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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.

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