July 2010 Archives

I was standing chatting with some friends at my running club right after a run one night a couple weeks ago and heard RB talking about a duathlon that was being offered in our area on July 24. For those that don't know a duathlon is a run-bike-run combination, not to be confused with the biathlon, which is the official term for the Olympic sport of skiing and shooting.

In any case RB was interested in doing the running part as a team member of a relay team. No one responded when she asked around if anyone wanted to do the cycling part, so next thing I head was my big mouth saying I would do it, "By the way, how far do I have to cycle...?"

I then learned it was 34 kilometers, yeah 21 miles how bad could that be, right! I mean I just cycled 20 km during my Triathlon the week before...in any case I would be doing it with RB, joy! We quickly formed our strategy, which basically consisted of showing up at the event.

So this past Saturday I picked RB up about an hour and half before the duathlon was to start and we made our way to the next town, Graben where the event was held. Several members of the cycling club are also members of our running club, so we were among friends as we signed in. One of our running friends showed me where to park my CUBE and walked us through the event. Then we chilled out and waited for the briefing that was to be held at 1:30 p.m., a half hour before the start. After the briefing we made last minute checks and got ready to race.

The duathlon consisted of 34 km (21 mi.) of cycling sandwiched between two 4 km (2.5 mi.) runs. RB would start the event with her first 4 km run, which consisted of a 2 km out and back course. The Graben Duathlon is a small event, this year there were 72 individual starters and 14 relay teams. I heard there was more signed up this year, but it had rained the morning of the event, so I guess several decided to stay home.

As RB lined up at the start I stood with other friends from the running club that had arrived to lend their support. We sent RB off with our cheers, than I went to warm-up. The other relay team members were lingering or warming up, the most taking a small loop with their bikes. I warmed up with a short run, than rode around the block with my CUBE just to make sure everything was set.

I had estimated RB would need around 23 minutes, but knew never to underestimate her. Shortly after 22 minutes she rounded the corner and I was ready, she only needed to run over to my bike and tap my shoulder and I could set out. This accomplished, I ran with my CUBE across the small parking lot to the mounting point where I could mount my bike and take off. An official made sure I had my helmet and I was off.

I did my best to pick up the pace, but right away was fighting a headwind that my friend Joseph had warned me about earlier. As I left town I passed an intersection where a roughly 10K loop began, from Graben to Liedolsheim to Russheim, then back to Graben. Cyclists had to complete three of these loops.

This was the second year of the duathlon and friends had mentioned that the road to Liedolsheim was the fastest part of the loop. Unfortunately on this day this was the part with the strongest headwind, rather than making time I grew slower! By the time I completed the roughly 3 km to Liedolsheim I felt like I had just cycled through the hills of the Black Forest, despite the relatively level course. I tried not to think about the fact that I had to repeat this two more times as I entered the town. In Liedolsheim the organizers had closed one lane of the local road to traffic for the event, I was able to weave my way through unbehindered.

I was able to gain speed as I left Leidolsheim and made my way over the 2 km to Russheim. About two minutes out the first wave of cyclist on their second loop flew by, amazing! I tried to pick up the pace a bit, with limited success. Soon I reached the outskirts of Russheim, where we turned right and headed over an approximately 4 km stretch that would complete the loop. Part of this was over open fields and I was again fighting a headwind. Cyclist continued to fly by on occasion as I completed my first loop.

Upon completing the loop I was quite surprised to see that I had only cycled about 6-7 kilometer, I thought the course was longer, but at the pitifall speed that I was cycling I was glad. During my triathlon I average around 27 KPH (kilometer per hour), I was barely managing 17-18.

Discouraged I rounded the corner and tried to push harder as I began my second loop. I pedaled and pedaled, feeling like I was making progress, but couldn't get any faster than 18 KPH. Even on the faster stretch between Liedolsheim and Russheim I could only manage 21!

I fought these demons as I circled, I didn't feel like was going any slower than by my Triathlon. My thoughts were interrupted as I rounded the corner by Russheim and sas a cyclist on the horizon, finally a chance to catch someone! I sprang forward with renewed effort and managed to catch and pass the cyclist after a few minutes, she was breathing hard, easy prey. I fixed my sights on the next and soon forgot about my pitiful speed problem.

As I rounded the curve and started my third loop I was soon upon the next cyclist, but they were giving up ground without a fight, I needed almost 3 kilometers to catch and pass him. I continued to pump my legs through Liedolsheim, hoping to catch another cyclist or two before the finish. As I rounded the loop by Russheim I saw two far ahead of me, it would be rough.

My quads were crying by the time I reached the end of the loop and turned back into Graben, around a kilometer to go. The two cyclist had maintained their lead and I was pumping like crazy to try to give RB a good start on her second 4 km loop.

I wound my way back to the small parking lot and dismounted, tapping RB on her shoulder as she asked me how I was, out of breath I grunted and she was off. I returned my CUBE to the rack and caught my breath, chatting with Joseph for a couple minutes.

I stowed my CUBE in the car and grabbed RB's sweater, thinking she might need it when she's done, somehow my brain didn't register that it was 27°C (80°F) outside. My sanity was again tested when Joseph asked me what my average speed was, I said around 17 KPH. He said that's not possible, I had finished the 34 km in around 1:14:00 (later it would dawn on me my Odometer was set to miles)!

I waited for RB for a bit with Joseph and started wondering if she was suffering on the course, so decided I needed some fresh air and ran out to meet her. After 3-4 minutes I came up on RB and we ran to the finish together, I stopped just before and let her cross the finish line.

We chomped on some watermelon and chatted a bit with Joseph, until he had to leave, then picked up some food. We listened to the awards ceremony as we ate, we were the 13th relay team out of 14, the most were members of triathlon and cycling clubs, we had little chance of keeping up with them. We were pleased that we beat at least one team, and by over 5 minutes! A friend of ours that also did the relay won a 5th place prize, but had already left, so we collected it for him - we could drop it off on the way home.

After the awards ceremony we said our goodbyes to those we knew and I drove RB home. It was a nice change of pace from our normal running, I hope we can do it again next year.

Last Sunday (July 18), my wife came down with a summer flu the couple days leading up to this past weekend, so we couldn't travel as we planned. Being resourceful, I quickly scanned the marathon listings for my part of Germany and came up with a good training opportunity, the Hornisgrinde Marathon.

The Hornisgrinde begins in the middle of the Northern Black Forest, about 20 km from Baden-Baden, in Hundseck, directly on the Black Forest Highway 500. Hundseck is basically a collection of restaurants and ski lodges, open year around to tourists, hikers, skiers and normal folks looking to escape the city heat. The Black Forest Highway, or Schwarzwaldhochstrasse as it is called in German, is one of the oldest and best known vacation routes in Germany. The highest mountain in the area is the Hornisgrinde at 1164 meters (3818 feet). The is was in Hundseck has an elevation of around 900 meters.

On Saturday night it rained in most of the region, cooling the area from a daily high-90's (°F) that we have been having for weeks to a mild, almost fresh 14°C (57°F) when I arrived in Hundseck around 7 a.m., about 1 ½ hours before the 8:30 a.m. Start.

The Hornisgrinde Marathon is quite small compared to most in the region, this year drawing 223 half-marathon runners on Saturday and 220 marathon runners on Sunday. On Sunday at 8:00 a.m. was also a 10 km event, which drew 146 runners. As I picked up my Start number I noticed how relaxed the atmosphere was compared to most "city" marathons in the area. The family atmosphere, together with a beautiful course and good food afterward guarantee that the runners keep coming back - it was my fourth year running the marathon. I greeted a couple people that I knew, then made my way back to the car to get ready.

The aid stations for the marathon are well stocked and sufficient, most runners don't even need to carry a water bottle, but I was using the race for a training run for my 100 mile event in September. I elected to wear my CamelBak backpack with 2 liters of isotonic drink and other things that I would be carrying during the 100 (long sleeve shirt, snacks, first aid kit, lights, toilet paper etc.).

It was a bit cool outside as I made my way to the Start about 10 minutes before the race, but like most I chose shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, the sun was out and it would warm up quickly. I lined up towards the back of the pack and after a few minutes we were off.

The first several kilometers are over a narrow foresting path, making it difficult to pass, so I patiently matched the pace of those around me until it thinned out a bit. My best time for this race was last year, when I finished in 4:00:25, but on this day I was in no particular hurry - I planned on around 5 hours.

It was truly a beautiful morning to be running, sunshine, blue sky - I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to enjoy the scenery as best I could without tripping over any stones or roots along the way. The first half of the marathon is mostly downhill or flat, I passed the 10 km marker in around 59 minutes, much faster than I planned on, but I decided to keep up the pace for awhile.

Most of the course is through the forest on dirt and gravel logging roads, with an occasional single track or small section of asphalt road linking the various trails together. I cruised over the second 10 km in roughly the same time as the first, but soon after this the course started going uphill. I passed the halfway point somewhere around 2 hours and 10 minutes, I really wasn't paying too much attention to my Garmin, I just wanted to enjoy the run.

The second half of the course grew increasingly harder, including a gentle, but continuous climb between kilometer 31-41. I eased up on the pace through this part, I wanted to continue my training the next day.

At last I heard the cheering crowd at the finish line, about a mile before the finish. But I didn't get too excited about this, I knew what lay ahead, namely a steep climb up to the finish line! I shifted to a lower gear and chugged my way up the hill, catching several that chose to walk the unforgiving climb. Finally I rounded the last corner and trampled up a steep bank to the parking lot that would bring me to the finish line. I eased my way over the finish line, finishing in 4:32:50, about a half hour faster than planned, and about an hour and fifty minutes behind the first place finisher.

After showering I enjoyed some good food before heading back to the house. The Hornisgrinde marathon will always remain on of my favorites. The organization is great, the scenic course one of the best in the area and with enough challenge to keep it interesting!

Reports from previous years:

Hornisgrinde Marathon 2009

Hornisgrinde Marathon 2008

Hornisgrinde Marathon 2007

Hornisgrinde Half-Marathon 2005

Okay, no one besides Art responded to my gentle hints:

http://www.breakingthetape.com/runningwithjack/2010/06/recovery-week-and-a-little-sec.html

http://www.breakingthetape.com/runningwithjack/2010/06/another-ultra-this-weekend.html

http://www.breakingthetape.com/runningwithjack/2010/07/race-report-the-fidelitas-80k.html

So I guess I will have to be more direct. My running friend Birgit, who completed the 100K race in Biel and the 50 Mile Fidelitas Night Run with me in June, will be joining me for the main event for 2010, the Kraichgau and Stromber and Heuchelberg 100 Mile Trail!

kusuhlogok.jpg

The 1st Annual Kraichgau und Stromber und Heuchelberg (KuSuH, und = and) takes place on September 25th and 26 in Oberderdingen, Germany, about 30-40 minutes away from where we live. Participation is by invitation only, with a maximum of 25 participants. Potential participants send a postcard or letter listing their experience to the organizers and those entrants that deem to qualify are notified of their acceptance. Birgit and I landed two of the last three available slots.

The course offers roughly 2500 meters (7500 feet) of elevation change, nothing too high or too long, just lots and lots of shorter climbs. We will have 28 hours to complete the event, runners age 60 and over are allowed 30 hours, runners age 65 and over are allowed 32 hours and so on.

We have both taken 2-3 weeks off from hard training since the 50 mile race in June, now its time to start picking up the mileage. Birgit is on vacation for another week, so this weekend I plan on running a training marathon in the Black Forest. Also planned are a couple training marathons at the beginning of September, a good dress rehearsal for the main event.

I have long admired Triathletes and have great respect those that have accomplished the Ironman discipline. My friends Uli and Bernd from my running club are Ironman finishers and my respect is not lost on them. Over the past several years I have spent many, many hours on the trail with them, particularly Uli, as we ran a marathon together last year. When you run with Ironman sooner or later trail chatter lands on this subject. Their experiences at the various triathlon distances fascinated me and somewhere on the trail I stumbled over the idea to try a Tri myself.

For those who swim regularly, or take to water like a fish, a simple sprint triathlon would seem to be an easy task, particularly when one is not worried about finishing times, placement or other distractions. But a year ago I rarely went swimming, mostly because I swam so poorly. I decided if I ever wanted to fulfill my new goal to complete a sprint triathlon I would need to take another swim course. I accomplished this over the winter, taking a freestyle course at an area pool. I continued to swim at least once a week since then and through encouragement from my Ironman friends signed up for the 18th Annual Stutensee Triathlon.

This past Sunday was my debut in a whole new world, one that dragged me far out of my comfort zone, humbled my swollen pride, and allowed me to feel new life as an athlete.

As I met Uli at 4 p.m. on Saturday to pick up our start packets for the Stutensee Triathlon the temperature was hovering around 37°C (99°F). I was grateful that Uli also decided to do the Triathlon; she generously shared her experience with me and showed me the transition areas and finish area for the next day. Her husband Bernd had previously prepared a list of what I would need and we practiced the transitions together, I was as ready as I would ever be.

On Sunday I arrived at the Bike/Run transition point and deposited my baseball cap, the only additional equipment I would need for the run. I then drove the 2 kilometers to the parking lot bordering the quarry pond (Baggersee) where the 500 meter swim would take place. The Swim/Bike transition point was across the street; I unloaded my CUBE and went to the check-in. At the check-in point the officials checked my bike helmet and I parked my CUBE off to the side in the transition point. The group of starters was large this year (206), so we would be starting in two waves, the first at 10:00 a.m. the second at 10:40 a.m.; Uli and I were in the latter. The second wave could lay their stuff out only after the first wave was through.

I walked back over to the car, stopping to chat with another participant that I knew. As we chatted Bernd and Uli arrived and I chatted with them as they unloaded Uli's bike. I gathered my swim cap and goggles and walked over to the check-in with Uli. After she found a spot for her bike we rejoined Bernd and walked over to the Baggersee for our 9:45 a.m. briefing.

Swimmers were already out in the Baggersee warming up, or perhaps cooling down, it was already hot outside! We were soon joined by my Running Buddy (RB) and another friend Paul from our running club, who had come to offer us support. I was happy to see RB, we haven't been running together so much this year since I have been preoccupied with Tri training.

At 9:45 a.m. the officials gave their briefing, basically a review of the rules and walked us through the three events. We waited with RB and Paul as the first wave got ready and finally headed off into the water. I was fascinated as I watched them start, other than on the television I had never seen a Triathlon start. I sat down and tried to relax, it was slowly starting to hit me that I would be doing the same in a little while, up to now it seemed more like a dream.

After a short 7 minutes and 15 seconds the first swimmer popped out of the water and made his way to the transition point. After 17+ minutes the last swimmer made her way to the transition point, Uli and I followed so we could set up our bikes and stuff. Most of the second wave was already busily laying out their things. I found a spot not far from Uli and laid out my "stuff". For this short triathlon I decided it was enough to use just my running shoes, the bike shoes stayed home. I set my running shoes out, with running socks on top, followed by my bike helmet and sunglasses, my start number on a waistband and finally my running tank top. I realized I had forgotten my towel, so laid the old T-Shirt that I had been wearing out, it would do to get most of the sand off my feet. I rechecked my water bottle on the CUBE and made sure I was set in a lower gear.

When Uli was finished we walked over to the Baggersee and warmed up with a short swim. The water was quite warm, neoprene was not allowed or needed. I wore my running shorts, goggles and swim cap.

Shortly before our start we were herded into the start corral and before I had time for a second thought the starting pistol went off.

I ran out with the other swimmers as far as I could and began my rendition of freestyle swimming. The wave quickly left me behind, then way behind, as I paddled my way around the pond. When I signed up for the event I anticipated being the last one finished with the swimming, based on the times from swimmers from previous years. This turned out to be the case, but I was okay with this. I had good company as a diver accompanied me most of the way, occasionally asking me if I was okay - did I look so bad? I concentrated on my breathing, occasionally switched to the breaststroke to sight or rest, but mostly kept up a steady freestyle. After an eternity I arrived at the last buoy and turned towards the shoreline, another 50 meters and the swim would be behind me. I tried my best to speed up and finally arrived at the shore. I dragged myself out of the water and jogged up the bank, passing my arm over the timing transponder as I went, then over a short wooded path to the parking lot beyond.

I was happy to see two participants still there as I ran to my bike. I pulled my tank top over my wet skin then put on my helmet, sunglasses and start number. I attempted to wipe the sand off my feet with the old T-Shirt, and then pulled on my socks and running shoes. I stuffed anything remaining, including swim goggles and cap, into the blue trash bag provided and quickly ran with my CUBE to the edge of the parking lot.

At the edge of the parking lot we were allowed to get on our bikes, so with the adrenalin pumping I jumped on my CUBE and took off in pursuit of the two that had just left.

I sprinted to the end of the street, turning left onto the local highway that had been closed for our event. I slowed as I climbed over a bridge, then flew down the other side, riding down an underpass and climbing out the other end. The first part of the 20 km course was a 2 km stretch that would bring me to the other side of Blankenloch. From here we would ride three 6 km loops. As I arrived at the edge of the loop the forerunners were already heading on their second (or third) loop, I merged and stayed on the left side, English left was the rule of the day for cycling and running.

I settled into a good pace, trying to push the pace on the first kilometer or so of the loop, slowing on the climb over the bridge traversing the Autobahn. I flew down the other side of the bridge, pedaling like a Wildman until gravity took a hold. Soon I arrived at the turn around point and did my best to make an unnatural right hand turn, almost landing in the field. I pumped the pedals again and soon was climbing up the bridge again, then sailing down the other side. The road climbed gently for a bit, then leveled out, I fought to keep the pace going as I arrived at the turn around completing the first loop.

As I circled around to the right I heard Bernd yelling encouragement, this spurred me on. As I again approached the bridge the sun was beating down, I took advantage of the slowed pace long enough to drink, before flying down the other side.

I managed the next turn around much better as with the first loop, so was soon on my way back. My quads complained as I fought the bridge, but I ignored them and was soon flying down the other side, enjoying the brief wind that ensued.

As I arrived at the turn around point at the end of my second loop I noticed how few cyclist were left on the course. I ignored this and spun around the turn for my third loop. At some point during this last loop I realized in my sun-baked brain that I was actually enjoying myself! Even my complaining quads did not alter this feeling as I crawled up the bridge the last time. As I sailed down the bridge towards Blankenloch I realized this would not be my last Tri, I was hooked!

I fought the feeling to slow down and pushed hard to the end of the loop and sailed at frightening speed around the left turn that would bring me to the transition point. I arrived at the dismount point out of breath with heart pumping and adrenalin flowing, I almost removed my helmet, but a kind official warned me before I got that far. I ran my CUBE over to my stall, hung it up, removed sunglasses and helmet, grabbed my baseball cap and wobbled with stiff legs to the edge of the parking lot. I passed my hand over the timing transponder and set out over the 5 km course, two loops in the sun, legs don't fail me now!

The first place runner was just arriving at the finish line as I ran past, I tried not to let it shake me. My legs were stiff as I ran, it is a strange feeling to suddenly switch from cycling to running. As I left the comfort of the shade trees near the finish line I noticed how hot it was, the sun was beating down on the asphalt path - while cycling I at least had some breeze to cool me. I quickly caught the runner in front of me, I had seen him leaving the transition point, he was struggling in the heat. As I ran I reminded myself of the training runs that I had done in the heat to prepare just for this occasion, I pushed on.

The running course was two loops, so it was only about 6-7 minutes before the first turn around point arrived. Shortly before this was a water point, I grabbed a cup, drinking a swig and poured the rest over my head. I ran around the turn around and caught another runner just past it, they had stopped to walk! I grabbed another water on the way by then headed back to the finish. As we entered the edge of town there was another water point, I grabbed a water-filled sponge and tried to cool off as I ran. Shortly before the finish was a turn around point for the second loop, we were required to grab a hair band as we went around, I let them slip it over my hand as I ran by.

I grabbed another cup of water as I ran out of town, again pouring most of it on my head. I passed a couple more runners before reaching the final turn around, then slowed for another cup of water, this time drinking most of it. With less than a mile to go I fought to increase my speed, I was well under my 10 km pace, but I couldn't seem to get my legs to move any faster.

Finally, I saw the finish line up ahead and made a final attempt to speed ahead. As I ran over the finish line I heard my name and something about being an ultra runner, I guess they know me. I spotted Uli as I grabbed some more water and we congratulated each other. Soon Bernd, Paul and RB joined us.

On the one side I was relieved to be done, but somehow I was a bit bewildered that I was already down, I was just getting into it!

After cooling down a bit Uli and I collected our bikes and joined the others for some food. Somehow we forgot about the heat as we shared our experiences and time together. This was one of those days that will linger long in my memory, my first triathlon.

In comparison to most of the other Triathletes my performance was laughable, but for me my accomplishment was extraordinary as I reached far out of my comfort zone to overcome the fear of swimming in open water that I have had since I was a child. I look forward to doing my next event, I have tasted triathlon and it is good!

I was truly impressed with the organization of the event, the organizers and helpers outdid themselves! As the last swimmer I felt as welcome as the first, they patiently waited for me to come through, this meant a lot. Despite the heat there were still lots of fans shouting encouragement during all the events, you all deserve our thanks!

I especially want to thank Uli and Bernd for their support. They took time with me to help with my swimming and transitions, offered invaluable advice and believed in me when I had my own doubts. I may never be competitive in the sport, but I have found a new love, one that I know they share. Thanks again guys, you are my heroes!

A Running and Swimming Brick

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Last night I met friend Uli for a little triathlon training. Uli is an Ironman finisher (Zurich, Switzerland 2009) and my mentor for my first tri on Sunday. She and her husband Bernd (also an Ironman) are the main reason I am leaving my comfort zone and trying a tri. Uli will also be participating in the event, I expect she will be finished and showered before I make it over the finish line ;-)

In any case we met at the quarry pond in nearby Linkenheim for a run and a swim. It was hot 32°C (90°F) as we headed out for a roughly 5 km run. Despite the heat we ran an increasingly faster tempo, eventually circling back to the parking lot. The quarry pond has a nice sandy beach that is maintained by the town, on weekends they charge a fee for parking your car.

Following the run we left our running shoes in the car and made our way over the beach to the pond. The water was a bit cool as we plunged in, but as our bodies cooled the water was actually quite warm. We swam around 500-600 meters, adequate for the event on Sunday. I felt quite comfortable in the water and swam easily. A couple weeks ago the water was so cold I could barely catch my breath while doing the freestyle.

This morning I rode my bike the roughly 22 km (14 mi.) to work. On the way home I will try to ride part of this distance at my estimated race pace, which basically means as fast as possible because I have no idea what my race pace will be.

The weather prognosis for Sunday is not promising; it could reach 36°C (97°C) by midday. The triathlon starts at 10:00 a.m. or 10:40 a.m. depending on which swim group that I start with. The swim and cycling should be okay, but the run will be hot. I usually can run pretty well in the heat, maybe I'll have a chance to catch someone before the finish line :-)

The past week has been getting increasingly hot, I believe the highest temperature so far was 37°C (99°F). I have been taking advantage of my recovery week status and have been running less, 3 runs of 10-13 km (6-8 mi.), and swimming more - 4 times over the week. I also rode my bike to work on Friday, which is 21.5 km (13.5 mi.) one way.

With my sprint triathlon this coming Sunday I will continue running shorter runs so I can concentrate on swimming and cycling. The triathlon consists of 500 meters swimming, 20 km cycling and 5 km running - I believe the swimming distance is a bit less than some "sprint" distances.

The swim takes place in the village of Blankenloch (Town of Stutensee) in a Baggersee, or quarry pond. The pond is quite small, the swim course consists of 2 loops around the middle. Here is an overview cut out from Google Earth:

baggersee_google.jpg

The water temperature in the pond was still around 16°C (61°F) just a week or two ago, but the hot days we have been having have done their work, the pond is warm enough to swim without a wetsuit (or so I'm told).

Here is picture from last year, right before the start:

baggersee.jpg

The first transition area is to the north of the first picture, roughly 100 meters from the pond, in a large parking lot. The 20 km cycling course begins on the street in front and turns onto a county highway, whereas we will complete 3 rounds, finally ending near the front of the sports hall on the other side of Blankenloch. The 5 km run portion is 2 rounds heading south out of Blankenloch towards the next town and back on the same path.

For experienced Tri freaks this event is a joke, but for a totally new swimmer, cycling newbie, I'm terrified. My only goal for the Triathlon is to finish it. A year ago, when I was setting personal bests for almost every ultra distance that I ran, I probably could have done pretty well with the running and cycling. This year as a result of back problems and a leg injury I have only one speed, slow! I will of course try to be competitive, that's just how I am. At least my swimming has improved a little, the only question remaining is whether I will panic or not when attacked by the fast runners on their second loop.

Some might think why I even want to do this when I seem to be so woefully unprepared. Based on all common reasoning I should probably stay home and train another year. Being an ultrarunner, my reasoning left the realm of "common" some years ago.

I actually considered not starting several times over the last few weeks, but then I thought about the times that I dropped in a race and regretted it. Then I asked myself the question that I always ask myself now when I am having a hard time during a race "If you drop now will you be able to live with the decision in the morning?" The answer is simply "no"! There is no reason that I can't complete the triathlon, and if I am so slow that I finish in last place, so be it. I think the experience that I will gather during this first attempt will be invaluable.

In any case I have a few more days to train...

The annual Fidelitas Nachtlauf (Night Run) in Karlsruhe-Rüppurr, Germany is an 80 km (50 mi.) run through the plains and foothills bordering the Black Forest. The race which starts at 5:00 p.m. had its beginning as a "wandering", or organized walk through the area, but has grown into one of the most popular ultra runs in region.

The 32nd Annual running of the event this year drew a moderate crowd compared to other years, but a great number of these have completed the event more than once. It was the fifth year that I participated in the event, as was for my running companion Birgit from my running club. We were both recovering from our 100 kilometer run in Biel, Switzerland, two weeks before, so opted to run the event as a training run. Normally an 80 km run is a bit long for a "training run", but we are training for the KuSuH 100 in September, which is twice the distance.

We arrived at the sports club where the race is held in plenty of time to pick up or race packets and chill out. We were surprised to see a third member from our running club, Walter, who tried unsuccessfully the last two years to complete the event, but had to drop due to knee problems. He had decided spontaneously to try again, come what may.

After collecting our packets and making final preparations we found a shady grassy spot and relaxed for a while. About 15 minutes before the race we made a final rest room break and lined up with the other 140 odd runners running the entire distance plus dozens of relay runners. Walter moved forward, he intended on running a much faster pace, Birgit and I headed towards the back.

It was uncomfortably hot, around 32°C/90°F, and probably even hotter in the sun where we stood. After a few minutes the starting pistol went off and we moved slowly over the starting line, other than the lead pack no one was in a hurry, other than getting in the shade maybe. The first 5K indeed wound their way through the forest, eventually arriving near the back of the main train station in Karlsruhe, then turning toward the town of Durlach. The race has an aid station every 5-6 km, so we were sure to stop and drink. We were also carrying Camelbaks for some of the hotter stretches that would be coming up.

We kept our pace down, Birgit in particular is not a hot weather runner, but I was also feeling the heat, I lacked any proper heat training. We ran along the railroad tracks, over a partly shaded access road, then into the town of Durlach. In Durlach the businesses were still open and we received lots of curious looks and occasional applause as we wound our way through. At around kilometer 10, which was just past the train station, was another aid station - we stopped long enough to eat a couple pieces of cool watermelon - what a treat!

We ran on, traversing several streets and eventually headed north out of town towards Hagsfeld. We ran by several sports and other clubs, ran over a few bridges traversing local highways, and finally over the Autobahn into industry section of Hagsfeld. This was the beginning of one of the warmer stretches of the course, all asphalt and mostly opens roads or field ways. We took a last drink at an aid station in Hagsfeld and headed out. The flat stretch of course was hot but quite scenic, with fields on every side and the hills we would be running off to the east.

hagsfeld.jpg

Birgit was relieved when we finally reached the shady outskirts of the town of Grötzingen. We made our way into town to the next aid station, which was also the first relay station. We took a minute or two to drink and nibble away at what was offered, pieces of good German bread, various fruit, pretzels, isotonic drink, water, malt beer (non-alcoholic) and cola.

As we continued we started climbing slowly on one of my favorite parts of the course, where I usually do my hill training. As Birgit hat warned me we began walking as the hill became steep, and continued for a couple kilometers to the top. We were not alone, I believe the only ones who ran to the top were the fresh relay runners, who had just started running at the bottom.

As we reached the top we started running again, over a couple rolling hills, then a final climb up to the hilltop fields overlooking Jöhlingen. On top of the hill was an aid station and we enjoyed the view of the surrounding area as we tanked.

johlingen.jpg

We headed down into Jöhlingen, ran through town and walked up the next hill on the other side. This run-walk cycle continued as we traversed several hills, finally running down a steep hill into Singen.

singen.jpg

At the other end of Singen, at around kilometer 36, we stopped at an aid station to eat and drink then walked up the longest hill of the race towards Mutschelbach. By this time the temperature had dropped to a more pleasant level and at the top of the hill we picked up the pace slightly as we ran down into Mutschelbach.

In Mutschelbach was the second relay change station and also the start for a new event being offered this year, a night marathon, which started at 8:00 p.m. When we arrived the marathon runners were already 2 hours into their run and we didn't see any more relay runners either. We ate and drank a bit then headed out of town towards Langensteinbach, the next town on the course.

Darkness had long set in as we made our way along the edge of several fields, then through a stretch of woods that would end at the edge of the next town. As we ran through the forest, hundred, perhaps thousands of fireflies provided us with a light show. We both remarked that we have never seen so many at one time, awesome!

We passed the marathon distance and moved through Langensteinbach, walking several hills, including a steep on leading out of town. My legs were a bit tired, Birgit was also feeling the distance a bit, but we are both experienced ultra-runners and knew we could keep moving for many more hours.

We were accompanied by a full moon as we continued out of Langensteinbach towards Ittersbach. We ran through a thick forest that the moon light couldn't penetrate, it was a bit spooky really. We turned on our headlamps to avoid tripping over stones, branches or ghosts as we continued on. Eventually we reached a plateau overlooking Ittersbach and could shut our lights off as we ran over open asphalt field paths, the moonlight was quite adequate.

We ran down a steep hill into Ittersbach and walked up the other side of the valley, stopping at an aid station midway, at around the 50 km point. We didn't tarry and passed several people that lingered. We walked up the rest of the hill and ran several kilometers to the next aid station in Langenalb. In Langenalb was a large aid station, the last relay change station. Birgit took advantage of rest rooms that we available here, I sat down for a couple minutes as I waited.

Refreshed, we walked the hill out of town, then started running down a roughly 5 km stretch of dark forest (the foothills of the Black Forest) that led down into Marxzell. The forested section had several rough sections, we ran with our headlamps on to avoid tripping in the dark.

We arrived in Marxzell without incident, ran through and stopped at the aid station at the edge of town briefly for something to drink. It was getting a bit cool out, but I decided against putting on my long sleeve running shirt, it was a bit humid. We moved on towards Ettlingen, the next town on our agenda. The aid station was at about the 60 kilometer point and Ettlingen about 11-12 kilometers (abt. 7 mi.) away. In between were two more aid stations. Our legs were still feeling good and the course was pretty much flat, so we made it a point to try to keep running between these aid stations.

The path was quite dark as we ran, we used our lights most of the way. The path is also fairly straight and seems to go on forever. It seemed to take forever before the lights of Ettlingen finally came into view. We eventually arrived at the aid station at the swimming pool and quickly got something to drink. We had about 8 km (5 mi.) to go before we reached the finish line and were both ready for the race to be over with.

We ran on, pausing occasionally to walk a few small hills that came up, out of Ettlingen and along a road towards Rüppur and the finish line. The kilometers ticked slowly away, with roughly 4 kilometers to go we crossed a bridge over the Autobahn and stopped at the last aid station for a quick drink, then moved on.

The last few kilometers wind through a seemingly endless forest path, we ran on and on and on. Finally we reached an asphalt road that I was pretty sure would circle around back to the soccer stadium and the finish line, less than a mile to go!

We kept moving, our running speed barely a crawl, but still faster than walking. Finally we reached the street where my car was parked, the stadium entrance was close by. We entered the stadium and made our way around the track to the finish line. We were tired, but happy, as we collected our finisher shirts and medallion. I remarked that we had both run the event for the fifth time and were surprised when the staff presented each of us with a small trophy as a reward for this accomplishment.

I asked Birgit if she wanted to rest for awhile before we headed home, but she left it up to me, I was driving. I decided I was fit enough to make the half-hour drive so we headed to the car. My legs were a bit tired, but I actually felt pretty good for having just run 50 miles, Birgit felt likewise. At the car we changed out of our sweat-soaked shirts to avoid catching a cold, then headed towards home, carrying the satisfaction of our accomplishment with us.

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