Friday, December 27, 2013

Jägerstein - The Hunt for the Golden Stag 2013

The Jägerstein-Ultralauf is a season ending winter ultramarathon that runs 70 KM from Fröttstädt to the Schneekopf over approximately 2200 meters of local roads, forest paths and single track located within the Thüringen National Park.  The course objective is to reach the Jägerstein or Hunter’s Stone located at the top of the Schneekopf.  The Jägerstein itself is a memorial that records the legend of Caspar Greiner, his pursuit of the golden deer, and the hunting accident that occurred in 1690.

Over the past couple of years I have generally ended my running season with the Albmarathon in late October.  Beyond that date there are only a couple of quality events that occur prior to the start of the New Year.  In 2012 when Gunter Rothe and Michael Frenz announced that they were developing a jointly organized event I had hoped to join in.  Work and other requirements kept me away from this “deep snow” event in 2012.  So, when they announced that they were going to bring the Jägerstein-Ultralauf back in 2013 I jumped at the opportunity to run. 

On Friday the Thirteenth 2013 I left work around noon to travel to Fröttstädt to join up with forty-odd other runners at  the Rothe’s Icelandic Horse Hostel where we all were dining and overnighting.  I got into Fröttstädt just in time to find a bed and drop off my things, join in for the race briefing and have dinner.  Gunter and Sabine put together a great meal and evening for us.  They are both old hands at events of this nature having organized and run the ThüringenULTRA for years.  Michael is no Green Horn himself and delivered a well planned and detailed race briefing.

Friday evening we broke ourselves into two groups:  the fast group that would start at 0600 and the other fast group that would start at 0700.  I joined the fast group departing at 0600 as there were a number of people in this group that I know and had hoped to spend some time chatting with over the course of the race.  I was not to be disappointed.

Saturday morning came bright and early after spending most of the evening thinking I was working in a saw mill (a lot of snoring going on).  After a great breakfast again served by the team of Gunter and Sabine Rothe we lined up for our 0600 start. 

The initial kilometers of the Jägerstein course took us over familiar territory as we coursed out of Fröttstädt into the dark along the ThüringenULTRA race course.  Typical for an event of this nature we initially either ran individually or in small clusters of one or two people.  This would prove helpful and change a bit over the course of the day as the Jägerstein course is not marked.  You must either be very familiar with the route, run with a GPS or tag along with someone that possesses one of the two previous talents or devices.  After running through the hills around and above Friedrichroda our little groups had settled into a group of approximately ten runners and would remain this way for most of the rest of the day.

The Jägerstein-Ultra is designed primarily as a self-supported event.  There are two rest stops along the course of the route.  If you’re considering giving this winter ultra a go be prepared to support yourself for stretches of up to 25 kilometers.  This self-support should include enough to drink and to sustain your energy level over varying terrain.  The two stations that were in place were superior!  Gunter’s experience with the ThüringenULTRA and his personal preferences as an ultramarathoner support what I call “Broadband” support.  The spectrum goes from plain old water to salty and sweet food, as well as caffeinated sodas, beer and warm soup and tea.  I felt pretty good at the first stop and really only focused on restocking my sodium and staying warm with several coups of soup.  When we got to the second stop at Wegscheide just east of Oberhof (49KM) I was famished.  It was great to chow down on liverwurst sandwiches, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken broth, soda and cookies!

From a running/fast packing perspective the Jägerstein-Ultra is a lot of fun.  The kilometers and elevation change did not really test me physically or more critically mentally, until we got just below the Schneekopf Michael “The Hexer” Frenz was obviously at work again when he picked the route up to the Schneekopf.  This phase initially saw our track blocked by downed trees, which appeared to be no big deal as we could just go cross country, but it was all UP!  After coursing almost straight up we met our trail again to find that it was now going to course through “Hell”.  Hell was a snow covered path that coursed over streams, rocks and other obstacles to our objective on top of the Schneekopf.  It was not for the faint of spirit.  I was relieved that I was not in one of my renowned ultra funks and that it was not dark as we made our way up this trail.  My hat is off to those that did so after darkness fell.  This leg of the course was a gut check.  

After summiting onto the Schneekopf and rallying around the Jägerstein we were met by Dirk Bernkopf of Thüringer Allgemeine newspaper.  Dirk took several nice pictures of our group and provided a great rundown of the 2013 Jägerstein-Ultra.

From the Jägerstein we made our way over to the Waldhotel Schmücke.  Michael and Gunter organized rooms and meals for all of the participants.  I didn’t spend the night at the Waldhotel; instead I hitched a ride back to Fröttstädt as I wanted to get a very early start back home on Sunday.  I did stay for post race beers and a super meal.  Transportation back to Fröttstädt was provided via bus on Sunday morning.

In summary, the Jägerstein-Ultra is a well organized winter ultra event.  Gunter and Sabine’s logistics support for the event are superb.  The race course is challenging at 70KM with 2200 meters (7217 feet) in elevation.  The race field is small and very friendly.  Count me for the 2014 Jägerstein-Ultra!