Friday, February 15, 2013

Brocken-Challenge X 2013 Race Report

Five of ten… 

On 1 December Lady Luck smiled on me and I was one of the few that got registered for the tenth anniversary running of the Brocken-ChallengeRegistration was full after a fast and furious ten minutes.

The Brocken-Challenge is among my absolute favorite ultra events.  Getting to it each year is much like a pilgrimage with thoughts on the course, the hosting organization and their charity work, race volunteers and the racers.  The entire event is a simple and lasting pleasure!  While running the B-C and in the immediate hours following the race you ask yourself “Why?, why put yourself through the cold, the distance, and the pain?”  It doesn’t take long for this wonderful event to wander back into your thoughts.  And, you begin to ask yourself, “Why not?”  And those thoughts transition to a longing, a longing to experience the wonder of the course as it spans from Göttingen, into the Harz and up to the Brocken summit

On 9 February 2013 I ran my fifth Brocken-Challenge.  While enjoying its highs and toiling through its lows my thoughts often journeyed to what I might write here, what I might share beyond that which I’d already written in 2012 and prior.  As the center toe on my left foot slowly has its toenail turn black and my recovery diet slows down I’d like to share several random B-C thoughts with you.

The Brocken-Challenge highlights the start of my running year.  I know of no other race event where the kinship and friendliness extend full circle among the organizers, race volunteers, and racers themselves.  It’s not your typical race where commercialism and high octane egos get in the way.  Instead it’s an event where you can spend hours running with a friend, kilometers enjoying the scenery and environment, time making new friends or simply plugging into an MP3 player for some motivation. 

The B-C occurs at a unique time of the year where winter still has its cold grip on the environment and how the day is going to unfold weather wise is anyone’s guess.  2013 was no exception with this B-C as my second coldest.  Temperatures ranged from -2C/28F, light snow flurries and no wind in Göttingen and -9C/15F and winds at 39 – 49 KM/H on the Brocken summit.  These temperatures and wind actually contributed to a comfortable running day with the cold really setting in over the last 10 or so kilometers of the race.  For an old boy from Texas these unique weather conditions and the natural environment of the Harz National Park and Brocken are a uniquely rewarding experience.

The course of the B-C is laid out over 80KMs that winds itself largely downhill over the first forty odd kilometers and then in the second half gains elevation into the Harz National Park and up Brocken massif.  The “ultra” nature of the B-C really started for me at about km 53.  Combined with the fact that I neglected to discipline my intake of fuel and the fact that the trail surface was characterized by fresh/churned snow I was sucking.  Because of the trail surface I couldn’t run and with a lack of fuel in my gut I was feeling down on myself. 

It’s during these low points that you must recognize an ultra event for what it is.  The old saying that, “90% of ultrarunning is 100% mental” is spot on.  In order to get through this part of the B-C I broke down things to their elemental pieces.  For the running surface I attempted to relax into the fact that I was not going to change it; I could not run it; I’d just walk it until I was physically capable of running again.    The food that I consumed at the mid-way station at Barbis was obviously not enough for what my body needed.  In fact I was ravished.  In a matter of minutes I ate two energy bars and a couple of pieces of jerky and took a couple of good long drinks.  And finally, as I moved over what seemed like an endless beach volley ball court trail I tuned into so good music.

There are three songs that I have used to get motivated here in the depths of the B-C.  These include the Aggie War Hymn, Noble Men of Kyle and Juli’s Dieses Leben.  With some carbs coursing through my body and the Aggie Band playing in my head my worries of gutting this leg of the B-C were swept away.  It’s funny how emotionally raw an endurance event of this nature can make you.  I have a special tie to the Aggie music described above.  Listening to it takes me back to my days in the Corps at A&M, friends and experiences.  Hearing, “RECALL!  Step off on Hullabaloo….”  gives me goose bumps, puts a smile on my face and gets me moving forward.

There are several odds and ends that will remain a pleasurable memory for me from this anniversary Brocken-Challenge.  These include:  Breakfast at 0500 in the Old Dance Hall.  And actually, the entire food plan which was simply amazing.  All of it organic and oriented towards a vegan diet.  I wish that I could eat like that every day!  Running with Rolli, Sandra, Udo, Martin, Volker, Micha and many others.  Rolli and I generally meet about the same place on the course each year and spend a couple of hours catching up on things.  I had hoped to finish up, as we had the last two years, with Werner, but never made the linkup between Königskrug and Oderbrück.  I hope to do so next year!  The party atmosphere after in the Brockenwirt.  And believe it or not, the 10KM hike down to Schierke after the event.  I don’t know anyone’s names, but it was fantastic to walk with our group of eight.  Hope to run into you all again either at the B-C or another ultra event.  Runners actually do talk about much more than running.

Each event seems to have its motto or mantra.  For the Brocken-Challenge the Ausdauersport für Menschlichkeit e.V., Göttingen (ASFM) drew from J.W. v Goethe’s “Secrets”, “Von der Gewalt, die alle Wesen Bendet, befreit der Mensch sich, der sich überwindet.”  Or…  “From the great powers that each creature binds, the man who conquers self will freedom find.”  I gave this idea some passing thought each time I’ve run the Brocken-Challenge, but never really considered it in detail until this year.  Its depth was revealed to me ironically along the Goetheweg as I made my final approach to the Brocken summit.

Several statistics…  In past years the running field has been limited to 150 starters.  This year the ASFM expanded that field twice because of the growing interest in this event.  On Monday, 4 February there were 204 people fully registered to participate.  On Saturday morning, 9 February 183 runners started the event.  Of these runners 172 completed. 

It was tremendous to take part in the tenth running of the Brocken-Challenge.  The host, ASFM, is an incredible group with an admirable mission of fostering sport and channeling their efforts towards charitable ends.  Unlike past years where it either a point in the course where I knew I was going to finish, or a couple of days of recovery, I have been planning to sign up for the 2014 B-C since 1 DEC 2012!

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