Monday, June 10, 2019

Chartreuse Terminorum - 2019

"Only those who have experienced the solitude and the silence of the wilderness can know the benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them." – Saint Bruno

When the candle is lit, you have 80 hours to finish five laps that make up the 300KM course with a sixteen hour limit for each loop.  The primo, tertio, quinto loops are run counter-clockwise while the second and fourth loops are run clockwise.  For the fifth and final loop, the first runner to start may choose the direction they want to run while any remaining runners must run in the opposite direction. 

Embrace the silence. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2019 Schneewittchen Trail

This past Saturday Michael, Susanne, Mario and Silvia hosted the Schneewittchen Trail.  It was extremely well organized and resourced.  Many thanks to the Indie-Trails team and all of their supporters for a great weekend in the Leinebergland!

Legend has it that beyond the Seven Mountains where the Seven Dwarfs dwell lays the hamlet Hörsum.  And it is reputed that the forest there is not just deep and dark, it is among the deepest and darkest.  The mountains there are known as some of the knarliest.  It’s here that a group of friends, perhaps after having had one brew too many, proposed the challenge to see who, if anyone, could run the three component Schneewittchen Trail made up of a 30KM, 53KM or 80KM course.  For simplicity the course would run over forest trails and overgrown single track.  For North German conditions the climbs are considered difficult.  I know, I know…  I’ve heard it as well, “But, there aren’t any mountains in Northern Germany!”  Let’s you and I take a walk from the village of Eimsen and travel north for four kilometers.  I think you’ll change your mind. 

As Tim Scott would say… “It’s a very runnable course.” 

The Schneewittchen Trail traditionally occurs the first Saturday in March.  Participation is managed through an "old school" method where a personal invitation is gained through an exchange of postcards and letters.  The cost to run was 75 Euro (80KM), 45 Euro (53KM) and 25 Euro (30KM) this year.  Accommodations were on site at Race Headquarters at the Hotel zur Eule with damn good hot showers. 

Saturday morning the 80KM runners sat off at 0600 where a drizzle hung in the air.
Throughout the day we would experience all sorts of March weather with a lot of strong winds.  By and large the weather was cool and stable with strong winds at least until 1600.  After that all bets were off and we had a mix of HIGH winds, sideways rain and hail.  It's weather!

I ran the 53KM Schneewittchen Trail back in 2015 and was excited about the challenge of the 80KM particularly this early in the 2019 season.  My view… The 80KM distance and the added elevation change is absolutely worth the effort.  The Leinebergland trails are amazing.  I got to reconnect with some old friends and made a number of new acquaintances including Friedrich L.  Friedrich blew me away as an athlete.  He’s 67 and still rocking the trails!  We laughed a lot and spent hours talking about running, ageing, politics, health, children and history.  A connection like this is one of those things that I consider uniquely wonderful to ultrarunning. 

The Schneewittchen Trail holds true to the legend.  It’s a tough little ultra with wicked trails and lots of elevation change (4000HM or 13000 Feet).  I really enjoy races with this character... a small race field and personal charm.  Nicole Frenzl led the women’s finish in 11:23 while the title holder, Mattias Schramm won among the men in 9:05.
Mario - Thanks for trimming the briars!  I had forgotten about this little jewel.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Perfect 10 - Brocken Challenge 2019

The Harz is a place of legend and mystery some made famous by Goethe in his Faust, others largely unknown outside of Germany.  After sixteen years, the Brocken-Challenge (BC) is slowly becoming a legendary winter ultramarathon.
The Brocken-Challenge is an 80 KM / 50 Mile winter charity ultramarathon.  The race course traverses over a demanding route with almost 2000 meters of elevation change from Göttingen to the summit of the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountain Range.  The race traditionally occurs on the second Saturday in February.  Registration for the race is managed through a lottery process which opens in early November.

My experience after ten years of running the BC have revealed that this is not your everyday ultra.  The weather has played a big part in this variety ranging from “tame” sunny weather, through rain, ice, snow to extreme cold, gale force winds and deep, driving snow.  These weather impacts have resulted in race course changes, usually leading to the addition of one to ten kilometers and additional elevation gain.  You can follow along with the weather on the Brocken summit with this webcam. It’s supposed to be a challenge, right?”

A big draw to the BC rests in its “raison d'etre”.  It is a charity event.  All starter fees go to charity.  The texture of this race fosters a deeper culture of friendship, community, giving, humanity, and introspection.  This culture also reflects one of conservation and awareness.  You will find that aid stations serve primarily organic, vegan fare.  This environment also fosters a climate of personal responsibility and well being.  Dress for the time of year and have additional gear with you.  I will wager a race slot with you that the weather will dramatically change.  And, carry your own beverage container – cups are not provided on the course! 

I joined the 2019 BC with mixed emotions and thought.  This was my tenth running.  Going in I had decided that this would be my last.  As in previous years my race started among friends, by the time we got to the “Entsafter” (A draining, five kilometer, slow climbing hill that was covered in ice this year.) I was running alone and had turned inward wrestling with this year’s race and reflecting on all of my previous BCs.  By the time I got to Jagdkopf my commitment not to run again was quickly fading.  I love this race.  I love the people, the culture, what it stands for and its test of limitations.

Like many other ultras the BC tests your limits.  It presents physical and mental challenges that you must work through to reach the Brocken summit.  It’s pretty obvious that you require a solid level of physical fitness to attempt this ultra.  As you journey into the depths of the Harz you will also require a high degree of mental fortitude.  A race strategy is necessary to address the terrain, weather and clock that is winding down.  Each aid station mandates a fresh decision to continue, and that decision takes resolve.

We started the 2019 BC in Göttingen with temperatures above freezing.  Although generally, overcast, there was no significant precipitation over the course of the day.  Most of the snow that had accumulated over the preceding weeks had melted until we got beyond Jagdkopf.  From here we made our way into the Harz with ever increasing amounts of slushy snow on the route.

It was a blast to arrive at the Brocken summit approach with temperatures well below freezing, gale force winds and driving snow.  (See portion at 02:05

A few statistics for those so inclined…

For the 2019 BC there were 450 applicants.  From those applicants 175 starters were drawn of which 20% were women and 42.9% were first time runners.  2019 finishers included 162 of which 18.5% were women and 42% were BC first timers.  Among the women runners Antje Müller came in at 9:48 while Florian Riechert was the men’s victor at 7:01.  Florian holds the BC all-time record at 6:33.  The record for the last finisher rests at 13:56.

2019 donations included 32,000 Euros! 

The decision to not apply in November for the 2020 Brocken-Challenge will be a tough one.  Until then I’ll reflect on how much I love this race and smile while thinking about its myriad of challenges.