Friday, May 4, 2012

Hexenstieg Ultra 2012 Part II

After about an hour’s break Günter, Matthias and I set off without Nic for the Hexentanzplatz a much celebrated place located on the top of a lovely little hill.  The Hexentanzplatz (Witches’ Dance Floor) rests on a plateau at 454M above the Bode Gorge.  As legend has it, the Hexentanzplatz was the site of old Saxon Cult celebrations of the Forest and Mountain Goddesses.  Following the taming of the region by Christian Franks the area became known as the Hexentanzplatz.  The legend also holds that the dance floor was guarded by Frank soldiers who were chased off by Saxons dressed as witches and riding on broomsticks.  This Saxon victory over the Franks is celebrated to this day on and around the first of May.  In fact, 10,000 visitors were expected on the Hexentanzplatz on 1 May 2012.

As you can tell by the Hexentanzplatz link above normal people travel to the Hexentanzplatz via cable car to view the panoramic views and the Bode Gorge.  Thanks to Micha this was not in our cards this evening although we did have a brief opportunity to enjoy the view at the White Deer stamp station before making our way down to Treseburg and back into the Bode Gorge.

Our path into the Bode Gorge saw us rapidly losing any remaining daylight on a long hot Saturday.  While in the Gorge we got to again enjoy the frequent ups and downs of the trail and a slow ascent back up to our next rest stop at Königshütte.  Although we were slowly gaining elevation I was not feeling the elation of doing so.  This phase of the event probably saw me at my lowest point mentally during the entire race.  I was burned out from the heat of the day; had now been running for more than twenty-four hours with no sleep; and my tank was running very low on food.  The Brandenburgers and I had spent most of the day talking and enjoying the event.  At this point everyone was worn and very quite – we were running yet sleeping on our feet.  So, picture if you will three dudes running through the deep of the night.  It was very quite…  I began to hear something rustling to our right about ten meters from our path.  It seemed that whatever was making this noise was moving along with us.  I pictured Indians riding along side waiting to ride in for the kill.  “Wow”, I thought, whatever that is, it is not breaking contact with us – it continues to run alongside.  I asked Matthias and Günter what they thought it was and we were interrupted with a very loud and ugly sounding “SNORT”.  Blood now rushing; kick up the adrenaline.  That is a fooging boar!  Matthias shouted “RUN” and we took off at a sprint.  I shined my hand held flashlight over to where I thought the wild pigs were moving and caught several piglets in its beam. 

Adrenaline kicks are great in the short term.  They do however leave you wasted over time.  After running down from Boar Hill approaching the aid station at Treseburg I slipped back into a deeper rut.  I was burned out and the single blister I had identified at Thale seemed as if it was growing and was shooting sharp signals up my leg.  My focus and commitment to complete the Hexenstieg began to slip anchor and quickly drift…

After what seemed an eternity we finally made it to the aid station at Altenbrak.  I moved beyond the refreshment area and went immediately to work on the blister on my left foot.  Micha (I don’t know how he managed to be at virtually every aid station.) came over to check on me.  I told him that all was good (I lied) and that you don’t die from blisters.  After getting bandaged up again we set out into the night for Königshütte.  Curses!  

The next 24 odd kilometers are a deep dark blur for me.  The devil got on my back and road me; spinning things in my head.  I slipped into a deep pool of self-pity and bad decision making.  As we coursed ever upwards towards Königshütte I cursed myself for signing up for this race.  No, blisters won’t kill you, but they certainly provide a great opportunity to dwell on your misery.  While focused on the one on my left foot a new one developed in the same location on my right.  Matthias began to hallucinate and told us that a lighted long jump ski ramp was coming up on our right.  It was actually the moon shining through the clouds.  I really began to shut down on Matthias and Günter not talking with either.

Dick Collins advice, “Decide before the race the conditions that will cause you to stop and drop out.  You don’t want to be out there saying, “Well gee, my leg hurts, I’m a little dehydrated, I’m sleepy, I’m tired, and it’s cold and windy,” and talk yourself into quitting.  If you are making a decision based on how you feel at that moment, you will probably make the wrong decision” is spot on.  I had read and considered this passage many times.  I had not considered the fact that running an ultra like the Hexenstieg takes a very solid personal commitment to this principal.  In fact, I’d never been to this point in my thinking before.  Sure, other races have sucked, but never like this. 

Between Altenbrak and Königshütte I abandoned all principals and commitment to finishing the Hexenstieg and decided to quit, or at least go down for a while and sleep.  That’s what my mind told me, but the devil that was now riding me like a cheap circus ride told me that it was “OK to tell the Brandenburger that you are going to get some sleep.”  Once they’re gone you can sleep some more and drop because you know that there are no vehicles scheduled to leave Königshütte unless it’s an emergency, you take a cab, or you wait it out until the morning by which time you will have missed every opportunity to finish.  So quit.  It’s all good!  This ultra racing thing is stupid anyway.  You don’t need to prove that you can do this to anyone.” 

We each rolled into Königshütte in dark spirits.  When we got into the community building there were people crashed and sleeping everywhere.  “This is what I’m talking about!”  The race volunteers were again superb.  As we sat down at the first table in sight there were several of them asking what food and drink they could bring us?  I had an alcohol free beer and a cup of coffee at the same time; I don’t recall what plate (noodles or potatoes) I ate.  Günter fell asleep eating his meal while Matthias rummaged through his drop bag and then fell asleep.  My tee-shirt was soaked from sweating and by now I was wearing a wind breaker; I figured what the hell and also went to sleep.  In the back of my mind I was looking to drop and hoping that Günter and Matthias would go down for a while then I could reconsider everything.

After twenty minutes or so Matthias asked us if we were ready to go.  Sluggishly Günter wondered off to the bathroom.  It was here that I told Matthias that I was going to drop.  My hope was that he would encourage me not to; I was prepared with a number of good solid arguments; instead he simply asked if my blisters were going to be a real issue.  Günter came back and I told him while Matthias was away from the table.  He told me that I was not going to drop and that I needed to get myself together.  Period – easy as that.  I wondered off to the bathroom to actually test my feet and gather my thoughts.  While sitting in the bathroom I thought about Dick Collins’ advice and decided to head back out, “Shit this is going to suck!”.  I made my way back to our table and told the Brandenburgers that I was back in the game, but that before I made my final decision I wanted their assurance that I would not be a burden to them, nor hold them back from finishing.  Great guys!  They told me that we were in this thing together and we were going to finish it together no matter what.  This commitment to one another, to this event blew me away.  This is what ultrarunning is about.

With that and a final slug of coffee and a GU we headed out in the night towards Torfhaus...   

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