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Perfect running weather, sunshine, not too warm and no wind, I slept good, and was highly motivated - the only thing missing was a good training base - my "official" marathon training having begun around the first of March. I suppose many runners would be intimidated on attempting a 6-hour race with just two long runs for training (16 and 18 miles), but I figured whenever I got tired of running I would just walk the rest of the time, that should be good enough for a marathon at least.

I like to run benefit runs, I mean when I'm going to run a race why shouldn't it be for a good cause, it shouldn't always be about ME. To be honest I didn't look specifically for a benefit run to run, it was more opportunity, my wife and her aunt wanted to visit the grave of the aunt that passed away last year, and I wanted to test my condition - a quick search and I had a race in the same town, Fürth in northern Bavaria (Bayern), Germany.

Now normally I prefer trail runs, marathons in the forest and try to avoid asphalt races whenever possible. However, after a look at the website from the World Down Syndrome Day Run and a quick Google search, I was convinced that this was a benefit run worthy of a bit of asphalt discomfort.

Down syndrome, trisomy 21, is a chromosomal condition caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 21st chromosome. The effects and extent of the extra copy vary greatly among people, depending on genetic history, and pure chance. Often Down syndrome is associated with some impairment of cognitive ability and physical growth, and a particular set of facial characteristics. Individuals with Down syndrome tend to have a lower-than-average cognitive ability, often ranging from mild to moderate disabilities. Based on a study in 2002 the average lifespan for those with Down syndrome is 49 years. The first World Down Syndrome Day was held on 21 March 2006. The day and month were chosen to correspond with 21 and trisomy respectively. In the United States, the National Down Syndrome Society observes Down Syndrome Month every October as "a forum for dispelling stereotypes, providing accurate information, and raising awareness of the potential of individuals with Down syndrome."

I personally don't know any families that have an individual with Down syndrome, but have seen individuals in the region and at local running events. I noticed on the website of the organizers, the Down Syndrome Association Running Club Marathon Relay, that the group participated in the local Karlsruhe marathon, so probably saw several of the members there.

We arrived on Saturday and I accompanied the ladies to the cemetery to visit the gravesite, afterward we headed to the Green Hall at the Fürth South City Park, so I could collect my start packet. We took a quick look at the park that I would be running around, a flat 1.3152 kilometer course on asphalt, with a few brief passages on cobblestone - oh my aching knees. With each round we would go through the "legendary Green Hall" on the red carpet. After depositing my wife's aunt at the train station for her trip home, we checked into the hotel and relaxed a bit before heading to dinner.

On Sunday morning my wife dropped me off at the Green Hall and I checked in my drop bag. I found a place to sit and listened to the festivities as I waited for the 9:00 a.m. start. About 15 minutes before the race was to begin they called the runners to line up, the 6 hour and 6 hour relay inside the Green Hall, the half-marathon and marathon outside at designated points. I waited until just before the countdown, then lined up in the back, the doorway from the hall was small, no sense hurrying. Promptly at 9:00 a.m. we counted up to 21, the trisomy 21 countdown I was told, and we headed out.

After a few meters the course took an immediate left, you ran about 70 meters and took a right, ran about 140 meters took a right, ran about 500 meters took a right, ran about 400 meters took a left, a right and another right and ran into the Green Hall over the timing mat for completion of a round. Then you ran past a cheering crowd, out of the hall and off for another round! The aid station was located at approx. the 1 km point from the 1.3152 course. Throughout the event there was a group of young cheerleaders doing their best to motivate participants, as well as a band of drummers and other music.

I was amazed at the diversity of runners on the track, ranging from barely out of diapers to grizzled old saints, totally out-of-shape runner-walkers to relay racers, first-time event runners to Ultra veterans, I think every area was covered. There were of course a great many runners with Down syndrome, many sporting the Club 21 shirt from the organizers, some running along, but most accompanied by another runner or group. A trait that seemed to be with all of them though was their enthusiasm, these dudes were motivated! The motto for the club was "ich kann laufen so wie Du und ich laufe auf Dich zu", which translates to "I can run like you and I am running towards you" (thanks Thomas).

I started out fairly conservatively, my goal being to try to complete around a marathon, a very conservative goal. I ran the first half-marathon in around 2:20:00, and was already complaining to myself about my tired legs and the asphalt. After 20 miles I was looking for a good reason to continue, although I could have easily walked at this point and finished a marathon, I was having a problem with motivation, somehow the 1.3 km course was not providing the necessary distraction that I was seeking. I stopped at the aid station and sat down and munched on some food and drank a coke. I watched the runners as I ate, the most were either working on getting around the course as fast as possible or were in small groups chatting away. I decided to make the best of the moment and got up and headed out.

On the next loop I caught up with a teenager that I had noticed before, he looked like he was from India or this region, so tried some English on him, which turned out to be his native language. We ran together for awhile, he was several loops behind me and was hoping to finish his first marathon. He was a bit skeptical at this point whether he would do this, I encouraged him and told him not to give up before moving on (he made it!).

As I continued to loop around the course I listened to some of the Down syndrome runners as I ran, I head a lot of diverse conversation, but what I never heard was anything negative...despite obvious signs of weariness from many, they were still filled with enthusiasm. I realized my own discomfort and complaints were so petty in comparison to what one with Down syndrome must face in their daily lives, I continued on with a new respect for my running companions!

After roughly 4 hours and 39 minutes I passed the marathon point (32 loops) and stopped at the aid station to eat something. An hour before I had considered stopping after completing a marathon and going home, but now as I fueled I contemplated whether I could make 50 km before the end of the 6 hours. I decided there was only one way to find out...

I was settled into an energy saving routine as I continued, taking a 30 second walk break about 1/3 of the way around, stopping and walking through the aid station, then moving on. The loops slowly clicked by, I knew I couldn't let up if I was going to reach 50 km. The course was thinning out as I completed the last few rounds, the marathon runners were finished, it was only the 6 hour runners left, and many were walking. I passed the 50 km mark with time to spare, I quickly assessed whether I could complete another round and headed out the door of the Green Hall a last time. I spotted my wife on the side lines and tried to indicate with hand signals that it was my last loop, she should meet me in the hall. As I continued on I didn't stop to walk, I was determined to finish the last loop.

I spotted my wife on the other side of the hall, close to the entrance, but rushed by, I knew the clock was running out - I took the last left, then a right, then another right and passed over the timing mat with 1 second to spare, 39 rounds, 51.293 km!

I walked it out a bit and found my wife, then a chair. As my wife took pictures of the award ceremony I watched the happy finishers, particular members of the Club 21, the joy and feeling of accomplishment on their faces and the pride from their family and friends was moving! So often we take our hobby for granted, many cannot do what we do. Many can only do what we do with tremendous effort.

"ich kann laufen so wie Du und ich laufe auf Dich zu"

Event Webpage: Club 21

Picture links:

Web album with pictures from Gerhard Hierl

Web albumn from Joanna Birkel.

Race Report: The KuSuH Trail 100 2010

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As the music faded, we headed out for the first running on the 1st Annual KuSuH Trail 100 race. Birgit and I stayed at the back of the pack, not allowing our enthusiasm to get the best of us. Our small race group of 26 made a loop around the track, than ran past the small crowd that had come out to see us off on this cold and rainy morning. We exited the stadium and headed out of Oberderdingen, turning right and into the field ways and wound our way towards the forest in the distance. The first hill came quickly and we settled into a swift walk, bounding over the top and picking up our running pace again, a maneuver we would repeat throughout the day and night ahead of us.
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The field way gave way to the first forested section, we fell into a relaxed pace as we traversed the single trail though the woods. Birgit prefers to take the lead on single trail, easier to seen the upcoming roots and stones she says, not untrue. We chatted off and on as we ran; a misty rain accompanied us as we wound our way up and down the forest paths. The trails were a bit muddy but fairly civilized as we continued, this would change soon enough. The single trail changed to forest service paths, we crossed a county highway, on through the next forested section and the town of Bretten beyond.
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As we entered Bretten we followed the large white painted dots and arrows on the street and sidewalks to the other side of town and the first aid station at around 19 km. We were greeted by a TV crew from the local station Kraichgal TV, they wanted a story on the only woman running the 100 Mile race. I stood to the side and munched on my sandwich as a rather surprised Birgit answered questions before the camera. After they finished we headed out of town, now I had the privilege of running with a celebrity ;-)
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Soon we left the paved road and were running through a grassy field, the drizzling rain continued and our feet were quickly soaked to the bone.
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We ran over several gentle hills, enjoying the quiet and scenic paths. We were chatting about one thing or another when my cell phone battered the silence. Very few people have my number and all knew that I was running a race, so I deduced that it must be something important...Bernd was on the phone, he was going to meet us later and wondered how are progress was. We were ahead of schedule so adjusted our meeting time accordingly.

As I hung up we turned onto a slick, muddy path that was like walking on ice. We somehow made it over the section without landing on our bottom and on to the forest service path beyond. From here we were able to run several miles, pausing to walk over several hills, but generally making good time. Gradually the trail turned to single trail, but still runnable.
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There was one section through here that was particularly miserable, logs, mud, briars and no real path to speak of, trail running at its best!
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We passed a control station and continued on through the forest, eventually running through the town of Nussbaum, where we passed the oldest participant (65) Bernhard. He had started two hours earlier than the rest of us, so we were surprised that we caught him so soon.

We left town and were soon on single trail nearing the second aid station Koehlerwiese, situated in a forested section not far from Nussbaum. We were greeted by a half dozen or so volunteers manning the station and they quickly asked what we needed and scurried around fixing sandwiches, filling our backpacks and giving us a breakdown on the trail ahead. After a bit, we were sent off with full bellies and cheerful wishes of good luck.
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The rain continued as we made our way down a long descent that brought us out of the forest onto a asphalt field path. As we made our way over open fields the rain started pouring down, we had no choice but push on. We crossed another county highway and wound our way back into the forest, at least some relief from the wind and the rain. We climbed again, over a series of rolling hills, mostly single track, the rain made the way treacherous. We ran past a cemetery on the edge of the town of Ruit, than headed over another hill to the Aalkistensee, a local lake that is a popular tourist target for hikers.
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From here it was an almost straight shot to the town of Knittlingen and the next station, the only problem, a little ole hill in between with winding, slippery, boot-sucking mud! We ran most of this section during training, but with the rain the trail was slick, we had to gingerly make our way over portions hanging onto bushes and trees to keep from landing on our backs in the sticky ooze. By this time we were somewhere between 45-50 km and Birgit was fighting a low point. I think we were both relieved when we arrived in Knittlingen at the aid station at the edge of town.

The aid station in Knittlingen was a major station, i.e. is runners could leave drop-off bags here. We were almost an hour and half ahead of our race plan, so decided to spend some time here and change into some dry shirts and shoes. The ladies manning the station fixed us a sandwich and a cup of hot tea and we got to work switching out our clothes and shoes. After savoring the hot tea and sandwich, we headed out with warm hearts and dry clothes, almost overwhelmed by the excellent care that the group had given us.

Soon we were climbing up into the forest again, we power walked, than ran as we reached a more or less plateau on top.
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This continued on for several miles before reaching a steep, rough, single trail climb and corresponding downhill into the town of Freundenstein. We had been warned about the ascent out of Freundenstein, an hold steep stairway leading up into the vineyards overlooking the town, with the continuing rain it was treacherous, we often had to use hands and feet to progress upwards over wet stone and grass.
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At the top it grew easier and we were able to run for a bit before the next climb. We wound our way through another forested section, eventually coming out on top of the "Horn", a scenic lookout point on top of the rows of vineyards below.
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Here we were to meet Bernd and his wife Uli, for fresh supplies. We were a bit earlier than planned, so we called them, with luck they were on there way up, about a minute away. After exchanging greetings we dug our bags out of their trunk and restocked our backpacks. It had stopped raining for the most part, so I decided to change all my clothes as well. Our friends sent us off with well wishes and a new energy.

We ran a mile or so ahead and arrived at the next aid station. We didn't intend on staying long, but the offer of a cup of hot soup was just too much to resist. We joined another runner Harald, who had just arrived as well. After sipping our soup and chatting a bit we Harald decided to run with us through the night and we welcomed his company.

The next section of the course had a few smaller climbs, but for the most part was fairly runnable. Harald provided a welcome distraction, we chatted about running and who knows what as we made our way through the now dark forest to Sternenfels.

In Sternenfels we again met Bernd and Uli, taking a couple minutes to restock our CamelBak's. Then we bid the two goodbye, they were heading home. Together with Harald we climbed a steep hill out of Sternenfels, then ran on to the next aid station a mile or two further on. At aid station 5 we were again greeted with cheers and requests for what we needed. They had a Volkswagen van set up with a couple benches inside, as we sat down a motherly type wrapped us in a blanket as we sipped away at our drinks. I discovered some chocolate chip cookies on the table, they sure hit the spot.

After a few minutes we set out into the dark forest, our light bobbing up and down as we ran. The course was in pretty good shape here, lots of mud puddles, but flat and rather easy to navigate by flashlight. We wound our way over the plateau for several miles, eventually arriving at a picnic area setting on top of a steep vineyard. Birgit and I had covered this part of the course during our training so warned Harald about the steep stairway (from heaven) that we were about to descend.
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The rain left the stone and concrete stairway treacherous as we made our way down to the village far below. I wondered out loud how many hundreds of steps there were. Shortly before arriving at the bottom we were met by two men from the aid station, they escorted to the bottom, than ran with us to the aid station in the town of Guendelbach.

Aid station number 6 was located in a farmer's shed, which offered protection from wind and rain. The kind attendants filled us with hot soup, sandwiches and whatever else we asked for. I can only say I have never experienced such friendly care during a race, compliment! After briefing us on the upcoming trail section, and in particular about the wild pigs along the way, they sent us on with cheers and well wishes.
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We began climbing almost immediately, first a couple short flights of stays leading to a field above, than up a steep, muddy, hiking trail that eventually brought us to the top of a hill where I believe there used to be a castle at some point in the local history of the area. On this day it was a dark forest and home to numerous wild pigs. We had been warned that the pigs could be quite dangerous, if we spotted any we should make a lot of noise and in most cases they would run away. In any case we were running along with Birgit in the lead when all of a sudden she came to a quick stop, ahead of us were at least three pairs of green eyes looking at us and more movement all around. I didn't hesitate to start yelling my lungs out, followed by Harald and Birgit...I guess we must have scared about every wild pig, hunter, and runner for miles around out of their skin, cause it grew really quiet. We continued on, Birgit again in the lead, but a bit more hesitant. After awhile Birgit jumped back, as "something" moved in the bushes off to the side. We again woke up the dead with our yells and this time I took the lead, Birgit decided it was better to trip over roots that she didn't see rather than wild pigs. We moved on, this time without further incident, I guess the wild pigs sought a quieter place to dine.

We made our way down the mountain side on an endless long, winding path, walking mostly to avoid flying over roots and stones in the dark. At the bottom was a gravel path that offered a chance to run a bit to warm up against the cold night air. The drizzling rain that kept coming and going did help matters. Later this and the upcoming sections of the course would prove to be our slowest.
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The course wound its way through the forest, crossed another county highway, then headed over a gravel, then asphalt path past a couple lakes towards Illingen. This section was still quite runnable, so we did our best to du just that. After awhile we crossed over a couple fieldways and made our way through Ensingen to the soccer field and aid station number 7.

We also had drop bags at the aid station in Ensingen, so as we ate and drank I changed my shirt, socks and jacket. I wished I had some long running pants by this time, I was wearing longer shorts, but the rain and cool night air were working against me. I remember as I sat and waited for Birgit and Harald, taking inventory of our situation. We were at roughly kilometer 115 (mile 72), it was about 2:30 a.m. and we were a few minutes behind our planned race time at this point. The next part of the course was about 9-10 miles long, but had two very tough hill climbs and a couple equally tough and very treacherous downhill sections that would cost us time. We were also all yawning and you could see that fatigue was setting in. I decided to keep my thought to myself, as we got up and started walking up the next mountain.

The climb out of Ensingen was tough in the daylight when Birgit and I trained here, but on this night in the dark with tired legs it loomed in front of us like Everest. Conversation was sparse as we made our way slowly up the steep incline, twice I nearly fell on my face as I failed to lift my feet high enough over one stone or another. At the top we turned right and headed over a plateau to a lookout point called the Edelsburg, it offered a fantastic view by day, tonight all was black.

We wound our way down a steep, slippery path on the other side of the Edelsburg, often clinging to bushes or trees to keeping from sliding down on our behinds. It was slow going, but better than breaking our necks. We made it to the bottom without major incident, crossed a quick asphalt section, then on to the next mud slide, a small steep single trail section leading below. Again we creeped down in the dark, I wiped out once, but was able to catch myself before launching downhill. Finally we reached the asphalt road running along a vineyard. We checked our lights as we heard gunshots from a hunter on the other side of the vineyard...

The asphalt road wound down the hill for awhile; we were able to run a bit, until the next muddy trail emerged. Eventually we emerged at the bottom, followed a county highway for a couple minutes, than turned towards the next vineyard. At first the slope was gradual, we ran for a few minutes on the asphalt path separating the fields. Soon we reached the wood line and turned and headed up increasingly steeper forest paths and single trail. Just as you reach the top, you go around the corner and head up some more, this continued for almost 3 miles before we finally reached the highest point on the race course, the Baiselsberg (477 meters). Here we had to stop and sign our names and our time in. We sat on stones for a minute and ate a bit, the next part of this section was downhill and we needed to make up some time.

As we headed out again we met a group of mountain bikers coming up the hill, part of the support group checking on the runners. They warned us that the downhill before us was extremely muddy and dangerous, we should take our time! As we continued on down this certainly turned out to be the case, we could traverse some parts only by clinging to branches and bushes as we gingerly made our way down in the slick mud. How they ever made it up with their mountain bikes is a mystery to me.

At the bottom we took a quick break to clean a bit of mud off the shoes and empty pebbles out of the shoes. As we worked, a light came bobbing down the hillside from where we had just come from. A runner that we had passed hours ago was on the rebound and making up for lost time. We ran on with him towards the next aid station. After a mile or so he stopped to walk and we kept moving, after the aid station we would be climbing again.

We arrived at aid station 8 at the Kirbachhof, a large farm in the area, at around 6 a.m., almost an hour behind our planned time. This time I voiced my thoughts to Brigit, but we didn't need to say much, we both understood we need to keep moving. We tanked and refilled our supplies than headed out. The next 4-5 km was a steady climb, we had planned on walking the most, now we needed to walk quickly. I hit a low of sorts through this part, not so much physically, more mentally - I was tired, really tired, so tired that I caught myself closing my eyes and opening them a few feet further ahead - with luck we were walking a gravel road at the time.

When we finally reached the top we started picking up the pace, running when it was flat or downhill, walking uphill, trying to make up some time. But we were hindered; Harald and I were both having blister problems by this time, a result of the constant wet feet and the slippery downhill sections. Every time a little pebble landed in my shoe I had to stop and dig it out or suffer with every step. Between Harald and I this was happening more and more frequently. Finally Harald stopped and said he needed to work on a blister, I decided to pop my biggest one as well and dry to tape it up. Birgit only said she couldn't stop, she needed to keep moving, I told her I would catch up. I hurried and fixed my right foot as best I could and saw that Harald was still working. I told him I need to catch Birgit now or I may not be able to any more. I knew another runner was coming behind us, so decided I needed to move now and started running.

My right foot was hurting with every step as I ran over the gravel path trying to catch Birgit. She must have been running some too, as it took me nearly 10 minutes before I finally saw her. I picked up the pace as best I could and finally caught her. She asked if Harald was coming and I said he was still working on the feet, than we started running.

The trail switched to single track and we weaved our way over some gentle rolling hills towards Sternenfels. Parts of the trail were slick and covered with stones and roots, we walked and ran as the tail warranted. Finally we reached the downhill portion leading into Sternenfels, it was steep and covered with mud, but we were used to this by now. We headed down, taking our time, hanging onto bushes and branches, and bouncing off trees until we reached the first plateau below. From here we had to traverse a steep, grassy downhill slope that proved a problem during our training, I slid down on my behind and it was dry on that day! We took a quick look at the situation, than charged down the hill at an angle, staying in the high grass as we ran. Somehow we both managed to stay on our feet, may wonders never cease. I turned and saw another runner coming down using the same strategy, watch and learn! Birgit and I set out again at a run, time was awasting.

The rest of the section to the aid station 9 Sternenfels-Leonbronn was rolling hills, we were able to run a good portion. We arrived at the aid station and were met by a friendly group of volunteers. Birgit took a minute to call her husband, who was meeting us at the finish line. I emptied my shoes from dirt and gravel and tried to get my head together for the last push to the finish line. We had roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes to cover 18 km (11 mi.) to the finish line before being disqualified. Normally we could do this walking, but at mile 89 of a 100 mile race, normal is no longer normal. I checked if Birgit was ready, than threw on my CamelBak and we headed out.

I could feel the anxiety in Birgit as we ran on, she was the only female running the race on this day and did not want to let the women of the world down, at least this was what was going through my mileage-weary thoughts at the time. In any case I had terrible blisters on both feet and each step was pure agony, and the stony trail that we were following wasn't helping a bit.

We kept moving, running most of the first 5 km without relenting. I cringed as I ran, every stone that I encountered sent pain shooting through my feet, but I kept moving, at some point I decided this was not about me, I could walk and probably finish in time...no, Birgit needed to get to the finish line, I kept moving. We had to walk several hills over the next 5 km, but we were gaining on the clock. As we neared the edge of the town of Oberderdingen, Birgit stopped and said she wanted to change and shooed my on ahead. Somehow I didn't quite understand, but understood that she wanted me to keep going, so I power walked on ahead. As I entered the town the road went downhill, I glanced behind and saw Birgit catching up so started running, I knew she'd catch me.

The sidewalks were somehow easier on the feet, I kept running, Birgit caught me and we ran until the road starting going uphill. We had at least 45-50 minutes, and the finish was only about a half mile ahead. We decided to walk. Finally we saw the sport hall and stadium ahead, with several people standing in front. One saw us and started yelling and running our way, Angelina, the wife of the race director!

We arrived at the sports hall amidst cheers and walked through the doors that were the finish line together. We were greeted with handshakes and hugs from Wolfgang the race director, Angelina and several others. After 27 hours and 14 minutes we finished our first 100-Miler!

Birgit and I gave each other a victory hug and were directed over to a bench to sit down. Several of the runners sat around us and offered congratulations. I sat and basked in the feeling of accomplishment for a moment, saying a silent prayer of thanks to my God for giving me the strength and ability, then asked Brigit how she was doing. She looked tired, but was aglow, about how I felt! Within minutes her husband Andreas and my wife arrived, they hadn't expected us so soon!

I pulled off my shoes and socks and checked the damage, soon I had several people taking pictures of my feet, hmmm so easily amused. We let our spouses hover us for a bit, than hobbled over to the showers to wash off the last hundred miles of grim. The awards ceremony was first at 1 p.m., so I curled up on an empty cot in the corner for awhile. About 15 minutes before the ceremony Wolfgang poked me and a couple other awake and said we should get ready. I rejoined the others and waited patiently for the ceremony to begin.

The fastest male (16:07:00) and the fast female (27:14:00) both received a marble plaque. The rest of us received a certificate, finisher shirt and some gifts from the sponsors. It was a real pleasure for me to see Birgit receive her plaque as the first female finisher, I can think of no one that is more deserving. We ran two marathons, two 50K, a 100K and 100M together this year, plus hundreds and hundreds of training miles. We had good days and bad days, but Birgit always kept going. I truly admire her courage, toughness and endurance, but also the love she has for her family and friends. Birgit you truly are a Superstar!
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By the way, here is how I look about 10 minutes after finishing:
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The First Annual KuSuH Trail 100: Prerace

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Ever since I completed my first 100K race last year I have dreamed about running a 100-miler, but there are very few 100 Mile runs in Germany and the most were by invitation only and/or had qualification requirements that seemed beyond reach. I voiced these thoughts to various friends in my running club, the most thought it was extreme even for me. So it was much to my surprise when my friend Birgit contacted me one day with news about a new hundred mile race in our area in September. She was highly interested in doing the race, but her husband not, she needed a running partner. After thinking it over for awhile, probably 2 seconds I said let's do it, this is our story.

Birgit and I trained throughout the year and ran several races together, sometimes with her husband Andreas (a 50K and a 100K), and sometimes just the two of us (a 50K and two marathons). Our crazy idea of running a 100 miles gradually grew into an organized race plan.
The Kraichgau und Stromberg und Heuchelberg (KuSuH) Trail 100 is a private race by invitation of the host. According to the race Webpage, "The race is a trail run, pure nature, with asphalt and civilization encountered only in the 7 unavoidable towns through which you run...you will stay on single trails (natural, roots, grass and hiking trails) and forest service tracks. Technically, some of these are quite challenging, even difficult, especially by night. The landscape in our area is very hilly and heavily forested. Thus 80% of the KuSuH is located in the forest with a constant "up" and "down" covering a total elevation change of 2,500 meters..."
When Birgit and I arrived at the mandatory race briefing on Friday we had a good feeling, we had trained on 60-70% of the course and felt confident that we would be successful. After picking up our race packets, we mingled with the other 24 participants as we waited for the briefing to begin.

Wolfgang Hoefle, the man who dreamed up the KuSuH, an ultra-runner and now race director, along his wife Angela soon welcomed all of us. After covering important information for the race the next day, they and many of the volunteers joined us for a pasta party. Afterward Birgit dropped me off at home, before heading home herself for some sleep.

The morning was rainy and cold (7°C/45°F) as I stuck my head outside at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, not good I thought as I downed some breakfast and loaded the car. I arrived at Brigit's around 6:15, she was ready, so we loaded the car and headed to Oberderdingen. As we arrived we dropped off our drop bags in the tent set up for this purpose, than joined the other participants for breakfast. We chatted a bit with a couple runners as we downed our second breakfast for the morning, then headed to the car to get ready to race.

At 7:45 we lined up with the other for some last minute notes and a photo session, then promptly 8 minutes before the 8:00 a.m. start, the race director played what will most likely become the official hymn for this race Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", although I think by the end of the race most replaced the words "...buying a stairway to heaven" with "...climbing a stairway to heaven".

As the music faded, we headed out as prompted on the 1st Annual KuSuH Trail 100.

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

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!

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.

Race Report: The Biel/Bienne 100K 2010

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According to Wikipedia Biel/Bienne is a city in the district of the Biel/Bienne administrative district in the canton of Bern in Switzerland. It is located on the language boundary and is throughout bilingual. Biel is the German name for the town, Bienne its French counterpart.

The city lies at the foot of the first mountain range of the Jura Mountains area, guarding the only practical connection to Jura in the area, on the north-eastern shores of Lake Biel. The city has about 50,000 inhabitants and its origin has been traced to the times when Celts settled in the region. Biel is the heart of the Swiss watch-making industry. Trademarks such as Swatch, Omega, Rolex and many others are closely associated with the city of Biel.

The small but beautiful historic center, with its gothic church (15th century), impressive guild halls and fountains decorated with flower, entice one to stroll, while restaurants brimming with character wait to greet visitors on their terraces. Biel also makes the ideal starting point for cycling tours with a wide selection of routes to choose from, including the Vegetable Route which passes along the more than 60 varieties of vegetable cultivated in the area.

The Biel/Bienne 100K, which celebrated its 52nd year in 2010, is one of the oldest ultra marathons in the world and is also one of the largest 100K events in Europe. These are probably reasons why it is often referred to as the "mother of all 100K".

After my debut with the 100K distance last year in Ulm, Germany, I couldn't wait to run the distance again. I voiced this desire with members of my running club last year and my friend Birgit mentioned she wanted to run a 100K to. She eventually pressured her husband Andreas into it as well and we have been training together off and on over the last 6-7 months.

As we arrived in Biel on the day of the race I had mixed feelings about the race, with a pinched nerve in my back I knew anything could happen. I tried not to think about it as we collected our start packets and found a place to relax for a few hours. A few hours before the race we walked over to the pasta party and fueled up a bit for our big event, then headed back to the car to make final preparations.

We arrived at the start about 10 minutes before the 10:00 p.m. starting time and found a place in the middle of the roughly 1500 runners. We planned on running the race together, but we all knew this plan could change quickly as the mileage rises. The temperature was around 24°C, but it was quite humid, you could almost feel the humidity rising from the streets. I hoped that it would cool down soon; otherwise we would be in for a hard night.

Finally, the countdown and we were off, in other words, we stood there a half minutes, shuffled forward, braked, the finally started to roll forward. We eventually broke out of the pack and could pick up a comfortable pace.

The first five kilometers wound their way through the streets of Biel, we were surprised at how many spectators lined the streets. Eventually we left the lighted streets and made our way out of town, over the field ways towards the next town. Headlamps and flashlights bobbed comically up and down as we ran along, we didn't need ours, and the others provided enough light. The warm, moist air caused us to sweat profusely, I began to wish that I had left my jacket in my bag, I had it tied around my waist and it added to the warmth.

We paused to drink at the aid stations at around the 5K and 10K, but only briefly. Soon it became apparent that Birgit was motivated and we were moving too slow for her. She discussed this with Andreas and decided to pull ahead of us. I had a feeling I would see her again before the race was over; it was much too humid for her, not her weather. I continued on for awhile with Andreas, but somehow the pace just wasn't working for me. As we started to climb a hill Andreas stopped to walk and I ran on ahead saying we would see each other on the downhill. He eventually caught me around the 20K point, but by the next climb I again pulled ahead.

As I walked through the aid station in the town of Ammerzwil at roughly kilometer 25, I spotted Birgit up ahead, I caught up with her and she explained the heat was getting to her. We ran on together, reducing the pace a bit, and after awhile she began feeling better.

I was not feeling particularly energetic as we proceeded, it was still hot after nearly three hours, and the humidly was worse if anything. The halfmarathon and marathon runners, who started later, buzzed by us like we were standing still, not particularly motivating to say the least.

Every so often we would run by groups of spectators dotted along the way, especially in the little villages and farm. Apparently the bars didn't close that night, there were guests line up in tables and chairs in almost every town, some of the guests fully intoxicated, but at least remembering to cheer us on.

In Kirchberg at kilometer 56 was one of the relay exchange stations, Birgit stopped to change into a dry shirt and I sat down for a few minutes and kept my eyes out for Andreas. He didn't show ups, so we continued on.

Soon we arrived at the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail, a single-trail stone and root covered path through the woods that is revered by many, detested by others who stumble through in the dark hours. We were fortunate that it was already light enough outside to run without a flashlight. It was still dangerous, there were stones and roots everywhere, daring you to take your eyes off the path. At times we ran along the bank of a stream with fields below to the right of us, with just a little imagination you could picture yourself running along rice fields in Southeast Asia - the minefields and traps in the form of stones and roots waiting to take your life.

We continued to chip away at the mileage, but so much of it the trail is only a blur, perhaps a dream as we slept through the night while plodding forward. We ran when we could, walked when we needed and even sat down for a few minutes at the aid stations. The warm, humid air remained as the daylight accompanied us once again on our journey, trying to draw our desire to continue from our weary bodies.

We left the Ho Chi Minh and returned to more comfortable dirt and gravel paths and asphalt. With time asphalt became our friend, you don't have to worry about picking your feet up as high, or stumbling over a stone.

I remember telling Birgit that if we reach kilometer 80 and are still running we should have no problem finishing the race. We were still running at said point, but right after this we began the brutal climb to the town of Arch. If this were a training run we would chatter our way up as we ran, but after 11-12 hours on our feet we walked. What goes up must come down, as the say goes, and I did not look forward to pounding down the other side. I lived through this and we kept moving.

Our running time kept growing shorter, the walking perhaps longer, my Garmin shut off along the way, who knows. Each time that we would start up after walking it grew harder to get the feet moving, we both experienced this, nothing like sharing misery among friends.

Somewhere around kilometer 93 I heard (or did I imagine it?) someone yelling. Birgit responded first, Andreas was behind us and gaining on us quickly (relative at this point). He caught us and after a brief hello kept going, he was on a roll and didn't dare stop. This spurred Birgit on and having nothing better to do I did my best to stay with her. Luckily (for me) a hill soon slowed her down to a walk again, but at the top off she went. I stayed with her, but Andreas was already out of sight, I figured that was that.

We nibbled away at the kilometers, after kilometer 95 every kilometer was marked...96, 97, Birgit suggested we take a walk break at around 98.5 km and try to run the rest in. I tried to negotiate, but we were in Biel and Birgit said she saw Andreas up ahead. 98, 99, when can we walk? "He's waiting for us!" I guess that means we run...Andreas was waiting 3-400 meters from the finish line, we joined him and all ran hand in hand over the finish. FINISHED!

There was so much that we saw and felt over the 14 hours forty-six minutes and 59 seconds that it took us to complete the 100 kilometers (62 miles). The emotions rise and fall, as does the terrain. We encouraged each other as we went, kept an eye on one another, wondered together how Andreas was doing, and were both overjoyed when he caught up to us. The feeling of crossing the finish with two good friends after such a long race is powerful. I am so happy for Birgit and Andreas, not only did they both finish, they finished together. I am so blessed to have been able to share this experience with them and look forward to our next adventure. God bless!

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Race Reports category.

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