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!