Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WiBoLT 2016

On 25 May 2016 I found myself in Wiesbaden at Schloss Biebrich getting ready to take part in the 2016 WiBoLT, Germany’s longest non-stop foot race.  Sitting here three days later having only completed 231KM of the 320KM necessary to qualify as a WiBoLT finisher my thoughts are all over the map about the WiBoLT experience.  Yep, I DNFed and while in my personal “Pain Cave” on the course I decided not to attempt this event ever again, I am resting my tired bones and waiting a day or two before actually sending in my application for 2017.
Before we progress much further let me provide you with a bit of an introduction to the WiBoLT.  The WiBoLT or Wiesbaden Bonn Long Trail is a 320KM or 200 Mile foot race that courses over 11,700 meters or 38,385 feet of elevation change. The start occurs at Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden with the finish in Bonn.  The race course follows the renowned Rheinsteig hiking trail.  The Rheinsteig itself is made up of about 45 percent forest paths and trails, 35 percent graveled paths and 20 percent asphalt surfaced country lanes.  Michael Esser and a team of incredible volunteers host and manage a race event that spans the distance over almost four days of non-stop running.

Going into the 2016 WiBoLT I did not consider myself trained or ready to start.  Work and other responsibilities took priority over investing time in quality training.  My general thoughts on starting were that I had had good experiences at the Brocken-Challenge and Hexentanz and if worse came to worse I could gut through the tough parts and complete the gargantuan distance of 320KM.  In my thinking I failed to take into consideration the immense elevation change that plays itself out over the Rheinsteig.  More on that later…

On Wednesday afternoon I joined some 55 other WiBoLT starters at Schloss Biebrich.  The start area was simple, check in was easy and it was good to see some familiar faces.  After getting checked in I repacked my drop bag into the WiBoLT provided bag and turned it in.  From there we walked to a nearby hotel where a meal was served as part of pre-race events.  Many of the runners that were new to the WiBoLT asked about a race briefing with no real responses.  Not normal for a race of this nature, but I figured I ride with it and see what happened.

Shortly before 1800 Michael asked us to cross over to some steps that are located on a promenade adjacent to the Rhine River.  I believe that many of us thought that the race brief would occur at this point, which you could say did happen.  Michael welcomed us, told us that there were several new and important aid stations and indicated that it was important to stop at the aid stations – to get aid.  If you didn’t find or stop at the aid stations you couldn’t get any aid.  Logical…  At about 1805 he wished us luck and sent us on our way.  That was the brief, simple and to the point.  I like it!

So at 1800ish we took off way too quickly along the Rheinsteig.  Initally we remained in a relatively large group, but the first ten kilometers of the course stretch through portions of Wiesbaden and we slowly, but surely got split up by traffic lights and the different tempos runners were using early on.  From Wiesbaden we headed into the surrounding vineyards.  The weather was pleasant with mild temperatures and no rain.  At Schlangenbad we rolled into the first of many aid stations (VPs).  The fare was simple but adequate and the volunteers were exceptional as they were over the course of the entire event. From Schlangenbad we moved back into the hills that make up the Rheinsteig.  Over the course of an event like this I tend to seek out or develop a rhythm for the event.  Doing so helps me adjust mentally and physically.  The WiBoLT’s flow enabled a similar rhythmic approach.  We would transition through VPs at every 20 kilometers or so.  Our drop bags would be available at the Loreley and Feldkirchen with the opportunity to sleep at these two large VPs as well as at Oberkestert and Braubach.

While on the WiBoLT course Wednesday night was probably the hardest night for me.  Going into the evening the weather was mild with the moon rising very late.  In the every early morning hours on Thursday it began to ran and I was further challenged by the shift in my sleep schedule.  I was surprised to experience a couple of hallucinations this early in the race and link them to the darkness, lack of visibility because of the rain and my off kilter sleep schedule.  Shortly before dawn we were awash in a torrential downpour that soaked me to the bone.  Based on the weather forecast I had decided to stage my Gore-Tex jacket and trousers in my drop bag and pick them up a the Loreley for the rain that was forecast for Saturday.  Fortunately, the temperatures were mild and it was still early in the race so that I was able to maintain a good pace and remain pleasantly warm.  At this juncture I simply accepted the weather and embraced these early hallucinations and looked forward to sunrise.
Thursday morning arrived cool and foggy, but with the promise that the day was actually going to turn out to be pretty amazing.  As the profile suggests I spent much of the day climbing and descending over the course of the Rheinsteig.  Going long and hard like we were the up and down rhythm almost becomes a routine.  You learn to recognize that you are going to ascend and descend once or twice before passing by a Rhine riverside village to once again ascend back into the hills.  Because we were not trailing in the Alps those 11,700 meters of elevation change had to come form somewhere.  Instead of going HIGH we went MORE, much MORE…  
(Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The Loreley VP was phenomenal with our first opportunity to eat a full meal, shower and sleep.  I bunked with Lutz and Torsten and got two hours of sleep.  Getting back in gear to head back out on the course was a bit of challenge, but at this juncture we were well ahead of the cutoff timeline and eased back into the WiBoLT rhythm.  Our next significant stop was at Uschi’s Wanderstation where I had a bit of noodles and meat sauce and shut down for another hour of sleep.
(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)

(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)
After being on the course for more than thirty hours it seemed that my body and sleep rhythm had adjusted somewhat to the stress it was under.  Faced with light rain and only three hours of sleep so far I was surprised that I held things together much better than the first night.  Yes, I was tired, but I didn’t have to fight as hard as I did the first evening.  I didn’t go into the Pain Cave.

Friday morning found us in Braubach.  Weather conditions were relatively stable and I was holding things together for the most part.  Back on Wednesday evening I began to experience a knot or cramp in my left calf.  I tried stretching this tightness or cramp out to little or no avail.  Friday morning at the Rathaus VP in Braubach I rolled my leg on a bottle to massage it and try to loosen it up.  This condition would continue to worsen over the next day or so and was a big part of my decision to withdraw at Feldkirchen.

From Braubach we coursed to Lahnstein and the Ruppertsklamm.  Trailing into the Ruppertsklamm was incredible.  The pictures below simply don’t do this gorge justice.  It is worth a visit in and of itself.
 (Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The VP at the Lahnstein Hiking Shelter was great.  When I first saw it I didn’t think that it was for us as it appeared that a group of families were having a grill party.  They actually were and the party was for us.  It was nice to sit down next to fire and warm my tired bones and dry some of my stuff.

From Lanhstein we set out via Koblenz to the VP at Vallendar.  Our trip into town was one of two that we actually experienced over the course of the Rheinsteig.  The afternoon sun was incredible compared to the cold rain we’d been under for the last day or so.  Between the Shelter at Lahnstein and the VP at Vallendar I got in another 26 minute sleep period on a bench beside the Rheinsteig trail.  Heaven!  Sometimes it’s pretty amazing what a quick nap like this will give back to you.  I put my head down on my race pack was out and 26 minutes later awoke and was ready to go.  The rest and strength that I drew from this stop were critical to the next leg as it was to prove to be the most challenging.

Seeking to trek from Sayn to Rengsdorf was just down right hard.  This leg pushed me to the boundaries of my perceived mental and physical limits.  Terrain wise the move was not more difficult than any of the other legs of this course.  Course markings were present, but perhaps not always accurate.  The GPS track that I was using could be considered OK.  Somehow given the lay of the land, location of Rengsdorf and my quickly running out of water I got very mis-oriented and spent way too much time seeking the VP.  Rengsdorf rests at the top of a hill that parallels the Rheinsteig to the left.  As you move along the Rheinsteig you can see the lights of Rengsdorf above you. The course track does however take you away from Rengsdorf and you lose sight of the town’s lights leading you to think that you were lost.  The search for Rengsdorf and the VP would see us blow arriving at the VP before it closed which led to further issues…

As we finally arrived in Rengsdorf we followed the painted arrows that indicated VP and the specific location of the aid station.  This had been the case in many of the other towns and villages we had visited previously.  When we arrived at the “VP” we found the letters “V P” Xed out with follow on arrows leading across the street.  The term “VP” had been changed to read “VW” (Apparently a play on words considering the car manufacturer.).  In bad need of water and something to eat I called the Race Director.  He told me that the VP had closed at mid-night, but the VP team had left us enough drinks and food all should be good.  He was however unable to accurately explain where this cache was located.  Fortunately, another racer passed by with his wife.  After greeting them she indicated that she knew where the cache was and would take us there.

When we finally arrived at what was the VP in Rengsdorf we were treated to a limited supply of water, cola and some snacks.  Thankfully the wife of the runner mentioned above had enjoyed pizza earlier that evening.  She and her kids offered us their leftovers – an entire pizza.  Delicious! 

So after cramming down the treat of a left over cold pizza and refilling my water supplies we headed out into the night with about thirteen kilometers to go until the major VP at Feldkirchen and the 0600 cutoff time.

Travel over this leg of the course was nothing new.  We trekked up and down, across fields, and into the forest.  Initially no big deal, but like all good things, this too had to come to an end.  The guy I was running with found and could not get out of his dark place.  We had to stop repeatedly either to allow him to catch up or to let him set down and sleep for a few minutes.  After a short period a light approached us from behind.  This was the runner whose wife had provided us Pizza in Rengsdorf.  I was very surprised to see him as he had left well before me at Rengsdorf.  He told me that he too had decided to sit down for a “few minutes”, but was awoken much later by the cold. 

My thoughts were…  OK – three are better than one and we have until 0800 to get to Rengsdorf.  I was quickly corrected on this later point – we had to arrive at Feldkirchen for a 0600 cut off time and to add an additional challenge, a dense fog rolled in and one of the runner’s headlamp’s failed with no replacement batteries.  No mistakes could be made now if we were going to make the 0600 cutoff time.

The three of us pushed hard to cover the last five or so kilometers in order to come in before the cutoff time of 0600.  In the end – we made it at 0555.  The Feldkirchen Volunteer Team kicked into action and asked what they could provide us.  I told them that I wanted to get a shower, get dressed to go back, get a quick two hour nap eat and then head out.

I took a shower and headed into the quite space to get some sleep.  I set my alarm for an hour later, laid down and was immediately awoken by my alarm.  I don’t recall the last time I so easily turned off from being awake and going to sleep.  After waking up a bit I noticed that my left leg, my knee in particular, had swollen to about twice its normal size.  After a couple of quick sms exchanges with a couple of friends I decided to withdraw.  Doing so was pretty straightforward – really no doubt in my mind given the worsening condition of my leg.  I’m not certain what caused this injury, but decided that going on was not worth taking the risk of ruining the rest of my 2016 running season.  My leg remains painful and swollen.  I’ll probably pay the doctor a visit tomorrow.  More than anything I’m curious about what’s going on and the cause of this injury to avoid it in the future.  Run on another day…

My WiBoLT take-aways:

- 320KM is a damn long way. 
- 11,700 meters of elevation change are a whole butt load of elevation gain and loss.
- Combine the two and the WiBoLT is an ass kicker.  No kidding.
- Distance is what you make of it.  The earlier you acknowledge and appreciate that you are going to hurt and enter your personal dark space the earlier you can accept and work through it.
- Self-awareness; Patience; and the Ability to Embrace the Moment.

I DNFed the 2016 WiBoLT.  Are there questions about my DNF that remain?  Sure.  But not like previous DNFs.  I’m not sitting here doubting myself.  I know where I stand with this race and am good with that.  I had a great time at the WiBoLT.  Michael and his team put on an extraordinary event.  I’ll be back.  In fact, I think I mentioned above that I’m resting and waiting on applying.  I changed my mind...  This report is finished.  I’m switching over to work on my application for 2017!

You know that this report would not be complete without a quote from some obscure song.  Let me take you back the early morning hours of Thursday.  Ozzy joined me as I was in my pain cave and shared some inspiration…  

Howling in shadows
Living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven
Spewing from the mouth of hell
Those that the beast is looking for
Listen in awe and you’ll hear him

Bark at the moon…