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.

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