Apologies for taking 6 days to post this race report, I toured around Bavaria with my parents after the race, and it has taken me a bit of time to process the race and decide exactly what it has meant to finish it. The journey of training and racing, with all the highs and lows, has meant more to me than I can easily express. If you want the short version, I finished in 29:55:41 with 3 other fantastic and kind runners, who looked after and encouraged me for 85 amazing miles. Now for the detailed blow by blow:
The race started at 3 pm, so that we could finish about the same time as the 100 k runners who started at 5 am the next morning. I liked sleeping in, and actually had a great nights sleep considering the excitement and nerves. By the time breakfast was over, though, I was ready to start and stop thinking about it. I ate half a mushroom pizza for lunch at about 1:30, and then it was off to the stadium for check in and drop bag organizing.
When the gun went off at 3, 40 of the 49 100 mile entrants headed out the Ruhpolding Stadium. The other 9 runners would start later, in order to reach the stadium again at kilometer 87 when it was open at 4 am . At first finding a pace was difficult, tempering the excitement and fresh legs with the knowledge of what lies ahead. I latched on to a small group as we wound our way out of Ruhpolding and started our first major climb to the summit of the Zinnkopf, barely a hill at 580 meters.
After the summit we bounded down a slippery, rutted and rocky decent to our first aid station in the town of Hörgering. Here I met my parents a mere 17 k and about 2 hours and 15 min after starting. I refilled my camel back, refilled my smoothie bottle, grabbed two peanut butter and honey sandwiches and second bottle filled with lemon and honey water and was off. The push to the next aid section would be one of the longest in the whole race. I left with the first group out of the station but soon drifted back a bit form the leaders. At about 20-25 k I Willie and Oliver, two training partners from Frankfurt, Germany, and my partners for the next 141 k, came up behind me on a downhill through a wooded single track section. Our paces matched well and Oliver’s English was great. I knew that running with people would be a great aid for navigation and mental strength, and speaking English made the miles much less lonely, so I hitched my wagon to this group. It was the best decision I could have made, and one that probably made the difference between finishing under 30 hours and finishing at all.
Oliver and I chatted about training and our motivations for running the hardest ultra in Germany. We descended through the town of Hammer, saw my cheering parents once again, and then started up the long push to the Stoißer Alm. The climb was a big one, but on easy forest roads. We ducked into the forest for a scenic bit of trail and then popped out into the beautiful pastures of the Stoißer Alm. I took a bathroom break at the Alm and when I came back out the others were out of site. I descended the steep dirt road as fast as I could without subjecting my legs to too much pounding. I caught the group again (now much bigger since the leaders had been caught) and we started some rolling hills.
We eventually cut off the wide road, and into some narrow, rocky switchbacks through the forest. We climbed quite a bit until we reached a lookout just as the sun was setting. We turned on our headlamps and marched through some boggy trail until hitting nice forest roads where we descended to the Adlgaß Farm. Here was the first real excitement of the run. Some cows were freaked out by our headlamps and ran over to see what we were about. One of the 2 ton, horned beasts cut in front of me on the trail and jogged right behind the runner in front on me for a hundred meters before it was stopped by a turn-style at the fence. At Adlgaß, I grabbed another sandwich and granola bar, refilled my smoothie and lemon honey bottles and topped off my camelback. I also switched to my mid-weight long sleeve for the night and donned gloves.
The aid station had been a long time coming and we would need the refreshments before the biggest climb of the night. Right out of Adlgaß, the climbing started in earnest. Soon we abandoned the smooth forest roads for steep, rocky and arduous climb. The climb was a long one, and we were all relieved to see hot tea and boiled potatoes at the Kohler Alm.
Our group got smaller after the summit, me, Oliver Willie and one or two others left Kohler Alm before the rest in the group. If the trail up was difficult the trail down did nothing to help our average speed, which had previously hovered around 7-8 kph and had dropped to 6.5 after the climb. The decent was dark, muddy, rutted and rocky. Every member of the group took several spills or stumbles. Eventually we saw my parents again at Mauthäusl Restaurant. We descended some stairs where the leader last year slipped and ended his race. We then ran along the river and eventually reached Café Zwing. My parents were here again to see up head steeply back into the forest for one of the scarier portions of the night.
After a more climbing the trail traversed a very steep mountain side. The footing was again rutted, rocky and slippery, and a bad fall would end at the bottom of the mountain. At times there were fixed steel cables to hold onto where the falling danger was especially bad. We moved slow through this section despite the fact that my legs were not especially bad at this point.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when we hit forest roads again and descended to another aid station where I picked up sandwiches and refilled my smoothie. I also dropped the second bottle since from here on out, the distance between stations is never too great.
We had a minor climb and decent on forest roads until we came to the stadium again. Here we were caught by the lead woman who had started an hour after us. The stadium is 87 k in, so just over half way. I had wanted to hit half way at about 13 hours in preparation for a large positive split. We hit the stadium at about 4:25 AM, so we were even a little ahead of schedule. We took more time at this aid station, adjusting clothing, and dropping off gear to get ready for the sunrise.
Dawn was barely breaking as we headed out of Ruhpolding for the second time. Just Oliver, Willie and I were left from our group, and we were leading the 3 PM starters. This is when I was really happy about the start time of the race. The second wind that the sunrise brings after a long night is really a wondrous thing. Your body’s bio rhythms synch back up and you hardly notice that you didn’t sleep. This boost came at about 55 miles, much better than having darkness descend at that mark like most 100 milers.
We climbed up a steep ski slope, and crested the hill just as the sun rose fully over the horizon. From there the trail got really messy. There were large bog patches and my shoes got soaked. Eventually we descended to the Brander Alm and then started another difficult ascent. Our pace noticeably slowed by the miles we had already covered. This was another rocky and loose climb, made tolerable, though, by the beautiful views. Eventually we reached the water station at the top of the Hömdlwand. Here is the first time I really started to feel fatigued, and I had to stay conscious to not drop off the back of the group.
Fatigue was exactly not what the upcoming trail called for. The trail leading down the back of the Hömdlwand was steep, very loose and rocky and one of the most technical bits of trail we covered. I slipped several times and had to carefully choose footing for over an hour. The mental strain of trying to move fast on tired legs down such a difficult and treacherous trail was intense. Upon reaching the wide, flat dirt road at the bottom, both Oliver and I raised our arms in victory.
From there we jogged down the street to Langerbauer Farm aid station. This was a bit of a turning point physically. The sunrise adrenaline was gone, my calves were tightening up and my legs in general were very fatigued after 8500 meters of total climbing and decent. I started landing with a mid foot strike or a full heel strike to take the strain off my calves. The Langerbauer station was also the first aid station where, after stopping to rest and refill from drop bags, all of us had trouble running at first due to stiff legs. We picked up a fourth runner at this station, Anton, who would stay with us till the end.
Next we had another big climb that started on forest roads and then turned to marching straight up through a cow pasture to the Jochberg Alm. Here I took off my shoes for the first time, and it was not a good sight. They were pruney and I had a few good blisters starting. The blisters weren’t bothering me too bad, and I was worried that any tape I covered them with would make the already soft skin blister immediately if it moved at all. I made a mental note to switch socks the next possible spot and keep an eye them till then. The trail continued to be sparse after Jochberg, and at times it was just flags marking the way through rough, boggy pasture for more climbing and then traversing and descending on rocky, technical trails. I started to yo-yo back and forth off the back of the group here, especially on descents where my legs hurt the most.
The last steep decent to the Aid station at Kohlstadtwas especially tough, and I knew that I would have to start digging deep physically and mentally for the last 45 k. Here I saw my parents for the first time since the stadium at 4:30 AM, and their encouragement and the fresh strawberries they brought were a huge boon. “Just one more marathon left,” was our rallying cry as we started a wickedly steep accent up a ski slope. We continued to climb until we were just under the Hochfelln Summit, the highest point of the race. Unfortunately we still had to descend all the way down to Egg, near the valley floor, before we climbed the Hochfelln from the other side.
The next bit of long, winding down hill with small climbs was really mentally trying. My legs had gone beyond sore and tired to painful and exhausted. My yo-yoing was getting worse, and I was having a tough time catching back up until the others slowed for a climb. During the final push to Maria Eck, I was quite a bit behind, and after a quick stop to fertilize the bushes, I came into the aid station a few minutes back of the group.
I started to feel bad about the other members of the group having to wait for me to catch up at times, but Oliver especially insisted that we stick together and finish as a group. I fell back quite a bit heading to Egg, but Oliver waited for me at the bottom of a hill, and after that I forced myself to stick with the group through some challenging rolling single track till finally we reached Egg. From here there was only 25 k left, but we still had to climb to the summit of the Hochfelln at over 1600 meters high.
The group set out at a slow pace knowing that it would be a slow grind to the top. I was really struggling now. Any time I had to make a step higher than 8 inches, or lost my balance and had to regain it, my breathing rate would spike to nearly hyperventilating. When we reached the top, I was so exhausted that there really wasn’t even much relief to be had. I ate banana and boiled potatoes at the same time, and the combination tasted amazing at the time.
The first 4 k of the decent off the Hochfelln was the hardest part of the whole race for me. It was a super technical trail, with large drops, lots of loose rock, and legs that barely worked anymore.
We finally hit the forest road with 15 k to go. Here, the tendon at the top of my right calf really tightened up and got very painful. For the next 8 K I hit my lowest point mentally. The steep roads and the increasing pain in my right leg were really wearing me down. I kept dropping back and felt really back about slowing the rest of the group down. Still they continued to wait for me, and encouraged me to keep going. The extent of my mental fatigue is really hard to express, I wanted nothing more than to get out of the mountains and be done. I was irrationally upset whenever the road went downhill, or we took a turn that didn’t seem to lead straight to the stadium. A huge turn around came when I hit the last aid station with 7 k to go. I had half a banana and set off with the rest. My leg was still very painful, but knowing that we were out of the woods, literally, put me in a much better place mentally. We ran almost the entire last 7 k and beat everyone in the group’s expectations to finish in less than 30 hours.
We came down the last 200 on the track, arm and arm and crossed at the same time. Finishing was amazing. It was certainly the hardest thing I have ever done. It’s the longest I’ve ever stayed up in a row let alone the distance and elevation gain. Training for the race had been a way to give me a goal after a period of being a bit directionless. After finishing, I felt a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that is really hard to describe and quantify. 16 of the 49 starters finished the 100 mile race in the time limit of 32 hours. 4 finished after the time limit and the rest dropped. A total of 36 runners have finished the 100 mile race in the 6 years it has been run. Testiment to the difficulty of the course.
full photo album here