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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Brocken-Challenge 2018

“From the power that binds all beings, that man frees himself who overcomes himself.” – Goethe

Goethe’s quote came home for me during my ninth running of the Brocken-Challenge ultramarathon.  The only way to end suffering is to overcome ourselves.

Other people and influences are catalysts of the suffering we carry within ourselves.  Suffering in this sense is another name for our inability to come to terms with life.  Accepting and embracing our circumstances delivers us to inner peace.  Although it seems to have taken me nine iterations to get here I had a wonderful time running and the pay off is something that I hope I can continue to carry with me.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ramble On… 2017 Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail

Leaves are falling all around, it’s time I was on my way
Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay
But now it’s time for me to go.  The autumn moon lights my way…

Ramble On…

Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” provides a perfect introduction for the Pfälzer Weinsteig 100 Mile Ultratrail Race Event.  2017 marked the fourth running of what has become a fall ultratrail classic in the Pfälz in Germany.

This year’s Pfälzer Weinsteig fell on the weekend of 13 October.  The weather here in Germany leading up to the Weinsteig was simply amazing with mild temperatures, lots of sunshine and no rain.  Previous cooler weather and rain provided a beautiful tapestry of fall color.

The Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail takes place in southwestern Germany in the Pfälz, a region known for its vineyards, sandstone mountains and the culinary delicacy “sow stomach”.  A good third of the Pfälz is covered by the Pfälzerwald, Germany’s largest contiguous forested area.  The Pfälzer Weinsteig is in itself a award winning hiking trail that traces the mountainous backbone of the Pfälz.    
The Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail is a one hundred mile invitational trail race.  The race starts at the Deutsches Weintor in Schweigen-Rechtenbach and finishes at the Sport Club in Obersülzen.  The race is open for thirty-four hours with racers further challenged by relatively tight aid station cut offs.  A one hundred mile race poses enough challenges of its own simply given the distance.  What sets the mark here is the combination of the distance and delightful elevation change that occurs over the course.  There are 5,600 meters or 18,372 feet of elevation to climb and descend.  The Pfälzer Weinsteig travels along the sandstone mountain backbone of the central Pfälzerwald.  The course route is marked with red and white hiking trail markings.  These markings are however, a challenge to find and see in the darkness.  The event is semi-antonymous from a support perspective with aid stations situated twenty to thirty kilometers apart.  There are a number of additional unmanned water points and three deliberate check points that ensure that runners remain on course.  Because of my lack of familiarity with the area I was surprised to learn that the combination of the trail, distance, weather, elevation and other environmental factors contribute to a less than fifty-percent finisher rate on the Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail.

(Source: Wikipedia.  Accessed 171022)
I arrived in Obersülzen on Friday afternoon wound up because of work, the horrific traffic conditions on the German roads and this being my first attempt at the Pfälzer Weinsteig.  Greetings from old friends and new ensured that any trepidation was quickly whisked away.

Friday evening we got settled into the Sports Club in Obersülzen where a number of us would attempt to get a few winks of sleep between the inevitable snoring.  After setting up our quarters for the night we drifted to the restaurant and bar area to enjoy a bit of pre-race conversation, find a seat for the race briefing and dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Simon, Elke and Wolfraum whom I’d not seen in what seems like ages.  We had dinner together and talked about the upcoming adventure.  I didn’t hang long Friday evening as I wanted to get a head start on getting my race equipment ready and intuition told me that I would pull the lucky straw and stay awake next to the loudest snorer – fact!  I should buy a lottery ticket with this kind of intuition.

Saturday morning could not have come soon enough…  I was up shortly before 0400 to finalize my equipment and have a bit of breakfast before getting on the bus to travel south to Schweigen-Rechtenbach and our start.  I road the bus to Schweigen-Rechtenbach seated next to and talking with Elke, but was uncertain how I was going approach the next thirty-four hours and with whom I might run.  In the early morning darkness and chasing the need to pee really badly I lost Elke, but found Simon again.  And so…  

The 0700 Pfälzer Weinsteig 100 Mile Ultratrail start found Simon and I running together.  Simon and I had last spent any time together back in 2015 so this was a great opportunity to get caught back up and enjoy the start of a great race weekend.  We got caught up on the last couple of years and talked about loss, family, work, shoes, dream races and all the things that runners talk about when they run.

Simon and I got split up because of one of my many pee breaks – the coffee had made its way through me.  After I stopped for an alcohol free hefeweissen in a beer garden Elke and I teamed up at the second aid station and were to remain together for the remainder of the race.

 Elke and I shared a tremendous adventure as the kilometers and unfolded under foot.  Athletes like she and Karen who sometimes trailed us, but generally led us, blow me away.  Elke and I made a terrific team that I hope to one day match back up again.  Although, she never admitted it, I hope that I was never rude or super negative.  Elke, if you’re reading this – please forgive me again for my propensity to “luft”.  There are things that happen on the trail that should stay out there on the trail (smile).

A hundred miles is a fickle playmate.  Running a hundred miles is joyful; peaceful; powerful; and at times, simple bliss…  In the blink of an eye the magic of 100 miles will shift and become pain; stress; sadness; darkness…  My darkness usually occurs, well, in the dark.  It’s in the hours after two in the morning that I slip into headlamp hypnosis and go to my deep dark place.  It’s here that I battle with suffering and frankly, the edge of sanity.  (Elke, forgive me again if I was talking in my sleep.  Although you and I were physically alone, I swear that there was a third runner with us that drifted in and out of my reality.)

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that suffering brings about understanding and compassion, which are the true foundations of happiness.  For me this thought embodies part of the magic of trail running and pushing out to one hundred miles and beyond.
(Photo:  Christine Bruhn)
Sunday morning’s dawn saw the departure of my additional running mate and the passing of darkness.  As dawn approached we found ourselves shy of Deidesheim and running into a dense fog that effectively denied us the sun.  This was not necessarily a bad thing as it motivated us to return to elevation and the sun.

My outlook improved dramatically after we put Deidesheim and Bad Durkheim behind us.  I don’t know where it came from, but this is where I caught my second wind.  Aid station five was a wonderful stop.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been that completely pampered in an aid station.  Many thanks to the gentlemen that made me multiple sandwiches (bread, lots of butter, salt, meat spread and pickles.  Fantastic!) and the alcohol free hefeweissen for breakfast!  Oh – And the heated toilet paper was pure bliss!  Frank and his volunteer teammates in aid station six were also fantastic.  I wish that we could have stayed longer, but Elke and I had a rendezvous with a finish.

The last ten kilometers…  All down hill!  Wait…  No, the distance of ten kilometers in Pfalz is actually known as thirteen kilometers with hills elsewhere in the world.  All good…

Rolling into the stadium in Obersülzen was fantastic.  Günther greeted us like royalty and ran the final loop around the football field with us oblivious to the football game that was playing out its final few minutes.
(Photo:  Jürgen Baumann)
In 2017 Max Kirschbaum and Bianca Logé rocked the Pfälzer Weinsteig finishing in 20:52 and 22:58.  Simply phenomenal performances over this challenging, yet obviously, very runnable course.  Elke and I finished in a very proud 33:42! 

The Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail is a truly amazing event.  I am deeply impressed by its warm and friendly atmosphere.  Günther and Christine Bruhn are the hosts, race directors, logisticians, coaches, volunteer coordinators and just down right wonderful people.  One of my favorite things about running trail and endurance events is being among the other runners on the same journey.  Many thanks to all of the people that made the Pfälzer Weinsteig Ultratrail possible.  Race volunteers and people that work aid stations blow me away.  To see you working a station for twelve – twenty-four hours is incredible.  Chapeau!

(Photo:  Jürgen Baumann)

Got no time for spreadin’ roots, the time has come to be gone
And to our health we drank a thousand times, it’s time to ramble on…