Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Three Point Five

While the glow remains I hope to capture some of my impressions from the 2017 WiBoLT in this post.  This year has proven very busy outside of my running life and limited my ability to come here and share my life on the trail.  In the interest of time and to avoid a drawn out story I intend to concentrate on some things I learned along the way framing this story in a series of personal lessons.  In so doing I hope you will gain an appreciation of the WiBoLT and the Rheinsteig.

Let me start by introducing the WiBoLT (an acronym) or the Wiesbaden to Bonn Lauf Trail.  The WiBoLT represents Germany’s longest non-stop race.  The race starts at Schloss Biebrich in downtown Wiesbaden; traverses 320KM or 200 miles and 11700HM or 38385 feet of positive elevation change along the Rheinsteig Hiking Trail; ending at the Marktplatz in Bonn.  Start is typically on Wednesday evening at 1800 with the race closing on Sunday at 1200 in Bonn – a total of 90 hours.  Pacers and support outside of aid stations, of which there are ten, are not permitted.  The race course is not marked beyond those markings that establish the Rheinsteig.  2017 registration cost 185 Euro.  The WiBoLT is organized and directed by Michael Esser and supported by a crew of volunteers led largely by Ulrich Hansmann.  


(Pre-race Dinner and Beer.  There's never a bad time for Shiner!)

The first lesson.  Ultramarathoning is all about problem solving.  Participation in the WiBoLT sustained this principal from start to finish.  Obvious problems included:  the distance; sleep deprivation; food and fluid deprivation; navigation; my personality; other racers personalities; wildlife; race organizer’s lack of attention to detail in planning and providing promised supplies and services; blisters; many bowel movements; lack of toilet paper; unexpected cold weather; unexpected hot weather; sunburn; and hallucinations.  The list goes on and on.

The second lesson.  If it’s cheap – don’t expect much out of it.  I decided to use the German rail system to get to Wiesbaden.  The practicality of Die Bahn seemed ideal to get situated.  We found tickets from Stuttgart to Wiesbaden for 19 Euro.  What a great deal!  Not so much…  The train from Stuttgart was jam packed.  Die Bahn was on their game and ensured that we could appreciate the summer day we were enjoying by not using the air conditioner within the entire train.  No matter you say – open the windows!  That would have been great, but you can’t open the windows on German trains these days.  Well hell, you say, you sweat a bit in the ride to Wiesbaden.  Using the rail system was certainly efficient because Germans set their watches by their trains.  Not so much…  We were of course late at each connection along the way.  If it’s cheap – don’t expect much out of it particularly if it’s Die Bundes Bahn. 

The third lesson.  The 2017 WiBoLT was my first successful attempt at completing a 320KM run.  Georg Kirsch and I discussed the enormity of the idea of something like the WiBoLT as we sat in the starting area before the race.  He told me that he had just “checked out” until Monday…  on Wednesday afternoon.

Over the course of the WiBoLT I explored how I generally define time.  In my hectic work life I squeeze the most out of a busy day among projects, meetings and other "essential" activities.  Like many of you my work and non-running life demand significant amounts of commitment and “time”.  Things move rapidly, hectically and "very close to the edge".  The WiBoLT illuminated the “duration” aspect of time for me where time is defined as a nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future.  Minutes, hours, days become insignificant.  Time, outside of meeting aid station cut offs and reaching the finish line becomes irrelevant.  In this continuum I found that it becomes much simpler to live in the present moment; to enter flow; to center and exist within what has the potential to become a very pleasant mental and physical state.  This "place" is one of key aspects of why I am so drawn to endurance running.

The fourth lesson.  Sleep is overrated when running an ultra.  Okay, I do like and need to sleep.  Science has shown that we require sleep to rest and recover both mentally and physically.  I hate to admit it, but you can, get on with far less sleep than that which you are accustomed to.  For how long I am uncertain, but from Wednesday morning when I rose at 0430 until I got in bed on Saturday night at 2330 I slept for a total of three and a half hours with the longest block of sleep occurring over 50 minutes while the others were nested in moments of ten to twenty minute naps out on the trail.  Sleep has been awfully good this past week and I can tell that sleep deprivation training is a concept I am going to approach with trepidation. 

In previous 100 and 135 mile events my approach to sleep was to avoid it.  Although these distances are long they represent twenty-four to forty-five hour periods and have been very manageable from a sleep deprivation perspective.  On a 200 mile course that continues non-stop over a ninety hour period I was in uncharted territory and had no experience using the twenty-minute nap as a method of rest.  Each time that I went down for a nap I set an alarm, but did not use it as I awoke because of the cold.  Similarly, each time I napped I awoke from a vivid dreamscape and fully refreshed.  I found that naps later in the race contributed less to my sense of freshness; requiring more frequent naps.  I think that I could have off set this “charge” by sleeping somewhat longer.

The fifth lesson.  Hallucinations are cool and they do occur while on an endurance event not only at night, as in my previous experience, but vividly during daylight hours.  I recall entering, and actually measuring some control over entry into a hallucination state after being on the WiBoLT course at about the thirty-six hour mark.  I experienced fascinating views of military vehicles, dwarfs, and wild animals.

The sixth lesson.  If you make the decision to quit an ultramarathon when feeling hungry, cold, tired, frustrated with the organization of the event, or tired of being with the people you’re running with, you will very likely make the wrong decision.  The key to this decision is to establish before the event.  Set those conditions and use them as a framework to finish the race.

At the aid station in Braubach (160KM or 100 miles) I was very tired and very hungry.  The aid station sucked as it was completely disorganized, contained no real food or drink and reflected a halfhearted approach to what I thought should have been a station that marked the halfway point of the race.  As I refilled my water bottles and thought about what I could eat that would keep me moving forward my planning shifted focus on how to exit.  I figured that I could sleep within the aid station and when I awoke in the morning I could find a bakery and eat a solid meal.  In order to further explore the feasibility of dropping at Braubach I asked if the regional train system could get me to Wiesbaden and how I could get my dropbag.  The race volunteers had been sympathetic to my questions to this point.  Abruptly, Ulrich Hansmann picked up on  where I was going with my questions and snapped on me.  He barked at me, “Stop talking about this bullshit and get your ass to Bonn!” and walked away.  Well, I thought… no pity from the volunteers, I’m going to take a brief nap and see how things are from there.  After twenty minutes of exquisite sleep I awoke cold, but in a much better state of mind.  I asked Frank Muller with whom I had paired up with to run the day prior if he was going back onto the course and he told me yes.  With limited factors to hang quitting on I also decided to head back out and see how far I could get.  Braubach was the last time I really considered dropping out of the race.  From here on it would take an injury or other problem that I could not work through to get me off the course.  Thanks again Ulrich – I needed that!

This lesson also highlights the ultra-truth that ultramarathons are more mental than they are physical.  It is matter of keeping that mental focus and flexibility that is key to success.

Running 320KM or 200 miles readjusts your interpretation of a “long run” and illustrates lesson seven.  Work colleagues, family and friends likely think that I have gone mad (I have a little, and am embracing it) when this idea comes up.  It is unhinging to think that the half-way point of a race is at the 100 mile mark.  This lesson highlights an additional ultra-truths.  At the end of the day or in the middle of the night for that matter, you can go further than you think.

Lesson eight.  For me – if going 160KM or beyond I will tape my darn feet.  My experiences with blisters have been episodic.  As a result I have not ever considered taping my feet before a race.  At the WiBoLT I learned this lesson twice.  At the aid station in Feldkirchen (231KM) I had, had enough of two or three blisters on each of my feet and decided to lance and mole skin them.  Ulrich helped me with the lancing and draining part and I mole skinned each area up very nicely.  By Rheinbrohl (255KM) I had developed new blisters directly adjacent to where I fixed the previous ones doubling my fun.  Tape your toes, heels and the balls of your feet!

Endurance events afford you the opportunity to meet old and new friends.  On the first evening of the WiBoLT I met up with Frank Mueller-Seidelmann and Michael Heinkelein.  We spent the next days together exploring the Rheinsteig and getting to know one another.  We got split up from Michael (he’s faster) and Frank and I spent the rest of the race working through its adventure together.  Lesson nine highlights that you can establish tremendous friendships while running something like the WiBoLT.

I owe a lot of my finish to Frank as he helped get me out of the aid station at Braubach and filled many hours talking with and getting to know me.  I hope that Frank and I can tackle another ultra adventure together.

The tenth and for me perhaps most important lesson.  Ultrarunning is hard, and seeks every opportunity to remind you of that fact.  It goes without saying that running a race like the WiBoLT requires a high level of physical fitness and preparation.  The physical part is tough – it’s the mental part that is hard.  At any point along a course like the Rheinsteig you can come up with very valid reasons to quit.  I learned that I must practice not allowing myself to blame anyone or anything for any of my current problems or conditions on the course.  When I slip into this hole I slide into a trap that can lead to an existential crisis.  I believe that the key is to actually take responsibility for my own journey, my thoughts and emotions.  The sooner I can embrace this view the quicker an event like the WiBoLT stops being hard.  On a very personal level this is where an ultra is won or lost.

(Life is a journey, not a destination. - Emerson)

A day or two after finishing the WiBoLT I am still considering the experience.  Michael and his team of volunteers put on one heck of an event.  Many thanks go out to he and this team of folks that shared our long hours, trials and tribulations.  Would I go back and run the WiBoLT again?  I’m still digesting that.  This past Sunday I would have told you “absolutely not”, but as I digest this thing that is the WiBoLT I am certain that I’ll be back.

A little something about sleep and a few other things...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Schoenbuch Ultra-Trail

The third running of the Schoenbuch Ultra-Trail (SUT 100) was held 15 – 16 October 2016 in the Schoenbuch National Park.  Unlike previous years the weather held in Germany leading up to and during the 2016 SUT resulting in stunning race conditions.  Daytime temperatures were mild with Saturday evening nice and chilly.  Georg Kunzfeld set a new course record completing the 102 miles in 21:06 while Inge van Bergen came back again in 2016 to win the women’s title in 30:41.

(Photo Courtesy of Liviu) 

The 165 kilometer event is organized and directed by Andreas Loeffler with support from a super team of helpers made up of family members and friends from the small German village of Dettenhausen.  Andreas kicks off the SUT weekend the Friday evening prior to the race at the Sport Center in Dettenhausen with a race briefing and dinner.  More than anything else this pre-race get together is an intimate opportunity to see old friends and to meet new ones. 

The Saturday morning start(s) were relaxed.  Based on several runners requests Andreas organized two starts, one at 0700 and the other at 0800.  Seven runners started at 0700 with the remainder of the twenty-one runners going out at 0800.  Andreas warmed up the 0800 start with a fitting musical introduction through Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”.

The SUT is an unmarked point-to-point route that loops around much of the Schoenbuch Forest.  The race is objectively 165KM or 102 miles long and must be accomplished within thirty hours.  The course is “objectively” this distance, but can be somewhat longer given your ability to navigate.  Elevation change over this course is approximately 4050 meters or 13.2K feet.  Beyond the distance the Schoenbuch Ultra Trail is challenging as it’s a trail event.  The trail courses through the forest, along refined and unrefined trail, over roots, rocks, abrupt climbs and descents, forest paths and over, through and under dead fall – a lot of dead fall (Andreas)!


As I mentioned, one of the great things about the SUT is that it is not marked.  Runners are afforded the opportunity to use a GPS, map, and compass.  I am relatively familiar with the Schoenbuch and its terrain as well as the course of the SUT, but would not want to run this course without a GPS that facilitates navigation.  Even while using my GPS and the correct GPS track I got misoriented both during the day and at night.  Have a GPS if you plan on running the SUT.

Seven aid stations (VPs) support the event and are generally evenly spread over the course of the SUT.  For a race of this distance the distribution and number of VPs forces runners to prepare and manage their own nutrition and hydration plans.  Support at each of the VPs was exceptional through the volunteers who were simply tremendous and the fare that was offered.  Pacers are authorized after VP 5.  I am not certain if any runners used pacers during the 2016 SUT.  Personally, I’m not a fan of pacing.  Dig deep cupcake, it’s your 100 miler!  

 (Photos Courtesy of Baumann)
Georg Kunzfled, Benedikt Wenzel and Jeremy Paxson broke away from the pack very early in the race with a blistering pace.  They dominated the race throughout the next twenty-plus hours.  Over the course of the event and its distance the running field spread out considerably.  Georg’s winning time was 21:06 and Claudia and Peer finished in 32:53.  Thankfully there was an enchanting harvest moon on 15 October as I spent a good deal of time trekking over the night course alone.

Highpoints of my race included running with a number of friends including Ramin, Jo, Jörg, Martin, Torsten, Tim, Inge, and Fons and meeting/running with Dieter, Ambrogio and Fredrik.  All of the VPs and their associated volunteers were fantastic, but special mention must go to Jürgen, his wife and Tim who hosted VPs 1 and 6.  Jürgen, himself an accomplished ultra-runner, catered to our every need and as always took some amazing photos.  I’ve been running in the Schoenbuch for more than eight years, but had no idea that there was so much new and unexplored single track.  Andreas – your SUT course improvements were phenomenal.  I’ll be back out there to explore them.  Oh – My compliments on the sock idea as a finisher gift.  Tee-shirts are cool, but the Wright Socks kick ass.

By and large I avoided any low points worth mentioning.  Any 100 miler is a test.  There is truth in the saying that “in a 100 mile race the physical is 90% while the mental stuff are the other 90%”.  My low point usually arrives in the early morning hours around 0300 or 0400.  Fortunately I was able to run with Dieter, Ambrogio, Fredrik and Torsten during this phase.  We shared a lot of laughs and kept one another moving forward.  I got to finish with Torsten who was on his way to complete his German Six Pack (six 100 milers in six weeks).  Damn Torsten... 

 (Photo Courtesy of Andy) 
The Schoenbuch Ultra Trail is a fantastic, friendly, challenging trail event.  I can’t think of a single thing I’d suggest changing.  Andreas - I hope you find the energy to host a fourth SUT in 2018!  Thanks again to you and everyone that organized, supported and ran this amazing event.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Maintal – Ultratrail (MTUT) 2016

The third annual running of the Maintal–Ultratrail knocked it out of the park!  24 September arrived with fog and low, but ideal temperatures, for an end of summer ultratrail event among the vineyards and trails of the Main River Valley.  As Saturday unfolded weather conditions simply could not have been better with warm temperatures and lots of sunshine; ideal conditions for a phenomenal 65KM trail race through the Franconian Wine Country.
The course of the MTUT is a tasty mix of single track trail, farm, forest and vineyard paths.  No, there are no mountains in Franconia, but the MTUT’s 1690 meters (5544 feet) of elevation change are something to relish.  The course offers cracking single track downhill and some long pulls up that if you hit them just right the sun and elevation will work you over like a demanding mother-in-law.  The MTUT is no day at the spa friends!
I’m not certain how many runners actually started the 2016 MTUT.  There were however, eighty-five finishers.  The finishers were split between twenty women and sixty-five men.  Of the women, Silke Kiel took first place with a finish in 7:31:19.  Among the men, Patrick Gensel took first place in 5:57:54.  It was refreshing to see this turn out of female runners!

I was fortunate enough to tag along with two friends over much of the MTUT.  Saturday morning I joined Andreas and Harald who had camped the night prior in Veitshoechheim.  We started and finished the day laughing.  Harald traditionally starts each of his races as the last place starter and works his way back up through the running field.  The thought of this brings the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer” to mind.  What a mind trip for both Harald and the runners he passes.  Andreas and I started together with me serving as a boat anchor for him throughout.  Yep, he’s much faster than I and other than my good looks and being such a good conversationalist I’m not certain why he hung with me throughout the day.

Of course Harald caught up with us just shy of the last Aid Station!  “Psycho Killer” is playing in my head again!  We continued our odyssey together for the rest of the race coming in thirty-third.
 (Always mindful of the time!!!!)

At the finish line we were each greeted with an ice cold alcohol free Hefeweissen.  Wow!  That hit the spot!  As you might imagine the spot was rather deep and we spent the next couple of hours relaxing on the green behind the finish line drinking Weissen, eating grapes and cake and enjoying the afternoon.        

The MTUT Race Headquarters, start and finish are all located at the Veitshoechheim Sport Club.  The facilities are simple, but very adequate with plenty (this is important) of toilets and lots of grass to hang out on and drink beer after the race.

I’ve heard that the MTUT may shift its run date from September to mid-July.  For what it’s worth, my vote is to leave the MTUT at the second to last Saturday in September.  The weather is generally wonderful during this time of year, grapes are in harvest and there are very few other events of this magnitude during this timeframe.  A shift to July brings the threat of much higher temperatures as well as, surprisingly, more chances of rain.

Big thanks to Thomas Gumpert (RD) and his entire team for such a challenging, yet rewarding event.  The volunteers and supporters were exceptional throughout the event.  You all put on a sensational race.  I look forward to enjoying the MTUT again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

STUNT 100 2016 – Sibbesser 100 Mile Race


“So close no matter how far.  Couldn’t be much more from the heart.  Forever trust in who we are.  And, nothing else matters…”

I am likely breaking a rule by publishing this blog post.  At the same time I think that you will find that this report provides a view to a wonderful little trail race that goes in late summer in northern Germany.

The STUNT 100 is a non-commercial, invitational, 100 mile trail race that courses through the Leinebergland region of northern Germany.  It is likely one of the friendliest, most accommodating, yet challenging 100 mile events I’ve participated in.  I’m thrilled to report that my perspective this past Sunday morning at 0430 was a little skewed when I settled with myself that I would “never” attempt the STUNT 100 again.  As I’ve had an opportunity to recover and savor finishing; my thinking has become much clearer.  Count me in!  I’ll be back for more of this great little BIG event.

Before I get too far down the road with this STUNT 100 report I have to back up a month or two where I last left you here.  As you may recall I attempted the WiBoLT in late May.  During that attempt I really jacked my left calf and knee up.  This injury derailed my summer race plans forcing me to focus on recovery and healing while not starting the Zugspitz Ultratrail in June and the ThueringenULTRA in July.  I still am not certain what to attribute this calf and knee injury to.  I did a number of weeks of physical therapy and have adopted a stretching and rolling regime that have helped eliminate much of the inflammation and pain I experienced.

While attempting to avoid a chronic injury I slowly reintegrated a training plan into my routine.  I was not at all confident that this plan could help me achieve my summer goals or get me through the STUNT 100.  My STUNT 100 training plan culminated with a marathon the final two weekends prior to the event.  I was unable to train beyond the marathon distance because of work obligations and a desire to avoid dramatically injuring my calf. 

So…  With some trepidation I watched the days wind down prior to the 3 September start of the STUNT 100.  I made reservations for a room at Gasthof Jörns in Diekholzen and organized my kit for the race.

I took the day off on Friday 2 September to make my way to Sibbesse to get settled in.  I checked into Gasthof Jörns after arriving in the area.  While checking in it appeared that I was the only guest at the hotel (Think Bates Motel!) and actually asked if that was the case.  The very friendly and helpful receptionist insisted that I was not, but that they had just finished a two week holiday period where the hotel was closed.  It was creppy all the same with no other apparent guests around that evening.  Just as an aside...  I recommend Gasthof Jörns and will stay there again for my next STUNT attempt.  It is simple, very clean, offers fantasitc service, affords good parking and is just down the road from Sibbesse.  Although I certainly camp at other race venues it is hard to beat Gasthof Jörns for the price, cleanliness, hot shower and comfortable bed, before and after the STUNT 100.

After settling at Gasthof Jörns I headed over to the Sportsplatz in Sibbesse to get checked into the race, meet and chat with other runners, take part in the race briefing and have dinner.  The first indication of what a great affair the STUNT 100 is happened when I arrived.  Elke, one of the race assistances immediately introduced herself, gave me a pre-printed nametag and asked me to verify my registration information on a spreadsheet.  She also offered me coffee and cake.  It does’nt get much better than that!  This level of personal, familiar care would characterize the entire STUNT 100 weekend.  After a bit of initial socializing with the race support team and other runners, Race Director Hansi-Kohler, asked everyone to join him within the Sportplatz Club House for the race briefing and pasta diner.  Hansi delivered on his promise and kept the briefing to the absolute essential with a repeated focus that the race course was entirely unmarked and that runners must be prepared to navigate on their own.  Hansi’s selection of music for the briefing video, “Nothing Else Matters“ by Metallica was sensational and set the tone for the entire event...

“So close, no matter how far.  Couldn’t be much more from the heart.  Forever trust in who we are.  And, nothing else matters…”

The STUNT 100 course is defined by four different out and back loops or legs with the Sportsplatz in Sibbesse acting as the race hub.  Despite short sections of farm roads or farm field paths the STUNT 100 is largely a trail run.  Most elements are on single track trail or minimally maintained forest paths that course up and down steep creek valleys, over rolling hills and among fields and meadows.  Each leg looks something like this:

Loop 1 – “Trailrunners Paradise”, 48.4KM, 1377HM.  Fantastic trails; deep in the forest.
Loop 2 – “Mogul Slope”, 54KM, 1609HM.  Now things get serious…  You miss the trails.  Shitty elevation change!  Shitty dirt roads!  Shitty Sunshine!  Everything is Shit!
Loop 3 – “Külf Crossing”, 37.8KM, 853HM.  A dream or a nightmare!?! A lot of trails and unmaintained paths that take you through briar and nettle patches and roots that reach up and grab you in the darkness.
Loop 4 – “Time to Chill”, 20.6KM, 538HM.  Relax, take it easy along forest paths with a lovely view of the valley.  Can we be done!?! 

Running with Metallica through the STUNT 100…

Loop 1, “So close, no matter how far.”  We started this loop Saturday morning at 0800 in the counterclockwise direction.  This leg has a twist at about kilometer 19 that you run an additional clockwise loop around the Tosmarberg.  I got lost going into this and coming back out.  Yeah!  Nonetheless.  Loop 1 is an early warm up or test of your navigation skills.  We started this loop as a group of 13 with real definition of how the race field was going to flow happening at the Tosmarberg crossing.  After running around the Tosmarberg I got lost with two others, Dennis and Henner.  We “oriented” our way back on course and remained together throughout the remainder of the STUNT.

Loop 2, “Couldn’t be much more from the heart.”  There are a lot fewer single track trails here, but on the sunny side (no pun intended) so much more elevation change.  Do you remember the Brothers Grimm and their story of Snow White?  “The Seven Dwarfs that live out beyond the Seven Mountains”?  You do!  Well…  Loop 2 plays out before, across and then behind those Seven Mountains!



Loop 3, “Forever trust in who we are.”  So while we’re playing with the Brothers Grimm Loop 3 took us back out among the Seven Mountains, back out along single track trails and deep into the night.  For me Loop 3 was the test and the test has an evil name and face, “Külf”. 
 

The Külf consists primarily of a ten kilometer long ridge line that includes seven main summits, lying in a triangle formed by the settlements of Gronau, Alfeld and Duingen.  Progress along the Külf varies depending on the season.  Unlike the trails of the better known ridges and hills of the Seven Mountains those of the Külf are less frequently used.  This was obvious as Dennis, Henner and I worked our way through.  The trails were overgrown and plagued with shoulder high nettles, briars and clinging seed pods that we named “Arschlöcher” as they would grab ahold of you and if broken off would leave irritating thorns in your legs, waist and arms.  For the uninitiated Arschlöcher grow on an Arschlochbaum.  Not seen one?  I can send you a picture…

Loop 4, “And nothing else matters.”  Dennis, Henner and I arrived back in Sibbesse at 0850 Sunday morning.  The finale of the STUNT 100 is an out and back stretch that runs along the forest edge, in and out of the forest towards the village of Barfelde.  This final leg included its own navigation challenges in several places where you had to slip through overgrowth to find a short stretch of single track trail to make a leap to the next forest path.  The turn around point for this final leg was located in a garage supported by one race volunteer and some light snacks.  As this leg was an out and back it was great to see people in front of us and behind us as we coursed out and then towards the finish.

Dennis, Henner and I rolled back into Sibbesse finishing in 29:09 on Sunday morning.  We had linked up after getting lost at about kilometer 28 or so and stayed together over the next 132 kilometers.  We shared many laughs, learned a lot about one another and simply, had a kick ass time.  Running the STUNT 100 without them would have been much harder particularly in the deep of the night up on the Külf fighting off the Arschlöcher.   

There is a bit of information about the STUNT 100 out on the race’s web site.  Included, there is a guideline taken from the Wild Oak 100 Mile Trail race in Virginia that really sets the tone of this super race.  The list below provides a broad definition of those that are not invited to participate in the STUNT 100:

1.  If you are even the least bit worried or concerned about getting lost, don’t come.
2.  If you have questions, don’t come.
3.  If you need a crew, don’t come.
4.  If you need toilet paper, don’t come.
5.  If you expect to be pampered in any way shape or form, don’t come.
6.  If you’re a whiner, don’t come.
7.  If you’re a freeloader, don’t come.
8.  If you’re seeking fame and/or fortune, don’t come.
9.  If you’re thinking about writing a report about your experience at the STUNT 100, don’t come.
10.  If you crave abuse, if you yearn for abuse, if you are addicted to abuse in any way shape or form (be it physical, mental, sexual, verbal, mathematical, artistic or whatever) BY ALL MEANS, BE MY GUEST.  (This applies to abusees only.  Abusers are not welcome.  The only abuser allowed is the trail.)

The 2016 STUNT 100 was a phenomenal event!  The trails abused the hell out of us while the organizational and support team were amazingly friendly, supportive; simply fantastic!  I’ll be back to the STUNT 100 to explore, expand friendships and make new ones.  Hansi and Co., thanks for an incredible weekend!


Final results of the 2016 STUNT 100


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WiBoLT 2016

On 25 May 2016 I found myself in Wiesbaden at Schloss Biebrich getting ready to take part in the 2016 WiBoLT, Germany’s longest non-stop foot race.  Sitting here three days later having only completed 231KM of the 320KM necessary to qualify as a WiBoLT finisher my thoughts are all over the map about the WiBoLT experience.  Yep, I DNFed and while in my personal “Pain Cave” on the course I decided not to attempt this event ever again, I am resting my tired bones and waiting a day or two before actually sending in my application for 2017.
Before we progress much further let me provide you with a bit of an introduction to the WiBoLT.  The WiBoLT or Wiesbaden Bonn Long Trail is a 320KM or 200 Mile foot race that courses over 11,700 meters or 38,385 feet of elevation change. The start occurs at Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden with the finish in Bonn.  The race course follows the renowned Rheinsteig hiking trail.  The Rheinsteig itself is made up of about 45 percent forest paths and trails, 35 percent graveled paths and 20 percent asphalt surfaced country lanes.  Michael Esser and a team of incredible volunteers host and manage a race event that spans the distance over almost four days of non-stop running.

Going into the 2016 WiBoLT I did not consider myself trained or ready to start.  Work and other responsibilities took priority over investing time in quality training.  My general thoughts on starting were that I had had good experiences at the Brocken-Challenge and Hexentanz and if worse came to worse I could gut through the tough parts and complete the gargantuan distance of 320KM.  In my thinking I failed to take into consideration the immense elevation change that plays itself out over the Rheinsteig.  More on that later…

On Wednesday afternoon I joined some 55 other WiBoLT starters at Schloss Biebrich.  The start area was simple, check in was easy and it was good to see some familiar faces.  After getting checked in I repacked my drop bag into the WiBoLT provided bag and turned it in.  From there we walked to a nearby hotel where a meal was served as part of pre-race events.  Many of the runners that were new to the WiBoLT asked about a race briefing with no real responses.  Not normal for a race of this nature, but I figured I ride with it and see what happened.

Shortly before 1800 Michael asked us to cross over to some steps that are located on a promenade adjacent to the Rhine River.  I believe that many of us thought that the race brief would occur at this point, which you could say did happen.  Michael welcomed us, told us that there were several new and important aid stations and indicated that it was important to stop at the aid stations – to get aid.  If you didn’t find or stop at the aid stations you couldn’t get any aid.  Logical…  At about 1805 he wished us luck and sent us on our way.  That was the brief, simple and to the point.  I like it!

So at 1800ish we took off way too quickly along the Rheinsteig.  Initally we remained in a relatively large group, but the first ten kilometers of the course stretch through portions of Wiesbaden and we slowly, but surely got split up by traffic lights and the different tempos runners were using early on.  From Wiesbaden we headed into the surrounding vineyards.  The weather was pleasant with mild temperatures and no rain.  At Schlangenbad we rolled into the first of many aid stations (VPs).  The fare was simple but adequate and the volunteers were exceptional as they were over the course of the entire event. From Schlangenbad we moved back into the hills that make up the Rheinsteig.  Over the course of an event like this I tend to seek out or develop a rhythm for the event.  Doing so helps me adjust mentally and physically.  The WiBoLT’s flow enabled a similar rhythmic approach.  We would transition through VPs at every 20 kilometers or so.  Our drop bags would be available at the Loreley and Feldkirchen with the opportunity to sleep at these two large VPs as well as at Oberkestert and Braubach.

While on the WiBoLT course Wednesday night was probably the hardest night for me.  Going into the evening the weather was mild with the moon rising very late.  In the every early morning hours on Thursday it began to ran and I was further challenged by the shift in my sleep schedule.  I was surprised to experience a couple of hallucinations this early in the race and link them to the darkness, lack of visibility because of the rain and my off kilter sleep schedule.  Shortly before dawn we were awash in a torrential downpour that soaked me to the bone.  Based on the weather forecast I had decided to stage my Gore-Tex jacket and trousers in my drop bag and pick them up a the Loreley for the rain that was forecast for Saturday.  Fortunately, the temperatures were mild and it was still early in the race so that I was able to maintain a good pace and remain pleasantly warm.  At this juncture I simply accepted the weather and embraced these early hallucinations and looked forward to sunrise.
Thursday morning arrived cool and foggy, but with the promise that the day was actually going to turn out to be pretty amazing.  As the profile suggests I spent much of the day climbing and descending over the course of the Rheinsteig.  Going long and hard like we were the up and down rhythm almost becomes a routine.  You learn to recognize that you are going to ascend and descend once or twice before passing by a Rhine riverside village to once again ascend back into the hills.  Because we were not trailing in the Alps those 11,700 meters of elevation change had to come form somewhere.  Instead of going HIGH we went MORE, much MORE…  
(Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The Loreley VP was phenomenal with our first opportunity to eat a full meal, shower and sleep.  I bunked with Lutz and Torsten and got two hours of sleep.  Getting back in gear to head back out on the course was a bit of challenge, but at this juncture we were well ahead of the cutoff timeline and eased back into the WiBoLT rhythm.  Our next significant stop was at Uschi’s Wanderstation where I had a bit of noodles and meat sauce and shut down for another hour of sleep.
(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)

(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)
After being on the course for more than thirty hours it seemed that my body and sleep rhythm had adjusted somewhat to the stress it was under.  Faced with light rain and only three hours of sleep so far I was surprised that I held things together much better than the first night.  Yes, I was tired, but I didn’t have to fight as hard as I did the first evening.  I didn’t go into the Pain Cave.

Friday morning found us in Braubach.  Weather conditions were relatively stable and I was holding things together for the most part.  Back on Wednesday evening I began to experience a knot or cramp in my left calf.  I tried stretching this tightness or cramp out to little or no avail.  Friday morning at the Rathaus VP in Braubach I rolled my leg on a bottle to massage it and try to loosen it up.  This condition would continue to worsen over the next day or so and was a big part of my decision to withdraw at Feldkirchen.

From Braubach we coursed to Lahnstein and the Ruppertsklamm.  Trailing into the Ruppertsklamm was incredible.  The pictures below simply don’t do this gorge justice.  It is worth a visit in and of itself.
 (Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The VP at the Lahnstein Hiking Shelter was great.  When I first saw it I didn’t think that it was for us as it appeared that a group of families were having a grill party.  They actually were and the party was for us.  It was nice to sit down next to fire and warm my tired bones and dry some of my stuff.

From Lanhstein we set out via Koblenz to the VP at Vallendar.  Our trip into town was one of two that we actually experienced over the course of the Rheinsteig.  The afternoon sun was incredible compared to the cold rain we’d been under for the last day or so.  Between the Shelter at Lahnstein and the VP at Vallendar I got in another 26 minute sleep period on a bench beside the Rheinsteig trail.  Heaven!  Sometimes it’s pretty amazing what a quick nap like this will give back to you.  I put my head down on my race pack was out and 26 minutes later awoke and was ready to go.  The rest and strength that I drew from this stop were critical to the next leg as it was to prove to be the most challenging.

Seeking to trek from Sayn to Rengsdorf was just down right hard.  This leg pushed me to the boundaries of my perceived mental and physical limits.  Terrain wise the move was not more difficult than any of the other legs of this course.  Course markings were present, but perhaps not always accurate.  The GPS track that I was using could be considered OK.  Somehow given the lay of the land, location of Rengsdorf and my quickly running out of water I got very mis-oriented and spent way too much time seeking the VP.  Rengsdorf rests at the top of a hill that parallels the Rheinsteig to the left.  As you move along the Rheinsteig you can see the lights of Rengsdorf above you. The course track does however take you away from Rengsdorf and you lose sight of the town’s lights leading you to think that you were lost.  The search for Rengsdorf and the VP would see us blow arriving at the VP before it closed which led to further issues…

As we finally arrived in Rengsdorf we followed the painted arrows that indicated VP and the specific location of the aid station.  This had been the case in many of the other towns and villages we had visited previously.  When we arrived at the “VP” we found the letters “V P” Xed out with follow on arrows leading across the street.  The term “VP” had been changed to read “VW” (Apparently a play on words considering the car manufacturer.).  In bad need of water and something to eat I called the Race Director.  He told me that the VP had closed at mid-night, but the VP team had left us enough drinks and food all should be good.  He was however unable to accurately explain where this cache was located.  Fortunately, another racer passed by with his wife.  After greeting them she indicated that she knew where the cache was and would take us there.

When we finally arrived at what was the VP in Rengsdorf we were treated to a limited supply of water, cola and some snacks.  Thankfully the wife of the runner mentioned above had enjoyed pizza earlier that evening.  She and her kids offered us their leftovers – an entire pizza.  Delicious! 

So after cramming down the treat of a left over cold pizza and refilling my water supplies we headed out into the night with about thirteen kilometers to go until the major VP at Feldkirchen and the 0600 cutoff time.

Travel over this leg of the course was nothing new.  We trekked up and down, across fields, and into the forest.  Initially no big deal, but like all good things, this too had to come to an end.  The guy I was running with found and could not get out of his dark place.  We had to stop repeatedly either to allow him to catch up or to let him set down and sleep for a few minutes.  After a short period a light approached us from behind.  This was the runner whose wife had provided us Pizza in Rengsdorf.  I was very surprised to see him as he had left well before me at Rengsdorf.  He told me that he too had decided to sit down for a “few minutes”, but was awoken much later by the cold. 

My thoughts were…  OK – three are better than one and we have until 0800 to get to Rengsdorf.  I was quickly corrected on this later point – we had to arrive at Feldkirchen for a 0600 cut off time and to add an additional challenge, a dense fog rolled in and one of the runner’s headlamp’s failed with no replacement batteries.  No mistakes could be made now if we were going to make the 0600 cutoff time.

The three of us pushed hard to cover the last five or so kilometers in order to come in before the cutoff time of 0600.  In the end – we made it at 0555.  The Feldkirchen Volunteer Team kicked into action and asked what they could provide us.  I told them that I wanted to get a shower, get dressed to go back, get a quick two hour nap eat and then head out.

I took a shower and headed into the quite space to get some sleep.  I set my alarm for an hour later, laid down and was immediately awoken by my alarm.  I don’t recall the last time I so easily turned off from being awake and going to sleep.  After waking up a bit I noticed that my left leg, my knee in particular, had swollen to about twice its normal size.  After a couple of quick sms exchanges with a couple of friends I decided to withdraw.  Doing so was pretty straightforward – really no doubt in my mind given the worsening condition of my leg.  I’m not certain what caused this injury, but decided that going on was not worth taking the risk of ruining the rest of my 2016 running season.  My leg remains painful and swollen.  I’ll probably pay the doctor a visit tomorrow.  More than anything I’m curious about what’s going on and the cause of this injury to avoid it in the future.  Run on another day…

My WiBoLT take-aways:

- 320KM is a damn long way. 
- 11,700 meters of elevation change are a whole butt load of elevation gain and loss.
- Combine the two and the WiBoLT is an ass kicker.  No kidding.
- Distance is what you make of it.  The earlier you acknowledge and appreciate that you are going to hurt and enter your personal dark space the earlier you can accept and work through it.
- Self-awareness; Patience; and the Ability to Embrace the Moment.

I DNFed the 2016 WiBoLT.  Are there questions about my DNF that remain?  Sure.  But not like previous DNFs.  I’m not sitting here doubting myself.  I know where I stand with this race and am good with that.  I had a great time at the WiBoLT.  Michael and his team put on an extraordinary event.  I’ll be back.  In fact, I think I mentioned above that I’m resting and waiting on applying.  I changed my mind...  This report is finished.  I’m switching over to work on my application for 2017!

You know that this report would not be complete without a quote from some obscure song.  Let me take you back the early morning hours of Thursday.  Ozzy joined me as I was in my pain cave and shared some inspiration…  


Howling in shadows
Living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven
Spewing from the mouth of hell
Those that the beast is looking for
Listen in awe and you’ll hear him

Bark at the moon…