As I am writing this report, I am still at the airport, traveling back from Europe on the Monday morning following the race. The more surprising thing is that I continue to find ticks on my body from the race. The total count is now up to four of these super small suckers. Hopefully, no Lyme Disease for me!
The race was a local event in the Neubrücke district of Germany that featured three distance options: a half marathon, a marathon, and a 64k ultra (one, two, and three loops respectively). I almost missed the start of the race, due to having to drive 220k on France and Germany motorways. I had pre-registered but I had not paid and did not have a bib.
My travel companion and girlfriend, Hannah Pate, who was running the half, got us signed in while I changed into my Brooks Cascadias and got my Gu ready. By this time it was 7:52am and the race started at 8.
I jogged the half mile to the start and arrived at 7:59 and was a ball of stress, not to mention that I could not talk to anyone to get an idea about the course. Hannah told me, based on what she learned at the sign up, that the race numbers were color coded based on your distance: blue for the ultra, yellow for the full and red for the half (my number was blue for the Ultra). I spotted a tall guy Martin Schedler, wearing a Salomon Trail Racing team shirt and a blue number, so I figured he was my competition. Luckily, the RD made some announcements in German for a few minutes (and said a few words in English and French welcoming the foreign runners).
The race began, and we started up the 200 yards of pavement before we hit the trail, Martin said something in German and it ended with the word “fast.” The course was very, very well marked every 50 feet or so and each kilometer was marked. Martin and I hit 1k at 3:50. He was already starting to pull away from me… I figured this guy must have been the German version of Dane Mitchell, so I quickly came to terms with the reality that I could not keep up this pace for 64k. I backed off the gas and just kept Martin in sight through 8k where I was at 36:30, a good pace considering we’d climbed the biggest hill on the course from 5k to 6k.
It would not be a trail race without my bum left ankle twisting on a small rock at approximately 50 minutes into the race. Soon after this, Manfred Komenda passed as I was limping. I then settled into a slightly more reasonable level of exertion, and finished the first loop in 1:43:19, in third place for the ultra (or so I thought). This was slightly behind where I planned to be — 1:35 to 1:40 range — but for the up and down nature of the course, I felt like this was okay (1,959 feet of ascent and 1,932 feet of descent per loop). It should be noted that all Germans that I encountered on the trail run super fast downhill and conserve on the uphills, whereas I am much more even-paced on both.
As I started the second loop a thought of doing the marathon entered my head. I grabbed some Gu and headed out for lap number two. Very few other runners were using a handheld water bottle other than me; I had my Nathan Sports Quick Draw Plus that worked nicely. The race started out around 14 degrees Celsius, which is in the upper 50’s for us Americans who use the Fahrenheit scale.
My legs were feeling all the activity from the previous week which included a five hour hike up to the base camp hut on the Matterhorn in Switzerland (3,260m = 10,692 ft), running everyday, and several extra miles each day of walking around various European cities. My left patella tendon had been bothering me the three days preceding the race and it began to hurt and feel like it had fluid in it on the second loop.
I knew that Hannah would be there to give me more fuel and encouragement at the end of lap two which motivated me to keep on moving. I walked up the big hills on the second loop and settled into more like a 40 to 50 mile pace. By the 5k mark on the second loop I heard footsteps. Another runner, Frank Buka, passed me on a downhill. I caught back up at the crest of the 6k hill. I keep him in sight until a long downhill, which allowed him to pull away in true German downhill fashion.
I was stopping at all the aid stations and refilling my handheld and grabbing a sip of Coke since the temperature was heating up into the 70s (Fahrenheit).
I was not happy about being in fourth place or so I thought. One other guy passed me on a flat section. He was also decked out in Salomon gear (Christian Zimmer). He knew a little English and we talked briefly. When Christian passed me this put me in what I thought was 5th place overall for the ultra.
As my knee continued to hurt on and off, and I became mentally defeated, which was a bad state to be in on an ultra trail run. I began to rationalize the fact this was not a big goal race and I was not having a great day. What if I just ran two laps and won the marathon. That sounded good. I pushed on at ultra pace with the thought of stopping after two loops. As I hit the 20k mark on the second loop I saw I had company, Rainer Leyendecker, with his yellow tag was gaining. This was the marathon front runner I assumed due to the yellow bib, so I pushed the gas and kept ahead of him to finish the 2nd loop in 2 hours and 5 minutes.
I asked the timing official if I could just do the marathon and he said yes, in English, and told me I was third overall in the marathon, I was shocked. I thought since all the guys who passed me had blue race tags they were ultra guys, but not so. By this time, Rainer had changed shirts and was headed on his third loop. I wisely stuck with my decision to call it quits for the day. My final time was 3:48:22 for the marathon (3rd overall). I rehydrated for a few minutes and went for a 5k cooldown jog. That way I ended up with just over 29 miles for the day.
Overall the course was great with a nice mix of jeep road and single track. It featured wooded areas, open fields and creek beds with mostly good footing throughout. My key takeaways from the race are: allow a bunch of extra time when traveling to a foreign race; ideally know the language; and make sure you know who you are really racing if there are multiple distance options on the same course. The marathon had 43 finishers, and the ultra had 43 finishers, and the half marathon had 107 finishers.