bit sleepy. And it got lighter, the sun showed just above the horizon. With no cloud anywhere, this was a not so colorful, but still impressive moment, to see the ball of fire, big and orange, making its way through some building and trees until it was set right to warm us entirely. There were some sections where we did not take the paved ways but cut two corners and went over the grass. This made for some nice wet feet, right from the start. Why? was my main thought, but I figured this will dry out again, and I had enough pair of shoes if this would become an issue. Aside those small cut corners, the route was entirely asphalt, a very short section of cobblestone, almost flat, but we had to get about a meter of elevation onto the dike between the land and the river Weser, or back down, occasionally. All in all a rather boring course when I think about all the trails I usually run. But this was a public park, so I expected it to fill with people who will give some distractions of the overall repeating routine.
The first loop was done, the course was marked, and we were in good spirits. Chatting, laughing, trying some mind games on each other like comparing return ticket times. A very good group of people. We went out again, and visited the course once more. Yep, still the same. Corners became more familiar, more tiny details emerged in the perception of the surrounding. Yes, this was definitely fun. If only there was no sun and heat scheduled (well, after surviving the STUNT, I can only smile about the ‘heat’ in Bremen in May). But there I was anxious about what was coming. No shade for long stretches, no cooling wind and temperatures I was not used to yet. But in the first rounds everything was fine, and we kept up the chatty atmosphere. Only, I noticed the group tempo was a bit too slow for me. I wanted to have more time to sit down in the shade and drink. So I sped up and ran alone most of the remaining loops. This worked out perfectly. I always had a good feeling being first back in camp, and getting some rest until the next persons arrived. Yes, it was a bit taxing to run faster, but I was out of the sun earlier, no? Also I began walking breaks, mostly on the first half of the loop when the few trees held away the sun. And then every bit of uphill, which was not much.
Over the hours, people began to drop. Some because they did not want to run far in the first place, others because of appointments later the day (shakes head…) and then some because of exhaustion. Frank, who had big plans, brought his own gazebo, and was definitely eager for the night got dizzy in the heat. He made one loop barely in under an hour, and as I was trying to get out of him if he had a cell phone to call us when he had to drop somewhere on course, he told us that he quit. Dang. I was sorry for him, as was he. I was no longer that fresh too, but could get along with the heat quite well. I had my sunblocking long sleeve and after putting a Tshirt under my cap for neck protection and wondering if a thin white cloth might not work much better. Then I had a brilliant idea. I simply cut a buff open and put that one under the cap. Problem solved! Also, I drank a lot of Weizenbier, Coke, and tea. Mixed with bananas and potato chips, and I was really well fed. As the legs were getting more and more tired, I felt like in a steady state that could go on forever. Well, it did not. I had to work more and more, and began to wish night might already fall. But it was still a long time to go.
Having some experience in short loop races, I was expecting boredom after some loops. But this was different. The hour was long enough that the course changed quite a bit between loops. Being a public park, there were many people around and I got lots of insights like waves of different folks flooding the park. Shortly after sunrise we met the fitness enthusiasts. 80% female, sometimes looking determined, sometimes looking like pre-coffee, a very few of them really enjoying moving in the early morning chill with a blue sky and a huge sun creeping over the horizon. They were soon complemented by the dog owners. All genders, and mostly looking like it was not their idea to leave the house before 7am on a Saturday. As the runners were getting more and more happy, relaxed and casually jogging, came an unexpected wave of daddies with little kids. The kids between half a year and two, in a bike trailer or some other cart, again sound asleep and their fathers either asleep on a bench themselves or enjoying a newspaper or a book. I barely saw one of them actually pushing their vehicle or interacting with an awake kids. An hour later they were all gone again. The dog owners became more and more positive and doing longer strolls. The first people where populating benches for some sun bathing. Early in the day, cyclists were either falling into the fitness enthusiast category, late from a party, or on a commute, being in a hurry. This changed gradually. Bikes became electrified, their way was less and less straight. More and more bikes were leaning against benches, trees, laying in the grass, their owners sitting alone or in groups, more and more populating the park. There was one wave of soccer fans flooding towards the stadium, then lots of crowd noises and then the wave retracted back into the ocean of their homes, with some green and white people stranding in the park with more or less beer in their bellies and heads. I even saw the Werder team bus going over the bridge which crossed our course twice.
Many people came to work in their little remote gardens. Or just hang out. Or meet with friends, family. All paths resembled veins in a big system, transporting human particles back and forth, some with a purpose, some without. Having an hourly snapshot of every meter of the course was highly entertaining. This group grew, the other resolved. That couple hopped from one bench to the next. A family reunion met in front of a cafe, then sat in it, their kids started playing on the playground next to it, and finally they parted again. Apparently some sections of the Werdersee shore were a nudist beach, where we had to run by. For some rounds I hoped they would not feel offended that we ran by every hour, but later I just enjoyed that this is possible in a German city. This place was mostly sunbathing, but also had quite some fluctuation of people.
I expected people to recognize me, all the more when I was wearing shades and my funny napkin under the cap, but not a single word from bystanders. But we as a group of backyarders totally dissolved in the crowd of people seeking recreation in the park. Even the youth groups gathering later in the afternoon did not make fun of me. I sometimes felt as an invisible observer of a huge experiment. Then there were short interactions. Plain eye contact in moments of awareness on both my and the opposite side. Brief but sometimes deep. But very few words were exchanged. Only once I saw a couple with heavy looking Ebikes eating lunch from styrofoam plates. Next round they were gone, but two plastic bags with very familiar looking plates next to their bench. This made me angry. Somehow it felt like my park already, and no one dares to litter here! a quarter round later, I found the two sitting on the river shore. So I stopped and told them directly that I saw them eating an hour earlier and that what looks like their remainders was still next to the bench and I don’t like that. They tried to tell me that they would never litter, but I did not stay, but just leave after my words. This was a very empowering moment. Usually, I just swallow and not speak up. This time I did and it felt great. It was not even as bad as I always fear when contemplating whether to address things I don’t want other people to do. Next hour the plastic bags were gone 🙂
More and more drops happened over the day. Especially Tanya having to leave made me sad. I was so sure she would go a hundred miles for her first time that day. But some sharp knee pain ended her run. Jan had already dropped earlier without setting a new personal longest. There always was some poker before the start of a new loop. No one came back and called it quits if it was not for a fixed deadline. People started gathering at the wooden posts and then refused to go out, so no one could try to get them to try another loop. They were out. Also, Tanya and Jan knew that I was looking for a long experience and they were sad they could not assist me with that. This left Morton and me. He looked strong, happy, cheering, patient. A hard opponent. I wished for signs of weakness, but he showed none. We did some war speak here and there, but it felt more like trying out the new game we were doing here, than actually convincing the other or even ourselves. Still, the ‘early’ drops made for a feeling of losing playmates. Hey, please stay in the game! Don’t leave! But they did anyway. This led to a feeling, described by the title of this post.
The heat got to me. I felt lots of wear. And I longed for the drop in my chair in the shadow. So I went quickly over the course as ever. But it felt more and more hard. Then came some bowel distraction. I made it to camp, and did not dare to go immediately, mostly because the portapotties were 50m downstream. So I took my break, refuled, saw Morton coming in. After a short rest we got up again, to leave for the next loop. In the first meters I told him, I would use the toilet and then catch him later. I hurried quite a bit and felt stressed. Not in a comfortable lead for the first time for long. I expected this loop to take 55 minutes or even longer and to have only a very short break. But the stress led me to run a tad faster than usual, and I was surprised to meet Morton already a mile before the end of the loop. I wanted to stay with him and chat, but he was walking and obviously in a bad spot, and sent me on. I went and reached the cool shelter and my drinks. Morton came in, did his routine and we set out again. This would be the last day loop. The mercyless sun was about to let us go. Relief.
We went on with the whistle and Morton began to praise the cool night to come through which it would be a piece of cake to run. I answered enthusiastically that I was so waiting for the night to fall and that I love to run in the dark, especially after a host day. Really looking forward to eight hours of silence and peace. And I wanted to share those with him, for sure. But suddenly, he shook his head and said with a grin ‘Well, that bluff did not work as intended. I’m out’. Whoa! This took me by surprise. And it made me very sad. For him to drop. For this race to be over soon. Also for my distance being way less than I hoped for. This was supposed to be my longest run ever, which meant 180k+ at that time. Well, did not happen. But having Morton go back and being alone on the course on my final lap was hard. Yes, I was already baked from the day. Yes, my legs were stiff for quite a while now. This was not really fun anymore. And now the loop seemed endless, although I was running fluently through it like I did 15 times before. I shifted the idea back and forth to use the nudist beach, ripping off my running clothes and run into the cool water. I so wanted this for the entire day. But there was a nagging voice in my head. What if Morton played a trick on me? There is no rule to be honest in the mind games in a backyard. When I was making sure to stay a tad under the hour to come back to camp, and he would have snuck behind me all loop, I’d be done. Then, with drenched clothes getting a pit stop in a minute or two was impossible. So I hobbled by that section and made my way up the final ‘climb’ and was greeted by many people. I found big relief when I saw Morton with the others, in new clothes. Phew, this was really it. I did it. Won the first edition of the Katzensprung. Yeah!
Dropping in my chair I began eating and drinking, and with the falling night I became cold. Take the relaxation of the entire system my status went downhill really soon. Jan told me afterwards that I took a really long time until I was able to leave the chair again. Yes, this was not a piece of cake. No Katzensprung as the name would suggest. This had been hard work. We said goodbye, more people left, we (ha, all but me) took down the tents, removed our traces from the camp and finally I was packed into the van too and we were going to Jans place, Tanya and I could get a camping mattress there. We got a pizza on the way which was exactly what my body needed when we came to his home. The night was horrible, mostly because the mattress had a puncture and I was basically laying on the floor. I thought it was my legs and hop from the run that hurt. Well…
Anyway, this was a lots of fun. Would do it again. Next year!
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 😉
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.
I had a big luxury problem. The entire familiy was away for a week. Over a weekend. I had all time and freedom in the world. And the car. I needed to make good use of this and do something extraordinary. Only, this was one week after the STUNT100. So, running was prohibited. Well, last year, I was in a similar situation and ran the Harzer Baudensteig. A nice adventure. Yes, I can pull off some running a week after a tough hundred miler. But I had a weekend. Not just a single day. And the Baudensteig was slow and painful. And only 75k in the end, as I cut it short to stay in daylight. And because my legs were dead. No running this year. I tried to find someplace to dance the weekend away. Well, you need legs for dancing too, not so much with contact impro, this can happen entirely on the floor. Roland proposed visiting a Shiatsu-Festival nearby in Kassel, where he would give a workshop and some performance. Never heard that there are people understanding Shiatsu as a lifestyle, and it was only a tiny bit of the weekend. I was too shy. Did not dare to enter that community just for the two hours, without having the slightest clue what these people were aiming at with the weekend. I felt like an intruder. So, I did not even ask to register. Then came Roccos post on fb: Slot at the Thüringen Ultra to give away. Darn. Thüringen Ultra, the location of my first hundred miles. A race I was sure to meet many friends. I knew the course, not too difficult, lots of forest roads, well stocked aid stations, and only 100k short.
Ha. 100k long! I wanted to run hundred miles the weekend prior. Who am I to think this is a good idea. But who said, I should do something reasonable on MY weekend? I shifted the idea back and forth in my head. For about an hour. Then I PMed Rocco, I’d take the spot. Whoa. This made me anxious. In order to not DNS silently, I offered a ride to Tanya and Aschu that I saw on the starting list. Tanya accepted, Aschu declined, because he wanted to be there much earlier. For the people, the campground, hanging out in the sun. Well, this is what I wanted too, but I could not see myself leaving early for yet another race. So it was set. What a stupid plan.
Friday came, I had my stuff not really unpacked from the STUNT, so I thought I might need little time to leave. But then came ideas like ‘what will I eat on Friday evening?’ and the like. It became later and later, I could not hold the promised pickup time. Darn. Right before I was ready to leave I saw the raspberries hanging full of ripe berries. They will be all on the ground in two days. So I took another 15 minutes to fill a remarkable bowl with them. And off I went, to meet an anxious Tanya who did not want to miss the pasta party as she did not pack any dinner… On the ride, we caught up on our lifes, and got more and more relaxed from the tension we both were in. It became obvious that we will be there before the buffet closes. Uff. On the camp ground, we just parked the car and went to eat. MEt already three known faces on our way to the food place, and entered the nice sitting and chatting of loads of runners. Mostly relaxed and excited for the next day. Tanya knows so many people from all her races, so it was easy to get into one of the conversations. After some pasta and my own stuff, we pitched our tents, I made last minute packing of the drop bags as usual, much longer than I wanted to. And figured that my tent neighbor must have hated me for fiddling with the plastic bags while he was already trying to sleep. It got dark, I got finished, ready for bed, the alarm set to 3am.
An hour to the start is still perfect. Including handing over the drop bags, a bathroom break, getting into the running clothes, fill the bladder, eat, drink, lube and reaching the starting corral just minutes before the start. Some good mornings were exchanged, several good lucks, and Gunter got us on the way to our quest to cross the Rennsteig twice, with a deep drop on the other side of the mountain range. I found Aschu and chatted, while we caught up to Tanya and formed an ASFM block. Nice! Btw, Tanya bet a beer that she could run under 13h. OK, Harald told her, she would get a beer if she proved him she can do it. This is a lot of motivation. She ran very fast at the beginning. Faster than I thought I should run. Well, I just ran a bit last weekend, but I know her pace pretty well from all the lunch runs. This was fast. But also fun. So we ran for a while and chatted. Then some pee breaks that first cut me, and later when I joined them again, Tanya off the pack. Then came a steep downhill. Did I tell that I cannot run them slowly? Still not possible. And it did not hurt at all, so let’s go! There I lost Aschu. A tad later, we entered the first nasty climb and I was hanging onto the sight of some runners in front of me, walking their way up. This took like forever, but no one from behind and no one to catch, apparently.
Then I was in racing mode again. Ups and downs, forest roads, trail, grass, whatnot. It got warmer, I got a bit of contect here and there. And somehow I was running so well, that I formed the idea to run the 100k in under 11h. Well, I have no idea where this came from. The typical mechanism that makes for good disappointments, I suppose. But I had a reason to run now. Around Inselberg, still dreading the drop on the other side. This one came, but I had no severe problems. In front of the tunnel, I met Daniel, who took a photo and we ran together until the next aid station. He knows Kathie from ASFM, funny, they grew up in the same town. Anyway, he looked like a much stronger runner than I felt, and he termed my endeavour to run this after the Stunt a week prior risky. When said, I think it is stupid, he told me he just wanted to be polite. Haha. In the aid station, I wanted to change shoes, into dry socks, and fiddle a bit with the other goodies in my drop bag. So I let him run on. I took like ages to leave the aid station again, and the break took it’s toll. No more fun to run. And uphill was too exhausting. And it was all uphill for a good while now. But, yeah, I just ran a race, so why push? So I trotted a lot. And tried to run every now and then. And trot again.
To my surprise, I met Daniel again on top of the hill, and the aid station with the best homemade cake and cookies! Great stuff! We teamed up again and went together for a good while. He was having stomach problems, and I convinced myself, it is wise to stick to him and run under my abilities. I liked to recognize places from 2016, but about 70k there was a section and an aid station that I could not remember for my life. I must have been in a deep tunnel back then! Wow. When we trotted upwards on some nice rooty trail, someone from behind made a snarky comment that we do not look well. Aschu! I used him as an excuse to leave Daniel behind and speed up again. This was also appreciated. Some more tempo, and again someone to talk to. After some km, Aschu asked me, why he got me in the first place, as I was running strong when he was breathing hard. Uh? He pushed me on, and I was alone again. Watching the time, I found that maybe, I can still pull off a sub 12h finish. If I push. So I did. And overtook some people. And made sure that I cool myself. With watering my cap whenever I could, and even take out the small towel, to wet it and put it under the hat. Phew.
Inconsistent km markers on the aid station and my watch being a bit off, I was going crazy with that sub12h goal. Can I do this? Or not? I ran and ran, some really fast km. Downhill was great, level was OK, uphill I walked. And tried to not get too warm. The last 5k came, and it became obvious that I can do it. But I still needed to run. This became more and more hard. I loved all the locals who put buckets with ice water on the road. I used each and every one of them. And the last km came, still pushing. No cramps, no blisters, just dead legs that longed for a stop. And it came. 11:56:11. Gosh, was I happy to be there. Got my medal, went back to kiss the finish line, it’s a tradition after all, and sat aside to relax, cheer incoming runners, and watch my calves doing funny twitching on their own. Hey, we are done, it’s over, you are allowed to stop now! Took them a while to understand. After the shower, I took the luxury of a massage and then had some pediatrist look at my one blister that still formed without too much nagging. Then sat with Tanya who got her beer with an incredible 12:46, and the entire gang. We stayed the night, and got home on Sunday, a wise decision, given my sleepines.
So, all in all, I’d do it again. It was stupid, but I had no obvious negative consequences from it. And, most importantly, it was loads of fun! And I got a second star!
Last year I fell in love with the STUNT100, the format, the course, but especially the amazing people. Volunteers, bystanders, runners. It was immediately clear that I will come back. Partly for revenge on the 24 hours, but mostly to meet all those great people again.
Several obstacles could not prevent me from starting, and finally I was again with Dieter in the car, discussing nice races, running volume and of course the weather. The forecast for Saturday was changing. From 30 degrees to 38 and back. No clouds, no rain, just the merciless sun, and many days to heat up everything that even the night might get warmer than I like for running.
The aim of our dreams.
I made the attempt to prepare for this by deliberately running in the hottest days at noon on courses with as little cover as I could stand, or my company. Also I put together everything I could imagine helping me against the sun. I even packed long, wide cotton pants to wear before and after the race and so I did when I put up my tent in the baking sun. We were again very early, but not the first ones, Frank and Andy were already on site and we got to chat about everything and nothing in the ‘cool’ (as in not burning the skin off) shade at the parking place. Somehow I did not pack any pre race nutrition as there was cake and dinner last year, but being here so early left me eating whatever I still put in my pack in a hurry when I left.
More and more people arrived, many I knew, some I got to know. And I spent quite some time, ducked behind the cooling trailer, arranging my clothes, drop bags, etc. This time I did not want to need to crawl in my tent to get stuff between the loops, but I brought two folding boxes to put clothes and shoes in one and food, drinks and everything that might be handy in the breaks in the other one. Those boxes went on the benches in the rear of the big tent where we could change, sleep, and put our stuff. No squatting, hooray!
The briefing, together with the chatter before and after was very relaxing and felt like coming home. Although I dearly missed the motivational film, and equally intense the soundtrack ‘nothing else matters’. Well, I got that song stuck in my head for months, I would remember it whenever necessary on the course. Several people did not make it to start because of injury, so when I checked all 13 competitors, I saw myself battling with Imre, maybe Tim who did not want to raid all the aid stations this time but go a little faster, whatever that means, and way behind Christian, second place at BC this year (which is first place if you substract Flo…). After the dinner (Kartoffelgratin ftw, well, I would not run on the edge anyway, don’t I?) it was still light and very warm outside. I really like the shine from the sun behind the horizon in the very north in midsummer, but I dreaded the next day, where I hoped to reach the night in one piece, and the later night fell, the harder this would get. Also, my plan to hide in the showers in Sibesse until the sun settles to run all way in the night was destroyed by both the cutoffs I did not notice last year, and the apparently very short night.
The start of the fast group
Next morning was routine, even the sprint from the bathroom to the start because I was just too relaxed. No wooden clap, but a countdown and off we went. Checking for the one car that took the road the entire morning, exactly when we wanted to cross. Christian expectedly flew off in the distance, but we had to call him back on the fist corner. Well, that is where the finish of the route comes in, so distractions are probable. He flew off again, and we steered him a bit from a distance. At the next road crossing he was a bit lost again, and complained about the track on his watch being way off. Again? Hey, will I again need to navigate someone much stronger than me 🙂 But Christian accepted my offer of the spare SSWHRB with the track that I had in my pack, but battery only for the first loop and a bit. One more time he waited for us, obviously puzzled, but this time because my watch asked him to calibrate the compass, and the infinity-arrow sign was not as intuitive as it should have been. I explained the arm waving pattern to him, and he again disappeared in a cloud of dust. Frank and Jens wanted to take it easy and fell back early on. So I ran with Tim, Ramon, and Imre. On the uphill I found myself putting way more work into keeping up than I wanted to, so I used a pee break right before the radio tower to have myself fall a bit behind. Only to push to reach them shortly after on the flats and gradual downhill. I so love the trails of the first loop. Of course the ones rolling, flat or, what I love most, downhill. Only, I had three guys in front of me who seemed much better in containing themselves on the downhills. This breaking hurt. Mainly mentally of course, but I am somehow convinced that running full boar downhill saves on my quads in comparison to keeping back. I waited for a section with not just single trail, but some truck tracks, one of which was full of nettles and false cleavers. Through I bombed, I was on a mission. To lead the pack and not break. Tim shouted some goodbye and their steps and chatter got more and more quiet. Full of adrenaline, I reached Bad Salzdetfurth and found my way along the edge of the forest road, realizing that this fun took a big toll. The legs were definitely getting heavy. At 15k in a 100 miler, sigh. What I told myself over and over on this first, spectacular trail loop, was that it does not really matter if my legs are heavy at 15k or 30k or even 60k, it was still an unbelievably long way to go on these tired legs, and I am used to run on them. I also pushed on, because of my boldness to run away from the group. I did not want to get caught again by the mountain goats walking their way up a hill in blistering speed.
First aid station, still looking fresh on the outside, but being stressed on the inside.
I was surprised to find Jörg at Michael’s aid station but Michael got sick unfortunately and Jörg’s aid station was a very long way down the road, so he could replace Michael. Also surprising was Andy sitting at the aid station although he started in the early group, two hours before us. He had some family issues that kept him awake at night and he could not get his head free enough to run. So he called it quits. I tried to hide in the shallow shade of the mobile home of Jörg, until Andy put me a chair in the shades of a tree, thank you! I drank a lot, ate a lot of water melon. The sun was already heating up the day. At 7:30. When the other three rolled in, shortly after another, I grabbed another cup of water and went on. Pushing the long uphill, down Jurassic Park land and up to the intersection of the course where I met Gerik from the early starters who just completed the loop in the loop. Down I flew the part that was a tree cemetery last year, and made us take another route than usual. Not this year. Nice downhill again. I am sure Henning and I missed the correct route while scouting the course (in the wrong direction), because this was much better runnable than I remember from the uphill crawl, last year in March. Possibly the missing snow helped.
Huh? Wrong direction!
Down at the edge of the forest, I saw a runner coming up, apparently Jörg has missed the drop off the cliff after the intersection and ran the mini loop the wrong way. Admittedly, I would not have seen the drop off if I did not knew it was coming and hardly visible and we came up there last year. Actually, there was a guy with poles coming up after I met Gerik, and he looked a bit worried, when I ran to the left of the road, exactly where he was coming up. Don’t know if it was more terrifying to him that I ran fast towards him, or that I sank in the bushes a few meters before we would have crashed. I cannot tell, because I had to watch my step while pushing leaves and branches out of my face. I so love that! Down where I met Jörg was also Susanne taking photos and providing water for Fenja, the four legged one. Running east down at the bottom was a bit boring, but I had to make some fast miles anyway, so I got it done. Right before I had to mount again, Helmut, Imre’s supporter, was sitting, cheering and showing me the right direction.
Whenever there were some holes in the tree cover, I felt the sun burning into my skull. I should take out my cap just for these few seconds every now and then. But I could not convince myself to really get it. When I was again pondering on getting the cap out or not, I saw a cap hanging from a sign on a tree. Hey, the trail giveth, the trail taketh. I got it, and wondered about the logo. It was in military brown and some hunter’s sign on it, apparently something of authority in the woods. I wore it partly proud and imagining a dialogue with people who do not behave as I would like them to, partly in fear of a hunter showing up who knew the sign and realizing that I do some kind of sacrilege here. The pride was stronger though. Some work was necessary to get on the Tosmar ridgeline, again, one very exquisite stretch of trail. Unfortunately no one to be at the intersection once I reached it, but again I was in the flow of green, soft ground, winding trail, enough roots to up the difficulty. I got Heiner, who ran just the first loop because of injury, and flew down to Diekholzen, again much faster than wise, and my legs complained well on the flats in the village and when I had to climb up again after.
Glad I was, when I finally found Karsten, telling me the alternative location of the aid station as the new owners of the restaurant at the tower seem to be assholes to runners. Here I sat, finally reapplied sunlotion, got my mini-towel wet to clean my face with. Well, I wanted to do this before applying the lotion, would have been smart. I discovered Malzbier to be perfect for me now, together with tea (my tea, brought to the aid station, mind ya! That is STUNT100 service.) some crackers a potato and loads of water melon. Always checking when the others would come. Then came some random guy, but he made me aware not to take too long and I went on. The downhill was again way too fast, no longer that bouncy, but a hell of a ride. I suffered a bit until I reached some serious trail again, partly because of the climbing, partly because of the forest roads, and partly because I was already comparing to last years times, to find me a bit behind. Well, the first marathon split was within five minutes, as far as I remember. When the trail section was coming to an end to make room for forest roads, I met Gerik, Stefan and Fenja, the four legged. Chatting a bit, then having the second of my two navigation errors where GPS was not as fast as we moved and I was about to climb another hill. But after 20m I admitted that Stefan was right (well, he had been here before a time or two 🙂 ) and I left them for good where we reached the road and railroad tracks.
I promised myself to not push, but survive. Until the night. Here I was, chasing some uncatchable Christian, running away from other people I could have chatted with, and getting more and more hot. One reason I did not get my own cap out of the vest was because I attached some part of an old white cycling jersey as neck protection, which would look ridiculously in the woods. Well, everywhere, but in the sun I did not care. So, when I left the woods towards Sibesse, I exchanged caps, and felt the sun burning into every bit of exposed skin. Darn, this day will get hard. My survival instincts kicked in, and I made an inventory how to protect myself from the sun, besides lotion which will run off with the sweat anyway. I remembered the long cotton pants. This might do with a short tights, that I could button off of a two-in-one shorts. But my hands?
Ultra-Tailoring, the new sports.
The jersey still had sleeves, so once I reached the base camp I asked for safety pins (and got them!), took scissors out of my first aid kit and being curiously monitored I got off the short sleeves and attached them with Christiane’s help to my white UV-protecting surf longsleeve that I brought for this second loop which will be much more exposed to the sun than the first one. The cotton pants were a gamble. I never tried them for running. So I put shorts as well as long tights, which were supposed to cool more than warm, in the drop bags for Sebastian’s aid station which luckily did not leave camp yet. When I finished my improvised outfit, and changed entirely, and reapplied sun lotion even to the parts covered by clothes, I got out of the tent to a cheering crowd who apparently loved my badwater-outfit.
The running beekeeper.
Off I went and found myself surprisingly strongly running towards the woods southwards. The break did a good job, even though I was fully occupied during it. Here I also actively applied my new mantra for the first time: ‘Get out of the sun as quickly as possible’. This made for some very good and long stretches of running over the day. Walking in the shadow was OK, in the sun I better ran. I feared the long stretch down to Sack which was extremely hard last year as I refused to walk on this very long downhill. Lesson learned, I walked a bit here and there, whenever there was a dense tree cover. Somewhere around here, I realized that I forgot to relube in Sibesse. Darn. Bad mistake. No grease in the vest, so I had to see how to handle this. Until now, no chafing problems though. Down, I was greeted by Helmut and Imre’s son, a nice sight, and some water to have my cap wet, great! Thank you! The village of Sack did not disappoint this time either, being more or less dead last year, there were the beginnings or remainders, could not really figure that out, of a sports fest, maybe tournament, on the sports ground. Horrible electronical music blasting out of big speakers on the void field, and some wasted mid-fifties drinking beer under big umbrellas. I was prepared for some witty comments, and had my standard approach ready whenever I meet drunken people while running: Asking them for a beer. This usually destroys any hostility. But they were just staring and I was past. I was longing for the climb in the dense woods that should come next. A rather narrow valley with a lot of overgrowth. Only, it was still some way to the shadow. Dang. I could not even run all the way into coolness. Had to take several walking breaks in the burning sun. Not what I wanted, and this got on my mood. During the uphill in the admittedly fresh forest, I imagined Christian running it up like a young deer, another dent in my confidence. But I worked my way through the bushes, nettles, crazily uneven truck prints. Reaching the top, I was so happy that this was over, I turned around, remembering my plan to work on my voice via primal scream. I inhaled deeply and let out a long and loud ‘Jaaaaaaaa’ which surprised me a lot. By it’s sheer volume, the clarity, the ease producing it. Wow.
Very pleased with myself, I bolted through the nice grass trail between cooling hedges, cursed the trucks and stones which made the later dusty path very hard to run on, and was so glad to reach Matthias and Mel’s aid station. There was Dieter, also an early starter, surprised to see me this early, he bet on 8k later for our meeting point. I got another Malzbier and my tea, some snickers and the like and sat in the shadow. I asked Matthias for Melkfett, Vaseline or so, and he told me sadly, he did not have it. But he got his phone and I asked Hansi if maybe someone will travel to Sebastian until I got there and could fetch my bag balm. Already quite a request within a race. But this is STUNT. Hansi told me that my bag balm will be at the road in Wrisbergholzen, until I get there. And so it was. I imagined being one of the inhabitants, looking out of the window, seeing two guys pulling up their car on the sidewalk in the middle of the village, greeting a weirdly running beekeeper and handing him a ziplock bag, he reaches in, then in his pants, front, and back, rather deeply. Wiping his hands on a paper towel, handing back the bag, thanking and leaving in one direction, the two guys in the car to the opposite. Made me chuckle once in a while in the next sections.
I tried to push a bit, as I wanted to get Dieter again, before the 70k mark that he expected. And I got him on the merciless hill, where in unreachable distance and height, we could see Susanne, waiting with her Camera to capture our journey in the baking sun, up the straight climb that can easily crush your spirit. Not this time, we chatted a lot, and I wanted to reach the woods so much that I had no problems in continuing on and on. No attempt to run it (as Christian did…) just humility in sight of the elements we had to face today. Dieter took a break in the shadow of Susanne’s umbrella and watered his cap, I went on after a few words without holding my step.
The trees are in reach now.
The trees were near. I so wanted to be out of the sun again. After some veeery long stretch of no shadows. Soon after I entered the not-so-cool-anymore woods I received a message on my phone that I had to have turned on loud for race updates. I took it out and smiled. A message from Jan, as he is thinking of me and following the live commentary of Hansi. This elevated my spirits again and I surfed this wave for quite some time. The one climb through wheat fields was again a test of my sun protection gear. No tree for quite a while, the heat was stuck in the plants, in the farm road. The white gravel reflected the heat as much as the ripe crop did. I found the pants really well suited. no sign of chafing even though it was rough cotton, but the tights underneath helped. The neck flap could have gone a bit more to the front on the visor of my cap, but this was minor optimizations. I could cover my skin really effectively, and still run in that stuff. Phew! Only, heat dissipation became more and more a problem when the surrounding temperature exceeded 30 degrees. Whenever there was shadow, the slightest chance of a bit cooler environment, I took a break, rolled up my hand flaps, took off the cap to let off some steam clouds from my scalp. This is what it must have looked like. Definitely. This was the survival part that I expected and which I seemed to have under control. At that moment.
I loved the short ridgeline trail, not so much the downhill and the open field right before Sebastian’s aid station. But I wanted to reach it, get to my drop bag (beet root and Guarana coke) and sit a bit under a roof. He got me off the road, and sent me down the few steps into the small hut, with some encouraging words. I greeted Christian and Tanya, and turned to the buffet. Then it dawned on me, why was Christian still here? Not to good. For him. He said he had foot and or knee problems. I had them too if I ran that fast, but hey, he knows what he is doing. So, here his journey ended. Which made me sorry for him. Concerning competition, I told myself to not spend any energy on thinking about placement before the day was over and it was clear who survived the heat and who not. I expected many people to drop. Once I witnessed Christians quitting, there was no competitive thought left. Only worries about his state. I sat down, ate potatoes, salted cashews and some snickers derivate, drank a non-alcoholic beer, another Malzbier, tea and enjoyed one further gem of being cared about by professionals. Sebastian had a cooler with him where he stored wet paper towels. Ice cold. I had mine shoved up the back of my shirt and felt instant relief. Wow. So good! When Dieter reached the aid station, I felt the urge to leave and get the Siebenberge over with. During the chat with the three, I felt more and more responsibility on my shoulders. I was now in the lead. I definitely loved it, but it put the pressure back, how long until Imre, Tim and Ramon would reach me? Any info was hard to get, or, to process by my cooked brain. Somehow I learned that Imre is an hour behind. Or only half an hour? I did not want to risk it and went on as fast as I could. Which was not fast at all. On the downhills I tried to let it roll, only to find myself panting harder and harder, eventually walking shady stretches to cool off again. Take longer advantage of the shadow, keep control of my core temperature. Listening well to my body. I did not want to drop because of a headache, some dizziness or whatnot.
On the uphills that I walked exclusively for a while now, I had to take breaks just to not heat up too much. Not always I found a tree to duck under, but just keeping going was no longer an option, even in the sun that tried to roast me. When I found a bench, with some covered part, I took a break for about ten minutes. Taking off the cap, rolling up sleeves and pant legs, pouring some water over my clothes and chill. Here I read that the message of my being in the lead reached my family and I was cheered on. Yeah, another booster! Also over the hot day I learned a new sensation. Salt hunger. Not the way I need my food to be extremely salty to like it (as I am told), but a certain feeling of an emptiness in my belly, a bit higher than usual hunger. I never got it wrong. It was immediately clear that this sign means popping a salt pill. When I did, it meant feeling fine after a minute or even earlier. When I did not, I got dizzy, weak knees, losing control of my movements. I only let it come that far once. And only for a minute. Getting salt resolved everything instantly. Striking. And giving me more confidence that I am experienced enough to go through this hot mess here.
I got a lot of fun out of recognizing places from last year. Several stretches seemed much longer, others less steep, but all in all I knew what was coming, which was a good thing. So I rolled up and down and up and down again until I finally reached the aid station by Matthias and his son Jörg. Again no distance between me and Imre that I trusted. I was a bit restless. But took my time to cool down in the shadows of a tree in a nice and comfy chair, drinking yet another Malzbier eating whatever was in reach. Finally I got my bladder refilled (which I did on every aid station today, not entirely, but to be sure to always have water if I might need to take a longer break along the way), peeled an entire banana and trotted on with it, knowing that some climb in the sun was ahead. It was shorter than expected. Or, a repeating pattern, I just trotted it up, and was surprised once I was on top. I had the impression that the walking uphill was fast in a way that I never asked myself when the climb would be over. It just was at some point. No impatience, just taking another step, and another. This also got me up the real climb after I crossed the Wettenser Schlei. The one that destroyed Tim as I later learned. No thoughts, no hurry, no pressure, no being ahead of myself. Just that one step. During that phase, I did not realize how much I was in the moment. As I learned more than once, the most present moments do not come with bells and whistles. They just are. The pureness of it was so evident that I did not pay a single thought to it. Only in hindsight, I realize how little anything else mattered in that moments.
Up, I tried another primal scream, which did not reach the first one, bummer. But soon I began a slow shuffle, and finally found my gait again around the hills to Tafelberg. Everything that was slightly downhill, I could run very fast, between 5 and 5:30 min/km. Wow, did not expect that. Only the long and rather steep drop down to Jörgs aid station brought out how wasted my quads were already. I tried to run down slowly with little success, breaking was still no fun. So I ran fast and then took walking breaks to start over a tad later. This stretch was over so fast, I did not even long for the next aid station yet. Another sign of having had a very nice flow. Down, I was greeted by a big crowd. I remember Matthias and Jutta, besides Jörg and Hansi. And whoever got me that ice cream? Andreas? I think so. I heard stories of many people dropping, which again made me feel sorry for them. Hansi told me that Imre was a mere 30 minutes behind me, so I hurried to get my stuff back together and headed towards the Kackrinne, a term I spontaneously used when seeing a picture of the climb to come, looking like a river bed but knee deep full of leaves and steep as a speedy water slide. Only, we had to march it upwards. I heard this term being adapted by several other people, so it got its nickname. Yet, I was not there, but leaving the aid station, and dreadedly seeing Imre’s supporters pulling up the forest road. Helmut told me that I make a good sight, but I am not sure he meant myself (which I took it for) or the ice-cream in my hand. Still getting the last bits of chocolate off the ice-stick, I saw a man pretending not to be there, aside the trail. I thought he was having a leak, but later I found he was trying to not have me see that he did not pick up the plastic bag with the poo of his dog. Without the plastic bag I would not really have bothered. This is a corner in the middle of nowhere, every deer and boar shits here, so why not his dog. But having that black plastic bag laying around made me quite angry. Only, I was too stressed to make room between Imre and me to turn around and tell him.
When I finally turned into the woods again, preparing mentally for the nasty climb to come, I got another message, got my phone out of the vest and saw that Hansi left a voice message. He apologized for mixing up hours or aid stations, I don’t remember, and that Imre is way over an hour behind me. Phew, what a relief. The climb still deserved its name, the leaves were really hard to get a grip on and not slide down more than I climbed. But the pressure was gone. I could mentally relax and again focus on the surroundings and realize the shadows getting longer finally. Did I just survive the brutally sunny day? Well, there was still enough sun, whenever I had no cover, it made sure that I noticed. But I had a long way in the forest, a bit of a field, but east of a hill, and another stretch under trees. Seems I was most successful dealing with the heat. Leading position and no real damage. Around the long straight, level forest road which brought me to the horse place just above Sibesse, I was flooded by a very deep calmness. I could run, I could walk. No grief when I did the one or the other. When I felt like dropping to a walk, I did. When I felt like running again, I did too. No strict rhythm, no ‘you have to run at least until that weird tree over there’. Just relentless forward progress. Being spit out of the woods was a bit of a shock. It was immediately hot and light again, after I felt the night coming in the forest, this was a bit of a slap in the face. Not yet over, be aware. But I could keep my calmness and worked my way down to the Base Camp. People saw me from a distance, waved, applauded and greeted my. Gosh, how I soaked that in.
I again changed completely, got out of the beekeeper costume, and back into the green longsleeve that Jutta rinsed for me after i took it off after the first loop. Did I mention the special STUNT100 service? New shoes, plush socks, finally some air at my legs. I again had to fiddle a lot to get everything in place, downing several cups of tea and some coke, ate whatever I grabbed, I think Snickers it was again. And off I went to the Külf. When I worked my way up to the forest, I again pushed a bit, not to meet any of the others when they came out from loop two on the same way. But no one appeared. Relief.
The way until Wettenser Schlei was long. Longer than I remembered. I took my time on the uphills, walked more than necessary, and found myself running pretty consistent on the flats. The Schlei itself was less fun because of all the braking. It was way too steep to let roll. Also, night fell. While I could navigate well on the forest roads, I took out the headlamp in the drop. Not taking any risk with all the stones and holes in the valley that partly becomes a river when it rained too much. The Leinetal had a nice atmosphere, calmness on a warm evening after a very hot day. Lots of people at the bridge pitching tents and having campfires. They were on a boat tour obviously. I ran faster when I felt being watched, but got back into a run/walk shuffle when a bit further down the bike path. Suddenly there was glass on the way, as it seems some stupids had broken one of the stands explaining the crop on the fields or so. This got me quite angry. Where comes this lust for destruction from? Why? I pushed on the finally reach Andreas’ shelter in Godenau. Warm and cozy as last year. Jörg was there too, and they cared well for me. I could chose some music, got broth, Malzbier, tea, coke, some potato, another water ice, and the famous Külf survival pack. I took the vegan one, some plate of fruit sugar to take when the jungle would have me down.
Yes, I was still too hot reaching the aid station. At 11pm long after sunset
With the night came the chill. The sitting did its part and I began to shiver a bit. So I hurried on, thanking the two. The first steps were horrible. I felt totally cold, could not run, and even not walk straight. I still had some drink in my cup, so I had some excuse to walk even further than I thought was reasonable. I needed to get warm again. But could not yet run. Right after I left the big road, I took a leak in the bushes before I would pass all the houses. Lots of people were still hanging out, some parties were in full run, others seemed to reach their end, on the road many remainders of people having a good time once the heat was survived. Again, people watching me brought the impulse to run. Hooray. I could use that wave of energy to reach the foot of the Külf. Welcome to the jungle, the sign said. And I prepared myself mentally for the long climb ahead and the huge overgrowth with nettles, thorns and hidden fallen trees to get me down. But the jungle had a hard time to develop in the dry year. Compared to last year, this was nothing. Well, I got my scratches, and put away more than one branch with huge thorns. but I could see the path most of the way and had not the impression to be shrunken to half my height.
Reaching the top, my trail gear kicked in. This is so much the terrain I like best. winding single trail, roots, branches from the side, soft forest ground, some rocks in between, the occasional fallen tree to hop over or travel around. Perfect. Energy was there again, the legs were moving effortlessly and I was flying over the ridge. Wow. There were the parts immediately at the drop off, with more roots of the trees that tried to cling to the hill and not fall down. I managed them all well. This was so much fun! And it seemed to last infinitely. At some point I wondered if I missed the small hut at the half time point. I must have been dreaming and not paying attention? Did I? Then it came. And on I went, always waiting to remember places up here from the other two times I ran here. Some I did, others I did not. Places I anticipated were not there, or I did not recognize them. In the middle of my thoughts I was brutally taken down. I smashed my right foot, all three middle toes, in a root, thick as my fist, rock solid in the ground, and just growing into the trail far enough from the side that I could hit it. And I did, and faceplanted into the trail. This hurt. I was anxious to have brokenmy toes. Shouted my anger into the void, checked the rest of my body, but found no other damage. A bit of walking, then slow jogging, and finally running again on the now hurting toes. Darn. I finally took my headlamp into my hand instead of the forehead. Much better depth perception. With this trick, I would have seen the root. No? I am sure. Stupid me. Ouch.
The ups and downs came and went, and now there was some sort of jungle. Not the thorny one, but small trees reaching their thin branches into the trail. No way to see more then 2 meters. While this made for some tripping light effects with the lamp in my hand shining behind the branches in front of my face, I survived this well, and was totally surprised to be thrown onto a forest gravel road. Huh? Was this it? The second half was so much shorter, but the first half very much longer than I remembered. Anyway, the trail fun was over, and there was some work ahead for me. But first to reach Nicole and Karsten in Banteln. I walked through the grassy way, found the farm road down and switched off my lamp. Wow. So many stars. And so bright. Lucky there were not so many street lights around, I admired the night sky. When I scared some boars in the field next to my road, I tried to assure them I was not here to eat them, as I usually do, but I also turned on the light again in case they were unsure about me being human and to flee from. So they did. I walked on in silence, running every now and then. And walking again. This was so calm and nice, I wanted to feel this a bit longer. Also running got harder when the nice trail was gone again. I saw Karsten from afar, shining into my direction, waving with his strong headlamp. So I waved back. First just with my hand, later with my headlamp. But it was dimmed to very low, so he apparently did not see me yet. The I crossed the road, greeted him and was led to the camper. A chair was good, warm tea (and no longer hot, Nicole asked me if I would like the tea to be hot or not so much, and I asked her to pour it a bit in advance to my estimated arrival time. Stunt100 service…), and the usual, potatoes, cashews, water melon, Malzbier, Coke. Some chatting, reassurance that Imre was falling behind even though I took my time.
For some time I was wondering if I would need a longer pit stop. I even contemplated to ask them if I can use their toilet in the camper, but did not dare to. But the funny feeling in my guts turned stronger and I left them in a hurry to reach some lonely spot near the fields. Dang, and exactly now the gates closed for a train to rush through. This was getting a close call. No train came, I approached the gate, looked carefully left and right, and then hurried over the tracks. All this time thinking that I might no longer be at my full senses. But there definitely was no train in sight anywhere. I got to the other side, shuffled to the next field and found a bald spot to squat. Hooray. successfully dealt with that too. Now for the boringly flat, and later on exhaustingly hilly and again long and flat stretch back to Sibesse. This part was as I remembered it. Hard work. But knowing I had a lot of cushion, I did not push as last year. I just went on. Running when I felt like, walking otherwise. The darkness of the deep night already lifted to a blue sky that would make room for a merciless sun later on. But during my approach to Sibesse I could enjoy the twilight that comes with dawn. Only, between the wheat fields, I had waves of hot air coming out of the crop. Like more than 20 degrees. As if someone with a hair dryer tried to remind me of the nice coolness I had over the night. Not for much longer.
Dropping into the base camp, I had the impression that nobody was there. I entered the tent and began my routine to have Jutta and her husband getting up from their short sleep to take care of me. But I did not need too much. Eating, drinking. No changing this time. And somehow I thought it would be a good idea to take my headlamp because of the short passage with the creek crossing which was under dense overgrowth. So, quick turnover and off I was again. Still no sun in sight, but my plan to finish before sunrise, had popped already. I would need very long for this last 20k. But this was OK. Just go on. I checked the km marks and found a nice bench I wanted to take a break on on my way back, watched the navigation on my watch and understood why I had so much difficulty in seeing the correct length last year. Before reaching the turnaround, there was a big turn up in the woods and back down in the valley. Without making too much progress along the edge of the forest. Leaving the forest, I was greeted by the sun. And it made sure I noticed. Well, I would reapply sun lotion at the aid station. But hey, I did not pack it. Dang! Why, oh why did I take my headlamp but no sun lotion? Argh! I flew down, met Herrmann and Fenja the two legged, and had a nice time with them in the Garage, at the edge of civilization. Ate, drank another Malzbier and whatnot. Again refilled water, you never know. And asked for sun lotion. They did not have some, but asked over the phone. I remembered from last year that Susanne would be taking photos when we left the forest (and at that point, I’d needed it) so I tried to make her bring the lotion. And back I went. Up the hill, a last waving from a distance to granddad and granddaughter. They are a perfect team! Up, up, up. Then down again. And dreading the moment I would pass Imre. Not that he had any chance to chase me, but it would be stress for me. In the middle of my thoughts a car pulled up to the forest, and I stepped aside. But it stopped and out jumped Hansi, handing me the sun lotion and passing a lot of encouragement. Wow. STUNT100 service again. Blown away by that much caring, I flew on, to the finish line. On one stretch up a hill, I saw someone looking down, I thought it was Imre, but the person vanished again. When up, I saw that it was a hiker, going into another direction. Over the path with the huge plants on it, again some up and down, a rather long up until I could cross the creek (and I feared to have missed the entry into the bushes onto the trail gong over it, but the watches told be to be patient, and they were right). Then up again. Here we met Tom and Co last year. further up and finally I could leave the forest for the long drop into Sibesse. Here I met Imre. Wow, I thougt we met earlier. But he was looking strong, and I told him. He would finish this year! OK, on, I want to get this done already.
Last year, this was the point where I wanted to run, but Christoph refused for the first time to run, when I wanted. So I thought, I might give running a shot. The downhill went fine, the flat OK, but when I reached the minimal uphill, I had a hard time staying in running. Once I reached some shadow of a tree or bush, I was walking immediately. Reaching the top, I ran again, and right before reaching Sibesse and the finish line, I met Dieter, wished him good luck for the final loop, but he pulled out his phone, I thought he wanted to make a photo of me, but no, he phoned Hansi and told him that I was about to reach the finish. Apparently no one was expecting me so early. He said, I will be there in two minutes. I corrected him ‘one minute’ and then ‘scratch that, 30 seconds!’ and off I went. The last 200m. I felt great! People were streaming from the tent into the parking lot. Cheering, applause. I was somehow directed towards the huge wooden disc with the STUNT100 logo that Matthias built on the night from Thursday to Friday, so we get a real finish, the touching of this disc, to long for during the race. At that moment, I did not really get it. What did they want? I tried to hug the disc, which might have looked ridiculous, so I am glad to not have seen any photo of this. Yet. Well, there it is:
I hugged many people, petted Fenja the four legged, and was redirected towards the disc for a finish photo. Fenja was not done yet, so she joined me, and I got a proper finish picture:
Done. And happy! (photo by Hansi)
Last year I was hanging out in a chair in the tent, and was always half asleep. Christoph immediately went to sleep in his tent. Which I found a very good idea in hindsight. So, this year I took a shower, put my alarm to 2 hours and retracted into my sleeping bag. Well, sleep is different, but laying down, eyes shut, nothing to do but relax was highly appreciated. I even slept in for a few moments. Only to be woken up by my legs shortly after, which needed another position not to cramp up. Post-race routine. I got out of the tent again early enough to witness Imre’s finish. Almost 3 hours after me. And he was looking very glad. After two DNFs the last two years, this was an important moment for him.
The sun was already aggressive again, so I put on more lotion, and told my intentions to move a chair into the shadow of the house, together with my tea and ice-cream. Hansi then proceeded to build a throne for me: Something to lay my feet on, a comfy chair, the one with the big cushion (Jutta: you took a shower already, you are allowed to use it.) and table in front of me and he put the laptop showing the Ironman live stream directly in front of me. Not that I wanted to see it in the first place, but it was a nice distraction to hang in my chair and do nothing. Did I tell about the extraordinary STUNT100 service? People gathered around me, also very welcome. Others arrived in camp. Ramon being most impressive because this was his very first hundred miler and he was about to quit several times (as did Imre). Ramon reportedly got unconscious, caught in his fall by Fenja the two legged and Hermann. To get him back safely, Sebastian put on his running shoes and went with him the last stretch. Another example of the huge dedication ao all people around. Dieter finished strongly, but seemed glad to be able to flee the sun now. Stefan approached the finish with 20 minutes to spare to the cutoff time. He knows himself and the course very well. He never seemed afraid to not make it. As Hansi did. When I heard about Stefan’s arrival, I was in the tent where Fenja the four legged was tied to a bench, so I got her off the hook, untied the leash and hooked her up again, without ever thinking this was the first time, I got a leash on a dog, all the more a big one. But Fenja and I have gotten friends since Stefan left her in camp after 100k, as she developed a limp and blisters on her paws. So I met her quite often, and she did not seem to bother that I got her out. Only the sunny concrete she did not like. We stayed in the shadows until Stefan was almost there, she recognized him, and I led her to the finish disc, so she could greet him. I felt like doing an important job for her.
With everybody back to safety, the first things were cleared already and the barbecue was prepared. Luckily I had my vegetarian sausages with me, and Tanya who came back with Christian after a good nights sleep, too. So there was enough protein-rich stuff to feast upon. Potato salad with loads of mayonnaise and some very tasty home-made couscous salad felt like exactly what I needed at that moment. Dieter made a funny impression, because he changed into a button up shirt after the shower and then fell asleep in one of the chairs. He deserved this. And needed it. After everybody was fed, we got my stuff in the camper of Nicole and Karsten who then drove me home.
When I wrote service, I always have a bad feeling like not getting the best wording here. In other races, bigger ones, all these small and big gestures that helped all of us through the race or digest a drop, could be called service, like something you need to pay extra for. This is not the same with the STUNT100. There is nothing like a codex that volunteers have to comply to in order to produce the unique feeling. It is an individual act of heart-open giving from each and everyone involved here. RD, volunteers, spectators, runners, family of any of those. Every person here is in the mood to give, to help to be there for others. Having professional runners as aid station captains adds to the equation that they exactly know how you feel and what you might need in that very particular moment. Be it a few kind words, or silence, a treat, some real nutrition, a beer, music, a back rub, some cold towels, a bucket of water or just a kick in the ass. They know and they will deliver. For you. For your finish. For you to have the best possible race you can get. I’ll ever have you all in my heart. If only the next year was not again directly after Ronja’s birthday, I’d register in an instant.
A few words on the title. It came to my mind when searching for something that matches with the brutal heat we had on Saturday. Mostly, because my usual reply to any race in the heat is “I am not good with heat”. A spontaneous association. And it made me a bit shocked because of the boldness that comes with it. That is not my style. At least usually, I don’t feel like putting myself over others. On the other hand this boldness matched exactly a feeling I carried with me since I realized that the distance to the second was increasing. I had control to win this race. Alone. Together with the win at Katzensprung’s Backyard, the surprising 13th place at BC, I am getting more and more pumped and proud of my running. If only I can carry this feeling over to Rüningen, 24th of August, because I need a big jump there. Toni upped the game to another level with his 207k earlier this year. Things will get interesting.