Monday, February 13, 2012

Brocken-Challenge 2012 Race Report

The Brocken-Challenge (BC) is a winter charity ultramarathon of approximately 80 – 85KM with a positive change of 2200 meters in altitude that takes place over a mixed surface course between the city of Göttingen and the finish on the Brocken Summit in the Harz Mountains. Proceeds from this the ninth running of the BC benefit the Hospiz an der Lutter, Kinderschutzbund, Göttingen and the CVJM Göttingen.

This, my forth running of the BC was the most challenging yet rewarding Brocken-Challenge I’ve participated in. An amazing event!

Registration for this year’s BC opened at midnight on 1 DEC 11 and filled to capacity at 20:15 the same day. The race is limited to a total of 150 runners; organizers started a wait list that closed on 19 JAN 12. On race day the event started with approximately 160 runners. Limiting the number of runners is critical based simply on the logistics of the race, the desire to limit the impact of the race on the local environment and a focus to keep it a friendly event. Each year I applaud the organizer’s efforts to limit the field of runners; it adds dramatically to the spirit and feel of the race. 2012 registration costs included 85 Euros for the race and then a couple of additional costs for tee-shirts, bus transfer from Schierke and the pasta party. ALL proceeds from these expenses go to the supported charities.

The BC route courses 80 – 85KMs of farm roads, forest, hiking and ski trails. The route varies each year based on the amount of snow in the Harz National Park. The course, which originates in Göttingen passes checkpoints/rest stops at Landolfshausen (11KM), the Seeburger See (16.1KM), Rhumequelle (30.7KM) and Barbis (42.5KM) over what is a large bowl like terrain feature. From Barbis the course enters the Harz National Park passes checkpoints at Jagkopf (53.8KM), Lausebuche (63.1KM), Koenigskrug (68.5KM), and Oderbrueck (72.4KM) before proceeding to the finish line on the summit of the Brocken.

The Brocken is the highest mountain in Northern Germany and is surrounded by the Harz National Park. The Brocken is a unique terrain feature in that it is completely exposed to the North German Plain. Largely based on this exposure its micro-climate resembles that of mountains of about 2,000 meters. The mountain rises above the tree line and experiences wild temperature and climate impacts. The highest recorded temperature was 28.2 on 12 AUG 2003 and the lowest temperature was recorded on 1 FEB 1956 at -28.4. In 1973 the summit was covered in snow for 205 days of the year. In 1958 the Brocken set the record for the longest period covered in fog when it was enshrouded for 330 days. The Brocken is the easternmost mountain in Northern Germany; traveling east in a straight line, the next prominent elevation is located within the Ural Mountains! See Wikipedia for additional details.

2012 marked my forth running of the BC. Unlike previous years I set out to go the challenge alone. In the past I had traveled with friends to Göttingen. I traveled to Göttingen on Friday, 10 FEB to participate in the pre-race orientation meeting and get organized for the Challenge. Like in past years I billeted in the Jugendherberge Göttingen which given its location, cost and atmosphere is perfect if you are looking for inexpensive practical quarters for the event.

As tradition has it The BC 2012 started at about 0600 following a cold, but great breakfast and final check in at the Hainholzhof am Kehr. Temperatures at the start were at an icy -13C (8F) and were to remain in the negative double digits throughout the day. It was damn cold!

I know that I’ve mentioned this in at least my last two race reports on the BC, but... Environmental conditions this year were among the toughest I’ve faced while racing based on the cold, snow and wind. I was permanently cold throughout the event. Not fully recognizing the impact of the cold on Saturday I carried my Nathan drink system with a three liter bladder of Gatorade and two waist bottles. With no exaggeration the bite and valve to my bladder were frozen fifteen minutes after the start of the race. Within an hour the bladder hose was frozen solid. Within that same hour the drinks in my waist bottles began to freeze and within three hours were frozen solid. I spent much of the day adding hot tea to a bottle and rotating it out of my jacket with sports bars and gels to prevent them from freezing. Staying warm, hydrated and fed became serious challenges over the course of the day.

I’ve not run the BC when the course did not have snow or ice on much of it and have seen the route changed given the depth of snow on the course. This year found us going into a course that after two very cold weeks and new snow on Friday night significantly changed its impact on runners. Given the temperatures and passage of runners over much of this new snow the final third of the course was extremely demanding with kilometer after kilometer of sandy beach like surface conditions that pushed runners to their physical and emotional limits.

Highlights of the 2012 BC for me were: One, the race itself – It’s great to be part of such a friendly charity event. It’s wonderful to see old and make new friends. Ausdauersport für Menschlichkeit e.V., Göttingen (ASFM) and their friends and volunteers put on one of my absolute favorite ultramarathons. And, two, the race environment – words fail me that describe the beauty of the Harz in winter. Simply breathtaking!

Take a few minutes to view complete race results and additional photos and reports over on the BC web site and within the BC Facebook site. Much is in German, but there some wonderful pictures and impressions that will give you an idea of the event and the people that race and support it.

The BC 2012 was yet another superb event hosted by the ASFM. Yes, at about kilometer 65 I convinced myself that if I could get through this I would not do so ever again! My calendar is however marked for the tenth BC in 2013! When does registration open? (smile)

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