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Running Vertical

Race report: Katrinberglauf 2016 (4.5km, 943 Hm)

The gun goes off. The timing chip beeps as I cross the starting line, surrounded by around 200 other runners. This is my second attempt at running Katrinberglauf (2015 blog entry). The basic premise is simple: the race spans an official 4.4km and climbs 943 meters of elevation. The first few hundred meters are on tarmac (which helps spread out the runners a little), the next half kilometer is on a narrow gravel road in the forest, and then from around the 1km mark to the top the runners follow a ski slope with a rocky single trail snaking its way up, getting steeper and steeper along the way. I may not be the fastest competitor, but with the majority of runners being from Austria, there’s a big chance that I drove the most Kilometers go get here. Why would I do that even though I have no chance of finishing on the first page of the results? Why would anyone subject themselves to this much suffering, anyway?

During the initial 300m on tarmac, oddly enough, things felt more relaxed than last year. I hit a top pace of 4:05m/km, but that’s pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things because the one minute and fifteen seconds it took us to cover this ground is fairly meaningless compared to the almost hour-long slog up the mountain that would follow. Now off pavement, we went around a 90 degree bend and then attacked the first short but solid climb of the day. Here, things were a bit congested and I transitioned into a walk for a few meters because people in front of me weren’t moving faster. I had started quite conservatively, but even then my heart rate had already gone up from 130 at the start to 170 right as we did another 90 degree turn and followed a gravel-filled road through the forest. I transitioned back into a run for the next few hundred meters, but after a little over 500m of total distance, with my heart rate at 172 and the road now getting steeper, I was (just like last year) one of the first people to switch to power-walking.

I was quickly starting to feel my lack of mountain-specific training. I competed at the European Masters Athletics Championships Indoor (EMACI) in late March. With so much focus on 60m and 200m sprints, along with the inevitable flu season that hit me hard in March, not only did my 2016 training only see half the vertical elevation change, but I also did less than half of last year’s distance on roads or trails.

On the steeper stretches, I tried to do that steep-mountain-walk where you push with your hands against your quads, basically in an attempt to use your arms to aid in pushing your legs into the ground and yourseld forward; but all that gave me was arms that were quickly feeling tired. And while last year I fell into a groove and went the same speed as the people around me, this year it seemed that I was passed a bit more often. I was working hard, and my heart soon reached the maximum sustainable level of around 175 beats per minute. While it can go a little higher for short bursts, I know that this is right around the level where I can still keep going without falling apart. But even though I wasn’t falling apart, I still didn’t have an easy job. A stuffy nose left me with some breathing issues; which I’m sure wasn’t really helping to get enough oxygen into my blood and muscles.

Since there’s also a separate relay after the main race has started, and several teams each year answer the challenge of sprinting up the mountain in larger groups, there was regular clapping and encouragement coming from relay runners who were still waiting for their chance to run.

We passed the first “Labestelle” where water or isotonic drinks were offered. Since temperatures were much lower than last year, and I thought I’d hydrated well before the race, I opted not to slow down for a drink. I had memorized my splits from last year, so when I passed the second kilometer in around 20 minutes and the third one in 35 minutes, I knew that I wasn’t too far from last year’s performance. In between, there were a few spots where the gradient was a little less steep. I wished I could have run here, but the heart rate and overall state I was in did not allow this.

Even though my eyes were mostly focused on the ground, and landing ideal foot strikes without slipping or sliding; I couldn’t help but notice the large variety of the people around me. With the top athletes already across the finish line by now, my competitors here were a lot more diverse than you’d expect. It’s a little humbling to have a women in the W60 category pass you; but good for her. Coming from a country and a sport (track&field) where most people finish their athletic careers before they hit 30, it’s refreshing to see people who maintain fitness well into their sixties.

So not only was I getting passed by people considerably older than me; but the terrain got even harder. During the final kilometer, the average grade increases some more, sometimes hitting 30% or 40%. The elements started playing a more dominant role now, too. With valley temperatures at around 16 degrees when we started, it was noticeably colder here. My running top was soaked with perspiration by this point, so when the wind picked up (even if it was a bit of a tailwind), the evaporative effect started to chill me. And then, to up the annoyance factor some more, it started raining.

Finally, a sign with “400” written on it came into view. In my oxygen-depleted state it took a while for it to register that this meant I had 400m left to go. 400m is not very far. I’ve covered that distance in less than 50 seconds on the track. Here, it would take me at least a handful of minutes. I traded positions with one or two runners a couple of times, but really I was just too tired to make any meaningful improvement on my racing position. Basically, all my body allowed me to do was to just keep on going. In comparison to last year that was a change, because last year I first had a really low point where I wanted to quit, and then found a second wind. This year, I neither had a low point nor did I ever find a second wind.

The final 200m or so were tough. I still had breathing issues, and I could feel that my legs were threatening to cramp up. There was a trio of runners ahead of me, and I tried to hold on. I was moving faster than the last of this trio as we entered the finish line chute (where it’s an unwritten rule to no longer pass people). He moved to the side, but I stayed behind, saying something along the lines of “it’s okay”, meaning I’d gladly stay behind. I think only “okay” actually came out of my mouth. Maybe he understood. With nobody immediately behind me, a bit of a gap formed in the last meters as I unraveled. I walked over the finish line and collapsed against a wall.

I heard the speaker announce my finish time. The exact numbers didn’t quite register, but I understood that I was a minute or two faster than last year (in fact, I did 54’15 , versus last year’s 55’55).

I crossed the line in 127th position. With 202 finishers in total, that puts me at about 63%; which in turn is marginaly better than last year’s 65%.

So why again do I do this? I knew I wasn’t in any kind of shape to significantly improve last year’s performance. I knew that the weather wouldn’t great. I knew that driving almost 1500km (round trip) over the course of the weekend would tire me out. I knew that I’d be forced to power-hike for the maority of my race. And yet, I signed up for the race and I’m glad I did. When I did the race last year, my achilles tendon was the limiting factor. It was badly inflamed and running on it was painful. Recovery was a long process. When I started preparing my second season as a mountain runner, I vowed that I would do my best to improve my physical shape so I’d be able to actually run much more of the distance. Not only would this be faster on the easier gradients, but it just feels a little dishonest to sign up for a race and then power-hike 90% of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite adhere to that vow because somewhere along the way an indoor track season happened. But the achilles is a little better this year, and as long as my body still allows me to do a little training for these kinds of challenges, I’ll sign up for it. Because the alternative to it, a world without athletic challenges, just seems entirely too boring to me. Other people may have differing opinions, and in fact I think most of my friends and acquaintances cannot even imagine competing here. To some, a flat 10km race is a perfectly fine challenge, whereas others don’t seem to need challenges at all. To each their own. I can’t imagine a life where I’m not pushing myself for some athletic endeavour.

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Race report Trail Vertical

Race report: Katrinberglauf (4.5km, 943 Hm)

Somewhere along the climb, there was that moment where everything just kind of faded away, and my entire mental focus was reduced to just that next footstep – to get that ideal foot placement, with the most grip and the least amount of slippage. Long gone were the ambitions of finishing in a certain time, long gone were the considerations of who to pass or whether I was about to get passed. Just that next step. And with enough steps, I’d make it across the finish line.

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I had arrived in Bad Ischl, Austria the evening before. It had been an unremarkable 720km drive to get there, and I had enough daylight to still take a look at the race course. Of course whenever I’m in the mountains it’s easy to fall prey to the “just around the next corner” fallacy, so I walked quite far, up to the 2km marker for about 360m of elevation. I was sweating buckets even at a leisurely pace, and probably should have turned around sooner.

On race morning, I was able to get an early 7:15am breakfast at my hotel in nearby Bad Goisern and then drove about 8km to the starting line. I was early enough to get a decent parking spot; and proceeded to retrieve my racing bib. There was a small goodies bag included in the 20€ racing fee; which also included a finisher’s t-shirt, transport of a change of clothes to the finish line and the cable car ride down. That’s pretty good value for the money.

I did a quick warm-up on the first few hundred meters of the race course. My achilles tendon was not all that happy, and my heart rate was higher than normal; which was probably because I hadn’t slept well the previous night.

Shortly before 10:00, I joined over 200 runners behind the finish line. I picked a spot that I thought would correspond to my expected finishing time – somewhere half-way to two-thirds away from the fastest starters.

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The starting line with a few minutes to go

There was a count-down, and we were off. The first 300m past the Katrin-Seilbahn Talstation (cable station) and parking were on the paved Kaltenbachstrasse. The start was much quicker than I’m used to running as of recent (about 4min/km).

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Photo taken the previous evening

After about 300m, the race course turns right at a 90 angle and climbs up past a ski jump training place. The surface changed from paved to gravel as we met our first climb.

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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening

My heart rate was already at 170bpm 500m into the race as we turned right at another 90 angle. We were still in the shade, but fairly soon we’d lose that advantage. My run had already transformed into a fast walk. Most of the people around me were still running, but I was matching their speed.

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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening

The first kilometer took me 7:52, and only climbed 122m of elevation.

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Photo taken the previous evening

We were now on the grassy ski descent route that we’d follow all the way to the top. Even though the ski slope as a whole was fairly wide, there usually was an established dirt track that was sometimes quite narrow. Obviously in order to optimize your foot placement on dirt or rocks rather than on uneven grass, people had to move in single or double file. Inevitably, this lead to a few position changes and associated speed-ups or slow-downs as I either moved over a meter because my stride length or pace didn’t match the person in front of me, or I was passed for the same reason.

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Photo taken the previous evening
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Photo taken the previous evening

I hit the 2km mark after 19:53, for a 12:00min/km pace on the second km. The elevation gain for this kilometer was 204m. A nice 20% grade, then. At this point I was still hoping for a finish time in the low 50s. However, my heart-rate was becoming problematic. I hit a maximum of 180, and on the second kilometer had an average heart rate of 176.

Starting here, I’d face unknown terrain. And maybe that was a good thing, because things turned steeper at about the same time I started slowing down because I felt my heart rate was not sustainable. I know that I can still move quite efficiently at 170bpm, but 10 beats higher is where I’m shutting down. By this point, positions had been established and for the most part the people in front of me and behind me were moving in single file. Soon after, we came across the first of two water stations. I got a cup of water, but was breathing so hard that actually getting the water down proved to be difficult. I ended up throwing the half-full plastic cup into a waste bag.

Kilometer 3 took me a whopping 15:21. My cumulative time was 35:14. Some very hazy mental math made me conclude there was no way I could finish in either 51 or 53 minutes, as predicted in my race preview, and for the first time I started mentally shutting down a little. I wasn’t exactly thinking of quitting, but it took some mental strength to keep moving forward as well as I could. While the slower pace had brought my heart rate down a little – 174bpm average – the going had become steeper. We’d climbed another 240m of elevation. By now we were moving in full sunlight, and the temperature felt quite high. The prediction was for 24°C at 10:00, but it certainly felt warmer.

And then it got even steeper.

I was still moving in the same single file, and only very occasionally positions changed. Pretty much the only thing I concentrated on was the shoe of the person in front of me, because the spot it had just left would be the spot I’d put my foot on next. Each step then meant a minuscule calculation: where exactly should I set down the foot? Should I rather set it on the dirt or maybe rather use a small exposed stone to maybe get slightly better traction?

Somewhere between 3km and 4km, in the steepest section, I hit my low point. For one step, I was actually thinking of stepping off to the side and resting for a minute or two. But that moment passed, I kept moving. By now, I could already hear the announcer over the speaker system at the finish line. Obviously, the fastest runners had already crossed it a while ago.

There was a second water station at some point, but I decided that since I wasn’t that far away from the finish line it’d be more advantageous to just keep moving. I was starting to feel just a little better, and even managed to catch one or two people who’d passed me near my low point.

The last 400m, there were markers every hundred meters. It was a relief to see them, but even then each individual 100m still took a very long time.

Kilometer 4 took an even slower 18:44. My cumulative time at this point was already 53:58. Thankfully, it seemed that my Garmin had a different mind than the official race distance, because I hit kilometer 4 with about 200m to go; rather than another 0.5km to go.

The fourth kilometer had been the steepest – 297 meters gained, or almost a 30% grade.

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Photo of the final climb, taken after the race, through the cable car window

And then came the final climb, and then the finish chute where people were encouraged to no longer pass each other; and then finally I crossed the finish line in 55:55.

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Result

I crossed the finish line after 55 minutes and 55 seconds. This is over 21 minutes slower than the winner; and puts me at position #146 out of 226 finishers. As such, I barely finished within the top two thirds of the field. My optimistic goal time of 51 minutes would still not have given me a top 100 finish. So should I be happy that 1/3 of the runners finished after me, or be dismayed that I was slower than almost 2/3 of all runners?

Conclusions

Even though I was slower than I had hoped, I cannot really be unhappy with my result. A number of factors come into play, most notably the fact that Luxembourg is not a mountainous country and that our local hills don’t even come close to approximating the strain of what was almost a Vertical Kilometer race.

In the grand scheme of things, most notably with the Chamonix Vertical Kilometer as my “goal” race just two weeks after this race, getting my ass kicked here was a good lesson into just how demanding this type of challenge is and how much work still lies ahead of me. Realistically, there’s very little I can do in these two short weeks to improve my odds to do well on the Chamonix KMV course; but if I kept at this for another year maybe I’d be able to post a better result. But for that to happen, I first need to fix the chronic inflammation in my left achilles tendon – but that’s another topic for another time.

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Running Trail Vertical

Preview: Katrinberglauf (4.5km, 943 Hm)

In two days, on June 14th, I will be competing at Katrinberglauf. This mountain run in Bad Ischl, Austria, is labelled as “Austria’s steepest mountain race”. The start and finish lines are at the valley and mountain stations of the Katrin Seilbahn cable car, which goes from an elevation of 472m to 1415m, for 943m difference in a distance of about 4.5km. While this does not qualify for the term “vertical kilometer”, it is nearly as close as one can get.

The race was not in my long term plan leading up to the Chamonix KMV in two weeks, but after finishing my first vertical race Wallberg Berglauf on May 1st, I figured I needed another race to be better prepared for what will await me in France. So at the beginning of this week, I took time off from my weekend job as a sports photographer, and decided to do the long drive to Austria and back in order to get more vertical racing experience.

The race will once again be very challenging for someone living and training in a land of hills but that is devoid of mountains. The course description mentions that after the start there will be a short flat section on paved road (250m) and forest path, and then somewhere beyond 500m the relentless climb will start, gaining 943m over the next 4000m of a ski descent route. This would translate to an average grade of just below 24%.

There is a Strava segment that seems to skip the start and last few meters to the finish line; it is 4km long and climbs 917m for an average grade of 23%.

All in all, the grade isn’t too different from my “Gringlee” training hill near Bourscheid; which is around 28% and reduces my run to a walk a lot more than I’d want. I’ve done up to 4 repeats on Gringlee with as little pause as possible. This comes close to approximating the height gain at Katrin but of course I still can’t train for continuous height gain in Luxembourg.

Looking at my segment times on Gringlee, I’m figuring that I should be able to cover the individual kilometers in 11, 12, 13 and 14 minutes respectively; and if I factor in another 3 minutes for the flat 0.5km at the start that would leave me at an estimated finish time of around 53 minutes. To make things slightly more challenging, I set myself a target of 51 minutes on Strava. On the other hand, I haven’t encountered a climb this hard in any of my training, so it’s just as likely that I’ll suffer more and more the higher I go.

In 2014, there were 205 people who crossed the finish line. The winner from Kenia took a mere 33:27 to the top, the first Austrian runner wasn’t too far behind at 35:00. But those are real athletes; which I can’t pretend to be. So if everything goes according to plan, I’m more likely to look at a finish beyond position 100, which last year required a time of 51:06. My realistic estimate of 53:00 would have put me at #122 last year. If things go badly, finishing in 1 hour would have put me at #163.

Of course it’s always difficult to make accurate predictions. I’m not really in the best shape of my life – I’ve had trouble getting enough quality sleep lately and my left achilles tendon has seen better days. On top of that, I’m sure that driving 750km on Saturday will not improve my performance, and most certainly the prospect of driving 750km back home after the race will also play a factor in how deep I can dig during the race.

But at least the weather is forecast to be better than it was for my last race on May 1st; and even though I haven’t been able to train as much for this as I would have liked, I have seen some improvements on routes that I run regularly.

A few days, ago, I wrote this on Facebook:

Realistically speaking I’d need to train at a much higher level for at least another year before being in any shape to truly compete at [..] these races, but this is all about setting myself new challenges and expanding my comfort zone.

Wish me luck.

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Race report Running Trail Vertical

Race report: Wallberg Berglauf (5.5km 860Hm)

Wallberg Berglauf was my first mountain run. I joined 252 other people on a rainy May 1st morning in Rottach-Egern, near Tegernsee lake in Southern Germany to run/walk 5.5km and climb 860m of elevation.

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Drive to Germany, recon

Having taken the day before the race off work, I left for Germany at a reasonable 9:30am. There was quite a bit of traffic on the A8 for the next handful of hours, but fortunately no traffic jams. There were a lot of construction zones though and a lot of the remaining distance had speed restrictions. I could have gone pedal to the metal a handful of times, but why bother? Most people I saw on the left lane invariably had to step on their brakes a few hundred meters later. I arrived at Tegernsee lake after about six and a half hours (including refueling and three more quick breaks), and was a little surprised to see my old trusty Mondeo was reporting a fuel consumption of 4.4 litres per 100km over the past 560 kilometers.

Since it was still quite early in the day and contrary to weather reports it wasn’t raining yet, I opted to do a little recon. It’s a difficult gamble: how far should I hike up the day before a race? On one hand, it’s useful to see what lies ahead, on the other hand there’s no need to tire yourself out. After running into the race director and his wife at the parking lot (being the first ever person to participate from Luxembourg makes you stand out when you drive up in Luxembourgish plates), I ended up hiking 5.6km (up and down) and 414m of elevation (Strava activity); which may have been a bit too much. To top things off, I had quite a bad headache.

I retreated to my hotel in nearby Bad Wiessee, skipped any dinner plans and was in bed at a record-breaking 18:30.

Race morning

I got up at 6am – definitely can’t say I didn’t get enough sleep. Killed some time on the laptop, showered and was at the breakfast table at 7:45am. Tried to strike a balance between eating enough but not too much, and sampled around 600 calories from the hotel’s breakfast buffet (bread, Nutella, deli meats, small slice of cheese, small yoghurt). A glass of OJ. And of course some coffee.

The weather wasn’t stellar: it had been raining for quite a while when I took the following picture in the morning. Conveniently, my destination for the day was already in plain view (Wallberg mountain center-left and the race finish at the cable station about 100m of elevation further down).

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I left my hotel at 8:30, which coincided with the the start of the one-hour window for late registrations and bib pickup. Since I’d signed up in advance, I merely had to pick up my racing number and then had a lot of time to kill before the 10:30 race start. I spent some of it just sitting in the boot under the large rear door of my car (yay for station wagons), pondering what to wear and what to take with me.

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With temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius in the valley and a reported 5 degrees Celsius at the finish line, I had settled on my Asics long tights (non-thermal) over underwear; a form-fitting Kaikialla functional shirt as a base layer on top and a Brooks long-sleeve running shirt over it. I decided against compression socks, but was wearing normal running socks in my well-broken-in Brooks Cascadia 8. I would also don light gloves and a lightweight buff over my head and ears. As more and more people arrived, it was easy to become distracted with clothing options: shouldn’t I rather wear short tights? Or maybe a rain jacket? Salomon shoes looked popular, but I don’t have any of those.

And then, should I take a camera? How about my Gopro? Or maybe skip all electronics except my watch? In the end, I stashed my cell phone in a pocket but left the Gopro in the car. I was sure I’d be plenty busy just moving, never mind about mentally or physically dealing with picture-taking in that stress.

I opted against a long warm-up, instead just walking around a little to stretch my legs occasionally, and then jogging a few hundred meters before walking down about 400m from the parking lot to the starting line.

The race

I lined up at the start line with a reported 280 participants. The race start was delayed for a few minutes (I guess to deal with last-minute late sign-ups). And then we were off. I’d lined up just before the 55min line (the race director’s 10km equivalent time); which was quite conservative but I neither wanted to get out too fast nor did I want to be in a position where I’d be overtaken (read: be in other people’s way) more than necessary.

The first 500m or so were on a paved road; which I guess was a good enough way to get people well spaced.out before the narrower paths start. 2015 was actually the second year this paved part was added to the race, before that people started at the cable station.

On my own, I guess I would have started out faster, but since I was pretty much stuck with the pace those runners around me were setting, I just followed that. I hit the first kilometer in 7:24. The first 500m only had about 30m of elevation gain. The change from lounging around all morning to suddenly being in a race was a bit of a shock to me. My head really wasn’t in it at first. The more things change, the more they stay the same – I’ve had the same to say about quite a few 100m starts back when I was competing on the track. After passing the cable car station on our left, we started climbing for real. I switched over to a fast walk; which still matched the pace of those around me running.

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Photo credit: Landkreis Miesbach – Landratsamt Miesbach facebook page

 

After the initial 500m on road and the next 800m on gravel, the next two kilometers (give or take) would be on mountain trails. These were not quite single-track – there usually was enough space for two people next to each other but since everything was quite muddy and there were lots of exposed rocks or potentially slippery stones, there often was one good single track and then one that was slightly worse next to it.

While the runners had spaced out a little, things were still quite busy. A few times, you’d need to be careful because there were still a few position changes. I found that I didn’t like running or walking just behind someone, since that restricts your visibility of the trail ahead; so instead I often switched over to the slightly more uneven part of the trail that was maybe a little more slippery and closer to the edge on the right; but afforded better visibility of where I’d put my foot the next few steps and a slightly better opportunity to set my own pace.

By the time we hit 2km of distance (and 200m of elevation gain), I was dealing with the onset of a side stitch and just generally not feeling as well as I could; especially seeing how much elevation gain was still in front of me.

We passed Wallbergmoos (a small mountain restaurant) after about 2.25km. After traversing a small meadow, the terrain got steeper again. This was how far I’d gone on the previous day during my recon, so from here on out I didn’t have any mental imagery of the course to rely on.

From km 2.5 to km 3.5, we followed a number of switchbacks. This was the most treacherous terrain yet, but I got through without too many issues. Well, apart from slowing down some more. Here, I also played leapfrog with at least two different runners, who I passed and who passed me again several times. It seems that my pace is indeed quite irregular; and it almost felt like I was able to push a little bit better on the steeper sections, but they ran faster than my fast walking on the less narrow segments. Maybe I annoyed them because they signed up for a mountain run, and here I was walking a lot of it.

After 3.5km, we rejoined a wider path of very small crushed gravel. By here, I’d managed to leave behind one of my co-runners in a yellow jersey; but was once again playing leapfrog with a female runner. For most of the way up, I’d been at a heart rate of 172, so I decided to stay there. But since the climb was less steep here, I was finally able to do some running again. At one point towards the end of this stretch, I even managed to dip below 6min/km pace; but this was short-lived.

At around 4.6km, the route deviates from the wide path for a quick 100m stretch up a meadow. And “up” is the defining factor here, because the grade is around 30%. My heart rate shot up to 175 and there was nothing I could do. Whereas I’d been thinking that I should ramp up my speed and maybe catch some runners – there were a good 10 or 15 that looked within grasp at that point – this spot took the wind out of my sails.

Especially since the remaining distance to the finish line once again felt very steep and I was once again resigned to a fast walk. I could neither catch anyone, nor could I shake off the female runner I’d been exchanging positions with for a while now.

Finally, we neared the top of the race. I was thinking if I should make a move for that one position because everyone else was out of reach now. Just when I had decided to stay behind she slowed down for a second or two, so I went past almost naturally. The last 100 meters or so were on a meadow and because it was flatter I was once more able to run into the arrival chute where our bibs were scanned. I thought I’d put some distance between us, but in the results there’s only 1 second of difference. Oh well.

I stopped my watch just shy of 55 minutes. This was later confirmed when the official results were put up; where I was listed with 54:46.

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Bonus climb after the race

After crossing the finish line, I sat down on the ground for a minute. I regained some energy almost straight away, and actually, this happened way quicker than I expected it to; which either means I didn’t give everything on the race or my recent training efforts have made me more resilient.

Either way, I thought since I was already most of the way up to the peak of Wallberg, I might as well run/walk there. To my surprise, none of the runners I had been around joined in; so I made it to the top almost in solitary (I encountered one runner and two hikers climbing down). And half-way up the remaining distance, I understood why the race doesn’t go to the top of the peak: it was quite slippery; and it required more scrambling than some runners might be comfortable with. At one point I even had to do some easy climbing moves, but i guess that was more because of my poor route choice in that spot.

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The climb to the top added 12 minutes to the climb and another 137m. Which means I failed to hit 1000m of elevation gain; although just barely.

On the way down, the rocks I’d scrambled up on were very slippery, and I had to be very careful not to fall. Actually, I slipped once, and just barely was able to prevent my rear from making an unplanned contact with the ground. Good thing I was wearing gloves, because my hands made full contact with the muddy trail and rocks to break the fall.

Restaurant meal and raffle

Of course by the time I got back to the official finish, everyone had arrived, and the finish zone was already starting to get torn down. I got something warm to drink, then retreated into the cable car station to change into my warm clothing (which had been sent up by cable car – a welcome service). And of course with everyone across the finish line the restaurant was packed by now. The race fee includes a free meal (Kaiserschmarrn), so I opted to stay and hang around for a bit. I ordered a coffee with the free meal, but was a little surprised to pay 4.20€ for the coffee. This seemed a little steep.

Before the victory ceremony, there was a raffle being held. My bib number ended up winning a pair of socks. It’s just a small thing, of course, but I guess as a runner you can never have too many socks (even if these, being white, are not the best colour for trail runners).

At around 14:00, the race organiser announced that the official results would be put on the walls in the staircase outside the restaurant. I decided to go look – I guess deep down I’m still as competitive than I was as a sprinter, and want to know where my performance puts me. And then suddenly I decided I’d had enough of the crowded restaurant and people in general and opted out of spectating the victory ceremony (which I couldn’t see from my seat in the restaurant, anyway) and took a cable car down before everyone else would do so.

In conclusion

Thumbs up to the race organisers and volunteers. It’s a very nice event and I’m glad I made the drive down from Luxembourg. The weather could have been better, but at least it didn’t snow. I’m happy with my performance to the extent that it was my first participation at an event of this kind. My time puts me at position 136 of 253, which means I’m somewhere past half-point in the results. The time, coincidentally, is near my “reasonable” expected time; but of course much slower than what I feel I should be capable of doing if I keep training for events like these. So in summary, I liked today’s event and am looking forward to returning either here or similar events in the future.

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Running Vertical

Preview: Wallberg Berglauf

In two days, on May 1st 2015, I will be facing a new challenge: competing in a mountain run.

Wallberg Berglauf will take place in Rottach-Egern, near Tegernsee in Southern Germany. It is not the first mountain run I’ve signed up for (that would be the Chamonix KMV, which I wrote about already) but it’s the first one I will compete in. And actually, I originally signed up for this race because of the Chamonix KMV – it should be a good preparation because while it’s longer it’s less steep and therefore should serve as a decent enough entry point into the sport. Often, the best preparation for a race is another race… only in race conditions can you truly test yourself and see if your training, gear choices, mental preparation, etc. can withstand the demands of racing. While you can approximate things in training, it’s often times not possible to replicate the conditions of race day (length of the climb, competitors, ability to dig deeper than you would during a training run, etc.). But of course the more I started reading about Wallberg, the less I started seeing it as a training or preparation run. I now consider it as a challenging and hard competition on its own.

And of course with just two days to go, I’m starting to get a bit anxious. First of all, because this is a discipline that is entirely new to me and I’ve never done anything like it. Then, I’ll be entirely on my own. On most of my track&field competitions over the course of the past twenty-seven years, there was direct or indirect support (presence of a coach, and/or of other people from my training group), or after a while even when no outside support was available I already had a huge history of races already run and the corresponding experience that goes with it. On Wallberg, it will just be me, doing something I’ve never done before. Sure, it’s not rocket science and I’m still in a well-supported race that’s close to civilization; but there’s still quite a few things that I will have to deal with: what to wear, how to handle valuables during the race (car keys, cell phone, etc.), the logistics of getting my starting bib, handing off my warm weather gear to be shuttled to the finish line, etc.

And then, there’s this:

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Yup. Plenty of rain is forecast not just for the race day but also the day before. Which means that the trails won’t be dry and that conditions might be quite miserable. Which means I’ll need to think a little harder about what to wear so as not to get too cold or too wet. But then again, it’s a relatively short race; so carrying around extra layers means carrying extra weight that may not be needed because on the 16% average grade my body will certainly create a lot of heat.

Finally, I’m a little concerned about my fitness. While I have been training specifically for hilly conditions for a few months now, I’m sure I could have done more, in a more structured way. While I have no doubt that I can finish this race, it still remains to be seen whether I can finish “fast”.

The thing is, I know how fast and how well I can climb 200m of elevation. I also know I can climb 1000m of elevation over the course of one training session. What I don’t know is how well I can cover 860m of elevation gain by running and walking 5.5km up in one go; with no possibility of rest that hill repeats afford you (running down in between uphills will never provide the same stimulus than continuous uphill).

It’s always difficult to speculate in advance how well you can do on race day. There’s a lot of factors to consider (and maybe some I haven’t considered yet). Obviously the weather will be an important factor; but I also can’t really judge how much influence competing against other people will have. A while ago, I did some primitive calculations on paper by extrapolating a few of my training sessions, and came up with a rough estimate of being able to cover the race distance and elevation in 55 minutes (average pace of 10 min/km). In my more optimistic moments, I’ve caught myself fantasizing about being capable of finishing in around 44 minutes (for an average pace of 8:00 min/km). Maybe the reality will lie somewhere in between, or maybe I’ll find myself 500m up, completely out of breath, heart racing, and with the knowledge that I was being way too optimistic.

Looking at last year’s finisher list (2014 was the first year on a slightly longer course) with 311 people across the line (male and female combined), the winning time was an impressive 34:05; finishing in the top 50 required a time of 42:51; top 100 47:44. A time of 44:00 would have meant 61st, 55:00 would have meant 200th and 60:00 249th. This year, there’s 188 runners signed up in advance; so it looks like there might be anywhere from 250 to 400 competitors.

Plenty of things to get nervous about; but at least the day leading up to the race will be less complicated than first planned: rather than work a half day, go to the dentist during lunch and then drive down 600km the way I originally planned; I’ve now taken the entire day off work; I’ve rescheduled the dentist appointment and will therefore be able to set off quite early in the day, hopefully beating traffic. Maybe I’ll even get around to still checking out the first 1 or 2 km of the course in the evening.