Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jeremy at the Chiemgauer 100k (26 July 2014)

(I mentioned that we went to Catholic mass on Sunday because we didn't have a car, because Jeremy was out of town. He was out of town because he was running his first ultra marathon - a 100k in Chiemgauer, Germany. Here is his (very long, but no apologies!) account of his first ultra marathon. I am so proud of him!)

On Friday July 25, 2014 I left Königstein for Ruhpolding in southeast Germany to participate in a 100k ultra marathon race. I signed up for this race after we bought plane tickets to spend our summer here. I have never run more than 50k in one day, and that 50k was just a few weeks ago here in Germany by myself at a leisurely pace on multiple hiking trails in the area. In preparation for this event, I ran a total of 270k in May and 370k in June. This race is called the Chiemgauer 100. You can read about it here.

The home page has a map showing the whole 100k route in red. The cost was only 50 Euro. I am happy that I chose this as my first ultra. The organizer avoids a large media presence, sponsors, and other frills. There isn’t as much pageantry or giveaways as would probably be elsewhere. It’s almost like a local event that a few outsiders join each year. The problem with choosing this event as a first-timer, though, is that the elevation change is considerable and the cutoff times for each stage are not generous. The total elevation change for the 100k is about 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet).



Before leaving Königstein, I entered into our GPS the address of the farmhouse in Ruhpolding where I was planning to stay for two nights. The GPS showed that it would take some 3 hours to get there. I started off in our nice affordable rental car (Seat Ibiza from Spain). After only 10 minutes of driving I picked up a stout young man dressed in what I thought was traditional German festival clothing. The young man asked for a ride to the next village, Plech (Yes, it sounds like you have some sort of a phlegm problem when you say it). We first determined that his English was better than my German and off we went. (Side note: the other night I was on a long run and tried to hitchhike home but no one stopped for me (it was dark), so I paid this one forward.) I asked the young man if he was on his way to a festival – which showed my lack of local cultural tradition. It turns out that he was a carpenter going to an interview for a new job. His duds were pretty cool and they were the uniform of his trade. When I dropped him off I asked his name – Bieber, he said. I replied: “Oh, like Justin Bieber?” He gave me a courtesy laugh and said, “zat is an owld choke.” I like this guy. Here is a random photo of the carpenter’s traditional clothing.




About four hours later I arrived in Ruhpolding. Along the way there was a bit of construction and traffic that extended the journey. I stopped once for some gas and food. I also used the bathroom, which cost me about 75 cents. Not a bad fee for Europe.

I stayed two nights in an old German farmhouse.

The farm is in the picture above. It’s the one in the lower left corner that you can still see completely. The lady who owns it has two older children, plus five cats to kill mice. That is pretty much the only reason I would ever allow a cat around. I was lucky to get a single room on the ground floor.

There was a shared shower and bathroom, though. Actually the shower on my floor wasn’t ready so I went upstairs for my douche (which is what many languages call ‘shower,’ though it sounds very wrong to North Americans). This next photo is a view from the farmhouse.

That evening we had a mandatory race briefing at the start/finish line in Ruhpolding’s sports stadium (see photo below).

I gave a ride to two nice German guys – Paul and Rudi. The briefing was conducted after a spaghetti dinner. These guys talked me into my first beer. Don’t worry, Mom, it was alcohol free. I didn’t care much for the taste.

The organizer, Mr. Gi, has done a great job of hosting this event for the past 10 years. After the briefing and putting my prepared drop bags into the correct bins, I drove back to the farmhouse. The drop bags are basically any type of bag you want in which you put supplies you might need at predetermined locations throughout the race. I used one backpack and four canvas shopping bags. I had one bag for the stadium which served as the 0k bag as well as the 26k bag (we did one loop of 26k as the first part of the race). The other four bags were set at various locations at different checkpoints. You can put anything you want in the bags as long as they are not too crazy big or heavy. In my bags I put extra socks, one pair of shoes, some clean clothes and some snacks. After the briefing we cheered on a few of the insane runners who were just heading out for an all-night run to attempt 161k (100 miles!).

Back at the farmhouse I fell asleep at 10:00 pm. I awoke two hours later at midnight and didn’t sleep again. During the night I read the Book of Mormon (in Arabic as usual) and rested the best I could until 3:30 – breakfast time. I didn’t need any of the three alarms I had set (phone, watch, iPad). I ate a few pieces of bread with cheese and jam. This is a normal German breakfast.

For the race I wore some nice and comfy undies, compression spandex, and shorts with pockets. I also had on long socks to protect from the weeds and such (this was a really good idea). In my race vest I had some almonds, cashews, a jacket, a knife, a small first aid kit, and my phone. I also had two 500mL water bottles. One had water and the other had isotonic sports drink. Below is a picture of some of the gear I had packed.


At 5:00 we set off on the 100k. There were a total of 82 runners at the beginning (for the 100k). Six of these runners were women. Most of the runners were German but there were internationals other than me, too. Looking at the stats it appears that the average age of the runners was about my age. There were some in their 20s and some in their 60s. Lots in the 30-50 range. I think I stayed in the middle of the pack for the first 26k. Before returning to the stadium at 26k there was one checkpoint at a local mountain farm at 17k (called an ‘Alm’ in German). At this farm, Kaitl Alm, a few adults and kids were checking runners’ numbers and providing some water and snacks. There were two young German girls about the same age as my daughters helping pour drinks. They were sure trying hard to do their jobs right.

The path from the stadium wound its way through some quiet neighborhoods and up to a forest service road heading up a small mountain. Along the way there were a few sheer cliffs that gave me a bit of vertigo and a fright. More troublesome, however, were the massive tree roots that had tangled themselves all together along the trail. It was really hard work moving around trees and tree roots. My legs were already tired at about 20k, which concerned me because I knew that I was only one-fifth of the way. At 26k I finally made it back to the stadium and took about a 5 minute rest eating and repacking. By the way, I tried to eat as many carbs/calories as I could while running. If you wait until you are hungry, you have waited too long and will hit a ‘wall’ from which it is very difficult and time-consuming to recover. Same with drinking.

If you look at the elevation profile of the race below, you will see that after the stadium I headed up my first real mountain, Unternberg (1,600 meters but we only had to go to 1,400 for this one). It was on the way up I saw my first person give up and head back. I learned later that some other people gave up when they got back to the stadium. This path was a pain, especially when I passed under a chair lift that seemed to mock us as its cushioned benches ascended smoothly through the air. At about kilometer 32, the trail was not marked well and I had to backtrack for a while which added more total mileage to my run. I was not too happy about that.

It was a relief to make it to the top of Unternberg. That blessed relief did not last long, however, as we had to next ascend a steep mountainside up one of the highest crossing points of the race – the Horndlwand (1,600 meters). On the way up I ran out of all liquids so I had to take some water from a trough at one of the local farms. I didn’t want to but the temperature was rising along with my thirst. The race organizers said that they could not promise that the well/spring water was safe to drink. I had been planning to refill only at aid stations and checkpoints. I filled only half a bottle to be safe(r). Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to make it to the checkpoint on top of the Horndlwand. I ran out of water going up. The trail was single track and there were quite a few trekkers coming down. Oh how I wanted to ask for water. But I didn’t. The trees began to thin and the sun began shine ever brighter. I finally found a small tree and sat under it to take a break. A few runners passed me. I wasn’t sure I would be able to continue the race much past the bottom of the mountain – if I ever got down. I started to doubt my training and myself.

It was not long before a young man I had met the day before showed up and offered words of encouragement. His name is Raymond and he is originally from Guatemala, but speaks English like a Utahn. Why? Because he lived in Provo with a bunch of Mormons a while ago. It’s a long story. He isn’t Mormon but he knows about Jack Mormons and other fun facts that made me laugh and feel like I had found a long-lost cousin or something. Anyway, hermano Raymond gave me some water and let me use his trekking poles until we reached the summit. Bless his heart forever. The trekking poles made a noticeable difference in the ascent. They help to shift weight off the legs a bit – and that little bit is wonderful. It didn’t matter that Raymond is about a foot taller than me and so his poles were not my size – they were awesome. He really helped me out of a dark place. (Quick tangent: You know, Mormons are supposed to be actively engaged in doing good for others, but it seems to me that people who aren’t Mormons are always helping me more than I am helping them!

On the summit we were greeted by some bright-eyed youth who had schlepped some water and treats to the summit for the runners. We had juice, Haribo gummy bears, and more. I said, “I feel that I have died and gone to heaven.” They laughed at that. Someone said that this is what heaven should look like. I think I agree. I did start to get a bit chilled after a few minutes though. Since I have been living at sea level for the past four years, I’m not used to the altitude. Thanks to Raymond, my spirits were lifted. People who do these long runs talk about highs and lows. I was definitely at a low before Raymond showed up. Unfortunately, my spirits were soon to come crashing down like never before.

The descent from Horndlwand was more painful for my legs than anything I have ever experienced in my life. I don’t know why, but extended periods of downhill trails really kill one’s leg muscles. Perhaps it is because I didn’t do much downhill training? Whatever the reason, I had to stop and rest several times. The trail down was single track again and wound its way around boulders and stones of various sizes that had seemingly fallen from the imposing rock massif right next to the trail. My GPS watch lost reception. My legs lost all feeling. By the time I finally arrived at Rothelmoos, my goose was cooked.

I made it to Rothelmoos (42k) at 12:46 – just 44 minutes before the cut off. I had made the other checkpoints with a bit more time to spare, but the trek down Horndlwand left me with little time and energy. I promptly lay myself down in the soft grass for a 10+ minute respite from pain. At this particular checkpoint there were lots of tourists enjoying the sunny afternoon and beautiful nature. Some stared at me in wonder. Some asked questions about the race. Some said we were crazy for doing such a long run. I couldn’t really argue with that, at that moment.

After my rest and some much-needed refueling, I headed out to ascend another mountain that peaked at over 1,400 meters. It was on the way down that a few of us thought we were supposed to be at a checkpoint by 15:30. We sprinted down the mountain using precious energy that should have been saved. It turns out that we misread the map. Regardless, when I arrived at Kohlstatt at 15:45 (again 45 minutes before the cutoff), the race volunteer workers told me that I wouldn’t make it to the next cutoff (Egg) by 18:15. It was 20 kilometers away and over some really tough terrain. There was a small group of us who absorbed this information with mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. To be honest, my body was nearly spent of energy and I knew it would be difficult to go on at much more than a geriatric shuffle. We had some food and were off. Fortunately, by this point we had made it far enough that we were pretty much guaranteed to make 80k (unless we gave up), thereby earning the coveted t-shirt. I learned later that one of the guys in our small group gave up shortly thereafter. Thunder had just started sounding in the distance.

It was after Kholstatt that the going got really tough. We had a steep uphill on a skinny trail, partially on wet grass. The distant thunder had now become lightning accompanied by a bit of rain. Trekkers were descending this small mountain in droves. They knew to get off. We had to get up. And up we got, in rain, thunder and now even lightning. It was a great struggle to make it to the checkpoint in Maria Eck. At one point along the way I was all alone and just sat down on the gravel forest road and rested for a few minutes. I didn’t care that I was getting dirtier. I just needed to get weight off my legs.

As I approached the checkpoint in Maria Eck I felt that I should just skip refueling and stopping for aid – after all, it was now raining and the temperature had dropped. I didn’t need much hydration. My stomach by this time had started to reject any food I attempted to feed it. And so I ran up to the checkpoint showing my number, and then kept on running. I caught up with a guy from Japan and two Germans. It was then that the clouds unloaded torrential rains and lightning. I was drenched within minutes. Providentially, I had my Mountain Hardware jacket in my pack. I quickly donned it and held it over my body and my race pack. I had to hold it together with both hands because it couldn’t zip it up while I had my race vest on. Water quickly trickled down my arms and filled the elbows of the jacket with puddles of cold water. It was really quite the rain and lightning show.

We all decided that the best thing to do was to continue racing rather than stand around. We couldn’t see far enough to run or even jog, so we walked quickly. The trail soon turned to mud and some of the course markers were probably washed away. I say ‘probably’ because I don’t know this for a fact. I do know, however, that we were now lost! You see, some of the course markers were made with piles of baking flour shaped into directional arrows. There were other more indelible markers as well, but we couldn’t find them. And so luck had it again that one of the Germans knew of an alternative route to our next checkpoint at Egg. We followed closely behind him, no longer caring how deep the mud puddles were – it was now impossible to avoid them. We were lucky that after about 45 minutes the worst of the storm had passed and we eventually arrived at Egg at about 20:00. This was one hour and 45 minutes behind the cutoff time. Even if we hadn’t gotten lost, we would have missed the cutoff. Our alternate route did, however, add more kilometers to our journey.

At Egg we knew our main journey was over. We now had just 6k (through a shortcut) back to the finish line at the stadium. I had a drop bag at Egg so I put on a clean shirt and socks. I was freezing and so I had to wear my jacket again as well. It was still wet but it did provide much needed warmth. A nice young girl volunteering with her parents showed us the way to return to Ruhpolding and the stadium.

Those last six kilometers were a time of reflection and facing my fears. We had to go down a very steep trail in a dense forest for the first two kilometers. We used small trees to arrest the weight of our bodies as we went down. The trail was muddy and hard on us. I was with the man from Japan for the first three kilometers of the final section to the stadium. When we emerged from the forest onto paved roads we both walked in silence as we basked in the refreshing air that comes after a powerful storm. It was a runner from France who pulled us out of our daydreaming. He reminded us that we were so close to the finish. We started to run again. At the 3k mark I told the Japanese man that I was going to run hard to the end and that he was welcome to join me. He declined. I ran hard and passed several people before the end. Passing these people somehow boosted my spirits. Yes, I am that shallow. I had my cake, but I couldn’t eat it because I later learned that the people I passed were either completing the 100k or the 100 miles. Ha ha on me.

And so I returned to the stadium and arrived officially at 21:12 on Saturday, July 26, 2014.

Postscript

Two days have now passed since the race. I am disappointed that I was unable to complete the whole 100k, but I am pleased that at least I didn’t have to give up! Allowed the time, yes, I could have made 20 more kilometers, but those last 20 were up another 1,600 meter mountain. I would have had to walk for most of the ascent and descent. It would have taken 4 or 5 more hours, and thus I would have missed the 11:00 pm official finish at the stadium for all runners. In total, I did cover 3,400 meters of elevation change (11,000 feet). I burned probably about 10,000 calories that day.


This was my first official ultra marathon. A few people commented to me during the race that this was one heck of a course to choose as a first ultra. Truly, I am not used to the altitude or the massive change in elevation I experienced throughout the race. Had I trained here for months before the race – would I have made it? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Probably.

Out of the 82 people who set out to complete 100k that day, only 38 actually finished it. Nine of the 82 quit at some point during the race. Thirty-five of those 82 were able to complete the minimum 80k. I was one of the last of those 35, but I’m proud I made it that far. I could have kept going but it would have been very slow. The trails were exceptionally different from what we train on in Dubai. The temperature and climate are different. The altitude is different. Perhaps most crucial, though, is the fact that I only started seriously running about 1.5 years ago and I just don’t quite have the foundation or training that would have pushed me on to the full 100k within the allowed time.

This is all inspiration to make me work harder. I will return and conquer you, you blasted 100k. It might not be this same course, but somewhere, sometime, I will claim you.

My overall impressions about this race are many. One that has seared my memory is that mountain trail running requires an almost unbelievable portfolio of training, healthy living, and mental fortitude. I am not there yet. I mean, this is not like lifting weights at the gym building muscles via repetitions on machines. Ultra running is wild. It is in nature and nature doesn’t always care about you. Conditions will never be totally stable and you have to constantly evaluate and reevaluate your speed, nutrition, hydration, your sweat output and salt loss, your stomach aches, where you will put your feet, whether to ignore the pain and for how long, whether you might be lost, whether you have enough food and water to make it, whether that storm will hit you. Very few of those issues are of real concern at a gym or on a track where one can stop at anytime or let your mind wander as you run on a smooth surface. No, I don’t think mountain running is ‘better’ than other way to get exercise. It probably isn’t for everyone. It takes time. It takes travel. It takes you away from your family. A mountain descent like Horndlwand eats you up and spits you out without thought about such trivialities. And yet, the rewards that these runners know make it worth their time, their blood, sweat, and tears. To push yourself beyond what you thought was possible. To experience nature untamed. To see the sun rise and later set during the same run. To brave Mother Nature when others are sleeping.

Without wishing to make a religious statement, these words from a Christian hymn come to mind:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.


For more information, see the website at http://www.chiemgauer100.de/English/EChiemgauer_100_home.htm or read a report from last year that has some photos: http://www.trailrunning-nation.com/#!chiemgauer-100-ultra-trail/c1tz8.

11 comments:

Susanne said...

THAT was an exciting read! Did Jeremy write this just for your blog or is this a contribution to a magazine or something? Either way, he did a wonderful job. Thanks so much for sharing!

Liz Johnson said...

THAT. IS. INSANE.

Wow, Jeremy. I am in complete awe.

Jen said...

Wow.Zers.

Congratulations. That's amazing.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Oh. My. Heck. Jeremy, you did amazing on an almost un-doable course. 11,000 elevation gain? That's incredible. Like you said, you could not have been prepared for that because your training is done in such a different clime. You can be proud!

Abu Halen said...

Man crush on Jeremy.

Scotty P said...

Very impressed. Well done, big brother.

Kitty Crazy! said...

Wow, Jeremy! I am so proud of you. I can't believe how you fought through pain, misery, hunger, thirst, fatigue, low spirits, etc. You should be extremely proud of yourself. MOM

Crys said...

I read this with the same awe I devote to birth stories! Amazing Jeremy!!! You deserve that t-shirt!!!

Aimee said...

Congratulations! What an incredible feat! More posts on your training would be super interesting!

Katie said...

Nice job, Jeremy! That's impressive and I loved your write up on it! It almost convinced me to try one... Almost. But I think I'll stick to biking for races that long! :-)

Hannah said...

I'm so impressed. This was the first time I'd even heard of a 100k race.

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