Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Highway to Hell – Jägerstein Ultra 2014

About four days have passed and a number of other reports have been written about this year’s Jägerstein Ultra (JU) making it somewhat difficult to formulate my own report…  This was my second running of this super season ending race.  For details on the race itself see my report from 2013 here.
Headed into the 2014 event I was not motivated to run.  I had too much going on at work and the rest of life to really concentrate on training and appropriately preparing for the JU following the SUT in October.  Thoughts on these issues caused me to waiver on my decision to go until the very last minute and traveled along with me as baggage until the first aid station at kilometer (KM) 25.  Nonetheless, I got in the car at work at noon on Friday, 12 December and dove into Germany’s Friday afternoon traffic.  Once I arrived in Fröttstädt and made my way to Sabine’s Horse Hostel some of that baggage immediately fell away.  Sabine met Karl (another running friend) and I at the door and we knew right away that the Rothes were going to make every effort to ensure that we had a super ultra weekend.

Unlike 2013 Gunter set the JU headquarters in the Fröttstädt Gemeindehaus where we would have more room for the briefing and dinner.  With thirty-nine starters it would become quickly obvious why Gunter had made this decision.  The Gemeindehaus offers the perfect space for this size of group and is actually more conducive for a briefing than the small dining room in Sabine’s Hostel.  Friday evening’s activities included the race briefing, dinner and an opportunity to socialize with new and old running mates.  Good times all around!  I ended the evening relatively early in order to organize my gear and get a good night’s sleep.  The gear thing was a bit troubling that evening as a storm front with very high winds and rain was moving through the area forcing many of us to pack and re-pack in hope that we would be set for the next day.

Saturday morning, 13 December arrived bright and early without an alarm at 0400.  That storm that had blown through most of the night was no longer blowing, but there was a steady rain falling that continued to plague my planning.  Unlike Karl and Connie I opted against donning rain trousers, but did go with a long sleeve shirt, long plants, Gore-Tex shoes and a Gore-Tex rain jacket (Desert Camouflage – to fit right in).  I had the opportunity to pick up a pair of water proof socks, but opted not to; instead I stuck with my toed wool socks.  (Fortunately in most cases wet wool equals warm wool!)  Sabine and Gunter served breakfast in the Gemeindehaus at 0500.  The breakfast buffet, although simple, left nothing to be desired.  With a little weaker constitution someone could have convinced me to stay in, and stay dry over a cup of Sabine’s delicious coffee!  Instead we lined up for the 0600 start… 

Photo courtesy of Martin Woitynek

Much like 2013 runners this year formed into small groups moving through the early morning hours into the Thüringer Wald.  This year’s winner, Andreas Schneidewind, blew away from the groups and wound up setting a new course record in 8:10.  (The guy even stopped to take pictures and walked…)  I slipped into a nice tempo with a group of four friends and two folks I’d not previously met.  We would remain together until about KM 35 following our passage through the Torstein.  It was with and through this group that I was finally able to stop the “Monkey Mind” that I mentioned earlier going into this race.  It was nice to get caught back up with the group and to mentally shift some of my baggage allowing me to slip my mind into the moment and this race.  A key element of my running mindfulness.  As our group split into smaller groups I connected with Udo and Michael, two runners that I admire and enjoy running with.  Our running effort during the JU seemed to mesh very nicely and would carry us over the next thirty-five kilometers.

Last year I mentioned Michael (Der Hexer’s) twisted since of humor as it related to the last leg of the JU which traversed through the Wolfsschluct or in the current vernacular “Hölle” (Hell in English) and how much of a challenge this passage was.  This year Der Hexer added a bit more fun to our journey in the form of the old slalom hang at kilometer 68 and the Schneetiegel.

Udo, Peter, Michael and I arrived at the base of the Schneetiegel at four-ish as the sun was going down.  It had rained all day and was getting dark and colder.  Other than some snacks at the two aid stations and whatever we’d brought along, we’d had nothing solid to eat all day.  Two more kilometers and we would have completed our quest for the Jägerstein.  Two kilometers… 

The Schneetiegel is the deepest valley in Thüringen. There are 600 meters of elevation change over less than two kilometers from the base of the Schneetiegel to the top of the Schneekopf where the Jägerstein is located.  Two kilometers to finish this ultra!  Historical records go on to indicate that the Schneetiegel was considered non-traversable until the late 1600s…  Ski fanatics built a slalom jump here on the Schneetiegel in the 1930s.  In 1960 the Soviets declared the area on top of the Schneekopf a military restricted area and shut down any leisure activities on the Schneetiegel.  That 600 meters of elevation change climbs an angle of 57 degrees!  Welcome to my personal Jägerstein Highway to Hell.

Wet, hungry, and really ready to be done with this ultra we began our assault on the Schneetiegel Slalom Hang.  The body will follow the mind – almost anywhere…  Let’s get this over with and we start our climb.  Up we go…  After taking two steps forward and one back I quickly came to the realization that this sucks!  Seriously – This sucks!  Two steps – slide…  Two steps – slide…  Damn it!  Mental pause…  Monkey mind in full gear now…  I’m not kidding anymore - this f**king really sucks.  I’m no longer on the highway hell – I’m friggen in hell and Die Hölle is about 580 meters from here.
After crawling, crab crawling, side stepping and slip sliding away for two to three hundred meters we finally arrived at a path that traversed across the slalom run.  What luck!  We thought we could now level off and begin our final climb into Hell.  NO SUCH LUCK!  Our GPS track and foot and finger prints in the snow indicated that our climb was not yet complete.  There were those among us that were now at the point of rebellion including me.  “F**K THIS I’m NOT going any further”, was a short lived, but quite popular expression.  With really no other options we made our way over the last fifty or so meters of the Slalom hang and finally arrived at a forest trail that would guide us into the joys and darkness of Hell ending our quest for the Jägerstein…

We ended the day in Schmücke at a traditional hiking hotel with a nice meal and a lot of laughs. It was this ending and the last couple of days that have settled the Jägerstein Ultra for me.  Micha – Bring it on – I look forward to your next nasty twist in this great little ultra.

The Jägerstein Ultra is a superb season ending ultramarathon.  The co-race directors Michael Frenz and the Rothe Family put on one hell of an ultra experience.  With seventy kilometers of country road and path and single track and more than 2200 meters of elevation change the Jägerstein is a nice gut check heading into that brief winter break in anticipation for the coming running year.  Although the 2014 runner’s field including thrity-nine runners it remains small and very friendly.  As I said in 2013 – Count me in for next year!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2 SUT 100 – Schoenbuch Ultra-Trail

The second running of the Schoenbuch Ultra-Trail (SUT 100) was held 18 – 19 September 2014 in the Schoenbuch Nature Park.  Torrential rains the Thursday and Friday prior to the start of the SUT 100 threatened to deliver typical early Fall German weather.  Uncharacteristically, the weather broke early on Friday and evolved into near perfect running conditions – cool, sunny and no rain.  Beyond the extremely wet and muddy course conditions were exceptional for the twenty-three starters.  Dirk Joos set a course record completing the 100 plus miles in 21:53.  Inge van Bergen, the only female finisher completed her run in 27:31.

The 100+mile event is organized and directed by Andreas Loeffler in the small German village of Dettenhausen.  Andreas initiates the event the Friday evening prior to the start with a relaxed race briefing and pasta party which occurs in the restaurant of the Dettenhausen sport center.  The SUT 100 is a “By Invitation Only” event which ensures a small starter field.  Friday evening provides both an opportunity to get an idea of the course, but also provides runners a chance to meet and socialize with the other runners.  The 2014 “By Invitation Only” starter field is what I’d term an eclectic group.  The runners field included local matadors, someone from China that lives in Norway, a German from Stuttgart that lives in Paris, a Dutchman and woman, Austrians that live in the US, and Americans that live in Germany.

Much like the evening prior the 2014 SUT 100 started with little fanfare and was what many would consider very “chill”.  We twenty-three were all at the sport center well before the start.  Shortly prior to 0800 Andreas gathered us together adjacent to the football field, shared a few last minute details and with little fanfare said, “Go!”

The SUT 100 course is a point-to-point route which loops around much of the perimeter of the Schoenbuch Nature Park.  The race is limited by a thirty hour time limit with a number of cut offs sprinkled at various VPs.  The SUT course features (I’m guessing) about seventy five miles of very single track trail.  Tim Scott characterized the course as “very runnable”.  I have somewhat different opinion as my recollections indicate that the trail offered difficult footing because of rocks, roots, deadfall, abrupt climbs and descents, standing water and mud.  Of the approximately 4064m of elevation change much of the climbing occurs over the last third of the course – Yes!  Although the course was very well marked I would not run the SUT 100 without a GPS.  There were portions of the course where the markings had been removed or it was simply so dark in the forest that you could not navigate to the next point without a GPS.  Seven aid stations (VPs) support the event with pacers authorized after VP 5.  For a 100+mile course the distribution and number of VPs provides an additional challenge for runners forcing you to ensure that you have enough to eat and drink between approximate twenty kilometers between VPs.  Support at each VP was exceptional as each provided wonderful volunteers that catered to your every wish and a cornucopia of beverages and food.

Jin Cao and Dirk Joos led early with very solid times into the first VP.  They would dominate the race throughout the next twenty-plus hours.  Over the course of the event we lost eight runners to various issues and at various distances. Thankfully there were no serious injuries or accidents.  Tim Scott and I approached the 2014 SUT 100 very conservatively as our various VP gates demonstrate.  I had a great time running with him, Tom, Johannes and the various others that we joined or that joined us over the course of this long distance adventure.  As I’ve said before, an ultra of this character is a singularly personal experience and endeavor; it is always great to work through the inevitable challenges with someone else.  I think that Tim and I compliment one another in our approach and I hope to tackle another adventure with him in the not too distant future.

Highpoints of my race included a number of different locations and experiences.  Jürgen Baumann and his wife who hosted VPs 1 and 6 are simply fantastic.  Jürgen is himself a very accomplished ultra-runner and knows how to cater to your each and every need.  Roman Schaictal and VP 7.  Roman – I was a little mentally “checked out” by the time I got to your VP.  Thanks for sharing the laughs!  I’ve been running in the Schoenbuch for going on six years, but had no idea that there was so much excellent single track to explore and run.  My compliments to Andreas on his course – simply exceptional!  My thanks and compliments to the Schoenbuch Braumanufaktur.  I generally do not like their beer.  However, they brew an excellent alcohol free Hefeweissen that I got to enjoy at each VP.

Low points…  Na – None for me.  As Tim said, “the SUT offers a very runnable course”.  OK…  There were a few, but not as many as I feared as I toed the start line on Saturday morning.  The night, a sliver of a moon when it finally came up, the arch of your reality becomes only the light which your dying headlamp casts at your feet.  Fortunately, my low hit an hour or so before the sun came up on Sunday morning.  While in this low I consciously and deliberately monitored my food and beverage intake and focused on casting out any negative thoughts.  I really worked to see negativity as clouds that would drift in.  I made a focused effort to mentally watch them blow away.  For me, events of this character come down to mental and motivational fortitude.  No kidding, yes, it is going to physically suck, but the mind and your spirit can accomplish much more than you appreciate sitting there reading this or while out on the trail.  Embrace the darkness and demand that it is your own.

The SUT 100 is an exceptional trail running event!  There were no shortages or failures associated with the organization.  Race volunteers are a wonderful group of people – my thanks to each and everyone of you that supported our running of the SUT 100.  (I’m still looking for the address of the farmer from Nufringen that provided the potatoes. Simply wonderful!)  Count me in for the 2016 SUT 100!

Monday, August 25, 2014

100MeilenBerlin – Berlin Mauerweglauf

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”  Rudyard Kipling

The 16th of August 2014 saw the third running of the Berlin Mauerweglauf or 100MeilenBerlin.  Like many aspects of this great 100-miler its running date is tied to a historical event or memory.  This one marks the official start of construction of the Berlin Wall which occurred on 13 August 1961.  Each ultramarathon I’ve run is unique on many levels; the Mauerweglauf is individually unique to any of the other running adventures I’ve pursued.  Established as a memorial event to recognize the terror of the Berlin Wall, it is singularly focused on the circumstances and rich historical background that shape your every step along its course.

The 100MeilenBerlin honors the memory of one of the victims of the German Democratic Republic that lost their lives along the Berlin Wall.  2014 was held in memory of Peter Fechter who, on 17 August 1962, was shot and left to bleed out in the death zone between East and West Berlin.

The course of the Berlin Mauerweglauf is almost identical to that of the official trace of the Berlin Wall.  Orange colored posts, memorial crosses, remnants of the wall and watch towers remind travelers of this path of victims of this border.  At least 136 people lost their lives along this border between 1961 and 1989.

As a student of history or simply curious tourist of Berlin you may have the opportunity to visit several monuments in the heart of Berlin near the Wall or perhaps the Memorial Center Berliner Mauer on the Bernauer Strasse.  The Memorial Center provides a singular experience in the construction of and life with the Berlin Wall.  Each offer an important, but singular glimpse into the past.  Only by following the course of the Berliner Mauerweg can you begin to develop a deeper appreciation of the scale of the crime that occurred here.  Over the course of its path memorial sites and markers slowly unveil glimpses into the hundreds of attempts at freedom and their individual stories that occurred here for more than twenty-eight years.  This story unfolding, over the course of 100 miles was my deepest experience during this year’s Berlin Mauerweglauf.  Contemplation of its significance filled many hours of my day as I coursed over the Berliner Mauerweg.

The 2014 Berlin Mauerweglauf started in the Fredrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion and coursed in a clockwise direction over its 100 miles.  Course direction changes are becoming a tradition of this race as they have switched each year.  The race course is supported by twenty-seven rest stops with VP1 located on the Zimmerstrasse at the Peter Fechter Memorial.  The last rest stop at 157.9KM is located on the Wlollankstrasse and is provided as help for the final push into the Finish located again in the Fredrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion.  Included within the twenty-seven rest stops were three “Change Points” located at Sporthalle Teltow, Schloss Sacrow and in Henningsdorf at the Oberhavel Rudder Club.  Change Points provided runners an opportunity to pick up a drop back, change clothes and take on any additional supplies they may have required.  They also served as “Cut Off” stations for race time limits.  

The 2014 Berlin Mauerweglauf was my second deliberate 100 Mile Road Race.  I’ve run a several other events of greater distance, but they were not characterized like this 100 Mile event.  The 100MeilenBerlin is a road race with largely flat surfaces that course over roads, asphalted or cobblestone streets or semi-improved road surfaces.  I was glad that I chose my Hokas as my race shoes as I’m afraid that any other shoe would have smoked my feet.

The Langstrekenlauf-Gemeinschaft Mauerweg (LG Mauerweg) serves as the lead organizer and supporter of the 100MeilenBerlin.  LG Mauerweg’s design and support of the 100MeilenBerlin was first class down to the smallest detail.  I was particularly impressed with pre-race activities via their web site, runners care, an extensive network of superb race volunteers, course marking and the unique drop bag solution that was employed.  Pre-race activities in Berlin were outstanding with race headquarters located at the Ramada Hotel on the Alexander Platz.  These activities included final race check-in, the pasta dinner, race briefing and pre-race breakfast.

The 100MeilenBerlin started at 0600 with a loop around the track of the Fredrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion.  The race field remained largely compact and together as we traveled through the first ten kilometers of empty streets in Berlin.  I was entertained by the “typical German” nature of stopping at street crossings as we’d been told that we would be pulled from the race if we failed to comply with traffic laws.  This bit was nice as we all got warmed up to the race and one another.  

Running at this time of day on a Saturday in Berlin was exceptional as we passed the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and other significant sites.

Running to the first Change Point at KM 58.82 and the Sporthalle Teltow was relatively uneventful for me.  I concentrated on finding my groove and working to still the “Monkey Mind” that plays havoc in early parts of a run for me.  The course was supported with nine aid stations to this point.  Going with the thought of fueling early I probably spent too much time in these nine stations.  At the Sporthalle in Teltow I restocked on energy bars and gels and refilled my water bottles.  I had packed a change of clothes, but did not use any of my spares.  Leaving Teltow the weather was good with sunshine and mild temperatures.

The going from Teltow to Schloss Sacrow (91KM) was pretty smooth.  I ran for a period with a German from Muenster that had studied Business in the US.  He and I chatted for a couple of hours, but got separated as I stopped to put on a rain jacket during a downpour.  I rolled into Schloss Sacrow with a quick turn plan in mind and was able to eat a bit of solid food and restock my pack’s supplies and get back out relatively quickly.  Going back out of this Check Point I felt solid.

A rest station or two after Schloss Sacrow I slammed three cups of cola and crammed several handfuls of nuts and fruit down in an effort to clear the station quickly.  Not a good move…  At about 110KM I became very nauseated and suffered from extreme stomach cramps.  I had not had a GI issue like this in a couple of years.  Like many things that you can’t or don’t practice I got very worried that this GI issue was going to undo my run.  I wanted/needed to throw-up, but was worried about doing so.  Not long thereafter the choice was taken from me and I blew up on the side of the road – twice!  I was pleasantly surprised with the relief that blowing up like this brought.  My stomach cramps and nausea immediately ended and my disposition and outlook immediately cleared up.  My lowest point came between 123 and 132KMs.  I think that this came on as I had cleared my gut and was low on fuel.  I refueled (at a little solid food) and drank a Red Bull at the final Check Point at the Oberhavel Rudder Club.  I remained somewhat down even after this final Check Point as I needed to poop several times which I thought was slowing me down a lot.

At 138KMs I “hitched a ride” with a German runner that was moving a bit quicker than I.  By hitching a ride I mean I drafted in behind this runner and used his rhythm and speed to pull me forward.  Not to be rude I passed him; tried to chat him up and led for a while.  He passed me; refused to talk and kept on going.  One of those dudes that was just in his place and moving on.  I hitched with him off and on until about 150KMs after which we went our separate ways. 

The last ten or so kilometers of the 100MeilenBerlin contained three aid stations.  Other than a lot of kilometers this race included a lot of aid stations!  I won’t say that I didn’t appreciate them, but will say that I didn’t use them this year.  I passed through these last stations only to register my timing chip and head back to the finish.  That last stretch between VP 27 (157.90KM) and the Finish (161.86KM) was one of the longest 3.96KMs I’ve traveled.  At VP 27 I attempted to frame the distance to a training track I use at home, mentally trying to associate the two with where I might be on the home course.  The mind can be a very powerful friend or simply a pain in the ass.  (smile)

After what seemed an eternity of four kilometers I finally rolled back onto the track in the Fredrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion for my final lap.  At first I was alone on the track, but then Karl Rohwedder and Cornelia Balke pulled up behind me out of what seemed no where.  I had not seen them over the entire course of the last day, having hoped to do so much earlier.  Cornelia and Karl suggested we jog the last lap together and we wound up crossing the finish line holding hands.  A super way to finish a fantastic event!

The 16th of August is a historical landmark in the greater history of the division of Germany and Europe.  The Berlin Mauerweglauf affords a meaningful way to maintain the stories associated with this history and their significance.  Personally the Berlin Mauerweglauf afforded me with a 100 Mile Personal Best allowing me to finish the distance in race conditions in under twenty-four hours.  The wider race field did very well.  Of the 285 starters 211 finished.  The winner, Mark Perkins finished in an amazing 13:06 with the women’s winner, Grit Seidel, finishing in a solid 18:16.

My hat is off to Dr. Ronald Musil, LG Mauerweg, and all of the folks that supported the planning, coordination and conduct of this superb 100 Mile Road Race.  The 100MeilenBerlin is a fantastic event that I have added to my list of races to run again and again! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Zugspitz Ultratrail 2014

Southern Germany is one of those singularly amazing places in the world that has the potential to host an exceptional mountain ultramarathon.  Anchored in the village of Grainau and coursing around the Zugspitze Massive the Zugspitz Ultratrail (ZUT) is destined to become a classic among international alpine ultras.

Hosted by Plan B and sponsored by Salomon, 2014 saw the forth running of the ZUT.  From registration through post race activities the ZUT and Plan B are simply exceptional.  I highly recommend both participation in the ZUT (I’ll be back again!) and events hosted by Plan B.

713 runners started the ZUT under slightly cloudy skies at 0715 on 21 June.  Temperatures were cool, but bearable considering the alpine environment.  As the day progressed we were treated to ideal running conditions under mild sunny conditions.

The ZUT course traverses 100 kilometers (61 miles) and 5,400 meters (17,841 feet) of climb coursing over some of the most beautiful trails in the Alps.  The route travels over multiple ski slopes and some of the best single track trail I’ve run in Germany.  Yes, 5,400 meters (17,841 feet) of climb!  The crowning achievement is getting back down from Aid Station 10 with only about six kilometers left in the course.  Over the course route runners are treated to sweeping views of the Zugspitze Massive.  Spectacular trail carries you across the northwest face of the Zugspitze Mountain, the Gatterl, Scharnitzjoch, Ferchensee and the Osternfeldern.

As the old adage goes…  Pictures tell a thousand words.  I’ll let some of the impressions frame a bit of this report from here…

501 runners finished the ZUT within the allotted twenty-six hours.  Although, cut off times at each check point and the overall time limit are generous, the demands of this alpine ultra take their toll on the uninitiated.  I don’t recommend this race as a first 100KM or alpine event.  Plan B offers four races under the capstone of the ZUT.  These include the 100KM Ultratrail, 79KM Supertrail XL, 60KM Supertrail and 35.6KM Basetrail.  Each demands a certain level of ultra running and alpine experience.  None are for the uninitiated.

The top finishers put on an amazing show in 2014.  Twenty-eight year old Stephan Hugenschmidt of Radolfzell was the overall winner with a teeth gnashing finish in 10:35:50.  Among the women, forty year old Anne-Marie Flammersfeld dominated the finish in 13:53:21.  I walked away feeling way too good with a 22:15:03 finish.  Unique in corporately hosted and sponsored events the ZUT and Plan B have developed an “every racer is an important part of this event” attitude.  The final finishers were greeted and celebrated with as much hullabaloo as those at the top.  Celebration of all continued well after everyone had left Grainau on the Zugspitze Ultra Facebook and Web sites.     

As each day passes since my 2014 ZUT finish I yearn to get back out on the trail and run this amazing race again.  Plan B – Count me in for 2015!