Living in Europe affords different running opportunities, but 100-miler options are few and far between. First off, there’s the metric system. We have run various numbers of kilometers (50, 66, 88, 100) in trail races in France, but of course anything in miles is not well understood. And speaking of not being well-understood, at least in our circle of athletic friends in France, running 160 km is “fou!”, crazy.
So perhaps Hans-Dieter Weisshaar knew all of this years ago, and decided to do something about it in his native country of Germany. He started the German 100, setting up a course in the hills and along the river near his home outside Kassal. My husband John and I read a Trail Runner article about Hans, noticed the race listed there, and thought “how cool!” We could run 100 miles without returning to the US, and at the same time meet Hans and his wife Susi. In autumn 2004 we confirmed with Hans that we would be there, and our training plans for the next few months were settled.
Our only previous 100-miler was at Vermont in 2003. With my brother Kip, we had a successful debut on a runable course with great weather. John broke 20 hours, and Kip and I finished together in well under 23, beating all of our goals by a significant amount. Comparing the course description and profile of the German 100, it appeared that similar results might be had. I trained well, focusing on 12-hour runs, efficient walking, and setting up a waist pack for the first time (the aid stations and drop bags were further apart than at Vermont). John had a harder time in preparation after he injured his MCL while sledding in Switzerland. He spent a lot of time in physical therapy and on a stationary bike, hoping to be ready to run and less concerned about finishing time than he would have been.
We drove up from Grenoble Thursday evening and Friday, taking a lunch stop in Heidelberg. We had a nice walk on the grounds of a big castle and found an excellent little restaurant for lunch. Always on the lookout for American food that sometimes shows up in grocery stores of different European countries, I browsed through a small store and came up with Miracle Whip and ginger ale. Excellent!
The stop was only unfortunate because right after lunch the whole country got in their cars to head out for a 3-day weekend on the north coast. The highway was backed up for unending kilometers, as were the detours. We did some creative navigation, finally showing up at Hans’ door only slightly late for dinner and the pre-race briefing. We had a good time talking with other runners and Helena who would be working many of the aid stations. Most of the German people spoke varying degrees of English, or at least smiled at us a lot.
Hans is quite a character, as many ultra runners can already attest. At the door he exclaimed our names, hugged us, and swept us into his house for introductions. He is nice, funny, talkative, and sometimes obstinate. Brandi, another American runner, had met him when she showed up to be a pacer at Leadville. She and Hans told different versions of what happened that day, but both versions were humorous and you could tell they got along well. And if nothing else, Hans is tenacious and has incredible endurance. It is hard to imagine running as many races in a year as he does.
After a briefing about the course, and a guided tour to the main “intersection” that we would see many times during the race, John and I headed to our hotel in Kassal. I had set up our gear so we would be as self-sufficient as possible, knowing it was a small race. That is our normal mode of operation anyway, outside crewed expedition races. We would have our main transition area at Hans and his wife Susi’s house, plus one small drop bag that we would see at two locations on the course. The course was laid out in 4 loops of 50 km, 50 km, 38 km, and 22 km, ranging from forested trails to grassy fields, bike paths by the river, and a short tour of a nearby town. The gear was already in order, so we laid out clothes and went to bed.
Kassal was having a band festival that weekend, which could be one reason we got a good rate on the hotel just across the street from one of the stages. Earplugs drowned out most of it, and we mostly slept OK. On the way back to the “Clubhouse” the next morning, everything was quiet. No early morning bakeries like in France, oh well. Hans greeted us in his bathrobe, and other runners and organizers moved things around to get ready to start. I noticed two piles for the small drop bags, one for each location, but someone assured me that the first pile would also move to the second location later in the race so I didn’t try to rush a second drop bag together.
As I was still trying to figure out where to pile our transition area items without getting too much in the way, Hans appeared in bright running clothes and announced 5 minutes to start. I was still tying my shoes with one minute to go, but felt like everything was ready. I got a quick kiss from John and we were off! Our small group of about 15 runners ambled down the road and across the fields. The front runners took a short detour, while Brandi guided me and John in the correct direction. I was even briefly in the lead... then everyone was headed the right way and settled into a normal order.
Several men headed out at a good clip, with John and Russ from Phoenix following. I chatted some minutes with Brandi as we followed some soft, pretty forest trails. It was a cool overcast morning, everything felt good, and it was nice to be finally started on the long journey. Eventually I pulled ahead of Brandi and just like that many of us were running alone. Not hard to get to that point with such a small field.
I was wearing my Mizuno road shoes, Air-e-ator socks, Joe the Trailman gaiters, Louis Garneau triathlon shorts, an ultra-light fleece jogbra, a short-sleeve Rail Riders shirt, a feather-light Go-Lite jacket around my waist and a hat with a brim on my head. Rain was in the forecast, and the hat is huge help for any precipitation. I carried a small Moletracks waist pack with med kit stuff, toilet paper and baggies, whistle, tiny compass, mini LED light, a map of the loop, and a split sheet for possibly setting a PR.
There were enough aid stations to carry only one handheld bottle, so I started with Gatorade and then switched to the Isostar that was available on the course. In France you get water or Coke, so having sports drink as an option was a luxury. Eventually I need to find a good waist pack with a bottle holder for races where I need more than 20 oz. of liquid at a time. A small Camelbak pack is OK in training, but I feel faster without a backpack.
For food I rely completely on Spiz, a type of meal replacement drink that contains protein, complex carbs, fat, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Last year we developed a new method of Spiz-drinking. We mark fill-lines on freezer-grade baggies (pint or quart size) based on the serving size, 20 oz. per serving. Then the powder is measured into the baggie, the baggie is sealed and rolled up, and it’s ready to go. I’ve shifted to half servings every 1.5 hours, while John’s stomach can digest a full serving every 3 hours on the run.
I carried 5 half-serving baggies on the first loop of the German 100. I’d pull one out as I approached Helena’s “moving aid station” (i.e. her car), pour in water up to the fill line, squeeze out the air, and seal it. Then I could walk/run out of the aid station without spending much time standing still. As I move I shake up the Spiz, working the chucks out of it. A good downhill is helpful in that respect. Finally I stop for a minute, open the bag and make a good U-shaped trench in one side, and drink it down. Very little trash, not much clean-up although I usually end up with chocolate on the sides of my mouth.
The first several miles of the race were quiet, and I enjoyed the peaceful woods. We crossed over the highway and moved out of range of car noise for most of the rest of the loop. The course was marked with white dots and arrows, and for the most part it was well-marked, but you did have to pay attention. After a quick turn-off and a road crossing, I couldn’t see anyone across the field ahead of me, so I was hoping the guys ahead of me were still on track and just moving better than I expected.
This was even more true after catching a couple more turns in mid-stride, increasing my determination to pay attention and not do any extra miles. John and I had studied the maps, but we weren’t following them like we would during an orienteering event. A dirt road turned downhill and I enjoyed a nice easy run down to a trail next to a small creek. A couple times I spotted another runner, Stephan, running with his 2 huskies not far behind me. One of the dogs was a big puppy who appeared to be having a wonderful time sightseeing and playing with his mom’s ears.
The trail turned muddy, and some horse prints added to the muck, but I could get around most of it and it was a short section. Heading toward the first aid station a couple walkers asked me a question in German. Comprehending nothing is actually somewhat of a relief – I didn’t have to try to formulate an answer in a foreign language I’m supposed to be able to speak. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German”, smile, and move on. I imagine the next runner could explain to them this crazy thing we are doing.
Helena took down my time and told me I was doing great. I checked for John’s name on her list – good, he did not get lost back there, filled my Spiz baggie and water bottle, and walked on up the hill. Stephan and another German named Werner walked past me on the short ascent. I’m not a great hill climber and I certainly didn’t need to expend any extra energy keeping up with anyone at this point.
After drinking the Spiz, I followed the two men for quite a while. I found that large piles of logs were great for peeing behind. We alternated walking and running up the gentle slope and through the logging areas. I enjoyed watching the dogs ahead of me, with the puppy always trying to play and Stephan always trying to keep their leashes in order.
It started to rain, a very gentle almost-misting sprinkle. Stephan and Werner pulled on ponchos but I was plenty warm so I didn’t bother with my jacket at that point. I was pretty much resigned to being wet for the rest of the loop. But really, with the rain being so light and a little bit of wind drying my shirt, I was barely even dripping. It’s a nice change from Texas downpours. Running through fields, my legs and shoes were wetter than my upper body at that point.
There was short hill climb in one of the fields, and my legs felt a bit tired, which made me wonder if perhaps I was moving faster than I should. I seemed to recall that at Vermont Kip and I moved really easily in the early miles and didn’t feel a bit of tiredness. Writing this now, I also remember that some of the early Vermont hills still felt like hills, especially the steeper parts. So it still remained to be seen whether my pace was good or not.
The course took us along a road for a short distance, and there was Helena’s car. She had finished helping everyone at the previous aid station and moved her car here to begin again. She kept offering me food of different types, but I was sticking with Spiz and Isostar. I know better than to ask my system to digest solid food in a long race. As long as I stick with a liquid diet I almost always feel great; solid food can make me feel ill, depending on how hard I’m pushing.
Off we went, the two Germans and I, up another logging road. This part of the loop was a long, uphill slope, never steep but not easy to run. I developed a pattern of running a certain number of paces and walking another set, as long as the slope was easy to run. I was doing well according to my pace chart. I had copied from my previous success in various ways, including setting up target times based on a 20-hour pace for the first half, then allowing for a controlled slow-down in the later miles. If it worked, great; if not, I had the confidence that I would finish, baring disaster.
At about 15 km, there was supposed to be a “fountain” on the course. I began to realize as I approached this spot that it might just be the creek we were going to cross over. I had considered filling another Spiz, but could not easily do it from a creek without a spare bottle. When I reached the creek and found it to be too far below the bridge, lined with brush, and none too clear, I declined all effort to make that happen. Once the logging road started up the other side of the small valley, I had already decided that I would be fine without that Spiz serving and I turned my attention to the hill. I think my shift of focus kept me from examining a stream of water coming down beside the road which John told me later was actually the water source I should have been looking for.
So anyway, onward and upward. I think my pattern was 20 paces easy running, 20 paces fast walking at this point. With this I slowly passed Stephan and Werner who were walking and talking. The puppy still had plenty of energy to play. I still had plenty of energy to move. It continued to rain, more like a heavy drizzle now. After some time I found the far eastern end of the course, a short trail heading north and up. This required fast walking. Then I was at the top, yay!
Finally I could really run again, following a wonderful dirt road, sliding gently downward. The woods were wet and green and beautiful. It got a bit windy, partly from my increase in speed. I finally pulled on the jacket that had been tied around my waist. It’s not waterproof and I was already wet, but as a wind-block it helped a lot. I ran and ran, circling the side of the hill. I passed a couple loggers and a big machine of some type. After a while, just when it started to get just a teensy bit tedious to run downhill, I hit a main road and heard Helena yelling for me. Cool! Stephan and pooches were right behind me.
I filled my now-empty bottle and a Spiz baggie, and then started up the trail. Stephan stayed behind a minute to talk to Helena. I found one white dot, and then looked around for the next one. It appeared we had to climb a muddy logging trail. Wow, that’s quite a bit of mud. Good thing I’m a few minutes ahead of schedule, because this is going to slow me down. First I stopped to drink the Spiz so I could concentrate better without worrying about dropping the baggie. Then I slipped and slid my way up. It wasn’t long, just a bit energy-sapping. Near the top the trail returned to normal and the footing was much easier. Next up: a run along a wooded ridge.
Fog appeared. The woods were so pretty, so quiet, so lush. It seemed to me some type of fairy land, with green moss and trees in the mist. It made me happy, which always makes it easier to run. But first, a little mud-sliding, some puddle-dodging, a bit of rock-hopping. The trail was not as easy as the previous sections. I had about 5 kilometers until the next water stop and I was hoping to run this mostly-flat section. Parts of it were great, but other parts were slow. I expended some effort to keep my pace on track through here. I knew it was a gamble to do this so early in the race, but I decided to try it and see what happened.
After some work and concentration, ah, a road! But wait, the white dots lead us through some brush. Huh. Now it’s time for a “not quite a trail” section. This involves going from dot to dot through the woods. Kinda like orienteering, except without the compass. It wasn’t difficult, just stepping over logs and picking your way through branches, but not exactly an efficient way to move forward. All the while, perhaps half a mile worth, the road called invitingly from a few meters to the left. The main consolation was that the race director was also on the course.
Finally the dots led back to the road at an intersection. Here I twirled around a couple times and read road signs trying to figure out the next move. Ah ha, a trail. Back on track and glad to be running, I followed the trail around to a campground. Hans had described the next aid station as an unmanned box behind a tree. Starting at the previous intersection, I began looking for the box. It would not have been tragic to miss it, but I wasn’t excited about having to skip another Spiz for lack of water.
No box in the campground. Just a few people walking around and some cars. All I could do was continue to make progress, so I hurried down the road. On the bright side, if I had missed the aid station, at least I had a good split for the previous 5 km. And then the dots called out to turn left at a big tree – a tree with a box behind it. Yay! I grabbed a bottle of water, filled a Spiz, and took off down the trail.
Running and bouncing down the hill under a pine forest, I needed a bathroom break and a Spiz drinking stop. Must stop. Now is good. OK, now. Finally I was like “Marce, just stop running already”. No one was in sight, so it was a good location. I took care of everything as fast as I could and then bounded off again, feeling better.
Hans provided a couple fun obstacles next, a small water crossing on a log and then a steep ditch to climb down and back up. There was still mist in the air and the woods were quiet except for light rain drops on leaves. Fast hiking up the road, I caught up with Isa, who had started the race over an hour ahead of the rest of us. She looked strong and we smiled, wishing each other good luck.
We crossed a road and found another non-trail. I picked my way through this short section as fast as I could and soon ended up back at the road. Oops, no dots here. I headed back into the woods where I came from, rechecked the dots, and found more of a trail. This led to a field – and look, civilization!
Partway through the field a big white arrow pointed to the right. I stopped and stared to the right, where all I saw was a cultivated field. You can’t be serious. I jumped across a small ditch, but there were no tracks on the other side and it didn’t make any sense. After a brief self-discussion I kept going in the original direction, finding the actual right turn at the far end of the field on a small road. Thank goodness. From here the markings were easy to follow, and they showed up on the backs of road signs, on trees, on rocks in the middle of fields, on pavement.
As I headed back in the direction of the transition area, I focused on my posture. I had been doing this off and on since the start of the run. Although it feels natural (and faster) to lean forward, I learned recently that I save a lot of energy when I stand up straight. The easiest way to remember this is to remind myself to keep my butt in. To entertain myself at the same time, I took to muttering “just butt in!” I tried to start an association game – every time I noticed a white dot, I repeated that phrase.
Finally I saw the autobahn, crossed under it, and started through the fields towards Hans’ house. I had a long mental list of items to take care of – change shirts (to long sleeve poly pro and a more substantial although still not waterproof jacket), drink pre-mixed Spiz, dump trash, pick up more Spiz baggies, grab another trash baggie with a piece of TP ready, switch maps. I was also going to grab a Buff and light gloves in case I got cold by the end of the next loop, but forgot. While I was throwing gear and clothes around in Hans’ garage, the women helping at the aid station wanted to feed me, but I was on a roll. After only a couple minutes I was ready to head out again.
It was great to be on schedule (within minutes), feeling good, and running with a dry shirt on. I didn’t worry about how long any of those would last. John and a few other guys were ahead of me, some of them not very far ahead in fact. I figured I might finish the next loop right after darkness fell, if everything went well. The second section was an out-and-back and I looked forward to seeing the other runners, especially my husband. My next goal: running for a kiss.
I jogged away from the house and criss-crossed the fields behind it. A group of cows stared the typical “huh?” cow look. Yes, we are all crazy, we know. Part of the trail including one 90 degree turn was slippery with mud, and I made a note to remember that part when running it in the downhill direction later. I crossed the road, headed for the woods, and thought about how pleasant it would be to run downhill on a nice trail to the river...
Reality check! OK, it was downhill and there was a river at the bottom. But it was NOT nice, it was NOT pleasant, and it wasn’t exactly a trail. Instead it was a logging road chock full of mud. Wet, sliding, steep mud. Now I’ve been in a jungle, “jungle bad”, this ain’t no jungle and as far as adventure racing goes this is tame. And really, 100-mile races are made to be challenging. I just didn’t expect this particular problem at this particular point, and it was messing with my schedule.
So I worked my way down, and with every corner and every huge mud slop pile I felt my PR goal sliding down the hill until it too was covered in gunk. And then it finally got squished. This section was a mile long at the most, BUT we would be traversing it 4 times. Mostly in the dark. And it would likely get worse, as it was still raining. I swore softly to myself, quite stunned at the immediate turn of events.
Still in a bit of a daze, I came to a long piece of flagging tape across the trail. I would love a photo of my face at that moment. There was no other trail, no dots except the one I had just passed, no indication of what to do. The only option seemed to be to step over the tape and continue on the trail. And yes, that was the correct choice, and eventually I found another dot. I shrugged and moved on. Then the trail turned into a small road, but I didn’t see any dots further up and I was suddenly concerned I had missed a side trail. Nope, continue on the road.
After all that, I breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching the pavement and running down a short bit to find Helena again. Hi Helena, long time no see! She was camped at the major intersection of the rest of the race, and everyone would see her here 9 times. I ran through the aid station and headed up the 1.2 km out-and-back section. This was a nice trail, only slightly muddy, heading over a small hill and down to a stone table where we would turn around.
I got a look at a fellow racer for the first time in a couple hours. Russ, I think in a yellow rain jacket, was almost back to Helena when we greeted each other. Then I saw an Italian runner named Flavio working his way up the backside of the hill. Cool! On top of that, this trail was much easier and since we would be on it 8 times I was happy that at least part of the “trail condition news" wasn’t all bad.
Back with Helena I filled a Spiz baggie and started down the last drop to the river. From here the course turned right and moved downstream toward the distant town of Hannoversch Munden. I like running next to rivers, so I was looking forward to this part. I have got to stop anticipating...
As you might have guessed, it was not a nice flat trail. At least not for a little while. The trail curved up and down, around trees, over roots, under branches. Normally I enjoy little sections like this, but instead I had to pay attention to my footing to keep from sliding off into these nettles and prickers that lined the path. Here’s something though – I can grab the trees without worrying about thorns. And hey, I don’t have my bike with me, major bonus. After a couple tough expedition races, a lot of other things get easier in comparison. And as soon as I could say “at least Hans is on this course too”, I popped out on a flat dirt road.
Then things got a bit tedious. Let’s summarize to keep this report from getting even more so: Flat trail, light rain, kids playing in a soccer field, change to paved trail. Ow, pavement. Focus on posture, stay relaxed. Unmanned aid box, fill a Spiz. Swans, cuckoo bird calls, cows. Ow, pavement. Finally the dots led back up into the hills. Uphill dirt trails, woohoo!
I trudged up a short climb under the railroad tracks and into the woods. From there the course followed wonderfully soft dirt roads, mostly climbing but not steeply. I was very happy, and I alternated walking and running up the hills. The downhills felt great. Higher up I found fog-covered woods and beautiful greenery. Thank you.
Next I ran on a nice trail that led to a gate. The gate had a rope attached that had a pulley in the middle and a weight on the other end. I pushed the gate open and it closed quickly behind me. Cool. A short distance away was a second similar gate. That made me wonder what they were keeping in this fenced-in area. Better just keep moving and stop thinking ridiculous things like that.
The trail dropped to a little creek and then crossed it on a slippery bridge. I climbed little log steps and turned to see a really dark section of woods. It was nowhere near twilight, but the closely-spaced trees crowded out any sense of the sky. And then it was back to normal, just a regular trail in regular woods. Soon I heard cars – hey, that should mean I’m almost to the RV with the drop bags! More trail, more car noises, more trail, what’s with that? It turned out the road was right above and right below, doing a hairpin turn ahead of me.
Finally I found a creek and a plaque with the word “Mordsteine”, which I took to be a good sign because that was the name of the aid station. Sure enough, there is the road. But wait, the road is way above me on a bridge over the creek! And the trail goes under the bridge and continues on, nooooo! Oh, we get to climb up the other side, OK, phew.
Here I found the RV and a wonderful aid station helper. I did a Spiz and chatted with her a bit. Hansi, the lead runner, appeared while I was there. I told him that he was doing great, and he said he only wanted to finish. I liked that attitude and remembered it later in the race. For now, it was time to start the 5 km into town. I crossed the bridge on the road and then did the now-familiar “stop and wonder where the next dot is” thing. While I was poking around, the next runner, Michael, came loping out of the woods toward me. I smiled and tried to say "Danke" for helping me find the trail.
The trail continued, and I was happy to be in the woods as long as possible. Loop 2 had a turn-around on the other side of town and I was not looking forward to running on a hard road. Finally after a couple kilometers I found the inevitable pavement. I ran as gently as I could down a long sidewalk. Near the bottom I spotted someone heading up the hill. It was Markus – and John was right there with him! Yay, happy day! We hugged, kissed, and encouraged each other, then he had to go catch up with Markus again. See you later John!
With a lighter step (which helped on the pavement), I headed into town. John said to turn left at the church, so I didn’t pull out my laminated street map that Hans had given us. I just hoped I was on the right street, and then the church appeared and all was good. People were out for a stroll and didn’t seem to think it was too odd that random muddy smelly runners were limping through the streets.
I crossed the Fulda River on a nice footbridge and the dots reappeared to lead me to the turn-around in the park. There I found Russ talking with his wife Carri, and she yelled that I was rockin’. Russ didn’t look quite as excited to see me. I was instructed to go kiss a rock at the end of the park, then I got to turn around and start the 25 km journey back. Russ suggested we could run together for a bit, and I was happy for the company.
We made our way back through town and Russ described how he was tempted by the ice cream shop. We followed what we thought was the right sidewalk, but then we didn’t see any more dots. Somehow we ended up near the train station, and we were just turning around when a guy called us over. Thinking he might help us, we ran over to him, but he just wanted directions or something in German. Russ impressed me with “I don’t speak German” in German, and then we left.
I decided to try an underpass instead of going all the way back to the main road, and Russ followed me. Coming up to the road on the other side of the railroad tracks, I recognized the intersection where I had seen John, and we were back on course. Russ walked uphill at a strong pace, so I let him go and we wished each other good luck. At the top I saw him again doing a little trail-finding, then we headed into the woods together just as Stephan appeared. Shortly after that Brandi came along looking good.
Russ moved on ahead again, apparently doing better after having a bad patch on the first half of this loop. He was chowing down when I got to the RV, and did me a huge favor by reminding me to grab my spare headlamp from the drop bag. I also took a pair of socks that I might use as a substitute for the gloves I had forgotten. I left not long after Russ, ready for another long stretch alone.
I had just reached the “Mordsteine” plaque again when Russ startled me by coming up behind me. He had gone a short distance the wrong way, but now was back on track. We laughed about this as he went on ahead of me. I could see him in the mist off and on for a couple miles. When we reached the slippery bridge he called back to me to warn me of difficult footing. Along this section I also saw a group of 3 women (Heike, Ruth, and Helga, I believe) and Hans heading toward the RV. I was surprised to see Werner, I think, in the woods below the trail. He called out a question and I pointed to the trail behind me, so hopefully that was what he wanted to know and was able to find his way.
The excitement died down after that. I enjoyed the heck out of the dirt trails running slightly up and down in the mist. Too soon I had to descend back to reality and the flat river trail. For the next several miles I focused completely on finding grass to run on, whether in the middle or the very edge of the road. A couple of people walking past greeted me with “Allo”, which sounded to me like “Hello”. I wondered how they knew that I spoke English? In France I usually have to open my mouth before people figure out that I’m not French. I later learned that “Allo” is a standard German greeting.
After another Spiz serving at the water box, I was ready for the next paved section. It actually wasn’t too bad and I was hopeful that I was almost done with rock-hard surfaces. I alternated walking and running along the river, counting paces and trying to keep up some semblance of a reasonable pace. I was happy to reach the dirt trail again but somehow had forgotten how difficult that section was. Must have been the “pavement pain” blocking it out of my mind.
So I was stuck slipping and sliding on a curvy muddy trail, trying to avoid the nasty plants on the side of the trail and the rocks and roots underfoot. It was somewhat exasperating. After some time that really wasn’t as long as it seemed, I reached the climb back to Helena’s aid station. It was still light out and I had made my goal of getting through that last section before dark.
I saw Russ again on the out-and-back, touched the stone table, said “Allo” to Helena, and started up the dreaded mud bath section. It was finally getting dark. I carefully followed the white dots along the switchbacks until I found the super mucky muck. Going slower and with much lower expectations, it actually wasn’t bad. I spotted an arrow pointing to the left and up the hill. It didn’t look like much of a trail, but I guess we had come down there. I checked again, but it definitely pointed up.
After picking my way over some brush I finally came to the realization that I had actually NOT come down that way. By this time I was high enough to not want to turn around, and anyway I knew the actual trail wasn’t far. It looped around above me so I would hit it no matter what. I started a traverse with upward tendencies. Then I started running into nettles. Ow, ow, ow. Nasty. Let’s see, yucky mud or nettles, what a choice.
I was less than happy when I popped out at the field on top and found the trail again. Ugh. I just hoped I had not missed John coming down, but I was pretty sure I had been close enough to the trail to see any lights. Sure enough, while making my way across the big fields, two headlights approached and one was John. He and Markus were now traveling together. We gave each other a quick kiss and encouragement, then they were gone.
I turned off my headlight for part of the field run and enjoyed running by feel for a while. At some point in this loop it had actually stopped raining, a major plus. I reviewed my next transition in my head, hoping not to take too long. I found Russ finishing up his preparations when I arrived at the garage. I stepped out of my shoes, grabbed my tights and headed for the bathroom to change. I changed to my lighter headlamp, drank Spiz, and ditched my pace chart (definitely don’t care about that anymore). I also changed to my Solomon Flagstaff trail shoes to help with traction in the mud, and put on my waterproof jacket for nighttime warmth.
Russ suddenly appeared at the door asking which turn we were supposed to make in the fields, the one from loop 1 or the same as loop 2? He had been wandering for a bit, but we set him straight and he left again, shaking his head. Finally, after some hot chocolate, I was outta there too.
Oooh, did it ever feel nice to have dry feet, even for just a little while. I was feeling OK and ready for another run by the river. Loop 3 went upstream toward Kassal, crossed the Fulda River and returned on other opposite bank. But first there was the same muddy descent, out-and-back to the stone table, and two Helena-hellos. I followed the mud trail down without getting lost, figured out my error (I had not seen a lower trail, and the arrow said to stay on the one I was on), and decided that this section wasn’t so bad after all. My mantra through the mud was “Keep your feet, don’t lose your shoes”. I passed Brandi who was coming up the hill, and somewhere in that part I’m sure I saw Stephan heading to the clubhouse too.
Helena had pizza at her aid station, but I was still sticking with my liquid diet because everything was working so far. I saw Russ AGAIN on the out-and-back, and told him we had to stop meeting like this. After drinking a Spiz at the aid station, I started down the road toward the river. It was a mostly straightforward path by some houses and along a bike trail. Soon I was walking uphill to start the one interesting section of this loop.
I quickly realized that I had no energy to climb. Walking up at even a moderate pace took a lot out of me, so I had to slow down and find a cadence that I could sustain. Apparently my earlier experiment in pushing through the tougher sections to stay on schedule was catching up with me. Sigh. If I could just keep my upper body upright, at least I could be an efficient snail, so I worked on that. Up through some woods and across a field. It was turning into a really nice night.
The trail led down to a creek crossing on a wood bridge. The other side of the drainage had some runable trails, and I was pleased that I could still descend just fine. I enjoyed this section on dirt trails through the woods. A little this way, a little that, and eventually I was back down to the river. Ah, another bike path.
One more time: I normally LIKE running next to rivers. It was flat and quiet, and the river had a calming influence. But the path was paved. Ugh. I found grass to run on alongside the path for parts of the way, and my feet thanked me. Other than my hurting feet bottoms, I felt OK. The Kassal lights were getting closer and I could faintly hear the music festival already.
Not much else to describe until I reached the aid box sitting on a big rock. I was hoping it would not be too hidden in the dark, and it wasn’t. I worked on a Spiz and followed the arrow to the right, toward a field. I jogged down a road until I reached a trailer park - ? That’s not right, no dots here. I back-tracked to the aid box and started again. This time I walked slowly and shone my light side to side until I found the rock with the dot that pointed the way down a small footpath through the field. Got it.
In the field it must have been difficult for the course marking people to find places to paint dots. Once in a while there was a fencepost or a rock stuck in the ground to use. But nothing close-by at the intersection in the middle of the grass. I first tried the path that went 100 meters to the river. There were plenty of trees and objects there to “dot”, but no sign of white paint. So it must be the other way. Sure enough, the second choice worked. Soon I was in a neighborhood, through a little park, over a little creek.
The trail ended where the industrial part of town started. Running down the dark deserted streets started to get eerie. Top that with further difficulty in finding dots, and I wasn’t a happy camper. By now I had also realized that I needed my more cushioned road shoes most of all during this loop, the heck with a little mud traction. Driven to find the RV, I moved as fast as I could toward the bridge over the river. I was excited to find the bridge and see headlamps flashing from next to a large vehicle down the road on the other side.
Werner and Michael were manning the RV, after running 100 km and deciding to stop. It was really neat to see other runners helping out on the course instead of just leaving to go home. I was happy to see them. I asked for the yellow drop bag, but then came the bad news. No drop bag. It was supposed to be here but there was a communication problem and the bags were not moved from the first RV stop to the second one. After trying to set ourselves up to be as self-sufficient as possible, I made the mistake of completely relying on a Spiz baggie pick-up at this point.
I stared at them in a bit of shock. They said that Susi had just left, so I asked if they could call her and she could come back (I gathered that they thought the bags were in her car, which they were not). Werner tried this, but she could not help. I explained to them that I was in a bit of a pickle – not the exact words I used – by not having the drop bag. The two of them tried really hard to find all types of food to eat instead. Without other options, I inspected everything and selected a banana, some chocolate cookies, and some little chocolate bars. I had a long way to go and I wasn’t sure how to carry enough to tide me over. I filled my bottle with Isostar, thanked them, and headed out.
A few steps down the road I started crying. I was mad at the organization of the race, mad at myself for not planning better, and worried about the likelihood of bonking without enough energy intake. My feet hurt, there was way more pavement than advertised, I was moving so slowly, and I was still having difficulties finding dots. But most of all, I felt so bad for the two guys back there who had tried their best to help me, who didn’t have any idea what they were getting into when they agreed to help instead of heading home, and who I could have thanked much more. I never blamed them but I could have tried to hide the fact that I was upset. So this upset me.
This went on for a while, then finally I figured I had better start eating what I had. So I started working on the cookies and banana. The good news is that I was going slow enough that my stomach could digest real food at that point. That is not always the case in the middle of the night. More good news, the path by the river finally headed back into the woods and away from the quiet houses that made me uneasy.
I alternated running and fast walking, all the time counting paces to have something to concentrate on and to keep me moving at a half-decent speed, such as it was. The pavement seemed endless and the bottoms of my feet burned. I need to find a way to adjust to pavement if I ever run a race with this type of challenge again, although I’m not yet sure how to do that. How do the Badwater runners do it??
Running, walking, etc., etc. Eventually I approached the dark restaurant where the next unmanned box should be. I just happened to look down to the left and see the box in the shadows, yay for good luck. I filled my bottle and chugged some Coke. I tried one of the little chocolate bars, but they were mocha or amaretto flavored and they were particularly awful. Moving on, on and on. I followed the river, under the railroad tracks, and started looking for the dam where the white dots would lead me back across the river.
That was a long dam way, pun intended. We had to go all the way around a big bend in the river. The trail went to dirt for a while, happy day! And then it changed to some kind of hard-packed grit. Well, that didn’t help. My feet were so unhappy but all I could do was try to ignore them. Finally, after “hours and hours” (OK, that’s how it felt) I saw the red lights of the dam.
Eventually I got to the object of my anticipation and started limping across. My feet hurt so bad I almost started crying again. On the other side I had one last pavement challenge – a downhill cobblestone ramp. Thank heavens for the trail that welcomed my pained puppies at that point. I was so glad, I didn’t care that it was a steep uphill trail. However long it took, at least nothing hurt anymore.
I almost kissed Helena at the top of the hill, but refrained. The out-and-back to the stone table went OK (no sign of Russ this time, very good). Then I sat with Helena and talked for a couple minutes, trying to figure out what to eat. I can’t recall what I ate besides some fruit, but nothing was appetizing, and she didn’t have any hot food left. I nibbled a bit as Stephan appeared from below. Wow, I can’t believe I’m still ahead of people after all my misery of loop 3.
I gathered myself together and started the long march up the 3.3 km to the house. Helena had told me that John and Markus were now leading the race (Hansi had stopped after 3 loops), and I thought that meant she had seen them at the turnaround on loop 4. So they might be done by the time I got there. Incentive to see my husband and get some calories in me kept me going. Plus this was the final time through the mud pit.
It was starting to get light and I had no trouble finding the way up the hill. The mud was a non-issue (the shoes worked great!). I don’t remember much about this section except that I was bonking and dehydrated and just moving because that was all there was to do. I knew I would need to recover from this situation. I wondered if anyone would suggest that I stop, and I recited over and over the fact that “I don’t quit, I don’t quit”. I had plenty of time to beat the 30-hour cutoff, and I had Gookinaid and Spiz waiting for me.
Finally I dragged my sorry butt into the clubhouse garage and collapsed into a chair next to our stuff. I immediately filled the Gookinaid bottle and started sucking it down. The girls there wanted to help me, but I had to finish the Gookinaid first in order to get some glucose and liquid through my stomach. I sat there for a while with a blanket over my legs, eventually moving on to Spiz and hot chocolate.
I was working on my waist pack gear when a call came through from Helena that John and Markus had arrived, and they reported that the unmanned drop box was missing from this section. So that explained where John was, and ack! I was hoping to fill Spiz twice at that aid box. The women pulled out the box that was supposed to be on the course but had not been delivered. Well, thank goodness for that timing. I adjusted my planning based on the new info. It was 11 km to Helena, and I could carry water in my bottle to fill a Spiz partway there, then do the same on the way back.
Stephan came in during my recovery phase and he left not long before I was ready to go. Nobody seemed the least bit worried about me, so I must have looked OK. No need to tell anyone adamantly that I was going to keep going. It was just a fact. And I felt so much better after that stop, like I was hoping I would. However, I half-expected Brandi to come in the door any minute now, so I had to get moving. I had motivation again, yay!
It was a full-on sunny morning, nice and cool. I glanced across the fields as I left and did not see anyone. It was time to start moving. I winced my way across the road and found some grass to run on next to the paved pathway. The exact direction of travel wasn’t quite clear in my mind, so I just followed the dots and hoped it would make sense eventually.
Soon I was running down a hill toward a little farm. A bunch of little sheep looked rather concerned about my passing. I guess I was moving better, if the sheep were alarmed. Next was a nice little trail in the woods. Sunlight filtered through leaves high up in tall trees, and the morning glowed around me. I ran down the hills as well as I could, wishing I could power down like earlier in the race.
There was a bit of mud in the trail, and as I was picking my way through it I looked up to see John and Markus picking their way toward me. Sweet husband of mine! You and Markus are about to win this thing! We stopped to hug and talk and laugh. Markus sat on a log and listened to me explain my Spiz problem in loop 3, and I asked John how he had managed. He didn’t have it easy either, but was able to eat other food. They told me that Russ was somewhere between us and Stephan was just ahead of me. I only wanted to know how far anyone was behind me, but they would find that out sooner than I would. Then they were off toward the finish line and I continued down the hill.
The trail ran back and forth in wide strokes down the hill. I ran as much as I could, glad for the chance to move at a decent pace even though downhill running would eventually get old too. Just before the bottom I came upon Russ. Hi Russ! He was looking strong.
At the bottom I switched back to run/walk mode. The trail turned into stone to go under the railroad tracks, and that reminded me of my feet problems, but it was a very short distance. I knew I had to climb for a while, and I was glad to have some energy. Partway up I stopped to fill and drink a Spiz. The white dots were easy to follow and after a while I made it to the top where the trail circled around the side of the hill. From there it was a gentle downhill to the road. The silhouette of Stephan appeared at the road. He was walking and eating a sandwich, and he told me that Helena was just about to pack up.
I hurried on down, finding her sleeping in the back of her car. This time I gave her a big hug of thanks, told her to stay where she was, and quickly filled my bottle with water. All I could think of was getting back up the trail as far as I could before anyone appeared behind me. Only 11 km to the finish!
I gingerly “marched” up the road, then started running on the soft trail. I had the thought that I would have freaked out if another racer had appeared at that moment, as I did not want to race anyone at this point. When I got to the top with no sign of anyone I breathed a sigh of relief. There was one last long downhill run back to the railroad tracks and my legs survived.
One last surprise – the aid box magically appeared on a bridge over a small creek! I was elated. I sat to fill and drink my last Spiz, fill my bottle with Isostar, and drink some Coke. It would have been tough to finish without this help, as I misunderestimated how much liquid I needed – I should have drunk a bunch back with Helena but was in too much of a hurry. Now I was saved. Thank you to whoever came out there with that box.
After tiptoeing down the stone ramp under the tracks, I started the traverse toward the bottom of the big hill. It seemed longer than before. Then there was Brandi coming toward me! Cool! She looked good and was on her way to a good finish. I told her about the drop box and she asked where Stephan was. Huh? I thought he was ahead of me, so I didn’t know.
Brandi moved on, and right as I started up the hill 2 women came running on down. I wasn’t sure if Brandi would be able to hold them off. A minute later Hans was running toward me exclaiming that I was in fourth place. Thank you Hans, but Stephan is around here somewhere and it really doesn’t matter as long as I am the first woman (let’s admit it, that is what I had been running for the whole time, OK?).
I climbed and climbed, and soon Stephan did indeed appear behind me. He must have taken a pit stop somewhere. I expected him to walk right by me, but he seemed content to trail along. So I stopped wondering about it and certainly never worried about it.
I decided to aim for a log pile a ways ahead of me and just focus on getting to it. Easy enough. What’s next? I picked a patch of sunlight to head toward. Then a white dot. Hi dot! Hi tree! Hello big log with a funny curve at the end! This went on and on, keeping me entertained. Apparently it’s easy to make me giggle at this point in a race when I haven’t slept but I feel fine. I greeted logging equipment, sticks, a picnic table, boulders, etc. Perhaps Stephan kept his distance because he was afraid this woman talking to inanimate objects was getting loony.
Finally we were out of the woods, next to the farm, heading up a hill on the road. I greeted another runner thinking he was in the race (why did I think that? I have no idea) but he was just out for the jog. As we approached the house Stephan got closer, until finally down the very last road I gestured to him that we should just run in together. Gathering myself up for one last bit of pavement, we headed across the line to the applause of John, Markus, Russ, Carri, Michael and Werner, and other people who had helped with the race. It was awesome.
John and Markus finished in 24:25, Russ in 25:33, and Stephan and I were next in 27:38. An hour later Brandi came hurtling across the finish line exclaiming that she had just run all the way back trying to stay ahead of the other women. Awesome first ultra, Brandi! The two women and then Hans finished in under 30 hours to close out the course.
I learned a lot from my struggles and I’m ready to figure out how to improve for the next 100 miler. Running a small race in a new country with great people was a neat experience. John and I would not have missed it for anything. Thank you to everyone who helped put it on, especially Hans for the idea of organizing a 100 miler in Germany. Congratulations to all the runners and we hope to see you again at a future race!
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