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Race Report: The Hornisgrinde Marathon 2007

It was shortly before 5 a.m. on Sunday when I left the snuggly confines of my bed and started my morning routine. With effort I woke my wife up and she reluctantly starting getting ready to go. Our destination was Hundseck, near Bühlertal in the Black Forest, my objective the Hornisgrinde Marathon.

The air was cool and fresh when we arrived at Hundseck. Hundseck is ski resort in the winter and a hiking paradise in the summer. Thirty-five years ago someone had the idea that it would be a great place to run a marathon and they have been doing it annually ever since! I have run the half-marathon twice in the past and was well aware of the beauty of the area, as well as the challenge I was up against – this is not a marathon for someone with weak knees or a weak will.

I picked up my start number and sat with my wife for awhile in the festival tent near the start. As we waited it started to rain…no, actually it started to pour outside! We heard some of the 10K runners complaining about the weather, I just waited patiently, I knew how quickly the weather changes in the Black Forest.

It was still sprinkling as I made my last pitstop and lined up at the Start. After a few minutes of comments from the local mayor, we counted down and off we went, the start of the 35th annual Hornisgrinde Marathon!

I inched my way forward until the 250 runner wave finally found its rhythm. We headed across the parking lot and up a small logging trail into the forest. The trail was tight for the first couple kilometers, I figured out right away that I had started too far in the back of the pack. But I knew there was no point in trying to weave through the crowd, so took my time and tried to figure out my strategy for the race. I really didn’t have any set goals for the race, in the back of my mind I was hoping that I could improve my best time, but I knew that the severity of the trail would not make this easily attainable.

By the 5K point the rain had stopped and the sun came out. I removed my running jacket as I arrived at the aid station shortly after this and tied it around my waist, it was warming up fast. The trails were in good shape, very little mud or standing water and most covered with ground-in gravel – very runnable.

The first half of the race was supposed to be mostly flat or downhill, at least according to the race profile. I found myself wondering if they posted the right profile as I huffed and puffed over one hill after the other. But on the other hand the hills were not steep and were runnable!

I remember passing the 10K point in around 56:30, a pretty good time for me considering the rolling terrain. The pace I was running felt good so I decided to keep it up as long as I could, I figured I would need to slow down for the second half of the race that was supposed to be mostly uphill.

The trail consisted mainly of dirt/gravel logging roads, but occasionally switched to asphalt or single-trail to traverse from one trail to another. The elevation also seemed to be rolling up and down one hill after another, but rarely steep – in most cases I could continue my pace without slowing down.

I passed the half-marathon point in just under two hours, I knew I had a good chance of running a best time if I could only hold the pace. My mind kept flashing back to the race profile, which showed mostly uphill for the second half of the race – I tried to blot these negative thoughts out of my mind and kept driving forward.

After the HM point the trail climbed over the mountain into the next valley.

Beginning at kilometer 25 the trail did a short (10 min.) out and back along a lake (Stausee) hidden in the middle of the forest. This is a popular objective for hikers and the organizers were sure to include it for the race. I admired the beauty of the lake and surrounding valley as I made my way out and back.

After the out and back the trail followed a trail around the other side of the lake for a short time, then headed up the side of the hill and on to the next valley. My quads were getting sore by this time from the rolling hills, but I knew this was no cause for concern and plodded on.

I passed the 30K marker in just under three hours. I walked through the aid station just passed this stuffing down pieces of German bread and banana, washed down with sports drink and water. As I ate I did a quick evaluation: My legs were sore, but nothing I couldn’t deal with, I was well hydrated, it still wasn’t too hot and I was still holding a steady pace. As I started running again I made the decision that I was going to push to the end.

After the 30K aid station the trail began a long gradual climb for at least 7K/4.3M. I was all business as I wound my way up the gradually, but unceasing climb. I walked through the aid station around kilometers 36 slowing only to grab a piece of banana and some sports drink. I wasted no time getting back up to pace.

The trail continued to climb becoming steeper and steeper as I progressed. My legs were hurting but I didn’t let up. I remember passing the 37K/23M marker in something like 3:40:00 – I knew I would have a new personal record (PR) if I could just keep running…

With less than 5K to go my legs were screaming, but I was determined. I concentrated on trying to reel in other racers. As the trail continued to get steeper, runners began to slow or even walk, I picked them off as I went. The kilometers ticked slowly by…with two kilometers to go (just over a mile) we started up the steepest part of the race. My quads hurt, my heart pumped, but I barely slowed. The forest trail gave way to asphalt and I knew we were on the road that led to the finish line. I passed the last kilometer marker, the trail steepened – I debated whether to walk…I wanted to walk…but then the thought popped into my head, this was almost exactly like a section of trail that I run every Saturday during my long runs, it no harder than that – I ran on.

Finally I saw the first building at the ski lift, I knew I was almost there…

...as I saw the finish line I churned out my best effort towards a sprint to the finish line…as I approached I saw my wife snap a picture and heard the announcer say something to the effect of the next runner Jack from the LT TSV Graben running club…

I knew I had just run the marathon of my life, and as I walked around and caught my breath I could feel the satisfaction building inside – what a feeling! My official time 4:14:13, a new personal record by 15 minutes and 23 seconds, wow!!

My wife and I enjoyed some of the food being sold at the event and gradually made our way back home. I even felt good enough to make the 45 minute drive home.

I would recommend this marathon to anyone looking for a change from the city marathons. This is generally not considered a fast marathon, the winner this year finishing in 2:44:25 (the winning female in 3:08:57). For me it is my kind of race and I enjoyed it immensely. I hope I will have the chance to run it again sometime.

I finished 159/253 overall and 37/50 in my age class (M45). This morning (Monday) my legs are a bit stiff and tired, but not nearly as bad as with previous marathons. I am looking forward to a day or two of rest, then a recovery week before I start training for the next adventure.

Note: The pictures are from last years race, but the route was the same as this year.


Beautiful place to run, and a 4.14 on a hilly marathon course, that is just awesome! Congratulations!

Fantastic effort Jack. You didn't know you had that one in you, did you?

It sure looks like a beautiful course.

A great effort to continue running and making sure you had the PR wrapped up nicely. It looks like a beautiful race as I remember pictures you posted last year as well.

What a great feeling to know you have it in the bag! Congrats again!

Great job!! That's a huge PR!

The hard training is paying off! Congrats Jack. It's funny..looking at the pictures you can see it's in Europe! Runners over there are always dressed in great colors...here people wear more neutrals.

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